Archive for January, 2020


I have heard that when Mother Teresa met someone they first found a quiet place and prayed – they greeted one another in quiet and in prayer.  They stood together in the presence of the eternal Presence.  The mystics, the people of prayer (you and me?), who deeply touch their own faith-tradition as they meet and greet those of other faith-traditions are the ‘glue’ (role models) that keeps us connected by demonstrating connection to us.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s daughter tells the story of a Christian minister preaching on ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  He expertly developed his points around the idea of the need to love ourselves before we can love our neighbor.  At the close of the service Rabbi Heschel approached the minister and commented that he found his sermon interesting, but he had always understood the text to mean that ‘my neighbor is myself.’  To what extent do I take the time to meet and greet myself?  To what extent do I make sure that I take time for quiet and prayer in order to be in the presence of the eternal Presence prior to meeting and greeting myself?

Anthony de Mello was a Hindu (and later a Buddhist and Christian).  As a Hindu he expected God to come to him in others.  Mother Teresa strove to see the face of Christ in the face of each person she met during the day.  Howard Thurman believed that within every person there is a core (not unlike the Quaker view, ‘There is that of God in everyone’) and that it is the charge of human beings for ‘core to salute core.’  As I reflect on this, it appears to me that this is what we are invited to do when we meet and greet.

How do we meet and greet. . .with affection.  Affection is a by-product of the relationship I have with myself (self-love) and is a by-product of the relationship I have with the other.  Affection deepens as a result of our working through the ‘tough times’ and of ‘staying the path’ (our life’s journey) and of discerning what is most important (that which is before us at this moment) and who is most important (the one before us at the moment).  In meeting and greeting we do so with deep appreciation of the other as the other (or of self as the self).

I recall an interesting paradox: We never meet and greet the same person more than once (even ourselves).  So meeting and greeting also involves preparing for the unexpected, for the surprises that will be there for us if we are awake and aware, present, pay attention and notice.  New possibilities also come with each meeting and greeting.  Will this meeting and greeting nurture me or deplete me; will I-You-We be diminished or enhanced?  Will our hearts open or close?  I love Douglas Steere’s expression: Will we have a hardening of the categories?  Will we move toward the sacred or the profane?  Will we bring more light or more darkness?

In meeting and greeting we share our very being with the other.  Is our gift of self, received and embraced?  Do we experience and embrace the ‘whole’ of the other?  Every meeting and greeting affects us such that we are changed, for good or ill.  Meeting and greeting are never neutral. We leave the experience more at ease or more at dis-ease.

I leave us with two questions: Did I take time to meet myself today?  Am I more at ease or am I more at dis-ease as a result of my meeting (or not meeting) myself today? 

Read Full Post »


We live in an uncertain world; predictability is an illusion.  There are two things in this world that we are ‘sure’ of: one is that nothing is sure and the other is that change is both the norm and is accelerating.

The future is not an extension of the past – the old linear model of change does not hold (as if it ever did).  The future is not predictable – even though many still live in the illusion that it is (ask any weather person who is the butt of many ‘predictable’ jokes).  We can almost be sure that what worked for us in the past will not work for us in the future – an anxiety producing thought indeed.

In order to survive and have an opportunity to thrive we must learn together; whether we like it or not we are truly inter-dependent.  One illusion we still hold onto is that learning involves the individual.  The world is too complicated and complex for the individual to remain the primary learner.  We must learn to learn together.  Organized groups of two or more must learn to learn together (organizations that do this are called ‘learning organizations’).  There are many ingredients that need to interact in order for this type of community learning to move from potential to actual.  Today I invite us to consider five of these ingredients.

The first ingredient is an assumption of competence.  A learning community is rooted in this assumption – each member is competent and each member can develop overt and latent capacities that will enable and support the community in its quest to learn together.  Traditionally, learning has been rooted in an assumption of incompetence.  Competence is supported by an encouragement-based learning model (appreciative inquiry is one such model).  Incompetence is supported by a discouragement-based learning model (a competition vs. a high achievement model is a discouragement-based model).  However, an assumption of competence is not enough.

