Archive for February, 2017

‘EVIL’. . .

Early yesterday morning I responded to an email from a close friend.  The topic was ‘Evil.’  The question: ‘Are there people who are evil? I have found that at times definitions help me.  Here is a definition for ‘Evil.’ ‘Evil’ = morally wrong, harmful/injurious, characterized by suffering, due to ‘bad’/immoral character. 

My current belief is that each of us is — at our healthiest — a living paradox.  We are both: good and evil, virtue and vice, light and darkness.  If I conceptualize a continuum: ‘Good______Evil,’ I will choose which end of the continuum I will spend more time near.  As imperfect beings, during our life time each of us will move along this continuum.  Some will choose to spend more time closer to the ‘good’ and some will choose to spend more time closer to the ‘evil’ (the ‘Evil’ as I have defined it above).  During our life-time we develop behaviors, habits, attitudes, perceptions, values, beliefs, assumptions, life principles that support our choice.  Where we choose to spend the majority of our time then becomes our ‘golden mean’ and over time we become defined by our ‘golden mean.’  We also define others according to our own definitions (for ‘Good’ or ‘Evil’ or for ‘Virtue’ or ‘Vice’ or for ‘Light’ or ‘Darkness’).

At our worst we label people – ‘This is who the person is!’ – The person IS EVIL incarnate.    We forget the continuum.  Or, we deny the continuum exists; that is, we deny that as imperfect begins WE ARE BOTH ‘Good and Evil’; WE ARE BOTH ‘Virtue and Vice’; WE ARE BOTH ‘Light and Darkness.’

Many years ago I had the privilege of hearing Terry Anderson tell his captivity story.  I was deeply moved by his story and his poetry.  One of his poems continues to provide me insight and hope amidst the ‘Evil’ that appears to be running amok among us human beings today.  Those who live into and out of the definition of ‘Evil’ I noted above have many names and many identities.  The first ‘name’ and the first ‘identity’ that I must come to grips with is my own; just as the first ‘name’ and the first ‘identity’ that you must come to grips with is your own.  A wise person once counseled us to look for the log in our own eye and remove it before we look for the splinter in the other’s eye.  Is there any person who is entirely ‘evil’?  I think not.  Even ‘Satan’ was/is not entirely ‘evil’ (lest we forget, Satan was one of God’s favorites).

I leave us this morning with Terry Anderson’s powerful poem.  I invite you, gentle reader, to seek to understand and ‘name’ when you are choosing ‘evil’ — when are you the perpetrator (it is easier to see ourselves as the prisoner; the victim).  I also invite you to choose to seek to see the humanity in those who have been labeled as ‘Evil.’

Satan is a name we use
for darkness in the world,
a goat on which we load
our most horrific sins,
to carry off our guilt.
But all the evil I have seen
was done by human beings.
It isn’t a dark angel
who rigs a car into a bomb,
or steals money meant for others’ food.
And it wasn’t any alien spirit
that chained me to this wall.
One of those who kidnapped me
said once: “No man believes he’s evil.”
A penetrating and subtle thought
in these circumstances, and from him.
And that’s the mystery:
He’s not stupid, and doesn’t seem insane.
He knows I’ve done no harm to him or his.
He’s looked into my face
each day for years, and
heard me crying in the night.
Still he daily checks my chain,
makes sure my blindfold is secure,
then kneels outside my cell
and prays to Allah, merciful, compassionate.
I know too well the darker urges in myself,
the violence and selfishness.
I’ve seen little in him I can’t recognize.
I also know my mind would shatter,
my soul would die if I did the things he does.
I’m tempted to believe there really is
a devil in him, some malefic,
independent force that makes him
less or other than a man.
That’s too easy and too dangerous an answer;
It’s how so many evils come to be.
I must reject, abhor and fight against
these acts, and acknowledge that
they’re not human – just the opposite.
We can’t separate the things
we do from what we are;
Hate the sin and love the sinner is not
a concept I’ll ever really understand.
I’ll never love him – I’m not Christ.
But I’ll try to achieve forgiveness
because I know that in the end,
as always, Christ was right.    –Terry Anderson


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Beauty = the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).

 Beauty = is in the eye of the beholder.

 Art = the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

Art = the intentional act of using your humanity to create change in another person.

For the past several months I have been thinking about the three ‘cardinal virtues’: Truth, Beauty and Goodness.  More recently I have been focusing on ‘Beauty.’  The context of my thinking about ‘Beauty’ is ‘Art’ (I have been re-reading and re-reflecting upon Tolstoy’s ‘What is Art?’).

‘Beauty-Art.’  Traditionally, ‘beauty-in-art’ has been defined by idealization, regularity, harmony, balance, fidelity to the appearance of the world.  More recently (say the past 80 years or so – perhaps more) it seems that there is little agreement as to what ‘Beauty’ is.  It seems that the singular, clear definition-idea-concept of ‘Beauty’ no longer exists.

Is ‘Beauty’ more than that which is simply in the eye of the beholder?  For me, there has emerged three characteristics that are necessary in order for me to say: ‘Now that is beauty.’

