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Archive for September, 2017

RANDOM REFLECTIONS. . .

Gentle Reader, you might recall that I am, among others things, a ‘random intuitive.’  I trust my intuition – especially when I am in my role as ‘depth-educator.’  In addition, when I think, my mind moves between and among many diverse thoughts.  As I was reflecting upon a topic for today I found that my mind kept emerging a variety of seeds that could be nurtured from being dormant to being life-full.  I found that I was stuck.  So I decided to share a few of the ‘Random Reflections’ that emerged into my consciousness these past few hours.

ROADS: Robert Frost wrote about the ‘road not taken.’  Scott Peck wrote about the ‘road less traveled.’  Susheela Raman asks, ‘how many roads have I wondered?’  Kenny Loggins wonders, ‘how many roads have gone by?’  Marc Cohn wants to know ‘how many roads you’ve traveled.’

I am asking myself: ‘How many roads have I surveyed and then traveled during my life-time?’  ‘How often have I chosen the ‘road not taken’ and how many times have I chosen the ‘road less traveled’ and how many roads have I ‘wondered’ about and dismissed?’  ‘How often have I chosen to follow the well-worn road that others have taken before me believing (hoping?) that it is a ‘safe’ and ‘predictable’ road?’  ‘If I continue on the road I am on at this time in my life, where will I end up?’

DIAMONDS: During one of my trips to The Netherlands I had the opportunity and privilege of visiting a diamond cutter.  My host wanted me to experience a ‘man full of patience.’  To this day I have never been in the presence of a person as relaxed as was this Diamond Cutter.  Prior to cutting the diamond, the cutter would spend as much time as he needed in order to ‘look at the diamond.’  He would also spend as much time as he needed in order to ‘hold the diamond’ and ‘feel it.’  No hurry sickness here.  No being trapped by busyness.  No addiction to speed.

He told me that he held no expectations for the diamond.  He also said that he had no ‘attachments.’  He did not imagine the diamond that he wanted.  Rather, he came to see the diamond that was possible.  Once he ‘saw’ the diamond that was possible then he cut the diamond so that the ‘possible’ became ‘real.’

He told me a story.  A budding diamond cutter sought out a master diamond cutter and told him that he wanted to learn from him.  The master said that he would help only if the young person would do exactly as directed.  The young person agreed.  The master prepared a room.  When the young person entered he saw a lamp and a comfortable chair.  The master invited the young person to sit in the chair and ‘get comfortable.’

After the young person settled in, the master gave him a diamond and said, ‘I will be back in seven hours.’  At the end of the seven hours the master showed up, took the diamond and said, ‘I will see you tomorrow morning at the same time.’  Every day for fourteen days the same pattern was repeated.  By this time, the young person was becoming, shall we say, irritated.

On the fifteenth day, the master brought in a tray of six diamonds.  He handed them to the young person.  The master turned to leave.  The young person yelled out, Stop!  He continued, I have been sitting here fourteen days just looking at different diamonds.  Today, you want me to look at six of them and four of them are fake!’  The master smiled the smile of the wise and said, ‘Now you are ready for step two.’

I love this teaching story.

I had more ‘Random Reflections’ but these will have to suffice for today.

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Years later, Simon Wiesenthal was still agonizing whether he did ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’  He held this question and invited others to hold it with him: ‘Did I do right or wrong?’  This is a crucial ethical question and either a ‘yea’ or a ‘nay’ also requires rigorous justification.  There are, however, deeper, moral-existential questions.  Consider these two: ‘Why do we harm others?’   This one is challenging enough.  Simone Weil ups the ante when she asks us to explore this question: ‘Can we imagine ourselves as Wiesenthal AND can we imagine ourselves the Nazi, Karl?’

I have asked these two questions of myself and I have responded to them and I have also invited others to hold and reflect upon them and then to respond to them.  It is fairly easy for us to imagine ourselves as ‘victim’ (if the ‘victim’ is recognized as innocent and good).  Simone’s challenge is, to say the least, challenging for most of us.  We resist the image of ourselves as a person who can imagine the suffering we are about to inflict on the other.  We resist the image of ourselves a ‘Karl.’