An assumption of competence needs to be accompanied by curiosity.  Watch any young child learn and you will see curiosity in the flesh.  Curiosity is rooted in inquiry.  Questions inspire searching and seeking.  Some questions beg answers, others beget more questions.  Because learning communities don’t know, they are more likely to be moved to experimenting – just as the child does.

Some experiments are not successful and thus the third ingredient forgiveness is necessary.  The question is: What have we learned? The question is not: Why have we failed?  When we name what we have learned we can then celebrate.  I am thinking of the learning community that experimented and ended up costing the company millions of dollars.  The president of the company met with them.  The members just knew they were going to be fired.  The president told them, no, he was not going to fire them – he just spent millions educating them.  The question he had was ‘What did you learn?’  He also told them that they would be fired if they ever repeated that failure AND if they ever stopped experimenting.

Perhaps the major tap root that sustains a learning team is trust.  Trust, as we know, is not easy to give.  Each person interprets/defines it differently and each person offers trust or withholds trust based upon the many seeds that were planted in his/her life – seeds that took root and seeds that were nurtured into living plants that make up the garden that is their life.  We do seem to offer more trust to people we know; so learning communities need to spend time ‘getting to know’ one another; it does seem that telling our story and honoring the stories told increases a person’s willingness to trust another.

How do we get to know one another?  This leads us to the fifth ingredient: community.  A community of learners implies that ‘we are in this together’ and that when we come together we honor and celebrate differences.  As a community of learners we strive to enhance one another’s gifts-talents-abilities-potentials so that each person’s ‘weaknesses’ become irrelevant.  Communities are supported by a powerful-impactful purpose, vision, mission, core values, and guiding principles.  Communities are supported by clear agreements and by commitments to serve so that each person grows and so that the community grows.

Consider that these ingredients enable the learning community to not only learn together but to evolve together and co-create together.


Read Full Post »


He was 91.  He died on 25 January 2000.  His funeral service and life celebration was on 28 January 2000.  As I sit here this morning/mourning, Tears are washing my face as I look at a photo of my father. . .and, I remember.

On this day, 20 years after his passing, I want to share with you once again, Gentle Reader, the eulogy I offered on 28 January, 2000.  As you read I invite you to remember a person in your life who was a role model for you; a person who gifted you, challenged you, supported you and cared for you.

My father, Ernest Vernon Smith, Jr. was, like his father, ‘an old-time country doctor’ who practiced his art until he was 82.  He served more than three generations of families.  Here are the words I shared with those in attendance on 28 January, 2000.

The Poet Markova writes:

          I will not die an unlived life.

           I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
          I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me.
          To make me less afraid, more accessible.
          To loosen my heart
          Until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.

           I choose to risk my significance.
          To live
          So that which came to me as seed goes on as blossom
          And that which came to me as blossom
          Goes on as fruit.

 My father lived this poem and carried the torch and promise to many others in many subtle yet powerful ways.

Yesterday I was reading through one of my journals looking for a context for these comments.  I came upon the following that I had written: ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here, the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Eyes.  Bright, soft, penetrating, caring, admonishing, compassionate, intelligent, impish, and oh, so very blue!  I last looked deeply into those soft, blue eyes on Sunday night as I was leaving his hospital room; I did not know that this would be the last time our eyes would meet.  Our eyes held one another and we held each other’s hands as we look deeply into each other’s heart; we said to one another, ‘I love you.’

Those wondrous eyes!

How they must have looked to the thousands of people he served for more than 58 years.  Those eyes, blue and sparkling, meeting my mother’s own bright blue eyes in 1934 – he had, as my mother reminded me yesterday, already taken out all of the other nurses (300 is the number I recall) and then he asked her out.  The mutual eye-sparkle was fanned into flames of love that have endured more than 64 years and also produced 6 children who have carried this sparkle into their lives.

I remember watching my parents exchange those sparkling, impish looks with one another as I was growing up – I was fascinated by their exchanges, and I was a bit envious – I still am.

I remember, as a child, my father’s eyes holding me when I was ill; and I think of all of those souls he held with those healing eyes.  I wonder, as I look out over this room filled with those he loved, how did Ernie’s Eyes affect you?

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Face.  What are the words that come to your mind my friends when you reflect upon my father’s face?

