Archive for April, 2020


[NOTE: Gentle reader, please see 15 April, 2020’s posting for the context of today’s posting]

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything. –Mark Twain

DEFLECTING.  ‘When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff.’ –Cicero.  ‘Deflectors’ lie by being selectively open.  I have done this, so I know it well – all too well.  Deflectors are open about who they are they just withhold all that they truly want to hide – others assume that these folks are being open and truthful.  Deflecting is an effective way of hiding.

Then there are the deflectors who lie by calling attention to something else in such a way that the entire focus shifts.  Many years ago, Clarence Thomas did this during his confirmation hearings.  He expertly deflected by ‘screaming’ Racism and the focus shifted away from sexual harassment (by-the-by, a number of Senators colluded with him).  The deflection was brilliantly done.

Some of the most skilled deflectors are ‘passive-aggressive’ folks.  They refuse to respond to the accusations of lying and ignore their accusers.  This stance enrages the helpless accuser and it is their rage that becomes their downfall for now the passive-aggressive person indignantly says: ‘How can any one be expected to talk with one who is as unreasonable and emotional as you are?’  Almost instantly the initial accusation is forgotten and the original ‘victim’ becomes the perpetrator; the first person also feels guilt and shame and is tamed into submission.  Sadly, I have witnessed this act being played out many times between others, generally men-women and men-men.  I am curious as to how often it happens between two women.

OMISSION. ‘The cruelest lies are often told in silence.’ – Robert L. Stevenson.  Omission involves almost telling the whole truth – just one or two key details or paragraphs are missing from the story.  This void dramatically changes the story.  Many years ago I broke a pair of glasses that were guaranteed to be replaced as a result of ‘normal wear and tear.’  I interpreted ‘normal’ as playing football with my glasses on (O.K. no smart move to begin with I know).  So I ‘omitted’ the fact that I was playing football and was under a pile of folks when my glasses broke.  I did get a new pair for free.  Now, I don’t think I am the only duck in the pond of life who has done something like this.  I am part of the norm aren’t I?  BUT, what about withholding information that would dramatically affect how a person lives his or her life?

For example, there are many biblical stories that have been withheld from us and these stories would certainly impact how folks perceive certain events.  Here’s one that you, Gentle Reader, might want to research.  There was another woman in the Garden of Eden before Eve….WHAT?  She was the Sumerian goddess Lilith.  YIKES!  She was strong and powerful and could resist temptation; she was not a weak and naïve Eve and Lilith was an equal to Adam (she did not come from his rib).  Why has this important piece of information been withheld from us?  Can’t we handle ‘the truth’?  Why are there, today, books of the Bible that are withheld from certain groups [e.g., there are wonderful books in the ‘Catholic’ version that are withheld from other Christians]?

I had better stop for today…better for me and better for you, gentle reader.  Let’s continue later on – so many lies, so little space (ok – there I go again, ‘space’ is not the issue; I am just ready to sign off for today).

I lie to myself all the time, but I never believe me. –Susan Hinton

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The lie is a condition of life. –Nietzche

When I drive my car I frequently listen to NPR.  Last week as I was driving my car I was listening to an interview on NPR.  I don’t remember the program, the topic, the interviewee, or the interviewer – this is not uncommon for me as I seek first to drive safely rather than to concentrate on what is being broadcast.  However, every once in a while a phrase is uttered that shifts my concentration for a moment.  I find myself repeating the phrase over and over and then when I am able to stop for a moment I will write the phrase down in my little black book (yes, gentle reader, you might remember that I carry a little black book – it is used to capture phrases or quotes or notes and when I fill one up I begin a new one).  What I copied down that morning was a concept: Vital Lies – protect the psyche.  For the past seven days I have been noodling about Lies.

I lie.  I lie a lot.  I have a lot-full of lies.  I do not believe I am alone when it comes to being a teller of lies.  Webster’s definition of lie is quite specific (as we all know, dear Webster can also be quite vague with some of his definitions also – as when he defines a word using the word itself).  Lie = (1) a false statement or action especially made with the intent to deceive; (2) anything that gives or is meant to give a false impression.  YIKES!

