Pentecost 150

Pentecost 150
My Psalms 150

Instrument of Peace

It has been said that it is one of the most famous lyrics of all times. “Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” Written by John Lennon, the song is both a wish and an example of an impossible dream for many.

As the world has gotten smaller, figuratively, with greater population, which means less square footage for each individual person and greater demand for land upon which to grow and raise necessary food for that population, as well as with technological advances that enable the world’s population to communicate instantly regardless of location or status, the demands on each person have gotten larger.

Childhood today is no longer a time of freedom to explore the natural world and one’s own developing abilities. In many industrialized nations childhood has become a period for training to often extreme lengths. Because of the time and expense invested in developing specific talents, a child if often no longer free to explore various things and many no longer have the luxury of the most successful teaching tool of all time – the try and fail method.

Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of modern living, we have forgotten how to live. We no longer spend reflective time determining what we hold to be true and what has value for us. Instead, we have given that right over to the media. Peer pressure has become pressure to look and do just like whomever is the current star of the day, regardless of their values, beliefs, or the validity of what is being reported.

Conversely, in less industrialized nations, children have become the bread-winners of the family. Children are the ones working in the fields and/or sweatshops. Education is often a forgotten thing and even in those areas where it is permitted, it is only for the rich or those whose parents support whatever the reigning regime of the day happens to be. Culture and religion have become the tools of the dictatorial and seldom are based upon actual belief systems.

The concept of individual peace has become the advertising spotlight of many pharmaceutical companies and clothing lines. The truth is that finding peace will never be achieved by swallowing a pill, wearing the latest trend, looking like one’s neighbor, attending a specific church, mosque, or temple. Individual peace is a personal quest that is not only attainable but necessary.

First and foremost, a person needs to determine what hold importance in their life. Basic requirements for life aside, there are core elements of our being that we hold dear and value above all else. Determine what that is for you and accept that it might not be the same for another. Then look at how you spend your time and ask if time is spent on what you feel to be paramount in your life.

Many people believe the art of scheduling to be cramming as much as possible into an hour. It isn’t. Many people, children especially, lead overcrowded lives. The human body is a wonderful machine but it is based upon a system of checks and balances and needs its periods of rest and relaxation in order to function properly or in a healthful manner. Perhaps you have spent so much time being busy that you’ve forgotten how to relax or play. Go back to the rules of childhood and allow yourself to try some things out. Go bowling one afternoon or volunteer at a soup kitchen.

The rules of play do not mean imbibing alcohol or food. The substances we put into our bodies are for purpose. While they have their pleasurable side effects, like a delicious gooey piece of caramel chocolate bars or a hot buttery bowl of popcorn, food’s purpose is to provide fuel for the body. The candy and popcorn are fine when eaten in a small amount. The same is true for certain drinks. However, filling the body with non-nutritious food is like pouring concrete into the gas tank of an automobile. It might fill it up but you are not going to get very far!

I find it interesting that some of the unhealthiest food and drink items are found and imbibed while watching sporting events, displays of ideal health. How far would the quarterback, soccer player, or tennis player get in their chosen fields if they daily ate what their fans eat? Spending a day at a game eating the delectable garbage served at the concession stands may not seem like much but in reality, you have blown almost twenty percent of your weekly intake on that delectable garbage. How peaceful and efficient will that make your body run?

Mental and emotional peace is based upon our physical peace. We cannot cope with the daily ups and downs of life when our bodies are in turmoil. Having a healthy body, though, is not the only key. We have to be comfortable with what and how we are living. Volunteering is a great outlet that boosts our mental and emotional satisfaction level. The same pleasure we get from fun is indicated in the brain when we volunteer. It mimics how the brain reacts to love as well. We also need to realistically allow time for the things we do. Giving yourself an hour to paint an entire house is ridiculous and yet, we often schedule ourselves into unrealistic expectations. We need to allow enough time to not only perform a task but to enjoy it. Not everything is a task of delight but most things can be appreciated, if not in the doing then in the completion.

Recently new definitions for the terms introvert and extrovert have emerged. There are no longer based upon spending time (or not) with people. Instead, the new definitions are based upon how spending time with people affects the person. Both, however, require some time to recharge, to reflect, to renew. The introvert is a person who values solitude while the extrovert feels rejuvenated by the energy of others. However, every person needs some periods of solitude in order to determine if their priorities have changed, their scheduling is adequate, their lives are in order. No one can really do that for a person except that person.

What about stress? Live a life in peace and the stress will take care of itself. Stress is simply a challenge placed upon the body and when the body is healthy, it can adapt and handle that challenge efficiently and smoothly. Life is never perfect. Each day will bring its own set of challenges and stresses. When we are living a life we approve, a life that has value, we are then comfortable in responding to that stress and confident in dealing with whatever outcomes arise. When we live a lief in peace, we are being true to ourselves, our belief system, our world, and our Maker.

My Psalm 150

The psalmist of old, Great Spirit, encouraged we “praise you with clanging cymbals”.
However, cymbals don’t clang.
They ring.
They vibrate.
They crash.
They sustain a roll.

When life rings with joy, let me shout “Hallelujah!”
When life vibrates with the business of duties and expectations, let me shout “Hallelujah!”
When life seems to crash around me, let me shout “Hallelujah!”
When life requires me to do that which is needed to sustain it, let me shout “Hallelujah!”
When my fears clang loudly within my soul and heart and head, let me shout “Hallelujah!”

In every step, with every breath, every motion of my hands, every word of my mouth, every though in and out of my head, every gaze I see and every shadow I leave, let me shout “Hallelujah!”
In my living and in my dying, let me shout “Hallelujah!”

