Archive for February, 2016

When I was five years old my parents built a cottage on a small, spring-fed lack in Wisconsin; my parents kept this cottage for twelve years. We moved into the cottage on Memorial Day and we moved back to the city on Labor Day. The day we moved into the cottage my parents purchased three ducklings and two baby turtles (not snapping turtles). Our (the children’s) charge was to care for these babies until they were old enough to be in the lake on their own. We knew when the ducklings were ready to be on their own – they stopped following us around the yard and refused to come out of the lake when we did. The turtles were more difficult to understand as to how large they had to be before we would finally turn them loose into the wilds of the lake – we were guided more by ‘turtle-temperament’ than by ‘turtle-size.’

A few days ago I was watching a ‘you-tube’ video of folks caring for endangered sea turtles. The narrator noted that a great deal of research has been done on sea-turtle blood. Scientists, I discovered, are quite interested in sea-turtle blood. Turtles…You Say? Yes indeed, Turtles. It seems that sea turtles don’t suffer from arteriosclerosis in old age. There seems to be a special property of turtle blood that prevents the arteries from hardening. From the little I have learned – less than a thimble full of knowledge at this time – it seems as if there continue to be two camps; those who are sure and those who are doubters (as far as I my thimble full of knowledge tells me no one disputes the possibility outright).

There is also information that perhaps the turtle’s blood vessels stay in good shape because of the turtles’ life-style. Turtles rarely pass up the opportunity to relax – swim slowly or sit on a log during a sunny day. I have not heard of two turtles getting together with the idea of promoting anything. As far as I know, no turtle has ever swum around – or laid around – complaining that the short-term profits weren’t enough. I am sure that turtles do not spend many hours a day and night attempting to perfect stuff that destroys entire cities (or islands) – the atomic-death of many islands would also lead to the sterility, if not death, of the turtles (and turtles, as we all know are wise creatures).

In the many years I was hanging around turtles I never heard one say ‘We are going to roll this program out!’ I have never hear them say: ‘Get Real!’ or ‘Some day you will have to live in the real world!’ As far as I know turtles are not distracted by, nor obsessed, with technology – no two sea turtles have collided because one, or both, were distracted by their cell-phones.

In spite of their thousands of years of not having access to whatever the current trend was/is they continue to know how to live a stress-free life. Turtles, by their admirable habits, are able to get to the hard core of life – which might be why their arteries continue to be soft.

Now, gentle reader, it might be worth noting that traditionally the Chinese do not appear to suffer from arteriosclerosis nearly as much as we Westerners do – and many Chinese continue to be heavy eaters of Turtles. Turtles…You Say? Yup, Turtles.

Perhaps if we all spent more time swimming slowly and deeply, and spent more time sunning ourselves while lounging on logs and spent more time savoring turtle soup complemented by a nice red wine then we too might become as turtles – hard where necessary and soft where necessary.

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In our country there are many folks who claim to be a ‘Christian.’ Some of these folks also denigrate others who also claim to be Christian – this continues to puzzle me for I cannot imagine Jesus denigrating anyone (well, perhaps the rich and the Pharisees and hypocrites and the money-changers which he did more than once). In order to win the votes of Christians, it is not uncommon for folks seeking to be the next mayor, governor, congressman, senator or president to declare with a resounding voice: “I am a Christian – I hold Christian Values.’ The question I hold – thanks to Jesus – is: What deeds do you perform that demonstrate that you are a Christian?

How do I know if one is a Christian by deed, not by word? Well, Jesus our guide in this matter is quite clear about the actions that a Christian takes. Here is His list:
Matthew: 5:3-11 – The Beatitudes
3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
6Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
11Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me

Matthew: 6:12 – Forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.

Matthew: 6:14-15 – For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew: 7:12 – In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law…

Matthew: 25: 35-45 – Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
36naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
37Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
40And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
43a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
44Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’
45He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

How many of us who espouse to be Christians measure up when it comes to our deeds versus our words? How many of us are simply ‘clanging cymbals’ signifying nothing – our deeds are not in alignment with the words we espouse? How many of us who espouse – vociferously – that we are Christians, rooted in our self-righteous cloak of superiority, walk, day after day, past the person in the ditch or refuse to welcome the stranger in our midst?