Simon Wiesenthal was a compassionate person.  Perhaps because he knew that he had added to Karl’s suffering by his silence that he then agonized for years.  BUT…  Karl was not an innocent sufferer.  Was his suffering deserved?  On the other hand, as compassionate human beings should we not, for any human being, cut the chain of suffering?  Should we not cut the chain of suffering – whether deserved or not – when we can?

Remember, Gentle Reader, that Wiesenthal and Karl were alone.  Their encounter was between two suffering young men barely out of boyhood.  I believe it is crucial for us, as compassionate human beings, to reflect on this – to exercise our imaginations on the possibilities.  As a person who claims to be ‘a compassionate person,’ am I willing to live in a way that helps me/us cut the chains of suffering for all – even for the Nazi, Karl?

This leads me back to the most challenging question: Can I-You-We see ourselves as the Nazi, Karl?  [Given our country’s recent focus on White Supremacists this question is a crucial one for us.]  Thirty-two years ago I had a long conversation with my mentor, Parker Palmer.  Among other topics we engaged these questions: Do we believe that we could become a Nazi?  Can we imagine ourselves acting as the Nazis acted?  During the past thirty-two years, I have invited others to consider these two questions.

Most find these to be disturbing questions (Robert K. Greenleaf reminds us that if we are awake and aware then we will be disturbed by what we ‘see.’).  ‘What is the point?’ – Most of them ask (the question is enhanced by their anxiety and resistance).  THE POINT is to explore how a ‘good boy’ [see Part I for the reference to ‘good boy’] became a Nazi.  THE POINT is to understand ourselves better – to see, not just imagine, that each of us has a ‘dark side’ that can be seduced (‘Star Wars’ was more than just a nice movie).  ‘Good boys’ can be transformed into ‘Evil boys.’

For me, I can imagine myself as a young boy being seduced by the uniforms, the marshal music, the men-at-arms, the emotional collective-energy and the fear of being ‘left-out’ or worse, shunned or shamed.  I can see myself responding to the urging of the adults in my life whom I ‘adored’ and to the ‘peer pressure’ that would be present.  If I was told, over and over, that ‘this is right’ and that ‘I am special’ and that ‘they are, at best, harmful to our way of life’ then I can see myself signing up for ‘Evil.’  I was not put to that test.  No child should be put to that test.  As compassionate adults we have an obligation to protect our children from such a test.  AND YET…

Today we must become aware of the conditions that will seduce us into losing our way of being in the world – it does not take much to turn us from the path of caring, compassion, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation onto a path that allow us to guilt-free add to the suffering of the ‘other.’  Do I believe that in passively or actively adding to the suffering of the ‘other’ that I am at risk of losing my own integrity – of losing my own soul?  Am I willing to acknowledge the horror that I can add to the world?  If so, then I am at the starting point of embracing and living into and out of a life of caring and compassion.

If not, then. . .

 

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This past year or so I have been thinking more about being moral, being immoral and being amoral.  A few days ago a question emerged into my consciousness: ‘How do we encourage and help people develop Moral Sensibility?’  Consider, gentle reader, that one way to help people is via deep searching conversations.  What might be the tap root that feeds and nurtures this conversation?

As a lover of literature I have found that certain stories and certain questions will help stimulate a deep searching conversation.  As a reminder, a deep searching conversation is not rooted in ‘surety’ – ‘surety’ hinders or directly blocks our openness and our ability to engage in a ‘search.’  This morning I will offer us a story and some questions with the desire-hope that we will engage in a search.  The goal of the search is to encourage Moral Sensibility.

The following story was told by Simon Wiesenthal (Simon was a Jewish, Austrian Holocaust survivor).  The young Jew in the story was Simon Wiesenthal.  Here’s the story:

A young Jew is taken from a death camp to a makeshift army hospital.  He is led to the bedside of a Nazi soldier whose head is completely swathed in bandages. The dying Nazi blindly extends his hand to the Jew, and in a cracked whisper begins to speak.  The Jew listens silently while the Nazi confesses to having participated in the burning alive of an entire village of Jews.  The soldier, terrified of dying with this burden of guilt, begs absolution from the Jew.  Having listened to the Nazi’s story for several hours – torn between horror and compassion for the dying man – the Jew finally walks out of the room without speaking.

