Hummingbirds and Pineapples

No Hummingbirds Allowed

The Inverted Pineapple

Pentecost 93 & 94


Note: This post was originally supposed to be two posts but I feared one would get read without the other so today you have two posts combined.


We’ve all heard the old saying about a “fish out of water”.  It is a figure of speech used to describe something or someone that is out of their element.  A book entitled “A Fish Out of Water” was written by an author as she completed a six-week stay at a hotel while her home was being renovated.   Many thought this was the impetus for her book until she jokingly referred to her final draft as the 9, 373th version of the book”.


This book was actually based upon a short story written by the author’s husband, published eleven years earlier as a short story.  With written permission from her husband, Helen Palmer Geisel published her book eleven years later, expanding on husband Theodore’s original premise of a fish that is fed so much it grows too big for its fishbowl in his short story “Gustav the Goldfish”.  Most of us know her husband better by his pseudonym – Dr. Seuss.


In the book format, the fish is purchased by a young lad who received instructions for his care and feeding from the pet store owner.  The young boy overfeeds his fish, however, and soon must call the fire department to assist with his fish that has grown much too big for not only his fishbowl but also the family bath tub.  The fire department takes the fish to a local swimming pool and the pet store owner is consulted.  He dives under the water with the fish and eventually surfaces with the fish its original size. He again tells the young boy not to feed his fish improperly and this time the young lad listens.


While people have assigned morals to many of Theodore Seuss Geisel ‘s works, those of Helen Palmer seem to stand on their own for what they were published, beginning children’s book that encouraged young readers.  On most of the book jackets of her writings, Helen Palmer is said to be married to an eccentric writer listed as “LeSeig”, the name Geisel spelled backwards.


Theodore Geisel said he wrote to entertain but many of his own books have been used in educational contexts.  The lesson of Gustav, as the fish is called in the original story, or Otto, the name given in Helen Palmer’s book, illustrates the dangers of taking a fish out of its natural habitat, giving it something more than what it needs.  Nature is precariously balanced on such a premise.  Take for instance, the hummingbird.


Hummingbirds are delightful to watch as they “hum”, beating their wings up to fifty times each second.  They originated most probably in Europe and Asia about forty-two million years ago. Considered a New World bird, they migrated to the Western Hemisphere and found themselves firmly established in South America twenty-two million years ago.  As they evolved, a taste receptor developed which allowed the hummingbird to locate nectar.  Within the past ten million years over one hundred and forty different species of hummingbirds have developed.  Three years ago, a fifty-million –year-old fossil was discovered in Wyoming which is considered to be a predecessor of the hummingbird so obviously history on hummingbirds continues to be written,


One place they are not found, however, is in Hawaii.  It is illegal to import them to the fiftieth state of the U.S.A.  There they are not only considered to be a fish out of water, they are not wanted.  Most of us, if we are honest, would admit to feeling like that at times.  Whether it is at a party or other event or just because we are new, we feel we don’t fit in.  Sometimes it is something as simple as wearing an outfit that did not fit in but sometimes, we feel it is because of who we are, who we truly are.


So how does this relate to pineapples?  Pineapples are the reason one cannot import hummingbirds to the Hawaiian Islands.  Hummingbirds drink the nectar of flowers and by doing so, they have changed pollination of these flowers forever.  Sometimes we meet people who want to be social but are afraid of people.  Many breeds of dogs suffer anxiety issues when their owner leaves although the dogs themselves are not particularly cuddly animals.  The pineapple is a bit like that.


You see, pineapples seeds need pollination but the presence of seeds can harm the quality of the fruit of the pineapple.  A herbaceous perennial, one pineapple can produce as many as two hundred flowers.  Then the individual flowers join together to create what we call the pineapple.  The hummingbird can disrupt this cycle so it would definitely be a “fish out of water” in Hawaii.


The fruit of the pineapple is protected by its thorny exterior which is how it got its name.  Early explorers from Europe came upon these plants in the Americas and thought they were pinecones due to their similarity to the seeds of pine trees.  As people we too can create for ourselves a thorny exterior to protect ourselves.


We need to realize that we each should soar in our lives.  Much of this series discussing how to make the ordinary extraordinary has been about helping others.  When we help others we also help ourselves.  Some of it has been about showing thankfulness, expressing gratitude.  We do, at times however, need to look inward and take care of ourselves.  There are elements of that that no one else can do.


