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Archive for August, 2022

Even as we open our hearts to others, to receive and embrace them, we habitually judge and condemn ourselves. –Christina Feldman

Like many of us I was raised with the following counsel: ‘Practice makes perfect!’  I was blessed for when I was 12 years old, Stan, my golf coach told me: ‘Remember Richard, practice does not make perfect.  Practice makes permanent!’ 

Like all of us human beings I practice many things.  Some enhance my well-being and some deplete me and harm me.  I cannot begin to number the times I shamed myself or called myself ‘bad’ as a result of my being imperfect.  I kept forgetting that, by nature, I am an Imperfect Human Being.  I also kept forgetting that ‘seeking Perfection’ is a trap.  At times I would judge myself harshly and at other times I would embrace ‘self-loathing.’ 

‘Perfection’ is an illusion.  This illusion hinders us from being compassionate with ourselves.  It hinders our ability (perhaps even our ‘desire’) for self-acceptance.  Parker Palmer in his wonder-full book, ‘Let Your Life Speak’ describes how self-acceptance can aid in our growth. 

Parker writes: I now know myself to be a person with weakness and strength, liability and giftedness, darkness and light.  I now know that to be whole means to reject none of it but to embrace all of it…  To embrace weakness, liability, and darkness as part of who I am gives that part less sway over me, because all it ever wanted was to be acknowledged as part of my whole self.

For Christians a major trap is contained in a simple biblical passage (Mt 5:48): ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’  I was taught that his meant that I must become without blemish if I am going to be acceptable and truly loveable.  Talk about a millstone around the neck.  I was, however, ‘saved.’  When I was in my twenties I learned that Scripture Scholars regard this translation as ‘imprecise.’  The words ‘be perfect’ actually translate as ‘be whole.’  ‘Wholeness’ means being completely who I am – my light AND my darkness, my virtues and my vices, strengths and my growing edges.  ‘Perfection’ means being fully human; it does not mean being ‘fully God’.  As a fully human being I am a living paradox – I am light and darkness, virtue and vice, good and evil. 

As a fully imperfect human being I am more likely to ‘Stumble the Mumble’ rather than ‘Walk the Talk.’  I will ‘fall down’ AND I can, then, also ‘get back up’ and take another step.  I will not always be clear nor consistent – my ‘mumbles’ will at times dominate and add to life’s challenges.  I can, however, still strive to become more consistent and clear so that at times my ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ means ‘no.’  The reality of my being ‘Imperfect’ will humble me – it does not have to make me ‘bad.’ 

I conclude this entry with questions I hold (do you, Gentle Reader, also hold these questions): Why am I able to forgive the other for being imperfect and not offer myself the same compassionate grace?   If God forgives seventy-times seven why am I not able to forgive myself one times one?

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A QUESTION I OFFER FOR REFLECTION

As a thought-partner one of the questions I offer for reflection is: When you make a decision, what motivates you?

In 1996 I had the privilege of spending the day with Bill T. At that time Bill T. owned at least six companies. These companies were recognized as some of the best to work for. In addition to owning these companies, Bill T. and his wife had also begun a foundation. Their foundation only awarded grants to serving organizations or small businesses located within a specific region of our country. Bill and his wife wanted their foundation’s wealth to positively impact the local communities. For a number of reasons I was provided the opportunity to spend a day with Bill T. – we spent our time mostly in searching conversations.

We spent the morning sitting in his office which was located in a large remodeled barn. The barn was also home to a museum. The museum contained historical items from all of the current and past companies that Bill, his father, or his wife’s father had owned. It was one way Bill T. and his wife honored the many employees who had contributed –and were contributing – to the success of these companies. To put it simply, Bill T. was rich beyond rich. Money, yes, but so much more.

Bill T. and I had been in conversation for about two hours when I offered him the following question: ‘Bill, when you make a decision, what motivates you?’ Bill T. was a thought-full person and I had already experienced his rhythm of reflecting before speaking. However, he caught me off-guard for he smiled, his eyes moistened and he quickly responded with: ‘If my decision is not rooted in love then I don’t make it!’ Talk about giving one pause.

Bill T. continued. He told me that on his 34th birthday (he was now 75) he was shaving in the morning and as he was shaving he happened to look deeply into his own eyes. He said the following words came pouring out of his mouth: ‘Bill T. all you are is rich and greedy; isn’t there anything else to you?’ He then went on a two year journey, an inward journey of searching-seeking-reflecting.  He emerged from his journey making a number of commitments – one of these was to always make a decision rooted in love and if it was not rooted in love he would not make it. After he told me this story he smiled again and said that as a result he was richer than ever (money, yes, but so much more).

Bill T. was happy not because of his money but because of his love. He had committed to love as his primary motivator. Love was the force that propelled him forward. Love was the force that drove him. Love was the force that called him to serve so that others grew in healthy ways.

