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Thursday / August 11 / 2011

[Guest Post] What nature can teach us about lines in the sand

Today’s guest post comes to us from my husband Skip Smaldone. Skip is a musician, alcohol and substance abuse counselor, church music director, and literary enthusiast. He bills himself as generally restless, a pun master, die-hard New York Jets fan — oh, and Zack’s hot dog addict (a fave in upstate NY).

When I was a child, we vacationed on the beaches of Florida every year. One of the things I most looked forward to was playing in the sand, building elaborate castles and writing messages. You see the problem, of course. The tide would come and swallow up my handiwork and erase my clever messages.

Over the years of navigating life and relationships, I’ve come to give my own lines in the sand a lot less credence. In my younger days, I drew lines in the sand about things I believed to be true (read: things I knew were ‘dead on right’). I had no reason to listen to other opinions, viewpoints, or philosophies – I had decided.

As I grew older, I began to see (and appreciate) the ebb and flow of life — especially with regards to my personal growth and spirituality. I traded rigid, regimented, and linear for open, growing and changing, and fluid.

Recently Donna posted a three-part series called “When Being Gay Isn’t So Gay”. I loved it. It was a reflection not only of our current viewpoint, but of the long, ongoing erasing of our own lines in the sand. The reactions she received were fascinating, the dialogue vibrant. But it was the reaction of one particular long term friend that caught my interest.

This long term, ‘Christian’ friend wrote to Donna, expounding on how “wrong” and “evil” homosexuality is, being clear that gay people are hellbound unless they repent.

Donna responded with a heartfelt, thought provoking, respectful response, thanking our friend for being honest enough to share her thoughts. But unfortunately, because this friend had drawn a line in the sand, Donna’s response was quickly dismissed.

The rigidity of the line in the sand was compounded in our friend’s closing remarks, which included a promise she would pray for Donna and all unbelievers, who are so clearly deceived by society and Satan.

It’s not so much what this person believes that is the problem. The problem is that her (or anyone’s) line in the sand makes it impossible to hear anyone with a differing view.

Skip Smaldone

I have made the intentional decision to become more comfortable with allowing tides to erase my lines in the sand on a regular basis, enabling me to see perspectives that would otherwise be obstructed. This process has given me the opportunity to reevaluate my opinions and positions on many important things. Some have been reinforced, some have been completely turned around. I’m grateful for both.

With openness comes empathy, understanding, and perhaps most importantly — grace.

It’s time for us to stop drawing lines in the sand. We need to step back and actually listen to one another (not just wait for others to stop talking so we can share our wealth of wisdom).

At the very least, we’ll have less sand in our shoes.

28 responses to “[Guest Post] What nature can teach us about lines in the sand”

  1. Rick says:

    Wow! That’s all I have to say (well, actually, it isn’t). Great job Donna and Skip. I’m especially impressed with Skip’s open mind and compassion for the differences in people, and what we have to learn from each other.

    Obviously, as a gay man, I know a thing or two about being judged because of what someone’s religion has taught them to believe is true. At the risk of offending some, I believe organized religion is one of the worst forms of brainwashing we have. How people can believe some of the things they do with no conclusive prove is beyond me. Until someone returns from hell and confirms without a doubt all the gay people who once walked the earth are now down there, burning for all eternity, I will not believe I’ll end up there because I have a male partner and have loved him for over nineteen years.

    Skip, the example you use in your writing is a good one, but I suspect it will be tough for some people to accept because of how unbending they are around their religious views. But I give you full marks for putting it out there and, hopefully, getting people to think, even where religion is concerned, it’s not all black and all white.

    Great post and thanks for your support.

    • Skip Smaldone says:

      Thanks Rick. My open mindedness and compassion as you call it has come from a lifetime of experiences, good and bad, that have given me a chance to pause and think.

      Organized religion can be a conundrum for sure. And although at times I have been tempted to walk away from it, I’ve committed to try to be an agent of change from within it.

      Is it an uphill battle? You bet. But I’d rather work toward what could be than live with what is.

      Best to You and Chris

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I, like you Rick, am so blessed to have found a man who embraces life with a passion, stands up for his beliefs, is ready and willing to admit when he’s wrong as well as say, “I’m sorry” — AND is enamored with me!

      I agree that organized religion can leave a bad taste (believe me, I do) — but as tough as the journey may be from time to time, I join with Skip in trying to be an agent of change from within. For us, it’s included in the erasure of lines in the sand.

