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Archive for December, 2015

I continue to find it remarkable how much care, compassion, empathy, consolation, light amidst the darkness, hope and beauty I receive from authors who do not offer answers to life’s questions as they demonstrate the courage to articulate their lives with clarity and integrity. Kierkegaard, Camus, Hammarskjold, Merton, Nouwen, and Rupp: none of these folks are rooted in solutions; they continue to offer me their stories, their questions, and little pieces of light that breaks through the veil of darkness that often covers my soul. They share their search and so I feel as if they are walking with me as I search and seek. I do not believe I am the only person who has been or who is today blessed by their presence/presents.

They struggle as I do. They model the courage (think ‘heart’) to immerse themselves (at times by choice) into human suffering. They become present to the pain of the other and they become present to their own pain. From the pain they find the courage (again, think ‘heart’) to speak words of insight and words of healing. Because they are fully human they provide me the courage (‘heart’ again) to embrace my humanity – to embrace my imperfect, fully human, ‘self.’

‘To Care,’ means to be present to the other. I know, from experience, that those who care for me are present to me. I know, from experience, that when I care for another that I am also present to the other. ‘To Care’ means to listen intently and receptively. This type of listening is a gift to both. ‘To Care’ means that when one chooses to speak then one improves on the silence (anyone who has attempted to live into this knows how challenging this is to do).

Because the one caring accepts me on my terms, because they ‘take my life seriously,’ because they ‘trust’ that in the end all will be as it needs to be, and because the one caring is committed to being present to me I experience their very presence as a healing presence.

Because I am an imperfect human being I do have a tendency to run away from the painful realities of the other or I strive to make ‘it’ or ‘the other’ better. I fall into the trap of substituting ‘cure’ for ‘care.’ After many failed attempts I do realize that ‘cure’ rather than ‘care’ moves me to seek quick changes and moves me to becoming impatient, or worse moves me to refuse to embrace the other’s pain. How often do we as individuals or as a collective (think ‘Nation’) seek to ‘cure’ without first seeking to ‘care’? Another way of framing this question: ‘When is caring potentially immoral?’

Another question has emerged into my consciousness: ‘How can a collective become a Caring Community?’

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What does ‘to care’ mean? ‘Care’ is a powerful word. ‘Care’ is an ambivalent word. ‘Care is a meaning-less word. ‘Care’ is a word with many meanings. Consider the following:
• ‘I will take care of him.’ Think of all of the meanings contained within these six words. Here are two: ‘I will take care of him and help him get to the hospital.’ ‘I will take care of him by breaking his legs.’ Tender compassion and violent attack.
• ‘Do you want coffee or juice?’ ‘I don’t care.’ Or: ‘Do you want to stay home or take a walk?’ ‘I don’t care.’ The ‘I don’t care’ response can be truly neutral – one really does not care which action is taken or the ‘I don’t care’ response can be an expression of indifference, if not apathy.

At times it seems, to me anyway, that ‘not to care’ is more popular than ‘to care.’ A care-free approach to life seems more inviting than a care-full one does.

‘Care’ as I understand it is not ambiguous nor is it ambivalent; it excludes ‘indifference’ and is the opposite (or is it the antidote?) to ‘apathy’ ‘Care’ is rooted in the Germanic Gothic word ‘Kara.’ ‘Kara’ means lament. Given this, one basic meaning of ‘Care’ is ‘to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with.’ I was stopped short when I first learned of the root of ‘Care’ and this old meaning. To ‘Care’ in this way means that I accept the invitation to experience discomfort (mild to intense) as I enter into another’s pain. ‘Care,’ in this sense, seems to equate with ‘empathy’ (it is empathy plus action). Before I care (i.e. act), I choose to enter into and feel the other’s plight or pain.

As I reflected upon my life this morning (a year-end habit of mine) I became aware that the people who chose to embrace me and my pain (or my fear or confusion or wounds or powerlessness) and not attempt to ‘fix it’ or to ‘fix me’ were those who I believed deeply cared for me. I also reflected that when I was able to ‘be with the other’ in his or her pain, fear, confusion, wounds, etc. and open myself to ‘feeling’ as the person felt that I was received by the other as a caring person (sadly, I also cannot begin to count the number of times I led with ‘I am going to help you fix it or I am going to fix you!’ – neither approach did not work out well for either of us).

Can I sit with you for an hour and care for you? That is, can I sit with you for an hour and not ‘know’ or not ‘help’ or not ‘cure’ or not ‘fix’ or ‘not make it better’ or not offer ‘shallow words’ like ‘it will be o.k.’ or even ‘this too shall pass’? When I sat with another I can recall the temptation to say things like: ‘Don’t be sad because there is light at the end of the tunnel.’ Talk about ‘lame uncaring words.’ When I am honest with myself I admit that I offered such words in order that I felt better (think: less anxious or less fearful).

