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Archive for November, 2019

MORAL LIVES, PART I. . .

We decide for the next seven generations. –Iroquois Confederacy

Morality Counts.  Character Counts.  Moral Character Counts.  Thanks in great part to easy access to social media, today, more than ever before in our history the moral character not only of individuals but the moral character of collectives (think: The U.S.A.) has moved to the forefront of many conversations.  Much of this conversation is rooted in anxiety.  This anxiety is fed by a major tap root, the ‘fate of our children.’

We have deep concerns about our children and their future – including the development of their moral character – as individuals and as a ‘collective.’  During our discussions we like to announce that our anxiety is important because ‘children are the future!’   The ‘truth’ of this is obvious.  The other ‘truth’ is that this is a national cliché.  Sadly, it is also code phrase.

Before I expand on this code phrase I need to step aside and share a bit of my cynicism with you.  What’s the cliché here?  ‘I want to be fully transparent.’ My cynicism, sadly, has recently increased in response to a number of voters in school districts across our nation who recently voted down tax proposals that would have directly benefitted public schools and CHILDREN!

To return to our topic.

It is true, ‘Children are the future!’  And our future is, indeed, uncertain – although if we continue to follow certain paths the children of our children will not have much to work with.  Now, Gentle Reader, I also invite you to consider that this favorite phrase, ‘Children are the future!’ is also a code for speaking about ourselves (which might be one reason why voters can guilt-free deny our public schools the funds they need – it is really not about the children at all).

‘Children are the future!’ is a linguistic device.  Through this device ‘WE’ talk about our own desires, commitments and ideals – we talk about ‘OUR’ world; we are not talking about THE world our children will inherit.

We, adults, compete with one another about what is truly in ‘OUR’ best interest – we live in the trickle-down illusion that what is, today, best for us will, tomorrow, be best for the children.  History tell us – oh how I wish history would truly ‘teach’ us – that we are living an illusion.  We deny, among other things, history’s lesson.

Children become an ideological weapon that we wildly wield.  Children become a ‘tool’ (we are still immersed in the Mechanical Metaphor in our Country) and they also become an ‘asset’ (our current major Cultural Metaphor is the Banking Metaphor).  Some of these assets are more valuable than others – hence our ability to vote down the funds that will help our schools.  As ‘tools’ and ‘assets’ our children become weapons for our politicians and their agendas.

In loudly claiming that ‘We put children first!’ we actually put them last – we dehumanize them (‘tools’ and ‘assets’) and we use them as ‘weapons’ in our ideological wars (I almost wrote: idiot-illogical, which is what our ideological wars are truly rooted in).

Still…

We become our thoughts. –Aristotle

 

 

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A mystic once asked, ‘Where is God?’  After a pause [mystics loved to pause before they responded to an essential life question], the mystic replied, ‘Where ever we let Him in.’   For as long as I can remember I have heard, and held, the question, ‘Where is God?’  It appears to me that the ‘mark of Cain’ has replaced the ‘mark of God’ upon our world.  There has never been as much distress, dis-ease, dis-trust, pain, agony, and terror in the world as there is today.  At no time in history has the earth been as soaked in blood as it is today.  It appears as if so many of us have morphed into profane beings rather than sacred beings (some would say ‘mundane beings’ rather than ‘sacred beings’).  Is God directing this play or is God indifferent to the play and the players?

It appears to me that as humans our major folly seems to lie in our shifting the response-ability for our plight from ‘we’ to ‘God.’  Rather than admit our own guilt – after all, we are both the play writers and the actors in this drama we call life – we seek, like Adam, to shift the blame to someone else.

For multiple generations we humans have been investing our lives with profanity and now we step back and wonder whose fault it is.  It seems that we view God as someone we hired to prevent us from using our loaded guns; God is the parent who will protect us from ourselves.  Having failed us, God now becomes the scapegoat; God becomes irrelevant – God was not the all protective Parent that we desired.  Like angry children we stomp about crying, ‘It’s not our fault; we are not responsible; don’t blame us!’

We live in an age when most of us have been desensitized and so we have ceased to be shocked by the increasing breakdown in morality; our consciences have decayed as a result of our accepting the many forms of ‘violence’ that we continue to allow to wash over us – again and again.  Where is God?  Some say that God is silent.  I think that we have chosen to silence God.

Oh, there is faith.  But it is a faith in miracles of the past, an attachment to symbols and ceremonies.  God becomes known via hearsay; God is a rumor fostered by dogmas and narrow beliefs.  For eons, God’s voice cried out to us; God’s voice came to us in many guises.  But we humans are clever.  Look at how skillfully we imprisoned God in our ‘houses of worship’ and in our dogmas and in the illusion that ‘we have the only true way’ to God.