In order for us to soar, we should not continue to seek what makes us uncomfortable just because it is trendy.  We need to seek out what is right for us and then do it in such a way that no one else is harmed but all benefit.


Earlier this week the skin of an anaconda was discovered in Maine.  Anacondas are not native to Maine and if one is around in the forestation of the area, it will not survive the brutal cold of the winter season fast approaching in the area.  At first it was thought to be a prank but experts have verified that the skin is indeed that of an anaconda, recently shed as they are wont to do at this time of the year.  The large non-native, fish out of water reptile is most likely a pet that someone has abandoned.  Wildlife authorities are searching for it in order to save its life. 


We need to follow our own path and not just follow the trends.  No friendship is worth losing ourselves.  Ralph Waldo Emerson explained it best how not to end up a fish out of water:  “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”


Do We Really Want to Know?

Do We Really Want to Know?

Pentecost 92


Over the weekend I became embroiled in an argument of sorts with one of those “friend of a friend of a friend” things that often occurs on Facebook.  Someone had posted something about the National Anthem and posed a question:  Who knew it had four verses?  AS a musician, I have lost count of the hundreds of times I have played this national treasure.  Its complexity often belies the tune’s origin, supposedly as a drinking song.  I responded that I knew all the verses and that knowledge apparently made me both expert and target.


If you’ve been reading any of my blog posts over the almost three years this particular blog has been in existence, then you know that mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Last year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, a young girl who dared to follow her dream to learn.  Education is both the key that unlocks life’s mysteries and also puts a target on one’s back at times.


Many things seem to defy basic knowledge.  The Christian tradition tells the story of a loving God, a virgin birth, the crucifixion of the child of that virgin birth, and his bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could anyone believe that a man could be born from a woman and some Creator spirit, live, be crucified, buried, supposedly return from the dead to walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?


As it gained momentum, the Christian Church, the Roman Church of the time, became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.


Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.


Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.


Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.


The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.


Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influenced Christian philosophy of the period.


The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion, a feeling easily and perhaps understood.  These invasions introduced Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.


Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.


For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  yet, don’t we all live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?  Certainly my stating a few facts about the National Anthem led to great dissension by one “friend”.   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”


Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Francis Scott Keys penned the verses to the National Anthem of the U.S.A. while actually a prisoner aboard an enemy ship, a ship he had boarded to broker peace and hopefully, a cessation of the fighting.  “Oh, say; can you see?”  Knowledge is out there for us to discern but only if we are willing to see.  Knowledge takes us out of our comfort zone.  Do we really want to know or are we too willing to stay comfortable in our ignorance?  Is that truly living?


 Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”



Envision the Possibilities

Envision the Possibilities

Pentecost 91


If you are reading this, then at some point today you awoke.  Maybe not completely or willingly, but you changed from a sleep state to a state of being awake.  But how awake are you?  I mean, really awake.  All too often we go through our day on auto-pilot.  We do the same things by rote; habits comprise our living.  What if we took a leap of faith and envisioned something greater?
“Hey there;  I’m Brandon.  I get really passionate about things.  At some time in my life, I’ve been obsessed or borderline-obsessed with saltwater aquariums, the baritone euphonium, reading, piano, filming, financial markets, New York City, and photography.  I studied History at the University of Georgia.  During my senior year of college, I took out $3,000 in student loans and bet it on Barack Obama to win the presidency.  A friend heard about this bet and got me a job trading bonds on the Chicago Board of Trade.  I traded for three years.  It went really well for awhile.  But then it went really bad. Whoops. After I lost my trading job, I decided to move to New York City and take portraits of strangers on the street. Mom wasn’t too happy about that decision, but so far it’s gone pretty well. I’ve taken nearly 5,000 portraits and written 50 stories. And I’ve met some amazing people along the way.”


This paragraph is on the home page of the website for Humans of New York.  Now a best-selling published book and the subject of a highly successful blog, Brandon Stanton’s intro doesn’t really tell the whole story.  In 2010 he had a goal to take ten thousand New Yorkers’ pictures and plot them on a map.  The amazing thing about Brandon’s photography, though, is the story that each picture tells.  The Georgia native began taking pictures as a hobby while living in Chicago.  He has since traveled under the auspices of the United Nations, taking part in a fifty-day trip through ten nations.  Last year he did the same in Pakistan and Iran and crowd funded a project to help end bonded labor in Pakistan.


