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Archive for April, 2021

IMAGINATION, CREATIVITY, HUMOR

During the past few days I was thinking about imagination, creativity and humor.  Three things stimulated my thinking.  One of these was a quotation from Horace Walpole’s ‘Man of Letters.’  Here is Walpole: ‘Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not.  A sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is.’

Gentle Reader, as you might remember my son, Nathan, is an artist.  During my reflections these past few days I was thinking about Nathan and the many ways his imagination, creativity and sense of humor combine and emerge in his art.  Yesterday as I was opening my refrigerator and while I was continuing to hold my son in my thoughts I found myself asking a ‘Nathan Question’: What if we slept in our refrigerators? 

I sat down and put pen to page as I held the three words: Imagination-Creativity-Humor.  Here is some of what emerged into my consciousness as I held the question: What if we slept in our refrigerators?

Well, Gentle Reader, we might well dream about skiing, ice skating, snowball fights and slipping on ice.  Our heads might lie in the freezer and we would experience a deep sleep.  If we kept our money in the refrigerator’s freezer we would have some cold hard cash.  ‘Not tonight dear, I have a head cold’ might be a common refrain.  We could, literally, reach out for a midnight ice-cream snack – yummy.  What else could happen? 

I love Nathan’s imagination, creativity and humor.  He works with clay.  At times he might even work with silly putty.  Nathan’s asks ‘what if’ questions fueled by his sense of humor – these questions free up his imagination and what emerges through his fingers as he manipulates the clay (or is it, indeed silly putty) brings smiles to our faces. 

As I was thinking about all of this I began to recall a number of riddles that are also good laugh releasers.  These are, some would say, ‘classics.’

Question: What do you call a clairvoyant midget who just broke out of prison?

Answer: A small medium at large.

Question: Why did the ‘wanna be’ explorer buy a sheet of sand paper?

Answer: He was told that it was a map of the Sahara Desert.

OK… not quite the funny bone ticklers.  How about exploring some conversion factors?  Consider these:

3 1/3 tridents = 1 decadent

4 seminaries = 1 binary

1 milli-Helen = the amount of beauty required to launch just 1 ship.

I leave us this morning with a quotation that captures Imagination-Creativity-Humor (thanks to Margaret Thornley):

Beet ever so onion there snow peas legume.

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Recently I have been re-reading and re-savoring the Journal of John Woolman (Gentle Reader I invite you to seek out this wonder-full journal and I invite you to read and savor its contents).  For those who are familiar with Woolman’s story there is a well-known scene which takes place in an Indian village in Pennsylvania.  John Woolman was a Quaker.  During a religious meeting in the village Woolman rose to pray.  As Woolman prayed an interpreter began to translate his words into the Native language.  The Chief, Papunehang, motioned to the interpreter to cease translating.  After the meeting the Chief approached Woolman and through the interpreter said that even though he did not understand the English words that ‘I love where words come from.’ 

Perhaps if I-You-We would develop the art of listening which the Chief alluded to then I-You-We might find a pathway to understanding searching conversations and to find a pathway to deep prayer and to find a pathway to what Quakers call ‘Concerns.’

For more than twenty years I have relished searching conversations with my friend, Tamyra.  We would literally sit for hours and allow our searching to guide our conversation.  We would, at times, find ourselves saying things that astonished us.  At other times what we came to call ‘throw away lines’ would open a pathway to a deeper search. 

We gave one another a gift of listening – a pathway to clarity often opened before us as we listened rooted in curiosity.  At times I would find myself ranting against ‘them’ and because of Tamyra’s deep listening I began to realize that I was actually describing myself; ‘them’ became ‘me.’  When this insight occurred to me I was reduced to silence.  ‘Silence.’  During our long searching conversations we savored the silence.  We did not feel a need to fill the silence with ‘noise.’  We consciously strove to hold Greenleaf’s challenging question: ‘When you speak, how will your words improve on the silence?’

