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Archive for April, 2021

GOD UPS THE ANTE!

Recently I have been thinking about the ways that God not only invites us or challenges us but the way that God ups the ante.  For example, one daunting challenge that God invites us to embrace is: Love one another as I have loved you!  Tough enough for us – certainly for me. 

God sits around and says to those listening – ‘That’s pretty good, but I think I will up the ante.’  For Christians God ups the ante with: But I say unto you that hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. [Luke 6:27]

Loving one another is challenging enough for me.  How can I even begin to accept God’s invitation and challenge to love my enemies? 

Well, for thousands of years the great wisdom figures have provided us with some guidance.  Simply stated this involves developing and enhancing the discipline, practice and art of looking.  What does this mean?  Consider the following and then I invite you, Gentle Reader, to engage the art of looking.

Each time you find yourself irritated or angry with another the one you look at is not the person – the one you look at is yourself.  The wisdom figures remind us that it begins IN HERE, not out there.  A question to ask is not ‘What’s wrong with that person?’ but ‘What does this irritation tell me about myself?’  Say to yourself: ‘The cause of my irritation is not in that person but is in me!’ 

Now think: ‘How am I causing this irritation?’  The wisdom figures have provided us some insight.  One insight is that we are irritated the most by others because what irritates us actually resides within us (psychologists, and others, call this ‘projection’ – if I project this on to you then I don’t have to deal with it).  Thank the person for revealing yourself to your self. 

Or, consider this: Perhaps the other’s words and behavior are pointing out something in your own life – something you refuse to see and acknowledge.  One of the reasons that wisdom figures have had such a difficult time is because we don’t like ourselves to be revealed to ourselves.

Or, consider this: Perhaps we become irritated with the other because he or she does not live up to our expectations.  Their being imperfect reminds us of our own imperfections – they are a mirror to our own soul.  We forget that we do not have the right to expect anyone to live up to our expectations. 

Finally, the wisdom figures have counseled us for thousands of years that if we truly seek to understand the other we would ‘see’ that the other is crippled, wounded, fearful, and imperfect JUST LIKE WE ARE.  We are less irritated with folks who are like us. 

Now all of this is challenging enough when it comes to folks we know – folks who are not our enemies, folks who simply irritate us.  How much more challenging is it for us to then love our enemies?  God ups the ante!  Am I willing to go all in with God?  Well… I’ll have to get back to you on that one. 

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UNQUALIFIED ACCEPTANCE

Recently I was reading the words of a wise person and this person counseled that one should always accept the person even when one is criticizing the person’s behavior.  I have spent some time thinking about this counsel. Following are some of what has, thus far, emerged into my consciousness. 

Is there an example of unqualified acceptance than in the person who moved easily, without being self-conscious, among tax-collectors, publicans, prostitutes, those who were outcasts (for any number of reasons) and who at the time of his death between two thieves accepted and welcomed the one who asked (pleaded?) to be with him in paradise? 

Jesus.  His easy unselfconscious acceptance of all no matter their behavior seemed to be rooted in unconditional love and in a belief (or was it hope) that each had potential to become better than they were. 

I am not able to exaggerate the effect his unqualified acceptance had on the impetuous vacillating Peter, on Mary Magdalene, to the despised tax man Zaccheus, to those who were near despair when it came to their ever having their sight restored. 

Jesus.  He stubbornly rejected their surface appearances.  He ignored society’s judgement of them.  ‘Let you who is without sin cast the first stone.’  He penetrated the heavy wrappings that they had clothed themselves in and that society had added to and revealed their deep yearnings, their near hopeless longings.  He accepted, blessed, healed – he refused to judge the person.  He, with great clarity, observed and honored God residing within each one. 

Unqualified Acceptance.  This is also powerfully described in the Grand Inquisitor scene in Dostoevsky’s Brother Karamazov.  Jesus has appeared again.  This time Jesus is walking the streets of 16th Century Seville.  As he heals those he meets the common folk begin to recognize Him.  He causes a commotion of sorts and is arrested by the Grand Inquisitor’s guard.  In prison Jesus and the Grand Inquisitor meet alone.

