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We live in an uncertain world; predictability is an illusion.  There are two things in this world that we are ‘sure’ of: one is that nothing is sure and the other is that change is both the norm and is accelerating.

The future is not an extension of the past – the old linear model of change does not hold (as if it ever did).  The future is not predictable – even though many still live in the illusion that it is (ask any weather person who is the butt of many ‘predictable’ jokes).  We can almost be sure that what worked for us in the past will not work for us in the future – an anxiety producing thought indeed.

In order to survive and have an opportunity to thrive we must learn together; whether we like it or not we are truly inter-dependent.  One illusion we still hold onto is that learning involves the individual.  The world is too complicated and complex for the individual to remain the primary learner.  We must learn to learn together.  Organized groups of two or more must learn to learn together (organizations that do this are called ‘learning organizations’).  There are many ingredients that need to interact in order for this type of community learning to move from potential to actual.  Today I invite us to consider five of these ingredients.

The first ingredient is an assumption of competence.  A learning community is rooted in this assumption – each member is competent and each member can develop overt and latent capacities that will enable and support the community in its quest to learn together.  Traditionally, learning has been rooted in an assumption of incompetence.  Competence is supported by an encouragement-based learning model (appreciative inquiry is one such model).  Incompetence is supported by a discouragement-based learning model (a competition vs. a high achievement model is a discouragement-based model).  However, an assumption of competence is not enough.

An assumption of competence needs to be accompanied by curiosity.  Watch any young child learn and you will see curiosity in the flesh.  Curiosity is rooted in inquiry.  Questions inspire searching and seeking.  Some questions beg answers, others beget more questions.  Because learning communities don’t know, they are more likely to be moved to experimenting – just as the child does.

Some experiments are not successful and thus the third ingredient forgiveness is necessary.  The question is: What have we learned? The question is not: Why have we failed?  When we name what we have learned we can then celebrate.  I am thinking of the learning community that experimented and ended up costing the company millions of dollars.  The president of the company met with them.  The members just knew they were going to be fired.  The president told them, no, he was not going to fire them – he just spent millions educating them.  The question he had was ‘What did you learn?’  He also told them that they would be fired if they ever repeated that failure AND if they ever stopped experimenting.

Perhaps the major tap root that sustains a learning team is trust.  Trust, as we know, is not easy to give.  Each person interprets/defines it differently and each person offers trust or withholds trust based upon the many seeds that were planted in his/her life – seeds that took root and seeds that were nurtured into living plants that make up the garden that is their life.  We do seem to offer more trust to people we know; so learning communities need to spend time ‘getting to know’ one another; it does seem that telling our story and honoring the stories told increases a person’s willingness to trust another.

How do we get to know one another?  This leads us to the fifth ingredient: community.  A community of learners implies that ‘we are in this together’ and that when we come together we honor and celebrate differences.  As a community of learners we strive to enhance one another’s gifts-talents-abilities-potentials so that each person’s ‘weaknesses’ become irrelevant.  Communities are supported by a powerful-impactful purpose, vision, mission, core values, and guiding principles.  Communities are supported by clear agreements and by commitments to serve so that each person grows and so that the community grows.

Consider that these ingredients enable the learning community to not only learn together but to evolve together and co-create together.

 

He was 91.  He died on 25 January 2000.  His funeral service and life celebration was on 28 January 2000.  As I sit here this morning/mourning, Tears are washing my face as I look at a photo of my father. . .and, I remember.

On this day, 20 years after his passing, I want to share with you once again, Gentle Reader, the eulogy I offered on 28 January, 2000.  As you read I invite you to remember a person in your life who was a role model for you; a person who gifted you, challenged you, supported you and cared for you.

My father, Ernest Vernon Smith, Jr. was, like his father, ‘an old-time country doctor’ who practiced his art until he was 82.  He served more than three generations of families.  Here are the words I shared with those in attendance on 28 January, 2000.

The Poet Markova writes:

          I will not die an unlived life.

           I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
          I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me.
          To make me less afraid, more accessible.
          To loosen my heart
          Until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.

           I choose to risk my significance.
          To live
          So that which came to me as seed goes on as blossom
          And that which came to me as blossom
          Goes on as fruit.

 My father lived this poem and carried the torch and promise to many others in many subtle yet powerful ways.

