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Archive for September, 2018

TWO CONVERSATIONS, PART II. . .

Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right. –Jane Goodall

It seems that today more than ever before governments – whether democratic, socialistic, authoritarian – are reluctant to enact a vision for the common good.  Why?  One reason is that there is little, if any, agreement as to how the ‘common good’ is defined.   We are too different and too diverse.  But are we?

In our country those we elect seem to believe this for it appears that the best they can do is to deliver the maximum possible freedom to individuals to make their own choices.  The individual trumps (no pun intended; or is there one to be intended) the community and the common good.

Historically in our country our elected officials believe that the means best suited to this is the unfettered market where you and I can buy whatever lifestyle we can afford; a lifestyle that suits us – this month or this year.

Beyond this individual freedom to do what we like and what we can afford, contemporary politics, politicians, economics and economists have little to say about the human condition.

Our politicians and our economists give us inadequate guidance in knowing what to do in the face of the random brutalities of life.  They, like us, are rooted in the technological, financial and mechanical metaphors.  The Technological, Financial and Mechanical Worlds are inorganic worlds and cannot respond to our humanity and human needs.  At minimum, they distract us and at maximum they deplete our humanity and dehumanize us.

We need to engage a conversation that helps us recover an older tradition; an older set of metaphors – essentially a set of religious traditions – which include philosophic and humanistic traditions.  These ancient traditions spoke and speak to us of human solidarity, of justice, of compassion, of empathy, of love, and of common boundaries (think: our common humanity).

They speak to us of the non-negotiable dignity of each human life.  Because the technological and mechanical and financial metaphors are inorganic they, by their very essence find it easy to negotiate away each human life – to negotiate away our humanity.

Globalization, exponentially, adds to this.  As a friend of mine remarked a number of years ago: This is too complicated!  Because all of this is, indeed, too complicated it is easy for us to surrender or resign ourselves to our ‘fate’ – this is, by the by, Gentle Reader, not a ‘good fate.’

What then can a religious-philosophic-humanistic perspective contribute?  For one, they can contribute an organic-humanistic metaphor that counters the inorganic metaphors that we have embraced and integrated.  ‘What else?’ you ask?   

 Dialogue…can help free our hearts from the impulse toward the intolerance and rejection of others. –Daisaku Ikeda

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TWO CONVERSATIONS, PART I. . .

Democracy…is meant to be a conversation. –Brian Eno

As I have been reflecting these past days, weeks, months, it occurred to me recently that ‘We’ need to engage in ‘Two Conversations.’  One conversation needs to involve religious leaders.  A diverse group of religious leaders is crucial and at minimum the ‘People of the Book’ religious leaders [Judaism, Christianity, Islam].  These religious leaders include both ‘official’ and ‘lay’ leaders.

The second conversation needs to involve current and former political leaders and ‘business’ leaders [I wrote ‘business’ this way as for-profit and not-for-profit leaders must be involved].  The topic: What is the direction that globalization must take? 

Why this topic?  Consider that technology and the increased pace and broadening extent of global trade continue to shift, change and transform our world at such a rate that it is nearly impossible for us to keep up.  The rate of shifts, changes and transformations is greater than our ability to learn all that we need to learn in order to ‘manage’ this explosion.  We can’t control it; we might be able to manage it.

[AN ASIDE: If you, Gentle Reader, have been following my postings you know that there is a significant difference between a shift, change, & transformation.  There is also a fourth dynamic, evolution that can come into play.]

‘Technology’ [a broad term that contains many diverse sub-sets] and the sheer pace and extent of global trade are impacting our world at a rate greater than we can embrace.  This has brought benefits to many, but distress, disruption and poverty to many others.  It is these ‘others’ whose voices we must hear and heed.  One gift of technology is that we can, if we so desire, now hear these ‘other’ voices.

For thousands of years this ‘gathering of diverse voices’ has been a tap root of all faith traditions – it was (‘was’ = it is at risk of being, at minimum, marginalized) for all faith traditions (and many philosophic-humanist traditions) one of their greatest virtues.

