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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