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Archive for January, 2020

MARTIN & GEORGE. . .

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tomorrow we honor Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was not clear in the years following our Revolutionary War that the thirteen separate ‘countries’ (as they were called) would choose to meld into one country.  For many the linchpin in this struggle was George Washington.  Supporters of a stronger central government were perplexed by Washington’s insistence that he would return to Mount Vernon and take no part in government.

A number of folks during the following years, when the idea of disunion was truly possible, not only pleaded with Washington to use his name, his influence, and if necessary his ‘power’ to help tip the balance in favor of the union they also accused him of deserting a sinking cause.

Washington believed that the nation would “work its own cure, as there is virtue at the bottom.” [Note: My quotations come from James Thomas Flexner’s four volume biography of Washington]  Washington embraced the Romantic doctrine that man was not basically evil and in need of being controlled; rather man was basically good and could be trusted.

However, Washington, being Washington, added a twist to this when he also stated that even though man was basically virtuous the best government would not be the one that would impose the fewest constraints.  He believed that their very virtue would make the American people impose upon themselves, via republican means, the governmental restraints which he considered necessary for a society/nation to be strong, just and prosperous.

However, Washington did not expect the people to find their way simply because of their ‘goodness.’  He wrote: “I am sure the mass of citizens in these United States mean well, and I firmly believe they will always act well whenever they can obtain a right understanding of matters.”  Washington did not expect that this ‘understanding’ would come easily nor quickly.  The knowledge required for ‘understanding’ did not come primarily from books; for Washington this ‘understanding’ came from experience plus reflection – this was the knowledge that was most important.  Experience, he knew first-hand, was a slow teacher and people at some point need to be ‘jogged about a bit’ before they will give up ingrained habits.  As he wrote: “The people must feel before they will see; consequently, are brought slowly into measures of public utility.”  And later on he noted that: “[It] is on great occasions only, and after time has been given for cool and deliberate reflection, that the real voice of the people can be known.” 

Washington believed in us and he offered us a way to ‘understanding.’  How well have we, who have been entrusted with his legacy, truly sought understanding and all that understanding implies?  Have we lost the desire and ability for ‘cool and deliberate reflection’?  Is what we have put in its place truly serving us as a ‘Union’?  As I prepare to remember and celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. tomrrow I vacillate between hope and doubt (if not near-despair).  I know in many ways, I AM important in all of this for it begins ‘in here’ within me and I believe that Washington (and King) knew this – and believed in me-you-us.  Do I share their trust and do I believe in me-you-us?  This is a question I will consciously hold today and tomorrow.

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience. –George Washington

 

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My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive, and to do so with passion, compassion and humor. –Maya Angelou

In the early fall of 1986, just north of the Inside Passage along Alaska’s coastline, a glacier muscled its way across the neck of a long narrow bay, creating an ice dam that formed a lake thirty-four miles long; this lake became a death trap for the hundreds of marine mammals that now had no access to the ocean.  For four months millions of gallons a week of meltwater from the glacier filled the new lake.  Then one night the pressure reached its breaking point and the dam burst and the water and marine mammals were rushed back into the bay and into the ocean free at last from the icy barrier that had imprisoned them.

Sometimes we humans are also constrained by internal icy barriers that imprison our passions; thus imprisoned there is a real possibility that our passions will lose their fire, the flame will go out and we will fill with dense smoke and suffocate from within.  Our passions are a life-force that we need in order to survive and to thrive and that we are called to bring to our world.  Our passions are also ‘needs’ we have and if they are not actualized (i.e. moved from potential to actual) our world will be diminished.  Passions imprisoned also have a way of showing up as ‘symptoms’ that are signals to us, if not reminders, that we are full of dis-ease.  One way or another our passions will manifest themselves – ‘Summoned or not, the god will come,’ reads the inscription carved over the stone door of Carl Jung’s house.

At times I have resisted admitting that I have a passion because I feel that I can’t really do anything about it.  I can’t afford (time, money, energy) to engage my passion and if I think about it I move myself toward depression and so I use energy to ignore it or deny its existence.  Sometimes I am fearful that if I engage the passion then I will become out of control; the passion will take over my life.  I have learned, however, that I can allow a little bit of my passion into my life and perhaps there are times when I can allow even more than a little bit of it into my life.  For example, I love to read.  I could spend the majority of my day reading.  I am surrounded by books, literally, and I always have at least twenty books within arms-length.  I also carry at least five books and my ‘kindle’ with me when I leave home.  Right now there are 37 books within arms-length of where I am sitting.  I commit to reading two hours a day.  Some days I will read more than two hours but only after ‘my work is done’ [OK, I admit it, sometimes the work does not get done, but the reading does].