The Grand Inquisitor – a Cardinal in the Church – begins: ‘I accuse…’  In response to tsunami after tsunami of rationalization and self-justification of the course that has been taken by the Church in order to ‘correct’ his original work, Jesus remains silent and accepting (of the person).  Jesus does not react by accusing.  Jesus does not defend.  Jesus listens in accepting silence (accepting of the person).  Slowly Jesus’ accepting listening penetrates to the core of the Grand Inquisitor and reduces him to silence.  The Cardinal commands Jesus to leave and never return. 

Jesus, in silence, crosses the room, kisses the aged Cardinal on his bloodless lips and departs.  The Cardinal has been revealed to himself as a result of being silently listened to and openly accepted (as a person). 

The Cardinal now stood on a threshold.  He could run after Jesus and follow or he could turn back in despair.  He turned and took a step back (I often wonder if the Cardinal wept bitter tears as Peter and Judas did after their betrayal). 

Love one another as I have loved you. –Jesus

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During the past eight weeks or so I have found myself returning to three companion topics: ‘Call,’ ‘Compassion’ & ‘Displacement.’ Given all that continues to unfold and enfold in our world I am not surprised that these continue to emerge into my consciousness. 

Gentle Reader, I invite you to join me as I continue to reflect upon these three topics, invitations, and challenges.  Definitions are crucial and each of these can be defined in a number of ways.  For our exploration/reflection I invite us to hold the following three definitions.

Call = I have gifts, talents and abilities and the world has needs.  My ‘Call’ invites me and challenges me to identify the needs that exist in my/the world and then to use my gifts, talents and abilities to serve those needs.

Compassion = Compassion, rooted in Latin, means ‘to suffer with.’ When we suffer ‘with’ we are also ‘called’ to serve. 

Displacement = to move from the ordinary.  ‘Suffering with’ and responding to our ‘Call’ requires me to ‘move from the ordinary.’ 

Most of us are raised to live ‘ordinary’ lives.  Some are ‘Called’ to ‘suffer with’ and to respond to the other’s suffering and this ‘response’ often requires us to ‘move from the ordinary.’ 

We are raised to want to be ordinary and proper and to live ordinary and proper lives.  If we move from the ordinary and if we seek to discern a ‘Call’ to become ‘Compassionate’ we might well become disturbed by what we discern.  In order to discern our ‘Call’ we must ‘Show Up!’ and ‘Pay Attention!’ and ‘Become Open!’ to the guide who calls us to choose displacement. 

As far as I have been able to discern all faith and humanistic traditions challenge us to discern our call, to choose to suffer with and to move from the ordinary.  For Christians here are a few of the invitations (challenges?) that are, more than not, disturbing.  I list them in no particular order.

Leave your father and mother.  Let the dead bury the dead.  Keep your hand on the plow and do not look back.  Sell what you own, give the money to the poor and come follow me. These are challenging enough.  But the one who invites us also ups the ante with this one (given the state of our world this invitation – NO – this ‘Command’ continues to be the most challenging): A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you MUST love one another.

For Christians, the Gospels confront us with this persistent, disturbing, challenging voice – a ‘Voice’ that invites us and commands us to move from where we are comfortable, from where we want to stay, from where, in fact, we feel at home. 

Over time, as we seek to discern and respond to our ‘Call’ to ‘suffer with’ and to ‘move from the ordinary’ we become aware of our own inner brokenness and if we accept and learn to carry our wounds with grace we are more open to and able to discern, embrace and respond to the sufferings of the other(s). 

All faith-humanistic traditions were also clear: No one person can respond, suffer with or leave the ordinary on his/her own.  Community is necessary.  A Community supports us and provides us with a safe haven where we can be unconditionally accepted (all members are like us, suffering, broken and in need of compassion and healing). 

I can write more but this will have to suffice for now.  As I search for a way of concluding this morning I keep returning to these words: Love one another as I have loved you!  What an ‘Invitation,’ what a ‘Call’ and what a ‘Command.’