For me the adjectives flow like a powerful river, bringing life and energy to all who drank his face in: Beauty, strength, humor, intelligence, inquiry, competence, jokester, healer, competitor, surgeon, colleague, friend, father, husband, dedicated physician, servant. 

Sit a moment with me and remember his face and the words that come to mind for you as you image him standing before you. . . .

Over the years I have thought of how his face affected those who were waiting for him to come and serve them.  I thought about the response in themselves and in their family as my father walked into their homes and into their lives carrying his little black bag of hope with him; a hope that would sustain them in their hour of need.

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Hands.  Magnificent.  Steady.  Ambidextrous.  Deft.  Confident.  Vise-like (for those of you, like me, that tried to out-vise him and lost; you know what I mean).

The hands that held a scalpel, a clamp, a needle, a new-born.  Hands that were guided by the eyes, held in place by the calm, professional face that brought his skill and energy and dedication to the service of ALL who needed him; whenever they needed him.

Through his eyes, his face, his hands, my father, in spirit, truly became present to us: his colleagues, his patients, his friends, his children and his wife. 

My father’s presence will truly live on in each of us, will live on in our relationships, and in the fruit of our relationships and will live on in this community that he was dedicated to and served for a life-time.  We have all been blessed by my father and we are now asked to continue to bless all of those that we encounter, every day, for the rest of our lives.  I pray, each day, that I can in some small way live into the dedication and service that my father lived into and out of for a life-time.   

Here is a photo of my father and mother standing outside of their home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  The date was 20 July, 1995 and it was their 60th wedding anniversary.

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary - Copy

Read Full Post »


[Gentle Reader, please see my posting for 22 January, 2020 for the context for today’s post]

Responsible people build, they do not destroy. –Robert K. Greenleaf

The third common ground connection is our Connection with Nature.  We humans are, literally, the stuff of the earth.  We humans are, literally, dependent for our survival on all sentient and non-sentient beings.  If it were not for ‘nature’ as we have it on earth, we would not be here.  In my faith tradition, Christianity, an adulteration occurred when humanity separated itself from the rest of creation (we have not been the only faith tradition to do this, however).  ‘Dominion’ (i.e. sphere of influence) became ‘domination’ (i.e. power and control over).

One of the basics of all faith traditions is that of ‘wholeness;’ we are all part of a greater whole even though we are discrete entities at the same time.  Since we are all part of the greater ‘whole’ we are dependent and inter-dependent; we are truly in this together.  Even though we humans do create and co-create we are also creatures, we are also part of creation.

For many, there is a growing awareness of our deep connection with our world (think of all of the bumper stickers that call us to be awake and aware and that call us to action: ‘Save the Earth,’ ‘Save the Rain Forests,’ ‘Hug Your Dog’); for some of us we respond to a call for action, for others of us we respond with ‘it’s not my problem’ or ‘I don’t want to think about it.’  We each choose our response: we are all response-able and responsible.

The dimension of spirituality at this meeting point encourages us to embrace ‘wholeness’ and ‘fullness.’  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s ‘A Song for God’ points to this:

. . .For things are not mute:
the stillness is full of demands, awaiting a soul to breathe in the
mystery that all things exhale in their craving for communion.

Out of the world comes a behest to instill into the air a rapturous
song for God, to incarnate in stones a message of humble beauty,
and to instill a prayer for goodness in the hearts of all men.

The fourth common ground connection – but not the final one – is that of Conscience.  There is a sense in all of humanity of knowledge of good and evil, of knowledge of light and darkness, of knowledge of right and wrong.  A knowledge of what leads to life and a knowledge of what leads to destruction and death.  Our ‘obedience’ or ‘disobedience’ to certain laws and truths the mystics of all traditions tell us bring about very particular consequences (intended and unintended).

I-You-We (individuals, discrete relationships and communities) contribute each day, if not each hour, to that which brings forth life or to that which bring forth death; we choose each day and our choices move us slowly, most of the time, toward the light or toward the darkness.  It is the sum of our daily steps, the steps that I take, that you take, and that we take that does determine our fate.

The contribution of spirituality to the dialogue (the searching depth conversation) of all faith traditions is to discern, name, and affirm the holy of each tradition and to remind us of our common humanity and to remind us of our deep connection to all of creation with the result that our conscience will be quickened and our choices will be more life-producing and life-enhancing than life-destroying and life-depleting.