I have had my caring moments. One day I was sitting with my mother – a month or so after my father’s sudden death (they had been together for 66 years). I remember saying: ‘I don’t understand either. I don’t know what to do or to tell you.’ We sat together in silence for some time (a long time for my mother). Then she began to tell me stories – some I knew and some were new to me. We laughed and we cried. We grieved together. We cared for each other.

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Goethe cautions us: . . .so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

This morning gentle reader I will share with you a few more ‘Categories’ and some of the questions contained within each. Perhaps at some later date I will post more Essential Life Questions; but those in these three postings will have to suffice for now.

SUSTENANCE QUESTIONS
What nurtures me?
• What depletes me?
• In what ways do I care for myself Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally, and Spiritually (my P.I.E.S.)?
• In what ways do I not care for myself Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally, and Spiritually?
• To what extent do I live out of an abundance mentality and to what extent do I live out of a scarcity mentality?
• What is wealth?
• What is ‘enough’ (money, status, power, etc.)?
• What is the support I need for my life’s journey, at this time? Where do I get this support?
• What are my highest priority needs? In what ways do I address them?
• When do I act out of self-interest – for good and for ill?

‘CHOICE’ QUESTIONS [‘To Choose’ means that I select freely after consideration.]
• How often do I choose? How many times a day do I choose with intention and purpose?
• Does it matter whether I am aware of choosing? Can I really choose if I am not aware? What does choosing without awareness look like – feel like – sound like?
• What is the effect of my choosing upon myself and upon others?
• To what extent, if any, is ‘choice’ covered by the skin of ‘responsibility?’
• What is the motivation that is the life-blood that feeds and sustains choice AND that keeps responsibility supple, flexible, and healthy?
• What is the motivation that infects the life-blood with a cancer that kills both choice and responsibility?
• Why do I choose to bring a specific virtue or vice to my world? To what extent do I believe that the virtue or vice I bring to my world nurtures or depletes me and all those that I directly touch and many more that I indirectly touch?
• To what extent is my conduct truly rooted in my selecting freely after consideration? To what extent does my conduct influence future choices in a way that is more automatic than thoughtful?
• To what extent does my conduct support my being aware of my choices?
• To what extent do I have an obligation to reflect upon my choices so that I will learn more about the ‘me’ that impacts the many ‘yous’ I meet each day?
• How can I help others grow and develop more fully if I am not aware of how I engage, or refuse to engage, choice?

Gentle readers, as you sit with these questions, others might well emerge from within you – or be provided to you by others or by events that unfold in your life – I invite you to make note of them and then engage them when you are ready to do so.

A few years ago, I discerned that perhaps there are some questions that are, for me, Essential Questions of Existence. The following questions emerged into my consciousness and so I offer them to you for your consideration:
Who am I? –The question of Identity and Character
Where did we come from? –The question of origin
Where am I going? –The question of destiny
Why am I here? –The question of purpose [Why are We here? is another]
What ultimately matters? –The question of meaning
How am I to live? –The question of morality [How are we to live? is another]
What happens when I die? –The question of finality & continuity

As I held these I began to consider some Essential Life Agreements and the following emerged into my consciousness. What are some of your ‘essential life agreements?’ It seems to me that we all have made them (whether we hold them or not is another matter and whether they are explicit or implicit is another matter still). Here are mine:
Speak rooted in integrity
• Listen with undefended receptivity
• Inquire from a place of trust and not knowing
• Act from a core of deep love

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Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. –Voltaire

Gentle reader, this morning I will offer us a number of questions to reflect upon, perhaps to respond to at this point on our life journey, or ‘to hold’ or perhaps ‘to live.’ For me, the questions are seeds that hold potential sustenance for each of the tap roots that feed and sustain who I am and who I am choosing to become as I travel my life’s journey. Initially, I thought of writing something about each category and after reflecting upon the idea I have decided to simply name the category and offer us a few questions in each. So, gentler reader, here are the first three categories and the questions contained in each.

IDENTITY QUESTIONS
* Who has influenced me such that I am ‘who I am’ at this time in my life?
* Who am I at this time in my life?
* Who am I choosing to become?
* Why am I choosing this becoming?

PURPOSE QUESTIONS
* Why am I here? At this time, what is my purpose in life?
* Why do I choose to get up each morning?
* How do I know if I am awake and aware to my life’s purpose? How do I know if I am asleep?
* How do I help others discern/affirm their life’s purpose?

