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Archive for January, 2017

THE WINDOW. . .

Yesterday my friend, George – who, by the by, is a photographic-artist – sent me a photo.  He captured the view on the 28th of January (his birth-date).  During the past 24 hours or so I have paused, stepped aside, and then spent a few minutes looking at and reflecting upon this photograph.  Here is George’s photograph.  I follow it with a question and then with some of what emerged for me as I sat with and reflected upon it.

by-george-28jan2017-copy

Gentle reader: What emerges for you as you reflect upon the photograph?

For me, the following emerged – as I type these words I am not sure the order that each of the following emerged.

I look at the outside world through the lens of my spirit, soul and heart.  I have, within me, obstacles that hinder me from seeing ‘all of what resides outside of myself.’  All that resides outside of me is, at best, fleeting: This too shall pass.  Much of what resides outside of my self is ill-defined and a bit cloudy.  I can clearly see the ‘beams in my own eyes’ and this awareness disturbs me.  This awareness also confirms that I am, at my best, an imperfect human being.

I espouse to be a follower of Jesus-the-Christ (again, my imperfection, keeps me from saying with conviction that I am a ‘Christian’).  Jesus-the-Christ was clear: If I choose to follow Him then I must pick up my cross and…   The photograph reminds me of the Cross that I refuse to pick up – perhaps this huge cross is a compilation of many smaller crosses that I have refused to pick up along my life’s journey.  My ‘Cross’ does not have to be life-depleting.  I am thinking of the ‘Cross’ of ‘compassion,’ ‘mercy,’ ‘forgiveness,’ ‘reconciliation,’ and ‘healing’ that I have refused to take up and offer to the other(s).

I am thinking of the ‘Seasons of My Life.’  I am now considered, by age at least, to be an ‘Elder.’  Among other things it means that a majority of my life – say the Spring and Summer – are less visible to me (and less available).  The majority of my life today involves the top two quadrants of ‘Fall’ and ‘Winter.’  By-the-by, gentle reader, I am more aware today of the power of the words the winter of my discontent.  Like the passing clouds, each season is fleeting – each will pass away.  ‘Life goes on’ is more than a pretty phrase.

I am also thinking of the ‘Four Seasons’ – where I live it is truly ‘the dead of winter.’  We can, however, have many fall-like days and recently we have had hints of spring and summer.  Our skies are mostly dark and gray; the days of blue skies touched by wispy clouds is an anomaly.  It will be another forty-five days before the lower panes become larger and the top two panes (fall-winter) become smaller.

I am sitting here typing these words and wondering: If the external world is truly fleeting – and I believe it is – then what is permanent? 

 

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For thousands of years the great wisdom figures have invited us to, among other important things, to know thyself.  They reminded us over and over that the unexamined life is not worth living.  They also told us that to refuse to examine the assumptions we live by is immoral.  Powerful admonitions.

Gentle reader, if you have been following my blog postings these past 4+ years it is already clear to you that I believe that ‘Questions’ are crucial to our development and well-being.  Not just any questions, of course.  Some of what I call ‘Essential Life Questions’ are to be addressed sooner rather than later and some are to be ‘held’ and ‘lived’ – All are never answered ‘once and for all time.’

This morning, gentle reader, I will offer you a number of ‘QUESTIONS’ and I invite you to take some time and reflect upon one or more of them (perhaps you will find it helpful to reflect upon all of them – then again…).  Perhaps you will add your own ‘Essential Life Questions’ to my list – or replace some of mine with yours.  My current list covers 7+ pages (I began many years ago with Four Essential Life Questions).

Here are some of my ‘Essential Life Questions’ – the first five are in order of importance for me; the remainder are listed in no particular order.

ESSENTIAL LIFE QUESTIONS

  • Who am I?
  • Who am I choosing to become?
  • Why am I choosing this becoming?
  • On the path of my life, where am I going?
  • Why am I choosing to go there?