Thus, when we exaggerate, minimize, avoid confrontation, spare another’s feelings, ‘conveniently’ forget, keep secrets, justify falsehoods, etc. (etc. meaning you, Gentle Reader, are free to add to this list), we lie.  So six days ago I committed to myself that I would go one day (24 hours) without lying – I gave up within an hour.  Can’t be done! – this is my conclusion.  On the other hand, my telling a lie does have consequences. Who will pay them – me, you, us – ah, that’s the rub.  Will trust be harmed if not destroyed?  Will another pay the piper because I didn’t?  I know I must consider the meaning of my words and actions.

As I have been thinking about lying I have begun to identify the many, many ways I-You-We lie.  I have limited space so I will add to this entry with Part II tomorrow and perhaps with Part III. For now, let’s continue and see what emerges.  Here are a few ways to tell a lie.

THE WHITE LIE.   “A man who won’t lie to a woman has very little consideration for her feelings.” –Bergen Evans

For me, the ‘white lie’ assumes that ‘truth’ will cause more harm than ‘untruth.’  A friend needs a compliment more than a frank opinion.  The problem: the liar is deciding what is best for the other.  It is, if truth be told, a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the other.  In addition, it is an act of subtle arrogance – I know what is best for you.  Ah, this is easy.  Then I recall a story in Tim O’Brien’s powerful book, The Things They Carried.  A sergeant in Vietnam saw one of his men killed in action but listed him as missing in action so that his wife and two children would continue to receive his pay (which was significantly more than the meager offering given to families of those killed in action during the Vietnam War).  His intent, it seems, was honorable – yet, for more than twenty-years the family kept their hopes alive; they became ‘stuck’ unable to move on with their lives.  Consequences!

THE FACTS – JUST IGNORE THEM!  “Well, you must understand that Father Porter is only human.” –A Massachusetts Bishop

In the 1960s Father James Porter was sexually molesting children.  The response of the church authorities – move him to another parish for we need priests.  For more than seven years they ignored the facts and with each move provided Fr. Porter with a new group of victims.  In 1967 he went ‘into treatment’ was ‘released as cured’ and was moved to another diocese – in Minnesota – and the authorities there then ignored the facts as to how truly difficult it is to ‘cure’ a pedophile and more children were victimized.  If Webster was right and a lie is a false action done with intent to deceive, then the Catholic Church’s conscious covering up for Porter helped create horrific consequences for so many.  Sergeant Joe Friday helps us here: ‘Just the facts, sir; just the facts.’ (NOTE: this last reference is for those elders in the room; those who were guided by the calm, objective wisdom of Sergeant Joe Friday).

Oops!  Out of space we are; we will pick up with this topic next time (OK, so that’s a lie too – ‘we are not out of space’ AND I will continue with our topic next time).

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Difficult as it is really to listen to someone in affliction, it is just as difficult for him to know that compassion is listening to him. –Simone Weil

There’s ritualistic listening, then there’s goal-oriented listening, then there’s task-oriented listening, then there’s multi-task oriented listening, then there’s debate-focused listening, then there’s . . . then there’s. . . AND then there is Deep Listening.

I have come to believe that one of the most caring, empathic, and compassionate gifts I can give to another is the gift of Deep Listening.  This means that I am fully present to my self and to the other; this means that I am awake and aware, here and now; this means that I am intentional and purposeful; this means that I am response-able.

Deep Listening requires me to be fascinated by the other; it requires me to be attentive to the other; it requires that I listen with undefended receptivity; it requires that I practice the discipline of patience.  Anyone who has attempted to listen to another in this way for even a few minutes knows how much of a challenge deep listening truly is.

Deep Listening is a gift to the one listening and to the one speaking.  Deep listening affirms both the one listening and the one speaking.  Deep listening nurtures the growth of the one listening and of the one speaking.  People who are deeply listened to, tend to then listen deeply to others.  Deep listening opens space for one to speak one’s truth and for that truth to be accepted as ‘their truth.’  Deep listening is renewing.

Deep Listening challenges us.  Have you ever noticed how some people, when provided the opportunity, will go on and on and on – a river of talk (or is it a white-water river of talk) that seems endless?  Consider that perhaps such a person goes on and on and on because no one has ever listened deeply to them.  To spend time listening to this person requires deep patience – ordinary patience will not hold up to the challenge.