MEANING QUESTIONS
* What really matters?
* How do I make meaning out of my life?
* What do I choose to focus on at this time in my life? Why?
*  How do I help others find meaning?
*  How do I uncover my deepest assumptions? How do my deep assumptions inform, if not determine, life’s ‘meaning’ for me?
* How do I know that I have ‘free will’ – that I truly ‘have choice’?
* What does ‘self-reflection’ mean? (Socrates prided himself for being one who knew how little he knew; he gained this insight via self-reflection)

The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself. –John Fowles

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INTRODUCTION

Live the Questions. – Rilke

Essential = essence, basic, indispensable and inherent.
Life = from birth to death
Questions = there are three types of these: questions to respond to immediately, questions to respond to after a time, and questions to ‘hold,’ live into and, over time, perhaps a response will emerge.

I have been thinking about these types of questions for more than twenty-five years. At one time I called them Fundamental Questions of Existence, now I experience them as Essential Life Questions. These are questions to hold and live into – life questions; they are not questions that I seek to answer and then let go of; still, these are questions to address now and in the future (the future being a series of ‘nows’). So, Gentle Reader, I offer you these questions to hold, consider, ponder, respond to, and perhaps to live into.

I have emerged many categories and many questions and so after today’s introductory posting, I will devote two postings to the categories and the questions. Because there are many categories and many questions, I will choose a few of the categories and a few of the questions in each one and offer them to you.

However, before I offer you the questions, I offer you some ideas to consider:
• It seems crucial for one to be awake to and aware of which part of one’s ‘self’ is asking a particular question. For example, which questions would I choose to ask from my heart and which from my head? Which do I ask from my ‘public self’ and which do I ask from my ‘private self’?
• A few thousand years ago, the Oracle at Delphi advised us to know ourselves; given this: What assumptions do I hold that influence my asking a particular question; for example, do I hold an assumption that people are inherently good?
• Consider holding each question in the ‘now’ – literally, at this given moment, what is my response to each question. I offer this because at any given moment I might well respond to each question differently and over time I might then discern a larger pattern.
• Questions also connect us to choice: What will I choose right now – love or resentment, compassion or judgment, forgiveness or revenge? Perhaps a story would help with this question:

Once upon a time there lived deep in the forest a family. At night the grandfather would sit by the fire and his granddaughter would sit close by; as they sat in silence a question would emerge from the little girl. This one night, however, the silence was broken by the grandfather. He said, in his soft, quiet voice: ‘Do you know that I have two tigers living within me and they are fighting. One tiger is full of anger, rage, spite, and resentment and the other is full of love, compassion, caring, and empathy.’ The little girl looked up intently at her grandfather and after some time of silence finally asked, ‘Grandfather, which one will win?’ Her grandfather looked lovingly at his granddaughter and responded: ‘The one I feed!’

• Some questions might require me to be intentional about my environment: As I know myself, what is the environment that will provide me a safe and quiet place for reflection? How much time do I need to spend within this environment? What would it take for me to create a ‘reflective-environment’?
• Consider that the following questions will help you see a deeper understanding rather than achieve a goal; it helps to hold this if I believe that who I am determines the actions that I choose.
• Gentle Reader, as you sit with the questions you might also hold this question: Which question is so important at this time that it becomes difficult to think about anything else?

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Certain faith-traditions believe in an ‘after-life’ life. Atheists, not. Humanists, perhaps not. Unitarians, maybe so. Reincarnates, no need. I am sure there are others that I am not aware of and even those I have listed embrace many ‘gray areas’ (whatever that means). It does seem to me that each is asking: What is the real point of life? Given the increased local and global violence resulting in more and more deaths, I have been spending some time reflecting upon this question.

I was raised in a Christian family, my father was a staunch Presbyterian and my mother was a staunch Polish Catholic; I morphed into a Christian Ecumenical. A major message I heard, from many Christian authority figures, was that the ‘real point of life is to go to heaven.’ Is it? Is this the ‘real point of life’? I am not so sure. First, it seems to me that each of us is challenged to blossom where we are, here, on earth. Consider Psalm 115:16 – The heavens are the Creator’s, the earth has been given to the children of the earth. ‘The Children of the Earth’ – That’s us folks.

The great theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was concerned that the traditional ‘heaven-bent presentation of Christianity actually forced us to choose ‘between’ the things of God and ‘urgent’ earthly concerns, rather than choosing ‘with’ God to love what we humans have been entrusted to care for: Earth. In 1972 Chardin wrote in his stimulating and intellectually stimulating and challenging book, ‘Human Energy,’ the following: [T]he powers that we have released could not possibly be absorbed by…the narrow system of individual or national units… The age of nations has passed. Now unless we wish to perish we must shake off our old prejudices and build the earth. Today, almost 44 years later, his words still resonate with power and they challenge us as never before.

