Front Porch Reality

(Not my front porch.)

The memories I have of my dad from when I was a kid are kind of blurry…. mostly because he worked third shift while the rest of us were sleeping. I remember seeing my dad in two different ways. The first was the most common. He would be getting ready to go to work about the same time I was getting ready to go to bed. And the second, well, that was when I got in trouble. Growing up my mom — like many moms -had the equivalent of a nuclear bomb for discipline: “Just wait until your father gets home!” Nothing could strike some fear into my heart quite like those words could.

(We nearly lost my dad to a severe infection last summer. Even so, he could not resist the opportunity to try and teach me something.)

One of the things I grew to appreciate about my dad is that he was creative in his discipline. Any fool can spank a kid and send them to their room. It took a special kind of person to make sure that a child learns something from being disciplined.

For instance, once, I cheated on a class project and LIED about it. In retrospect, I don’t know how I ever thought that I wouldn’t get caught (an evil mastermind I am not). It was an English assignment that I’d cheated on, so my dad thought up a special discipline. He bought me a really nice notebook and pen and made me start keeping a journal. Insidious, right? (I still keep a journal to this day.)

The key to good discipline is to have the lesson stick long after the memory of the infraction has faded away. Probably the greatest lesson my dad ever taught me came on the heels of a screw up that I cannot even remember. It could have been huge or tiny. But the lesson has stuck with me.

My dad took me out on to the porch and had me sit on the top step. He sat next to me. Then he handed me a piece of paper and a pencil. I noticed he had a pencil and paper for himself too. Then he told me to just sit and be quiet and observe the world around me and write down everything that I saw or heard, in as much detail as I could, and he would do the same. We did this for about a minute.

When we were done, my dad said, “Ok. Let’s compare our observations.”

(Also not my front porch.)

We were both in the same spot for the same amount of time, but we observed the world very differently. For example, we both saw a girl walking a dog. And so I wrote down “girl walking a dog”. My dad wrote “teenage girl with brown hair and a blue dress, walking a golden retriever with a red leash and a black collar.” He saw and paid attention to a lot more detail than I did.

As we continued down the list, I had written “sound of a chainsaw.” That sound appeared nowhere on my dad’s list. He didn’t remember ever hearing it. It went on like that. For the most part, we’d noticed the same big picture, but the real differences came in the details.

I was reminded of this lesson earlier this week as a video went viral of teenagers that appeared to be harassing a Native American elder in Washington, D.C. At first all the news outlets reported the story as if these teenagers in MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats surrounded the man and began mocking him and would not let him leave.

Living in the age we do, there was immediate and visceral outrage from every corner of the internet. And then some different footage from a different angle emerged, and it looked as though it was the Native American Elder who inserted himself in the group of students, not the other way around. And then another round of outrage.

Even when the different vantage points represented on the different videos give us a more complete story, people (on both sides) have continued to dig to try and find another way to justify their outrage and prove how right they are, how appropriate the anger is.

The entire situation, whatever the truth of it happens to be, is unfortunate. Our country is a big place and our diversity is what makes us so amazing. We need to learn to live with each other and, if not actually see with the eyes of the other, at least acknowledge that what the other sees and perceives is different from what I do.

The whole mess makes me wonder what our world would be like if everybody sat on their front porch with a parent and learned the lesson that I did. We don’t always see everything. We don’t get all the details. And with that being the reality we MUST apply grace to every situation and look for understanding instead of reasons to be mad. And after that, after we find some understanding, we need to be willing to forgive each other for the stupid things we do.

Some of my favorite words in the New Testament come from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8 — 9

Read those words, friends. Read them every day. Tape them to a mirror. Write them on your heart, so that as you look at the world, you are trained to look for whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, praise worthy, and allow those things to consume your thoughts and fill your heart. Then, we are told, God will be with us and we will have peace. And ugly incidents like what we saw hit the internet and the news this week won’t move us toward further division or greater outrage, but rather towards empathy and understanding, and peace.