Even folks like Karl Marx (yes, Gentle Reader, ‘that’ K.M.) – one of religions’ greatest critics – noted that ‘Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions.’

We have been entrusted with our world and thus we must bring voice to the silent cry of those who today suffer from want, hunger, disease, powerlessness and the lack of freedom (think: Freedom ‘from’ and Freedom ‘to do & be’).

Consider that the democracies of the West are not equipped to embrace and engage these challenges.  That is not because they do not care; as Cultures rooted in faith, philosophic-humanistic traditions that promote caring they do care.  They are not equipped because they have adopted and integrated mechanisms (yes, the ‘mechanical model’ is alive and well) that have marginalized moral considerations.

The ‘mechanisms’ are ‘hard’ and the ‘moral considerations’ are ‘soft.’  The language we use (think: metaphors) supports-enhances and diminishes-dismisses.  The mechanical metaphor and the banking metaphor supports-enhances ‘hard’ and diminishes-dismisses ‘soft.’

Dogma has replaced thoughtful conversation. –James McGreevey

 

 

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FOUR CATEGORIES. . .

What have you done with the garden entrusted to you? –Antonio Machado

 If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am for myself only, what am I?  If not now, when?  –Talmudic Saying

Yesterday I was going through some papers and I came upon a page that I had not looked at in a few years.  It was handwritten – if one calls my penmanship ‘writing’ – and it was dated ‘1999.’  The title was: Four Categories for a Person to Consider.

As I read through each category I would pause and consider, perhaps even savor, what I had written.  This morning, Gentle reader, I decided to share the ‘Four Categories’ with you.  I also invite you to create your own categories and lists.

Here are my ‘Four Categories for a Person to Consider’:

Consider Essential Life Agreements

  • Speak rooted in moral integrity
  • Listen with undefended receptivity in order to understand
  • Inquire from a place of not knowing
  • Act from a core of deep love

Consider Five Difficult Things for We Humans to Do

  • Return Love for Hate
  • Invite and Include the Excluded
  • Admit that ‘I’ am wrong
  • Offer Forgiveness & Seek Healing (both for self and for the other)
  • Be Vulnerable = Be transparent & carry the wound with grace

 Consider a Few Roles that One Might Take On

  • Mediator
  • Consensus Finder
  • Synthesizer
  • Analyzer
  • Keeper of the Conscience
  • Process Watcher & Interpreter
  • Servant & Servant-Leader

Consider the Following Disciplines (To Practice and Integrate)

  • Being Present
  • Being Aware
  • Being Authentic
  • Being Useful
  • Being Faithful
  • Being Vulnerable
  • Being Consistent (Not ‘Perfect’ nor ‘Predictable’)
  • Listening, first
  • Being Deeply Reflective

 

 

 

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DEMOCRACY REQUIRES. . .

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. –Reinhold Niebuhr, 1944

We are, as I recall, a ‘Democracy’ and not a ‘Theocracy.’  Our Founding Fathers were quite clear about this.  They sought to protect all religions – hence the United States would not profess one religion over another.  This also means that ‘preachers of the word’ for_______(fill in the blank with a religion’s name) would not, when they ‘spoke from the pulpit’ (that is, when they spoke as a representative of God), cross the line between the separation of church and state (that is, tell their ‘flocks’ how to vote or even state their own political preference or speak for or against a particular candidate or party).

It is crucial for us to note that our current president says that he will seek to abolish the guideline/rule (the Johnson Amendment) that prohibits religious leaders from crossing the boundary between church and state.  His rationale is that the ‘freedom of religion’ (which is current political speak for ‘Fundamental Christian’) is under attack in our country.  Some folks are doing so.  On the other hand, some folks are also attacking Jews, Muslims, and certain Christian denominations (being attacked for their religious beliefs is also not new for these faith traditions).  Lifting the ban that prohibits religious leaders from using their bully pulpits to spread a different kind of word – a political not religious or spiritual word – would our Founding Fathers believed inflict a  wound on democracy; if carried to its logical conclusion this wound would be fatal to democracy.

