While fixing a bowl of oatmeal tonight, I was considering what I would add to the oatmeal. I don’t care for plain oatmeal so when I saw a bottle of barbecue sauce I wondered just how that would taste. I decided to leave Sweet Baby Ray’s for another time and settled for a little brown sugar instead.
My previous blog post centered on one of the most important relationships in my life, at least as it can be seen from the positive or creative side for me. Grandma Duke was quite a blessing for me and her influence has remained throughout my life. My younger brother Victor, who I lost nearly eleven years ago was also very positively influenced by Grandma. Victor and I both grew up believing in the power of love as represented by Jesus.
The general topic always on my mind is love as defined by Jesus. Often, it has been as if in my mind I am wrestling with Jesus. The specific topic tonight is relationships. One could say that life is made up of relationships. Some are creative and some are destructive. Many are just routine parts of life. Many relationships fade away never to be remembered again and possibly never recognized at all. Some relationships may have little influence, but I believe that overall, all of our relationships, no matter how small, affect how we live in some manner. A little bit of salt changes the taste of a food such as oatmeal, some butter changes it yet more, cinnamon excites the taste buds further, brown sugar adds its own flavor, and then, what about Sweet Baby Ray’s?
Think about the relationships that have affected your life. Consider your relationships that you live each day. I suggest thinking (I consider it private, unceasing prayer) throughout each day of your relationships as you participate in them. Thinking back to Grandma Duke’s lesson, ask yourself “Am I loving each person I contact each day?” Are YOU loving them? Are YOU the one who is living the relationship? Is it you or is it your mom, your dad, or preacher Bob from when you were in the seventh grade? Is it you or is it Franklin Graham, the Pope, Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell, or somebody else you relate to or admire that is having the relationship? How many relationships do you truly give serious consideration each day?
Consider the relationships in your life. Relationships range from those that you easily recognize as being important to those that you fail to even recognize as occurring. The most easily recognizable are relationships with friends, relatives, and co-workers. Some of the more difficult to recognize are relationships with people you casually pass on the street or in the hallway at work, people you may see when you visit a store or a park, and others that you pass by wherever you go. With the advent of electronic media, one can even say that relationships develop from watching television, listening to the radio, and reading books, newspapers, magazines, and the internet.
If we check definitions of the word “relationship”, we find it defined as “the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected”. A second definition is “the way in which two or more people or organizations regard and behave toward each other.” These definitions can help us to understand why we can consider that we are in  relationship with everybody we contact each day regardless of the method of contact.
I feel most of us only focus on one or a few relationships at a time. I don’t feel I am very good at relationships myself. I have frequently discovered that I give inadequate attention to those around me. Sometimes I feel I more or less ignore most of my relationships until I feel that something in the relationship needs attention. I believe most of us behave in that manner and that it leads to problems of all kinds. Divorce, children with problems, difficulties at work, and even smaller things such as traffic problems and misunderstandings in the checkout lane at a store can result. Being inattentive to any relationship can lead to problems and failures that can be painful. Taking a spouse for granted can lead to divorce and other family problems. Children will seek attention in many ways including negative ways when parents fail to tend to the relationships. Inconsiderate driving causes problems everyday and can even lead to the death of someone you don’t even know. An example from nature includes tossing a piece of plastic out the window so that it eventually contacts a fish or other animal. The animal may become entangled in the plastic or may try to eat it eventually leading to the death of the animal.
I consider myself blessed in that three of the most important influences in my life taught me that God as represented by Jesus was my most important relationship. Grandma, my mother and my father all managed to teach that lesson. Sure, there were plenty of times that they failed and sometimes failed in big ways, but underneath and in the end, the greatest lesson was to begin with loving God with all that I have, and then to love others as I love myself (Matthew 22:36-40). I did not fully realize this until the past few years, but it developed over time through other relationships.
I believe there is a tendency (probably genetic or instinctual) to rely upon the influence of others as we develop our own relationships. Being social animals, we can have a community or herd mentality. In all religions of which I am aware, the societies that use the religions seem to use them (perhaps subvert them) to control the masses for the purposes of keeping order. When that happens, I think the use of the religion falls outside of the will of God. I can hear and see Jesus teaching (warning?) us about this in his teachings. Scot McKnight and Adam Hamilton, among others, have written of the importance of using the greatest commandment verses (Matthew 22:36-40) as a beginning for all of our relationships including our relationships with God and with our self. Hamilton suggests thinking of that teaching of Jesus as a sieve or colander through which we pass all of the rest of the Bible and any other thoughts or teachings to see whether or not we are indeed loving in our relationships and life. I agree and I find that I have my most successful experiences when I remember to do it and when I am strong enough to follow it through.