It is interesting; it is memorable, it is invitational.  For me, when these three are present the result is a ‘pleasurable, often intellectually stimulating, experience.’

It is interesting.  The ‘object’ is interesting.  The ‘idea-topic-concept’ is interesting.  The ‘presentation’ is interesting.  The ‘action/behavior or the ‘non-action’ is interesting.  The ‘norm’ or the ‘deviations from the norm’ are interesting.  The ‘possibilities’ or ‘potentials’ are interesting.  The ‘style’ is interesting.  The ‘idea’ is interesting.  There are more, but this short list will have to suffice for today.

It is memorable.  For me, the ‘interesting’ is so power-full, or impact-full, or wonder-full, or P.I.E.S. stimulating (think: Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally or Spiritually stimulating), or P.I.E.S. challenging, or evocative so that it becomes easy for me to recall or relive or re-experience.

It is invitational.  I experience a power-full impulse, inclination or desire – perhaps even a need – to encounter ‘it’ again.  I am drawn to – if not at times driven to – revisit and re-experience ‘it’ again.  I can experience – I have experienced – the first two without the third.  Why might this be so?  For me the following have come into play: Once is enough – there is no ‘need’ to revisit.  Nothing ‘new’ emerges or something might actually be diminished (think: intellectual stimulation or challenge).  The experience might have been ‘too awe-some’ (when I was in Amsterdam I visited Ann Frank’s house and it was truly awe-some and awe-full and so far I have no desire for a re-visit).  Some ancients had an encounter with the gods or with God and once, in this life-time, was enough.

YET, there are times when my experience has been so ‘interesting’ and so ‘memorable’ that I experience a desire, a want or, more importantly, a need for a re-visit.  For me, there are a number of books, plays, essays or letters that continue to be powerfully ‘interesting’ and ‘memorable’ (think: impact-full) that I feel ‘invited’ (think: compelled, driven, motivated) to re-visit.

My choosing to re-visit is a crucial ingredient for the experience of ‘Beauty.’  For me, the ‘Why’ is deeply personal; as it is, I believe, for each of us.  I have experienced the first two ingredients with a variety of folks; once in a while one of them will experience, as I do, the third ingredient.

Perhaps, then, our experience of ‘Beauty-Art’ has truly become a personal matter. For me, for example, Antigone will continue to be ‘Beauty-Art’.  I have known others who found her to be both interesting and memorable and not invitational – once was enough for them.  I cannot imagine Antigone ever being enough for me.  She is too interesting, too memorable and too invitational.  She is, for me, ‘Beauty-Art.’



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Gentle reader, for the context of this topic, Guiding Life Principles, please see PART I.

As I noted last time, there are three more Guiding Life Principles that I will share with you this morning.  My goal, over my life-time, is to strive to become more and more consistent in living into and out of my Guiding Life Principles.  I will, because I am an imperfect human being, at times (sometimes more often than not) stumble the mumble rather than walk the talk.

From listening comes wisdom, from speaking comes repentance. –Italian Proverb

 Listen.  Listen, first.  Listen in order to understand.  Listen with undefended receptivity.  Listen as I want to be listened to.  Listen in order to honor the other.  Listening in these ways is a gift – freely give this gift.

Listen to what is emerging within myself.  Listen beyond my words or the others’ words.  Listen for what lies between the words, for what lies within the silence.  Listen rooted in patience and empathy.  Listen in order to discern/find common ground.  Listen for the story within the story.

Invite.  Invite and honor diverse voices.  Invite all to bring their voice and story.  Invite all to speak their truth.  Invite all to become critical thinkers.  Invite the other to be fully human; to bring his/her full humanity.  Co-create a safe environment so your invitations will, more often than not, be accepted.

Be Empathetic and Compassionate.  Strive to emotionally experience what the other is emotionally experiencing.  If I am Empathetic and Compassionate then I seek to offer mercy and forgiveness; I offer reconciliation and healing; I am rooted in ‘caring for’ and in ‘loving’ the other(s).

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. –Dalai Lama
The following books have been feeding and sustaining me for many years.  Gentle reader, you might find that one or more of these will also resonate with you; I list them in no particular order.

The Art of Loving. – Erich Fromm; The Way to Love. –Anthony De Mello; Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. –Henri Nouwen; Little Pieces of Light. –Joyce Rupp; On Dialogue. –David Bohm; Awareness. –Anthony De Mello; Anam Cara. –John O’Donohue; The Prophets. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; The Meditations. – Marcus Aurelius; New and Selected Poems-Volume I. –Mary Oliver; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. –Annie Dillard

 I leave us with the words of Mother Theresa.  I saw her on the BBC news hour in 1996 when I was in London.  I saw her face as she spoke these words.  Her words continue to remind me and challenge me.  ‘I am not called to be effective; I am called to be faithful.’ 



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Be the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

Gentle reader, for the context of this topic, Guiding Life Principles, please see PART I.

In addition to Be Fully Human, there are a number of other important ‘Be’ principles that are also ‘Guiding Life Principles’ for me.  I will briefly describe each of these this morning.