Yesterday I was reading through one of my journals looking for a context for these comments.  I came upon the following that I had written: ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here, the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Eyes.  Bright, soft, penetrating, caring, admonishing, compassionate, intelligent, impish, and oh, so very blue!  I last looked deeply into those soft, blue eyes on Sunday night as I was leaving his hospital room; I did not know that this would be the last time our eyes would meet.  Our eyes held one another and we held each other’s hands as we look deeply into each other’s heart; we said to one another, ‘I love you.’

Those wondrous eyes!

How they must have looked to the thousands of people he served for more than 58 years.  Those eyes, blue and sparkling, meeting my mother’s own bright blue eyes in 1934 – he had, as my mother reminded me yesterday, already taken out all of the other nurses (300 is the number I recall) and then he asked her out.  The mutual eye-sparkle was fanned into flames of love that have endured more than 64 years and also produced 6 children who have carried this sparkle into their lives.

I remember watching my parents exchange those sparkling, impish looks with one another as I was growing up – I was fascinated by their exchanges, and I was a bit envious – I still am.

I remember, as a child, my father’s eyes holding me when I was ill; and I think of all of those souls he held with those healing eyes.  I wonder, as I look out over this room filled with those he loved, how did Ernie’s Eyes affect you?

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Face.  What are the words that come to your mind my friends when you reflect upon my father’s face?

For me the adjectives flow like a powerful river, bringing life and energy to all who drank his face in: Beauty, strength, humor, intelligence, inquiry, competence, jokester, healer, competitor, surgeon, colleague, friend, father, husband, dedicated physician, servant. 

Sit a moment with me and remember his face and the words that come to mind for you as you image him standing before you. . . .

Over the years I have thought of how his face affected those who were waiting for him to come and serve them.  I thought about the response in themselves and in their family as my father walked into their homes and into their lives carrying his little black bag of hope with him; a hope that would sustain them in their hour of need.

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Hands.  Magnificent.  Steady.  Ambidextrous.  Deft.  Confident.  Vise-like (for those of you, like me, that tried to out-vise him and lost; you know what I mean).

The hands that held a scalpel, a clamp, a needle, a new-born.  Hands that were guided by the eyes, held in place by the calm, professional face that brought his skill and energy and dedication to the service of ALL who needed him; whenever they needed him.

Through his eyes, his face, his hands, my father, in spirit, truly became present to us: his colleagues, his patients, his friends, his children and his wife. 

My father’s presence will truly live on in each of us, will live on in our relationships, and in the fruit of our relationships and will live on in this community that he was dedicated to and served for a life-time.  We have all been blessed by my father and we are now asked to continue to bless all of those that we encounter, every day, for the rest of our lives.  I pray, each day, that I can in some small way live into the dedication and service that my father lived into and out of for a life-time.   

Here is a photo of my father and mother standing outside of their home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  The date was 20 July, 1995 and it was their 60th wedding anniversary.

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary - Copy

[Gentle Reader, please see my posting for 22 January, 2020 for the context for today’s post]

Responsible people build, they do not destroy. –Robert K. Greenleaf

The third common ground connection is our Connection with Nature.  We humans are, literally, the stuff of the earth.  We humans are, literally, dependent for our survival on all sentient and non-sentient beings.  If it were not for ‘nature’ as we have it on earth, we would not be here.  In my faith tradition, Christianity, an adulteration occurred when humanity separated itself from the rest of creation (we have not been the only faith tradition to do this, however).  ‘Dominion’ (i.e. sphere of influence) became ‘domination’ (i.e. power and control over).

One of the basics of all faith traditions is that of ‘wholeness;’ we are all part of a greater whole even though we are discrete entities at the same time.  Since we are all part of the greater ‘whole’ we are dependent and inter-dependent; we are truly in this together.  Even though we humans do create and co-create we are also creatures, we are also part of creation.

For many, there is a growing awareness of our deep connection with our world (think of all of the bumper stickers that call us to be awake and aware and that call us to action: ‘Save the Earth,’ ‘Save the Rain Forests,’ ‘Hug Your Dog’); for some of us we respond to a call for action, for others of us we respond with ‘it’s not my problem’ or ‘I don’t want to think about it.’  We each choose our response: we are all response-able and responsible.

The dimension of spirituality at this meeting point encourages us to embrace ‘wholeness’ and ‘fullness.’  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s ‘A Song for God’ points to this:

. . .For things are not mute:
the stillness is full of demands, awaiting a soul to breathe in the
mystery that all things exhale in their craving for communion.