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SIX QUESTIONS

A few thousand years ago a guy names Socrates challenged the establishment by simply asking questions.  He was so successful that he was condemned to death as a consequence.  Here are Six of his Questions:

  • What is virtue?
  • What is moderation?
  • What is justice?
  • What is good?
  • What is courage?
  • What is piety?

Also, a few thousand years ago the Abrahamic tradition influenced three faiths – the Jewish Faith, the Christian Faith, and the Muslim Faith (the three are known as ‘The People of the Book’).  The Abrahamic Tradition also challenged the establishment by asking questions; here are Six of those Questions:

  • How should one deal with evil?  What is evil?
  • What is our relation to the enemy?  Who is the enemy?
  • What shall one do about envy, jealousy and covetousness?
  • What is the meaning of honesty?
  • How should one face the challenge of loneliness?
  • What does our tradition [The Abrahamic Tradition] teach us about violence and indifference to injustice?

How much time do ‘we’ spend reflecting upon, addressing and engaging these twelve questions?  Fifteen years ago I had the privilege of spending time with 7th and 8th grade students (A ‘Charter’ elementary school) and together we engaged these twelve questions.  During the same three year period I also facilitated what I called ‘The Philosopher’s Café.’  A local coffee shop hosted the Café.  We gathered together once a week for more than 30 weeks and engaged these twelve questions – plus others that emerged as we explored together.

Our commitment in each setting was to seek, to search, to listen with undefended receptivity and to learn together.  Sitting here this morning I am fondly remembering the experiences I had with the 7th and 8th grade students and with those who joined us at night for the ‘Philosopher’s Café’ (as I recall, the youngest Café participant was ten years old and the oldest was in her 80s). 

Today I invite you, Gentle Reader, to spend some time with these twelve questions – reflect upon them and be open to what emerges into your consciousness.  You might also invite others to join you and then you can search together.  Several thousand years ago another wise person counseled us: ‘Seek and you will find.’ 

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HUMOR. . .

Gentle Reader, if you have been spending time with my blog entries you already know that I love good – not-so-good — humor.  I also love paradoxes.  Some of the humor I enjoy the most is conveyed by paradox.  So on this arctic cold day in April   (yesterday it was the very snowy day) – it is now 29 degrees here in Indianapolis – I have decided to share some of my favorite quotations that are paradoxes and that I also find to be of good-to-great humor and are also embedded with wisdom.  So without further ado:

A friend once told me that he had to learn that he was unique but not different.  Margaret Mead captured this quite well when she wrote: ‘Always remember that you are absolutely unique – you are just like everyone else.’  This is a twist on another famous quote [perhaps you will recall it when you read the following]: ‘There are some ideas that are so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe them.’ –George Orwell

This is one that my son lived by when he was young – he followed it faithfully.  ‘When all else fails, read the instructions.’ –Agnes Allen

This is one that I have, at times during my life, enjoyed living out.  ‘It’s easier to suffer in silence if you are sure someone is watching.’  [Written by the most quoted person in history – Anonymous]

During my adult years I have enjoyed reading in a variety of disciplines; some of which were un-understandable to me.  This quote from the physicist Niels Bohr continues to comfort me. ‘If you aren’t confused by Quantum Physics, then you haven’t really understood it.’ 

I’ve had the privilege of visiting seven different countries and 24 of our fifty states; the following quote is universal, it seems: ‘Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.’  –George Burns

The following reminds me that it is not always possible to know true from false. ‘There is a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.’ –Winston Churchill

The following quote succinctly captures what a therapist told me fifty years ago. ‘I told the psychiatrist I was overtired, anxiety-ridden, compulsively active, constantly depressed, with recurring fits of paranoia.  Turns out I’m normal.’ –Jules Feiffer

The following supports pessimists. ‘If there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then nine times out of ten it will.’ –Paul Harvey

This one is for the ethicist residing within [I am not sure of the author]: ‘Everything is relative, of that I’m sure.’

I will conclude today’s posting with a wonderful quote regarding leadership: ‘To lead the people, walk behind them.’ –Lao Tzu

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