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Recently my son, Nathan (a gifted artist, you might recall) informed me that he was going to emerge a list of topics and questions and invite me to choose one or more of them and write a blog entry for each one I choose. A few days later I found myself reflecting upon ‘Topics Left Untouched.’ Topics I had made a note about in my little black book (you might recall, gentle reader, that I keep a little black book and write stuff in it almost daily. I cannot remember how many of these I have filled up over the years) – ‘Topics Left Untouched.’

As I reviewed some of these topics I asked myself: ‘Why have I chosen not to write about them?’ When I noted them in my little black book each one intrigued me and many of them seemed to call me to think more deeply about them – if they had not I would not have taken the time to note them. Yet. . . Today they continue to reside patiently in their little black-book-home; they do not bother me, although they will whisper to me at times reminding me that they are waiting for me to come and visit them again.

This morning, I want to honor them even though sitting here in my favorite coffee shop I remain ‘word-less’ and they remain ‘Topics Left Untouched.’ I am now paging through the little black book I carry with me (the others are safely tucked away at home). Here are some of the ‘Topics Left Untouched’ (so far): The Four Lessons of History, Two Fears, 62 ‘C’ Words [there are many topics contained within these 62 words], Six Things that will Destroy the Human Race, A Quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – ‘Few are guilty, but all are responsible.’ Sweet Despair, Truth will not make you rich, Silence, Knowledge does not equate with Learning, Two Basic Laws of All Organisms, Tolstoy’s Last Words, Tolstoy’s Wisdom Distilled, People Reason Differently When. . . and Failure.

A number of my friends have also sent me their photographs. Each one stimulates my thinking and I have reflected more deeply upon a number of them and I have captured some of my reflections in writing and I have posted some of those as blog entries these past three years. Six months or so ago my friend George sent me two photos – I continue to return to them as there is something (a poem perhaps) that is seeking to be expressed in words. I will post one of them at the end of this little piece this morning.

As I sit in silence with all of this I am reminded of the words of Francis Bacon: Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.

Here is one of the two photos that my friend, George sent me:

By George-10March2015-Nashville2

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I opened my eyes. The room was dark, my soul was darker still – darker than the dark night of the soul. I could not see my hand nor my future. I paused. I turned on the lamp that was on the table next to my bed. I looked at the alarm clock – 1:30am on 21 February, 1965.

I was in the second semester of my sophomore year at the university. I had just switched majors for the third time; it was a symbol of my wandering around in the darkness. I was beyond depression; I was numb.

During the winter months, one of the favorite ways for students to kill themselves at this university was to over-dress, walk to one end of the two lakes on campus (the one that always had a small part open due to the warm water being piped into it from the student laundry) and then to step into the water and allow the weight of the clothes to help drag you to the bottom.

I dressed slowly. I layered two pair of pants and covered these with a pair of sweat pants. I put on my heaviest winter boots. I covered my upper body in four layers of shirts and sweat shirts and topped it all off with my heavy winter coat, fur lined gloves and covered my head with a hat which was covered with a ski cap.

I slowly waddled my way down the steps; I opened the door. I paused. I stepped into the darkness. I had to walk around the first lake – the frozen lake – in order to reach the small opening at the end of the other lake.

On 21 February, 2010 I wrote a poem that captured what followed once I reached the opening in the lake. The poem follows. Following the poem is a photo of that lake.


I stood in the dark night of winter
peering into the water that seemed
so inviting. Like a polar bear, I
was covered in layers of warm clothing.
Like a polar bear I was there to take a swim
in the cold winter water. Unlike the polar
bear I was not there to seek nourishment but

The dark night of my own winter had
become unbearable and so I stood
contemplating one final step into the deep
that would provide relief. One step.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

In the wintery silence of my soul I heard a
whisper; a tiny voice struggled to be heard
amidst the noise of my silence.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I listened. The whisper grew in intensity
and clarity. I listened. Why don’t you
go and talk with somebody?

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I listened. The question held a bit of
light in the form of a small hope.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I turned, I took the One Step, not into
the water of relief but into the dark
that held out a small light of hope. –Richard W Smith, 21 February 2010

The Lake where I paused – then took that one step.