Out of the world comes a behest to instill into the air a rapturous
song for God, to incarnate in stones a message of humble beauty,
and to instill a prayer for goodness in the hearts of all men.

The fourth common ground connection – but not the final one – is that of Conscience.  There is a sense in all of humanity of knowledge of good and evil, of knowledge of light and darkness, of knowledge of right and wrong.  A knowledge of what leads to life and a knowledge of what leads to destruction and death.  Our ‘obedience’ or ‘disobedience’ to certain laws and truths the mystics of all traditions tell us bring about very particular consequences (intended and unintended).

I-You-We (individuals, discrete relationships and communities) contribute each day, if not each hour, to that which brings forth life or to that which bring forth death; we choose each day and our choices move us slowly, most of the time, toward the light or toward the darkness.  It is the sum of our daily steps, the steps that I take, that you take, and that we take that does determine our fate.

The contribution of spirituality to the dialogue (the searching depth conversation) of all faith traditions is to discern, name, and affirm the holy of each tradition and to remind us of our common humanity and to remind us of our deep connection to all of creation with the result that our conscience will be quickened and our choices will be more life-producing and life-enhancing than life-destroying and life-depleting.

Do we humans have the courage to embrace the true meaning of religion, which is to re-bind and make whole?  This is a simple question to ask and is perhaps the most challenging one to embrace and live into.  Do I-You-We have the courage to ask it?  Do I-You-We have the courage to embrace it?  Do I-You-We have the courage to live into it?  What will it take for Me-You-Us to say ‘yes’?  What is our destination if we continue to say ‘no’?

Few are guilty; all are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The more we separate ourselves from each other the weaker ‘WE’ become. –Teresa Funke

I am a Christian-Ecumenist-Perennialist.  That is, I am a follower of Christ’s invitation to live a certain way and I believe that there is common ground between and among all faith traditions (there is a Unity that transcends all) and I believe that there are teachings in each faith tradition that are essential to all human beings (I seek to find the teachings – the ‘good’ – in all faith traditions that appear to me to be essential for all of us).  So: What is common to all; what is the Common Ground? 

Now, I have not explored nor immersed myself in ALL faith traditions, but I have done so in many of them and thus far I have, indeed, found some common ground among them.  There are points where all faith traditions meet.  Here are a few of them.

Spirit is the first.  The mystics recognize and celebrate the wisdom of the spirit that is the life-breath of all.  The mystics also tell us that in order to meet the spirit we must descend – go deeper still – or we must journey into the darkness – the deep dark woods – or we must spend time in the desert – the wasteland.  While we are there we must be silent (be in solitude) and we must listen (the spirit comes as a soft voice or gentle breeze and is easy for us who are full of noise to miss).

Today spirit, spirituality and spiritual are words we use given the context.  For the mystics, spirit is used in relation to that which is deemed holy.  Holy begets holy.  In religious traditions across time and cultures people have sought via rites and rituals to sanctify places, times and deeds in order to recognize, celebrate and honor holy moments.  Depending upon the tradition and culture these will take on different forms and yet they seem to be expressions of a common reality (it might even seem that these are contradictory).  The variety expresses for me the diversity that God brings to our world; who am I, who are you, who are we to define how the spirit lives and moves in our world?  What right do we have to limit the movement of the spirit?  In all faith traditions (the ones I have explored, certainly) we hear a common admonition: welcome the stranger for in doing so we welcome the spirit – the Divine.

The second common-ground connection is our Common Humanity.  All faith traditions are not only made up of human beings, they are made up of ‘diverse’ human beings.  All faith traditions also have common human concerns which they seek to embrace.  At their best they seek to care for human beings, they seek to demonstrate compassion and empathy, and they seek to hold ‘love’ up as a primary virtue.  They also seek to bring healing and forgiveness to those who need/seek healing and forgiveness.  A goal is to live a life of wholeness – a divided life (beginning with the person and then moving to discrete relationships and then to the community) undermines all.

In 1991 at Cornell University, the Dalai Lama offered us the following: We are born with compassion and love.  This is a human quality, not religious, and comes before religion.  There is gentleness in basic human nature.  Human affection comes from a good heart.  And so there is universal responsibility not only for human beings but for all sentient beings.  Mental attitude is key to calmness of mind which creates peace and a friendly atmosphere.  Anger is an enemy within us, for, when we are angry, that anger finally is destructive to us. 