Pentecost 149

Pentecost 149
My Psalms 149

Ceremonial Jubilation

In many cultures, the rituals are how the family is defined, how the soul celebrates. “We’re all searching for a foothold in the past, and for peace and meaning in the chaos of modern life. We all want to give our children a place of refuge and a sense of predictability. We all wish to make the difficult times easier and the unknown feel safer. Rituals have served these functions for ancient cultures; and rituals can now do the same for us, too,” writes Barbara Biziou, author of “The Joys of Family Rituals”.

While we usually define a ritual as a sacred rite or celebration, the truth is that rituals are simply habits we repeat at specific times. We all have them. Usually these rituals involve celebration of a holiday, religious or spiritual event. For instance, having the family come together and share a Thanksgiving dinner is a holiday ritual. Everyone getting together for a baptism, confirmation, bat mitzvah, etc., is an example of a religious ritual. While we seldom think of them this way, celebrating birthdays or anniversary are spiritual in nature as we are honoring the life spirit of a person or an event. Even having friends over to watch a ballgame and share a pizza can be a ritual. All of these things make us happy and reaffirm who we are. They brighten our lives and help us live.

On her website, author Michele Phillips states: “Happy people don’t have fewer problems, live in a world without traffic or void of negative people. They don’t skate through life without being burned either. They deal with the same obstacles and challenges that everyone does. The difference is in their coping skills. They adopt a positive outlook and they take control of their happiness.”

Some rituals were created as new religions came into being and have a link to those of ancient cultures. Others were formed out of community gatherings and cultural practices. Participating in these help us connect the past to the present and provide for us a way into the future.

Debra Moffitt is the author of “Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live in a Divinely Inspired Life”. She discusses one such ritual: “In the South of France the summer solstice is a time of celebration. In Antibes, a bonfire is lit to pay tribute to the summer sun. Crowds circle around it and brave people jump the fire. This festival harks back to ancient festivals that expressed gratitude for the light that grows crops, brings warmth and opens hearts to joyful moments. Once the bonfire diminishes and the flames become manageable, the fire becomes a rite of initiation. Those who feel courageous leap over the fire. Some people leap alone and others hold hands and fly together. It’s a sign of courage and confidence and an exuberant celebration of the power of light to give and sustain life.”

Most of us don’t jump over fire and I certainly am not recommending you do so. However, even indulging in crafts from the past can provide a ritual experience and comfort. Many communities have prayer shawl groups. Members gather and either knit or crochet. Some might do lap quits or even flannel tie-together shawls and blankets. The finished items are then donated to the infirmed, nursing homes, or the homeless. One youth group made flannel blankets and gave them to an animal shelter. When the pet was adopted, his/her blanket went with them. Other groups provide similar items to foster children or abused children. Using the crafts of their ancestors and gathering for communion of souls, these people have created a ritual experience that benefits many.

Recent findings indicate that those who spend lavishly on weddings soon find themselves unmarried. More emphasis was placed on the event than on the union. Whatever your ritual of joy is, the focus should remain on the jubilation and not on extravagance.

“Creating Moments of Joy” is a book by Jolene Brackey. It is really a journal for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. Brackey believes that celebrating and creating moments of joy is the key for both the patient and the caregiver. “When a person has short-term memory loss, his life is made up of moments. But if you think about it, our memory is made up of moments, too. We are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day with someone who has dementia, but it is absolutely attainable to create a perfectly wonderful moment; a moment that puts a smile on their face, a twinkle in their eye, or triggers a memory. Five minutes later, they won’t remember what you did or said, but the feeling you left them with will linger.”

That is the advantage of celebrating, of life’s joy, of recognizing the jubilant soul – the feeling that lingers. It is that feeling that lets us know we are alive. It is that feeling that allows us to celebrate the present and look forward towards tomorrow. It is in that moment of joy, that ritual of celebrating the jubilation found in life, that we are closest to whichever Great Spirit we honor. And in honoring that Creator, we honor ourselves.

My Psalm 149

I will dance at the rising of the sun
To give thanks for my birth.

I will dance in the morning
To give thanks for my waking.

I will dance at the noontime
To give thanks for others.

I will dance in the afternoon
To overcome life’s problems.

I will dance at the setting of the sun
To give thanks for my ancestors.

I will dance in the evening
To give thanks for family present and future.

I will dance in my dreams with my Creator and Spirit
To glorify that which gives me life and keeps me safe.

I will dance at my dying
To give thanks for all.

Pentecost 148

Pentecost 148
My Psalms 148

I was Glad!

This decade is already being called the Age of the Selfie. People are flocking plastic surgeons in an effort to make themselves look better online. No longer is a perfect nose one that meets certain criteria face-to-face. Now it has to look good from the angle of the selfie or the camera in one’s computer, iPad, net book, or mobile device. Beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder. It is now in the eye of the pixels!

Organized religion cannot forget its beginnings when forgiveness was found by those able to donate to a church, temple, or mosque. Special dispensations were given according to the dollar amount of one’s alms giving. Hopefully those days are past but based upon the number of garments sold prior to religious holidays of all sorts, denominations, and spiritualities, appearance and wealth are still very much with us and a part of how we are perceived.

Writing for CNN several years ago, University of Houston professor Brene Brown discussed how the quest to be perfect does not result in happiness. “We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”

Brown continued: “We all need to feel worthy of love and belonging, and our worthiness is on the line when we feel like we are never ___ enough (you can fill in the blank: thin, beautiful, smart, extraordinary, talented, popular, promoted, admired, accomplished). Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield. Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.”

Teacher to Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan knew something about trying to become something you already are not. Her advice to her blind, deaf, and language-impaired student is actually good advice we should all remember. “Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose – not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.”

In the book “The Gift of Imperfection”, Professor Brene Brown references what she calls “wholehearted living”. She lists ten steps to finding the positive in our imperfect being. These steps include authenticity, self-compassion, a resilient spirit, gratitude and joy, Intuition and trusting faith, creativity, play and rest, calm and stillness, meaningful work, and finally the joy of laughter, song, and dance.

