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DEMOCRACY REQUIRES. . .

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. –Reinhold Niebuhr, 1944

We are, as I recall, a ‘Democracy’ and not a ‘Theocracy.’  Our Founding Fathers were quite clear about this.  They sought to protect all religions – hence the United States would not profess one religion over another.  This also means that ‘preachers of the word’ for_______(fill in the blank with a religion’s name) would not, when they ‘spoke from the pulpit’ (that is, when they spoke as a representative of God), cross the line between the separation of church and state (that is, tell their ‘flocks’ how to vote or even state their own political preference or speak for or against a particular candidate or party).

It is crucial for us to note that our current president says that he will seek to abolish the guideline/rule (the Johnson Amendment) that prohibits religious leaders from crossing the boundary between church and state.  His rationale is that the ‘freedom of religion’ (which is current political speak for ‘Fundamental Christian’) is under attack in our country.  Some folks are doing so.  On the other hand, some folks are also attacking Jews, Muslims, and certain Christian denominations (being attacked for their religious beliefs is also not new for these faith traditions).  Lifting the ban that prohibits religious leaders from using their bully pulpits to spread a different kind of word – a political not religious or spiritual word – would our Founding Fathers believed inflict a  wound on democracy; if carried to its logical conclusion this wound would be fatal to democracy.

Speaking of wounding democracy.  The president and, sadly, many others are questioning if not directly ‘attacking’ the ‘Fourth Estate’ – commonly called ‘The Press’ or ‘The Media.’  Our Founding Fathers were also quite clear about the need for a ‘Fourth Estate.’  Part of the charge of a ‘free press’ is to offer a check and balance to the first three estates (our three branches of government).  Because the folks who make up a free press are, like all of us human beings, imperfect what the free press publishes will be imperfect.  Sadly, the dark side of technology is adding to the negative side of a press that is free – the rise of ‘fake news’ is a sign of this.

As a Democracy we need both a clear separation of church and state and we need the check and balances of a free Fourth Estate.  As always, the real culprit (if there is a ‘real culprit’) is easy to identify: ‘’WE THE PEOPLE!’

‘WE THE PEOPLE!’ are responsible, unconditionally response-able, and accountable.  Because WE THE PEOPLE choose to live in a Democracy, WE THE PEOPLE must be vocal in our support of a separation of church and state and we must be vocal in our support of a free Fourth Estate.  We must also help ensure that our free press will act as a check and balance to those we elect to serve us (historically, those elected do not ‘police’ themselves very well unless they are pushed and prodded by the Fourth Estate).

Theocracies do not serve all equally.  Governments that suppress a free Fourth Estate become dictatorships.  History has confirmed this.  The question, of course, is: Do WE THE PEOPLE believe history?

The secret of life is in the shadows and not in the open sun; to see anything at all, you must look deeply into the shadow of a living thing. –Ute Saying

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RILKE SPEAKS TO US. . .

For more than forty years one of my ‘go to muses’ continues to be the great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.  Gentle Reader if you have not read and savored his Letters to a Young Poet I invite you to do so.  As you read his letters, if you replace ‘poet’ with ‘parent’ or ‘leader’ or ‘educator’ or ‘minister’ or… you might find his counsel to be invaluable.

This morning I am going to offer you a long quote from Rilke.  Perhaps you will resonate with some of his thoughts and perhaps you might also find counsel with some of his thoughts.  Rilke writes:

“We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called “visions,” the whole so-called “spirit-world,” death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.  But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished the existence of the individual; the relationship between one human being and another has also been cramped by it, as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence. For if we think of this existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous insecurity is so much more human which drives the prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their abode. We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us. We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.  Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. ”

 

 

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In order to consider Character, Choice & Responsibility a human being must be seen and experienced as an Individual.  The Individual as we understand the human being was in many ways a creation of the seventeenth century.  The human being had an Identity.

Identity = a stable sense of self, from birth to death.  Each Individual’s life could be – and was – told as a narrative.  Each person could – and did – write his or her own story.  A major metaphor: Life is a Story that each Individual writes and lives.

Change was gradual.  A generation was truly 25-30 years.  The long-view trumped the short-view.  As ‘change’ became more dynamic and occurred with ever increasing rapidity an unintended consequence emerged; a consequence alive and well today.

When change is rapid nothing confers meaning: lives become lifestyles; commitments become experiments; relationships become provisional; careers turn into contracts; ‘calls’ are ‘compromised’.   To keep our metaphor: Life itself ceases to have the character of a narrative and becomes instead a series of episodes with a thin or no connecting thread.

