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Archive for January, 2021

ASSUME = ASS-U-ME. . .

I have found that I am able to listen more intently and effectively when I identify and suspend my assumptions.  Anyone who has attempted to do this knows how daunting a challenge this is, for discerning and naming our intentions puts most of us on a very slippery slope.  How do I really know that I am assuming something about the speaker or about what is being said?  What is an assumption anyway?

Assumption = something I take as ‘true’ without confirmation.  Assumption can easily lead to ‘presumption’ — arrogance.  So, I might well ‘take for granted’ that I already know what the speaker is talking about or what the person will say next.  When I do this, I stop listening — there is no need to listen for I already ‘know.’  I stop listening in order to understand and I begin to listen to my internal response as I prepare to speak.  I also know that I am in the land of ‘ass-u-me’ when I find myself having a strong, usually negative, visceral and emotional response to either the speaker or to the speaker’s words. 

During the moments when I am awake and aware enough I might be able to discern my assumptions and then, on good days, I can set them aside (suspend them, if you will) and then I can choose to listen intently and receptively in order to understand.  I can always pick up my assumptions later.  The risk, for me, is that I might well be influenced by my understanding of the other and if I am deeply wedded to my assumption the risk feels like a threat: I might have to choose to change. 

During these times of seeking to listen intently and receptively in order to understand I will ask ‘clarifying question’ and I will ‘feedback’ to the speaker my understanding and then ask if I am truly understanding the speaker. 

‘Understanding’ does not equate with change.  I might well come to understand the other AND continue to hold my own beliefs, positions, ‘truths,’ etc.  I might actually come to appreciate the other and the other’s position. Again, I can come to do both without having to change.  As an aside: for many adolescents, ‘understanding’ equates to change as in ‘dad, if you really understood me you would let me do it.’  For many of us, we carry this belief into adulthood (by age not necessarily by ’emotional maturity’). 

The other thing I have learned when I choose to suspend my assumptions and listen intently and receptively in order to understand is that I come to understand the other’s ‘intentions.’  I assumed the person intended ‘A’ when what I learn is that the person intended ‘B.’ 

This takes time, energy and ‘space.’  I know of no short cut — email, tweet, or text — that allows all of this to unfold quickly.  Do I really want to ‘understand’: you-me-us and set aside ass-u-me?     

Gentle Reader, what hinders you from listening intently and receptively in order to understand?  When do you enter the land of ‘ass-u-me’?

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MARTIN’S LETTER. . .

I have been re-reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’  Following are some of the questions that have emerged into my consciousness as I re-read and reflected upon this powerful epistle. 

Men of ‘genuine good will’ labeled King as an ‘outsider.’ 

QUESTIONS: When have I been labeled an ‘outsider?’  When have I felt as if I were an ‘outsider?’  When have I labeled another as an ‘outsider?’  What prompted my assigning this label to the other?  When have I treated another as an ‘outsider?’  What forms did this treatment take?  When I was labeled an ‘outsider’ what was the effect upon me?  How did I respond or react?  What was the effect on the other when I labeled him or her as an ‘outsider?’  How did the others respond or react to my labeling them an ‘outsider?’  When have I denied labeling another as an ‘outsider?’  What motivated me to label another as an ‘outsider?’  What is an ‘outsider’ anyway?

King addressed the question, ‘Why am I here?’  He wrote that ‘I. . .am here because I was invited here.  I am here because I have organizational ties here.  But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.’ 

QUESTIONS:  Why am I here?  Why am I choosing to be here?  Was I compelled to be here?  Must I be here?  Do I have a choice to be here or not — how do I know that I have choice or that I have no choice in being here?  Is ‘here’ stationary or am I on my way from ‘here’ to ‘there’?  If so, why am I choosing to go there?  Am I compelled to go ‘there’ from here?  What is the price I pay for being ‘here’?

King writes: ‘. . .I am compelled to carry the gospel. . .’

QUESTIONS: What am I compelled to carry?  What are the things that I carry?  What have I chosen to carry?  Why have I chosen to carry those. . .?  What do ‘we’ carry together?  How did ‘we’ come to carry these together?  Was I coerced into carrying what I carry?  Was I manipulated?  Was I persuaded?  Was I influenced?  Does it matter?  If it does matter, how so? 

King writes: ‘I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial. . .that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.’

QUESTIONS:  When am I willing ‘to rest content with the superficial’?  When am I willing to ‘grapple with underlying causes’?  When and how do I support others who are willing ‘to rest content with the superficial’?  When and how do I help others ‘grapple with underlying causes’?  Why do I choose to resist grappling with ‘underlying causes’?  What motivates me ‘to rest content with the superficial’?  What motivates me to ‘grapple with underlying causes’?  