A Buddhist name comes to my mind: ‘Anathapindika’ – the one who helps those who are poor, lonely, and destitute in body, mind, and spirit. Bill T. was full of loving kindness and compassion; he was ‘Anathapindika’. He had learned how to love and all who were touched by his love were richer (in so many ways) as a result. Bill T. was also loved by those he served. I experienced this first hand. Spontaneously, Bill T. picked up the phone and made a call. Within an hour we took a short walk to a large room that was set up for lunch. There were place settings for 14 folks.

Each of the six companies were sending two folks to join us for lunch. The folks who joined us represented all ‘levels’ of these organizations (only one person was an executive). Bill T. stood by the door and welcomed each person with a hug – and hugs were delivered by each person in return. Smiles and tears flowed freely. Bill T. welcomed each person by name and he asked specific questions of each person – often personal questions. Love permeated the room. After we had settled in and had been served lunch Bill announced that he had a question for each of us to reflect upon and if we so chose to respond to. He paused and smiled and asked: When you make a decision, what motivates you? He paused again, smiled broadly, and turned to me: ‘We will begin with inviting Richard to reply first.’

So Gentle Reader: When you make a decision, what motivates you?

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THINKING ABOUT CHANGE

For thousands of years change seemed more evolutionary in nature than cataclysmic.  For example, the Ancient East (think of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Persia) powerfully influenced and was eventually replaced by the Greek Civilization. The Greek Civilization powerfully impacted and was replaced by the Roman Civilization. This three step ‘impact-replacement’ took a few thousand years. The Roman Empire was replaced with another diametrically opposed civilization known as the Holy Roman Empire and the feudal structure that emerged from within it. The monarchies of the West were gradually replaced – some are still surviving if not thriving. The impetus for this change was the French Revolution. During the nineteenth century, Europe evolved from monarchies into nation-states.

Then a dramatic, if not cataclysmic, change occurred and given the length of recorded history this change altered the world in a minute or two. This change is referred to as the Industrial Revolution. This revolution is continuing in the ‘emerging’ nations and it continues to hold on in the ‘developed’ nations.

Within a generation, a number of ingredients came together with the result being World War I-World War II (World War II was a delayed continuation of World War I). One by-product of this 30+ year war was/is that evolutionary change has morphed into ever increasing rapid change (for example, a ‘generation’ used to be 25-30 years; today it is more like 3-5 years). [AN ASIDE: What is interesting to me is that the length of ‘adolescence’ for us human beings has actually increased in years since the Industrial Revolution].

Consider that since the end of WWII (1945) we (in the West) have experienced several ‘ages’: Atomic, Space, ‘Modern,’ ‘Post-Modern,’ Information, Technological, Innovation, and the current emerging age that has yet to be named. The concept of an ‘age’ has been dramatically altered forever. Prior to WWI our ‘ages’ were truly ‘ages’ – there was the ‘age’ of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ which lasted many thousands of years. There was the ‘agrarian age’ that also lasted thousands of years (and in our young country the agrarian age was seen by our Founding Fathers as an age that would continue to last). The ‘urban’ age continues to survive, if not thrive. Today, the ‘ages’ come and go as if they are on a twenty-four hour lunar cycle.

These changes say little about the myriad of other changes which have taken place during these past thousands of years. The implications of these many changes would take up volumes. My broad brush strokes however do indicate to some extent what these changes can be: not merely differences in living resulting from the advances that run the gamut from agrarian to industrial to informational to technological to innovative to creative (this list will continue to be added to). Then there are the changes involving transportation, communication, population growth, and the growing need to ensure that we have an ‘educated citizenry’.

At one time, ‘evolutionary change’ allowed us humans to respond and adjust and embrace and integrate the changes; today, with the rapid pace of change continuing to increase we humans are more likely to react (it seems we don’t have the time to respond – it is like we are standing near the shore in the ocean at high tide and waves are washing over us continuously). We are then attempting to adjust on the go and the idea of embracing and integrating the current change does not seem possible. Dickens, many years ago, provided us the sentence that best describes our lives: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’  After typing those words I thought of an ancient Chinese Curse: May you live in interesting times.  Indeed!

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FIVE COMMANDMENTS, PART II

A ‘Commandment’ is a mandate; it is an authoritative order to act in a certain way.  Following are Jesus’ ‘5 Commandments.’  An acceptance of them and a commitment to follow them would alter the course of one’s life.  One would truly be ‘transformed’ as a result [‘Transformation’ = a fundamental change in character].  If a critical mass of Christians would do so the world as we know it would be radically changed, if not transformed.  Jesus repeated the same pattern with each of his Commandments: First, he would state the commandment of the ‘ancients,’ then he would add: ‘But I say to you’ – this would be followed with his Commandment. 

Commandment #1 concerns Anger: You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘Whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with another, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult another, you will be liable to the council; and if you say ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. ‘Do not be angry’ is good advice and has been given as good advice by wisdom figures for thousands of years.  Jesus ups the ante and shifts the language from ‘advice’ to ‘commandment.’  How many of us actually strive to live into and out of Jesus first Commandment? 