I have been reading Zygmunt Bauman’s works.  In his book, Globalization: The Human Consequences, he quotes Jeremy Seabrook who offers us a graphic description of a young woman, Michelle.

Seabrook writes: At fifteen her hair was one day red, the next blond, then jet-black, then teased into Afro links and after that rat-tails, then plaited, and then cropped so that it glistened close to the skull. . .  Her lips were scarlet, then purple, then black.  Her face was ghost-white and then peach-coloured, then bronze as if it were cast in metal.  Pursued by dreams of flight, she left home at sixteen to be with her boyfriend, who was twenty-six. . .

 At eighteen she returned to her mother, with two children. . .  She sat in the bedroom which she had fled three years earlier; the faded photos of yesterday’s pop stars still stared down from the walls.  She said she felt a hundred years old.  She’d tried all that life could offer.  Nothing was left.

Seabrook offers us an excellent example of existential burnout.  This syndrome has become more prevalent in our country; a country that is addicted to speed and is suffering from what Kindra called hurry sickness.  We have become addicted to technology, consuming and to the market economy.  Too often we are guided by the cynical bumper sticker: ‘The guy with the most toys when he dies wins.’

‘Advanced Cultures’ are fed by the tap roots of a succession of artificially induced and temporarily satisfied desires.  As Bauman notes: ‘Pilgrims have become Tourists!’  Society has become less like a home in a neighborhood and has become more like a hotel where the guests interact as little as possible.  As a consequence, Suspicion has replaced Trust as a major value if not a major virtue.

The great author, Oscar Wilde defined a cynic as one who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.  He reminds me –perhaps he remind us – that value rests in love, commitment, altruism, faithfulness and service to the well-being of the other.  These are not marketable; they are earned not purchased.  They are inherent in us a human beings and they are being weeded out and replaced with the plants of greed, consumerism, fear, and intolerance.

Consider, Gentle Reader that a Culture in which everything can be bought is one that has devalued value and institutionalized cynicism and fear of the other.

 

 

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Good morning Gentle Reader.  Like so many thousands of others I have, these past eight days, been thinking about Senator John McCain.  As a progressive-conservative (think: Abraham Lincoln – conserve the Union, Free the Slaves and Heal the Nation) I was attracted to McCain even though I would not support some of his policies.  What was I attracted to?  I captured this yesterday as I was watching his memorial service.  Three words emerged into my consciousness: Character, Choice & Responsibility.

Senator McCain’s ‘Character’ was revealed and forged in the Hades known as the Hanoi Hilton.  He told us that it was during his stay at the HH that he made a conscious ‘Choice’ – to love his country.  After his release he was no longer physically able to serve as a Naval Officer AND (you might remember Gentle Reader that I believe there is almost always an ‘AND’) he was committed to continue to be unconditionally response-able to his duty to serve our Country.  He embraced what he perceived to be his ‘Responsibility’ to serve.  This was no mere being responsible; this was a ‘Call’ that he knew he had to answer.  As a ‘service-man’ he chose to become a public servant.

Because of his ‘Character’ and his commitment to embracing what he perceived as his ‘Responsibility’ his ‘Choice’ was simple: I will put Country above Party & Politics.  I will serve all my constituents even if I offend those who voted for me.  Senator McCain was a Republican-Conservative.  One of his best friends was Senator Joe Biden, a Moderate Democrat.  Often they would literally ‘cross the aisle’ and sit with one another.  One day each was approached by the leaders of their party and told to stop sitting together – it created a poor image.  This was one signal that tribalism was on the rise.

Senator McCain was ‘hard-edged’ and had a ‘fiery temper’ – when in the inferno of Hades one develops these or one is consumed by it.  He also forged a sharp-tongue and a sarcastic-wit.  He loved to laugh.  He also did what few of our current elected officials are incapable of choosing: He admitted when he was wrong, he sought forgiveness, and he never attacked an opponent’s person (‘ideas’ were attacked with fire and brimstone).

During the 2008 campaign he was running against Barack Obama.  During a town-hall meeting a person questioned Obama’s citizenship.  McCain gently pivoted and gave a heart-felt response defending Obama.  This was a statesman in action.  How many of our elected officials today would have the grace and grit to make such a pivot when one of their base raised such a question?

Senator McCain did not cower to his base.  Perhaps this was easy for him given his five year experience in Hades; if Hades could not break him a simple base of voters would never be able to.  Yet, as we know, he was elected over and over again.  A powerful testament to John McCain’s Character, Choice & Responsibility.