A FEW ADDITIONAL LIFE-QUESTIONS

  • When is serving potentially immoral?
  • What are 3 implications for you if you say ‘YES’ to serving others’ highest priority needs?
  • Do you have ‘Core Values,’ ‘Core Guiding Principles,’ and a ‘Core Life-Purpose’ that provide you major life-tap roots – tap roots that ‘feed’ you and ‘sustain you’ especially during the ‘tough times’? — IF ‘YES’ – What are they?  — IF ‘NO’ – What might they be?
  • How can you make it easier for people to engage you as a fully human being?
  • How might you actually celebrate failure? –What, for you, constitutes ‘failure’?
  • What haven’t you been honest about – to yourself?
  • Are there certain people who stimulate you to say ‘YES’ more than ‘NO’? –Who are they and Why is that?
  • If you could say ‘YES’ to something in your life now what would be different? –What do you need say ‘YES’ to and you choose not to do so?
  • What is a fear about yourself that prevents you from doing your best work?
  • What is a fear about your reception by others that prevents you from doing your own work?
  • Is the work you do in and of itself meaningful to/for you? – If not, what can you choose to do in order to help make it meaningful?
  • Walt Whitman notes that ‘We convince by our presence’. –What do you want to convince others of by your presence?

 

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Gentle reader, ‘we humans’ are imperfect beings.  We are endowed with wonder-full potential and great gifts.  We are virtue and vice.  We are pride-full.  When our pride moves from virtue to vice we become hubris-full (think ‘arrogant’).  We move from being ‘God-Like’ to being ‘Like-God.’  We become confused as to which is our ‘true self’ and which is our ‘false self.’  This ‘identity confusion’ has been explored by theologians and by psychologists for eons.

One of the theologians who address the theme of the true and false self is Thomas Merton.  In his book, The Silent Life, Merton sought to help us understand this tension.  Today I have decided to quote Merton at length – he states it more eloquently and powerfully than I am able to.  Merton writes:

…God made us free…God did not make us omnipotent.  We are capable of becoming perfectly godlike, in all truth, by freely receiving from God the gift of his Light, and his love, and his freedom…  But in so far as we are implicitly convinced that we ought to be omnipotent of ourselves we usurp to ourselves a godlikeness that is not ours… In our desire to be ‘as gods’ we seek what one might call a relative omnipotence: the power to have everything we want, to enjoy everything we desire, to demand that all our wishes be satisfied and that our will should never be frustrated or opposed.  It is the need to have everyone else bow to our judgment and accept our declaration as law.  It is the insatiable thirst for recognition of the excellence we so desperately need to find in ourselves to avoid despair.  This claim to omnipotence is in fact the source of all our sorrows, all our unhappiness, all our dissatisfactions, all our mistakes and deceptions.  It is a radical falsity…

 Merton continues:

There are many acceptable and ‘sane’ ways of indulging one’s illusory claim to divine power.  One can be, for example, a proud and tyrannical parent –or a tearful and demanding martyr-parent.  One can be a sadistic and overwhelming boss, or a nagging perfectionist.  One can be a clown, or a dare-devil, or a libertine.  One can be a hermit or a demagogue.  Some satisfy their desire for divinity by knowing everybody else’s business: others by judging their neighbor, or telling him what to do. 

There is a way we can shift to living into and out of more virtue than vice, to living more into the light more than the darkness.  The great wisdom figures have for thousands of years provided us the way: to consciously strive to be who we really are – our ‘true self,’ the image of God, who is Love.

 

 

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For thousands of years the written history of all recorded faith traditions tell us that we humans have been endowed with ‘god-like’ qualities as a gift from the ‘Creator.’  We have been endowed with an ‘Intellect’ whose potential seems endless.  As a complement to our intellect we have been endowed with ‘Choice.’  We have also been gifted with potential ‘Virtues’ and ‘Vices’ – our ‘Intellect’ and our ‘Power to Choose’ allows us which, Virtue or Vice, to develop and enact.

Our endowed qualities – ‘Intellect’ and ‘Choice’ – have enabled us to also ‘Create.’  They have also enabled us to ‘hold dominion over’ any number of other ‘creations.’  We realized that we were/are ‘god-like.’  And herein lies the ‘rub.’  The ‘rub’ in this case is manifested by our ‘hubris’ – the ‘pride that trumps all prides.’  Our hubris makes us vulnerable to being seduced into thinking that if we choose a certain thing then we would transform from being ‘godlike’ to being just like the gods – we might even become gods.

The People of the Book (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) know the story well.  Man and Woman were created by the Creator and placed in a wonder-full garden.  They were endowed with ‘Intellect’ and ‘Choice.’  They were also given a few commands by the Creator.  Because they were endowed with ‘Intellect’ and ‘Choice’ they were also vulnerable to being ‘seduced.’  Their big test came when the ‘Serpent’ told them that ‘You will be like gods.’  They chose rooted in ‘hubris.’

