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Archive for May, 2016

After my brother, Ernie, was admitted to the ICU a little over two weeks ago I intensified my praying my prayers.  Last night I found myself reflecting upon ‘Prayer’ and as I was waking up this morning I found that I was still reflecting upon ‘Prayer.’  Now, three hours later I have decided to write a bit about what emerged for me.

All faith traditions, that I am aware of anyway, say that ‘Praying Your Prayer’ is crucial.  As an espoused follower of Jesus-the-Christ I look to Him for guidance when it comes to, among other things, ‘Praying My Prayer.’  So what is ‘Prayer’?

Jesus-the-Christ tells me, by word and example that the most important thing about praying is to keep at it.  Some of His images are, I find, quite comical (who says that God does not have a sense of humor).  Perhaps Jesus-the-Christ found it a bit absurd that He had to explain praying our prayers to us.

God, He says, is like a close friend that you go to at midnight in order to obtain some bread.  Your good friend, in effect, tells you to ‘forget about it; leave me alone.’  But, you know your friend is a good friend and so you keep ringing the doorbell; you persist until you are given what you want; your friend finally gives in so your friend can get back to sleep.  Bread in hand, you walk into the darkness full of thanksgiving (or is it that you slink away, just a bit embarrassed at having put your friend in a bit of a bind).

Jesus also tells us that God is also like the crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, I think because the judge knows that there’s not much in it for him (why is the crooked judge always a man).  But the widow keeps pestering the judge until he gives in and hears her case (the only way, it seems, the judge can get rid of her).

Be annoyingly persistent in your solicitation, Jesus-the-Christ tells us – not because I-You-We have to beat a path to and then knock on God’s door before He will open it but because before I-You-We beat out a path there is no way for God to get to ‘MY-YOUR-OUR’ door.  Now that is a paradox worth considering.

Whatever else it may or may not be, ‘Prayer’ is at least talking to oneself – that in itself is a good idea.  What might you talk to yourself about?  As I was ‘Praying My Prayer’ for my brother, Ernie, I realized that I was also talking about my own life – about what I have done and about what I have failed or neglected to do.  I talked to myself (and to God – hence my ‘Prayer) about who I am and about who I am choosing to become.

I talked to myself (and hence to God) about those I loved, love and neglected to love (enough or at all).  I found myself talking to myself (and hence to God) about stuff that truly mattered and about stuff that matters – partly in order to remind myself about what, in the end, really matters.  Even when I doubt that God is listening at least I know that I am striving to listen (I suppose that ‘faith’ means believing that God is listening even when He is not responding to my insistent knocking on His door).

I want to believe in ‘Praying My Prayer’ and when I am doubt-full, I remind myself of these words: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

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On 24 May, 2015 my youngest brother, Thomas, died.
On 15 May, 2016 my oldest brother, Ernest, died.
On 15 May, 1991 there were eight of us on this side.
Today, on 16 May, 2016 there are three of us on this side.

As I was sitting here this morning holding a variety of images of my brother, Ernie, in my mind, heart and soul I was also holding a question: ‘What is Dying?’ As I sat holding both my brother and my question an image emerged into my consciousness and with it a response. This is what I wrote:

‘What is Dying?’

What is dying?
I am standing in a field of flowers.
A whisper of a breeze is caressing my tear-stained face.
I am watching a large man, a hulk of a man, walking slowly away from me.
I stand, I watch him walk away until at last he blends into the horizon.
The person standing by my side says, “He is gone!” “Gone Where?”
“Gone from my sight,” I reply.
He is just as large, he is just as broad in the shoulders as he was when I last saw him;
He is just as able to carry the load that his being was constructed to carry.
At the moment I say “He is gone,”
There are others who are watching him stride over the horizon;
They are watching his coming,
Other voices take up a glad cry of joy,
“He is coming.”
“There he comes!”
And, that is dying!

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It has been some times since I offered us the words of Marcus Aurelius to reflect upon.  You might remember that Marcus was Emperor of Rome from 161-180 A.D.  You might remember that he was a Stoic.  You might remember that he kept a daily journal; a journal in which he captured his reflections and where he wrote openly about himself and his own struggles.  He did not write for others; he wrote for himself.

Because of this we have a rare insight into the mind, heart and soul of one of the most powerful men in history (and, perhaps the most powerful man living during the years from 161-180 A.D.).  His ‘Meditations’ were published and for these past centuries thousands upon thousands upon thousands of folks have read, re-read and re-read, and meditated upon his reflections.  For more than forty years, I have been one of those thousands upon thousands. This morning I will offer us two more passages to reflect upon, these can be found in ‘Book 9’ of Marcus’ ‘Meditations.’

[NOTE: The ‘You’ he refers to is himself] Marcus writes: Many of the superfluous things which trouble you are products of your own judgment, and you have the power to strip them away and be free of them.  If you do this, immediately you will create a vast expanse for yourself, grasping with your mind the whole Cosmos, contemplating both the endless movement of time and the rapidly changing nature of all that exists.  How brief the interval between birth and death; how wide the expanse of time before birth, as infinite as that after death.

 A bit later, Marcus writes: Either the gods have power or they do not.  If they do not, why do you pray?  But if they do have power, why aren’t you praying that they give you the power not to fear, crave, or be troubled by a thing, rather than praying to have that thing or not have it?  For if the gods can work with us, then surely they can work with us toward this end.  Then you might say, “But the gods have already given me this power.”  Well then, isn’t it a better thing freely to make use of the gifts you have, instead of slavishly worrying about what is not in your control?  Who has told you that the gods do not also assist us with what is within our power? 