It may sound like a great many things to do but breaking them down, one can see that it really is not that difficult, time-consuming, or costly to find the gladness in being. The authentic being is probably the most difficult. That means being true to one’s self, a topic previously discussed. Leaving peer pressure behind and being true to one’s beliefs and natural soul may seem daunting but once attempted, it becomes the easiest way to live. Becoming comfortable with ourselves allows us to express self-compassion and develop a resilient spirit.

The gratitude and joy that comes from being comfortable and liking ourselves creates greater self-esteem and a sense of gratitude for life. That gratitude attitude will result in joy found in the smallest of life’s moments. Feeling free to trust one’s intuition leads to trusting others, especially one’s faith. Creativity is the result of being confident enough to try things your own way, whether it is altering a recipe or drawing a stick figure. Knowing that one’s creativity does not have to equal the art of Picasso or Leonardo da Vinci allows for the freedom to try new things. Play and rest periods are essential to a secure psyche as are calm period and times of stillness. The person who can be comfortable and quiet is the person who can love. Practically all work has meaning and the self-possessed, confident person can recognize the value in their own meaningful work and will feel confident in applying for such.

Far too often the spiritual person is depicted as a solemn, morose individual. Maybe that impression is to create an aura of meditation but in truth, the admonition to most followers is to be joyous, be happy, and full of praise and life. Faith is an uplifting exercise in appreciating life. Joy is a choice to act upon the good things in you, recognizing then the goodness in life. Decide today to be glad and then walk toward that goal. The path may be hilly, with a few detours, but ultimately, when you arrive at your destination you can then exclaim: “I was glad!”

My Psalm 148

To you, dear Father and Maker of all,
I share a smile.
For the faint song of a bird,
For the rolling gait of a newborn pup,
For the soft mews of a sleepy kitten,
For the sweet dream grin of a baby,
For the soft whisper of life-giving air upon my face,
For the warmth of the sun,
For velvet pastures of green,
For majestic mountains of stone,
For the touch of a friend,
For the hug that warms my heart,
I thank you.
For all things past and present,
For all things yet to come or be dreams,
I am glad!

Pentecost 146-147

Pentecost 146-147
My Psalms 146, My Psalm 147

Loyal to…Me!

Oscar Wilde once said: “Be yourself; everyone is already taken.” In this third part of our discussion on loyalty, I think it important to define why we need to be loyal. Whether you view loyalty as a virtue or as a sentiment, a practice or a need, the truth is that we end up defining ourselves and being defined by those very things to which we pledge our loyalty. Whenever we select an object of our faithfulness, our fealty, we need to be sure that we are being true to ourselves.

Knowing who we are is no easy task. In part the difficulty lies in the essence of our living – change. Growth is an important component to the human experience and yet, growth means change. What we valued yesterday may not jive with what we like today or need tomorrow. We are not plastic figures, complete once we fall off the assembly line. Man/Woman is a complex creation that is ever evolving, ever learning. We are not created to have dormant periods of inactive growth. In fact, our muscles atrophy after only ten days of inactivity. Movement is necessary for proper circulation. The body’s liquids will pool and drown a person unless they are constantly moving throughout the body. Change is essential to our being alive and yet, it can offer a great hurdle in knowing who we are.

Recently I heard a young adult describe her upbringing. “We were encouraged to try,” she explained. “My mother calls it a ‘can do’ attitude but I disagree. I call it a ‘can try’ attitude. We did not have to be successful; we did not have to ‘do’. We were allowed to try, evaluate, and then try again, gaining knowledge from each attempt.” A young child does not refuse to learn to skip simply because he/she once fell while trying to learn to walk. We all fell; it is an inevitable part of the process of learning to walk. Yet, we forget that when we start to learn other things. Thousands of people once took piano lessons but many quit because at some point, they made one too many mistakes and felt that they had no musical talent. Most likely that simply had a teacher who was not supportive. Perfectionists exact a price that no human can pay because no human is perfect. We all stumble as we live but that is part of learning.

A recent trip found me encountering a group of people that seemed to be part of the same club, a club that required everyone to shop at the same stores, adopt the same fashion style, lose any sense of individuality in an effort to “fit in” and be considered socially acceptable. It was as if I had walked into a real life science fiction film about cloning. While school uniforms have been found to serve useful purposes in public, private, and parochial schools, one seldom hears about the benefits of grown men and women wearing a socially acceptable uniform for professional and recreational attire. My very conservative attire was out of place and thus appeared somewhat antisocial simply because I had not gotten the “This is what we find acceptable attire” memo! These people did not seem happy in their cloned outfits, I should add.

Being perfect is all things is not possible. Accepting that fact and being honest about one’s strengths and weaknesses does not make you less loyal to yourself or less of a person. In fact, it does quite the opposite. By knowing one’s self and being honest, you are being extremely loyal to who and what you are. It is the first step to growing stronger and becoming a better person, a more faithful person to life, living, and one’s belief system.

One of the greatest detriments to self loyalty is the art of comparison. It is a game that you will never win. There will always be someone you perceive to be smarter, taller, brighter, more attractive, more talented, better dressing, etc. Comparisons are interesting but they are not a yardstick for measuring self-worth. Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with having said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She was the victim of many negative comments, even after her husband became one of the longest serving presidents of the United States of America. Value yourself for what you are and be loyal to yourself.

In 1955 poet E. E. Cummings offered the following advice: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” All we can do is try to be better today than we were yesterday. That requires knowing what to be loyal to and what allegiances might not be a positive thing. Misplaced loyalty can be a hurdle but every hurdle is simple a path that takes an extra gulp of air to cross. Hurdles are not roadblocks and even roadblocks have detours. With a little loyalty to one’s self and a positive attitude, a great deal can be accomplished and attained.

