Archive for April, 2017

In a caring relationship I commit myself to the other [I make a distinction between being loyal to. . . and being committed to. . .]; I present myself as someone who can be depended on, as someone who is trustworthy, as someone who is consistent [‘constancy’ is a virtue I strive to live into and out of].  I am not perfect and so within the life of my caring relationships I say or do something that leads to an acute break – a betrayal.  This break is at times rooted in my indifference (at worst in my apathy) or neglect or in a ‘wound delivered.’  When I become aware of this – at times I am blissfully asleep when I choose to act in ways that lead to an acute break – I experience and feel remorse; I feel guilt.

My guilt results from my sense of having betrayed the other, and my conscience calls me back.  For me, the more important the person and the relationship are the more pronounced is my remorse (guilt).  I physically feel the pain of my remorse and like other physical pains my guilt-pain lets me know that something is wrong.  When I feel it deeply, when I come to understand and accept it, it provides me with the opportunity [it is only an opportunity for I do have choice] to return to my response-ability – my commitment – to the other and to our relationship.

I had to learn – no easy lesson for me – that forgiveness and healing do not restore the relationship as it was; there are scars that remain after wounds have been healed.  However, frequently the relationship becomes stronger for I take my caring and my commitment more seriously.  Here is an analogy (it is a bit weak, but it might suffice at this time): It is like the time I misplace something because I am not awake and aware; I am running on automatic pilot.  Then I realize what I have done and the ‘something’ takes on greater importance – often with a pledge that I will be more attentive in the future.  In a caring relationship I remind myself of how precious the other is and how important our relationship is.

I am reminded of Peter and Judas.  Both were invited into a caring relationship with Jesus.  Both accepted the invitation.  Both literally betrayed Jesus and their relationship with him.  Both wept bitter tears.  In his betrayal, Peter sought forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.  Judas took a step toward healing by throwing the 30 pieces of silver back at those who paid him and admitted that he had turned over to them an innocent man – but he could not be moved to reconciliation and healing; his remorse and guilt drove him to take his own life.  His guilt morphed into despair – “I am not worthy” and arrogance – “I am not forgivable.”

I feel deep sadness when I think about both of these men for I am reminded of my own betrayals. I identify with both.  Like Peter I have betrayed and I have wept bitter tears and I have sought forgiveness, reconciliation and healing and I have accepted them when offered by the one who then cared for me; and I grew from the experience.  AND, like Judas I have betrayed and I have wept bitter tears and I have despaired at ever being forgiven and I have become arrogant holding a belief that I was not forgivable (thus far I have not taken my own life but I have ‘taken the life’ of the relationship).

This morning I renew my commitment to the caring relationships that nurture me, sustain me and enable me to grow in many ways.  I sit here in deep gratitude for each of them.  I invite you, gentle reader, to pause and image and offer gratitude for the caring relationships that nurture you, that sustain you and that enable you to grow in many ways.

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For more than two thousand years now there have been, and are, groups (think: spiritual, political, philosophical, etc.) that have banned, and continue to ban, certain books.  They believed/believe that these books are DangerousDangerous = risky, hazardous, perilous, threatening.

Yesterday morning I woke up holding two words in my consciousness (was I dreaming about these words…I am not sure).  The two words: Dangerous Books.  I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and waited to see what might emerge into my consciousness as I held these two words.

Almost immediately book titles began to emerge into my consciousness.  As I held the titles and images of these books I began to realize why they are Dangerous Books.  More titles emerged, more authors emerged.  A few hours later I put finger to key and typed out a list of the books; as I typed others came into my consciousness and I added them to my list.

As I looked at my list I realized that these books are, indeed, ‘dangerous.’  They are books that challenge us, that nudge us or sharply jab us so that we might become more awake and aware and disturbed.  They are risky for they challenge our assumptions, or our beliefs, or our ‘sureties’ or our stereotypes or our prejudices or our views of the world, of others and of ourselves.

Here is a partial list of the books that emerged into my consciousness yesterday.  Perhaps, gentle reader, you have read and savored some of these.  I invite you to explore a few of those that are on my list, books you have not read.  I also invite you to emerge your own list of Dangerous Books – books that are risky, hazardous, perilous, and threatening; books that challenge you or nudge you or jab you so that you are more awake and aware and disturbed as a result of engaging them.

