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Archive for March, 2015

Yesterday my friend George invited me to write more about one of my mentors. After some reflection I have decided to write a bit about the concept ‘Mentor’ and provide a few examples from my own life. ‘Mentor’ is a word that is bandied about these days; like ‘coach’ its meaning has become so general that we seem to have lost its original meaning. I have recently been thinking about my mentors and so George’s invitation is timely.

Consider the root of ‘Mentor’.’ Homer tells us that Mentor was an ‘elder’ and a wise man. As Odysseus was preparing to leave for the Trojan War he chose Mentor to guide his young son, Telemachus. Thanks to Homer we have a name for a wise elder that calls forth the potential in another. A mentor is wise. Becoming wise is no easy feat, hence a mentor is ‘old’ and has ‘lived a full life’ and has learned and continues to learn; too often the modern mentor is not wise, and is often too ‘young’.

Traditionally, a mentor is not a bringer of comfort or solace. A mentor challenges one’s thinking and one’s self-perception. A mentor ‘sees’ the gifts, talents, abilities, and potentials that lie dormant within the person and then calls them forth (sometimes the mentor even names them). A mentor is not assigned. A mentor shows up and it is up to the person to invite the mentor into his/her life. If the person is not ready the mentor will not be recognized – if the person is not seeking and searching and if the person is not open to meeting his/her mentor then the mentor will not be revealed. The person often ‘resists’ the mentor’s ‘calling forth.’ The mentor, however, is adamant and continues challenging the person by ‘naming,’ ‘calling forth,’ and ‘challenging’.

The relationship will eventually end (my mentor relationships have lasted, on average, five years). The person might terminate the relationship – prematurely. The mentor might terminate the relationship – ‘I have provided all that I can provide.’ Once in a while the person will discern that the mentor has provided all that he/she can provide. I have never had a mentor relationship that terminated because both of us agreed ‘Now is the time!’

I continue to hold a question: ‘Does my mentor have to actually be in my life?’ I have, for example, been deeply affected by 3-4 authors; through their writings they have called me forth and have helped me identify ‘potentials’ that I was not fully aware of possessing. The mentors who were living human beings in my life – who interacted with me face-to-face – and are now no longer present to me as fully human beings continue to guide me when I reflect upon how they called me forth. This is a question I will continue to hold.

Next time I will briefly describe four of my mentors. Two appeared in my life when I was young and two appeared later in my life (one when I was in my late 20s and one when I was in my late 40s). Each saw in me ‘potentials’ that were dormant and each called them forth. Even today they continue to ‘gift’ me in surprising ways (or in ‘reminding ways’). Here are their names: Larry Kelly, Stan Swast, Lowell Colston, and R.T. Williams. By the by, a few of the authors that continue to call me forth include: Henri Nouwen, Douglas Steere, Robert K. Greenleaf, Eric Fromm, Leo Tolstoy, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

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‘No way! I am not going to talk to that person! No Way!’ As a thought-partner to others, I cannot even begin to count the number of times during the past 45 years I have heard these words passionately pronounced (nearly verbatim with each utterance which is weird in itself). I heard them again earlier this week. I know it is difficult for you to believe gentle reader but I have also spewed these words out into the world (but I digress).

On Wednesday these ‘No Way!’ words were offered up in response to my inquiry: ‘What might happen if you listened intently and receptively to…?’ The ‘No Way!’ statement quickly followed. I paused. I continued. ‘What might happen if, instead of declaring or debating, you inquired in order to understand what matters to…?’ ‘What might happen if you sought to understand what … is looking for?’ ‘What might happen if you listened in order to discern the common ground upon which you both stand?’

A few hours later, as I was reflecting upon our good thinking experience some words from Ephesians emerged into my consciousness. Here is the complete passage from Ephesians. 4:2. ‘With humility and gentleness, and with patience, support each other in love.’ [NJB]

As many of us know, listening intently and receptively in order to understand is a gift to both the speaker and the one who is seeking to listen in this way. We also seem to know that if we listen rooted in humility, gentleness, and patience while being motivated by a desire to support the other in love that our gift is magnified to the power of ten (if not more).