Michelangelo once said: “The promises of this world are, for the most part, vain phantoms; and to confide in one’s self, and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course.” Know that to which you are loyal and know that it is helping you be the best you can be. Commonly miss-credited to Emerson and Thoreau, it was actually Henry S. Haskins who said: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

As Theodore S. Geisel, better known by his literary moniker Dr Seuss penned: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” Be loyal to yourself and your beliefs. And then let the rest of the world march behind you!

My Psalm 146

Thank you, Great One!
You are loyal and steadfast in your love to us.
You are loyal and ever-present in your guidance to us.
You are loyal and merciful in your leadership of us.
You heal our wounds; comfort our fears;
You soothe our anxieties and dry our tears.
We pledge our hearts to you and our hands to your service.
Thank you, Most Merciful and Loving One!

My Psalm 147

I am but a babe, dear Father/Mother.
You care for me always.
Your compassion is ever present.
Your graciousness bestowed upon all.
We are not worthy and yet you still love.
We are a tempest in your creation and yet you seek to help us find peace.
Praise to you, Most Gracious Spirit.

Pentecost 145

Pentecost 145
My Psalms 145

Problematic Faithfulness

Yesterday loyalty was discussed; actually, it was introduced. Today’s post continues on the theme of loyalty, in part two of what will most likely be a three-post discussion. It is a fitting topic and one that resounds through most spiritual and religious writings. Loyalty is not a one-way street. It is a relationship, a give-and take action. At a time when murders are being committed both by those who have been bullied and those who would bully, the key component in all is loyalty.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has discussed this subject in articles published in 2007 and updated in 2013. Loyalty is described as a problematic virtue. “It is constituted centrally by perseverance in an association to which a person has become intrinsically committed as a matter of his or her identity. Its paradigmatic expression is found in friendship, to which loyalty is integral, but many other relationships and associations seek to encourage it as an aspect of affiliation or membership: families expect it, organizations often demand it, and countries do what they can to foster it.”

While there is much panic and hysteria concerning the recent Ebola virus outbreak which has spread from Africa to countries that sent doctors to assist medically, the numbers of those outside the African continent who have died from the disease is small. Certainly even one death is one too many. One life lost diminishes all mankind. However, while one person in the United States has died from the Ebola virus in the past year, almost three thousand percent more have died from gun violence. That number includes those in the process of committing a criminal act, those who have committed suicide, and those who were victims of another. It also includes school shootings. This is not, for this discussion, a matter of gun ownership. It is a matter of the heart of the problem. People feel a loyalty to friends and do not speak up when another is being bullied. People want to “fit in” and so participate in senseless acts of violence to earn “street cred” or gang affiliation. Still others have become addicted and lose all rational thought except for one – obtain the object of their addiction.

The student who has seen another bullied, who knows another’s claims of retaliation but does not speak up is putting their loyalty with their peers and not with their future. The kid whose only family is the gang on the corner has misplaced loyalty in thinking the group actually cares about him or her when, in reality, they only see him or her as a means to an end, a commodity and not a person. The addict knows only one loyalty and that is to his or her drug of choice. The criminal who cheats, lies, or steals and ends up using a gun to defend himself has put loyalty in either material things or an over-inflated ego.

The fickle nature of man is what the entire Torah or Old Testament is based upon and very little has changed as man has evolved through time. Called fealty in the Middle Ages, where one put one’s loyalty often determined one’s status, one’s very future – if there was one or not. Align with the wrong clan leader or tribe, later king or dictator, and death was a certainty.

Quoting again from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “As a working definition, loyalty can be characterized as a practical disposition to persist in an intrinsically valued (though not necessarily valuable) associational attachment, where that involves a potentially costly commitment to secure or at least not to jeopardize the interests or well-being of the object of loyalty. For the most part, an association that we come to value for its own sake is also one with which we come to identify (as ours).”

The argument regarding loyalty and whether it is a value or a sentiment is also longstanding. Are we loyal because of the ethics and morals behind our decision? Are we loyal because we believe in that to which we have pledged our loyalties? Does one become loyal based upon the benefits of such a decision? Does loyalty become displayed in preferential treatment and behavior?

Stop ten people on the street and ask for an example of loyalty and you will get answers ranging from religion to sports. Ask those same ten people about the most loyal animal and you will probably get ten similar answers – a dog. Is a dog loyal because of its nature or affection with its owner or does the dog realize that loyalty will provide it with a better and safer life? If a dog is swayed by a burglar and a thick t-bone stone, is the dog being disloyal to its owner or has the training been lax? Perhaps the dog is swayed because of his/her nature in being a carnivorous animal that likes to eat steak?

To what do you pledge your loyalty? Is it you faith, a sports team, or a brand of six-inch fashionable heels? Where do we draw the line at how loyal we are? What about our misplaced loyalties? Can being loyal mean giving up good judgment? When we do exercise our good judgment, is there a price to pay and will we be seen as disloyal? When is it okay to be a “snitch” or a “whistle blower”? Again, from Stanford: “…The case of whistle blowing illustrates not only the importance of loyalty to many organizations but also the care that needs to be exercised when it is claimed that obligations of loyalty are justifiably overridden or forfeited.”

As a humanitarian, loyalty can be a tricky thing. Those who gave up vacation time and traveled to Africa to assist medically with the Ebola epidemic have returned home to a less than hero’s welcome. The have followed their Hippocratic oath, thought of their [global] fellow man, and shared their wisdom and loyalty to mankind only to return home and be labeled thoughtless, stupid, putting others in harm’s way. Their loyalty to living and refusal to panic has not given them the country’s support. Have we been disloyal to them?

Those who are loyal to a religion or spirituality, expect that loyalty to garner them something in return. The whole concept of prayer is a loyal relationship between one’s Great Spirit or God and the individual. Is that an equal relationship? Are we as loyal to that Creator as we expect Him/Her to be to us? Do we then share that loyalty with our fellow man? Where does responsibility enter into our loyalty?

