Archive for May, 2015

You must trust and believe in people or
life becomes impossible. –Anton Chekhov

My life experience continues to confirm my belief that TRUST is the crucial element in developing, nurturing and sustaining healthy relationships. So, gentle reader, I invite you to consider TRUST [what follows is my current thinking about Trust]. It is also important to remember that at our best we are imperfect human beings and that when it comes to ‘Trust’ we will more often than not ‘stumble the mumble’ rather than ‘walk the talk.’

Trust = a tap root that feeds healthy relationships [P.O.T. = Personal, One-to-One, Team – ‘Team’ is any organized group of three or more folks]

Trust Defined: trust is one’s willingness to act rooted in integrity and to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, honest, open, reliable, and competent

Integrity = commitment to moral and ethical principles; one is rooted in the soundness of his/her moral character. The goal is to consistently act rooted in integrity at all times.

Vulnerable = transparency, risk-taking, & openness. The root is from the Latin, vulnus, which means ‘to carry the wound gracefully.’ Part of being vulnerable also includes taking a position that you will act as if the other person is acting out of good faith. Vulnerable also means that we commit to being BOTH ‘trust-builders’ and ‘trust-repairers.’ ‘Trust-repairing’ requires that we offer forgiveness, we offer reconciliation and we offer healing.

Benevolence = the confidence that one’s well-being or something one cares about will be protected and not harmed by the trusted party [one’s good name, for example]. Trust rests on the assurance that one can count on the good will of another to act in one’s best interest, that the other will not exploit one’s vulnerability even when the opportunity is available.

Honesty = honesty concerns a person’s character, their integrity and authenticity. Trust means that one can expect that the word or promise of another individual, whether verbal or written, can be relied upon. Trust implies that statements made were truthful and conformed to ‘what really happened,’ at least from that person’s perspective, and that commitments made about future actions will be kept. Without the confidence that a person’s words can be relied upon, trust is unlikely to develop. At times leaders, for example, have to ‘bite their tongue’ in the face of criticism from others who do not have all of the relevant information (a good leader will make decisions for the common good, given the information at hand, with the belief that the majority of the led would make the same decision given the same information). One can act with integrity and ‘lie’ at the same time.

Openness = openness is a process by which people make themselves vulnerable to others by sharing information, influence, and control. Openness in information means disclosure of facts, alternatives, judgments, intentions, and feelings. Openness in control accepts dependence rooted in a confidence in the reliability of others and delegation of important tasks to them. Openness in influence allows others to initiate changes to plans, goals, concepts, criteria and resources. With openness a spiral of trust is initiated which serves to foster increasing levels of trust in the organization. Openness initiates a kind of reciprocal trust, signaling a confidence that neither the information nor the individual will be exploited, so that people believe that they can feel the same confidence in return.

Reliability = the sense that one is able to depend on another consistently.

Competence = the ability to perform a task as expected according to appropriate standards. A problem is that we are not always honest with ourselves (or sufficiently insightful) about our ‘growing edges’ [Note: I do not like the term/concept ‘weakness’] or our loss of skill or our impairment of judgment; thus we need to be able to trust others’ assessments and insights.

For me, Trust is the root principle that nurtures and sustains three relationships: P.O.T. – Personal, One-to-One, and Team (any organized group of three or more folks).

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Let us begin with a definition: Alert = being fully awake and attentive; having an attitude of vigilance and readiness. The ancient wisdom figures and all faith, humanistic and philosophic traditions share a common theme: Life is about being alert on all levels. We are charged with choosing to be alert to the ‘spirit’s’ promptings (this ‘spirit’ might be the spirit of God or it might be the spirit of our inner guide/teacher, or it might be the spirit of a wisdom figures words – to name a few of the possibilities). The spirit comes to us through tradition, scripture, community, meditation, prayer, music, art, the natural world, our intellect, our imagination, mentors, teachers, guides, family, friends, and our dreams (the list seems endless).