Consider the many ways we have distorted God to fit our desires.  We can see that as we have engaged in this distortion God has withdrawn; God has gone into hiding.  In seeking to honor our selves while demonizing the ‘other’ – thus missing the image of God residing in the other – and in seeking to glorify ourselves – we have driven God into hiding.  Moreover, we have become the Golden Calf.

God chooses not to interfere with our choices nor does God choose to intervene in our conscience.  As I recall, we humans were the first to hide from God and God came searching for us.  God came for us.  Then, out of our arrogance, we began to shut God out; we slammed the door on God.  We betrayed our relationship with God, God withdrew leaving us to ourselves.  I don’t believe God withdrew out of volition; God was expelled.  We exiled God.

The mystics and the prophets do not speak of the ‘hidden’ God but of ‘hiding God.’  God’s hiding is a function; it is not God’s essence.  It is when we humans break our Covenant with God that we drive God into hiding.  God is not obscure; we have, in a real sense, hidden God from ourselves.  God’s essence is not one of being hidden; God is a ‘hiding God, not a hidden God.  God is waiting patiently for us to come and search; God is waiting to be invited into our lives.  The direct effect of God hiding is the hardening of our heart and conscience (think about this idea while asking: ‘Who is my brother’ and ‘Who is my neighbor’).

Our task is to open the doors of our heart and soul to God; to welcome God into our very beings and to mend the Covenant that we have broken.

I remember playing hide-and-seek with my older brother (this was many years ago).  I hid and waited patiently for my brother to come and find me.  Time passed; more time passed and even more time passed.  Finally I came out of hiding and found to my great dismay that my brother had simply left the house to be with his friend; he had not taken one step in order to seek me out.  I remember running to my mother; eyes full of tears and complaining wildly.

God, too, says to me-you-us, ‘I hide, but there is no one to look for me!’  Will I choose to look for God’s hiding place today?  Do I care, really, to search for God in my life, today?  Do I choose to seek to find God residing within each person I meet along my way today?  Do I choose to look deeply into the mirror and perhaps catch a glimpse of God hiding within my own soul?  Do I dare to search for the hiding God?  What are the consequences — intended and unintended — if I actually find God?

 

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GARDENS HIDDEN & DISCOVERED. . .

We must cultivate our own garden. –Voltaire

The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, asks, ‘What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?’  The paradox embedded within this powerful question is that I am both the garden and the gardener.  My garden is composed of five dimensions: the Physical, the Intellectual, the Emotional, the Spiritual and the Social (think: Relationships).  At times during my life one or more of these gardens becomes neglected, begins to ‘die’ and can even become ‘hidden’ from my consciousness.

When my daughter, Rebecca, was young I read her ‘The Secret Garden’ [written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and published in serial format beginning in the autumn of 1910].  This is a hope-filled book.  Our heroine, ten-year old orphaned Mary is sent to live with her reclusive uncle in the wild Yorkshire moors.  Each day she explores her surroundings and one day she finds a high-walled garden.  Mary visits the wall and yearns to enter into the garden; but she cannot find the door.  The wooden gate is hidden by vine-over growth.  Mary is curious and patient; she returns to the wall, day- after-day, searching and seeking.

One beautiful day she sees a bird sitting high on the wall; all of a sudden the bird takes flight and lands on the ground.  Mary watches the bird intently and as she is doing so she spies what appears to be the top of an old key.  Mary digs and digs and uncovers a rusty aged key; to her surprise she looks up and sees the key-hole. Filled with excitement and wonder Mary fits the old key into the key-hole and with the determination that provides extra strength she slowly turns the key.  The gate is unlocked; the door to the garden is pushed open and Mary steps into the garden, once hidden, now open to her presence.  Mary, with the assistance of friends and the companionship of the chirping bird, brings the garden back to life.  The garden is restored to its ‘nature’ – that of being a garden.

At times I need to rediscover one or more of the dimensions of my garden; then I need the help and support of others to nurture this dimension back to their ‘nature’ – back to life.  Although I am the garden and the gardener I also know that I must have the support, care, and assistance of others if I am going to maintain a healthy garden; if I am going to keep my garden growing.

Sometimes these care-givers actively support me, sometimes they provide me encouragement, sometimes they act as mirrors and reflect the state of my garden and its dimensions back to me [and this awareness does not always bring me comfort].  Each believes in me and trusts that I could nurture into life my gifts and talents.

Each morning as I awake my first thoughts are thoughts of thanksgiving; I am thankful for the many persons who have been, and are, there for me.  I am a better gardener and my garden is more resplendent today because of these folks.  My eyes fill with tears of gratitude as I sit here typing these words.

