Archive for June, 2017

During the past few days I have shared the scenario with a number of folks.  The immediate response from each person was the same: The people in the life-boat had a moral obligation to attempt to save the drowning person.  I think that almost all people, no matter their age, gender, or ethnicity would respond the same way.

Now I will up the ante.  For me, ‘The Life-Boat’ simulation is a metaphor that captures a common dilemma.  The metaphor is easy to understand and apply to our lives today.  Gentle reader, consider that the ‘Life-Boat’ is the affluent West and the downing person is those dying of malnutrition and preventable disease in the many non-affluent countries that continue to exist today.  They are ‘drowning’ and we, in the life-boat, can save them if we choose to do so.

Now, consider also that the attitude of the affluent nations is, on the whole, as callous as Fred’s.  The affluent nations have enough food and medicine for everyone, but we continue to hoard and consume and let others die (literally) rather than choose to forfeit our ‘cookies’ and help them.  If the people on the ‘Life-Boat’ are grossly immoral, then so are we.

Consider that the immorality is even more powerful in another version of the metaphor.  In this version the Life-Boat represents the entire planet and some in the Life-Boat (residents of Earth) refuse to distribute the life-saving provisions to others already in the Life-Boat.  To me, if it seems inhuman/inhumane not to make the effort to help others get into the Life-Boat, then it is even more inhuman/inhumane to deny life-saving provisions to those already in the Life-Boat (residents of  the ‘Life-Boat’ we call Earth).

On the other hand, folks who reside in ‘the real world’ would remind us that these life-saving provisions are not just lying around waiting to be distributed.  These ‘provisions’ (think: ‘Wealth’) were created and earned.  So, if I am one of the ‘wealthy’ and I refuse to give some of my surplus to someone else, I am NOT unfairly appropriating what is due him/her, I am simply keeping what is rightfully mine.

For me, even if the metaphor is altered to reflect this idea, the apparent immorality does not disappear.  Once the need of the drowning person is recognized, would it not still be immoral to say, ‘Let the person die!’  As long as there is enough surplus to provide for the drowning person should those in the Life-Boat attempt to rescue the person and also share their provisions with the person?

The UN estimates that if the affluent nations were to give 0.7 percent of their GDP then all would have enough provisions to survive.  On the personal level: Am I well-off enough (as a semi-retired, self-employed person) to give 1% of my income to help the impoverished?  How many of us could, with some discipline, also give 1%?

For me, the ‘Life-Boat’ metaphor suggests that it is not so much that we (those of us living in the affluent nations) would be good folks if we gave our 1% — but that we might well be immoral (at least amoral) if we do not do so.

The ‘Life-Boat Dilemma’ simulation is daunting and challenging when played out literally and metaphorically (metaphorically in two ways: The Affluent Nations and the Impoverished Nations and the ‘Earth-as-Life-Boat’ for all of us).

A wise person noted, almost two thousand years ago: To whom much is given, much is expected-required!


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Last week I was looking through some of my many files that are stuffed with legions of pages.  I came across a file of ‘games’ – simulations.  A classic simulation is called ‘The Life Boat.’  As I sat and recalled the times I guided this simulation a new twist of the game began to emerge into my consciousness.  I have put some flesh on the skeleton that took form in my mind.

Today I will describe the scenario and next time I will offer some of the considerations and ideas that have and continue to emerge as I re-visit and reflect upon this scenario.


Fred, the self-appointed ‘Captain’ of the life-boat was taking stock and trying to be supportive and optimistic.  ‘There are ten of us in this boat; it was built to carry twenty-four.  It appears that we have plenty of water and food – enough to last the ten of us a week or more.  A distress signal was sent and so I expect that we will be rescued sooner rather than later.’ 

Fred noticed that his words had the desired effect; folks were smiling and settling in.  Fred took a deep breath, smiled broadly, and announced: ‘Let’s celebrate our good fortune and enjoy one of the cookies that Joan salvaged from the kitchen on her way to the life-boat.’ 