It takes a great amount of ‘being alert’ in order for me to sort through the complex, and at times misleading, movements of my heart and mind (for example, my prejudices, judgments, stereotypes, biases, and adulterations). To complicate my ability to be alert, I also have to discern my destructive images (say, of God), my false notions (about the other), my dis-eased motivations, my inability to heal old wounds (or my ability to keep them open and festering), and my desire (or is it need) to hang onto the judgments of childhood that still guide my life-decisions.

The Oracle of Delphi advises us to ‘know thyself.’ I must be alert if I am going to begin to know myself. Socrates reminds us that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’ In order for me to examine my life I must be alert. The prayer of St. Francis states quite clearly: …grant that I may not seek to be understood as to understand. In order to seek to understand I must be alert and I must be intentional and purpose-full in my seeking.

What are some ways we hinder ourselves from ‘Being Alert’? Anthony de Mello notes that we too often go through life asleep and that we are called to ‘wake up’ (de Mello’s book ‘Awareness’ has been one of my ‘spirits’ for many years – Be Care-Full, gentle reader, you might choose to wake up if you read it). So one way we hinder ourselves from ‘Being Alert’ is to be asleep. We also keep ourselves from ‘Being Alert’ by being distracted (my sense is most of us have our favorite ways of being distracted), or by being busy (we are a society addicted to busyness), or by being in a hurry (we suffer from ‘hurry sickness’) or by being addicted (there are many addictions available to us and each of us has our ‘favorites’) or by being ‘self-absorbed’. There are other ways, but these will suffice for now.

Being Alert does not necessarily bring comfort or solace or peace. We might well become disturbed by what we come to see or understand (about ourselves, for example). In what ways might our being alert, and hence disturbed, motivate us – to health or to dis-ease?

As I close this morning I am thinking of another of my ‘spirit’ mentors, Aristotle. He offers us the following: The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.

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In our Christian inheritance, character traits like gentleness, kindness, patience and peace do not often take center stage. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries Francis de Sales stressed these traits. He called them the ‘little virtues’ and he believed that they were crucial to the Spirit-led life that Jesus invited us to lead. Francis sought to remind us – and he invited us to remind ourselves – to repeat Jesus’ words a hundred times a day: Learn of me, He said…that I am gentle and humble of heart. For Francis these words say it all: to have a heart gentle toward one’s neighbor and humble toward God.

As Christians we are called to Transformation [transformation = a fundamental change in character]. For Francis, and for those who came before him and for those who followed him, the transformed life is rooted in, is nurtured by, and is expressed by seven virtues: faith, hope, love, temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice.

It seems to me that if one is rooted in these virtues, if one is nurtured by them, and if one strives to consistently express them – live into and out of them – then we will be transformed; we will experience a ‘fundamental change’ of our character. It is also crucial to understand that Francis is not suggesting that we live these ‘perfectly’ for we are imperfect beings; he is, I think, suggesting that we strive to live into and out of them more consistently – each of us can accomplish this. They are ‘common’ virtues but not ‘easy.’

For Francis, we are invited (or is it ‘challenged’) to put gentleness into practice in all circumstances. He was wise and noted that the first step was that one is to be gentle with one’s self. We are to love ourselves, to care for ourselves, and to be compassionate with ourselves – and to do so ‘wisely.’ There is a fine line between being selfish and being ego-centric; the first is a requirement for the health of our Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual dimensions and the second is a path that we can easily choose to take; a path that will lead not to health but to dis-ease.

Francis knew that because we are imperfect we will more often ‘stumble the mumble’ than ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to being a follower of Christ. Thus, we must be gentle with ourselves – we must acknowledge our stumbles, we must seek forgiveness, we must reconcile and we must heal. The path to transformation is not a smooth path. The journey might well take a life-time. So being gentle with our self is crucial. Being gentle with our self enables us to be gentle with others as they travel their life-paths.

Let us be what we are and be that well, Francis wrote. We are called to be gentle as Jesus was gentle. We are called to love as Jesus loved. Any Christian who has sought to live into and out of these two virtues knows it takes great strength to do so. I leave us with more words from Francis. He writes: Don’t lose any opportunity, however small, of being gentle toward everyone… Trust in God. Rest in his care of you, confident that he will do what is best for you, provided that you, for your part, work diligently but gently. I say ‘gently’ because a tense diligence is harmful both to our heart and to our task and is not really diligence… I recommend you to God’s mercy. I beg him, through the same mercy, to fill you with his love.