In search of my mother’s garden I found my own. –Alice Walker

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SIN — WHAT IS IT?

Let the one who is among you who is without sin cast the first stone. –Jesus

What is sin?  Consider the following: sin is the abuse of freedom.  It is a failure to respond to God’s invitation or to God’s challenge: To love one another as I have loved You!.

The tap roots that nurture sin include callousness, hardness of heart, and a refusing to understand what is at stake in being alive.  Consider that there is a sin which many of us condone – which most of us are guilty of: indifference to evil.  I find myself remaining neutral, impartial and, all too often, I am not easily moved by the wrongs done unto others.

My indifference to evil is more corrupting than evil itself.  Indifference to evil is more universal, more contagious and therefore more dangerous to our well-being.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel notes, evil is ‘A silent justification, it makes possible an evil erupting as an exception becoming the rule and being in turn accepted.’

The great mystics and prophets did not discover that evil exists; man knew this.  Their powerful contribution was the naming of the ‘evil of indifference.’  They reminded us, and continue to remind us, that we are ‘our brother’s keeper.’  All mystics and prophets offer us the same refrain, over and over and over: God is not indifferent to evil! So, too, you must not be indifferent to evil!

God is always concerned.  Consider that God is truly and deeply affected by what man does to man.  God is love and compassion and so God becomes angry when I am, you are and we are indifferent in the face of evil.  God is also comforter, for evil is not the end; evil will not win out.  Yet, we sit with a crucial question: ‘Does God not condone evil?’  Why does God permit evil?  Does God not care?

We have choice; this is one of our gifts.  God wants you-me-us to choose love and compassion and because we have choice we can also choose evil and we can choose to be indifferent to the evil done.  Our reaction to evil is disapproval; God’s reaction to evil such that there are no words to capture it.

Perhaps we are indifferent to evil because God is presented to us as a comforter not as a challenger.  We are invited and challenged by God to not approach and respond to evil with indifference.  When we resist or refuse God’s invitation and challenge then we sin.  All of this gives me pause. . .   How about you, Gentle Reader: Does all of this also give you pause?

To undermine a man’s self-respect is a sin. –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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The soul that can speak through the eyes can also kiss with a gaze. –Gustavo Bécquer

Dan Siegal continues, ‘…deprived of the mother’s, gaze, look and face the area of the brain that coordinates social communication, empathic attunement, emotional regulation, and stimulus appraisal (the establishment of value and meaning) will be faulty. 

Infants who are deprived in this way are more likely, Siegal tells us, to develop ‘insecure attachment’ including losses in self-esteem; the subsequent feelings of not belonging are magnified.  Infants who are ignored become agitated and distressed.  Not surprisingly, children of mothers who display postpartum depression tend to become anxious and distressed themselves.

We have, thankfully, come a long way.  In the 1950s, when I was young, the popular wisdom was for parents to raise self-reliant, well-behaved children – they should be treated as miniature adults.  One consequence of this was to initiate the child into the ‘real world’ by having the child experience the types of alienation that comes with being an adult.

The behaviorist, John Watson, had a powerful impact on parents.  ‘Never hug or kiss children.  Never let them sit on your lap.  If you must kiss them, then a quick kiss on the forehead will suffice.  In the morning greet the child with a hand-shake.’

I remember when I was ten years old standing in awe of a father hugging his son.  I was repulsed and attracted at the same time.  As an adult I decided to hug my father whenever I was with him and I can still recall with great emotion the day that I entered the room and he opened his arms to me and hugged me first.  I made a commitment to myself that if I ever became a parent that I would hug and hug and hug some more my child.  I did have two children and I did hug them and hug them and hug them.

Not only is touch ‘both the alpha and omega of affection,’ as William James noted, touch is connected to our body’s production of the hormone oxytocin – the ‘module of love.’

As human beings our evolution required us to emphasize touch and emphasize the gaze, the look, and the face.

Other mammals are born when their brains are, more or less, ready to control their bodies, human babies can do little for themselves.  Once outside of the womb, babies need constant care.

Our first experience of being loved by our mother teaches us that we are love-able.  We come to trust the gaze, the look, the face and this enables us to trust others.

Anyone who has been entrusted with the parenting of an infant knows, first-hand, the patience, the stamina, the selflessness and the rewards of providing a loving gaze, a caring look and a compassionate face – at times, hourly.  Today, when I look into my daughter’s eyes and when I look into my son’s eyes I am confirmed that my gaze, my look and my face have been worth sharing with them.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. –God

 

 

 

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