So, why do I choose not to listen – moreover, not to listen in this way? Well, for one, this type of listening takes time and I am a very busy person. My life is a series of bytes (sound and time). I am suffering from what Milan Kundera calls ‘Hurry Sickness.’ From an early age I was taught to defend and debate and be tenacious when it came to ‘my opinions.’ I was taught to ‘attack’ viewpoints that were contrary to mine. I was taught to label, categorize and marginalize those who were not like me/us. I was taught to listen in order to find a weakness and then to exploit the weakness. I learned all of this well. I have discovered that many others have also learned the same lessons as well, if not better than, I.

Consider that we are members of what Deborah Tannen calls the ‘argument culture.’ We debate more than we inquire. One symptom of this is regularly demonstrated when our Congress meets. As one congress-person said last week: ‘I was not elected to comprise. I was elected to take a strong stand and not give in.’ Given that our Founding Fathers were clear that a democracy must be rooted in compromise, this congress-person’s comment raises my anxiety. Democracy thrives rooted in ‘moderation’ and moderation requires an ‘Ephesian approach’ to listening. Congress simply reflects our culture (it is we, the people, after all who hire these folks). Robert K. Greenleaf asks: ‘Why is there so little listening?’ He also asks: ‘When I speak, how will my speaking improve on the silence?’

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This morning, gentle reader, we will continue to explore the question: ‘Truth – Does it Matter?’ Because of our love of ‘spinning’ – in this case, spinning the ‘Truth’ – we have become less trusting and more cynical (especially when we hear someone say: ‘Trust me, I am telling you the truth!’). I invited us to briefly consider three nutrients that feed our Cynicism when it comes to defining and embracing the concept ‘Truth’. In Part I we briefly explored ‘Relativism.’ We continue this morning briefly exploring the two other nutrients: ‘Fundamentalism’ and ‘Scientific Truth.’

Fundamentalism. ‘Relativism’ is fluid (to say the least) and ‘Fundamentalism’ is solid (a bit of an understatement). The Dictionary is helpful: ‘Fundamentalism is a movement or an attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.’ Fundamentalism is the polar opposite of Relativism. The fundamentalist’s stand: ‘There is ‘THE TRUTH’ and I have it – and if you do not believe ‘THE TRUTH’ then you do not have truth – at worst you are blasphemous.’ Our diverse, pluralistic society is not served well by fundamentalism – when it comes to having ‘THE TRUTH.’ With the relativist, when truth is defined so broadly that it becomes meaningless so it is with the fundamentalist: when truth is define too narrowly it also becomes meaningless (if one believes that a diverse, pluralistic society is crucial in order for democracy to survive and thrive). Fundamentalism, that is. ‘surety,’ kills creativity, experimentation, searching and seeking – if I am ‘sure’ then why would I inquire or question or search? Potential garden enriching differences (seeds, roots, shoots and plants) are not allowed to ‘come alive’ and serve the garden that is society. Consider that relativism says, ‘there are no weeds’ and that fundamentalism says ‘I know the weeds – any truth that is not my truth or any inquiry into my truth (e.g. ‘doubt’) are the weeds.’ Given this polarity – Relativism & Fundamentalism – some seek the truth through science: ‘Scientific Truth.’

Scientific Truth. Scientific Truth enables us to see and understand ‘Cause-Effect’ relationships. It enables us to ‘hold’ an idea (if not a truth) and ‘explore’ it (disconfirm it) at the same time. It allows us to say: ‘if this…then this’ (we can predict somethings). But alas, Scientific Truth is not all that we want it to be. Consider how much fabrication there is of research data, or, for example, how many drug making companies withhold certain results in order to get their product to market. How many folks deny Scientific Truth (‘proof’ if you will): Climate change, Evolution, and when human life begins are popular generators of angry debates and even deadly actions. If the scientist, like the rest of us, is primarily motivated first by emotions then how ‘objective’ can the scientist really be? Scientists, unlike relativists and fundamentalists are more ‘theory-driven’ than ‘truth-driven’ and hence are seeking ‘disconfirmation’ just as much as they are seeking ‘confirmation.’