Do we humans have the courage to embrace the true meaning of religion, which is to re-bind and make whole?  This is a simple question to ask and is perhaps the most challenging one to embrace and live into.  Do I-You-We have the courage to ask it?  Do I-You-We have the courage to embrace it?  Do I-You-We have the courage to live into it?  What will it take for Me-You-Us to say ‘yes’?  What is our destination if we continue to say ‘no’?

Few are guilty; all are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Read Full Post »


The more we separate ourselves from each other the weaker ‘WE’ become. –Teresa Funke

I am a Christian-Ecumenist-Perennialist.  That is, I am a follower of Christ’s invitation to live a certain way and I believe that there is common ground between and among all faith traditions (there is a Unity that transcends all) and I believe that there are teachings in each faith tradition that are essential to all human beings (I seek to find the teachings – the ‘good’ – in all faith traditions that appear to me to be essential for all of us).  So: What is common to all; what is the Common Ground? 

Now, I have not explored nor immersed myself in ALL faith traditions, but I have done so in many of them and thus far I have, indeed, found some common ground among them.  There are points where all faith traditions meet.  Here are a few of them.

Spirit is the first.  The mystics recognize and celebrate the wisdom of the spirit that is the life-breath of all.  The mystics also tell us that in order to meet the spirit we must descend – go deeper still – or we must journey into the darkness – the deep dark woods – or we must spend time in the desert – the wasteland.  While we are there we must be silent (be in solitude) and we must listen (the spirit comes as a soft voice or gentle breeze and is easy for us who are full of noise to miss).

Today spirit, spirituality and spiritual are words we use given the context.  For the mystics, spirit is used in relation to that which is deemed holy.  Holy begets holy.  In religious traditions across time and cultures people have sought via rites and rituals to sanctify places, times and deeds in order to recognize, celebrate and honor holy moments.  Depending upon the tradition and culture these will take on different forms and yet they seem to be expressions of a common reality (it might even seem that these are contradictory).  The variety expresses for me the diversity that God brings to our world; who am I, who are you, who are we to define how the spirit lives and moves in our world?  What right do we have to limit the movement of the spirit?  In all faith traditions (the ones I have explored, certainly) we hear a common admonition: welcome the stranger for in doing so we welcome the spirit – the Divine.

The second common-ground connection is our Common Humanity.  All faith traditions are not only made up of human beings, they are made up of ‘diverse’ human beings.  All faith traditions also have common human concerns which they seek to embrace.  At their best they seek to care for human beings, they seek to demonstrate compassion and empathy, and they seek to hold ‘love’ up as a primary virtue.  They also seek to bring healing and forgiveness to those who need/seek healing and forgiveness.  A goal is to live a life of wholeness – a divided life (beginning with the person and then moving to discrete relationships and then to the community) undermines all.

In 1991 at Cornell University, the Dalai Lama offered us the following: We are born with compassion and love.  This is a human quality, not religious, and comes before religion.  There is gentleness in basic human nature.  Human affection comes from a good heart.  And so there is universal responsibility not only for human beings but for all sentient beings.  Mental attitude is key to calmness of mind which creates peace and a friendly atmosphere.  Anger is an enemy within us, for, when we are angry, that anger finally is destructive to us. 

We humans are not all light.  Darkness (evil) is also common to our humanity.  The mystics of all traditions have reminded us (and continue to remind us) of the internal struggle between light and darkness (good and evil) that we must each embrace.  This is often portrayed as a ‘war’ – for Islam it is the first Jihad – the internal war.  Aristotle reminded us that we become our habits; others have said that we become what we live out each day and still others have said that we become what we give attention to each day.  It seems to me that attending to the movement of the spirit and holy in my life would tip the scales toward the light and away from the darkness.  What do I choose each day: love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, healing or anger, spite, resentment, or envy?  Do my daily choices move me toward the light, the sacred or do they move me toward the darkness, the profane?  I have choice, the mystics remind me.

Our common humanity is a point of meeting and when we meet we can take steps to build community or we can take steps that will lead us to separation and destruction.  We have choice – I have choice, you have choice, we have choice.

Become the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »