Archive for November, 2015

I have a good friend who has recently been visiting ‘The Land of Darkness.’ My prayer is that my friend does not decide to take up residence there. What is this ‘Land of Darkness’? Job, in the Book of Job, describes it for us: The land of darkness, and shadow dark as death, where dimness and disorder hold sway, and light itself is like dead of night. I know this land intimately. When I was twenty I spent months visiting this land and I had begun to gather the materials necessary to set up a ‘house’ and become a permanent resident.

This ‘Land of Darkness’ is not the desert or the wasteland – I have also traveled deeply into both of these lands. In the desert and in the wasteland there is still ‘light’ and ‘life’ and hence ‘hope.’ In ‘The Land of Darkness’ there is no ‘light’ and hence one cannot ‘see’ the ‘life’ that might also reside there. Despair wonders freely about for despair is at home in this land. If one is engulfed in the Despair then one’s very life is threatened – perhaps it is more appropriate to say that in Despair life becomes the threat and death becomes the relief. In this land, ‘Death’ can be physical, intellectual, emotional and/or spiritual. I have known people who have emerged from this land physically alive and spiritually dead.

My experience is that within ‘The Land of Darkness’ there also resides ‘Hope’ and ‘Possibility.’ Unlike ‘Despair’ who moves powerfully and rapidly throughout this ‘Land,’ both ‘Hope’ and ‘Possibility’ move quietly and slowly. One night when I was gathering the materials necessary to set up my permanent residence I heard a whisper of a voice (it was appropriate it seems that it was in the ‘dead of night’ in ‘The Land of Darkness’ that I became aware of this whisper). Within the whisper were words of ‘Hope’ and ‘Possibility’ – they were like little pieces of light that were struggling to manifest themselves amidst the darkness. I listened and I took a step away from what I was constructing; I stepped toward the whisper and over the next number of months the more steps I took toward the whisper and away from what I had been constructing the whisper became louder, the light became steadier and I could ‘see’ that ‘Hope’ and ‘Possibility’ were waiting for me to walk up to them, choose them and embrace them.

What I have learned, and what has helped sustain me during my other visits to ‘The Land of Darkness’ is that no matter how thick and whelming-over the darkness, the light remains. When I am at my best ‘The Land of Darkness’ is a place of nurturance and growth. What I have learned is that I actually need at times to journey to this land and spend some time there. Oh, I still know that the building materials necessary for me to set up a permanent home there are available to me. Paradoxically, accepting this reality continues to bring me some comfort.

I continue to learn that ‘Darkness,’ for me, is essential for my health and growth. I continue to learn that within ‘The Land of Darkness’ there also resides ‘Hope’ and ‘Possibility’ and they will come to me as ‘whispers’ that will call to me and as ‘little specks of light’ that will help guide me. Let he who has ears listen for and to the whispers and let he who has eyes seek to see the little pieces of light that reside deep within The Land of Darkness.’

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Consider, gentle reader, that we human beings are just beginning to understand ourselves as ‘Reflective-Participant-Observers’ in an evolutionary process. For me evolution simply means that the current iteration is more complex, of a higher order and consists of some of the ‘old’ and some of the ‘new.’ For example, we human beings, as a species, are more complex, function at a higher order, and consist of some of what our ancestors of two thousand years ago consisted of and also consist of some of ‘stuff’ that our ancestors never dreamed of (nor did they have the capacity to even begin to dream of).

The ancients, for example, also held a worldview that everything was fixed, stable, solid, predictable, permanent and knowable. Today, most of us know that little, if any, of this is true. We are involved in a systemic and seismic evolutionary process that involves shifts, changes, and transformations; a process that, like ‘the story,’ is never-ending.

One evolutionary change involves our human being minds. How our minds change is critical to how evolution occurs and what shape evolution will take. Consider that our minds are evolving. As human beings we used to be convinced that we ‘knew’ stuff – obtaining knowledge was crucial and the knowledge we obtained was ‘stable.’ If we pay attention we might discern that we have evolved from ‘beings who know’ to ‘beings who are – must become – continual learners.’ At one time, our ancestors were, mostly, satisfied with their knowledge (the ‘truth’ was evident to them); thanks to a few folks, however, searching and seeking continued. Today not only are there more people alive than ever before there are more folks searching and seeking – thanks in part to technology which has enabled us to search broadly and deeply.

There are a few who want to stop this process – by declaring, for example, that ‘we have the truth’ or that ‘we are sure of…’ and so there is no need to continue to search and seek. These folks continue to be anxious, they continue to feel threatened, and some of them feel that they are ‘under attack.’ In many ways these are normal human responses to experiences that we cannot control or that we believe are direct threats to our well-being or more importantly, to our very identity.

A major threat for some involves how our story about God continues to evolve. For example, consider that creation is an on-going process. God did not just create ‘in the beginning,’ God is creating now. In order for we humans to understand that the universe (which we are continuing to learn more and more about) is not ‘static’ but is a continuous event happening all of the time also involves an interpretation of who God is – an interpretation that our ancestors were not able to conceptualize.