QUESTIONS: ‘Did the Jew behave morally?’  ‘Did the Jew demonstrate Moral Sensibility?’

Gentle reader, I invite you to stop at this point and take some time to reflect upon these two initial questions and then respond to them (I have found that to employ ‘free writing’ – writing down whatever emerges as I reflect – helps me later when I take time to reflect upon my reflection).  After your reflection I invite you to finish reading today’s post.

AN ADDENDUM:  Simon did not expect to survive the war, but he did.  He goes on a search (this theme of ‘searching’ became a major theme for Simon during his remaining years).  He searches for the Nazi’s mother.  He finds her.  Without telling her of his encounter with her son or the confession he had heard, Simon listens as the mother talks about Karl, ‘a dear, good boy.’  She describes Karl’s religious upbringing and how she and her husband lost him to the Hitler Youth.  Simon later wrote that ‘out of compassion, I remained silent about Karl’s confession.’

QUESTIONS: ‘Did Simon behave morally?’  ‘Did Simon demonstrate Moral Sensibility?’

Gentle reader, I again invite you to stop and take some time to reflect upon these two questions and then respond to them.

I leave us, this morning, with the words of Simon Wiesenthal: For your benefit, learn from our tragedy.  It is not a written law that the next victims must be Jews.

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EPICTETUS & MARCUS. . .

This morning Gentle Reader I have decided to share a few thoughts from the world’s greatest ‘Stoics.’  It is important to remember that for the ancient Greeks all philosophies, including Stoicism, were integrated into the very nature of the person – they were ‘lived’ into and out of.  This morning I will offer us thoughts from Epictetus’ ‘Discourses’ and from Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations.’

EPICTETUS: [Book I: 28] – ‘How can a stork be compared to a human being?’  Where the body is concerned, there is a lot of similarity, only in man’s case his body inhabits houses composed of bricks and timber, while storks’ nests are made of sticks and mud.

 ‘So there is no distinction between a person and a stork?’  Of course there is, but not in regard to these externals.  Reflect and you will realize that man excels in other respects: in taking cognizance of his own behavior; in being trustworthy and honorable; in learning from his own mistakes; in brains.  What counts as good and bad for man can be found precisely in those respects in which he differs from the beasts.  If his special qualities are kept safe behind stout walls, and he does not lose his honor, trustworthiness, or intelligence, then the man is saved.  But lose or take away any of these qualities and the man himself is lost.

 Everything significant depends on this.  Did Paris’ tragedy lie in the Greeks’ attack on Troy, when his brothers began to be slaughtered?  No; no one is undone by the actions of others.  That was the destruction of storks’ nests.  His tragedy lay in the loss of the man who was honest, trustworthy, decent and respectful…

 MARCUS:  [10:34] – Whenever you notice someone else going astray, immediately turn and examine how you yourself have gone astray, for example, esteeming money, pleasure, reputation, or something else, as if it were the highest good.  …remove that which is subject to compulsion.

 As Homer writes: ‘As the wind scatters leaves upon the earth, such is the race of men.’ 

 Your children, too, are ‘leaves’; so are those who loyally applaud and praise you, as well as those who curse you, reproach you in secret, and mock you.  Leaves, too, are those who will carry on a person’s reputation; for all these things ‘grow in the springtime,’ and then the wind casts them down, and ‘the forest produces others in place of them.’  A short life is common to all, yet you avoid and pursue things as though you will live forever.  In a little while you, too, will close your eyes, and soon after that another will mourn the person who carried your coffin.

 [10:38] – Remember that your puppet strings are pulled by what is hidden within.  …Today I escaped all difficulty; or rather, I have cast out all difficulty, for difficulty is not external, but rooted in my judgments.

 I will conclude with words that Marcus wrote in Book 8: Humans have come into being for the sake of each other; so teach them or learn to bear them.

