Saturday, May 26, 2012

It’s in there

Looking at my name and picture you would never guess that I’m Italian, but it’s true.  My mother’s maiden name is Di Blasio, both her parents immigrated to America from Abruzzi, Italy.

Memories of my Grand Pop are few and far between.  He died quite suddenly when I was young.  He was very tall and had ears so huge that the name “Dumbo” would just leap out of your mouth.  While I cannot confirm it, there is local folklore that when the wind was just right, he could actually float in midair.  He made President Lyndon Johnson’s ears look positively petite.  But the most remarkable thing about his ears was not their size but the volume of hair that grew in them.  It looked like someone had shoved mushroom caps in his ears as a decoration.  There are bald men all over America that were green with envy at the hair coming out of his ears.  He received several offers for harvesting hair transplants just from inside his ears alone.  I would climb up into his lap for a hug, but the hug was a diversionary tactic.  The real reason was to get up close and personal to see what was trapped in his ear hair.  You would be amazed at the debris and life forms entombed in his web of ear hair.

In contrast, I have very loving and strong memories about my Grand Mom.  She was very sweet, loving and always trying to feed me.  At age 13 she could comfortably stand up underneath my outstretched arm.  She was wider than she was tall, and you could die for lack of oxygen if she pulled you face first into her for a hug that lasted way too long.  Her homemade pastas were amazing.  Her ravioli were legendary as they almost floated in midair (nothing like the hockey pucks you get in the frozen food section).  The air of her house was filled with garlic and fresh herbs, everything was homemade.  When you add all the yelling, screaming and Italian cursing, it was sensory overload to the extreme.

Beyond everything else, my Grand Mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce was beyond compare.  And there is only one way to adequately describe her sauce – “it’s in there.”

It was an all-day affair, no shortcuts.  My grandparents were definitely on the low side of the economic bell curve (as a matter of fact, my parents would argue over who was the most destitute growing up.)  While she never had much money, I never saw her use non-traditional or substitute ingredients.  It was made in the largest pot in the house, and that’s saying something.  If she stirred the sauce once, she stirred it 5,000 times.

There is not enough time or space to adequately describe the list of ingredients, recipe and love that went into it.   In these “good old days” there was no such thing as prepared sauce in a jar.  Even if there was, it would not be caught dead in my Grand Mom’s kitchen.  She broke up plum tomatoes by hand with a fork followed by a symphony of ingredients; tomato sauce, beef, pork, veal, Italian sausage along with a host of herbs and spices.  I would watch in wonder as she almost danced with skill and grace, making her sauce, moving between the refrigerator (pronounced “Frigidaire”), sink (pronounced “zinc”) and stove.  About two hours into the process, it got serious as the tasting started, adding just the right ingredients to bring home that taste and consistency that we all loved.  The memories are so vivid and strong I can almost taste her sauce just writing these words.

So now you have some idea why I use the phrase “it’s in there” to describe her sauce.  It started with the ingredients, but there was so much more than that.  There was skill, experience, tenderness and love.

And the “it’s in there” phrase can also be said about God.  He didn’t want to leave us hanging, guessing “Who is God? What’s he like?  What does he want for me?”  When he wanted to show us what he was like, he came to earth in Jesus.  And not just in part, but fully.  In looking at Jesus, the Bible tells us that in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.[1]  Another way of saying this is that God completely lives in Jesus.

When we ask the question, “What is God really like?”  The answer is “Look at Jesus”.  So, what can we learn about God when we look at Jesus.  You might be surprised;

  • You see the most nonreligious spiritual leader in history.  Jesus is not interested in popularity, power or prestige.  He’s not concerned with a political agenda, a building program or social change.  His harshest criticism is reserved for the religious power-brokers, comparing them to the dirtiest and most disgusting images of his day.
  • Jesus had very little patience with the proud and arrogant, people who thought that they had it all together.  No matter what their position in society, he uniformly condemned everyone who thought they were better than others, seeing only good in their personal moral mirror.
  • When asked questions, Jesus gives straight answers.  We don’t see Jesus couching his words or coddling people in some “politically correct” blanket.  Also, unlike some leaders and politicians, you never see him taking back something he said, changing his mind or position.  Jesus speaks plainly about his being God, loving God and people.
  • Jesus has loads of love and compassion for people who know they are broken, needing help.  He never turned away people asking questions or for help, even if it required a change in his plans.  He was never too busy to listen, help, touch, heal and forgive.