Now, paradoxically, if someone were to pay me to read; if reading became my ‘work’ I have a sense that my passion for reading would diminish.  I have known folks who have experienced such a transformation.  It would certainly be great if my passion for reading would pay my rent but I also have a sense that if I had to ‘depend’ on my passion to make money or gain recognition or keep up with the Joneses that the fire in my belly would flicker, if not be extinguished.  It seems to me that the point of a passion is to love the passion, to respect the passion, to relish the passion.  I know my passion for reading benefits me and benefits my world and hence it is crucial that I keep the flame burning hot and bright.

Excuse me, gentle reader, a book, America’s Unwritten Constitution, is begging me to pick her up, hold her in my hands, feel the texture of her pages and . . .

I believe that education is all about being passionate about something. –Steve Irwin

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WHEN ‘TRUTH’ COMES A CALLING. . .

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light. –George Washington

When truth comes a calling too often we say, ‘Go away, I am looking for truth!’ So, truth turns and walks away, puzzling at what had just occurred.  What is truth?  The dictionary offers us some guidance: TRUTH = fact, supreme reality, ultimate meaning of existence, integrity. 

I sit here this morning pondering truth.  How do I respond when truth comes a calling?  My response – or is it reaction – depends upon what truth is bringing me.  When truth affirms the best of who I am; the light I am called to bring to my world, I welcome truth with open arms; I embrace truth and hold it close.

However, truth also invites me to learn things about myself that I would rather not learn.  Or, truth shows up wanting to confirm things about myself that I am not eager (to say the least) to have confirmed.  At these times, I do not welcome truth nor do I even begin to consider embracing truth.  Even though I say with great intensity, ‘I want to know the truth about myself,’ when truth responds with ‘OK, consider this bud’ I quickly turn away or put my hands over my ears or over my eyes.

When I summon the courage to embrace what truth has to offer me I actually experience some relief, along with a little feeling of dread.  I have experienced that once I embrace truth then inner peace follows – sometimes peace arrives quickly and at other times she takes her good old time in showing up; but showing up she does.

I am remembering a view I had of myself as a person who was very flexible.  Truth had to show up in many guises over a period of years before I was able to accept that I was also very rigid.  I still have difficulty writing these words even today; but I no longer deny the ‘truth’ of it.  I still laugh when I recall a close friend telling me that I am so flexible that I am rigid in my flexibility.

Truth also invites me to consider that my strengths are also potentially my greatest weaknesses.  This, too, I have experienced.  Paradoxically, my strengths are also my limitations; they enable me and they hinder me.  When I am able to accept this paradox about myself it is easier for me to accept others as living paradoxes.  When I accept my resistance to the truth about myself I am more able to be compassionate and empathetic towards others.  When I accept the ‘judgment’ that truth lays on me I find that I am less judgmental about the ‘failings’ of others.

I am not alone, literature is full of examples of people like me and this helps me for I feel ‘more normal’ as a result.  I am not alone in my struggle to accept truth when she comes a calling.  Literature also confirms that bad things do happen when we don’t embrace truth when she comes a calling.  I am thinking of MacBeth, Peter, Napoleon, Jefferson, Job, Faustus. . . .ah, their name is legion.  On the other hand, when we view truth as a form of love – a love that presents us with an opportunity to change or even transform – then growth, health and positive development are possible.

Gentle reader, how do you respond when truth comes a calling?  Are you open to truth calling on you today?

Truth is the first chapter in the book of Wisdom. –Thomas Jefferson

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ENCOUNTERING THE STRANGER…

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. –Tennessee Williams

I love New York.  I love to walk the streets of New York.  When my daughter graduated from college we traveled together to New York; it was her graduation wish to have a few days in New York.  We chose the Christmas season to do so.

On our second day we were walking up and down Broadway; we had come to an intersection and we were waiting for the light to change so we could cross the street.  There were a number of folks waiting with us, one of them was a young mother (or was it a nanny) and her infant who was in a stroller.  The man approached.  His torn coat hung loosely on his thin frame; his hair was blowing in the wind and his tennis shoes were not laced.  He stood looking at the infant.  People looked away; a collective ‘will this light never change’ filled the air.  The man smiled as he looked at the infant.  The young mother looked at the man.  She grabbed her handbag, opened it and took out a dollar bill.  She folds the dollar and reaches over the stroller holding it out to the man.  He looks at the infant; he is smiling.  The young woman continues to hold out the dollar.  The man’s hands hang at his sides.  He does not seem to know his part in this play that is unfolding before our eyes.  The infant is also smiling.  The young woman (mother or nanny) begins to lose patience and finally thrusts the dollar toward the man.  He blinks.  His eyes gaze at the dollar.  His dark, wrinkled hand slowly moves from his side, opens up and takes the dollar.  The light changes and the rush of the crowd moves us along. As my daughter and I were crossing the street I wondered if it was fear or compassion that moved the young woman to offer the money.