 

 

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Let he who has ears, listen. –God

How is it possible to live, rooted in love, when we live in a fear-provoking world?  How is it possible to hear and pay attention to and respond to the questions raised by the God that is Love when the world is awash in a constant tsunami of fear?  Have we humans become our fear and hence have become deaf to the Voice of Love that repeats over and over and over again: Do not be afraid, have no fear!   This is a Voice that we must hear and listen to if we are going to give up our fear-full identity.

The Voice of Love was heard by Buddha, Confucius, Zechariah, Jesus, Peter, Muhammad, and legions of other wisdom figures.  The Voice of Love has been with us throughout history and is communicated to us by the Voice of Love’s messengers.  This Voice announces a way of Love.

WHY is there no reason to fear?  I cannot speak for others.  As a Christian Ecumenist, Jesus-the-Christ answers (continues to answer) this question for me.  I am thinking of the time Jesus succinctly answered this question when he approaches his frightened disciples as he was walking on the lake: It is I; do not be afraid (John 6:20).

For me, the Voice of Love is the Voice of Jesus-the-Christ.  Jesus offers us a house of love to come home to.  This is a home where we can think, speak, and act as the God that is Love invites us to think, speak and act – and to do so is antithetical to how we think, speak and act as residents of the house of fear that we now live in.

If we quiet both the internal and external noise that hammers us with fear and if we choose to then listen for the quiet Voice of Love we will hear: Do not be afraid…come follow me…go out and live the good news of love…

The Voice of Love calls to us: Let he who has ears, listen.  Together, ‘WE’ can co-create a house of love here on earth; we do not have to wait until the after-life.

Are there ‘signs’ by which we can come to know both the Voice of Love and the Home of Love?  Can these ‘signs’ actually help us overcome our fears and integrate love so it becomes our major sustaining tap root?  The short answer is: ‘YES.’  For me, there are three ‘signs’ that can help us: Intimacy, Abundance, and Ecstatic Happiness.

Again, for me, Jesus-the-Christ speaks to me and provides me these three ‘signs’ (by the by, other faith, philosophical, and humanist traditions offer us these same three).

Speaking of himself as the vine and his disciples as the branches, Jesus says: Make your home in me, as I make mine in you (John 15:4).  This is Jesus’ invitation to the first sign: Intimacy.  Jesus then adds: Those who remain in me with me in them, bear fruit in plenty’ (John 15:5).  This is Jesus’ second sign: Abundance.  Love begets more Love.  Then Jesus says: I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete (John 15:11).  This is Jesus’ third sign: Ecstatic Happiness.

For me, the more I read and immerse myself in the Gospel of John the more I become aware of these three signs and of Jesus’ invitation to me to seek to ‘be’ and ‘do’ Love in my own life and to transform my identity of fear into an identity of love.

You are here to Love. –God

 

 

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Be Not Afraid! — God

This statement occurs more often than any statement in the ‘scriptures’ for the People of the Book (Jews, Christians, Muslims).  This statement is also one that occurs most often in all other faith, philosophical and humanist traditions.  As a Christian Ecumenist, I often find myself focusing on Jesus-the-Christ when it comes to this statement.

Jesus seldom accepted the questions posed to him.  He often exposed them as coming from a heart of fear.  In addition to exposing the question as rooted in the heart of fear, Jesus transformed the question.

How often are we, who claim to be followers of Jesus-the-Christ, seduced by the fear-full questions the world presents to us?  To what extent are we awake and aware to how anxious, nervous, fear-full we become when we embrace and integrate these questions?  How often do we equate the questions with our ‘survival’ – or with the survival of those we love or with the survival of humankind?

Once we embrace and integrate them, these survival questions become our guiding-life questions.  They are so power-full that we tend to then dismiss works spoken from the ‘heart of love’ as unrealistic, romantic, sentimental, pious, useless or just plain crazy.  When someone offers ‘love’ as an alternative to ‘fear’ how often have we heard – or said – ‘Yes, yes, that sounds good, but. . .’

