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Archive for April, 2018

Twenty-three years ago I met Bruce.  Among other identities (father, spouse, social worker, business owner) Bruce identified himself as a Jewish-Buddhist.  This did not strike me as odd for when I was an adolescent I told folks that I was a ‘Catho-Presby’ (my mother was a Polish Catholic and my father was an English Presbyterian); now, when I am asked, I refer to myself as a ‘Religious-Spiritual-Ecumenist’ (I believe that there is ‘truth, beauty and goodness’ in all faith, humanist, and philosophic traditions).

As we know, today more than ever before there are more and more ‘movements afoot.’ One of the movements I relish is the movement to what I call ‘Enlarging the Garden’ movement.  Not only are more and more folks taking on hyphenated appellations, more and more folks are searching and seeking out the ‘truth, beauty and goodness’ of other faith, humanist and/or philosophic traditions.  Those of us who are engaged in this searching and seeking have found the ‘garden’ to be too small and not diverse enough.

This ‘garden-expansion’ is not to the advantage of rigidly institutional- or denominationally-identified ‘churches’ (I use the term ‘church’ as a catch-all term).  Consequently, the movement to enlarge the garden meets with some resistance (how’s that for an understatement).  One of the gifts of this movement is that the boundaries of clear distinction between ‘religious’ traditions is narrowing; the ‘no-man’s land’ between them is not as threatening (again, I am using ‘religious’ as a catch-all term).

Given this, I believe there are a number of questions that we are invited to hold and engage; here are a few of them: How might we respond to the multi-cultural and multi-religious and multi-philosophical and multi-humanist ambience of our post-modern culture?  Must we ‘keep the doors closed’ while reinforcing our defenses so we become less communal and more factional?  Are we discerning an invitation to continue to take steps toward a broader and deeper engagement with an infinitely indefinable God?  What attitudes must I-You-We immerse ourselves in that will best serve all humans – AND honor the ‘Unfathomable Mystery of God’?

Look at the ‘Garden’ we call ‘the Universe’.  It reminds me, among other things that, as Annie Dillard noted, ‘the creator loves pizzazz.’ [An Aside: Check out Annie’s book: ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’]  I spent the first 18 years of my life living in Wisconsin.  In case you have not heard, it snows a lot in Wisconsin – and not only during the ‘winter months.’  I was six when my mother, who was helping us shovel the snow from our sidewalks stopped, came up to me and held out a hand of snow.  She informed me that ‘no two snowflakes are the same!’  WHAT!!!

During the following years I learned that there are few things that are ‘alike’ – no two leaves are alike, no two hairs on my head – or yours gentle reader – are the same.  Even identical twins ware not truly ‘identical.’  Talk about a creator with ‘pizzazz.’  Not only are no two things alike, the creator continues to add to the garden – new species emerge; other species continue to evolve.

We humans, even after thousands of years, are just beginning to understand that we are participants in – as in ‘taking part in’ – the broad and deep evolutionary process that has been continuous since the creator planted the garden.  We now reach out and come in contact with both stuff ‘out there’ and ‘in there’ – breadth and depth again – that our forebears could never imagine.  We are challenged to shift (or is it change or even transform) a world-view in which things are solid, fixed, permanent, knowable and predictable; we are learning that nothing in our universe is standing still – all is evolving.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote that ‘Change has become systemic.  It no longer takes place within a frame of the things that do not change.’ [An Aside: Check out his book: ‘The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations’]

Like all humans before us, when faced with this understanding we feel disoriented, uprooted, and less than stable.  We move toward embracing the evolving garden or we become defensive and fear-full – some of us actually ‘become’ fear.

The idea that you would affect evolution is a very profound thing. –Jennifer Doudna

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Few are guilty, but all are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

This morning Gentle Reader we will briefly explore the second type of ‘Power.’  In PART I, I offered you my definition for this type of ‘Power.’

DEFINITION #2: Power = the extent to which one chooses to link an outer capacity for action with an inner capacity for moral reflection that is rooted in love, empathy and compassion.

For me, this means that I use my ‘Power’ to live a life rooted in love, empathy and compassion so that I nurture more than deplete the five dimensions that comprise who I am as a human being.  This ‘self-care’ enables me to love, to be empathetic and to be compassionate with the other(s).

Consider that the primary use of my ‘Power’ (Second Type) is to transform myself so that I might care for the other(s).  This is for me, at least, a life-long journey.

My commitment to myself and, thus, to the other(s) provides my life with purpose.  I have been provided a number of teachers, mentors and guides, among them are Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.  For me, they embodied peace, love, empathy and compassion.  They were committed to relieving suffering and to serving others highest priority needs.

Today, I strive to use my ‘Power’ to embody peace, to serve others’ highest priority needs while being rooted in love, empathy and compassion.  I strive to remember that one person’s – or a small group of persons’—‘Power’ used this way will powerfully and positively impact the world so that individuals and communities also choose to embody peace, love, empathy and compassion.

Gandhi reminds me that ‘My life is the message!’  Whitman reminds me/us that ‘We convince by our presence.’  Before I can care for the other(s) I must care for myself.  Before ‘we’ can care for the other(s) ‘we’ must care for ourselves – we must care for the ‘community.’  I/We must choose to use our ‘Power’ to nurture more than deplete my/our P.I.E.S.S. – the five dimensions that combine to define who I/We are: Physical Dimension, Intellectual Dimension, Emotional Dimension, Spirit(ual) Dimension, and Social (Relational) Dimension.

In order to live this way I must choose to be awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full.  This enables me to ‘see’ the world as it truly is – its virtues and its vices (and my virtues and my vices).  This enables me to discern and respond to the highest priority needs that exist and to then use my gifts-talents-abilities to serve them.

If I am going to choose to use my ‘Second Power’ this way I must strive to remember that ‘This Moment’ is the ‘Only Moment I Really Have!’  For me, the implications in this idea often whelms me over.

I do believe that many leaders – think: Executives, Politicians, Religious Leaders, etc. – were, at one time, committed to relieving people’s suffering.  I also believe that too many of them were seduced by the first type of ‘Power.’  They were, as each of us is, vulnerable to being seduced – and, sadly, corrupted – by money, status, reputation, and role.

When the first ‘Type’ of ‘Power’ overrides the second then I-You-We begin to self-destruct.  Rather than list the ways I believe I-You-We are choosing to self-destruct I invite you, Gentle Reader, to emerge your own list.  I also invite you to list the ways you actively or passively support ‘self-destruction’ (Personal and Communal).

I leave us with two questions: Which ‘Power’ will I choose to enact today?  Which ‘Power’ am I choosing to enact at this moment?

 …a man gets an answer to a question in accordance with his fitness to understand and his own preparation. –Sufi Saying

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius

Gentle Reader, as I noted in Part I, there are two types of ‘Power’ that I am going to briefly explore.  The first type of ‘Power’ is embodied by this definition: Power = one’s ability to act.

A simple definition, a limited definition.  The first type of ‘Power’ is also limited.  Consider that our society is founded on, and rooted in, this very limited definition.  Here are some of the specifics: wealth, personal success, fame, physical strength, military might and control.  If you have ‘enough’ of one or more of these you have what is commonly referred to as ‘leverage’ or ‘influence’ or ‘power’ (that is, you have the ability to ‘act’ in ways that others do not have).

How many of us in our society are willing to do almost anything in order to get this type of ‘Power’?  How many of us seek (whether consciously or not) to be in positions of power?  How many of us believe that if we have this type of ‘Power’ that we will get one or more of the following: control, freedom, happiness?

Given the state of our society today, I am going to focus on only one aspect of this type of ‘Power.’  I choose this focus because what continues to be true is that ‘money rules our society.’

In our society, beginning with our Founding Fathers, we let go of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and replaced it with the ‘Divine Right of Money.’  The ‘Power of the King’ morphed into the ‘Power of Money.’  ‘Money’ allows us to act.  Large amounts of money allow us to influence, if not directly control.  Our primary cultural metaphor is the ‘Banking Metaphor.’

If you are a member of our society do you remember that Donald Trump staked his claim to the White House on the proposition that he was ‘really, really rich.’  He claimed that he was unbought, anti-establishment, and unbossed because he was so rich and therefore he was able to do what he wanted not what the monied establishment wanted him to do.

Trump reminded us, again and again, in plain language that Money is Power.  This ‘Power’ is not self-sacrificing nor is it democratic.  Never was, never will be.  In many ways we are a theocracy and our god is ‘Money.’  Trump was elected because enough folks believed him.  What the masses forgot – or denied or did not truly comprehend – is that the rich will, under our system, continue to become richer and the rest of us will continue to become poorer.