Speaking of wounding democracy.  The president and, sadly, many others are questioning if not directly ‘attacking’ the ‘Fourth Estate’ – commonly called ‘The Press’ or ‘The Media.’  Our Founding Fathers were also quite clear about the need for a ‘Fourth Estate.’  Part of the charge of a ‘free press’ is to offer a check and balance to the first three estates (our three branches of government).  Because the folks who make up a free press are, like all of us human beings, imperfect what the free press publishes will be imperfect.  Sadly, the dark side of technology is adding to the negative side of a press that is free – the rise of ‘fake news’ is a sign of this.

As a Democracy we need both a clear separation of church and state and we need the check and balances of a free Fourth Estate.  As always, the real culprit (if there is a ‘real culprit’) is easy to identify: ‘’WE THE PEOPLE!’

‘WE THE PEOPLE!’ are responsible, unconditionally response-able, and accountable.  Because WE THE PEOPLE choose to live in a Democracy, WE THE PEOPLE must be vocal in our support of a separation of church and state and we must be vocal in our support of a free Fourth Estate.  We must also help ensure that our free press will act as a check and balance to those we elect to serve us (historically, those elected do not ‘police’ themselves very well unless they are pushed and prodded by the Fourth Estate).

Theocracies do not serve all equally.  Governments that suppress a free Fourth Estate become dictatorships.  History has confirmed this.  The question, of course, is: Do WE THE PEOPLE believe history?

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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RILKE SPEAKS TO US. . .

For more than forty years one of my ‘go to muses’ continues to be the great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.  Gentle Reader if you have not read and savored his Letters to a Young Poet I invite you to do so.  As you read his letters, if you replace ‘poet’ with ‘parent’ or ‘leader’ or ‘educator’ or ‘minister’ or… you might find his counsel to be invaluable.

This morning I am going to offer you a long quote from Rilke.  Perhaps you will resonate with some of his thoughts and perhaps you might also find counsel with some of his thoughts.  Rilke writes:

“We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called “visions,” the whole so-called “spirit-world,” death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.  But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished the existence of the individual; the relationship between one human being and another has also been cramped by it, as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence. For if we think of this existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous insecurity is so much more human which drives the prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their abode. We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us. We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.  Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. ”

 

 

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In order to consider Character, Choice & Responsibility a human being must be seen and experienced as an Individual.  The Individual as we understand the human being was in many ways a creation of the seventeenth century.  The human being had an Identity.

Identity = a stable sense of self, from birth to death.  Each Individual’s life could be – and was – told as a narrative.  Each person could – and did – write his or her own story.  A major metaphor: Life is a Story that each Individual writes and lives.

Change was gradual.  A generation was truly 25-30 years.  The long-view trumped the short-view.  As ‘change’ became more dynamic and occurred with ever increasing rapidity an unintended consequence emerged; a consequence alive and well today.

When change is rapid nothing confers meaning: lives become lifestyles; commitments become experiments; relationships become provisional; careers turn into contracts; ‘calls’ are ‘compromised’.   To keep our metaphor: Life itself ceases to have the character of a narrative and becomes instead a series of episodes with a thin or no connecting thread.

I have been reading Zygmunt Bauman’s works.  In his book, Globalization: The Human Consequences, he quotes Jeremy Seabrook who offers us a graphic description of a young woman, Michelle.

Seabrook writes: At fifteen her hair was one day red, the next blond, then jet-black, then teased into Afro links and after that rat-tails, then plaited, and then cropped so that it glistened close to the skull. . .  Her lips were scarlet, then purple, then black.  Her face was ghost-white and then peach-coloured, then bronze as if it were cast in metal.  Pursued by dreams of flight, she left home at sixteen to be with her boyfriend, who was twenty-six. . .

 At eighteen she returned to her mother, with two children. . .  She sat in the bedroom which she had fled three years earlier; the faded photos of yesterday’s pop stars still stared down from the walls.  She said she felt a hundred years old.  She’d tried all that life could offer.  Nothing was left.