How do we speak of God? Huston Smith, reflecting on our efforts to speak of God wrote: “Minds, taken in their ordinary, surface sense, are the wrong kind of instrument for the undertaking. The effect, as a result, is like trying to ladle the ocean with a net, or lasso the wind with a rope. The awe-inspiring prayer of Shankara, the Thomas Aquinas of Hinduism, begins with the invocation, ‘Oh Thou, before whom all words recoil.’” Perhaps we should always write and speak the word GOD in caps, bold and italics, just to remind ourselves that in fact when it comes to GOD we don’t really know what we are talking about.
I am seeking to enjoy the evolutionary ride; I might as well for it is a ride that is not going to cease anytime soon. I also celebrate the many ways that folks are broadening their understanding of GOD. I know folks who are ‘Quaker-Catholics,’ or ‘Jewish-Buddhists,’ or ‘Nazarene-Anglicans’ or ‘Christian-Muslims;’ you might recall, gentle reader that I am a ‘Christian-Ecumenist’ (I am a follower of Jesus-the-Christ AND I believe there is truth in all faith-humanist traditions). I am eager to experience and observe and reflect upon the many ways that our spiritual and religious lives will continue to evolve (main-line religious institutions might not be as eager and they might not remember that GOD cannot be controlled).

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Even though we did not have computers, or smart phones or smart T.Vs. or play stations, or… we were never bored – we created our own games and if we did not like what we created we would let it go and create another. We did not have technology do the work for us.

We had two favorite neighborhood games: Capture the Flag and King of the Hill – we put our own spin on these two games. There were within a few blocks of where we lived more than twenty kids and we all played these two games – boys and girls. All kinds of adults looked after us. If we got hurt we were nursed by an adult who would emerge from a house and come to our aid. If we were ‘naughty’ our parents would be called and either a spanking or a grounding would quickly follow – and an in-person apology to the neighbor who ratted us out (again, I was lucky for my dad was not a spanker so I was grounded for a day or two; the face-to-face apologies were challenging for me).

We came and went freely – often we just knocked and then walked into one another’s houses (except for a few where we had to knock on the door or ring the bell and then be invited in – often this depended upon the parents’ relationship with the kid). We roamed the neighborhood (about a half-square mile) freely and safely. I am sad when I think that today many kids cannot have this freedom for it is not safe for them. I am also sad that the neighborhoods that we enjoyed no longer exist on the scale they existed in the late 40s and 50s.

In our neighborhood we had a mixture of faith-traditions: Catholics, Jews, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Methodists (these were the faith-traditions that I was aware of). We honored one another, learned from one another, and supported one another. We did not try to ‘convert’ one another. We all went to church on Sunday or Temple on Saturday and the ‘Golden Rule’ was our main guideline. I grew up immersed in religious tolerance (racial tolerance was another issue).

The neighborhood was ‘fight-free’ – I cannot remember a fight between kids in our neighborhood. All kids were accepted. School was different – there were fights and kids were marginalized, categorized, and shunned; a sad lot for some. The neighborhood, not the school was our safe haven. (An Aside: I did not go to grade school with any of the kids in my neighborhood; the rest of the kids either went to the Public Grade School or to St. Mary’s Catholic School, I attended St. Patrick’s Catholic School – the reason for this is for another time). It also saddens me that so many neighborhoods today are not safe havens for kids.

For us a generation truly lasted 25 years – life evolved more slowly then. This slower pace, this more stable pace, this more predictable pace allowed us to truly be kids – we did not have to grow up so quickly. Today a generation lasts maybe 10 years; kids grow up faster and yet there is a paradox – adolescence today does not end at 18 it continues well into the 20s. As we well know, today rapid change is the norm –speed and busyness and instability are three of the resulting illnesses; there are also, it seems to me, many more psychic and spiritual dis-eases today than there were in the 40s-50s. A slower pace rooted in stability allowed my generation to grow and develop over time; today with the tsunami of rapid change (at a pace that continues to increase) young people do not have the luxury of ‘taking one’s time to develop at a slow, steady pace. I don’t think we humans are hard wired for this and because we are not we are always adjusting, we are always coping, we are always bracing ourselves for the next big change and so we are, today, truly learning on the run. ‘Run, Forest, Run’ is more than a line from a movie.

AN ASIDE: This morning I learned that more than 400 pre-school kids from around the country chose as the toy they most desired for Christmas is – ARE YOU READY FOR THIS – ‘Lincoln Logs’ (the great building toy of my generation). Go figure!