‘Truth’ is not an easy concept for us contemporary folk; it continues to be – as it was for the ancient wisdom figures, a complex, if not elusive, concept. ‘Truth’ is likely to continue to generate doubt, confusion, division (often rooted in ‘surety’), spin, lies, guilt-free killing, or worse. These responses alone might well mean that in deed ‘Truth does Matter!’ – It has always mattered and it will continue to matter. Truth will continue to matter for it is one of the ‘pearls of great price’ that we humans are searching for.

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Truth will not make you rich – it will, however, make you free. It used to be that truth mattered. Truth would set one ‘free to. . .’ and ‘free from. . .’ Today, rather than setting us free we spin truth to fit our view of the world (or people or religion or ethnic groups or politics or….). Like God, we create truth in our own image. So I am sitting here this morning wondering: ‘Truth – Does it Matter?’ Gentle reader, I invite you to briefly explore this question with me.

In our country ‘spin’ washes over us more powerfully than a great tsunami; unlike a ‘real’ tsunami this ‘spin tsunami’ never ceases its relentless hammering upon our psychic shores. One of the great ‘spins’ has to do with ‘truth.’ For example, within the past five years how many high profile folks from politicians, to religious leaders, to sports figures, to business leaders, to health care professionals have looked us in the eye and with great solemnity declared ‘I am telling you the truth!’ – We then find that their definition of truth-telling did not fit with or even complement our definition (‘our’ = we individuals who listened to these folks). Has ‘truth’ been compromised? Has ‘truth’ lost its inherent integrity? So here is, perhaps, one major root of our ‘truth-challenge’ – the definition itself: What is truth? Who defines truth? Whose definition will I accept (believe in, follow, trust, or die for)?

Traditionally, ‘Truth’ was a powerful thread that held together the diverse fabric that made up a civil society. Today, more than ever before, ‘Truth’ is a thin thread that many do not trust will hold anything together much less the fabric of our society. As we know all too well, when we do not trust we nurture into life – and sustain the growth of – cynicism; cynics abound (not the ancient philosophical cynics who were skeptics). Cynicism might be the dis-ease of our society. Cynicism erodes and kills truth.

What feeds Cynicism? Of the many nutrients that feed Cynicism I invite us to consider three of them: Relativism, Fundamentalism, and ‘Scientific Truth.’

Relativism. It seems that we are all affected by, if not influenced by, relativism. A relativist will say ‘There is no absolute truth!’ – In making this statement the relativist offers us an ‘absolute truth’ (ah, the irony of it all). There is no ‘Truth’ from which all other truths proceed or to which all other truths are measured. ‘Your truth’ is legitimate as long as it does not interfere with my ‘truth’ or my ‘lifestyle’ or my ‘desires,’ or my ‘freedom’ (which often is license dressed up in sheep’s clothing). At its healthiest, relativism supports ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’ and ‘diversity.’ Relativism disintegrates when the relativist becomes outraged by another’s philosophy or another’s sense of the ‘truth’ – especially when another’s truth crashes headlong into the relativist’s truth (then tolerance and acceptance are the babies that are tossed out with the bath water). Some of the most rigid and absolutist folks I have ever met have been folks that have espoused ‘relativism’ – especially when it came to defining ‘truth.’

There are two other nutrients that feed our Cynicism and we will briefly explore these next time or we won’t. . .it’s all relative you know.

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‘Discernment-Discretion’ is not a skill to be learned; it is an art to be practiced. Discernment-Discretion creates an atmosphere, a climate, and a space where diverse connections can be made. As in good art, Discernment-Discretion learns from its attempts; it learns from experimenting; it learns by taking the risk to wander in foreign lands. The person seeking to be rooted in Discernment-Discretion seeks to learn from his or her abject failures; he or she chooses to look at these failures through the lens of Discernment-Discretion. This searcher-seeker begins ‘in here’ – within the person him/herself – and not ‘out there’ seeking to anoint the other as ‘guilty.’