Stanton’s photographs are not technically perfect.  After all, he was a history major in college.  What they do, however, is bring the human condition into focus.  They capture a moment in time that is an entire book.  Not all of the minute portraits are completely candid shots. There are the critics as well.  Recently, Robert John Boyle published an article at regarding the sugarcoating of Brandon’s subjects and the presentation that Boyle called “sentimentality”.


Last year, Brandon Stanton raised over half a million dollars to help Syrian refugees.    The visual content of the pictures found within Humans of New York make us listen, not only to the subject of the photograph but to the world around us.   Brandon Stanton’s pictures shake us up, and wake us up.  Suddenly we are not just seeing the same people we might pass every day.  Suddenly we are envisioning something more.


When all we hear is our own ego, we are unable to hear reality and the needs the world is calling us to repair.  “When my husband was dying, I said: Moe, how am I supposed to live without you? He told me: take the love you have for me and spread it around.”  This anecdote from Stanton’s blog and book is just one example of the truths found accompanying each picture.  One of my favorites is the young child Stanton saw.  Wanting to take her picture he started asking nearby adults “Does she belong to you?”  Suddenly the little girl responded “I belong to myself!”  This young girl is already envisioning her future.


What if we listened to the world as a potential success, and that success as belonging to each of us?  Observe a group of mothers and you will learn that each seems to know her own baby’s cry and what that cry means.  When I was single I laughed at the thought of understanding a baby’s cry… and then I became a mother.  I soon became one of “those mothers’.  Most of us dog owners can recognize our own dog’s bark and usually what it means.  (My cats also speak to me but we all know that cats merely do that to get our attention.  After all, no human is smart enough to understand cat-speak!)


When we listen – not just hear but really listen – great things can happen.  Stephen Covey knew how often we fail to really listen: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  We each can envision the possibilities of success, not just for us but for the world, if we would just listen, really listen, to what the world is telling us, to what our neighbors are saying.  I think Leo Buscaglia, another best-selling author,  penned it succinctly:  “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  Envision a better today and you will make it happen.  Envision the possibilities of the future and we will have a better tomorrow and an extraordinary life.


Make It Happen

Make It Happen

Pentecost 90


Create is a simple word, one that comes from the Latin meaning to grow.  It is something we all do every single day and yet, most of us claim not be creative, the adjective form of the word “create”.  Nevertheless, in spite of our most fervent protestations, we are exactly that which we would claim not to be.  Yesterday we discussed how things just happen.  In fact, we talked about how life happens.  We do not go through life just letting the waves of misfortune wash over us, though.  At least, we shouldn’t.  We need to make a conscious effort to create the extraordinary so that our ordinary minutes become the masterpiece that is our living.


So let’s discuss this word “create”.   Simply by being alive, we “grow” a life each and every day.  I remember the first time I had someone ask if I was an artist.  Now, quite honestly, my stick figures are pretty cute but an artist?  Me?  “Of course not!” was my response.  I was eight at the time and fondly recall the papers the teacher had passed out upon which we had been instructed to draw eight lines.  There were no other instructions and so no two people had a page that looked exactly the same.  The teacher then explained we were all artists with our drawings of eight lines, many in different colors, and most going different directions.  We each had brought to our answer certain expectations and those expectations had clouded our judgement and our answer.


I am not exactly sure who came up with the design for notebook paper but I rather doubt anyone ever looks at a page of lines, usually twenty-eight to thirty-two and considers themselves looking at a work of art.  We tend to discount art that is utilitarian.  Perhaps that is why we seldom consider our coverlets works of art instead of just warm blankets.  Yet, there are some beautiful afghans and quilts who artistry far exceeds the utilitarian purpose of their being created for warmth.


June 1, 1954 was the day that the world met Linus Van Pelt, an adorable blanket-carrying toddler character created by Charles Schultz for his comic strip “Peanuts”.  In 1993 an equally adorable blonde-haired little girl named Laura was diagnosed with cancer and began an intensive two-year therapy of treatments which often made her ill.  She entered the hospital each time carrying her own blanket, a soft bit of security to ease the pain of the side effects of the harsh but effective medications.


