Archive for April, 2021

In 1859 Charles Dickens wrote the following words; words that have haunted many of us since then.  Dickens wrote:

It was the best of times,

It was the worst of times,

It was the age of wisdom,

It was the age of foolishness,

It was the epoch of belief,

It was the epoch of incredulity,

It was the season of light,

It was the season of darkness,

It was the spring of hope,

It was the winter of despair,

We had everything before us,

We had nothing before us,

We were all going direct to heaven,

We were all going direct the other way. . .

And so it was! 

And so it is!

These lines continue to cause me to pause and reflect.  Gentle reader, in what ways do these lines speak to you – if they speak to you at all. 

Here is one of my favorite photos of Charles Dickens.

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I have once again been re-reading and reflecting upon Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail.’  Gentle Reader, this morning I will offer you some of what has emerged for me in response to his 1963 epistle and I will invite you to read, or re-read, and reflect upon King’s letter and how it continues to speak to us today. 

Where do I choose to stand?  And what price am I willing to pay?  It seems clear to me that King is stating clearly: This is where I choose to stand

QUESTIONS:  Where do I choose to stand?  And when do I declare this?  What is the benefit of my choosing and declaring?  What is the cost?  What is the effect upon me?  What is the effect upon the other(s)?  What is the response I receive?  What is the reaction I receive?  If no one notices have I actually taken a stand? 

King writes: In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.’

QUESTIONS:  Campaign = a systematic course of activities for some specific purpose.  Given this definition — What are some of the ‘campaigns’ that I take part in?  What motivates me to participate in a given campaign?  What hinders me?  How do I determine the ‘facts’ that I need?  How do I go about gathering the ‘facts’?  When do I ignore the ‘facts’?  Why do I choose to do so?  How do I determine whether to ‘negotiate’ or not?  How do I determine whether ‘negotiation’ is integral to a given campaign?  Is the first ‘negotiation’ I engage in the one I have with myself?  How do I determine who else needs to be involved in a given negotiation?  What is this ‘self-purification’?  Given my definition, how do I determine if it is a necessary step in a given campaign? 

King writes that during their time of preparation and self-purification that they repeat and engage this question: ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’  Am I going to be vulnerable?  Am I going to purpose-fully put myself at risk?  Am I going to carry the wound I receive with grace and honor OR am I going to seek to strike back or hold a resentment until I can pay you back later?  [Note: You might remember from previous postings that the root of ‘vulnerable’ is the Latin ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound gracefully.’]  Finally, what does ‘direct action’ look like for me?  How often do I come up short when it comes to taking ‘direct action’?  What is the outcome that I seek when I take direct action?  What is the effect of my taking direction – upon myself and upon the other(s)?  What are the intended and unintended consequences of my taking direct action?  As I reflect upon the entire process, what have I learned?  What has served me well?  What has served the other(s) well?  To what extent has my serving been potentially immoral? 

Gentle reader, I invite you to emerge more questions; questions that will serve you where you are at this time in your life.  And as the great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke does, I invite you to live your questions each day and ‘perhaps someday you will live into the answers.’       

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I spent the first 18 years of my life in a small, Midwestern city.  For the first 12 years of my life we lived in a house on a corner.  There was some traffic but not a great deal, as I recall.  When I was about eight years old I was standing near the corner one fine day when a car slowly pulled up and stopped.  I am sitting here with my eyes closed re-imaging the scene and feeling the same fear and fascination; I wanted to run and I wanted to approach.  I have words for these feelings today: Xenophobia is fear of the stranger and Xenophilia is a fascination with what is different or foreign. 

The stranger evokes these responses.  When we label the stranger as ‘outsider’ these responses are magnified.  Perhaps it is in our ‘first-nature’ – that nature which has been with us for thousands of years and is housed in the ‘old’ reptile part of our brain.  As a species it certainly has served us well, for here we are today.  It has also hindered us in many ways; it still does.

Uncritical trust (not mis-trust as such) of the new and stranger (or stranger) can be foolish trust.  Even if the stranger brings gifts we might well be wary of the gifts as we are of the stranger.  The gifts and the stranger might well invite us to change – I might change, you might change, we, the community, might change.  Even the great Chinese sage, Lao Tsu suggested that human communities be small and self-contained.  He also suggested that they be located with enough distance between them so that a ‘stranger’ (or was it an ‘outsider’) might not be able to just drop in for a visit. 