We humans are not all light.  Darkness (evil) is also common to our humanity.  The mystics of all traditions have reminded us (and continue to remind us) of the internal struggle between light and darkness (good and evil) that we must each embrace.  This is often portrayed as a ‘war’ – for Islam it is the first Jihad – the internal war.  Aristotle reminded us that we become our habits; others have said that we become what we live out each day and still others have said that we become what we give attention to each day.  It seems to me that attending to the movement of the spirit and holy in my life would tip the scales toward the light and away from the darkness.  What do I choose each day: love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, healing or anger, spite, resentment, or envy?  Do my daily choices move me toward the light, the sacred or do they move me toward the darkness, the profane?  I have choice, the mystics remind me.

Our common humanity is a point of meeting and when we meet we can take steps to build community or we can take steps that will lead us to separation and destruction.  We have choice – I have choice, you have choice, we have choice.

Become the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tomorrow we honor Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was not clear in the years following our Revolutionary War that the thirteen separate ‘countries’ (as they were called) would choose to meld into one country.  For many the linchpin in this struggle was George Washington.  Supporters of a stronger central government were perplexed by Washington’s insistence that he would return to Mount Vernon and take no part in government.

A number of folks during the following years, when the idea of disunion was truly possible, not only pleaded with Washington to use his name, his influence, and if necessary his ‘power’ to help tip the balance in favor of the union they also accused him of deserting a sinking cause.

Washington believed that the nation would “work its own cure, as there is virtue at the bottom.” [Note: My quotations come from James Thomas Flexner’s four volume biography of Washington]  Washington embraced the Romantic doctrine that man was not basically evil and in need of being controlled; rather man was basically good and could be trusted.

However, Washington, being Washington, added a twist to this when he also stated that even though man was basically virtuous the best government would not be the one that would impose the fewest constraints.  He believed that their very virtue would make the American people impose upon themselves, via republican means, the governmental restraints which he considered necessary for a society/nation to be strong, just and prosperous.

However, Washington did not expect the people to find their way simply because of their ‘goodness.’  He wrote: “I am sure the mass of citizens in these United States mean well, and I firmly believe they will always act well whenever they can obtain a right understanding of matters.”  Washington did not expect that this ‘understanding’ would come easily nor quickly.  The knowledge required for ‘understanding’ did not come primarily from books; for Washington this ‘understanding’ came from experience plus reflection – this was the knowledge that was most important.  Experience, he knew first-hand, was a slow teacher and people at some point need to be ‘jogged about a bit’ before they will give up ingrained habits.  As he wrote: “The people must feel before they will see; consequently, are brought slowly into measures of public utility.”  And later on he noted that: “[It] is on great occasions only, and after time has been given for cool and deliberate reflection, that the real voice of the people can be known.” 

Washington believed in us and he offered us a way to ‘understanding.’  How well have we, who have been entrusted with his legacy, truly sought understanding and all that understanding implies?  Have we lost the desire and ability for ‘cool and deliberate reflection’?  Is what we have put in its place truly serving us as a ‘Union’?  As I prepare to remember and celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. tomrrow I vacillate between hope and doubt (if not near-despair).  I know in many ways, I AM important in all of this for it begins ‘in here’ within me and I believe that Washington (and King) knew this – and believed in me-you-us.  Do I share their trust and do I believe in me-you-us?  This is a question I will consciously hold today and tomorrow.

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience. –George Washington

 

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive, and to do so with passion, compassion and humor. –Maya Angelou

In the early fall of 1986, just north of the Inside Passage along Alaska’s coastline, a glacier muscled its way across the neck of a long narrow bay, creating an ice dam that formed a lake thirty-four miles long; this lake became a death trap for the hundreds of marine mammals that now had no access to the ocean.  For four months millions of gallons a week of meltwater from the glacier filled the new lake.  Then one night the pressure reached its breaking point and the dam burst and the water and marine mammals were rushed back into the bay and into the ocean free at last from the icy barrier that had imprisoned them.

Sometimes we humans are also constrained by internal icy barriers that imprison our passions; thus imprisoned there is a real possibility that our passions will lose their fire, the flame will go out and we will fill with dense smoke and suffocate from within.  Our passions are a life-force that we need in order to survive and to thrive and that we are called to bring to our world.  Our passions are also ‘needs’ we have and if they are not actualized (i.e. moved from potential to actual) our world will be diminished.  Passions imprisoned also have a way of showing up as ‘symptoms’ that are signals to us, if not reminders, that we are full of dis-ease.  One way or another our passions will manifest themselves – ‘Summoned or not, the god will come,’ reads the inscription carved over the stone door of Carl Jung’s house.