The consequences are obvious and radical.  A major consequence was – continues to be at times – ‘Alienation.’  We humans choose to alienate ourselves from ‘God,’ from one another, from our inner lives, from creation (which is evidenced in our choosing to continue to devastate our environment – the ways we do this are too many to mention given the space I have available).  We choose to deplete more than nurture.  We use our ‘Intellect’ and our ‘Choice’ to destroy more than create.   Who is the ‘WE’?  First, ‘WE’ is humankind.  Second, ‘WE’ is each Nation.  Third, ‘WE’ entails each group that resides within the concept of ‘Nation.’  And, finally, ‘WE’ is each person who is endowed with ‘Intellect’ and ‘Choice.’

Like the first two – the Man and the Woman – the choice resids with each of us.  I believe that each of us is, by and large, a human being who strives to be more virtuous than vicious; who strives to be good rather than evil.  Yet, each of us fails – a little or a lot – in spite of our good intentions.  Why?  Ah, gentle reader, this is the big question.  A fellow named Paul, many years ago, in a letter to a group of Romans addressed this ‘Why?’  This is what he wrote:

I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things I hate…for though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not: the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want – that is what I do.

This, for me, is the human dilemma.  I-You-We are, by our nature, imperfect beings (we are truly godlike, not gods, and this alone means that we are imperfect).  We are, at our best, living paradoxes of good and evil, of virtue and vice, of light and darkness.  We are endowed with ‘Intellect’ and ‘Choice’ and therefore we can create and embrace more good, more virtue and more light.

In spite of our good intentions, we are just like Paul – we are confused and often baffled because we do not understand our own behavior; we do not understand our own choices.

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WE THE PEOPLE. . .

Less than 24 hours ago the 45th President of the United States of America took the oath of office.:  I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  With these 35 words on person becomes the ‘Ex-President’ and another becomes the ‘President.’

A few days ago I was attempting to savor my breakfast food – I was emerging from being immersed in a nasty cold and ‘food’ was still not very savory.  There were two people in the booth behind me and they were ranting and raving out the person who was going to take the Oath of Office on the 20th of January.  They were not pleased with the outcome of our recent Presidential election.

Then, in the midst of a bit of silence one of them asked the other: ‘Did you vote?’  The response was: ‘No…it was a waste of my time and my vote. Did you vote?’  The other person responded: ‘No…my vote doesn’t count for much.’ 

There you have it, gentle reader.  Folks are blaming the new President when the actual blame lies with WE THE PEOPLE.  What blame am I referring to?  Here are some numbers that might help us understand (I am, if you have been following my blogs for these past 4+ years not a big numbers person – but these numbers are significant).

We have in the United States 218,824,246 registered voters (by the by, there are many more ‘eligible’ voters than ‘registered’ voters).

65,844,610 (30% of ALL registered voters) voted for Clinton.

62,979,636 (28.8% of ALL registered voters) voted for Trump.

90,000,000 (41.5% of ALL registered voters) DID NOT VOTE. 

Our Founding Fathers believed that Democracy would only survive and thrive if the citizens embraced their civic responsibilities.  What do these numbers tell us about the health of our Democracy?

Even if Clinton had been elected by the popular vote alone (no electoral college) she still would have been elected by 30% of all those who were registered to vote (as I noted above, there are many more who are eligible to vote but who are not registered).

Our Founding Fathers were a hybrid of Realism and Idealism; they were Practical and Prudent; they were Supportive and Suspicious of the Voter; they were Political and Philosophical.  They knew that the United States was landmass-huge and they strove to imagine the number of people that would eventually inhabit our country (they had no realistic idea of the number of course – for any number of reasons); the numbers today would, I think, whelm them over (just as the numbers whelm us over today).

In one sense I believe our new President is correct: America must come first.  The ‘America-First’ we need, however, has more to do with ensuring that Democracy as our Founding Fathers envisioned it will become healthier than it is today (a major sign of the health of a Democracy is that, indeed, the number of eligible folks who can vote actually vote – given this sign Democracy is dis-eased today).  If WE are going to become a healthy Democracy then it is up to us.  It is up to…

WE THE PEOPLE!

 

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What do you, gentle reader carry?  What do I carry?  What do we, as a ‘Nation,’ carry?

What do we carry that we no longer need?  What do we carry that continues to burden us or weigh us down?  What do we carry AND we are not aware of or we deny that we carry?  What should we be carrying and we resist or refuse to carry?  How do we know what we should pick up and carry?  How do we know what we should put down?