Consider, gentle reader, that today, in our culture, we have few role-models when it comes to Discernment-Discretion. Religion has lost its meaning (‘religio’ = to rebind, to make whole) and is not a place where one can look for this wholistic concept (consider that too many religions have found their truth and are not open to discernment much less to Discernment-Discretion). In the United States religion has become indistinguishable from our culture – religion is not ‘re-binding,’ it does not seek ‘to make whole;’ religion, like our culture, is polarizing (the fundamentalists vs. the relativists for example). We, in our culture, are quick to shoot from the lip; to act without taking time to engage Discernment-Discretion. We Christians who have a powerful role-model in Jesus continue to refuse to model ourselves after him. In all of the gospels (those ‘approved by the Church’ and those that are not – like the Gospel of Thomas) Jesus consistently and powerfully and ‘in-your-face’ models Discernment-Discretion’ and we, in our culture anyway, continue to ignore his modeling. Rather than follow Jesus’s image we create Jesus in our own image (talk about idolatry).

Religion is to help us cultivate the space and nurture the garden so that the seeds of Discernment-Discretion can take root, can be nurtured into life, and can flower (this flowering also enables their seeds to be passed on). Religion continues to fail us when it comes to Discernment-Discretion.

Too often we are seduced by the mantra ‘if it feels good do it.’ Too often we are seduced by the relativism of ‘self-first.’ Too often we serve others not because it is ‘right to do so’ but because serving reinforces our ‘self-righteousness.’ Rooted in our self-righteousness we are then quick to condemn others; we become the very Pharisees that Jesus struggled with. Rather than engaging Discernment-Discretion in order to understand the other(s), we move in with our self-righteous sword of judgment and hack away. I do not think that Jesus would stand by and say to us ‘right-on!’

Jesus – one of many ancient and great wisdom figures – knew, of course, that we are truly imperfect beings so he provided us with a guiding spirit (all great faith traditions have a guiding spirit available to them). Sadly, because we have neglected to develop the art of Discernment-Discretion we do not take the time to retreat into solitude and silence and so we do not hear the whisper of the spirit who has been sent to us.

What will it take for us – for you and me – to intentionally and purpose-fully nurture the dormant seeds of Discernment-Discretion so they might come alive, take root, emerge into the sunlight and thrive?

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‘Discernment-Discretion’ supports our living in ‘our truth’ not living out ‘a truth.’ ‘Discernment-Discretion’ supports our working out faithfully and attentively what we need to do and say in order to remain connected to one another in deep fellowship. There are, among many, three adverbs and one verb that might help us learn about this ‘Janus.’ These four words are found in many ancient traditions (faith and philosophical); they have ‘staying power.’ Here are the three adverbs and the one verb: faithfully, attentively, obediently & listen.

Faithfully enables us to go beyond our closely held stereotypes, prejudices, opinions, and assumptions as to how the other(s) should act, what the other(s) should believe, what ‘truth’ the other(s) should hold and how the world ‘should’ work. There is ‘truth’ here, but it is a tiny truth; it is a truth wearing blinkers – for some it is a blind truth. ‘Faithfully’ enables us to expand our searching and seeking and to trust that there are truths that call me and these are broader and deeper truths than I can imagine.

Attentively means that I chose to listen rooted in deep attention, receptivity and with responsiveness. I allow the other and his/her words to reach my heart and soul – not just my intellect. I choose to become attentive to the deep mystery that is the other. I honor the other by being attentive to him/her. If I am attentive I will discern that the other ‘suffers as I suffer’ and given this insight I might well choose to respond rooted in discretion. If I am attentive I will be able to discern my shadow being manifested by the other (my ‘shadow’ contains the ‘good and evil,’ the ‘light and the darkness,’ the ‘virtues and the vices’ that lie hidden within my-self).