The list of examples where Jesus demonstrated God’s love for the broken is long.  He was more than willing to get personally involved in the lives of people that no one else would dare to talk with or touch;

  • Lepers – while others feared contamination and being ostracized by family and friends, Jesus touches, heals and restores
  • Tax collectors – these are traitors who got rich by ripping off their neighbors, family and countrymen.  Jesus invites himself to their house, meeting and eating with them and their friends.  He follows up dinner with a story about restoration and forgiveness, even calling Matthew to be one of his closest friends/followers.
  • Reputation – Jesus is not afraid to be with and forgive people that are so filled with guilt for their terrible mistakes.  He does not try and hold shame over their heads, but offers forgiveness, a clean start and power to change.

Yes, Jesus is the true picture of who God is.  And he is calling all of us to come right now.  There is no self-help “clean yourself up” program.  We are to come to God just like we are.  There is an old hymn that says it all about coming Just as I Am;

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without

God does not ask us to come with all our questions answered.  He does not expect us to have figured it all out first.  No, his invitation is to start the process of knowing him right from wherever we are.  His promise and commitment is to walk with us, listen and talk with us, give us answers that we need to hear, clean us up, giving us power to change into the people we desperately want to be.

Now is the time to look to Jesus to heal our broken hearts and soul.  We need to look to him for forgiveness and restoration.  So, when we need to see what God is truly like, look at Jesus.  He is the true picture of who God is, because he is God…  “He’s in there.”

Blessings - Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes and speaks on contemporary topics that impact our lives, culture and faith.

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[1]Colossians 2:9

Saturday, May 19, 2012


One of the few things that is sacred in my daily schedule is dinner. This probably comes from my childhood where my dad came home precisely at 5 PM and we ate dinner at 5:30.  This happened Monday through Friday regardless of rain, snow, sleet, or freezing rain. It was carved into the DNA of our family and was as predictable as the sun rising in the morning.

I want to have dinner at a predictable time every day. Yes, guilty as charged, call me creature of habit, but I want to have dinner at the same time every day. It doesn't matter if I'm at home, or on the other side of the country, I like to eat dinner at the same time every day.

We sat down for dinner the other day when, at the appointed time (and you know what's coming) the phone rang. No, it wasn't someone wanting to replace our roof, fertilize the lawn, save us money on our auto insurance or put aluminum siding on our house (as exciting as all those options are) it was a political survey.

Now I don't know about you, but I want to participate in a political survey during dinner about as much as I want my annual physical where the doctor probes every, and I mean every, orifice of my body. All I can think about is pain, discomfort, and total irritation at someone probing into my political psyche.

But perhaps in a moment of weakness or guilt, I took the phone into the other room and decided that I would willingly participate. I asked how long it would take and I was assured it was only a few minutes. So, I screwed up my courage and positive attitude to address the questions.  The person giving the survey was named Rachel. She was delightful and very patient with me as I asked "what was that question again?"

The survey started out with very general questions, as all surveys do, trying to warm you up in order to make you feel comfortable so that when they get to the important questions regarding your political underbelly, your guard is down.  Rachel asked and I answered in a delightful banter back and forth for the first 5 min.

Then the questions decidedly turned more personal and controversial. She was very patient as she explained the difference between:
  • Absolutely agree
  • Positively agree
  • Strongly agree
  • Somewhat agree
  • Somewhat disagree
  • Strongly disagree
  • Positively disagree
  • Absolutely disagree
  • No opinion
  • Somewhat no opinion
  • Strongly no opinion
  • Positively no opinion
  • Absolutely no opinion
  • I don’t care
  • I don’t give a damn

After a detailed 45 minute grilling about my political hopes and dreams, Rachel uttered those immortal words, "we’re almost done I need just a little bit of information." So, she wanted to know things like my age, sex, race, income and all the standard questions we're familiar with to profile us. Then she started to ask about my "religious" beliefs and affiliations. After choosing to be profiled as a Christian, she gave me a list of greater refinements to choose from. I'll let your mind wander about possible options that were presented to me, but at the end she listed fundamental.