My Psalm 145

You are greatness, Lord.
You are goodness, O God.
You are worthy of my loyalty.
And yet …..
There are those who mock my beliefs.
There are those who ridicule my behavior or lack of certain ones.
I cannot touch you.
I cannot see you.
Is believing enough?
The faithful know the truth of who and what you are.
The wind blows your mercy to all.
The sun reflects your goodness.
The world blossoms as your love and forgiveness do for those who know you.
You believe in me, Great Spirit.
I believe in you.
Help me to live a life responsible to such beliefs.
Let me not follow the world but your teachings.
Let my every breath whisper your name
And my every action be a reflection of your love for all.
Help me to be loyal to what I believe and responsible in my living.

Pentecost 144

Pentecost 144
My Psalms 144

To Be or To Deny

The world has undergone many transformations throughout its history. Some things, however, have remained constant. Loyalty is one of them. A popular American writer, Laura Ingles Wilder once said of her writing: “As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that the things that are truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. Courage and kindness, loyalty, truth, and helpfulness are always the same and always needed.”

It has been reported that loyalty among the citizens of the twenty-first century is a rare community seldom found. Economists claim that most businesses lose one-third of their customers within the first seven years, half of their employees within the first five, and over half of their investors within the first three. Fifty to sixty years ago people bought their cars from the same automobile company, favored the same products their parents had, stayed at the same job until they retired, and seldom traded their stock once purchased.

Some place the shift in consumer loyalty on simple economics. People today are more interested in the cost of an item than in the reputation of the manufacturer of the item. Some detergents companies can count on their stock rising and more purchases following a natural disaster or environmental disaster as they contribute and have emergency response teams that are present, washing the clothes of hurricane and tornado victims and helping wash oil off of waterfowl. Still, these human compassion stories do not build a productive consumer base consistently.

Others feel that as the security of living as become threatened by homegrown and international terrorism, people are not living for the future but rather “in the moment”. Loyalty is more a long-term goal that such people have no interest in and so they go for the quick return rather than the long-term investment. Still others claim the rise in poor parenting leads to a recognition and misguided loyalty to abusive parents and that results in a mistrust and lack of loyalty to anything.

The problem with these theories is that they discount the basic human condition of life and the desire to indeed live. Children often defend the abusive parent more strongly than not for a number of reasons. A subconscious sense of co-dependency is also seen by those joining cults or seeking to travel overseas to join radical groups that falsely portray themselves as religious when in fact they are simply power mongers. People are also discouraged from creating a scene or rocking the boat and so loyalty is used incorrectly and again by those more interested in boosting their own personal egotistical stock than in the company stock.

How we define spirituality and religion becomes an important factor in how we view loyalty. Defining loyalty is not an easy thing to do. Depending on your dictionary, it is either faithfulness to an idea, person, institution, or nation or simply being true to an ideal. Even the etymology of the word is argued. Some feel it dates back to the Latin “fidelis”, pertaining to something always strong, while others believe it originated from the Latin “lex”, meaning law. Some feel it is linked to the French “loialte” which denoted someone who had pledged allegiance and was therefore entitled to all legal rights so afforded.

In the book “The Philosophy of Loyalty”, written by Josiah Royce”, loyalty is described as a virtue or a moral principle. In fact, Royce felt loyalty to be the first virtue from which all others derived. He further described it as “the willing and [practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause”. Certainly the early Christians believed this. In fact, most religions advocate such devotion and loyalty. Many cults not only require it but they go a step further in keeping all practices secret, known only to those who are deemed loyal.

Loyalty becomes misguided when it is not returned. The “quid pro quo” principle should certainly be in use for those companies, groups, and organizations asking for loyalty. Goethe explained it this way: “You can easily just the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” Loyalty given should be loyalty returned and not based upon gifts given or status promised.

Loyalties can change, however, as time evolves, lessons are learned, and people grow. Jarod Kintz wrote: “Just because I liked something at one point in time doesn’t mean I’ll always like it, or that I have to go on liking it at all points in time as an unthinking act of loyalty to who I am as a person, based solely on who I was as a person. To be loyal to myself is to allow myself to grow and change, and challenge who I am and what I think. The only thing I am for sure is unsure, and this means I’m growing, and not stagnant or shrinking.”

Loyalty which is destructive is manipulation and not loyalty deserved. Stephen covey advocates “Be loyal to those who are not present. In doing so, you build the trust of those who are present.” As the saying goes, respect is earned, honesty appreciated, love is gained and loyalty returned.

My Psalm 144

Dear Maker of all, Creator of my being:
Help my faith be true.
Show me the goodness I should trust;
Guide my steps toward the Light of Love.
As I try to live my life, O God, please be my guide.
I want my faith to be a fortress against the trials and tears.
Let my beliefs to be true and worthy.
In you is my trust, my faith, my loyalty.

Pentecost 143

Pentecost 143
My Psalms 143

A Clockwise Covenant

They would all gather every Friday morning at someone’s house. From nine in the morning to one or two in the afternoon was “their” time. This group of friends, sisters, cousins, and neighbors exchanged recipes, complaints, and household tips. Some would bring crochet or knitting; others brought mending. During the time for needlework, coffee and conversation flowed freely. Baking was shared and large amounts prepared so that everyone had multiple things to take home. These were women who had once had large families but now cooked for only two or sometimes three. They baked their favorites and then spread the wealth among all. The food would be taken home and eaten during the next week. Projects were appreciated and those feeling stuck were given advice and help. The encouragement was fuel for continuing. Few had gone past high school and a couple worked outside of their homes still, using their four day/ten-hour-a-day schedule to make room for the Friday Funfest gathering.