Be Present.  In order for me to Be Present I must bring all of my self (my P.I.E.S.S.) to the ‘now moment’ and I must be awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full.  I must also be committed to learning from my experience.  Learning requires that I take the time to reflect upon my experience.

Be Authentic.  For me, this means that I must be ‘congruent.’  My words, emotions, non-verbal expressions, and behaviors are in alignment.  Research continues to demonstrate that my ‘words’ are the least impactful of these.  I must also seek to be ‘consistent’ – not perfect, nor ‘predictable’ (being ‘consistent’ without being ‘predictable’ is a paradox).

Be VulnerableI must strive to be open/transparent, to be fully human, to take risks and to lead with trust.  ‘Wounds’ will be delivered (some will be self-inflicted).  The concept ‘vulnerable’ is rooted in the Latin concept ‘vulnus.’  ‘Vulnus’ means: carrying the wound with grace.  I continue to be challenged when it comes to this idea of ‘carrying the wound with grace.’

Be Trust-Worthy.  There are many ways to demonstrate to what extent I am worthy of the others’ trust.  Often ‘the way’ depends upon the other; what he or she might need from me will vary depending upon the person and his or her needs.  One person will need me to be ‘consistent.’  Another will need me to be ‘transparent.’  Another will need me to make and keep certain agreements.  Some freely lead with trust.  Others withhold trust until I earn it.  Gentle reader, what are the ways you demonstrate to the other(s) that you are ‘trust-worthy’?

Be Unconditionally Response-able.  For me, this includes being unconditionally responsible and unconditionally accountable.  I am thinking of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words: Few are guilty, all are responsible!  There are times when it is appropriate – even necessary – for me to be reactive (I don’t have the time to think it through and respond).  Firefighters taught me that it is crucial to be able to appropriately respond and that it is also crucial to be able to appropriately react.  For them, to do either inappropriately will probably lead to harm occurring.

There is one more ‘Be’ Guiding Life Principle that I will describe next time; it complements the final two Guiding Life Principles that I want to share with you.

From now on there won’t be a gesture, nor a blink of the eye which doesn’t commit me irrevocably, which doesn’t change the course of my life. –Louis Aragon





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Wherever you are – be all there. –Jim Elliot

Gentle reader, for the context of this topic, Guiding Life Principles, please see PART I.

Be Fully Human.  Consider, gentle reader, that when we are as healthy as we can be that we are living paradoxes.  Because fully human being are imperfect we are always virtue and vice, good and evil, light and darkness.  What are some of the messages that we, in our culture, hear over and over, year after year, that if heeded we will be less than fully human?  Here are a few to consider: ‘Leave your problems at home.’  ‘You are a valuable asset (or commodity or resource).’ ‘You were not hired to think!’  There are others and you, gentle reader, might add some to this short list.

What does it mean to Be Fully Human?  Consider this idea.  There are five dimensions that combine to ensure that we are fully human beings.  I call these our P.I.E.S.S.  At any moment in time we are either nurturing or we are depleting each of these dimensions.  Over time, then, we will be either more nurtured or more depleted.  The five dimensions include our Physical Dimension, our Intellectual Dimension, our Emotional Dimension, our Spiritual (or for some our Spirit) Dimension, and our Social Dimension.

Because we are imperfect we will at times (sometimes more often than not) choose to deplete one or more of these dimensions.  When we choose depletion we are choosing to do violence to ourselves.  When we allow others to deplete one or more of these dimensions we become collaborators in the violence done to these dimensions.  Sometimes we are not able to stop the other(s) from depleting one of our dimensions.  On the other hand, Viktor Frankl reminded us that we are fully in charge of our Spiritual Dimension (or our Spirit Dimension) and that this dimension will be depleted only if we choose it to be depleted (see Frankl’s powerful book: ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’).

My experience with myself and others is that one of these five dimensions is the major tap root that sustains the others.  If we consciously nurture more than deplete this dimension it is easier for us to nurture more than deplete the others.  For me, my Spiritual Dimension is this major tap root.  I have a friend whose major tap root is his Physical Dimension.  I know another whose Intellectual Dimension is the major tap root.  Gentle reader, I invite you to discern which one of the five is your major tap root – the tap root that sustains the others.

I have also experienced that each of us has our favorite ways of nurturing each dimension and we have our favorite ways of depleting each dimension.  Identifying my favorite ways of depleting each dimension is disturbing (awareness does not necessarily bring comfort or solace; often, being aware brings discomfort and disturbance).  Choosing to become this aware reinforces my first ‘Guiding Life Principle’: Know Thyself.

When I am reflecting upon the ways I choose to deplete my P.I.E.S.S. I ask myself: What need is being met by choosing depletion? Or, if I want to up the ante I ask: What need is being met by choosing self-violence?  I must identify and name the ‘need’ for only a more powerful ‘need’ will be able to over-ride my ‘depletion need.’  Anyone who has attempted to over-ride a ‘need’ by a ‘want,’ or ‘desire,’ or ‘wish’ knows of what I speak (‘I want to quit smoking, or drinking or over-eating’ will always be defeated by the ‘need’ to smoke, drink or over-eat).

Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture. . .-Lao Tzu

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