I have to tell you, the hair on the back of my neck started to rise at the thought of the word fundamental. How do you react to that word? Would you characterize yourself as being fundamental? Do you think of that word has been positive? Negative? Neutral? If someone labeled you as fundamental, how would you feel?

Our culture labels someone being fundamental in very negative tones. They are thought to be old-fashioned, restrictive, despising anything new, regressive, hating everyone and everything that does not exactly agree with that.

Now I want you to sit down and take a deep breath because I'm about to say something that probably is going to upset you. You may or may not agree, but I doubt that you will have no reaction. Please remove all sharp objects and anything from which you might harm your computer, yourself or another human being.

Everyone is a fundamentalist.

We all have thoughts and beliefs that guide our daily lives. We all have a set of rules, presuppositions and lists of what is right and wrong. We not only think certain things are right or wrong, we know they are.  We will defend them to the death and oppose anyone or anything that looks to change or challenge our view.  This is the essence of being a fundamentalist.

So, if were all fundamentalist the question becomes is there a right view? Are there any absolute, unmoving truths that we can base our life on?  The simple and straightforward answer here in North America is definitely "NO".

If you have any question about our culture not believing in any truth, don't believe me. In our "salvation by survey" culture, CNN interviewed a number of people on the street. The overwhelming results showed that the answer was no. Even studies performed by the Barna Group, an independent survey organization, decidedly show that our culture does not believe in absolute truths[1].

The culture, news, media, Internet, friends and neighbors all know with certainty that there are no absolutes.  If you wonder about this, go ask someone. I know this sounds weird, but sneak a question into your conversation and say, "I was reading this blog the other day and it said I needed to asked you this question. Do you think there's any absolute right or wrong?”

We have seen the poisoned fruit of rampant fundamentalism throughout history. Take a look at Nazi Germany, Communist China, Cambodia, and military governments in Africa for proof. In each and every circumstance, the government was right and the rights of individual were cast aside at the cost of millions of lives.

You may be thinking that fundamentalists are a fairly new phenomenon. But you may be surprised to know that Jesus ran in to fundamentalists and his reaction was stunning. He called them "hypocrites, snakes, children of serpents, blind guides, fools, full of greed and self-indulgence, [2]” Not exactly the way to win friends, influence people or to be politically correct. Jesus had very little patience with people who demanded blind obedience to their particular view of the world with no room for grace, love and forgiveness.

However, Jesus had tons of grace and forgiveness for people who knew they were wrong. We see Jesus welcoming Matthew and Zacchaeus (hated traitors and tax collectors[3]), touching and healing lepers[4], receiving gifts and worship from prostitutes[5]. At the end of his life, after being tortured and crucified with indescribable pain, he prayed forgiveness on those who were murdering him[6].

In looking at all the possible truths and people to believe in, Jesus is by far the most loving, forgiving and attractive.  We don’t have to “fix” ourselves or “earn” his love because he knows that we can’t.  Jesus said that he was God in very clear words and actions.  He took our pain and brokenness on himself, renewing us and giving us what we truly need – forgiveness, grace, a fresh start and power to change.

When Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth[7]?” He was standing right in front of him.  Jesus is right in front of us, offering to give us exactly the same thing, ultimate truth, ultimate love and a new life.  Now that’s a fundamental that I can believe in.