MY LIST (in no particular order):

  • The Grand Inquisitor – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  • The Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
  • The Analects – Confucius
  • The Torah
  • The Bible
  • The Q’uran
  • The Trial – Franz Kafka
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Women – Mary Wollstonecraft
  • The Stranger – Albert Camus
  • Awareness – Anthony DeMello
  • The Rights of Man – Thomas Paine (also, his book ‘Common Sense’)
  • The Republic – Plato
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Antigone – Sophocles
  • A Confession – Leo Tolstoy (12 more of Tolstoy’s books are on my list)
  • The Theory of Moral Sentiments – Adam Smith (also note his ‘The Wealth of Nations’)
  • The Art of Loving – Eric Fromm (also note his ‘Escape From Freedom’ and ‘Man for Himself’)
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
  • Lincoln: Speeches and Writings: 1859-1865 – Abraham Lincoln
  • Washington’s Farewell Address (1796) – George Washington
  • Tao Te Ching – Laozi
  • The Righteous Mind – Jonathan Haidt
  • The Great Debate – Yuval Levin
  • Edmund Burke: Collected Works – Edmund Burke
  • Loyalty: An Essay on the Morality of Relationships – George P. Fletcher
  • The Return of the Prodigal – Henri Nouwen (nine of his books are on my list)
  • No god but God – Reza Aslan
  • The Essays of Virginia Woolf (5 Volumes) – Virginia Woolf
  • The Open Society and Its Enemies – Karl Popper
  • Macbeth – William Shakespeare
  • The Quest for Community – Robert Nisbet

 A Question I hold: Why do I read dangerous books?

 Do I read in order to defend, in order to understand, in order to deflect, in order to be more open and receptive, in order to be influenced, in order to be affirmed, in order to be challenged, in order to discount, in order to seek and search, in order to find, in order to embrace, in order to dismiss, in order to convince, in order to find comfort and solace, in order to wake up, in order to become disturbed, in order to learn. . .  WHY do I read Dangerous Books?

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A fellow I know had kidney failure 18 months ago; since then he has been on kidney dialysis three days a week.  His kidneys failed as a consequence of too much alcohol in his system for too many years.  He was told that he needed to stop drinking alcohol.  Last week I learned that he was, as a friend of his noted, ‘drinking like a fish again.’  Later on that day I found myself asking: ‘Why do we choose to do things that we know are self-destructive?’  An age-old question.

Why do folks work on a long report and neglect to back it up?  Why do folks get close to succeeding only to sabotage all their good work?  ‘Why do we choose this way?’

‘We’ choose self-destruction for a number of reasons.  One of them is because of the ‘WE.’  At minimum, we have two voices, not one, in our head and each tells us what to do.  One of them is located near our spine and controls the chemicals that generate our emotions.  This ‘first voice’ is, more often than we would like, the voice that is ‘in charge.’  We are, it seems, truly ‘emotive beings’ first and ‘rational beings’ second.

This powerful voice is located, researchers tell us, in our amygdala.  This part of our brain has its own memory, its own survival system.  This ‘old brain’ stands by, waiting for a signal to move into action whenever it feels threatened (we humans have survived thanks to our ‘old brain’).  When our ‘old brain’ is jolted into action our ‘new(er) brain’ stands little chance (unless we have consciously developed it to remain ‘in charge).

And so, the conflict.  The conflict between what feels good now and what I ought to do; the conflict between the emotive and the rational.  This explains why someone with kidney failure due to alcohol will choose to continue to over-indulge or why someone with throat cancer will continue to smoke or why an obese person will choose to have another doughnut.  In the face of ‘greed’ or ‘fear’ or ‘resignation’ the ‘old brain,’ moves into action and a person ‘gives in’ and ‘surrenders.’

Our addictions, it seems, reside in our ‘old brain.’  We ‘need’ our addictions – even when we don’t want to have them.  ‘Wants’ – as in ‘I want to stop drinking’ – do not trump ‘Needs.’  Only ‘Needs’ trump ‘Needs.’  I must develop a ‘Need’ that is of a higher priority than my ‘Need’ to drink if I am going to trump my ‘Need’ to drink.