Deep Listening takes time, energy, commitment, skill, discipline and patience fed by the tap roots of care, compassion, and empathy.  For the one listening it requires that expectations, prejudices, stereotypes and judgments are suspended.  For the one listening it requires an adherence to Socrates admonition: Know thy self.  The one listening must know what triggers his/her defensive-listening, must know his/her tendencies to ‘fix’ or to ‘control’ or to ‘advise’ or to ‘dominate’ and he/she must be aware of the ‘signals’ that indicate that these inhibitors have been called onto the stage.

Deep Listening: How does one know if one is a deep listener?  One knows because one frequently finds one’s self in the presence of another who demonstrates a need to be deeply listened to.  Like prophets, deep listeners are a rarity even though our hunger to be deeply listened to increases with each generation.  Think about this: Who has been a deep listener in your own life?  When was the last time you thanked this person for providing you the gift of deep listening?  When have you provided deep listening to another?  How do you know you’ve listened deeply?

…without listening, speaking no longer heals. –Henri Nouwen


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Good morning, Gentle Reader.  Today is my mother’s birth-day.  In celebration of my mother I am re-posting the Eulogy I delivered at her funeral.  My mother birthed 8 children, six lived into adulthood; as I type these words three of us children are still alive.

 Dorothy Harriet [Schwietz]. Smith – A Living Gift
10 April 1914 – 28 November 2002
Funeral: 30 November 2002
Eulogy: Richard W Smith, son

Last night as I was reflecting upon what I had written I felt stuck as I did not have a good beginning nor an effective ending to what I wanted to say this morning.  As I was sitting in the Milwaukee airport waiting for Archbishop Roger Schwietz to arrive… [NOTE: Gentle Readers, my mother would support young people on their journey – even to the point of bringing them into our home to live with us for a time – one of these was our second cousin Roger Schwietz who lived with us as a young priest.  Upon his moving on he asked my mother what he could do for her she said, ‘Roger would you please say my funeral Mass?’  He said he would and now many years later Roger, now an Archbishop, did not hesitate when my brother called him in Alaska, ‘I will be there.’  And he was.].

After some time  …a poem emerged into my consciousness.  The first two lines of this poem by Dawna Markova capture something important about my mother and so I offer them to you now. Markova writes: I will not die an unlived life. . .I will not live in fear. .

My mother, Dorothy Smith was a living gift to all who encountered her.  Her very presence gifted us with many presents.  She was slight of build, at 5’1” and her feisty, fighting weight was about 102 pounds.  YET she was large of stature at 6’6” – her soul energy weighed in at more than 275.  When she entered a room one sensed a bit of a regal presence; there was a neat, fastidiousness about her and her home.  When she looked at you, her penetrating blue eyes, and the turn of her lips, spoke volumes – from praise to criticism; from questioning to affirming.  Her smile and laughter were infectious.  Her looks would send a clear message, like ‘Don’t’ put your elbows on the table,’ or ‘Be humble,’ or ‘Don’t talk like a sausage.’ 

 She lived a full-life of 88 plus years. . . as a spouse and life-partner, as mother, grandmother, great grandmother, mother, and godmother, as daughter, sister, cousin and aunt, as matriarch, as friend, as support to many, as volunteer.  When you were with Dorothy, even for a brief period of time, you experienced her intellectual presence, her physical presence, her emotional presence, and her spiritual presence. 

INTELLECTUALLY, you encountered a woman who was thoughtful, intelligent, crafty, open to learning; one who was contemporary – no matter the year; one who was a critical thinker and a superb story teller.  She brought with her an excellent sense of humor and could – and often did – laugh at herself.  She was creative, festive – she loved a good party.  She was a risk-taker and a gambler – ‘Don’t bet with Dorothy’ was a common refrain.  Yet, often she would allow you to choose your team and then she would take the other.  She bet without attachment – mostly.