Chet Gladkowski writes on contemporary topics that impact our lives, culture and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[1] The Barna Group, “Does Absolute Truth Exist”
[2] Matthew 23:13-35
[3] Matthew 9:9, Luke 19:2
[4] Matthew 8:3
[5] Luke 7:37,38
[6] Luke 23:34
[7] John 13:38

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I desperately wanted to write something light and funny this week.  I really did.  I wanted to make you laugh about life and enjoy.  I wanted to poke fun at myself, talking about my inability to use my new iPad, which any 4 year old can instantly grasp and surf the galactic internet.  I was ready to describe in embarrassing detail how it took three trips to the grocery store to get everything I needed to make chicken fajitas and salsa.  Really, three trips. That ties my personal best of three trips to Lowes in order to fix a leaky faucet.

I really wanted to give you a gift, lifting our spirits so we could all smile and take a break from life.

But I couldn’t.

The economy continues to slog along.  I personally refuse to use any positive word (move forward, grow, recover) near any reference to our economy.  World events seem to be in an ever downward spin, like the whirlpool in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”  Political pronouncements from our leaders make us wonder if they have any clue what life is really like for the rest of us.  In dismay we ask if there is any hope for the country.

The daily grind seems to be just that; monotonous sameness that drags us from one day to another, empties our tank, brings us down.  The demands of life continue to accelerate, making us busier but it feels like we accomplish less.  We seem to be in a rut, like the hamster running in their wheel, spending all sorts of time and energy but getting nowhere.

It was Yogi Berra who said it best, "It's déjà vu all over again."

In listening to people from every walk of life, I see more stress and burnout than ever before.  I know the term burnout is well worn, but it seems to accurately picture what we see and experience.  And if you think I’m being negative, start a conversation with any stranger by asking, “So, how’s it going?”  Be ready for a “dump” of frustration, exhaustion, hurt and anguish.

To let you know that I actually listen to my own advice, I was in line at Wal-Mart the other day and asked the person next to me.  “Hey there, how’s it going?”  They unloaded about their husband, kids, grandkids, neighbors, taxes, government, you name it.  I know that some of you are thinking, “Well, isn’t that what you’d expect from people that shop at Wal-Mart?  After all, Wal-Mart attracts ‘that’ kind of person.”  So, I asked the exact same question to a well-educated Vice President at a high-tech company.  While his response was focused on different things, it was longer, louder and more intense.  For him it was his boss, his bloodsucking relatives, his girlfriend’s son, his daughter who’s ruining her life and his ex-wife.

  • In a survey of 4,500 teachers, 24 percent say they're burned out and 32 percent say they wouldn't choose a teaching career again[1]
  • The economy continues to be the focus as the greatest source of stress[2]
    • 76% - money
    • 70% - work
    • 65% - economy
    • 49% - job stability
  • Stimulant prescriptions have risen 7-fold to more than 75 million per year[3]
  • Pain killer opiate prescriptions (hydrocodone and oxycodone) has more than quadrupled to more than 219 million annually[4]

With all this intense pressure in our lives and families, it’s no wonder that our children are impacted;

As we go looking for answers, falling under the pressures of life, we extend this same negative attitude towards God.  We feel that he hates us, condemns us and has abandoned us.  We think God is saying, “Look here, I’m against you. You have been rebelling against me. I hate you and I am forced to punish you.”

Boy, do I have some good news for you.  God is saying something entirely different to us.  He says to you and to me, “Yes, you are broken, broke and unable to get free.  But I have already paid the price and penalty for you.  I want you to know that you can come to me.  Peace has already been made for you in Christ Jesus, if you will just turn and come to me.”

God is not an angry neighbor who is waiting around the corner just to pounce on you, finding fault. God has His arms outstretched and is saying, “Come, and I will give you rest.”

Most people think that we have to do something to win God over. My friend, God is trying to win you over—the shoe is on the other foot.  God is ready; he is asking you if you are ready.

Some people will see this as an excuse to do whatever they want, abusing their personal freedom to indulge.  This is not what God wants or intends.  His desire is for us to find true freedom and power in life by releasing our rights and giving ourselves to him.

All of us are looking for relief. All of us are in need of restoration and refreshment.  And if you don’t mind me saying, we also are in need of forgiveness and reunion with God.  He has made the way, he has paid the price.  And like a gentlemen, he does not force it down our throat.  He offers it as a gift for us to accept or turn away.