Our ‘new(er) brain’ provides us the potential to develop the ‘higher priority needs’ that will then enable us to trump the ‘old brain needs.’  We choose self-destructive behaviors because we have a ‘Need’ that must be addressed.  I chose the word ‘addressed’ because these ‘Needs’ will never be ‘met’ – they are insatiable needs.  As long as our ‘old brain’ functions – and it is important to remember that we ‘Need’ this ‘old brain’ – we will be prone to choosing for ‘self-destruction’ even though we ‘know’ better.

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The ‘Moral’ entails accepting, embracing, integrating and acting into and out of a set of clear guidelines – some would say, ‘rules’ or ‘laws’ (as in ‘moral law’).  The ‘Ethical’ might or might not include the ‘Moral.’  What?  In most Western societies one can behave ‘ethically’ and still behave ‘immorally.’  For example, at one time, in our country ‘segregation’ was ‘legal’ and, hence, ‘ethical’ – it was not, however, ‘moral.’  How often does the ‘ethical’ actually trump (no pun intended) the ‘moral’?

Consider this: Our nation is rooted in the ‘rights of the individual’ – ‘communal rights’ are often trumped by them.  Each of us has the ‘right’ of free speech; each of us has the right to ‘bear arms’ and each of us has the right of ‘free assembly’ (to name three rights we have).  One word, one concept, put in or left out dramatically impacts our ‘rights.’  When left out, this word, this concept, moves us from ‘freedom’ to ‘license.’  This one word, this concept, is ‘responsibility.’

For me, the cardinal virtue of the ‘ethical’ is ‘responsibility.’  The ‘ethical’ person does not get out of bed each morning shouting ‘What is owed to me today?’  The ‘ethical’ person begins each day with this question: ‘What are my responsibilities?’  What is ‘responsible free speech’?  ‘What are my responsibilities when it comes to Free Speech?’ As a Nation the tap roots of the ‘rights of the individual’ are so deep that to consider being ‘responsible’ with our speech, for example, is, it seems, counter-intuitive.

How many of us in our Nation consciously hold this question: As a citizen, what are my responsibilities when it comes to my rights?

The crucial test for the ‘ethical’ emerges when my self-interest (think: my rights) bumps up against ‘the right thing to do’ (think: the responsible thing).  Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life (literally) to embracing the ‘responsible thing to do.’  How many of us today are embracing the ‘responsible’ and how many of us today are simply embracing ‘my rights’?

How many affluent citizens (think: Warren Buffett as a good role model) may decry a tax hike (as most of us citizens do) and yet embrace a tax hike because it will benefit those who are ‘needy’?  In being ‘response-able’ and ‘responsible’ the affluent citizens moves from the ethical (my rights) to the moral (caring for those in need).  He or she moves from the individual to the community.

I believe the ‘test of the ethical’ is responsibility – independent of my stake in the outcome (think: the focus is not simply on ‘me’ but is expanded to ‘us’).  The philosopher John Rawls’s view of the ‘just community’ can help us.  For Rawls, a ‘just community’ is established through a ‘veil of ignorance.’

As an example, Rawls suggests that the ‘rules’ governing a society should be crafted without foreknowledge of one’s own capacities and without knowledge of one’s ‘niche’ in society (think: one does not know if one is rich or poor; if one is homeless, if one is disabled, etc.).  The ‘rules’ that would emerge would more often than not be both ethical and moral.

For me, the ‘Good’ – the ‘Moral’ and the ‘Ethical’ – involves ‘human relations.’  The ‘relations’ that define and govern how we human beings act toward one another – locally and globally.  Am I willing to act rooted in both the ‘Golden-Rule’ and in being ‘Responsible’?  For the well-being of the ‘Community,’ am I willing to act rooted in being response-able and in being responsible?



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This morning I am going to step aside and put on hold my next entry to THE ‘GOOD’ – THE ‘MORAL’ & THE ‘ETHICAL;’ we will pick up with PART III next time.

Today is my mother’s birth-date.  Today I am remembering and I am honoring my mother.  I have decided to post, again, the eulogy I offered at my mother’s funeral and celebration of life.