Many years ago the Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis told the then sitting President, FDR, that ‘We must make our choice.  We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.’  Money continues to be concentrated in a few.

To put it another way: The concentration of wealth – ‘Power’ – is the good, the true and the beautiful.  Democracy is for the poor.  Even our Founding Fathers believed this.  WHAT?!

Consider just a few examples: John Adams uttered the suspicion that ‘democracy will infallibly destroy all civilization.’  Adams believed that governance should be reserved for ‘the rich, the wellborn, and the able.’  John Jay, another Supreme Court justice, noted that ‘those who own the country ought to govern it.’  By the by, Jay meant, literally ‘own’ as in ‘property.’

Our Founding Fathers believed that the best government ‘incorporates the means by which the privileged few arrange the distribution of property and law for the less fortunate many.’  They began to equate ‘democracy’ with ‘capitalism.’  The ‘Power of money’ continues to determine who our candidates are.  We do not vote for the most qualified; we vote for the one of two who have been anointed by big money.

Now, gentle reader, it is important to note that I am not anti-democratic.  I believe Reinhold Niebuhr’s observation: Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. 

What I am not supportive of is our limited definition of ‘Power’ – in this case, ‘Power = Money and Big Money = Big Power.’

I am not without hope for there is another type of ‘Power.’  This type of ‘Power’ is alive and well and needs to be nurtured more fully by more of us – myself included.

The secret of life is in the shadows and not in the open sun; to see anything at all, you must look deeply into the shadow of a living thing. –Ute Saying

 

 

 

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…if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. –Abraham Lincoln

Consider, Gentle Reader, that both adversity and power reveal our character.  This morning I will begin a series on ‘POWER.’  I am not sure, as I sit here this morning in one of my favorite coffee shops, how many entries will be in this series.

For me, there are two different definitions of ‘Power.’  Consequently, I have two views of power.  My intention, as of this moment, is to spend more time with my second view of ‘Power’ – although I can image us spending an entry or two with the first.  In order to explore both views we will need two definitions of ‘Power’ and a definition of ‘Powerless.’

DEFINITION #1: Power = one’s ability to act.

That’s it.  This definition is the first definition of ‘Power’ in my unabridged dictionary.  I will return to this in a bit.

DEFINITION #2: Power = the extent to which one chooses to link an outer capacity for action with an inner capacity for moral reflection that is rooted in love, empathy and compassion.

That’s it.  This definition is my ‘current’ definition of ‘Power.’  The word ‘current’ is crucial.  Fifty years ago, my first definition of ‘Power’ was: Power is one’s ability to act rooted in reflection.  As I have developed so has my definition of ‘Power.’

DEFINITION #3: Powerless = devoid of resources; lacking the authority, capacity or willingness to act.  One is ‘Powerless’ when one chooses not to act; when one chooses not to act with moral reflection; when one chooses not to develop the outer capacity to act; when one chooses not to develop the inner capacity for moral reflection; when one’s position/role limits one from outer action.

Let us now, Gentle Reader, return to ‘Definition #1’: Power = one’s ability to act.

Consider that your ability to act is directly related to the following (a representative list not an exhaustive list): My ‘designated or situational role’ determines provides me with an ability to act and also limits the range of my actions.  I also develop certain capacities that will, when the situation calls for it, I will have the ability to act.

For example, as a parent, teacher, physician, supervisor, executive, etc. I have the ability to act in certain ways that my child, my students, my patients, my supervisees, and my direct reports do not have.

A person who has learned CPR has a capacity for outer action that I do not have.  So, if this person and I are in a situation where CPR is called for the other has ‘power’ and I do not.

I am sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops this morning as I put finger to key.  I have certain capacities to act, as one typing, as customer and as parent (my son, Nathan is working at this coffee shop this morning).  The employees of the coffee shop have certain capacities to act that I, as a customer, do not have.  Whether we choose to act or not is partly related directly to our capacities to act – to our ‘Power.’

Next time, Gentle Reader, we will explore the first definition in a different context; the intensity and the ante will be upped.

Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble. –Yehuda Berg

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Good morning Gentle Reader.  As I sat down this morning and was about to put finger to key my intention was to write about ‘Power.’  As I was reviewing the two definitions that I use for ‘Power’ I also noted a number of other quotations and ‘observations’ that I had written in my ‘little black book.’  I stopped. I paged through my ‘little black book’ and I decided to share a number of quotations and ‘observations’ with you.  I will write about ‘Power’ but not today.