His answer sure sounds better than trying to cope and just get by on our own.  It’s the best news ever.

Blessings - Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes on contemporary topics that impact our lives, culture and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[2] Stress in America Findings, American Psychological Association
[3] National Institute on Drug Abuse
[4] Prescription Audit (SPA) and Vector One
[5] Stress in America Findings, American Psychological Association

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"The Scream"

Sometimes it’s hard to understand what something is worth and what people are willing to pay for it.  This week, "The Scream" by Edvard Munch went up for sale.  Estimates said that the painting would sell for around $80 million, but it blew right by that and sold for just under $120 million.

For me personally it’s hard to get my brain around numbers that big.  To get a handle on the magnitude of this number, imagine a stack (not end to end, but a stack) of 120 million dollar bills[1].  That’s;
  • 39,960 feet tall
  • 132 football fields
  • 7.5 miles

This means that you could stack dollar bills from;
  • The White House, to the Washington Monument, to the Lincoln Memorial four times with quite a bit left over
  • Lake Wales airport to Chalet Suzanne, with a little bit to spare

As we look at this painting, we see a very intense and disturbing image.  But the story behind the picture is even more powerful.  Munch writes in his diary;

"I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through[2]."

Did you hear and experience his words…
  • feeling exhausted
  • trembling with anxiety
  • an infinite scream

It seems like these feelings and words were written just the other day as I listened to several friends…
  • Have to sell the house, we can’t afford the mortgage
  • Doctors found a lump and its growing
  • Business associates lied and stole from me
  • Working 4 part-time jobs just trying to make ends meet
  • Several broken marriages/relationships
  • Child is in jail again

“The Scream” is more than a portrait of one man; it’s a power picture of who we are and what we experience.  We all experience hurt, pain, brokenness, rejection, exhaustion, anxiety.

We've all met people that put up a front that everything is OK.  I have a friend that tells everyone how wonderful his life, family and career are.  They all seem so self-confident and happy in all they do and say.

On one occasion I casually asked my friend a question about something he wrote.  His immediate and strong reaction was to lash out with hatred and venom.  After licking my wounds to recover from the verbal and email lambasting, I wondered where it came from.  Months later, in a moment of vulnerability, he shared his feelings about the devastating impact of his parents’ divorce.  I was able to put the pieces together, he was confident and positive on the outside, but just under the surface was a hurt and insecure child.

One American athlete tells the story of his lifelong dream to be an Olympian. He labored, struggle and sacrificed everything towards his goal of becoming a gold medalist. Through sheer willpower, discipline and courage, he made the Olympic team.  Success, awards and praise seemed to follow him everywhere.  He entered the Olympic stadium, and with the entire world watching, he walked up to the starting blocks for the race of his life.  With the starting gun about to go off, the gold medal was within reach.  The culmination of his entire life was right in front of him, all he had to do was win this one race.  Then, out of nowhere, his mind was suddenly flooded with the distracting thought; “I wonder if my father is watching."  That momentary distraction cost him the gold medal[3].

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re in exactly the same place. We put on an exterior that shows nothing but confidence and success. But on the inside were hurt, weak, yearning to be loved, comforted and healed.

I've looked all around for an answer to my personal pain, weakness, failure and need.  I tried a number of “self-medicating” solutions for healing and relief from the painful screams of life.  At the end of the day, all these failed because they were dependent on the problem – me.

Jesus offers a totally unique solution to our problem.  He does not say that we’re OK and can heal ourselves, doing things to fix life.  Jesus comes and says that he takes the weight of our weakness on himself and gives us newness of life.

Jesus said, I came to give you life, and may have it abundantly.  John 10:10

He alone is the solution to “The Scream” of our lives at a price we can all afford…belief in Him.

© GLAD Associates, 2012

[1] Contact if you’re interested in the math behind these calculations/measurements
[2] Nice 22.01.1892Edvard Munch
[3] Jesus, Among Other Gods, Ravi Zacharias, Page 14