 Begin to pray in the following way, and you will see.  Someone else might pray: “How may I not lose my brother?”  But you: “How may I not dread the loss of my brother?”  Turn your prayers around entirely, and see what happens.

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A problem with much contemporary discourse at the personal level (think: relationships) and at the public level (think: the media or politics) is that affirmations frequently wear the mask of arguments [our affirmations are rooted in our deep tacit assumptions].  Consider, gentle reader, that in exchanges based upon simple affirmation, no understanding of alternative viewpoints is possible.  The case I state is not open for discussion, debate or dialogue.  Often these exchanges are characterized by ‘premature ultimates’ or ‘premature declarations’– statements uttered with such finality and conviction that the possibility of counter statements is severely reduced (if not entirely blocked).

Here is an example of a ‘premature ultimate/declaration’:  ‘A strong national defense will guarantee that democracy will be preserved!’  Folks who challenge this ‘ultimate’ might well be labeled as un-democratic (think: un-American).  Consider the many contemporary conflicts that are full of ‘premature ultimates/declarations’: the morality of abortion, teaching values in public schools, issues of gender identity, issues of immigration, issues regarding what is a ‘civil right’, etc.  The ‘premature ultimates/declarations’ are uncritical affirmations pretending to be reasoned arguments.

When ‘premature ultimates/declarations’ are exchanged (think: verbally and violently heaved at the other) those involved believe their views to be so self-evidently truth-full that articulating the assumptions underlying them is unnecessary.  Complementing this belief (walking hand-in-hand with it) is the conviction that opponents of one’s views are operating rooted in some irrational thinking (my view is ‘common sense’ and your view is ‘non-sense’).  I cannot recall the number of times I have said (to myself and to others): ‘If only they could see the real world, the world as it really is, they would surely agree with me.’

I have listened to folks tell me that people are poor because they are lazy and, furthermore, that welfare rewards them for being lazy.  Others have told me that being addicted to ‘reality T.V. shows does not dummy-down one’s brain and, furthermore, this addiction reinforces other addictions.  My knee jerk reaction to these – and other such ‘premature ultimates/declarations’ – is that anyone expressing these views is fundamentally misguided.

Yet, when I take the time to reflect I conclude that these folks are not ‘irrational’ (or ‘intellectually unhinged’).  In my better moments, I remind myself that what I am contesting are the others’ frameworks for understanding his/her world – the deep tacit assumptions regarding how their/the world works.

I have learned that before I accuse the other that ‘watching reality T.V. does not rot your brain’ I have to do two things: (1) I must lay bare my own deep tacit assumptions and (2) I must strive to enter into the other’s mental framework of understanding so that I might come to understand the idea from his or her viewpoint.  I must seek to appreciate the framework within which the other is forming his or her beliefs about their/the world.

In one sense the challenge is simple: With help, reveal one or more of my deep tacit assumptions and then commit to a process that will confirm or disconfirm each assumption.  This is a simple process until one actually engages the process.

 

 

 

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How do we acquire and integrate the deep tacit assumptions that form and inform how we view, and how we choose to live in, ‘the/our’ world?  I am focusing on the assumptions we possess that inform and form our understanding of human nature (for example, that people are inherently violent or that people are inherently benevolent) and that inform and form our views about the organization of social life (for example, because people are inherently violent society must ensure that all social institutions and laws keep our violent nature in check).

In 1985 Stephen Brookfield described two types of assumptions: psychological assumptions and cultural assumptions (these two types continue to be two of the major ones embraced today by those who research and write about our topic).

Psychological Assumptions are rules that are unconscious and that inhibit and that provide us boundaries; when we ‘cross’ a boundary (think: break a rule) we experience high anxiety and guilt.  Here are a few of these psychological assumptions that I integrated early in life: ‘Avoid Conflict,’ ‘Don’t Rock the Boat,’ ‘See All Sides,’ ‘Never Be Angry’ and ‘Be a Peacemaker.’

Cultural Assumptions are deeply embedded in both the dominant culture and in the dominant sub-cultures (the sub-cultures are where we spend most of our time).  They contain, among other things, the ‘core values’ of the culture and sub-cultures and are transmitted to ‘new members’ via a number of pathways.  Among other things these assumptions form and inform our conduct when it comes to politics, economics, occupations, and faith-traditions.

As ‘mature’ adults one of our challenges is to become aware of our psychological and cultural assumptions so we can determine the ways they serve us and hinder us (this process involves our learning to become critical thinkers.  ‘Thinking Critically’ is a skill to be learned, integrated and applied).

As human beings, we, by our nature, seek to find meaning in our lives and we seek to make sense of all that happens to us.  Our assumptions are one of the frameworks we develop in order to help us do both of these.  What is important for me to understand – and perhaps for you, too, gentle reader, to understand – is that I might well (and I do) find other people’s frameworks to be, a minimum, foolish (‘How could you assume that?’) or at maximum repugnant (‘What do you mean, ‘people are inherently evil’?) and at the same time I cannot deny that they are, just as I am, striving to find meaning in their/the world and they are striving to make sense of their/the world.

For example, I cannot understand why anyone would think that a certain person would make a ‘good president’ and yet, if I am honest with myself I cannot claim that their views are irrational – irrational in the sense that they are not being grounded in any framework of values, beliefs, and deep tacit assumptions that help them make sense of their/the world.  Given this, their views are reasonable.  How often I forget this is beyond counting.

[to be continued]

 

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