I am, as my friends know, not inherently an optimist – thus far I have not crossed the line and become a cynic either.  I do not believe that enough of our current members of Congress have the ‘Character’ that will enable them to embrace their ‘Responsibility’ and enact a ‘Choice’ or two that would allow them to literally cross the aisle and sit with the other and search together for a third way; a way that would benefit we the people.  John McCain and Joe Biden demonstrated that this type of crossing works and that more citizens would benefit and that the country would benefit as a result.

We will know if there are any hints on ‘crossing’ on Tuesday, 4 September, 2018 when Congress reconvenes.

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THE SHADOW KNOWS. . .

Carl Jung gave us many gifts.  For me, one of his most impactful was his gift of The Shadow.  Here is my favorite photo of Carl Jung.

carl_jung-glasses

I love his smile.  It is the smile of the wise person that communicates, ‘I know something that could change your life!’  Here are three of his quotes that I invite you, Gentle Reader, to savor.

  • Knowing your own darkness is the best method of dealing with the darknesses of other people.
  • To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.
  • One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

The radio show, The Shadow, first aired in 1930 and last aired in 1954; talk about longevity.  From 1950 through 1954 our family would gather in my father’s study.  We gathered at 5pm and the first radio show we listened to was either The B-Bar-B Riders or Gunsmoke.  At 5:30pm my favorite mystery radio show aired: The Shadow.

As one of the younger children I would take up residence on the floor.  Our parents and the two eldest children would sit in chairs.  Taking up residence with me on the floor was my older brother and younger sister.  At 6pm my mother and one of the two elder children would retire to the kitchen and fix sandwiches.  Within minutes individual trays would be presented to us.  We would then listen to a variety of radio shows for another hour or so.  I loved the variety of radio shows and I loved the family time.

I was first introduced to Carl Jung’s work, and his concept of the Shadow, when I was an undergraduate.  For the past 50+ years Jung has been a staple for me; he continues to challenge me, stretch my thinking and enlighten me.  On 14 January, 2010 the following poem emerged into my consciousness.

 THE SHADOW KNOWS

Lamont Cranston’s alter ego,
His other ‘I’ was called The Shadow.
As a child I would lay riveted to the floor
On Sunday afternoons lost in the world
That my mind was creating as I listened to
The radio.

The Shadow was aptly named.  He was not
Directly visible; he was a breath one felt on
One’s neck.  He was a feeling that washed
Over one.  He had the ability to cloud men’s
Minds.  Yet he was a powerful force that
Made things whole again; a force that brought
Balance back to an unbalanced world.  He would
Connect the dots and solve the seemingly
Unsolvable.

The program would begin and end with the same
Haunting lines delivered by a specter’s voice
That was punctuated with a knowing laugh:
‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
The shadow knows!’  

My Shadow is also aptly named.  He is not
Directly visible; he manifests himself not in
A breath I feel but in slips of tongue and behavior
That I make.  He mirrors himself to me; projections
As judgments and labels that I place onto others.
He clouds my mind so that I do not think clearly.
Yet he is a powerful potential possibility that if
Embraced and integrated will help bring me to
Wholeness, to healing.  He can be a force that
Enables me to bring balance to my unbalanced self.
He can help me connect the myriad of dots that
Make up who I am; that connect me to me.  He
Supports my growth and movement from what
Appears to be an unsolvable problem to a
Mysterious paradox to be held in love and
Compassion.

Each evening as I move toward sleep my
Shadow prepares to manifest himself in
My dreams; he prepares to provide me a
Gift and an opportunity.
Each evening as I move toward sleep I
Can begin to faintly hear my Shadow
Begin his refrain: ‘What good and evil
Lurks within Richard’s heart? Your
Shadow knows!’   Unlike the radio
Program, this question is not followed by
The specter’s laughter but is followed
By another question; a question that is
More unsettling than the laughter:
‘Do you, Richard, want to know what
Good and evil lies within your heart?’  -©Richard  W Smith, 14 January 2010

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SIX POEMS. . .

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  As a random intuitive each day I am blessed with a variety of thoughts running amok in my mind.  On good days I am able to focus on one or more of them and on no-so-good days I struggle to focus.  I learned many years ago that all of this is o.k.  These past days my thoughts have been running amok on turbo drive; there are many reasons this is occurring.

Two days ago I began to hold this question: What might you write about on Sunday?  I wanted to write and post on Sunday.  There were, among the many possibilities running amok in my mind, six that began to move to the front of the pack.  However, as I settled in this morning at one of my favorite coffee shops – the one where my son, Nathan works (I love watching Nathan work; part of my watching involves celebrating how he engages and serves his fellow ‘partners’ and how he engages and serves those that come to the coffee shop – but I digress).