For Chardin, to ‘build the earth’ was God’s mandate for us humans. For Chardin, any heaven-fixation that separates spirit and matter and makes us think Earth is not central to our destiny as creatures of God is an immoral fixation. Talk about upping the ante. Another voice, Isaiah, reminds us that our earth-life is full of God’s radiant presence (if you are awake and aware and seek to be disturbed a bit I invite you to spend some time reading, reflecting upon and studying ‘Isaiah’).

Gentle reader, you, I and we are made out of the stuff of this earth (think ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust’). The ‘earth’ – that is all that exists on this planet – captured God’s heart. Genesis reminds us that God found all on the earth to be ‘delectable’ and that God ‘grieves in his heart’ at everything we do to harm the earth. As the great Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, reminds us ‘some are accountable; all are responsible.’

We are made of the earth and we are made for the earth (to hold it in trust, not to consume it). Again, Genesis reminds us that we are put here to ‘serve and keep it.’ We are made, Genesis reminds us, to serve the ‘earth’ as the representatives of God’s purposes for the earth. Consider that the task our first parents arrogantly rejected was to realize God’s presence and reign here and now ‘on earth’ rather than to reign ‘like gods’ in heaven.

The Real Point of Life is to embrace being the care-takers of the earth that God has entrusted us with. We – especially the People of the Book – will be held responsible by God for earth’s care. It is a bit ironic, I think, that many atheists and humanists are more faithful care-takers than the Christians who continue to refuse to be the care-takers that God wants us to be.

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Given certain ‘realities’ – rapid changing and developing technologies, globalization, emerging industries and careers, increased complexity, and multiple systemic challenges – we now know (if not fully understand) that our traditional educational focus on ‘knowledge and skill’ does not prepare students well enough for both the known and the emerging unknown (it is possible to help students prepare for the unknown – think Scenario Planning, for example).

As I continue to seek to understand what might be educationally beneficial for today’s students I have learned that there are four major areas that educators need to focus on (NOTE: I do not know how long these four will be primary given the continuous rapids – or is it tsunamis – of change that are washing over us). These are not the only areas; they are today, it seems to me, to be four of the essentials, however. I list them in no particular order.

• Focusing the curriculum around the ‘big ideas’ that need our understanding. For example, in 1968 I designed a high school-within-a-high school around the following ‘big idea’: What is the measure of mankind? The curriculum was rooted in ‘experience, inquiry and reflection.’
• Within the curriculum, one major commitment is to discern and name a few, focused number of specific goals for understanding (this helps the educator and the students move beyond the goal of merely ‘knowing’).
• Emerging a curriculum that engages the educator and the student in ‘experiential learning’ via gradually designing ever more and more complex tasks/challenges that require both the educator and the student and student with other students to use their skills – and developing skills – to develop more broadly and deeply their capacities, knowledge and understanding by their engagement with traditional and novel content and contexts. This requires that the educator and the students develop their capacity for reflection: Experience plus Reflection is the learning.
• A major tap root that feeds, nurtures and sustains the educator and the student, as they seek to understand, involves both ongoing informal and periodic formal feedback. The feedback includes an assessment process that informs and supports the educator and the students as they strive to learn, understand and ‘improve.’

We know this is no easy charge. At minimum it requires that the educator and the student think differently about education and it requires that both embrace, and over time, develop a familiarity and comfort with a new or expanded role. (Note: Which is why I have used ‘educator’ rather than ‘teacher’ – an ‘educator calls forth’ and a ‘teacher disseminates knowledge/information.’ At times the ‘educator’ will ‘teach’ but the goal here is to shift the primary focus from ‘teaching’ to ‘educating’.) Teachers and Students know the game of acquiring knowledge and skills and in this new context both will – with varying levels of intensity – seek to return to the ‘old game’ (there will be some – if not a great deal of – resistance to change).

At times both the educator and the student will experience frustration. Frustration emerges when one of two things happens: (1) When one does not get what one wants or (2) When one gets something one does not want. This new experience will provide both experiences to the educator and to the students; the level of frustration for each will vary. How they, alone and together, manage their frustration becomes crucial to the initiatives’ success. By the by, ‘frustration’ morphs into ‘anger’ when one shifts from ‘wanting’ to ‘demanding’ and ‘anger’ morphs to ‘rage’ when one shifts from ‘demanding’ to ‘must’ as in ‘This MUST HAPPEN!’ Given this, it is imperative that both the educator and the student develop, or develop more fully, their capacity to embrace and cope with frustration.

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