Archive for May, 2020

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

The long running television show, Mission Impossible, began with an admonition that went something like this: If you accept this mission, then. . .  There were two parts to this.  Part One was the acceptance of the mission and Part Two was the ‘then’ – the intended and unintended consequences if things went wrong.

I have had the privilege of working with and knowing many leaders during the past 50+ years (the time-frame during which I have been thinking about leaders and leadership).  The leaders I admire are those who were consciously and intentionally aware of the core values and core guiding principles that guided them as they sought to live into and out of their life-mission.  Their core values and core guiding principles were the tap roots that nurtured their life’s mission.  They had internalized their core values and core guiding principles, they had become second nature to them.  They guided them both during times of ‘light’ and more importantly during times of ‘darkness.’ [NOTE: ‘Core’ means that to the best of my ability I will never compromise the value or the guiding principle.]

Developing, embracing and integrating a statement of one’s mission in life is helpful and discerning and naming and living into and out of one’s core values and core guiding principles is integral for those who choose to accept the burden of leadership.

One’s core values and core guiding principles are the deep tap roots that ensure stability when the winds, the hurricanes and the tsunamis of life seek to uproot one.  Having deep tap roots helps one live a life of integrity; a life that, to the best of one’s ability, will not be compromised.  Consider: What are your core values and core guiding principles that are part of your nature that enables you to choose integrity and live your life-mission without compromising your core values and core guiding principles?  When have you compromised a core value or a core guiding principle or your integrity or your life-mission AND what was your motivation for doing so?

There was a time when the headlines concerning the ‘fall’ of a CEO stunned us; now our cynicism seems to accept this as a given.  The stories I am familiar with all have some common themes; one of them being that the person compromised one or more of his or her core values and core guiding principles and thus their life-mission.  They created a gap between what they espoused and what they chose to live into and out of.

We all create these gaps – I, like you, am not immune from creating these gaps for I, like you, am imperfect.  It is a challenge for each of us to be awake to and aware of and committed to living into and out of our core values, core guiding life principles and our life’s mission.  Awareness is essential.

How do we help ourselves remain awake and aware (or help ourselves wake up and become aware when we are asleep)?  Leaders who more consistently than others act with integrity, who live into and out of their core values and core guiding life principles, who live into and out of their life’s mission do not rely upon themselves alone.  They know that certain relationships are ‘a must’ for them; these relationships support them and provide them ‘mirrors’ that reflect the gaps between what they espouse and what they live.

Here are some more questions to consider: Are you living in a manner that is consistent with the core values, core guiding principle and life-mission that you espouse (to yourself and to others)?  Are your intentions, desires, ambitions, dreams and passions congruent with or contradictory to your core values, core guiding principles and life mission?  Are you living into and out of the life-mission that you have been called to (invited to?) accept?  If you accept your life-mission, then. . .?

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

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Choice of attention is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer life. –W.H. Auden

The Polish-Jewish children who were saved from the Nazis had to make a choice.  They had to choose between life and death; some were so emotionally devastated because of the separation from their families, from their homes and from their environment that they found it difficult to choose life.  As I sit here thinking about all of the children past and present who faced/face this choice some questions emerge into my consciousness: What does it mean to choose life instead of death?  How could a human being choose to be brutal to children?  Why did some choose to risk their own well being and choose to save a child?  What holocausts are occurring today – and am I choosing to ignore them? [Note: I am thinking of the holocausts of the spirit, the body, the mind, and the emotions.]

Choosing the little things determines, I think, how we will respond if and when we are faced with choosing the big things (then again, who is to determine what is ‘little’ and what is ‘big’).

The author of Deuteronomy wrote: This day. . .I have set before you life and death. . .Now choose life. . .  In order to be awake and aware enough to choose I must be able to recognize the difference between life and death and then I must be motivated to choose life.  What is life nurturing for me at this time?  What is death nurturing for me at this time?

