Archive for June, 2015

Historically, some changes were ushered in by cataclysmic changes and some were ushered in by years of more subtle, yet revolutionary changes. For example, the Ancient East (think, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Persia) was replaced by the West (think, the Greco-Romans). In many ways the Roman Empire was replaced by the Holy Roman Empire (think, Charlemagne) and the feudal states. This slowly gave rise to the West’s great monarchies and their demise began with the French Revolution. The monarchies were superseded by the nation-states of the nineteenth century. These states were radically changed by the Industrial Revolution. World War I (which was simply continued with World War II) ushered in the Atomic Age, the Space Age, the Information Age, the Technological Age, the Creative Age and the next age which is emerging and, as yet, has not been named. The first ‘ages’ emerged over generations – since the end of World War II (70 years) the West has ushered in at least ‘Five Ages’ – we barely become familiar with one and the next one emerges and seeks to take center-stage.

To speak of all of these changes is to say nothing of the myriad of other changes which have taken place these past thousands of years – locally, nationally, and globally. To list these does not even begin to innumerate the implications of each of these changes. We do have some real sense of the power of change – radical and subtle.

For thousands of years changes were not experienced as being world-wide. Since the end of World War II, however, as change became more rapid it also became more global. The direct global impact of change has dramatically increased these past twenty years or so – and there is no letup in sight. If nothing else, social media will ensure this to be so.

Although it is questionable to what extent the ‘nature of man’ has changed these thousands of years, it is clear that the ‘nature of God’ has – and continues to change. I can hear someone say that ‘God’ has not changed. Perhaps. What seems clear is that our perception of God has changed and continues to change – and if perception is reality then the ‘nature of God’ has, indeed, changed. Even the ‘People of the Book’ (Jews, Christians and Muslims) describe in their sacred texts the ‘evolution’ of God: Many gods became the One God. The God of power and might became the God of spirit and love. The God of law (and eye for an eye) became the God of compassion and forgiveness (forgive one seventy times seven).

The ‘fact’ is that we humans do not agree – have not agreed – on what we mean when we say ‘God.’ How we define ‘God’ continues to change – why? Simply because we humans continue to change and each of us, in our own way, seeks to define God (or to define God out of existence) in our image (a bit ironic I would say). Perhaps this is the paradox: God does not change; it is we humans who continue to change and thus it is we who continue to shift, change and transform God’s image.

With the passage of time we humans see ourselves differently – we change our view of what it is to be a fully human being. A changing image of man means a changing man. Why is this so? It is so because by our nature, we humans are ‘meaning makers.’ As we seek ‘to make meaning’ we seek ‘to understand.’ Change occurs – now with tsunami-like power – and we humans seek to understand and we seek to make meaning of it all.

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As I noted at the end of my last entry, when it comes to change in our culture there appears to be two extremes at play. At times they bump up against each other and when they do conflict, if not confrontation, occurs. This morning we will briefly explore these two extremes. Before we begin our exploration is it important to keep in mind that these are ‘extremes’ and as such they probably do not exist in reality; reality generally occurs on the continuum between the two extremes.

In relation to change, one extreme is rooted in the attitude that perceives change as simply a fact – it is simply ‘reality’ – and therefore it need not be ‘judged’ by any criteria. ‘Change occurs, period.’ A ‘sibling’ to this idea is the idea that one should accept change as ‘good’ simply because it is change. ‘All change is good, period.’

Consider, gentle reader, that this extreme attitude is not only ‘uncritical’ and ‘irresponsible’ it relinquishes our humanity. As humans we are charged/entrusted with determining who we are to be, who we are to become, and who we are becoming. We simply become ‘cogs in the great machine’ of change or we become caught up in a Skinnerian view that we humans do not have free will – we do not have choice.

The other extreme is rooted in the attitude that change must be resisted because it does not fit with ‘the way we do things around here.’ There is a long-established order of how things are and any change that goes against ‘the norm’ is suspect – if not outright wrong. Our response to change is to seek to ‘reverse’ it – and return to a ‘golden age’ or our response to change is to dig our heels in and fight it because the change in question does not fit with my/our view of the world.

Consider this: I read this morning that Pope Francis is suggesting more change for the Roman Catholic Church – an idea that will dramatically shift, if not change, a long-standing belief. Given certain circumstances, the Pope said, divorce might well be the moral thing to do. WHAT???!! I am curious as to what he means and to how his idea might play out in reality. I am also curious as to the pushback his idea will receive from certain Church leaders.