As I was typing: As I settled in this morning I quickly realized that I still did not have a focus this morning.  So, I wrote a note about each of the six topics and then I went searching for a poem that captured, for me, the topic.  Within a few minutes I found the six poems.

This morning, Gentle Reader, I offer them to you.  Perhaps one or more of them will resonate with you or speak to you or help awaken something within you – something that has been lying dormant for a time.  Then again, perhaps none of this will emerge for you; that, of course, is fine.  I offer the ‘Six Poems’ in no particular order.

A BURDEN

I never understood my mother when she would say,
‘I don’t want to be a burden.’   I thought, ‘How can
you say that?’  ‘How can you think such a thought?’

As I was driving to meet a friend this morning I became
aware of a thought I was holding: ‘I don’t want to be a burden.’
My eyes began to tear up.  I began to imagine my children,
Becky and Nathan, and some of my friends being burdened by
me as I grow older and eventually more sickly and definitely
even more needy than I am today.

Mom: ‘I am beginning to get it.’  –Richard W Smith, 19 January 2010

A GIFT

One day the wise elder from the West
overheard a searcher complaining about
another’s lack of respect.

The elder approached the searcher and
inquired, ‘What is in your heart?’

The searcher searched and replied,
‘The learner needs to learn respect.’
 
The elder gently replied,
‘This might be true, but what is in your heart?’
 
Again the searcher searched and, after some time,
replied, ‘My heart is full of dis-respect
and is experiencing great dis-ease.’
 
The elder smiled warmly, and offered the
following gift to the searcher:
‘Cleanse your thoughts of dis- and respect
and ease will enter your heart.’  –Richard W Smith 10 January, 2010

A FEW HAIKU

LONELY SNOWY DAYS
THE ELDER SITS IN SILENCE
WISDOM LIES WITHIN.

CHOOSING THE NO-PATH
THE DEER LEAPS OVER THE BRUSH
WHAT DO I RISK IN FOLLOWING?

IT IS COLD AND DARK
NIGHT SEEMS ENDLESS AND SO SCARY
A SMALL LIGHT FLICKERS.     –Richard W Smith, 24 February, 2010

A CITIZEN, OR . . .

In democratic Athens, representatives were not elected;
They were randomly chosen and served for one year.
Six thousand were chosen each year.  Each eligible
Citizen was expected to be well educated and well
Prepared so he could hold his office in a trustworthy manner.

Athens was far from perfect.  Athenians owned slaves;
Only men who were citizens were eligible to be representatives.
Yet the Athenians demonstrated that a type of democracy was
Possible and they developed a model for the ages.

Our Founding Fathers believed that democracy, as they
Envisioned it, would survive only if we had an educated
And involved Citizenry.

It seems as if we have evolved, or is it devolved, from
Citizens to Consumers, Conversation to Competition,
From Contemplating Concepts to Crass Commercialism.
We have moved from serving our nation to serving ourselves.
We have moved from having a need to be involved in democracy
To being taken care of by those we elect in our democracy.

In a sustainable Democracy her Citizens must be educated and
Knowledgeable, her Citizens must be involved, her
Citizens must care deeply.  What a test.  How do I measure up?
Am I a Citizen, or. . .    –Richard W Smith, 4 January 2010

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THE GARDEN. . .

I love metaphors.  We, you and I Gentle Reader, live metaphors; we are living metaphors.  One of my favorite metaphors is a garden metaphor.  ‘I am a garden.’  Each relationship I have is a garden.  Each organization is a garden.

The garden metaphor is also a paradox.  The Paradox: I am both the garden and the gardener.

When it comes to relationships (I am thinking of the relationship between two people).  The Paradox: We (the relationship) are the garden and we are also the gardeners.

When it comes to an organization.  The Paradox: The organization is a garden to be nurtured and sustained and the organization is the gardener.

As gardeners we have been entrusted with the care of our gardens.  We are the gardens’ stewards.

Gentle Reader, you might remember that I also love poetry.  More than thirty years ago I read a poem by Spain’s greatest poet, Antonio Machado.  I offer his poem to you this morning.  The poem is about a garden and a gardener.  I also offer you two photos to contemplate as you read and ‘hold’ Machado’s poem.

First: The Two Photos

Wildflower Garden#2

A Dying Garden

Now: Antonio Machado’s Poem

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

“In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.”

“I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.”

“Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.”

The wind left. And I wept. And I said to soul:
“What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”

 

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