I have also had a different experience (I also believe, Gentle Reader, that you, too, have had the following experience).  I have sought to speak to a person about something that was burning me from within and I wished to share it so the listener might also feel my burning, my pain, my wound.  As I shared my burning I came to realize that the other was not ‘present’ with me.  The person was not an evil person.  The person was not a cruel person.  The person was not able to embrace me nor my ‘Concern.’  I left the experience, not angry, but sad.  The experience also helped me remember when I was such a listener and this realization added to my sadness. 

Then, of course, there is the listener who listens in order to give his/her own opinion or listens in order to defend or in order to refute or in order to provide a solution.  Listening with undefended receptivity in order to understand and in order to search together is a challenge – for me and I assume, Gentle Reader, for you too at times. 

This morning I am remember and relishing the deep searching conversations that I have been able to experience.  I am also, once again, recommitting myself to strive to be a person who seeks to listen with undefended searching receptivity and to become aware of the pathways that open when I-We listen in this way.

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NO GREATER LOVE. . .

Yesterday as I was waiting to be called for my physical therapy session I was thinking about what I might write for this entry.  I opened my little black book and read a number of quotations about ‘love.’  Eventually I focused on one.  I closed my eyes and then I remembered a story about love.  Before I share the story with you I will offer you, Gentle Reader, the quotation that I had focused on.

“For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been given to us, the ultimate, the final problem and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.” –Rainer Maria Rilke

LOVE – A STORY: It was a beautiful spring day.  The professor, Liviu Librescu, had just finished welcoming his students; his warmth permeated the room.  Suddenly the door burst open and a student crashed into the room.  ‘There is a crazy guy shooting everyone,’ he yelled.  ‘He’s coming down the hall now.’  Gun shots were heard.  Liviu calmly walked to the door, closed it and braced his body against the door.  He then told the students to climb out the windows. . .jump out as I recall.  Liviu Librescu was an English professor and a Romanian Jew who had survived the Nazis in his homeland.  Now he died in his classroom as he protected his students. . .those who had been entrusted to his care.  The killer shot through the door that Liviu was leaning against. 

Mother Teresa reminds us that “Intense love does not measure, it just gives.” The type of love that Liviu Librescu lived into is not rare; it is manifested in our world each day, if not each hour.  Unselfish people reside everywhere; their stories are available to us if we take the time and search for them.  We know these people.  They love deeply and dedicate themselves to alleviating suffering.  They are willing to give a great deal, even their all, for another.  These folks are not ‘martyrs’ or ‘do-gooders’ or ‘holier-than-thou’ people.  The kind of love that Liviu Librescu lived is seared by trials; it is purified by personal growth.  It is shaped by persistent commitment, at times to rededication, and self-giving that steps beyond the threshold of duty or obligation.  You cannot ‘pay’ this person to love in this way; no amount of money or recognition or reward can motivate one to love in this way. 

The love demonstrated by Liviu Librescu does not emerge overnight.  For many of us, it takes a lifetime of preparation.  We prepare ourselves without knowing what we are preparing for and yet when the time comes to love, when the invitation is there and when the opportunity presents itself we do not hesitate. . .we do not question, we simply act rooted in deep love. 

I don’t know if I would have the courage (‘courage’ comes from the Old French ‘cuer’ which means ‘heart’) to love as Liviu Librescu did.  I do know that I am capable of unselfish giving and unqualified support and I, as you do gentle reader, have many opportunities to do so.  These opportunities present themselves in our homes, while standing in check-out lines, in our workplaces, as we are driving our cars, as we are waiting to be served by others (we can add to this list if we choose to do so). 

If I choose to carry a bit of the burden, if I choose to share in the suffering, if I choose to truly see the other that is before me, then some will not have to bear a heavier burden and others will not have to suffer as much and some will be honored simply because I choose to recognize them as being truly human in my eyes.  Of course, for me, the operative words in all of this are ‘I choose.’  I am sitting here remembering Liviu Librescu who chose to love deeply on 16 April, 2007. 