For me, what makes this all so daunting is that my life is full of ‘gray’ and only with the passage of time (sometimes a short time and sometimes a long time) will I truly know whether I have chosen life or death.  Yet, holding some questions helps me: What in this situation gives or promotes or nurtures life?  Am I, at this time, prepared to choose life – how have I prepared myself for this moment?  What internal images move me toward life and what images move me toward death? What habits move me toward life and what habits move me toward death?   

Consider that we can choose death and love it.  I can choose to slander another and ‘love doing so.’  I can choose to deceive myself and ‘love doing so.’  Am I willing to accept that I do ‘choose death’ and ‘love it’?  Am I willing to name the times that I do so?

On the other hand, we can choose death and hate it.  I always have choice and I always choose.  For example, I choose ‘death’ out of habit – and I hate that I do so (knowledge, we know, doesn’t change anything – ask any smoker who knows that smoking puts him at risk and yet he chooses ‘death’ over life).

I have my favorite ways of depleting myself; I know they are depleting and I still choose them – and I ‘hate’ these choices.  On the other hand, we can choose life and hate it.  WHAT?  We are all experts when it comes to hypocrisy.  I decide to be nice to you while internally I am imaging the many ways I would like to blast you.  I might stop and talk with you and at the same time curse you for making me late.  On the other hand, we can choose life and love itThis is easier for me when I am fully present, when I am awake and aware, and when I am consciously motivated by love (for me and for the other).

I have found that certain spiritual disciplines help me: prayer (especially prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving), meditation, and imagining are three that help me prepare.  At times I need to rehearse – to spend time imagining myself in a situation and rehearsing how I will respond.  What I do accept is that each moment I am choosing for life or I am choosing for death.  This knowledge does not necessarily bring me comfort nor contentment; on the other hand, this knowledge does help me be awake and aware to the fact that it is ‘I’ who am doing the choosing.

Not choosing is, in itself, a choice. –William James

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Within the past several months Oliver Sacks, the noted neurologist, has, once again, emerged into my consciousness.  I first heard him speak in 1985 at a conference in Washington, D.C.  The first book of his that I read was ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.’  More recently, I read an essay he wrote in 2012, I read several quotations of his that were contained in another essay and a friend, David, spoke about him in a conversation we were having.  So Oliver has been hanging around in my mind.

In his book ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’ he describes the case of the man whose eyes worked well but his brain did not; his brain could not correctly categorize what he saw.  For example, he thought that a glove was a coin-holder and as he left Dr. Sacks’ office one day he reached out for his wife’s face as if it were a hat – on the surface a bit humorous, underneath more than a bit sad, if not tragic.

The man could not discern his wife’s face from that of a hat.  Oliver Sacks believes that discernment is all about physiognomy [‘the art of discovering temperament and character from outward appearance’ the dictionary tells us].  Thus discernment of this type means recognizing the true character of what we are seeing.  To me, this idea is immensely fascinating.  I may physically ‘see’ something ‘accurately’ AND not truly see it for what it is; I will miss its true character.  This ability applies to gloves and faces and it also applies to movies, relationships, and ‘motivational’ selling.

One aspect of discernment, then, is the discipline to practice moral physiognomy; it involves developing the ability and capacity to draw accurate conclusions about what is now before us.  Like the man who mistook his wife for a hat had difficulty moving through life, a person who is depleted of moral physiognomy makes choices that are counterproductive (if not unethical or immoral).

Now, Gentle Reader, imagine a person who developed more fully his/her capacity for moral physiognomy – who could tell fairly quickly whether he/she chose wisely or poorly or with foresight will know which choice is the wise one and which is the foolish one [I am now thinking of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the old knight observes that the villain has chosen poorly].  I have a sense that each of us can more fully develop this capacity.  Oliver Sacks puts it this way: ‘Judgment is the most important faculty we have.  An animal, or a man, may get on very well without abstract attitude but will speedily perish if deprived of judgment.’

Consider that sizing things up, making judgments, practicing discernment is at the heart of who we are and who we are called to become (perhaps of who we are already becoming).  In all faith traditions God or the Divine is the Great Physiognomist – God or the Divine truly knows our hearts.  Through our outward appearance our true character is revealed and thus is known.