Our ‘but’ reveals how much we live in a world rooted in fear – perhaps humankind’s identity is fear.  Our ‘but’ also reveals how the faith, philosophical and humanist traditions who claim to be rooted in love are seen as ‘naïve’ and their questions are ‘unrealistic.’  Here are some of the fear-full questions that are meant to enhance our fears: What if you grow old and there is no one to care for you?  What if you lose your job and you can no longer support your family? What if we continue to accept refugees and immigrants who, as we know, present a ‘real threat’ to our way of life? What if the Chinese become the dominant economic force in the world?  Gentle Reader, the questions are legion  and I invite you to add your own.

When we emerge, embrace and integrate these ‘realistic’ questions we repeat again and again in a ‘cynical spirit-voice’ which speaks to us, not as the Spirit of Love does in ‘whispers’ but shouts to us from the ‘wall of protectionism’: Words about peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, love and a new way are wonderful, BUT the REAL ISSUES cannot be ignored.  These REAL ISSUES require that we do not allow others to mess with us and that we retaliate when we are offended, that we let the world know that we are always ready for war, and that if necessary we will build walls of all types that will keep you out and in your place.

These ‘real issues’ are dominating us today such that we are rooted in fear.  The root of fear has become a major tap root that feeds us, sustains us and transforms our identity into an identity of fear.  Oh, we keep uttering words of love and at times we actually demonstrate love for neighbor (think: How we are responding to Harvey and Irma).  If we follow the path we have taken before, once we have enough distance from Harvey and Irma, we will quickly resort to being fear-full.  For example, we will, once again, become fear-full of the very neighbors we are helping to recover (talk about a paradox, or is it an irony).

I leave us, this morning with a question: Is it possible, in the midst of this fear-inducing world to live rooted in love and listen to the questions raised by the God-of-Love or by the philosophical and humanist traditions rooted in love? 

 

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When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed.  But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak. –Audre Lorde

What are some of my (our?) fear-full questions?

Here are some of the ‘fear-full’ questions I have held (Gentle Reader, I invite you to emerge or recall the ‘fear-full’ questions you have held, or are holding):  “What if I am not smart enough to finish college?’  ‘What if I can’t find a job?’  ‘What if I cannot find a pathway forward?’  ‘What if I cannot find ‘meaning’ for my life?’  ‘What am I going to do now that I no longer have a job?’  ‘What if life is just one, BIG, joke?’ ‘What if…’ 

I remember one of my first fear-full questions.  I was six years old.  Everyone was asleep.  I was sitting on the top stair in the dark.  I was crying softly.  I found myself asking this question: ‘What if I am not loveable?’  My little heart ached.  The year – 1950.  I did not receive a response until 1997 (I have shared my ‘dream-response’ in earlier posts).

In addition to holding ‘What if…’ questions, we also hold ‘How…’ questions that nurture, feed, support and sustain our ‘Fear.’  Here are a few that I have heard others offer up: ‘How can I raise good children in a world that is so corrupt?’  ‘How can I prevent hunger, poverty, and war’?  ‘How can we protect ourselves from the terrorists?’  ‘How do I know if I am saved?’  ‘How do I know if there is a hell or a heaven?’  How do I know that God is Love?’  ‘How can I learn to trust the Stranger?’

How many fear-full questions wash over us each day?  How many fear-full questions do we hold for years and years?  How many fear-full questions actually determine how we live each day?  How many other folks provide me the ‘fear-full’ questions – questions that I take on and live into (think: our elected officials)?

Once we embrace and integrate these, and other, fear-full questions into our beings we become more and more identified with ‘fear’ – we risk becoming our fear.

With fear running amok in the world it is easy to understand why a message, a voice, of love has little chance of being heard, embraced and integrated.

Consider that fear-full questions do not lead to love-filled responses.  Underneath a fear-full question resides another fear-full question.  It appears that life is truly guided by ‘fear-full questions’ – all the way up and all the way down.

For example, once I become convinced that the immigrant is the main threat to me/us then more and more fear-full questions emerge (think: security, economic, political, diplomatic, religious).

Fear engenders fear.  Fear does not give birth to love.

If this is the case, then the nature of the questions we muse is more important than the answers.  The questions we muse will determine the paths we choose.  What are the fear-full questions that I embrace today?  Which ones have I made my own?  Which questions deserve my undivided attention and commitment?

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. –Plato

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