Occasionally, a granddaughter would be present or great-niece. On those days, paper dolls would be brought out and coloring books would be part of the creative time. Older hands showed younger ones how to do the needle arts often forgotten in the modern world. Stools would appear in the kitchen and small hands would be covered by larger ones as they learned to kneed bread dough and cut corn off the cob. Each summer the “city” granddaughter” would be reminded to stir the cake batter in a clockwise motion. Each year when she asked why, these women of the country whose lives had changed very little from those of their mothers and grandmothers would lecture on living above the equator and how their location, the tides, and motion of the earth required the direction of their stirring. And each summer, at least once a summer, the “city granddaughter” would smile impishly and stir counterclockwise. All would laugh and then toss out the batter. New batter would be made, stirred in one direction. After all, life needs its sweets – properly made, of course!

Legend has it that the ancient Celtic people, those original inhabitants of the British Isles and many parts of Europe, were very precise in their movements. While much of what we know about them comes from the writings of the Romans, their enemies and eventual conquerors, it is accepted that groups of these people firmly believed in doing things we today would consider obsessive compulsive. It is reported that they believed that if one was to turn left and walk far enough, one would find him or herself at the end of the world and fall off unless the walker turned around and went back the other way. Therefore, it was common practice for this culture to do everything in one direction since it was known to be safe. They went about their duties daily walking the same number of steps in one direction and then, upon completion, walked back the opposite direction the exact same number of steps.

You might remember a post from a couple of days ago discussed the storms of life and the Coriolis Effect. Oddly enough, these women from our Friday gathering did have scientific basis for their thinking and it was the Coriolis Effect. There are a few mixtures that are blended more quickly and smoothly by being stirred in one direction. Remembering that cooking is indeed a chemistry experiment that we, hopefully, get to eat upon completion, one can understand the importance of complete dispersion of the ingredients one into another. Generally speaking, though, the direction one stirs is of little importance as long as the mixture is incorporated into itself completely. There are a few exceptions to that, nonetheless.

Geodynamics or the Coriolis Effect is one of those exceptions, although it plays a very small role on the ultimate success of the recipe. Due to the rotation of the earth as it moves through space, vortexes such as the draining of the kitchen sink and even tropical storms have specific direction of spin. North of the equator they tend to spin counterclockwise and south of the equator they rotate in a clockwise direction. This means that in the Northern Hemisphere, the cake batter in a kitchen has a counterclockwise force exerted. Stirring counterclockwise would then increase the velocity of the stirred mass. Stirring clockwise requires more energy and actually burns more calories. The caloric burn is miniscule so don’t think you can stir cake batter clockwise and lose weight! You are making things harder for yourself although you are also probably becoming stronger and a teensy bit healthier…as long as you don’t inhale the finished cake!

There is a much simpler reason for those wonderful women admonishing the young girl for not stirring clockwise. It is because of human physiology. Most right handed people stir better – more smoothly, and faster when stirring in a clockwise motion. This is due to the anatomy of the arm and hand. It just works best in that direction. Since right-handed people outnumber lefties by approximately a nine-to-one ratio, cookbooks and baking instructors universally advocate stirring in a clockwise manner. Poor results from improper stirring are also most likely the origin of the old superstition that stirring counterclockwise creates bad luck. It doesn’t really; it just results in a lackluster cake.

How do we stir things in our own lives? Are we content to walk the same number of steps forward and then retrace those going backwards? Do we dare to venture past the known and explore our potential? Many make a covenant with their soul to be the best possible only to withdraw out of fear of the possible. Imam Al-Ghazali explains this internal clash: Never have I dealt with anything more difficult than my own soul, which sometimes helps and sometimes opposes me.”

The clockwise versus counterclockwise debate can seem to be an analogy for lift versus dark, forward versus backward, positive versus negative, past versus future. NASCAR races tend to run counterclockwise. Based upon a previous paragraph, we can determine they do so to gain the most momentum possible. How we live our covenant with ourselves determines whether we run the race of life in the most expedient manner possible or whether we are our own biggest roadblock. We need to move, clockwise or counterclockwise, with strength and know that if we do reach the end, we won’t fall off. Faith is there to catch us if we just reach out to it…and remember to laugh, love, and live the life!

My Psalm 143

Lord, Great Power and Spirit,
I need you!
The world is unknown and scary.
I am very afraid.
Please do not ever leave me.
I trust in you, O God.
I count on your mercy and guidance.
I seek your wisdom and counsel.
You are my strength, my compass, my refuge.
I place my trust in you, O Father.
The world is full of enemies and evil paths.
Hear my call for direction, Almighty Spirit.
Give me your ear and show me the way to travel.
We are called to move and not to wither and die.
Help me to move forward to prosperity, dear Lord.
Let me adopt the ways of your love in my life.

Pentecost 142

Pentecost 142
My Psalms 142

The Great Search

It was a small parish. Less than fifty families were on the church rolls and many of those were senior citizens. For the twenty or so families with children, though, the parish provided opportunities to learn and grow in their faith. The youth group met once a week in the evening. Before the supper that was provided, they spent half an hour cleaning the church. Quickly they learned while it might seem like fun to put gum under the pews, scraping it off was another story! They came together for the communal supper which was provided by the heretofore-mentioned senior citizens. Young and old ate and communed, cleaning up together afterwards. A program of sorts followed and then the parish hall was cleaned, materials left out from the morning’s educational classes secured, and a final check before all left. The weekly exercise proved to develop a sense of ownership for the young people. They not only save the parish the cost of a custodian and janitorial service, they gained a responsibility towards their lives in faith.