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I strive to be a Christian Perennialist. I strive to search, seek, understand and embrace the ‘truth’ that resides within all the faith, humanistic and philosophic traditions that I am exposed to. Recently I have been reflecting upon a few of the Christian strengths. The strength that keeps emerging into my consciousness is ‘Gentleness.’ As Francis de Sales notes: ‘Nothing is so strong as gentleness.’

Given this, I wonder why it is that we (in our culture) persist in associating gentleness with children, the sick and the elderly? As Christians why do we – more often than not – associate Christian Character with traits like courage, fortitude, discipline, and self-sacrifice? Why do we Christians so often define ourselves using these metaphors: struggle, war, conflict and sport? Perhaps one reason is that we came into existence as a persecuted people. When I think about it I realize that we Christians have been powerfully influenced by the electrifying words of imprisoned Christians: St. Paul, Boethius, John of the Cross; English Quaker, Puritan, and Baptist non-conformists; Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr (my list could go on but these few references will suffice for now).

These, and other writers, encourage us to consider the life of the Christian as a struggle, a war, or even as a sport. We are combatants in a cosmic struggle, at times a war with evil, or we are runners in the race (are we running toward or away from – Eric Fromm suggests that we Christians are running away from Freedom, for example). Why do these seem to be the favorite images of Christian preachers?

I wonder – about myself and about other Christians – as to how often we reflect upon a strength of Jesus that only rarely do we explore: ‘Gentleness.’ I am thinking of the passage from Col. 3:12): …he loves you and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience.

As we know, Paul did encourage us to run a good race. He also encouraged us, as he did the Church at Ephesus to: Bear one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness, and patience. Paul appealed to the Corinth Christians ‘by the gentleness…of Christ.’

Among other things, to be a Christian, for Paul, required that one be clothed in Christ – the garb cut from the cloth of a gentle texture.

Jesus, himself, said: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. …learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart… (Matt. 11:28-29).

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This morning I will conclude my reflections regarding ‘Old Age’ as we briefly explore the third ‘spiritual illness’ of Old Age.

Loneliness – The Fear of Time. As we age we seem to become more fear-full. One of our growing fears is the ‘fear of time.’ As we age there are fewer and fewer ‘things’ we are able to control and as we age we become more and more aware of what we cannot control – hence our growing fear of ‘time.’ As we grow older we realize that we don’t know what to do with ‘time’ – How many simply ‘kill time’ as a result? We also realize that we are ‘running out of time’ and this adds to our anxiety.

Rather than ‘live into time’ we begin to run away from it. We run away by living in the past or by anticipating the future. We miss the moment. We blind ourselves to the present moment, we live with memories – memories cherished and memories of what we missed. We find ourselves becoming more and more anxious about the future (what little time we have left).

In one sense ‘Time’ is perpetual if we live the moment. Every moment is new, every moment is a gift. To be ‘in the moment’ is a blessing waiting to be bestowed. To live the moment is to live in the holy, the sacred now. When we dismiss the moment as a gift, a blessing, then we move into becoming bored and boredom is the pathway to depression and despair.

Too often Old Age becomes vicious as ‘it’ deprives the person of the present – the gifts of the present. Old Folks too often think of themselves as belonging to the past (and our culture has many ways of reminding the elderly that they do, indeed, belong to the past).

It seems to me that one way we can restore the dignity of old age is rooted in our ability to equate old age and wisdom (the ancients modeled this for us and a few other cultures continue to model this for us). Consider that ‘wisdom’ is the gift that the elders can provide us – I am speaking of the wisdom that only emerges after years of searching and seeking. The young are smart, not necessarily wise.

On the other hand, the person who lives with a sense of the Presence/Presents realizes that growing older still means that we are charged with ‘sanctifying the time we have.’

All it takes to ‘sanctify time’ is ‘God,’ a ‘Soul,’ and a ‘Moment.’ The blessing is that these three are always here for theists. Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. Just to live the moment is our charge and our challenge – and it is one antidote to loneliness and fear.

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