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Archive for May, 2022

MY MENTORS, PART II

First, I need to be clear: Words, whether, as in this blog, few or many will not capture the impact that each of the following mentors had – and still have – upon me. In addition no words can begin to capture the deep gratitude I have for each of these mentors, so at this point a simple ‘Thank you’ will have to suffice.  Here are two of the four mentors as they appeared in my life.

Larry Kelly.  I was 11 years old and in the 5th grade when Coach Kelly walked down the hall, stopped and greeted me.  I was ‘big’ for my age, had a birth defect which enabled me to run with a limp, I was in Coach’s words ‘agile without speed.’  He invited me to join the 5th grade basketball team.  For some reason I decided to give it a go.  He saw talents in me and natural abilities that I did not know I possessed – he insistently called these forth.  He was gruff and kind, intense and caring.  He loved kids.  For four years he discerned, called forth, challenged, and affirmed ME and my latent and developing abilities.  For example, Coach Kelly identified that I had great eye-hand coordination; he called this forth, helped me develop it, and found ways to help me make a contribution (both to the basketball team and to the softball team).  I sit here this morning, I close my eyes and I tear up as I savor his face looking at me smiling his affirming yet challenging smile. 

Stan Swast.  I was 12 years old.  It was early May.  Because of his birth defect my dad did not think he could play golf.  He did belong to a country club however.  My dad came home early that Tuesday afternoon, told me to get in the car as he and I were going to go for a drive.  He drove to the country club and as we parked he announced that someone in the family was going to learn to play golf and I was the one.  He then announced that I was about to have my first golf lesson.  I did not want to do this.  Stan Swast showed upon on the range with a bucket of golf balls and a five iron.  He handed me the five iron, threw a ball on the ground and said: ‘Hit the ball!’  I had been thinking about this.  I replied: ‘I am left handed and this is a right handed club, I cannot hit the ball.’  Stan did not miss a beat.  ‘All great golfers are left handed and play golf right handed; hit the ball.’  I did and within three tries I was hooked.  Stan was my coach for six years.  I cannot recall his ever criticizing me.  He called my abilities forth by naming them and by encouraging me and by building on what was going well.  He helped me accept that although I did not have a ‘killer instinct’ that I could play great golf by focusing on the course, then on the hole I was on, then on the shot I was about to hit.  Image it and hit it!  Simple.  He affirmed my quiet nature and my caring about my opponent and to focus on the shot I was about to hit. I could easily write pages about the hours I spent with Stan off the practice tee in and around the pro shop, but space is limited. 

Perhaps the real gift in all of this was that my dad, who insisted on taking me to my lessons and who sat in a chair and watched me as I practiced announced after my first year of lessons: ‘I can do this!’ And he, at age 52, with a disability, took up the game (as then did my mother).  He did have a killer instinct — as did my mother; folks did not want to play them in match play.  Stan Swast gave us a triple gift – he gifted Me, he gifted my Dad and he gifted my Mother.  I close my eyes and I hear his calm voice affirming me; again, my eyes tear up.        

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MY MENTORS, PART I 

A few weeks ago I was immersing myself in Homer’s writing.  Homer had introduced me to the concept of ‘Mentor’ via the person ‘Mentor.’  As I thought about Homer’s ‘Mentor’ I began to think about the Mentors that have been my guides.  After some more reflection I decided to write a bit about the concept ‘Mentor’ and provide a few examples from my own life.  ‘Mentor’ is a word that is bandied about these days; like ‘coach’ its meaning has become so general that we seem to have lost its original meaning. 

Consider the root of ‘Mentor’.’  Homer tells us that Mentor was an ‘elder’ and a wise man.  As Odysseus was preparing to leave for the Trojan War he chose Mentor to guide his young son, Telemachus.  Thanks to Homer we have a name for a wise elder that calls forth the potential in another.  A mentor is wise.  Becoming wise is no easy feat, hence a mentor is ‘old’ and has ‘lived a full life’ and has learned and continues to learn; too often the modern mentor is not wise, and is often too ‘young’. 

Traditionally, a mentor is not a bringer of comfort or solace.  A mentor challenges one’s thinking and one’s self-perception.  A mentor ‘sees’ the gifts, talents, abilities, and potentials that lie dormant within the person and then calls them forth (sometimes the mentor even names them).  A mentor is not assigned.  A mentor shows up and it is up to the person to invite the mentor into his/her life.  If the person is not ready the mentor will not be recognized – if the person is not seeking and searching and if the person is not open to meeting his/her mentor then the mentor will not be revealed.  The person often ‘resists’ the mentor’s ‘calling forth.’  The mentor, however, is adamant and continues challenging the person by ‘naming,’ ‘calling forth,’ and ‘challenging’ – the mentor is also affirming and strives to help the mentee build upon his/her strengths and develop or develop more fully the mentee’s potentials. 