Holidays were similarly celebrated with the young people taking part in many aspects. It was on such a holiday that the rector invited the teenagers to hide the eggs for the younger children to find. The four teens laughed their way around the church and then ventured outside. The sparse landscaping provided little foliage but soon they had hidden all the eggs and returned inside for a doughnut and their class. The seasons changed but the youngsters remained close and active in their faith. During the summer they often were found holding class at a nearby river. Sometimes accompanied by their rector, they would go out in a boat, swim and go tubing, water ski, and have a picnic on the sand bar. They discussed the wonders of nature and the rest of Creation and develop a deep sense of true friendship based not upon physical attraction but mutual knowledge and respect one for another.

Autumn brought about the annual hayride but all was not well within the small parish. An odor had developed and so a professional service was hired to thoroughly clean the premises. The young people felt left out but as the odor grew, dropped their appeal to clean. Christmas was approaching and still the smell continued. Plumbers came out to flush the sewer lines but the odor was still present. A sudden ice storm created havoc for the road in front of the parish and on a brisk wintery Saturday, the municipal water department was at the church. Some pipes under the road had frozen and burst and the water main needed to be turned off. It so happened that one of the teens was at the church that day helping prepare for a service when the rector was heard bellowing her name. Puzzled she turned and saw him motioning to her to come outside. Once there, the rector pointed to the water main in the ground near the parish all. “Guess what we found?” he asked. The teenage girl looked puzzled. “Go ahead”, he said, encouraging her forward. “You kids hid two eggs in the water main?” he asked. “That’s what we smelled all this time!” The girl looked apologetic and then smiled. “Guess it was a good place to hide them, after all. I told the guys it wasn’t but look, no one found them!”

We hide a great many things in life. Sometimes we hide eggs and then watch as others find them joyfully. Sometimes we hide money, hoping to save it for a rainy day. Then there are those deep crevices within our soul where we hide our pain.

Musician Jim Morrison wrote: ““People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”

No one imagined that four thousand and one hundred pages (US version) would become the talk of the world and yet, it was the universal pain portrayed by the title character that made J. K. Rowling a household name. People of all ages understood Harry’s emotions as described by Professor Dumbledore: “”You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”

Oprah Winfrey has advised many to “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” It may sound impossible but it is a valuable life lesson and piece of advice. Pain is universal. We all experience it, no matter our age, ethnicity, education, stature, or status. It not only can teach us, it can unite us and bind us. Mostly, it reminds us we are human.

James Baldwin wrote: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

So often we spend our lives searching for that hidden egg of success, the golden egg that will solve all our problems and tell us all we need to know. In truth, we really need to search ourselves and attend to our own pain. C. S. Lewis explained it this way: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

That for which we search is often, like those eggs hidden at the small parish so long ago, right under our own noses. When we feel the pains of life, we need to learn from them and learn. Sophocles wrote: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love.” The love which brought us into this world, a world created for us, will heal us if we allow it. Love searches our every pore, heals all our scars and still loves. When we search for the love and let it in, we will find the truth and pain will be no more.

My Psalm 142

The night is dark and seems forever.
My fears are as many as the seconds of my life.
I’m afraid to open my eyes; afraid of what I might see.
If I look into my soul, will there be anything there?

Pain has knitted a body bag of scars, encasing my heart.
Hope is a long forgotten memory and success an impossible goal.
But the teachings tell me I am worthy.
Worthy enough for one to preach and another to seek.
Many believe all creation, including my humble soul, to have worth.

Why do I feel so small?
Why do I feel so alone?
Is it really as simple as my heart seeking its purpose?
I turn to you, Great Spirit, for my peace.

Your love is a balm on my wounded soul.
I will believe in your goodness and thus my own.
Belief will be my garment to soothe my pain and erase my scars.
In life, I will find your presence. In living, I will find my own.

Pentecost 141

Pentecost 141
My Psalms 141

Be Your Own Hero

Fortune tellers are found in tourist areas, street fairs, and areas full of mysticism. They are frequented by people wanting to make a better life, better decisions, or sometimes just for fun. Usually dressed in Romani or gypsy attire, such tellers of the future and one’s fortune seem to call upon nature and a mysterious knowledge of the air to determine one’s path taken for tomorrow.

While fortune telling is considered a scam, many in the business world participate in similar undertakings, seeking what people will do and like for tomorrow. In doing so, they often employ predictive analysis. Using a predictive algorithm, statistical techniques analyze the past and the present to predict the future.

These predictive models or exercises use mountains of data which include basic historical facts and past trends as well as economic patterns and learning curves to identify upcoming opportunities as well as potential risks. Models are created and these pretend scenarios allow for the arrangement and rearrangement of variables. The knowledge gained helps guide and direct business decisions and future business mergers and transactions.

Most people, certainly in the United States of America, take part in predictive analysis every day whether they realize it or not. Their credit score employs predictive analysis of their past credit history, spending patterns, which can be tracked through the use of credit cards and business loyalty cards, as well as purchases bought with loans such as cars or houses. Those interest rates also use predictive analysis in determining how good the client will be in paying off their debts. Without realizing it, most Americans become a part of the fortune telling economic environment.

We also become our own fortune tellers when we make decisions. A person electing to drink and drive has just decided they will most likely suffer harm or cause another to be harmed. Someone who stays in an abusive relationship has just guaranteed themselves of future danger and physical or emotional harm. Someone who smokes while pregnant or continues to eat as they did in the past after having been diagnosed with diabetes or a similar disorder based upon nutrition has given themselves a shorter lifespan.

We can become our own hero, though, when we elect to make the future positive. Life is not a race to be won but a pace, like in a marathon, to be run. When we become our own fortune teller and accept that responsibility, then we have a better chance for success. Every morning is like our own fortune cookie. We are the one who write what it will behold. We may not be able to control the events of the day but we can control our response and whether or not we succumb to temptation that will not be in our own best interests.