A current change that will continue to stimulate our passions is the change regarding the ‘civil’ definition of marriage. Because we are a nation that is rooted in a separation between church and state, the state can (and is) redefining ‘marriage.’ The folks who view our nation as a ‘Christian Nation’ are threatened by this change. They forget – or is it that they deny – that we are a pluralistic nation, that is, we are a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindis, Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics, Buddhists, etc., etc. Our pluralistic concept is our strength. We are not a Theocracy, we are a pluralistic Republic. The implications of this continue to stimulate our passions.

Rather than run to either extreme, we might do well to embrace the Buddha’s concept of the ‘Middle Way’ or embrace Aristotle’s concept of ‘The Golden Mean.’ The great wisdom figures have provided us with some guidelines; guidelines that continue to help us engage and become responsive to the tsunami of change that will continue to wash over us. This tsunami will grow in intensity – for example, a ‘generation’ today is nowhere near what it was forty years ago (that is, a ‘generation’ is no longer twenty-five years; it is more like five years or at most ten years).

Next time we will begin to explore with some broad brush strokes ‘civilizations’ and ‘change.’

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If we pause, step back and reflect a bit we might well witness both the breadth and depth of rapid/continuous change and the dramatic increase in our power to impact our lives/environment as one result of these changes. When I pause, step back and reflect I wonder whether one result is that we humans have also generated a diminished capacity to embrace both the Oracle at Delphi’s wise advice and Socrates’ insightful conclusion: ‘Know thyself’ and ‘The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living.’ I also find myself asking: ‘We believe we have more ‘control over’ – why does it seem that we have less control over ourselves?’ We seem to be more impulsive and inappropriately reactive than ever before – technology helps us become so, for example (that is, we hit ‘send’ too quickly), in our desire to ‘get there quickly’ various types of ‘rage’ take us over (road rage has become the norm), and in our desire to ‘not be disrespected’ we, more than ever before in our culture, impulsively resort to violence (verbal or physical).

We humans have grown when it comes to our capacity to know, if not learn, and to do. Have we ourselves grown more fully as human beings? This is my nagging question. Change plus our greater capacities to know and to do have resulted in a multiplication of the problems, paradoxes, dilemmas and challenges that present themselves to us. To what extent are we human beings demonstrating a capacity to embrace and engage all of these? It appears that the rate of our learning to address and engage these continues to be insufficient (one reason is that we still rely on learning that is individually-focused when what is called for is that we learn to learn collectively – ‘group learning’).

Rapid change is – and will for the foreseeable future be – the norm. To what extent have we developed (or are we developing) our capacity to distinguish between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ change? We do have a belief in our culture that we can ‘fix anything’ and so it seems that we don’t bother about discerning whether a change is healthy or unhealthy – we can always fix it if it proves to be unhealthy. Is this idea ‘reality’ or is it an ‘illusion’ or is it a ‘delusion’ or is it a ‘denial’ or is it ‘wishful thinking’? What is our criteria for determining whether a change is healthy or unhealthy? Again, it seems as if we wait for the consequences – if the ‘intended consequences’ outweigh the ‘negative unintended consequences’ then we tend to deem the change as ‘healthy.’ If it is the other way around we tend to ignore the ‘negative unintended consequences’ that do not directly impact us.

In our culture (perhaps in other cultures as well) there appear to be two extremes at play. When they bump up against each other conflict, if not outright confrontation, emerges. Next time we will briefly explore these two extremes.

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It requires no great discernment on our part to recognize that our age is rooted in rapid and extraordinary changes and that we have but little insight into the effect these changes will have upon us, our relationships, our communities, our societies and our world. Thus, it takes intense disciplined discernment if we are going to evaluate the changes and their impact on how we humans live and in how we choose to live.

Now we know that any age involves change and we know that a particular age will involve changes that powerfully impact (think, shift, change or transformation) the human community and thus significantly impact the non-human community. These significant changes become the milestones that mark our journey through time.

What characterizes our present age (whose name is yet to be given – we have moved beyond the industrial age, the post-modern age, the information age and the technological age) is that it is emerging as a ‘milestone age’ and that because the rate of change continues to accelerate we will move to a ‘new age’ more quickly than ever before in history (perhaps we will move so quickly that we won’t even be able to ‘name’ an ‘age’ any longer).