Later that day, it was mid-afternoon as I recall, my daughter and I were in the Village.  We were trying to hit as many stores as possible before we returned to our hotel in the Theatre District; we had tickets to see Cats that night.  We stopped at a coffee shop for a pastry and coffee.  It was a small shop frequented by locals and tourists.  We were savoring our rich delight when I noticed a man – it could have been the man who approached the infant earlier; he was standing just inside of the shop.  He stood there for some minutes.  Then a woman – the shop owner, perhaps – approached him and gave him a sack and a cup of coffee; I assumed there was food in the sack.  No words were exchanged between them.  The man took his items and left.  Did the woman act  out of pity or care?  I assumed that this was not the first time the man had visited the shop; if the woman didn’t want the man there she could have refused to reward him with her two gifts.

It was a few days before Christmas and we learned that the Mayor had begun moving the homeless into shelters.  As my daughter and I talk about this later that evening prior to our going to the theater we agree that the Mayor is acting humanely.  We also believe that with all of the tourists in town the Mayor also wants to protect us from the homeless; we tourists must not be troubled during this festive time of the year.  Yet, experiencing the reality of the homeless provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate care and compassion; the experience might also move us to empathy.  Compassion and empathy are learned it seems to me.  One way of learning to be compassionate and empathetic is to encounter others who are in need of both.

The ancient Greeks used drama to help folks learn about compassion and empathy.  One object of Greek tragedy was to inspire both compassion and empathy in the audience; the common response of the audience to the hero’s fall from grace was the insightful, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’ Could it be that the young woman felt this or that the woman in the coffee shop felt this; as my daughter and I reflected upon these two experiences we certainly felt it and we verbalized it.  As we walked to the theater we noticed that there appeared to be no homeless lingering about; we walked quietly and securely and wondered aloud whether the homeless would be cared for that night.  After the play we would return to our room.  For the homeless the play doesn’t end; the players can’t go home.

On this shrunken globe, we can no longer live as strangers. –Adlai Stevenson

 

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A CONSTANT COMPANION

My son, Nathan, has a cat, Jasper is his name; being a cat is his game.  When Nathan went off to graduate school in August, 2012 he took Jasper with him.  Now Jasper had only known one home and there were two people living there (sometimes three).  It took Jasper a few days to settle in to his new digs then it seemed to happen.  One afternoon Jasper walked into the living room, looked at Nathan, paused and then it seemed as if a light went on in Jasper’s little mind.  As he looked at Nathan it seemed to occur to Jasper that his Constant Companion was Nathan.  With great glee he pounced on Nathan and he has been doing so ever since.  Nathan likes this except for the times when Jasper pounces early in the morning.

So here I sit wondering if God is my Constant Companion.  Like Jasper, I do acknowledge that I need assistance in my life.  Unlike Jasper, I do not find myself pouncing on God in order to get the Divine’s attention.  I do, however, awake each morning with prayers of thanksgiving and then I move to prayers of petition.  What is it that I want from the Divine presence that I want to believe is my Constant Companion?

Jesus encouraged his followers to be deliberate about searching and requesting (at times it feels as if I cross the line between requesting and begging).  Jesus promised his followers that they will find what they are seeking.  Too often, I have interpreted this as intercessory prayer.  On the other hand, could it be that Jesus was not speaking about my external world but about my internal world?  Could it be that what the Divine wants of me is to petition God for what will enhance our relationship?  Am I to search for what enhances our relationship?

Jesus promised that I will receive if I ask.  What is it I will ask for and what is it that I will receive.  Could it be that what I receive comes disguised as a gift requiring patience, or compassion, or care, or faith in order to discern and receive the gift?  Do I really believe that every response contains what is most vital for my interior life?  Do I petition God in order that my interior life is nurtured and enhanced?  Do I believe that my interior life is what must be attended to for my external life is a manifestation of what lies within my heart and soul?  Do I believe that Love is the major tap root that I need to nurture and sustain and that I can only do so with the help of my Constant Companion?

Gentle Reader, this morning I will share with you a few of the questions I have pondered that help me move from ‘What can you do for me God?’ to ‘Who can you be for me and who can I be for you?’  Gentle reader, you might find one or more of these helpful to you as you search and they might also help you discern questions that apply directly to your own search at this time in your life.  Here are my questions:

What is your longing?

What is your hope?

What is your yearning?

What is your calling?

What is your hurt?

What is your healing?

What is your wisdom?

What is your contentment?

What is your truth?

What is your passion?

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