Relationships… How many do you have? How many do I have? I cannot begin to count them all. I consider each of my contacts each day as a relationship. An experience from today can serve as an example of using Jesus in a seemingly unimportant relationship.Today, I noticed just how bad my hair looked and decided to get it cut. When I plan ahead, I make an appointment with a stylist who my wife, Dotsie, uses since this stylist, Melinda, provides a known result. Today, I walked into a shop that I sometimes use when I frighten myself in the mirror and decide I can’t wait for Melinda. The lady who has cut my hair several times over the past couple of years was not there. Instead, it was a young, black man with really wild looking hair. I have not even had a man cut my hair in 35 years or longer, let alone a guy who looks more like Troy Polamalu (from the Pittsburg Steelers in case you do not follow football) on a bad hair day than like a hair stylist. Fortunately, I had about five minutes while waiting to think about it (again, the unceasing Jesus greatest commandment prayer) so I could love the man and have confidence that he could cut my hair. (Remember, the love of Jesus does not mean I must like something or somebody, but it does require respect and compassion.) He did a great job and was very friendly so all turned out well. I learned after he finished my hair that not long before I had arrived, a woman chewed him out and walked out without paying him. Relationship in just a few minutes at Great Clips. The time became a blessing for me.
Besides my parents and Grandma Duke, there were others who greatly influenced  my life. My older brother was six years ahead of me in school so he left for college the year I entered seventh grade. He was probably the one most responsible for my desire for success in school and for whatever self confidence that I have. He has always told me that I can accomplish whatever I am willing to work to accomplish. My brother Victor and I could talk about things and shared a love for animals, flowers, and peace. My brother Rick’s independent streak early in life encouraged me to develop it in myself more in recent years. A professor at Purdue encouraged me to develop and use my unusual approach to teaching children while another professor believed my unorthodox approach would fail. (The second guy was wrong.) Bill Schwein, Bill Cross, and Dwight Gilbert have been great friends in not just overcoming tragedy, but in helping me to develop a mature relationship with Jesus during the past 13 years.
I have been married three times. All three are beautiful ladies, but relating can be difficult. The inability to adequately communicate and understand each other led to failures in the first two marriages. My first wife and mother of my children helped me to realize that I needed to ask more questions in life. The second wife helped me find some of the questions and some of the answers. The third wife has helped me to better understand people and to more fully develop the ability to relate. They have all provided valuable examples and lessons for me and for my children.
I have sometimes imagined what the world would be like if some of the supposedly important people of the world would focus upon relationship. Think of the Middle East (any and all of the parties involved). How about Ukraine and Russia? What might have happened over the past few years if John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and others in Congress would have been willing to start a conversation with the President with words like “I really like this idea of yours, but let’s talk about how we can make it happen” rather than “We intend to make Obama a one term president”. (If anybody has any credible evidence that one of those guys ever truly reached out to the President, please forward it to me.) What might have happened if the President had been able to get more people in Congress to work together with him? Perhaps he could have better cultivated relationships somehow. Recall the definitions for the word “relationship”?
Relationship… How many do you have each day? How many drivers and pedestrians do you pass each day as you travel? How many people are in the homes and businesses you pass? The woman at the checkout in the store, the policeman with the radar device, the person you did not hold open the door for on your hurry to lunch, an associate at Fry’s or at Staple’s… these are all relationships to one degree or another. Do you recall the person who needed help reaching the top shelf at Kroger? Relationships are not just your spouse, children, friends and coworkers. It is everybody and everything you touch. Relationships are found in all of God’s creation.
Important relationships? How about all of them, even the person you pass on the street? I suggest starting with Jesus. Learn to relate to Jesus and let that relationship guide you with others. You can start simple with Matthew 22: 36-40 and build on that. For myself, I learned that it was necessary to figure out what love is and how to do it. What does love mean?
Our relationships, all of them, are very important in our lives. Relationships provide most of the flavor in life. You can choose plain oatmeal or you can add some brown sugar and perhaps some cinnamon. Or, you can reach out and add some of Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce to see how it affects things. You can savor your relationships just as you savor a meal. Take one relationship at a time, handle it with care (as in the Traveling Wilburys song, Handle Me With Care) and see what happens. Focus on relationships as they occur. I have found that life is more complete when I can live it out in more of such a manner. With experience and patience, I think you will be quite pleased.
In the meantime, I will contemplate just how much Sweet Baby Ray’s to use on two cups of oatmeal. Bacon bits maybe?

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