At the extreme – which, unfortunately is not all that uncommon – xenophobia results in fears that leads us to vilify, demean and even harm the stranger.  At minimum we isolate or ignore or shun the stranger in our midst.  When I was in Australia I met a man who was then in his late 40s; he had moved to Australia when he was 18 and even after thirty years there he was still treated by many as an outsider. 

There is another side to this paradox.  Xenophilia involves the love of the stranger; more than tolerance or even acceptance.  Xenophilia enables us to welcome the stranger; it enables us to invite the stranger in; it enables us to be hospitable to the stranger.  It allows us to be open to the stranger’s voice and story and to then honor both.  Xenophilia allows us to inquire about the stranger in ways which promote the development of a caring relationship.  The Old Testament admonishes us: ‘You shall love the stranger’ and to ‘show hospitality to strangers.’  Xenophilia helps us nurture into life engagement rather than estrangement. 

More than ever today, we are faced with ‘strangers’ no matter which way we turn.  Almost daily we have the opportunity to encounter different cultures, faith-traditions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, races, cultures and values that might well seem ‘strange,’ if not ‘alien,’ to us.  With each encounter we have choice.  We can respond with the heart of Xenophobia or with the heart of Xenophilia.  During this Easter season – a season of renewal — how will I choose to respond to the many strangers that appear at on my life-path? 

Like the eight year-old, will I take the risk and approach the stranger; will I reach out to the stranger with the expectation that I will be able to connect with the stranger and that I will be able to be of service to him or her?  I can see the car window opening slowly.  I can see the man’s face, now smiling at me.  I can hear his words: ‘We are lost.  How do we get to Highway 23?’  I know the way.  I provide the directions.  The man smiles, thanks me and slowly drives away.  I smile.  I am feeling sad now as I consider how that scene might be played out today.        

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For a time, the sky was clear yesterday.  As I standing near my car I looked up at the blue sky.  I noticed the vapor trails of an airplane (or was it a UFO).  I began to recall my many flights to Singapore and for a minute or so I stood there looking up at the sky remembering with gratitude and love those I had the privilege of being with during my visits to this far-away country.  As I settled in this morning I again visited Singapore.  As I imaged my traveling there I began to think about all of the security check-points that I needed to visit both coming and going.  Airport security check-points.  You don’t need a degree or a certain income or status or even shoes on your feet.  What you need is a verifiable identity.  Nothing will enable you to get through an airport security check-point except a verifiable document that affirms who you really are.   

Who we really are!  The most valuable gift we bring to our/the world is our self.  The more I embrace the Oracle of Delphi’s admonition ‘to know thy self’ the more I am able to bring my-self to my/the world.  Knowing my self enables me to engage others with the understanding that I have gifts, abilities and talents to offer and that I am called to receive them and their gifts, talents and abilities. 

The most valuable gift I bring to my work is myself.  The wonderful poet and author, John O’Donohue reflects that it is our deeper self that we bring to our work.  He writes: The invisible within us finds a form, and comes to expression.  Therefore our work should be the place where the soul can enjoy becoming visible and present.  The rich unknown, reserved and precious within us, can emerge into visible form.

I believe that my work becomes service when I view it as more than something that has to be done.  My work becomes service when it is a response to my call – to using my gifts, talents and abilities to meet a need that exists in my/the world and to do so rooted in joy. 

My work becomes service when I view what I have to offer as my ministry, a ministry rooted in love.  My work becomes service when I hold in trust those who have invited me into their lives.  My work becomes service when I call forth the voice and story that the other needs to bring to his/her world. 

My work becomes service when I choose to respond even though I am feeling inadequate or doubt-full.  My work becomes service when the same ‘self’ that walks through the airport security check-points walks through the doors of those I am called to serve – whether they be literal doors or the doors that lead to their hearts and souls. 

As I recall, Jesus did not call any perfect people, not a one.  This gives me hope.  I can enter into my work as service not as one who will ‘walk the talk’ but as one who will ‘stumble the mumble.’  I bring my strengths and limitations.  I bring my virtues and my vices.  I bring my-self.  A question:  How much of what I will choose today will be ‘just plain work’ and how much will be ‘work as service?’ 

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