I invite you, Gentle Reader, to ‘Consider’ what I offer.  Perhaps one or more of the following will speak to you and you will find yourself reflecting more broadly and deeply about them.  I will begin by offering you my two definitions of ‘Power.’

Power = one’s ability to act. [This is an unabridged dictionary’s definition of power].

Power = the extent to which one chooses to link an outer capacity for action with an inner capacity for moral reflection that is rooted in love, empathy and compassion. [This is my definition of ‘Power’]

NOTE: The ‘Observations’ are my observations.

Observation: Remember, the compliant do not help you much when you don’t know what to do next.

Observation: Remember, Democracy in the United States is both a political system and a way of life.  Democracy requires a high degree of literacy among its citizens, a sense of dignity of/for ALL persons and a sense of response-ability/responsibility to the entire community.

Quote: The place God calls you to IS THE PLACE where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. –Frederick Buechner, “Wishful Thinking’ [Fred’s definition of ‘Call’]

Quote: You are what your deep driving desire is.  As your desire is, so is your will.  As your will is, so is your deed.  As your deed is, so is your destiny. –Brihadaranyaka IV.4.5

Observation/Question: Why do I read? [You might recall, Gentle Reader, that I am an avid reader – an understatement to those who know me] Do I read in order to defend, in order to understand, in order to deflect, in order to be open, in order to be influenced, in order to be challenged, in order to discount, in order to affirm, in order to seek, 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?

Quotation: The ‘Resistance’ will help you find the thing you most ‘need’ to do because it is the thing the ‘Resistance’ most wants to stop. –Seth Godin

Quotation: The tragic element in a human situation is constituted of conscious choices of evil for the sake of good. –Reinhold Niebuhr

Observation/Question: What is the difference between free speech and responsible free speech?

Quotation: Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it.  That factor is attitude. –William James

Quotation: You should love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart. –W.H. Auden

Quotation: If you wish to understand something, try changing it. –Kurt Lewin

Observation: Today, politics in our country consists in reframing complex polarities, paradoxes and dilemmas into simple problems with simple solutions (think: Build a Wall) while ignoring, denying or not seeking to understand the complex realities.

Quotation: Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius, ‘Meditations’

Quotation: Whether things will be better if they are different I do not know, but that they will have to be different if they are to become better, that I do know. –Georg Lichtenberg

Quotation: Few are guilty, but ALL are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

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A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. –Saul Bellow, 1976

Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider that journalists, reporters, op-ed commentators, bloggers, tweeters, Facebook pundits, and other pundits depend upon the self-promoting myth of a free and fear-less press, champion of all (or of their tribe), honor and duty bound to support their views (and again the views of their constituents and tribal members), and deliver all the news they believe is fit to print.  Any person who has given up the belief that the storks delivers babies will take more than a grain of salt with their news.

It is crucial to remember that many of the news-avenues (think: papers, periodicals, Facebook, etc.) are powerfully influenced (if not directly controlled – think: Sinclair Broadcast Group) by the political and financial interest of their sponsors (I know, gentle reader, it is hard to believe that these folks would be unduly influenced by their sponsors).

In 1941 – YES, 1941 – Dorothy L. Sayers listed some of the standard operating procedures of the news channels, among them: sensational headlines, false emphasis, suppression of context, garbling, random and gratuitous invention, flat suppression, and deliberate miracle mongering.  These tricks of the trade were ably deployed in the 1790s by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and in the 1890s newspapers of Pulitzer and Hearst.

Long before television changed how we received our news, readers of the printed press understood more than we do today that something was afoot.  These readers expected duplicity and misdirection and fake news.  They didn’t take offense.  They did not panic.  Newspapers, for example, were read for entertainment – they were not relied upon for civics lessons.

More importantly readers understood that making sense of what was written required effort on the part of the person who wanted to be well-informed.  Many subscribed to a number of newspapers – they wanted to see multiple sides.  These readers demonstrated a willingness to be exposed to diverse viewpoints and also embraced a willingness to bear the burden of thinking for one’s self.