      Amidst the outspoken, flamboyant few in any camp (religion included), there’s a whole slew of a greater community working to ensure they are represented in a positive and uplifting manner. Let’s not give up the fight simply because a line-drawing segment is louder.

      • Rick says:

        Just so you know, Donna and Skip, I believe in God and I consider myself spiritual. My faith is very important to me, and I believe I have a close relationship with our Creator. That said, I was raised Catholic, but I outright reject the church because of its position on homosexuality and a number of other issues that are anything but black and white to me.

        I think both of you are brave, as you say, to be agents of change from within religion. You must not be Catholic, because there is no such thing as change in that religion. It stands firm on all things and will never come into the twenty-first century. Some people consider the constancy of the church to be its strength, but, obviously, in my position, I don’t.

        Again, great post, and thanks for the comments.

        • Donna Smaldone says:

          Rick, I love hearing you talk about the strength and passion of your faith and your evident love for God. It pains me to hear how church is completely segmented from that (although I totally “get it”) — because I know it pains God’s heart, too, to see the church be more about religion than Him, thus driving people away in force.

          Skip-n-I have struggled through the years with the “church’s” view on gay relationships. In fact, there have been times when it’s driven us away. When we moved back to our roots in upstate New York (where we are now and have been again for almost two years), there was a large part of us that felt we were “done with church” (read: not God, but church).

          Through a series of serendipitous meetings and renewed friendships, we found ourselves attending Christ Church (United Methodist) in Glens Falls, New York. This is where we now call home. The church’s logo and mantra is “We’re Open” — and we mean it on every level.

          Phil (our pastor and friend) recently completed a 6-week series based on Adam Hamilton’s book, “When Christians Get it Wrong.” (more here: http://amzn.to/oxwhI2) For me-n-Skip, the church is about love and relationships — and (as religion so often fails at), recognizing NONE OF US has it all figured out!

          Thank you so much for your comments, Rick, and for reading. You are appreciated.

  2. Kim says:

    “well said!”…. the analogy of the line in the sand is perfect! Unfortunately the same lines may have been drawn in the sand for generations and passed down. Be they religious, political, social or any other… some people will “redraw” the line no matter how many times it gets washed away… As a parent, I have spent the better part of 23 years trying to teach tolerance and understanding. My children may have a slight edge in this as they are “Air Force Brats” who have traveled the globe, experienced various cultures and “seen” more. I worry about the people who have “always done it that way” and will pass their views right on down the line. I am a firm believer in trying to set an example of tolerance and understanding.. that comes with not only listening but actually, hearing!
    Thanks for your “guest blog” and I look forward to hearing from you again!

    • Skip Smaldone says:

      Thanks for the nice words Kim.

      You’re right. Many will continue to redraw the line. But maybe a few will see it washed away, pause, and wonder why they keep redrawing it. We can hope.

      Take Care

    • Skip Smaldone says:

      Hey Kim


      I’ve stopped using the word tolerance. In my opinion, it’s impossible to tolerate something unless you’ve judged that something as undeniably wrong. I’m not going to judge, so therefore I can’t tolerate.

      Food for thought…

      • Kim says:

        After consideration, I believe both you and Donna to be correct.. Tolerate or tolerant is not the correct word.. accept is Much, Much better.. thank you for pointing that out!

        • Donna Smaldone says:

          YOU are amazing, sweet Kim. It wasn’t until recently that I started reevaluating the words I use, and “tolerate” was one of them. I used to pride myself in being ‘tolerant’, until I really thought about what the word implied. Thank you for hearing, and for opening yourself to another take. I appreciate you.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughts and feedback, Kim. And thanks for your kind remarks about our guest blogger, too. My hope is you will indeed hear from him again.

      I LOVE that you are teaching your babes to embrace the world. You’ve instilled good values. I’d like to encourage you to read my post “Words mirror the inner you: choose wisely” — where I talk more about the word, “tolerant”. You’ll read that the older I get, the more I realize we should NOT be ‘tolerant’ of one another. We should be accepting. More here: http://bit.ly/qZvg2S

      Thank you for reading!

  3. Nancy O'Brien says:

    Wow, he’s not only a hunkie musical genius, he’s smart too!!!!

    • Skip Smaldone says:

      Thanks Nancy

      Although “musical” is really the only of those words I can claim with any integrity.

