Archive for February, 2012

MUST I. . . ?


[an incomplete reply]


A simple question I hold:

Must I serve?

It seems that

A fox Must hunt;

An eagle Must soar;

A searcher Must seek.

Must is housed in the

Who of each.


What resides in my Who?

My mind houses Should

and Ought;

My heart houses Perhaps

and Maybe;

My soul houses Hope

and Possibility.

There is no space in this home for



Will I choose to

make a room for Must;

to create a mind-space

or a heart-space or a

soul-space for Must?


Am I willing to intentionally invite

and warmly welcome Must into

my home?


Am I willing to accept

Obligation —

the clothes that cover Must?


Am I willing to sit quietly and

listen for the voice of Must

asking me to welcome her

and him into my home?


Am I fearful that Must is

lurking about outside and

that Should, Ought, Perhaps,

Maybe, Hope and Possibility

are busy guarding the door

with the bar of Distraction?    –Richard W Smith, 20 December, 2009

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I grew up in a city with a population of 17,000+.  It is located 60 miles south of Green Bay, 60 miles east of Madison, and 60 miles north of Milwaukee.  I am no stranger to brats and beer; but I digress.  We spent many hours riding the train, especially taking trips to Milwaukee, Chicago and to St Paul to visit our mother’s family.  Frequently the coaches were crowded, quite crowded.  And yet civility was rampant.  There were clear rules that were enforced by the Conductor – and our mother.  There were also covert rules that people learned as they traveled and sought to make the journey as enjoyable as possible.  I don’t recall anyone actually enforcing these rules; they seemed to be followed because at some deep level we all knew the long journey mixed in with frequent stops when people and some luggage had to be moved on and off the train required us to follow these rules if the journey was to be, at minimum, tolerable.  I don’t recall any rage or anger because of these frequent stops; nor do I recall any passengers ‘losing it.’

I do recall a young man who had a grand mal seizure, the first I had ever seen, and what I remember, in addition to being frightened, was the immediate response of others to come to this young man’s aide.  My mother was a nurse and she immediately jumped up and began to help for it was the thing to do.

As I recalled and reflected upon this story this morning it occurred to me that this type of civility required at least two things from all of us: First, each of us had to make a sacrifice for the well being of the whole – in fact, as human beings we are called upon, if not obligated to, make personal sacrifices for the well being of the community [you name the community] as we journey through life together.  Second, in the long run, the sacrifices we each make enables the journey, at minimum, to be worth it and at maximum to be more than worth it.

Today, however, especially in our culture, we seem to be living an illusion.  The illusion is that we are traveling alone – the automobile has helped foster this illusion I think.  We have shifted dramatically from ‘we are on this train ride together’ to ‘I am on this ride by myself – it is truly ALL ABOUT ME.  We have come to care less and less about others; we have come to suspect the stranger in our midst – as well as the stranger that wants to move from the edges of our midst into our midst.  Others, those we know and those we don’t know, have become competitors, if not obstacles, to our getting what we want.

We all know, if we are awake and aware at all, that our current political landscape has become our country’s poster-child for incivility, at minimum, and for outright hatred of the ‘other’ in so many ways.  If we citizens didn’t like it then our politicians wouldn’t be engaged in such childish behavior [actually, this is an insult to children who by and large haven’t been corrupted by incivility – so I apologize to you, dear children].

I am searching and seeking the civil that resides within each of us.  I am seeking to call forth and live into the civility that resides within me.  I move between being caught up in the cynicism that incivility breeds and nurtures and the hope that is a tap root that feeds and nurtures civility.  The hope, for me, lies in the fact that we do have choice.  The question I hold is Do I – You – We have the courage to choose civility?  

Civility is like this photo of the forest as captured by my friend, Bruce, who is a living example of civility.

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The Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Business Ethics (1997) defines Conscience as inner awareness of right and wrong, good and evil.  According to Blackwell, persons said to ‘have conscience’ manifest three characteristics:


They evaluate actions, motives and states of character to determine if these are appropriate from a moral point of view.