Martin was clear as to what motivated him.  How clear am I as to what – or who – motivates me?   

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OUR REPBULIC IS FRAGILE – INDEED!

Our Founding Fathers knew, intimately, how fragile our Republic was and would continue to be – to be fragile forever.  These past months, if not years, have confirmed our Founding Father’s concerns.  The events leading up to and including 6 January, 2021 reconfirmed their belief: ‘Our Republic is Fragile – Indeed!’  

Today, as I am putting finger to key, the fragility of our Republic should be obvious, and a concern for all of us.  Sadly, our response is an ancient response – finger-pointing and scape-goat seeking. 

We forget, or deny, that if we want to understand others we should look first and deeply into our own hearts.  Thousands of years ago the Oracle wisely counseled us: Nosce te ipsum (Know Thyself).

We forget, or don’t know, or deny that the world we think we see clearly has already been distorted by our unconscious mental models/processes.  We do not perceive the world as it really is AND we are especially prone to self-serving bias. 

The events of these past months confirms that indeed we continue to be more than prone to our self-serving biases – we are indeed deeply rooted in our self-serving biases.  We are so deeply rooted that we have put our Republic at risk. 

Our self-serving biases lead us to compromise our integrity.  Consider, Gentle Reader that one of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.  We saw this ‘blunt refusal’ in action when ten House Republicans voted in favor of impeachment – each of them clearly stated their ‘blunt refusal’ to do so. 

Even though a minority of folks are seeking to put our Republic at risk we must also remember the admonition of Rabbit Abraham Joshua Heschel: ‘Few are guilty, but all are responsible!’  Our Republic will continue to be at risk of imploding because too many of us are rooted in our self-serving biases; we walk on the edge of ‘not caring enough.’  Elie Wiesel reminds us that ‘the enemy of life is indifference.’

Our on-going embrace of our self-serving biases involves a hardening of our moral arteries.  This ‘hardening’ is not new.  I am remembering the 1840 Presidential Race.  During this time Lincoln noted that the opposition (Martin van Buren, et al) strove repeatedly to engender a fear that continued immigration was a threat to America’s social cohesion (the immigrants that Martin ‘feared’ were the Irish and German immigrants).  Lincoln also feared that sectionalism was becoming ever more divisive and he believed that Martin, et al, were putting the United Republic at risk (which, as we know, culminated in our Civil War).  Our first President, George Washington, was fear-full of political parties for he believed that if controlled by the power-seekers they would focus on partisanship and move us way from becoming a democracy to becoming an autocracy.

I am not sure what else to write this morning.  I am looking for the little pieces of light that reveals ‘hope.’  I leave us this morning with John Berger’s words: ‘Hope is a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark.’   

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WE ARE CALLED, PART II. . .

For the Dagara, ‘Purpose’ begins with the individual; the sum total of all the individuals’ purposes creates the community’s purpose.  Given this, the community then takes it upon itself the responsibility of nurturing and protecting the individual.  The individual, knowing his or her purpose, then chooses to invest energy into sustaining the community. 

There is reciprocity here: the community recognizes that its own spirit and vitality is deeply rooted in how the community protects, supports and nurtures each of her individual members — there is a special focus of reminding each person of his or her purpose.  The individual, knowing this — experiencing it on a daily basis — reciprocates by giving back to the community the gifts, talents, and abilities that have been called forth from him or her. 

For the Dagara, the presence of a community to awaken one’s gifts, talents and abilities is necessary because in the process of being born our memories are erased as to ‘why we chose to come here.’  This ‘blindness to purpose’ is progressive.  How many of us, early in life, believe that we might ‘do something with our lives?’  The vitality and energy and enthusiasm of children are symbols of the forces that motivated them to come here; that motivated their spirits to take on physical form.  Our very socialization dampens our memory as to why we came here; eventually we forget all together.  Many indigenous cultures have developed rituals that help us repair the damage done by socialization so that we can remember our life’s purpose and embrace it more and more fully. 

For all of us, especially ‘modern and post-modern man,’ the clear visibility of the ‘seen’ world clouds and blocks our perception of the ‘unseen’ world.  Discrimination of all types begins when we say that we can touch this or that – the reality of the tangible clouds and blocks our connection with the ‘reality of the intangible.’  The Dagara believe that if we are not exposed to community ritual we become more and more vulnerable to growing away from ‘Spirit’ and eventually we will die.  For the Dagara, making community ritual a part of daily life helps sustain, or rekindle, the intensity (the fire of passion) that keeps one on the path of ‘Purpose.’  I am reminded of David Whyte’s powerful poem, ‘Out On the Ocean’ where he reminds us that when our fire within is extinguished the body fills with dense smoke and we suffocate from within.