The relationship will eventually end (my mentor relationships have lasted, on average, six years).  The person might terminate the relationship – prematurely.  The mentor might terminate the relationship – ‘I have provided all that I can provide.’  Once in a while the person will discern that the mentor has provided all that he/she can provide.  I have never had a mentor relationship that terminated because both of us agreed ‘Now is the time!’

I continue to hold a question: ‘Does my mentor have to actually be in my life?’  I have, for example, been deeply affected by 3-4 authors; through their writings they have called me forth and have helped me identify ‘potentials’ that I was not fully aware of possessing.  The mentors who were living human beings in my life – who interacted with me face-to-face – and are now no longer present to me as fully human beings – continue to guide me when I reflect upon how they called me forth.  This is a question I will continue to hold.  

Next time I will begin to briefly describe four of my mentors.  Two appeared in my life when I was young and two appeared later in my life (one when I was in my late 20s and one when I was in my late 40s).  Each saw in me ‘potentials’ that were dormant and each called them forth.  Even today they continue to ‘gift’ me in surprising ways (or in ‘reminding ways’).  Here are their names: Larry Kelly, Stan Swast, Lowell Colston, and R.T. Williams.  By the by, a few of the authors that continue to call me forth include: Henri Nouwen, Douglas Steere, Robert K. Greenleaf, Eric Fromm, Leo Tolstoy, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. 

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The way we learn not to commit evil is to experience an event from the perspective of the victim. –Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Consider, Gentle Reader that the ‘Joseph Story’ resolves the tensions that exist within sibling rivalry.  Moreover, the Book of Genesis teaches us about failure and about learning from failure – discovering that we can, indeed, transform.  Jacob discovers this after his long night of wrestling with the ‘angel.’  Jacob’s sons discover it after a long period of fear and challenge.  The learning: The defeat of tragedy in the name of hope.  Remember, Gentle Reader that the Greek Tragedies ended, not in hope, but in tragedy.  The ‘hope’ engendered by Genesis also replaces the ‘rage’ residing in ‘tragedy’ with the hope AND the experience that we can transform. 

What is one of the tap roots that nurtures transformation?  Consider: Role Reversal.  A fundamental reality about consciousness is that one cannot feel the other’s pain.  One is only able to feel his/her own pain. 

This limitation is a major reason why we humans have a tendency (or is it a compulsion) to divide the world into brothers and others, into kin and non-kin, into friends and strangers, into ‘We’ and ‘Them’ and into those who belong and to those who do not belong.  Consider: The covenantal family, the children of Israel, began their life as a nation in Egypt as slaves.  Why?  They needed to experience from the inside what it felt like to be ‘on the other side.’ 

In the ‘Joseph Story’ that is what Joseph is striving to get his siblings to do.  He is striving to educate them in ‘otherness’ via ‘Role Reversal.’  Joseph’s brothers must experience what he experienced – becoming a slave in a foreign land; a land far from home.  Now, Gentle Reader, this is not revenge.  Joseph has no desire for revenge.  It is, however, the only way his brothers will have an opportunity to understand what evil feels like from the side of the victim.  This experience, this opportunity, is needed for it is the prelude to repentance.  Repentance is one of the most compelling proofs that we are truly free to choose – in this case, to choose to transform as a sign of repentance. 

Cain was able to kill his brother, Abel, because he was not able to feel Abel’s pain and hence he focused on his own pain – the pain of being rejected.  As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us: ‘The way we learn not to commit evil is to experience an event from the perspective of the victim.’  In the ‘Joseph Story’ Judah’s repentance – his transformation – demonstrates that he is, indeed, his brother Benjamin’s keeper and thus he is able to redeem his earlier sin of betraying his brother Joseph. 

Consider that the central question of Genesis is: Are we human beings friends or strangers, brothers or others?  This question has been lingering with us since Cain and Abel.  Genesis is about recognition and non-recognition in the deepest sense, about our willingness to accord dignity to the other rather than to see the other as a threat.  Genesis is a sustained exploration of recognition and estrangement, closeness and distance, acceptance and rejection. 

Genesis reminds us (or teaches us) that if only we were to listen closely to the voice of the ‘other’ then we might find that beneath the ‘skin’ we ARE, indeed, brothers and sisters and that God is truly the God of us all. 

When others are transformed into brothers and conflict is transformed into conciliation THEN we have taken a few steps on the journey to repentance and reconciliation and to becoming the global-family that God wishes us to become.  All of this, of course begins with ‘ME’ and not with thee. 

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

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An apology offered and, equally important, received is a step towards reconciliation. –Margaret MacMillan

Greetings Gentle Reader.  As I noted as I concluded PART I, ‘Few things have been denied more often, and more variously, than human freedom.’ 

Consider ‘Fate’ – the Greek concept of ‘ananke’.  Fate is in the hands of the gods – an ancient concept (well, perhaps for some today a current concept).  With ‘progress’ it was attributed to divine (Calvin) or physical (Spinoza) determinism, or economic forces (Marx) or the experiences of early childhood (Freud) or genetic determinism (the neo-Darwinians). 