Prior to forty or fifty years ago each age had the time to ‘adjust’ to the ‘new age.’ Today, because change washes over us as does a great tsunami, we barely begin to adjust and then another change washes over us – our coping ability and our adaptability are more severely challenged in ways that push us (to the edge if not to our limit) as we have never been pushed before. It is this intense and constant ‘coping’ and ‘adjustability’ that reminds us of the gaps that are present between generations.

Historically, it has been easier for previous generations to adjust to change simply because change was more incremental and subtle – this, as we know, is no longer the case (and it appears as if it will never be the case again). For example, in China these past ten years a number of farming communities have been replaced by large modern urban centers and the emergence of large urban centers replacing farming communities continues unabated (all of this urban growth has occurred in just ten years). “It’s a new world for us in the city,” said Tian Wei, 43, a former wheat farmer in the northern province of Hebei, who now works as a night watchman at a factory. “All my life I’ve worked with my hands in the fields; do I have the educational level to keep up with the city people?” His story is a common one in China and India.

The American author, Hugh Prather, reminds us of our dilemma: ‘Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes.’ Today, this is dramatically true for all of us human beings.

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For thousands of years we humans have been blessed with wise folks who emerge and offer us their wisdom and provide us some guidelines for living. I do believe that it is the searcher and the seeker that helps the wise person to emerge. As Lao Tzu reminded us more than a thousand years ago: ‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear.’

There is a story that is told among a number of American Indian Nations. I love how one story appears among a number of different people or nations or cultures. There is often a question that prompts the story (told by a ‘wise person’ – a Shaman). This is a ‘teaching story’ and so it is the listener who receives the story that is challenged to interpret its meaning(s) and integrate its lesson(s). I have taken this particular story and modified it to fit our current culture. Here is the question: ‘How can we work in harmony?’ With this story, the wise person’s response was cryptic and to the point – many have said that this is no story at all. It doesn’t matter. The lesson is there for the searcher and the seeker.

THE STORY: When the elders gather together in order to seek to work in harmony they follow four guidelines. When these are followed they find that they are able to work together in harmony. SHOW UP! PAY ATTENTION! FOLLOW ONLY WHAT MATTERS TO YOUR HEART! SEEK AN OUTCOME AND DON’T BE ATTACHED TO IT!

SHOW UP! = Bring all of yourself. Some folks show up physically and intellectually but do not show up emotionally or spiritually. Some folks show up spiritually but not intellectually. Some show up full of emotion and leave their intellect and spirit in their car. Some don’t show up at all – they send an email, or a text, or a tweet (a limited intellectual offering).

PAY ATTENTION! = Choose to be fully present AND to be awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full. Pay Attention to what is emerging in you within your four dimensions: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spirit(ual). Pay attention to how each of these is affecting you and how each is influencing you. Pay Attention to what is emerging from within the four dimensions of the other(s). Pay Attention to how this emerging is affecting your four dimensions. Pay Attention to what is emerging from with the collective. Pay Attention to how the collective and the individuals are being affected by what is emerging from within the collective.

FOLLOW ONLY WHAT MATTERS TO YOUR HEART! = Your heart sustains you. Your heart is the tap root for courage (remember the root of ‘courage’ is contained in the Old French word ‘cuer’ which means ‘courage’). Without ‘heart courage’ you will not bring your voice; you will not critically challenge your assumptions and help others challenge their assumptions. Your heart ‘cleans’ the blood that flows through you and that sustains and nurtures your physical dimension, your intellectual dimension (your brain), your emotional dimension (when one’s blood runs ‘hot’ one can get into trouble) and influences your spirit(ual) dimension (when one is rooted in a ‘good heart’ one’s spirit is influenced in one way and when one is rooted in an ‘evil heart’ one’s spirit is influenced in another way).

SEEK AN OUTCOME AND DON’T BE ATTACHED TO IT! = When seeking to work in harmony with others it is crucial that together you emerge certain outcomes. It is just as important to not become attached to these outcomes – remember, ‘change is the norm’ and so you must be flexible when it comes to the outcomes you have agreed to. It is also crucial to seek to balance the individual outcomes held by each with the outcomes that emerge from within the collective. If any one person is attached to one or more of his/her outcomes then the collective will find itself in conflict.

There is much more that can be written about each of these four guidelines but this short introduction will suffice for now (this is the intention I hold).

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