They experience feelings such as guilt or satisfaction that are consistent with moral judgments that they have made.


They are disposed to act on the basis of their moral perceptions. 


Evaluation requires reflection, probably ‘deep reflection’ or ‘intense reflection’ and it also requires one hold and understand his/her moral point of view.  Then, or in concert with this evaluation, one experiences certain feelings – actually feels them in his/her being – ‘guilt’ or ‘satisfaction’ [versus say ‘shame’ or ‘pride’].  These feelings are consistent with the ‘moral judgments’ – not just any judgments.  Finally, ‘evaluation’ and ‘experiencing certain feelings’ are not enough; conscience is incomplete without ACTION.  Not any action, but action rooted in the first two, ‘their moral perceptions.’ 


So, ‘conscience’ is ‘Evaluation + Experience of Feelings + a Disposition to Act.’  Martin Luther King, Jr. caught this, I believe, when he wrote that: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ 


When have I been silent about things that really matter?


When have I compromised my conscience?  Why did I choose to do so?


What has called my conscience forth and how did I respond?


Do I believe that those I most vehemently disagree with act from this definition of conscience?  Do I dismiss them by labeling them as ‘having no conscience’ or by demonizing them [a common posture in our culture today].


I am no Patrick Henry.  ‘Give me liberty or give me death!’ does not attract me today.  I could go to ‘Give me liberty or send me to my room!’


Patrick Henry and Martin Luther King, Jr were, to me, persons of conscience.


For you, dear reader, who are persons of conscience?  When has your conscience been called forth – and how did you choose to respond?


One more thought, perhaps ‘evil’ occurs or is invited in, when one does not respond to the call of conscience.

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Once upon a time many, many years ago a teacher was approaching a village.  The teacher had agreed to teach in two villages about twenty miles apart.  She would spend three days in one village, take a day to travel and spend three days in the next village.  As she approached the first village she noticed a soldier guarding the entrance into the village.  As she approached, the soldier blocked her path, held his lance across his chest in a menacing manner and demanded, in a voice that shook the ground: Who are you?  Why are you here?  Where are you going?  Why are you choosing to go there?  


The teacher took a few deep breaths and asked: ‘How much do they pay you to stand here and ask these questions?’  The soldier was taken aback, stunned if you will by the question and by the gentle nature of the teacher.  His demeanor softened as did his voice. He replied: ‘They pay me a half piece of silver a month.’ 


The teacher took another deep breath; looked directly into the soldier’s eyes and said: ‘I will be coming to teach in this village every week.  I will pay you a half piece of silver each week if you promise to ask me the same four questions each time I enter this village.’ 


More than twenty years ago I began to emerge what I call Essential Life Questions; I now have five pages of them divided into different categories.  I still experience that these four are, for me, my guiding questions.  Perhaps you will choose to hold one or more of these and perhaps you will begin to emerge additional questions that will also become essential life questions for you.

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Today, I offer what I call, not-quite-poetry; a reading.



Achilles was told that if he did not go to Troy

that he would marry, have healthy children and

that in three generations his name would be lost

to all who followed.

Would it matter, really?


Achilles was told that if he did go to Troy

that he would perform great warrior-hero deeds and

that he would die on the field of battle and

that his name and his story would survive the ages

and be remembered by all who followed.

Did it matter, really?


I have begun at 65 to think about my legacy.

How long will my name survive?

What will I be remembered for in three generations?

How long will it be before my name is lost?

Will it matter, really?


Will my or the world be better because I resided here?

Will others be more fully who they are because I lived among them?

Will others be more depleted because they met me along the way?

How will I really know for sure?

Will it matter, really?


Perhaps my legacy has more to do with being faithful to who I

am called to be in my world than it has to do with measuring

how effective I might be.


Perhaps God will not inquire as to what I did.

Perhaps God will wonder if I was the Richard I was called to be.

Perhaps if I am the Richard I am called to be that this will be legacy enough.

Perhaps I need to continue to understand the Richard I am called to be.


Perhaps my legacy resides within the Perhaps.


–Richard W Smith, 23 January 2010

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