The Hebrew Bible (for us Christians and Muslims, ‘The Old Testament’) stresses that if our behavior is no more than the effects of causes over which we have no control, then we, indeed, inhabit a world that is tragically configured.  Against ‘Fate-Determinism’ the ‘Bible’ stresses faith – God’s Faith – in ‘Freedom’ [Freedom to… Freedom from… Freedom for…]. 

Given this, consider that ‘Repentance’ is the proof that we can freely choose and thus transform (transform = a fundamental change in character). 

For example.  In the ‘Joseph Story’ in Genesis the Judah who offers to sacrifice his freedom so that Benjamin can go free is not the same man he was two decades earlier.  IF, each of us (or enough of us) can change ourselves (think, for example, ‘Repent and Reconcile’) we can, indeed, change the world. 

Consider that the ‘Joseph Story’ tells the story of man’s faith in God – AND – more significantly it tells the story of God’s faith in man. 

The ‘Joseph Story’ brings Genesis to closure by demonstrating that sibling rivalry IS NOT a given in we human’s story.  We humans can transform, repent, reconcile and grow physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. 

Joseph’s brothers demonstrate that they have transformed when they concretely show that they are no longer willing to let Benjamin (the ‘Joseph-Substitute’) become enslaved (physically and spiritually).  And, Joseph, by his act of reconciliation demonstrates that he is not captive of his being sold into slavery (his past) and he is not captive to ‘resentment’ (an ‘eye for an eye’).  Joseph’s statement: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good,’ demonstrates the power of a religious vision that can then reframe history (remember, Gentle Reader, the root of ‘religion’ is ‘religio’ which means ‘to rebind, to make whole, to heal’). 

‘Freedom,’ in a real sense, includes the freedom to reshape our understanding of the past and provides us the opportunity to heal from our legacy of inflicting pain upon one another (and from doing violence to ourselves). 

For me, this could not be more significant in the context of the sibling rivalry between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Truly, the past does not dictate nor predict the future.  ‘Repentance and Reconciliation’ are available to us siblings.  We three siblings have the opportunity to love one another as our God loves us.  We have the freedom to choose.  God is patient.  God is hopeful.  God is merciful.  God models for us, His children. 

In PART III we will revisit the ‘Joseph Story’ and, perhaps, learn more. 

Repentance and Reconciliation are decisions that you take in your heart. –Ingrid Betancourt

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Forgiveness is easy, repentance – true change of character – is difficult. –Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

For a number of months now, Gentle Reader, I have been immersing myself in the Book of Genesis.  There are a number of powerful themes contained in this Book and perhaps the most powerful and impactful is the theme of Sibling Rivalry

The first, as you might know, is the rivalry between Cain and Abel.  Because of their rivalry we humans could be in a greater world of hurt than we are, for ‘Hope’ and ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’ would not be available to us.  There are, in Genesis, three powerful sibling rivalries that over time demonstrated the power of ‘Hope,’ ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’.  These three also provide us a guide, a guide that we, today, might choose to follow.  Like most ‘Guides’ this one is simple but not simplistic for it requires ‘true change of character’ – a ‘transformation.’ 

The first occurs between Isaac and Ishmael and ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’ are implied.  Their story merely speaks of them standing together at Abraham’s funeral.  Then with Esau and Jacob, the brothers meet and embrace as friends and then part and go their separate ways.  ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’ is more than implied.  Finally, with Joseph and his brothers the path of ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’ is made very clear indeed – it is also ups the ante and restores ‘Hope.’

Consider, Gentle Reader, in the ‘Joseph Story’ the issue is not ‘FORGIVNESS.’  Remember, Joseph forgives his brothers without their asking for it, without their apology (a request for forgiveness), and well before he reveals who he is (the brother they sold into slavery). 

The challenge here is ‘Repentance’.  As Rabbi Sacks reminds us ‘Forgiveness is easy, repentance – true change of character – is difficult.’  It is ‘Repentance’ – moral growth – that the ‘Joseph Story’ challenges us to embrace. 

‘The People of the Book’ (Jews, Christians & Muslims) believe that our God – the God of Abraham – created us in His image and in doing so has graced us with ‘Free Will’.  We have the freedom to choose the ‘good’ and we have the freedom to choose the ‘evil.’ 

Consider the early chapters of Genesis.  We can feel God’s pain and disappointment.  Adam and Eve are followed by Cain who is followed by the ‘People of the Flood.  Even with all of this to-do God never considers taking our ‘Free Will’ – our ‘Freedom to Choose’ – away from us.  The God of Freedom desires that we, his ‘children’ freely desire and freely choose to love Him and one another and that we freely choose to worship Him.  Furthermore, only a being with ‘freedom to choose’ is a true ‘Other’ and thus the ‘freedom to choose’ plus the honoring of the ‘differences of the other’ are central to God’s ‘Divine Plan.’ 

Consider this, Gentle Reader: Fewer things have been denied by we humans to our sibling humans than ‘Human Freedom’ in all of its forms (think: Freedom to… Freedom from… Freedom for…). 

Do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place. –Mishnah

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