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As I noted at the end of Part I, I attended a Catholic grade school. All of the teachers, except one were nuns – Sisters of St. Agnes; today, I imagine all of the teachers would be ‘lay persons’ except for one or two nuns. We attended daily mass, said our prayers, pledged our allegiance to the flag, and sang our national anthem. We were, as I recall, released from school at 3pm. We had two recess periods and a lunch period. We were assigned to reading groups – the best readers were in Group #1; I never made it to this group. I did get to Reading Group #2. We also had ‘Spelling Groups’ and I cannot remember if I ever made it to Group #1. On Friday’s we would have ‘art class’ and in the afternoon the school nurse (another nun who wore a white habit, not a black habit) would come to our class and give each of us a ‘liver pill’ – these were the most horribly tasting pills ever produced. I usually gave mine to Robert Johnson who sat across the aisle from me (he loved them – he also became a famous artist; we all knew he would become an artist when we were in the second grade; boy could that guy draw).

If we were naughty we would be sent to the principal’s office (she was also the 8th grade teacher) and we would, depending upon the infraction receive a swat with a paddle and be given a note to take home and have our parents sign and then return or we would just be given a note to take home and have our parents sign and then return. My parents (my dad, actually) was not a ‘spanker’ – I was spanked once in my life that I recall. Many of my friends had parents who were spankers and if they brought a note home they would get a good spanking.

We did not have to take national tests yet we all learned enough to graduate from the 8th grade and move on to high school. The public high school had classes that would prepare kids to go into the workforce after they graduated – it was the height of the industrial age. I went to the Catholic High School. Almost all of us graduated and we then attended a college (many went to a teacher’s college) or a university. Some attended the wonderful ‘School of Nursing’ that was part of the Hospital (also owned and run by the Sisters of St. Agnes). A few became priests or nuns. As in grade school, in high school we did not have to take national tests and we learned enough to go on to a college or university. At our 20th high school reunion I was amazed at the number of really smart people that showed up. By the by, we had 10 multi-millionaires in our class (a class of about 120) and none of them had gone on to college (Robert Johnson was one – he was the guy in the second grade that we all knew would become a successful artist; and he did).

I don’t think most of us would have fared well on national tests – I know I would not have done well at all. On the other hand, many of us graduated from college, from university and from graduate school with honors. Go figure. How many kids today are ‘test-takers’ rather than ‘learners’? How many are truly ‘educated’? How many young professionals can actually write well? How many today are benefitting from a ‘liberal’ education – we certainly did.

But I digress a bit; I will strive to re-focus again next time.

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Recently I have been re-listening to a collection of old time radio shows; I have also been sharing these with my two 30-something children. I listened to these radio shows for the first time beginning in 1949. We had to use our imagination as we listened to ‘The Shadow’ or to ‘Gang-Busters’ or to ‘Nick Carter Master Detective’ or to ‘Fibber Magee and Molly’ or to ‘Burns and Allen’ or to… ah, the list is legion. Today I am blessed, among other things, with a vivid imagination and visual abilities which I cultivated during my formative years as a result of listening to these radio broadcasts. In 1951, as I recall, my dad bought our family our first television set. At times we could hardly see the picture because of all of the snow on the screen – I grew up in Wisconsin and we were quite familiar with snow; but this was a different type of snow. This snow could be semi-controlled by the ‘rabbit ears’ sitting on top of our T.V set.

During these years our mother (we had many kids in our family; I was the fourth in line – at times for food literally) would cut up chicken, chop eggs, add real mayonnaise on the same board with the same knife and, miracle of miracles none of us ever got food poisoning. When mom put out hamburger to thaw we would often sneak a hand-full of raw meat and run outside and enjoy its bloody flavor. We often took our lunch to school with our sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, crammed next to a cookie, some raw veggies, and a napkin and all of this was stuffed in a brown paper bag. The bag sat in our locker all morning and was retrieved at lunch time. We ate some of it, traded some of it, tasted other kids’ food, picked scraps off of the floor if they looked inviting and then we often tasted the scraps. Another miracle. None of us ever got e-coli.

During the summer months (Memorial Day through Labor Day) we lived in a cottage on a lake. This lake was a mile long and about a half-mile wide. It was a ‘spring-fed’ lake; we obtained our drinking water by rowing a boat across the lake and putting our large 20 gallon cooler under a long pipe that jutted out from the bank; in addition to obtaining the most wonderful drinking water we experienced a great workout – did you ever row a large rowboat against a strong current for a half mile. I can still taste this real-spring water. We had no idea what it was like to swim in a swimming pool – how lame. If we swallowed some lake water – which happened several times a day – none of us got sick. The water was always cool-to-cold because of the many springs ‘feeding’ the lake. Summers were heaven on earth for us.

In grade school we participated in ‘gym class.’ No one ever failed gym class; ‘gym’ has morphed into ‘PE’ and kids can actually fail ‘PE.’– how lame. We were at risk for serious injury for the high top ‘All Stars’ or ‘Keds’ that we wore did not have ‘air cushions’ or ‘springs’ or ‘support arches’ – most of us survived (then there was Rick Z. who always got hurt; Rick was ot able to run 30 yards without falling down – then he morphed into an all-state basketball player in high school – go figure).

I attended a Catholic grade school. . .[to be continued]

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