In 1995 a woman who had just learned to crochet read an article about Laura and her blanket.  It was Christmas Eve and the article appeared in the “Joy to the World” section of the newspaper’s Parade Magazine, written by Pulitzer Prize winner and photojournalist Eddie Adams.  The woman’s name was Karen Loucks-Baker and she decided to make blankets for children at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centre.    She named her efforts “Project Linus”.  By September 2009, over three hundred thousand blankets had been donated across the U.S.A. to children undergoing difficult situations, especially to pediatric cancer patients and there are chapter worldwide donating blankets to children in need. 


In the state of Washington lives another artist, a writer.  Writing had been a childhood dream, an usual dream for a child who was always in the lowest reading group in school.  The road her dream would take her was rocky but today Debbie Macomber is a New York Times bestselling author with over one hundred and seventy million copies of her books in print worldwide.  Debbie Macomber is less well-known for her fiber arts.  She learned to knit at a rather early age but never really considered herself an artist whenever she completed a blanket.  Although she has supported many great causes and projects, her Blossom Street series of ten books illustrates one of her favorite – The Linus Project.   Debbie Macomber has another yarn-related charity she supports called Knit One, Bless Two.  Hats, scarves, and blankets are collected and distributed to those in need and each one is a masterpiece, knitted and/or crocheted by artistic hands.


Debbie Macomber is a great example, as is Karen Loucks-Baker, of how ordinary things, ordinary creative outlets can make us all humanitarians.  With a crochet hook or two knitting needles and the knowledge of just one stitch on either, an ordinary person can turn a skein of yarn into a security blanket that gives a child comfort and hope and lets a family know they are not alone.  By casting on one hundred stitches to one hundred and fifty stitches and then simply crocheting or knitting a rectangle or square, you can make a blanket of love for a child undergoing some harsh situations.


We all create our lives every day.  It is up to us to create something precious or to decide to throw the gift of an hour in the gutter.  Even if needle arts are not your specialty, there is something you can do to help another being.  Animal shelters can always use blankets and it can be as simple as cutting two- foot by three-foot rectangles out of flannel, fringing the ends and then tying two rectangle pieces together.  (Send me a comment if you want illustrated directions or either type of blanket!)


We all can do something for another person.  That is all a humanitarian is.  By doing this, we live out our faith and manifest our beliefs.  It is just that simple, just that easy to create and grow a blessing for not only another but for ourselves.  I spend far too much time watching television as do many of us.  Often, however, I incorporate creativity into my couch potato-television watching habits by doing needlework at the same time.  We are all artists of one type of another.  If we want to make today special, all we have to do is make it happen.

Life Happens

Still Give Thanks



Sometimes things don’t go like we had planned.  Maybe the car won’t start so you are late to that meeting.  Maybe the store was out of your secret ingredient for your holiday casserole.  Maybe you discovered that you thought you had scheduled a blog post only to discover there was a glitch in the system.  Maybe the power went off overnight and so your alarm didn’t go off.  Maybe you split coffee on your tie right before you walked out of the house.  None of these things were really your fault and yet, you are the one who has to make things right.  After all, life happens.


Earlier this week we talked about how practice makes perfect; well, Not perfect but nice.  The same is true when it comes to basic living.  We plan for the successes in life but it is the “oops!” and goofs that really build strength.  We seldom practice success; it is its own reward.  What we practice are the mistakes either we made or life just threw our way.  By practicing, we gradually overcome and learn.  We gain strength but also confidence to move ahead in life.  We feel we can take on another project, which comes with a new set of challenges.  Because they are new, these challenges come with their own set of mistakes.  And the process starts all over again.  Life happens.  When it happens, we still need to give thanks.


As adults, we tend to overlook that learning process, the series of one step forward and two steps backwards that we all make.  The designation for this series , the way I am organizing these particular posts is Pentecost because I began them on Pentecost Sunday, the fiftieth day after the first Sunday following the First full moon after the vernal spring equinox. most commonly known as Easter.  Pentecost was for the early believers a time of practicing what had been preached.  It still is a time of practicing and also learning.  For the nonspiritual among us it is a time of reflection.  Summer is the big thing during Pentecost.  It affords us time to enjoy life and to be reflecting on what was and looking ahead to what will be.  It is a time to reflect on one’s spirituality, the good and the bad, and how to improve.  It is also the perfect time to give thanks.