One important aspect of the analysis, however, is the angle of observation. What might seem like failure from one point of view might be success from another and vice versa. A popular advertising campaign in the 1980’s featured Joe Camel, a caricature of a camel. It was so popular that opponents rallied and eventually had the ad campaign pulled. The artist and promotional gambit was too successful and it was felt that it would encourage underage smoking since the camel represented the name of the cigarettes being advertised. Thus what was once a successful sketch and idea became synonymous with improperly targeted advertisements.

The 1922 novel “Siddhartha”, written by Hermann Hesse tells the spiritual journey of the title character. In it, Hesse writes: “ “I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” We know ourselves better than anyone else. We can use predictive analysis in forging our own future. Using our own personality traits, shortcomings, and preferences, we can combine them with our belief structure. Then we have a path to follow, a path that can lead us to becoming our own hero. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra agreed: “The brave man carves out his fortune, and every man is the sum of his own works.”

My Psalm 141

Holy Maker, Holy Lord:
The path is not always smooth.
There are dangers and attackers around each bend.
Help, Great Spirit, not to give in.
Give to me patience for the battles necessary.
Grant me grace to forgive my enemies and persecutors.
Allow me mercy to all I encounter, especially myself.
Permit me to be my own best friend, dear God.
My Course may not be straight;
Assist me in running the race to the fullest.
Thank you, precious Holiness, for your faith in me.

Pentecost 140

Pentecost 140
My Psalms 140

The Storms of our Lives

It’s a picnic! You plan the food and are sure to have foods that can withstand the temperatures of the day and the available coolers. You take a blanket for the ever-so-lovely afternoon relaxation. The day dawns and the weather is wonderful. The company pleasing, the entertainment good but not too great so that one can stay relaxed. It’s all going great until …. Suddenly there is a rumble and from nowhere a dark cloud threatens the entire day. Within three minutes, you are caught in a sudden downpour. So much for your calm, restful picnic!

We’ve all had those days. For parents of special needs kids or children of parents with mental health issues, those days can be more the norm than the exception. President Abraham Lincoln lived through many such days. His wife Mary Todd Lincoln was described as a very dramatic woman but this increased greatly after she suffered a fall in 1863. Subsequent deaths of her sons Eddie and Willie and later her husband’s assassination reduced Mrs. Lincoln’s health and confined her to her home and bed. Abraham Lincoln was no stranger himself to moods. It is mentioned in the book “Lincoln’s Enduring legacy”, edited by Robert P. Watson, William D. Pederson, and Frank J. Williams, that he told a close friend Joshua Speed that he wanted to live in order to provide his life with meaning …”to the interest of his fellow man.”

Everything in life comes with a struggle of some sort, a storm to be weathered. Having a belief system requires living those beliefs. Whether it is via an organized religion, belonging to a group favoring a particular spirituality, being in a club or just walking your own path in solitude, having a course determined by adopting certain beliefs (and yes, choosing to not believe is actually its own belief!), you end up making decisions. In a very old television program, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”, the father figure tells his young son: “The only thing wrong with deciding something is that you are also deciding not to do something. No matter what you choose, you are always not choosing something else.”

Having sense of humor helps when making a decision and weathering life’s storms. The website recently published a lovely post by Andrea Arrizza regarding the decision angst of ordering pizza. Included is the waiting time, the anticipation, deciding which pizza to order, that first bite which ultimately means all other bites will be a let-down, the dilemma of whether or not to use utensils when eating the pizza, the crust – which type, how to eat it, whether to eat together, all at once, or save to the end. All considerations involved with getting and eating a pizza; all decisions to make; so many consequences possible that requiring resolution. {If you want to stop reading now and go get a pizza, I’ll understand!]

The thing is that living brings about both sunny days and stormy weather. Sometimes the gale winds are of our own making but often we are caught unawares in tornados brought about by others. How do we save ourselves from the storms of life?

Emotional outbursts actually have a great deal in common with tornados. Derived from the Spanish word “tronada”, which means “thunderstorm and the Latin “tonare”, meaning “to thunder”, a thunderstorm is a rotating column of air. There are various types and many are not visible but they all rotate. Often a tornado begets a cell of storms and other tornados are formed. Likewise, an emotional outburst can result in other outbursts and negative feelings. One person’s bad mood seldom begins and ends with just that one person. They can be contagious, as alluring as the smell of pizza.

Tornados d not just appear, though. Unlike the sudden storm that can dampen, literally, a picnic, a tornado must have certain atmospheric conditions present. The rotation is determined based upon location, as proven with the Coriolis Effect. However, the size of the storm matters as does the one requirement for the Coriolis Effect to exist – a rotating earth. The Coriolis Effect describes the deflection of a moving object in a rotating frame while Newton’s Laws of Motion describe an inert frame of reference. In other words, how an object moves is dependent on where it is moving and its base.

Let’s apply this to the human emotional tornado. As long as it has nowhere to rotate or move, it will play itself out and become inert. However, when we buy into the storm of another, we then help it to rotate, gain strength, and then perhaps spawn one of our own. We then become the emotional outburst which we disliked from another. We don’t have to follow the storm, making others. We can stand strong and mine for miracles instead of creating the dark clouds.

Weathering the storms of life requires a solid and constant base of belief and that must be lived daily. It also requires a commitment to live a life of meaning. A life lived with purpose is a strong life. A well-built house can weather most storms and so can a well-built personality with a solid belief system. It begins and ends with a life lived “to the interest of his [her] fellow man.” Faith can be our storm shelter.

My Psalm 140

O Master and Creator of all,
Deliver me from my enemies,
Even when I am my own worst enemy.
Let me see another’s suffering as temporary
And not borrow their misery.
Let me do what I can for my fellow man.
Guard my tongue;
Help me to be strong and not follow.
Protect me from those who would seek my downfall.
Lead me through the brambles of life.
Hear my prayers, O Mighty One.
Guide down the paths of goodness for all.
In you I place my trust.
You are my salvation and deliverance.