Now I am not deceiving myself, gentle reader.  I know our Culture has never produced these types of readers in large numbers.  However, there were, prior to the advent of television, enough of them (my parents were two of these folks) in red states and in blue states to preserve the myth of a democratic society founded on the meaning and value of words, good thinking, searching conversations and compromise.  We were never the great melting-pot, we were, however, a great stew comprised of a wide variety of ingredients.

The multi-media today shift the telling of our ‘Camelot Story’ to images of wealth and power signifying little more than their own contrived – and disposable – significance.

I leave us with just ONE ‘Fake News’ story.  For me, it supports our tribal gullibility.  Trump advisor Michael Flynn repeated this story in 2014 during a campaign speech in Stoughton, Massachusetts and it was carried by others and repeated multiple times before it was ‘outed as Fake News’ days later.  The ‘news’ came to us via ‘westernjournalism.com.’  The Headline: FLORIDA DEMOCRATS JUST VOTED TO IMPOSE SHARIA LAW ON WOMEN.  The Story: “Anyone who isn’t certain that Democrats are devoted to destroying America need only take a look at their despicable conduct in the Florida Senate.  In a vote that never should have had to be taken, every single Democrat voted to force Sharia law on the people of Florida.”

Unexemplary words and unfounded doctrines are avoided by the noble person. Why utter them? –Dong Zhongshu, c. 120 BC

 

 

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The world is for thousands a freak show; the images flicker past and vanish; the impressions remain flat and unconnected in the soul.  Thus they are easily led by the opinions of others, are content to let their impressions be shuffled and rearranged and evaluated differently. – Goethe, 1776

It seems that whatever medium we seek out – radio, television, print, blogs, Facebook, tweets, etc. – the following is announced with vim and vigor: Our News is Good and it is Real!  Theirs is Fake!

Shills are running amok amongst us – perhaps we are one of their stooges and help promulgate their message.  Who are these shills – some we can name (in no particular order): CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, the New York Times, the New Republic, the Drudge Report, various radio commentators, the many ‘Surrogates’ that take center stage for a sound-bite or two or three, and let us not forget the President.

The theme is the same: Each accuses the ‘other’ of trampling on the vineyards where truth is seeking to blossom into the grapes of good and beauty but are more often transformed by these shills into the grapes of wrath.  The ‘other’ is transformed into the ‘evil one(s)’ – and, as we know, evil must be eradicated.

Each shill announces the ‘Death of Democracy!’  They do not seem to understand that they are the perpetrators who are ensuring democracy’s death.  The shills are full of sound and fury – signifying ‘What’?

What is more alarming, to me at least, is the ‘keepers of our national conscience’ have, it seems to me, forgotten that ALL NEWS IS FAKE!

WHAT?

All ‘news’ is fake in an elementary sense for all news is fabricated.  News is NOT about what happened; News is a ‘STORY’ about what happened.  This, my dear gentle reader, is crucial to understand and remember.

Let’s look at some of the great ‘Fake News’ that impacted all of us.  The Trojan Horse was fake news and those who bought it experienced the death of a nation.  The ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ was fake news and those who bought it plunged us into a real swamp that we have been mucking around in for more than a decade.

More recently, many of us were duped by the trolls who used the internet to feed our gullibility and our prejudices and our stereotypes and our fears and many of them laughed at us as they banked (literally) millions of dollars from Facebook users.  Don’t believe me.  Check out Craig Silverman and Lawrence Alexander’s ‘How Teens in the Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters with Fake News’.  Get ready, dear gentle reader, to be shocked.  Why the Trump supporters.  No political agenda here, just a monetary one.

Why are we so gullible?  In general it is important to remember that we must believe the ‘true falsehoods’ that our ‘leaders’ give us for in doing so the ‘health’ (did I just type ‘health?’) and ‘well-being’ of the body politic requires it.  If ‘we the people’ actually challenged our elected officials then we would have to admit that perhaps we made a mistake in electing these folks.  By the by, in order for us to truly challenge our elected officials ‘we the people’ must do so in a civil manner and being civil is not one of our strengths (nor do we, it seems, have a desire to become civil with the ‘other’).  Well, how can we become civil with one we have labeled ‘evil’?

Here are two of the noble falsehoods that we espouse – but don’t live into: All men are created equal.  AND: 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!

Each of us is challenged to embrace and live into and out of the challenge that our Founding Fathers gave us to hold in trust and to live into and out of: A government of the people, by the people and for the people.  An antidote, perhaps ‘the’ antidote, to ‘False News’ lies within three words: We the People!

 

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