At times I have resisted admitting that I have a passion because I feel that I can’t really do anything about it.  I can’t afford (time, money, energy) to engage my passion and if I think about it I move myself toward depression and so I use energy to ignore it or deny its existence.  Sometimes I am fearful that if I engage the passion then I will become out of control; the passion will take over my life.  I have learned, however, that I can allow a little bit of my passion into my life and perhaps there are times when I can allow even more than a little bit of it into my life.  For example, I love to read.  I could spend the majority of my day reading.  I am surrounded by books, literally, and I always have at least twenty books within arms-length.  I also carry at least five books and my ‘kindle’ with me when I leave home.  Right now there are 37 books within arms-length of where I am sitting.  I commit to reading two hours a day.  Some days I will read more than two hours but only after ‘my work is done’ [OK, I admit it, sometimes the work does not get done, but the reading does].

Now, paradoxically, if someone were to pay me to read; if reading became my ‘work’ I have a sense that my passion for reading would diminish.  I have known folks who have experienced such a transformation.  It would certainly be great if my passion for reading would pay my rent but I also have a sense that if I had to ‘depend’ on my passion to make money or gain recognition or keep up with the Joneses that the fire in my belly would flicker, if not be extinguished.  It seems to me that the point of a passion is to love the passion, to respect the passion, to relish the passion.  I know my passion for reading benefits me and benefits my world and hence it is crucial that I keep the flame burning hot and bright.

Excuse me, gentle reader, a book, America’s Unwritten Constitution, is begging me to pick her up, hold her in my hands, feel the texture of her pages and . . .

I believe that education is all about being passionate about something. –Steve Irwin

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light. –George Washington

When truth comes a calling too often we say, ‘Go away, I am looking for truth!’ So, truth turns and walks away, puzzling at what had just occurred.  What is truth?  The dictionary offers us some guidance: TRUTH = fact, supreme reality, ultimate meaning of existence, integrity. 

I sit here this morning pondering truth.  How do I respond when truth comes a calling?  My response – or is it reaction – depends upon what truth is bringing me.  When truth affirms the best of who I am; the light I am called to bring to my world, I welcome truth with open arms; I embrace truth and hold it close.

However, truth also invites me to learn things about myself that I would rather not learn.  Or, truth shows up wanting to confirm things about myself that I am not eager (to say the least) to have confirmed.  At these times, I do not welcome truth nor do I even begin to consider embracing truth.  Even though I say with great intensity, ‘I want to know the truth about myself,’ when truth responds with ‘OK, consider this bud’ I quickly turn away or put my hands over my ears or over my eyes.

When I summon the courage to embrace what truth has to offer me I actually experience some relief, along with a little feeling of dread.  I have experienced that once I embrace truth then inner peace follows – sometimes peace arrives quickly and at other times she takes her good old time in showing up; but showing up she does.

I am remembering a view I had of myself as a person who was very flexible.  Truth had to show up in many guises over a period of years before I was able to accept that I was also very rigid.  I still have difficulty writing these words even today; but I no longer deny the ‘truth’ of it.  I still laugh when I recall a close friend telling me that I am so flexible that I am rigid in my flexibility.

Truth also invites me to consider that my strengths are also potentially my greatest weaknesses.  This, too, I have experienced.  Paradoxically, my strengths are also my limitations; they enable me and they hinder me.  When I am able to accept this paradox about myself it is easier for me to accept others as living paradoxes.  When I accept my resistance to the truth about myself I am more able to be compassionate and empathetic towards others.  When I accept the ‘judgment’ that truth lays on me I find that I am less judgmental about the ‘failings’ of others.

I am not alone, literature is full of examples of people like me and this helps me for I feel ‘more normal’ as a result.  I am not alone in my struggle to accept truth when she comes a calling.  Literature also confirms that bad things do happen when we don’t embrace truth when she comes a calling.  I am thinking of MacBeth, Peter, Napoleon, Jefferson, Job, Faustus. . . .ah, their name is legion.  On the other hand, when we view truth as a form of love – a love that presents us with an opportunity to change or even transform – then growth, health and positive development are possible.

Gentle reader, how do you respond when truth comes a calling?  Are you open to truth calling on you today?

Truth is the first chapter in the book of Wisdom. –Thomas Jefferson