Obediently means that with freedom-responsibility is yet another Janus that I will embrace. It means that I will seek to discern and then with discretion respond to my ‘life’s purpose’ and to my ‘call.’ It means that I will discern when it is more important ‘to be faithful’ rather than ‘effective’ and discretion supports my choosing to ‘be faithful.’ An ongoing challenge for me is to discern when I am called ‘to be obedient’ – and then to respond rooted in discretion.

To Listen means that I will choose to listen intently and receptively in order to first understand (myself and the other). It means that I gift the other with a certain type of listening – a listening that embraces and honors the other. Listening is also a gift I give to myself – done well, it enables me to expand my own self-knowledge; ‘nosce te ipsum’ – know thyself (If I want to understand the other I must first look into my own heart!).

‘Discernment-Discretion’ cannot be taught – it must be learned. Role-models, mentors and living examples are helpful – if we are willing to be faithful, attentive, obedient as we watch and ‘listen.’

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I have been reading and learning more about the ‘Desert Fathers-Mothers.’ Recently my thinking was stimulated by a ‘wholistic’ concept; a concept that we, in our culture, have fragmented. Simply stated the concept is: ‘Discernment-Discretion.’ During this and my next two entries we will briefly explore this concept.

Many years ago, Discernment & Discretion were the same word ‘discretio.’ They were inseparable. They were akin to the two-faced god Janus – one face, Discernment, looked internally and the other face, Discretion, looked externally. For example, Discernment looked internally for ‘truth’ and Discretion helped ensure that the person would act externally rooted in his/her ‘truth.’ The ‘student’ who was learning about ‘discretio’ sought to discern the difference between the ‘true and false’ that resided within and then rooted in ‘Discretion’ would act on his/her truth.

Consider, gentle reader, that in our culture we have come to split these two concepts (reductionism is a habit we have integrated thanks to our industrial revolution and the ensuing mechanical metaphors). I often hear folks talking about the need to be more discerning; I seldom hear folks talking about the need for discretion.

Consider that Discretion guides our choice of action – perhaps more importantly Discretion guides our choice for ‘non-action.’ Discretion helps us decide to act upon or not act upon what we have Discerned.

We have lost touch with Discretion-Discernment as a ‘whole’ and one result is that the definition of Discretion has, itself, become ‘two-faced.’ For example, the ‘Shorter Oxford Dictionary’ provides us with two contrasting definitions. The first fits well with our ‘relativistic-individualistic’ culture: ‘Deciding and acting as one thinks.’ The second is more counter-cultural: ‘Being discreet and prudent in judgment; being circumspect in speech or action.’

It seems that all ancient faith and philosophical traditions emphasize the ‘whole’ – Discernment-Discretion, not just one. One of the most ancient, the ‘Tao Te Ching’ emphasizes ‘the middle way’ as it is rooted in the ‘whole’ of Discernment-Discretion. A few centuries later, Aristotle, embraced the ‘whole’ and provided us the ‘Golden Mean.’ A few centuries after that Jesus provided us one of the most powerful ‘lived examples’ of the whole.

When confronted by the righteous, angry mob who deposited at his feet the woman caught in adultery Jesus became ‘silent,’ he ‘withdrew into inner solitude,’ ‘he waited as he reflected’ (we really do not know how long he remained withdrawn – it was long enough to cause the mob to become more irritable). After ‘writing in the dust’ (What did he write anyway?), he looked up and with a few simple words he both defused the situation and raised the awareness of all present (my hunch is that this ‘awareness’ was quite disturbing).

Jesus’ ‘wholistic’ approach – Discernment-Discretion – elevated (or was it that he ‘deepened’) the situation to a more profound and powerful level. No one was condemned and yet no one could walk away unashamed (not ‘shamed’ but ‘unashamed’). By his embracing the ‘whole’ of ‘Discernment-Discretion’ Jesus enabled the potential for a greater good.

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