The question I am holding this day: When I look in the mirror am I able to discern my own true character by looking at the person in the mirror who is looking at me? 

Seeing reality for what it is is what we call discernment.  The work of discernment is very hard. –Lewis B. Smedes 

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We are living in the midst of a global pandemic.  Each of us is at risk for having a direct invasion by the ‘enemy’ and each of us is at risk for having an indirect experience – a collateral experience – as a consequence of the impact/effect of the pandemic.  As in all pandemics there are a number of folks who step-up and go where angels fear to tread; they choose to serve so that others might live and so that those affected, directly and indirectly, are cared for.

As I was thinking about those who are serving in this way I began to think of examples of other ‘pandemics.’  One of them, man-made, was WWI – truly a global pandemic.  As I was reflecting upon the pandemic called WWI a name emerged into my consciousness: Cavell.  I did a bit of research and what I found resulted in my choosing to honor a woman who, during WWI, served so others would be saved.  What follows is a brief glimpse into this person, this woman, this nurse who was Edith Louisa Cavell.

Edith Louisa Cavell (4 December 1865 – 12 October 1915) was a British nurse. She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination and in helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during the First World War, for which she was arrested. She was accused of treason, found guilty by a court-martial and sentenced to death. Despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad. Her execution received worldwide condemnation.

The night before her execution, she wrote in the margins of her copy of the ‘Imitation of Christ’: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” These words were later inscribed on a memorial to her near Trafalgar Square. Her strong Anglican beliefs propelled her to help all those who needed it, both German and Allied soldiers. She was quoted as saying, “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.”  The Church of England commemorates her in its Calendar of Saints each year on 12 October.

Edith, and all of those who serve so others might live, truly live into this challenging and daunting statement: No person loves as much as the person who gives his or her life for another.   This morning I pause and honor all of those who are serving in so many ways during this modern pandemic and I am also pausing to remember Edith and the thousands of others who served during the pandemic of WWI.

Here is a photo of Edith Louisa Cavell:


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Three Major Tap Roots that nurture and sustain me are three virtues. My commitment to myself is to nurture more than deplete these in myself, to be aware of the times I need to ask other beings (human and Divine) for help and then to ask for help and, if requested, to help others nurture these virtues in their lives.  The three virtues are: Faith, Hope, & Love.  Here is a simple definition for each of these virtues:

FAITH = Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing; belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. Faith is rooted in doubt not in surety.

HOPE = A wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment; to have confidence; trust.

LOVE = A deep, tender, ineffable feeling and demonstration of affection and solicitude toward another and toward one’s self.

Since I am a living paradox; a person who is both light and darkness, a person who is both sacred and profane, a person who is capable of great good and great evil I have to be awake, aware and intentional and purposeful when it comes to my living into and out of these three virtues.

For example, I can, and have been, easily seduced by my own pride.  My pride is manifested in two forms (I am a paradox after all).  One form is manifested in the following statements: Look at how wonderful I am.  Look at how I have grown and developed.  Look at all I have accomplished. 

Notice that no other being – human or Divine – has been recognized and honored for helping me, supporting me, caring for me, etc.

The other form of pride is, at first blush, seen as something other than pride.  It is demonstrated initially in the frustration I experience when I ‘fail to live up’ to one of these virtues; if unchecked, frustration will morph into shame which will morph into self-loathing which will morph into I am so evil I am not worthy of being forgiven!  Years ago, a spiritual guide helped me see the great pride I exhibit when I move into this latter mindset – paradoxically the end result is that I am more powerful than God!

For me, FAITH, HOPE & LOVE are the antidotes to my pride.  Each day I consciously hold the following questions: How will I manifest love today?  How will I choose to love today?  What is a hopeful thing to do today?  What choice will I make today that will manifest my hope – especially my hope in others?  Today, how will I demonstrate that I have faith – especially faith in others? Who and/or What will I have faith in today? 

I end today’s entry with a passage that both sustains me and challenges me; it is found in the Christian Bible: 1 Corinthians 13.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.                                                                

  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.      

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.                        

 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


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