 As Fred reached for the cookie jar he noticed that all eyes were not looking at him.  In fact, more than half of the folks were scanning the waters; which, luckily were quite calm at that moment.  All of a sudden, Ruth, broke the silence: ‘Shouldn’t we attempt to steer our life-boat over to the person over there who has been treading water for the past thirty minutes and who has been calling to us to come help?’ 

The sudden awareness did not result in a ‘rescue.’

Fred, once again, took command: ‘Look folks, did we not all agree that it’s not our fault that that person did not get to this life-boat on time.  We also agreed that if we go pick that person up then our food and water will be dramatically – and negatively – affected.  I ask you again –‘Why should we put our chances for survival at risk?’ 

 The other nine looked down into the boat and grunted agreement.

Ruth would not be silenced: ‘We should rescue her because we can – isn’t that reason enough?’

Fred’s response was quick and decisive: ‘Life is cruel and unfair at best.  If that person dies it is not like we killed her.  Now, let’s break out those cookies!’

Gentle reader, please be care-full and do not simply respond quickly to this scenario.  Why?  Check back next time for some ideas to consider.

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This morning I will conclude my reflections regarding ‘Old Age’ as we briefly explore the third ‘spiritual illness’ of Old Age.

Loneliness – The Fear of Time.  As we age we seem to become more fear-full.  One of our growing fears is the ‘fear of time.’  As we age there are fewer and fewer ‘things’ we are able to control and as we age we become more and more aware of what we cannot control – hence our growing fear of ‘time.’  As we grow older we realize that we don’t know what to do with ‘time’ – How many simply ‘kill time’ as a result?  We also realize that we are ‘running out of time’ and this adds to our anxiety.

Rather than ‘live into time’ we begin to run away from it.  We run away by living in the past or by anticipating the future.  We miss the moment.  We blind ourselves to the present moment, we live with memories – memories cherished and memories of what we missed.  We find ourselves becoming more and more anxious about the future (what little time we have left).

In one sense ‘Time’ is perpetual if we live the moment.  Every moment is new, every moment is a gift.  To be ‘in the moment’ is a blessing waiting to be bestowed.  To live the moment is to live in the holy, the sacred now.  When we dismiss the moment as a gift, a blessing, then we move into becoming bored and boredom is the pathway to depression and despair.

Too often Old Age becomes vicious as ‘it’ deprives the person of the present – the gifts of the present.  Old Folks too often think of themselves as belonging to the past (and our culture has many ways of reminding the elderly that they do, indeed, belong to the past).

It seems to me that one way we can restore the dignity of old age is rooted in our ability to equate old age and wisdom (the ancients modeled this for us and a few other cultures continue to model this for us).  Consider that ‘wisdom’ is the gift that the elders can provide us – I am speaking of the wisdom that only emerges after years of searching and seeking.  The young are smart, not necessarily wise.

On the other hand, the person who lives with a sense of the Presence/Presents realizes that growing older still means that we are charged with ‘sanctifying the time we have.’

All it takes to ‘sanctify time’ is ‘God,’ a ‘Soul,’ and a ‘Moment.’  The blessing is that these three are always here for theists.  Just to be is a blessing.  Just to live is holy.  Just to be and to live the moment is our charge and our challenge – and it is one antidote to loneliness, fear and ‘Old Age.’


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This morning we will continue to briefly explore the ‘ills of old age.’  As I noted earlier there are three ills that I invite us to explore.  Here is the second:

The Feeling of Inner Emptiness and Boredom.  How many of our elders experience a disconcerting feeling of emptiness?  ‘IS THIS ALL THERE IS?’  How many experience boredom as a result of not being ‘busy’ any longer?  How many have lost a sense of being significant?  How many feel ‘useless’ in a culture that treasures ‘being useful’?  The mantra of old age might well be a question: ‘Who Needs Me?’  Our elders might also ask: ‘Where do I belong?’  ‘How do I now fit in?’  ‘How do I find meaning?’