St. John was right, I think: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . .”

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A few weeks ago I received an email from a close Singaporean friend.  Among other things, she thanked me for learning to listen to her; my learning and my subsequent listening were gifts to her.  I am remembering my first trip to Singapore – the first of many during a 12+ year span.  I was guiding a three day ‘worktreat’ (part workshop and part retreat) and there were 30 participants.  After the first day I had dinner with my hosts.  I reflected to them that I could not ‘read’ the participants; I knew there were cultural issues afoot and I knew that there were things I could improve on but I was not able to obtain the feedback that I needed (one person did suggest, after some prodding, that I ‘write larger on the flip chart’).  My hosts looked at me and then one of them said: ‘Just Observe & Listen!’  ‘Observe & Listen and you will learn!’ 

Most of us ‘know’ that our world is shrinking and it will continue to shrink.  We can now have daily interactions with a multitude of cultures.  How are we going to listen across cultures?  Are we going to intentionally and purposefully strive to understand the variety of cultures that we are going to encounter?  Singapore, like the United States, is culture rich and because Singapore is a small country one will be exposed to a multitude of cultures on a daily, if not hourly, basis.  For example, within a worktreat I would encounter Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Australian, Indian, Filipino, German, and English cultures (and then there are the sub-cultures present within these). 

For some of these cultures (or sub-cultures) I am an ‘elder’ and so I will not be criticized.  I might not even have a person look into my eyes.  I will not be approached unless I invite the person to approach me.  For other cultures I will be ‘the expert’ who is to be challenged and questioned (so I can prove my expertise).  For other cultures I will be immediately approached for it is a belief that I am there to ‘serve’ them.  When I am approached, some will come within inches of my face (literally) and others will remain a few feet away and will keep distance even if invited to come closer.  I have had the privilege of being in seven different countries and one of the differences is how folks queue up (i.e. line up).  Some cultures require one to ‘take and hold your place in line and move up when it is your turn.’  Other cultures say ‘the crowd is the thing and it is necessary to push and shove your way forward’ or you will get left out.  For the former, a person ‘cutting the line’ is seen as ‘bad’ while in the latter, a person who cuts to the front is seen as a ‘take charge person.’ 

I had to learn that cultural patterns were important; especially when it came to listening.  I had to move beyond my own cultural assumptions if I was going to learn to listen intently and receptively to a person rooted in another culture.  How do I learn about and adjust to the other’s culture rather than expect him or her to adjust to mine?  Am I willing to give a gift to the other (and to myself) by learning about his or her cultural norms – and then by honoring these norms?

I am smiling.  I am remembering bowing to a woman whose culture is Chinese; we were concluding a capacity development session and I was going to each participant and thanking them for choosing to be with us.  The first person I went to was this woman.  I approached her and bowed to her before I spoke.  She laughed and said: ‘Wrong Culture Mr. Richard.’  I looked puzzled.  ‘Chinese,’ she said, ‘not Japanese.’  And she smiled brightly.  I blushed and then laughed.  The room erupted in laughter and all of a sudden everybody was bowing to everybody else.  Ah.  This might appear to be mockery.  But it wasn’t.  It was a time of great caring.  Being in the culture had taught me that.  The caring: Asian cultures are more reserved UNLESS you have been accepted into the culture; then great humor will be unleashed.  I felt part of the culture at that moment.  A gift I carry in my heart each time I remember the scene.  In addition, my ‘teacher’ of the moment also reminded me that culture does matter. . .Really!    

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Good morning Gentle Reader.  Today is my mother’s birthday.  I will honor her this morning by sharing with you the Eulogy that I wrote and offered during her funeral service on 30 November, 2002.  My mother, Dorothy Harriet [Schwietz] Smith was born on 10 April, 1914.  Here is my Eulogy:

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 Reader, 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.].  …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!

This is a photo of mom and dad on their 60th Wedding Anniversary. 

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