For each of us, making ritual a part of our daily life will help us sustain or rekindle the ‘fire’ that lights our life’s path of purpose.  This type of ritual will create/sustain a certain type of energy that will enable one to become awake and aware, intentional and purpose-full so that one can be sustained or one can be ‘healed’ — such sustaining and/or healing can also lead to ‘transformation.’  Simply by being a human being one is, by nature, an authority when it comes to creating ritual.  Of course, ritual-creation might lead one into the Darkness as well as into the Light.  Ritual, as we well know, can also lead the community into Darkness as well as into the Light (see Germany, 1936, for example). 

Consider that one of the great barriers to remembering our ‘life’s purpose’ is our lack of ‘self-trust.’  If I don’t trust myself to be involved in transforming that which needs to be changed, then I will end up waiting for someone else to come along and do the work for me — this I know to be true for this I have done.  As I type these words I am also realizing that I am currently waiting for someone to come along and do the work for me. 

Ritual, communally designed, helps each of us remember our life’s purpose and this remembering sustains both the individual and the community.  The community exists, in great part, to safeguard the life-purpose of each person.  The community continues to support and call forth the gifts, talents and abilities of the person so that the person can serve the needs of the community and the broader world that the community is connected to.  Healing and connection come when each person remembers his or her ‘identity’ and ‘purpose’ and when he and she reconnects with the Spirit within and with the Spirit that contains all Spirit. 

When you-I-we are connected to our purpose, to the community, to our life-sustaining Spirit we are then able to live and act with authenticity; we are able to be both ‘faithful’ and ‘effective.’  We are more able to discern and embrace our life’s purpose – our ‘Call.’

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WE ARE CALLED, PART I. . .

The poet William Stafford gave us a powerful poem, ‘A Ritual to Read to Each Other.’  Stafford writes:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am

and I don’t know the kind of person you are

   a pattern that others made my prevail in

     the world and following the wrong god

       home we may miss our star.

Each of us is called to be ‘the person’ we are meant to be and each of us is also called to discern ‘our life’s purpose.’ 

For thousands of years we humans have been searching to understand both and we have been seeking ways to live into and out of both.  Today, gentle reader, I offer us one way to consider.  It is rooted in the Dagara people of West Africa.  The Dagara trace their origins to the region once known as the Gold Coast, now called Ghana.  The Dagara look to the Spirit World for the one who will assist the person in fulfilling his or her life’s purpose.  This spirit is akin to the People of the Book’s guardian angel.  For the Humanist it might be called ‘entheos’ — the life spirit that guides us and sustains us.  The Dagara called it ‘Siura.’  The Dagra also look to the physical world, the community of people, for help in remembering our purpose.  ‘Purpose’ is not assigned to the person by the community; ‘Purpose’ is something the person has framed and articulated PRIOR to coming into the community. This purpose is known to the community even before the person’s birth [I really like this idea].  How is this so?

The Dagara’s community is relatively small [we, in the West, have certainly lost this way of being together — many folks don’t even know the name of their next door neighbor].  When it is learned that a woman is pregnant people gather together and ask: ‘Why is this person being sent to us at this time?’  ‘What gifts will this person bring that our community needs?’  Shamans meet with the woman, hypnotize her and then contact the life force behind the fetus and invite it to speak through the mother.  The Shamans then speak with the fetus and ask it why it is coming into the world and what its mission [aka ‘purpose’] is to be.  The fetus then responds in a way that suggests that the individual-to-be had discerned a need in the world that they could address and that they presented this need to the Elders in the Spirit World. 

Once the council of Elders approves the proposal the individual is given permission to be born into a physical body.  In this way the community welcoming the infant has some idea of that person’s life-purpose and the community also sees its responsibility to help the person remember and live into and out of his or her chosen life’s purpose.

Sometimes this ritual is not available.  This does not stop the community from helping the person discern his or her life’s purpose.  The community has an obligation to note and name what the individual is ‘naturally’ drawn to.  What triggers excitement and passion in the young person?  What gifts and talents emerge as a result?  How can the community help the person more fully develop his/her gifts and talents?  What are the needs that exist within the community that the person can address with his/her gifts and talents?  This process is a ‘calling forth’ process — it is truly an ‘educational’ process (from the root, ‘educare’ — to call forth). 

During your life, your Siura (guardian angel, life-sustaining spirit) is with you and is trying to work with you as closely as possible so that you will remember your life’s purpose and so that you will walk the path that you have chosen.  Your Siura speaks to you through your dreams, your inspirations and your instincts (your ‘first nature,’ if you will).

 [TO BE CONTINUED] 

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