The person who seeks to follow Christ is asked to pick up his cross and follow Christ.  Talk about upping the ante when it comes to carrying something.  How do we identify the ‘Cross’ that we are to pick up and carry?  Are we to pick up and carry more than one cross?  Do we, out of love of our neighbor, help our neighbor carry his or her cross?  Who is our neighbor (for Christians, Christ clearly answered this question).

Christians are also asked to carry their ‘brothers.’  Who are these ‘brothers’?  Ah, this is the rub!  ‘You’re not heavy, you’re my brother!’ is more than just a pretty statement; the implications are daunting.  Our ‘Statue of Liberty’ clearly states who we, as a Nation, are the ‘brothers’ we are to carry: Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!  Today, how are we doing when it comes to ‘this caring’?

What are the gifts, talents and abilities that we carry?  Which of these do we ‘carry’ but not make use of?  Why do we choose not to make use of them?  Speaking of ‘choosing’ – Each of us does carry ‘choice;’ we have the ‘power’ to choose.

We carry our ethnic and family heritages.  How well do we carry them—with dignity or shame or fear or guilt or pride?

Do we carry patience, love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, healing balm, tolerance, acceptance, safety nets, hope, freedom (freedom ‘for’ and freedom ‘from’), integrity, and wisdom?

Do we carry intolerance, suspicion, frustration, cynicism, despair, resignation, fear of…(think: fear of the ‘other’ and fear of the ‘stranger’), guilt, rage, hate, shame, denial, hubris and self-righteousness?

Do we carry open wounds – wounds that might have been delivered by another or, more powerfully, by one’s self – wounds that might be new or wounds that might have been delivered years ago and hence are festering and poisoning us today?  How do our ‘wounds’ serve us?

Do I, you, we truly want to know and acknowledge all the things we carry?  Would the awareness that comes with ‘knowing’ simply become another burden that we carry?  Are we better off not knowing all that we carry?  Would ‘knowing’ add to our dis-ease or to our health – perhaps to both?

Is there a ‘bottom line’?  Perhaps.  Perhaps the ‘bottom line’ is that I-You-We carry ‘Choice.’ 

 

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Two weeks ago I overheard the following exchange: ‘You look exhausted this morning?’  ‘I am, I am carrying a lot these days.’   Upon hearing this exchange I immediately thought of Tim O’Brien’s powerful book about American soldiers during the Vietnam War. His book was published in 1990 and is titled: ‘The Things They Carried.’  By the by, in 1993 I had the privilege of sitting in a room with 20 other folks and Tim O’Brien; we engaged in a two hour searching conversation about ‘the things we carry.’

After hearing this exchange, I took out my little black book and made a note of the exchange and of Tim O’Brien’s book.  I held both in my preconscious for more than ten days.  A few days ago both moved from my preconscious to my consciousness; it was then that I decided to write a bit about ‘The Things We Carry.’

Tim O’Brien wrote that the foot soldier (called ‘legs’ or ‘grunts’) carried symbols for hope, ‘necessaries,’ wounds, failings, dreams, darkness, fear and trembling, inspiration, regrets…’ 

 Gentle reader, here are a few other excerpts from his book:

To carry something was to hump it, as when Lieutenant Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps. In its intransitive form, to hump meant to walk, or to march, but it implied burdens far beyond the intransitive.

What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty.  As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45-caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully loaded. He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men. 

 As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M’s for especially bad wounds, for a total weight of nearly 20 pounds.

The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition. Lieutenant Cross carried his good-luck pebble. Dave Jensen carried a rabbit’s foot…  Mitchell Sanders carried a set of starched tiger fatigues for special occasions. Henry Dobbins carried Black Flag insecticide. Dave Jensen carried empty sandbags that could be filled at night for added protection. Lee Strunk carried tanning lotion.

Gentle reader if you have not read Tim O’Brien’s book I invite you to do so.  I believe that you will be moved to awe and tears if you do so.

Here is another take on ‘The Things We Carry.’  I love this story.  In 1140, so the story goes, the first Emperor of Germany, Conrad III had laid siege to and captured the city of Weinsberg.  The Emperor decreed that all women, children and non-combatant men could go free and that they could only take with them what they could carry.

The city gates were opened and what emerged were the women, older children and non-combatant men carrying the soldiers and the defeated Duke himself.  The Emperor was so taken by their compassion that he decreed ALL in the city could go free.  In response to why he chose to do so Conrad is said to have uttered these words: ‘I should sooner surrender my anger to compassion than to esteem.’   When we are self-righteously angry how many of us carry ‘compassion’ rather than ‘esteem.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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