It seems to me that as fully human beings something is always asked of us – this ‘asking’ is part of our nature.  Our elders continue to be ‘needed.’  Perhaps the elders’ question is not ‘Who Needs Me?’ the question is ‘How do I discern where I am needed?’  This is followed by another question: ‘How do I respond to the need?’  The elderly can hold off emptiness and boredom by never ceasing to be; by never ceasing to become.  The world needs our elders ‘to be’ fully who they can be; this ‘becoming, is literally a life-long endeavor.

Our potential for growth at any age is greater than we can imagine – or perhaps it is greater than we can admit.  The elderly might not be able to grow physically (although I know some who do continue to grow physically).  The elderly can continue to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.  Our culture needs to relate to our elders as ‘potential’ not as ‘patient.’  Retirement should create space for ‘way to open.’  Retirement can be a time of growth and renewal, not resignation.

Old age might well enable the person to live into certain values that he/she failed to sense or develop when living the busy-life.  Old age might well enable the person to attain the insights he/she missed because of being addicted to ‘busyness.’  Old age might provide one the opportunity to unlearn some bad habits or to see through the habits of self-deception and let go of them – ‘Old Dogs CAN Learn.’

Old age might well provide one a deeper understanding of the human condition and hence the person might choose to be more compassionate, more empathetic, more caring and more loving.  In short, old age might gift the younger with a model to follow (not the current model of resigning one to one’s ‘fate’ – as concretized in nursing homes).

Every retirement/nursing home needs a ‘Director of Learning’ (perhaps more than a ‘Director of Recreation’).  These ‘homes’ insist on a minimum standard for the physical well-being of the resident – what about insisting on a minimum standard for the intellectual, emotional and spiritual well-being of the person?  Perhaps what each retirement/nursing home needs is a University for those of ‘advanced age’ – the wise could educate the potentially wise.  Learning for the sake of learning could be a goal (this takes us back to Thomas Jefferson’s idea of learning).

The ancient wisdom – Listen to the voices of the elders – becomes meaningless when our elders have nothing to say and/or when the young do not have ears to hear.

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As I wrote in my last posting: ‘Old age has its ‘ills.’  Here are a few of the ‘spiritual ills’ of old age that we must attend to: (1) The sense of being useless to – of becoming a burden to – our family and society; (2) The sense of inner emptiness, becoming useless and becoming bored; (3) The fear of loneliness and the fear of time.

How do we help the elderly embrace these ‘ills’ so they do not become debilitating or chronic?’  This morning we will begin to briefly explore the first of these.

The sense of being useless to – of becoming a burden to – our family and society.  As humans we hold a hope, a wish, a desire – a ‘need’: We hope that others will regard us not because of what we are worth to them (i.e. we help address their needs); others will hold us in regard because we have an inherent dignity – we are ‘valuable’ because we exist.  Our dignity is not reducible to the needs we are capable of addressing.  We are not ‘means to an end.’  Even the rich want to be loved for their own sake.

We care for the elderly because they have inherent dignity and because we are our brothers’ keepers.  Because our culture is deeply rooted in both the mechanical and the banking metaphors we forget (or deny or ignore) that we humans are not cogs in the machine, nor are we assets, resources and commodities to be used up.  We are human beings!

Humanity begins with one person.  It is one person at a time when we keep Lincoln’s great pledge: ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all’ or when we seek to fulfill the great human challenge: ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ or when we seek to live into and out of the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

Now, it is true that at times the good of all trumps the good of one AND it is also true that each human being is one of the major tap roots that nurture and sustain the community.  How many of us believe that a human being is valuable because he/she is a member of the human race?  Consider this: The human race is valuable because it is composed of individual human beings who have inherent dignity.

The elderly can be seen and related to as burdens that we must bear.  We can also decide that it is our privilege to care for them, to honor them, to serve them (we might even do so out of ‘duty’ or ‘obligation’ rooted in love and compassion).  The Golden Rule might well be our guide as we seek to help the elderly avoid ‘the sense of being useless – of becoming a burden to – our family and society.’   

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