PHYSICALLY, you encountered a woman who was a superb cook – anyone who tried one of her cookies would end up begging her for another.  She was a musician, a sewer of afghans, and a collector (of glass and of needy young people that she brought into her home).  She was advisor, a teacher [how many of us did she try to teach to cook?).  She had a high tolerance for pain – physical, emotional and spiritual.

EMOTIONALLY, Dorothy was caring, stubborn, at times belligerent.  She was committed, caring, grateful, jovial, kind, tough, charitable, resilient, real – what you saw was what you got.  She was receptive to all.  She was the emotional glue for many.

 SPIRITUALLY, she was all heart and soul.  She trusted in God.  She was faithful.  She was religious.  She was, for many, an angel and a guide.  She loved the Green Bay Packers, tennis and golf and was in deep spiritual angst whenever Pete Sampras or Phil Mickelson lost a tournament (which was, to her chagrin more and more often these past years).  She was always there – giving to ALL who were in need.

 For many of us in this church today, Dorothy was a role-model who set the standards really high; yet, she was so fully human that she accepted and forgave our human foibles, mostly without hesitation.

We have all been blessed, Dorothy, by your Presence/presents.  Your legacy will live on through so many people that your Presence/presents will continue to gift the world.  We will miss you and we will pass the gifts you’ve given us onto the next generation.

Partly because of you, Dorothy, partly because of you, Mother, we will not die an unlived life and partly because of your example and faith, we will not be afraid!

Here is a photo of my mother and father taken on the day of their 60th wedding anniversary; they were married 65 years.

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary

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If you want to converse, first ask a question and then listen. – Antonio Machado

There are debates, ‘ritual conversations,’ conversations, and dialogues.  A goodly number of years ago now, my good friend/colleague, Tamyra, and I also identified what we came to call searching conversations.

These five have some commonalities; each involves one or more persons, each is rooted in verbal exchanges, each involves speaking and listening, each has intended and unintended outcomes/consequences.  There are also elements that clearly separate them, one from the other.   In Searching Conversations the participants are ‘fully present’ to one another; they are awake and aware and intentional and purposeful.  Each is what I call a reflective-participant-observer.

Talk about multi-tasking: simultaneously each person, participates in the conversation, while observing it while reflecting upon what is occurring internally in one’s self, externally with the other and what is emerging from the relationship itself.  Each listens ‘intently and receptively’ – each listens with what I call undefended receptivity.  Each is rooted more in inquiry than in advocacy for one of the goals is to access the wisdom of both the ‘other’ and the ‘collective.’  The ‘searching together’ is a prime motivator for the conversation.  Periods of silence occur frequently for reflection is crucial to enabling the participants search together.

Searching Conversations have no destination in mind, no pre-set outcome, no movement toward ‘action’ beyond the conversation itself (although a destination, an outcome and action might emerge as the conversation proceeds).   The searching together is the journey.  These conversations are stifled, hindered or blocked because of each participant’s prejudices, stereotypes, beliefs, core values, and assumptions; thus it is important that each participant be open to identifying them and critically thinking about them (our experience is that if each is open to this process and is awake and aware in the moment then these will be more easily identified when they ‘show themselves’).  This also requires each participant to be open to the possibility that he/she will be influenced by the search.

In order to be open to being influenced the conversation must be rooted in trust and in safety.  For example, I trust that you are here in good faith, that you care about me as a person, and that you will help keep the space safe for both of us.  This calls for each of the participants to be vulnerable.  Being vulnerable means that we will take risks – sharing and exploring our prejudices, stereotypes, etc – that we will be accepted for who we are and that we will carry the wound gracefully [Vulnerable comes from the Latin root ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound with grace’]; we will be ‘wounded’ and we will deliver ‘wounds’ – Why – because each participant is an imperfect human being.  Because of this, searching conversations also require that the participants will need to embrace forgiveness, healing and reconciliation [again, these three are fed by two powerful tap-roots: Safety & Trust].

Finally – for this posting at least – searching conversations take time; thus it is crucial that significant time be set aside so that the conversation is not ‘rushed.’  Searching conversations require space (physical space, intellectual space, emotional space and spiritual space) and time – three or more hours is not uncommon.

Good conversation is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. –Anne Morrow [‘Gift From the Sea,’ 1955] 

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