      See you guys soon (I hope)

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I AGREE, Nan! He is most definitely “easy on the eyes” as well as smart and talented (—AND he does my laundry, so consider this girl officially “spoiled”)

  4. DeRonda Hastings says:

    Thank you for the contribution Skip. It is easy to see why you & Donna are meant to be. The inner beauty & spirit of each of you radiates from within when you share viewpoints like these. Funny how things seem SO simple when they are pointed out, yet seem so difficult when trying to actually apply & adhere to them. I appreciate such reminders as yours, for how ever cemented that line in the sand can be, how quickly it can disappear.

    “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.“ ~Albert Einstein

    • Skip Smaldone says:

      Thanks DeRonda

      i am indeed blessed to be Donna’s partner.

      You hit it on the head – the simplest concepts are sometimes the most difficult to bring into reality. I pray that we all keep trying.

      Great AE quote!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      So well-said about the “simple” things, De. And I like how you said “cemented” in the sand because afterall, isn’t that what the lines we draw typically are? The fortunate part is that they are in sand, so those who are willing to at least pause between tides before redrawing, may just make a difference.

  5. Tony Hardt says:

    Thought-provoking and challenging! Makes me think about my lines in the sand. It is sometimes tough to take strong, confident viewpoints without being too rigid. I would say, “Go, Jets!”, but you know I don’t mean it. With love, Tony

    • Skip Smaldone says:

      Thanks my long lost brother! I miss playing music with you. And just to show you how fluid I can be – Go Browns!!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thanks so much for reading, Tony! Skip-n-I miss you (as is evidenced by his “Go Browns!” — wow!) Of course, it could be him flashing back to being a lonely spec of green in a sea of brown!.

  6. Carrie says:

    Thank you, Skip, for being a guest on Donna’s page. I love learning new things and my goal is to learn something new everyday. However, when it comes to me, the more I learn about myself the more lines…sometimes deep ruts I see. I am so thankful for the tide that comes everyday and washes away some of those lines. I love my relationship with the Lord, and the closer I get to knowing the real Him, not what religion teaches, He is that tide.

    • Skip Smaldone says:

      Love your last line Carrie – “He is that tide”. Now that’s a christian viewpoint I can go along with…

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Ditto what Skip said, LOVE, “He is the tide”. Nicely said, Coug. I also love and admire your desire to learn something new every day (and am a “witness” that you’re actually doing it… with moxie!)

  7. Ray Agnew says:

    Donna and Skip are, for me, the real deal. When it comes to living the mission, walking the walk, leading by example, and simply loving unconditionally — well — this is what I want my kids to know. That’s how important I think their message is. It’s simple; each person living as Jesus teaches. But it’s hard to do….

    • Skip Smaldone says:

      Thanks for the kind words Ray. Glad that you are in our lives.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      What a kind thing to say, Ray. Coming from you that really means a lot — especially since your kids are so amazing!! Thank you. I agree it’s hard to do, but it gets a lot easier when you realize He just wants each of us to live true to the unique person He designed each one of us to be!

  8. Mary Backus says:

    I loved the article.
    I am an elementary teacher (and an old friend of Donna’s.) I have spent many hours teaching my kids tolerance for others beliefs. In our district we have many different religious views and although church is not allowed in school there are times it just has to be. For example, there is a large Jehovah Witness population in our district and during certain holidays they do not participate in activities. Many of my colleagues take the “don’t explain it” approach where as I do. I explain that they do not choose to beleive in whatever said thing (Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc.) and that it is okay. My hope is teaching them to appreciate and respect others’ choices and views will help them understand we are all different and there is nothing wrong with it.
    Having said that, I too had to learn I had lines in the sand that I needed to look at differently. I realized I had viewed people and situations without listening or understanding someone to the full extent. I don’t think it is always easy to reflect on yourself and the lines you’ve drawn in the sand and say “maybe that one needs to be deeper, moved or even erased,” but I do beleive it makes us a better person.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Mary. I admire the spirit with which you teach your children (ALL of them… “yours” and “yours in the classroom”). I applaud you for standing up in the gap to explain to young, curious minds ‘why’ something looks differently than what they’re accustomed to in their own lives What a beautiful way to introduce perspective.

      In your teaching, I encourage you to continue to use words like “appreciate and respect others’ choices” – in place of “be tolerant of…” In the last few years, it’s occurred to me that I don’t want to be “tolerant” of others (because we typically “tolerate” things that annoy us, right?) I want to be, as you say, “appreciative” and “respectful” of all points of views and walks of life, regardless of if it’s mine. Afterall, our uniqueness is what makes us so beautiful!

      Thank you so much for reading, Mary, and for engaging in the conversation.

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