The Lake Where I Paused

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For the ‘People of the Book’ (Jews, Christians and Muslims) the Prophet plays a number of roles. Historically, Prophets also appeared in many other humanist and faith traditions. For many the age of Prophets has long past – although their ability to influence us has not. For others a Prophet will emerge when needed — it is the seeker who calls forth the Prophet. The implication here is that there is always a Prophet waiting just off center-stage waiting to be called forth.

Let us pause a moment and briefly explore the concept of ‘Prophet.’ I invite us to consider that the Prophet’s main role is NOT to predict the future; many folks who have been named as ‘Prophets’ did not spend their time predicting the future. So what did they do and how might a Prophet serve us today?

Prophets help us – especially help our designated leaders – keep a clear head amidst confusion, conflict, chaos and ambiguity. A Prophet is gifted with ‘truth-telling’ as they see it – ‘Let he or she who has ears hear!’ A Prophet can help us by ‘seeing clearly’ that the ‘emperor’ indeed is lacking clothes and then by naming this reality for us – ‘Things are not as we believe them to be!’

Prophets are often the ‘conscience’ of the leader or the led; they remind us that we are called to be moral, not amoral nor immoral, beings. Prophets ‘name’ our amoral and immoral choices and actions – ‘Wake Up! Pay Attention!’ Prophets warn us that the path we are on will take us into the mouth of the Lion; too often our response to the Prophet’s warning is denial or is denigration of the Prophet.

Prophets often point to the ‘wrongs’ we continually commit; they point with vigor to the injustices that we embrace – they stir feelings of ‘guilt’ in us and we don’t like them for it.

What Prophets do not do – and should not do – is to tell us doers what to do. To do so would be to take power without responsibility. We must choose – we must embrace choice, accountability, and unconditional response-ability/responsibility.

Prophets challenge us to embrace and manage the paradoxes that are part of our lives today. Here are two of them: ‘Justice-Mercy,’ ‘Person-Community.’

We need to call the Prophet forth today. The rapidity of global change, the growing chasm between the world’s ‘haves and have-nots,’ the continual degradation of our environment, the growing incivility that permeates the halls of our government, the tsunami of complexity that washes over our leaders, our families, our institutions – that is, our lives – support our need to call forth the Prophet.

Do we really want the Prophet to step onto center-stage? The Prophet does not bring comfort nor solace. The Prophet is a disturber, a pot-stirrer, a ‘conscience-upsetter.’ Our addiction to busyness, our addiction to distraction, and our addiction to speed helps ensure that there is no room for the Prophet, much less for the Prophet’s voice.

YET, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us: ‘…all are responsible.’ The disturbing words of a Prophet, I think.

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If the following characteristics and qualities are considered to be ‘Presidential’ we are truly blessed this election year for thus far all of the candidates for each Party continue to demonstrate them. The following list is not ranked from first to last; nor are all of the following characteristics and qualities embraced by every candidate (if you, gentle reader, have been attempting to follow the current ‘race for the Presidency’ you might well be able to assign each characteristic and each quality to the proper person). Consider if you will the following list (which, by the by, is far from being a comprehensive list – sad, but true):
Compromise – A crucial compromise occurred this week from the Republican Candidates; a compromise that is character revealing. Our Republican Presidential Candidates have as ‘one voice’ told us that our sitting President should compromise our Constitution and postpone nominating a new Supreme Court Judge during the final months of his Presidency; they tell us that our sitting President MUST compromise his Office. For a Party that espouses a strict interpretation of the Constitution, this suggestion is directly antithetical to our Constitution. Each of the Republican Candidates have revealed to us, the American People, that they do not truly hold a strict reading of our Constitution. If each of them is willing to compromise our Constitution in this way then in what other ways will they be willing to compromise our Constitution? On the bright side, for a few years now the Republicans have been accused by the Democrats as being the ‘non-compromising party’ – well, they have demonstrated that they are willing to compromise, and compromise big.
Trust Builders – When Hillary Rodham Clinton was at Wellesley she said that we should beware of political persons who were ‘trust busters.’ It is ironic – actually, for me it is more sad than ironic – that the very Characteristic/Quality (Being Trust-Worthy) is the one that she continues to tell us (by her behavior and choices) is, at minimum, a ‘red-flag’ and at maximum is not true (that is, she is striving to convince us that she is not worthy of our trust). For many, she is succeeding. She is not alone. Each of the other Presidential Candidates also strive to convince us that they are not worthy of our trust. How do they do this? If we are paying attention at all we are well aware of the ways: Direct Character Attacks, Demonstrating to us that each of them are flip-floppers, As flip-floppers they also demonstrate a lack of courage (think: heart) to stand up for what they truly believe (they espouse over and over again what they believe but their lived history belies what they espouse). They are educating us not to trust them. They are educating us not to believe that they are trust-worthy.
Verbally Astute – Each of our current Presidential Candidates continue to demonstrate that they are able to talk and talk and yell and yell and interrupt and interrupt and denigrate and denigrate and rave at one another in the most uncivil language and AT THE SAME TIME not offer us clarity as to what they truly stand for and certainly they are not verbally clear as to what they will actually do (now I know, as you do gentle reader, that they actually do not know what they will and so it is impossible for them to tell us – but if they had the courage to tell us we would not be able to ‘trust them;’ this puts them in a bit of a double-bind). Each of our current Presidential Candidates is verbally astute when it comes to verbally defending and verbally attacking at the same time. Each is significantly less verbally astute when it comes to speaking with presidential eloquence. Each of our current Presidential Candidates demonstrates their verbal astuteness when it comes to avoiding answering a direct question as they astutely deliver the message they want us to hear or the message they want to reiterate or by avoiding a direct response they are demonstrating their verbal astuteness in side-stepping a direct question.