Seabrook offers us an excellent example of existential burnout.  This syndrome has become more prevalent in our country; a country that is addicted to speed and is suffering from what Kindra called hurry sickness.  We have become addicted to technology, consuming and to the market economy.  Too often we are guided by the cynical bumper sticker: ‘The guy with the most toys when he dies wins.’

‘Advanced Cultures’ are fed by the tap roots of a succession of artificially induced and temporarily satisfied desires.  As Bauman notes: ‘Pilgrims have become Tourists!’  Society has become less like a home in a neighborhood and has become more like a hotel where the guests interact as little as possible.  As a consequence, Suspicion has replaced Trust as a major value if not a major virtue.

The great author, Oscar Wilde defined a cynic as one who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.  He reminds me –perhaps he remind us – that value rests in love, commitment, altruism, faithfulness and service to the well-being of the other.  These are not marketable; they are earned not purchased.  They are inherent in us a human beings and they are being weeded out and replaced with the plants of greed, consumerism, fear, and intolerance.

Consider, Gentle Reader that a Culture in which everything can be bought is one that has devalued value and institutionalized cynicism and fear of the other.

 

 

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Good morning Gentle Reader.  Like so many thousands of others I have, these past eight days, been thinking about Senator John McCain.  As a progressive-conservative (think: Abraham Lincoln – conserve the Union, Free the Slaves and Heal the Nation) I was attracted to McCain even though I would not support some of his policies.  What was I attracted to?  I captured this yesterday as I was watching his memorial service.  Three words emerged into my consciousness: Character, Choice & Responsibility.

Senator McCain’s ‘Character’ was revealed and forged in the Hades known as the Hanoi Hilton.  He told us that it was during his stay at the HH that he made a conscious ‘Choice’ – to love his country.  After his release he was no longer physically able to serve as a Naval Officer AND (you might remember Gentle Reader that I believe there is almost always an ‘AND’) he was committed to continue to be unconditionally response-able to his duty to serve our Country.  He embraced what he perceived to be his ‘Responsibility’ to serve.  This was no mere being responsible; this was a ‘Call’ that he knew he had to answer.  As a ‘service-man’ he chose to become a public servant.

Because of his ‘Character’ and his commitment to embracing what he perceived as his ‘Responsibility’ his ‘Choice’ was simple: I will put Country above Party & Politics.  I will serve all my constituents even if I offend those who voted for me.  Senator McCain was a Republican-Conservative.  One of his best friends was Senator Joe Biden, a Moderate Democrat.  Often they would literally ‘cross the aisle’ and sit with one another.  One day each was approached by the leaders of their party and told to stop sitting together – it created a poor image.  This was one signal that tribalism was on the rise.

Senator McCain was ‘hard-edged’ and had a ‘fiery temper’ – when in the inferno of Hades one develops these or one is consumed by it.  He also forged a sharp-tongue and a sarcastic-wit.  He loved to laugh.  He also did what few of our current elected officials are incapable of choosing: He admitted when he was wrong, he sought forgiveness, and he never attacked an opponent’s person (‘ideas’ were attacked with fire and brimstone).

During the 2008 campaign he was running against Barack Obama.  During a town-hall meeting a person questioned Obama’s citizenship.  McCain gently pivoted and gave a heart-felt response defending Obama.  This was a statesman in action.  How many of our elected officials today would have the grace and grit to make such a pivot when one of their base raised such a question?

Senator McCain did not cower to his base.  Perhaps this was easy for him given his five year experience in Hades; if Hades could not break him a simple base of voters would never be able to.  Yet, as we know, he was elected over and over again.  A powerful testament to John McCain’s Character, Choice & Responsibility.

I am, as my friends know, not inherently an optimist – thus far I have not crossed the line and become a cynic either.  I do not believe that enough of our current members of Congress have the ‘Character’ that will enable them to embrace their ‘Responsibility’ and enact a ‘Choice’ or two that would allow them to literally cross the aisle and sit with the other and search together for a third way; a way that would benefit we the people.  John McCain and Joe Biden demonstrated that this type of crossing works and that more citizens would benefit and that the country would benefit as a result.

We will know if there are any hints on ‘crossing’ on Tuesday, 4 September, 2018 when Congress reconvenes.

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