Commandment #2 concerns Adultery:  You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Jesus, again, ups the ante.  This time he expands the ancients’ law from ‘adultery’ to Do Not Lust! 

Commandment #3 concerns Taking Oaths: Again you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely.’  But I say to you, don’t swear at all. . .  Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes, or your ‘No, be No’.  Each of us has the capacity to ‘reason’ and each of us has a ‘conscience.’  We are entrusted with our ‘reason’ and ‘conscience’ and hence we are response-able and we are going to be held responsible for our ‘Yes, Yes’ and our ‘No, No.’ 

Commandment #4 concerns Retaliation:  You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. . . Give to everyone who begs from you. . .   One way to promote the ‘good’ over the ‘evil’ is to follow the most virtuous – the wise, from Buddha to Jesus to contemporary givers of ‘light’ counsel us to do so.  It involves seeking to see one’s truth clearly and then to speak it out courageously (that is, to speak from the heart which loops us back to our ‘Yes, Yes’ and ‘No, No’) and to allow ‘your truth’ to influence others – not to use your truth to coerce others.  Coercion promotes the ancients’ idea of an ‘eye for an eye.’ 

Commandment #5 concerns Love for Enemies: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  .  .  This commandment is the most far-reaching; it provides us the most daunting challenge.  This is the ‘game-changer.’ 

Jesus concludes Chapter 5 with these words: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.   Of course, we are by nature imperfect human beings.  So what did Jesus mean by his closing statement?  To further complicate all of this, later on in Matthew (Chapter 22) Jesus also makes a clear, concise and concrete statement: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars; and to God the things that are God’s.  With each of Jesus’ ‘5 Commandments’ governments have provided their own ‘legal’ interpretation.  So, how is one to discern when one is to ‘render’ to the government (that is, to Caesar) and when one is to ‘render’ unto God?  Ah, this is the rub; this is the challenge for us who espouse to be followers of Jesus the Christ. 

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FIVE COMMANDMENTS, PART I

As I have mentioned in previous postings, I consider myself to be an Ecumenical Christian.  I am a follower of Jesus the Christ – which makes me a Christian – and I also search and seek for the good, the true and the beautiful in all faith and humanistic traditions – which makes me an Ecumenist.  I am also a member of what is known as ‘The People of the Book’ – Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  We – ‘The People of the Book’ – have been gifted by Yahweh-God-Allah with Ten Commandments. 

For the past 60+ years one of the most powerful ‘books’ for me has been – continues to be – the Gospel of Matthew.  Recently I began to re-read and re-reflect upon Matthew’s Gospel.  Early on, Jesus gifts us with the Beatitudes and shortly after giving us this gift he gifts us with his ‘Five Commandments.’  The Beatitudes and the ‘Five Commandments’ call us not to shift or change but to transform.  These are so challenging and disturbing for those of us who espouse to be Christians that we have spent – we continue to spend – a great deal of energy re-interpreting Jesus’ words.  ‘He surely couldn’t mean what he says; how absurd.’  Since I have been re-reflecting upon Jesus’ ‘Five Commandments’ I thought I would share some of my reflections with you, Gentle Reader. 

Consider, Gentle Reader, that each of us has a reason and a conscience that come to us from somewhere: we did not ‘make them up’ ourselves.  These twins – reason and conscience – oblige us to differentiate between good and evil (or, if you will, virtue and vice or light and darkness); you and I must approve of some things and disapprove of others.  This obligation (or ‘ought’ or ‘must’) is one of the common grounds upon which we all walk; we are all members of the same family and we are all daughters and sons of the same God (Note: For me, ‘God’ is all and is therefore both male and female – if God were only ‘male’ then God would not be all and hence God would not be God). 

Residing in each of us is a higher or better nature – a spiritual and divine nature.  As Lincoln noted in 1860, there resides within each of us ‘the better angels of our nature’ and it is our charge to call upon these, especially during times of challenge and adversity.  Because we are endowed with a higher nature we can, if we open our hearts and minds discern good from evil (or virtue from vice or light from darkness); we can monitor our own choices and our own conduct.

My hunch is that most of us human beings know that our purpose here on earth is to serve others rooted in our higher nature; we are to call forth the ‘better angels’ as we live our life.  Jesus identifies himself with his higher nature (consider that if Jesus were truly fully human then he, too, would have a ‘lower’ nature – perhaps this is the nature that tempted him three times).  Jesus speaks of himself and of us as ‘Sons of the Father’ and bids us to be perfect as ‘our Father’ in heaven is perfect.  

Perhaps this is the answer to the question: ‘What is the meaning and purpose of my life?’  There is a ‘Power’ enabling me (and you) to discern what is good – my reason and conscience flow from it and the purpose of my conscious life is to do its will – that is, to do good.  What is the ‘good’ I am called to do?  Jesus provides us an answer when he gifts us with the Beatitudes and when he gifts us with his ‘Five Commandments.’ 

What, Gentle Reader, are Jesus’ ‘Five Commandments’

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