Dorothy Harriet [Schwietz]. Smith – A Living Gift
10 April 1914 – 28 November 2002
Funeral: 30 November 2002
Eulogy: Richard W Smith, son

Last night as I was reflecting upon what I had written I felt stuck as I did not have a good beginning nor an effective ending to what I wanted to say this morning.  As I was sitting in the Milwaukee airport waiting for Archbishop Roger Schwietz to arrive… [NOTE: Gentle Readers, my mother would support young people on their journey – even to the point of bringing them into our home to live with us for a time – one of these was our second cousin Roger Schwietz who lived with us as a young priest upon his moving on he asked my mother what he could do for her she said, ‘Roger would you please say my funeral Mass?’  He said he would and now many years later Roger, now an Archbishop, did not hesitate when my brother called him in Alaska, ‘I will be there.’  And he was.].  …a poem emerged into my consciousness.  The first two lines of this poem by Dawna Markova capture something important about my mother and so I offer them to you now. Markova writes: I will not die an unlived life. . .I will not live in fear. .

My mother, Dorothy Smith was a living gift to all who encountered her.  Her very presence gifted us with many presents.  She was slight of build, at 5’1” and her feisty, fighting weight was about 102 pounds.  YET she was large of stature at 6’6” – her soul energy weighed in at more than 275.  When she entered a room one sensed a bit of a regal presence; there was a neat, fastidiousness about her and her home.  When she looked at you, her penetrating blue eyes, and the turn of her lips, spoke volumes – from praise to criticism; from questioning to affirming.  Her smile and laughter were infectious.  Her looks would send a clear message, like ‘Don’t’ put your elbows on the table,’ or ‘Be humble,’ or ‘Don’t talk like a sausage.’ 

She lived a full-life of 88 plus years. . . as a spouse and life-partner, as mother, grandmother, great grandmother, mother, and godmother, as daughter, sister, cousin and aunt, as matriarch, as friend, as support to many, as volunteer.  When you were with Dorothy, even for a brief period of time, you experienced her intellectual presence, her physical presence, her emotional presence, and her spiritual presence. 

INTELLECTUALLY, you encountered a woman who was thoughtful, intelligent, crafty, open to learning; one who was contemporary – no matter the year; one who was a critical thinker and a superb story teller.  She brought with her an excellent sense of humor and could – and often did – laugh at herself.  She was creative, festive – she loved a good party.  She was a risk-taker and a gambler – ‘Don’t bet with Dorothy’ was a common refrain.  Yet, often she would allow you to choose your team and then she would take the other.  She bet without attachment – mostly.

PHYSICALLY, you encountered a woman who was a superb cook – anyone who tried one of her cookies would end up begging her for another.  She was a musician, a sewer of afghans, and a collector (of glass and of needy young people that she brought into her home).  She was advisor, a teacher [how many of us did she try to teach to cook?).  She had a high tolerance for pain – physical, emotional and spiritual.

EMOTIONALLY, Dorothy was caring, stubborn, at times belligerent.  She was committed, caring, grateful, jovial, kind, tough, charitable, resilient, real – what you saw was what you got.  She was receptive to all.  She was the emotional glue for many.

SPIRITUALLY, she was all heart and soul.  She trusted in God.  She was faithful.  She was religious.  She was, for many, an angel and a guide.  She loved the Green Bay Packers, tennis and golf and was in deep spiritual angst whenever Pete Sampras or Phil Mickelson lost a tournament (which was, to her chagrin more and more often these past years).  She was always there – giving to ALL who were in need.

For many of us in this church today, Dorothy was a role-model who set the standards really high; yet, she was so fully human that she accepted and forgave our human foibles, mostly without hesitation.

We have all been blessed, Dorothy, by your Presence/presents.  Your legacy will live on through so many people that your Presence/presents will continue to gift the world.  We will miss you and we will pass the gifts you’ve given us onto the next generation.

Partly because of you, Dorothy, partly because of you, Mother, we will not die an unlived life and partly because of your example and faith, we will not be afraid!

This is a photo of mom and dad on their 60th Wedding Anniversary.

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary

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