Our Presidential Candidates are demonstrating many things to us; is one of them, I find myself asking this morning, that: None of us Presidential Candidates is truly ‘Presidential’. I must be clear here, gentle reader, I am not blaming any of the Candidates. The ultimate responsibility lies, as our Constitution so powerfully reminds us, with We the People. . .

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Yesterday I became more aware of what folks were saying in response to Antonin Scalia’s death and to Petyon Manning’s difficulties during his time at the University of Tennessee which re-emerged recently. I also began to reflect upon the variety of judgments that folks are offering us in response to the folks who are currently seeking to become our next President. I also began to reflect upon the verbal and written support or denigration of our current President. Even for the casual observer the support and criticism of all of these folks seems like a run amok tsunami.

Some would say that our culture lacks civility. I think they are correct. Some would say that our culture has replaced the art of critical thinking with reactive cynicism and denigration. I also think that they are correct. Some would say that we espouse Christianity and behave in ways that are truly antithetical to Christianity. These folks, too, would also be correct.

Is all of this occurring because we are nasty, uncaring and uncompassionate human beings? I don’t’ believe so. So what is this all about? The simple answer is that all of this confirms that we are truly human beings. That we, even at our healthiest, are living paradoxes. We are BOTH virtue and vice, we are BOTH good and evil, we are BOTH light and darkness. We are, at our best, imperfect human beings.

It seems to me that we continue to espouse the light, or virtue, or ‘being good’ AND we continue to be seduced by our dark-side, by our propensity to vice, and by our hubris which permits us to do evil guilt-free. As living paradoxes we are BOTH-AND; too often we forget this. Too often we deny that the two polarities are integrated into one paradox: We forget, or deny, or refuse to accept that good cannot exist without evil (and we are potentially both), that light cannot exist without darkness (and we are potentially both), and that virtue cannot exist without vice (and, again, we are potentially both).

Rather than accept the evil, the darkness, and the vice that is part of who we are as imperfect human beings we name the other (Scalia, Manning, the numerous current Presidential Candidates, President Obama, and others too many to name here) as ‘evil’ or as ‘darkness personified’ or as ‘living vice’ and this projection enables us to guilt-free denigrate them, disparage them, or scape-goat them. By the by, gentler reader, I am one of us.

For we Christians (and perhaps for others) Jesus gave us a name: Pharisee. Jesus also gave us hope. It is up to each of us to choose, maybe even hour by hour, whether we will allow our dark-side to run amok or whether we will choose to embrace and live into the light that resides within.

In 1992, Marianne Williamson powerfully reminded us that “…Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

As I know all too well, it is difficult for us human beings to embrace ourselves as living paradoxes for this means that we, not others, are truly responsible and accountable. Consider that until we accept ourselves as living paradoxes we will continue to feign our light and deny our darkness; we will continue to project our evil onto the other(s) and believe we are guilt-free when we denigrate the other(s); we will guilt-free act in vice-full ways toward the other(s) while seeing ourselves as beacons of virtue.

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