My emphasis during Pentecost, known as the Ordinary Time because no major holidays or religious feast days fall during it, was to explore ways we could make the ordinary hum drum of life something more, something extraordinary.  Life is not about standing still.  For the past ten days or so we have explored being grateful, practicing the “Thank You!” we need to give in our lives.  There are those days, however, whenever it would seem that we have nothing for which to give thanks.


Late last year I took a class on spiritual practices.  I freely admit I signed up for it because I was writing a series on prayer.   I thought it would be a great reference and the timeliness of the class offering made it a perfect fit.  I was certain such a class had to include praying.  I was wrong.  Life happens.  The class focused on the spirituality within each of us as we go about our daily livings.  It was less on the “churchy” things we tend to tack on to such things as prayer and more about the mundane everyday things we all have to do … or should do.  Instead of hearing someone talk about how to pray I heard about washing the dishes.  Was this an “Oops!” moment?


Trying to define prayer is both very easy and intrinsically complex.  The word spiritual is equally difficult to define.  If you remember, after presenting you with all the complex definitions of prayer, I summarized it down to one word – conversation.  I am certain each of us defines “spiritual” in our own way and we could go through a host of definitions.  For many people, it is synonymous with being religious but for others, it is a distinct and different approach to life than being religious.  For me, a spiritual life is a connected life.  I define spiritual as just that – connected.


The “Everyday Spiritual Practices” class I took was a great class but it did not discuss praying.  What it did discuss was being connected to our living, being present in the moment.  Coaches tell athletes that they need to be “present in the moment.”  What they are really saying is forget about that last pass you didn’t catch, the goal you didn’t make; live the play at hand.  It is great advice…in the moment.  Tomorrow, though, after the game is over, that same coach will spend all day going over the game and showing the players where they made their mistake.  That coach will point out where the player was supposed to turn so that he could have caught the ball or how distraction from a guard threw the passer off a bit so that a ball caught and then thrown was too far to the right to hit the basket.  Today they need to live in the moment to win the game but tomorrow they will live in the past to prepare for the future.


Such a habit of living and learning is great for sports but it doesn’t do much for our spiritual life and yes, even atheists have a spiritual life.  We all have a soul, a spirit within us.  We all exist and by existing, we are connected to other things and people.  Even the homeless are connected, maybe not to a structural house but to their own favorite place to sleep on the ground, their comfortable blanket or hat. 


For many people, prayer is a time of reflection and supplication, of reviewing like that coach the day after the game.  It can also be a time of asking for help or understanding.  Life can be very confusing and confounding.  Prayer is one way many people seek to find solace for their spirit or soul.  So is gratitude.


Spirituality is a very popular word these days, very trendy and often said in all the right places.  Bah humbug!  True spirituality is something that is felt and lived with very little talking involved.  For some, spirituality is a term they use to avoid in-depth retrospection.  For others, it is a curse to be avoided and for still some, it is a way to avoid the unpleasant truths about ourselves. 


We all have what St Augustine called “ordo amoris”, an ordering our loves.  In other words, we have things we love and place a priority on those things.  We also place a priority on the everyday mundane tasks that life requires; washing dishes, doing laundry, keeping the car in working order and filled with gas.  Few of us love doing those mundane tasks but they allow us to live and do what we do love or need to do.  Can these things possible be spiritual?  Are they a part of our prayer life?


Who are you?  What would you be without your personal “ordo amoris”?  When a terrorist attacks occurs, the fabric of many lives are ripped apart.   People doing rather mundane tasks suddenly become victims in a matter of moments as a destructive spirituality tore hundreds of lives apart.  The same thing happened a little over a week ago in Louisiana as flood waters overtook the city of Baton Rouge.  Two days ago the quaint historic town of Amarice, Italy was hosting a thousand visitors who walked the beautiful streets and laughed.  Today rescue and recovery efforts continue after a devastating earthquake.  How quickly these lives were torn and dramatically changed forever.  How quickly we felt their pain and the fear it created in our own lives.


None of us are born with a warranty tag attached under our arms or on the back of our necks.  Life happens.  The importance of prayer, that conversation we have with our faith as we live, keeps us sane and emphasizes our being connected.  Our spirituality, that which connects us to our universe and life, tells us we are alive.  Life happens and so, we need to live it and be grateful for it.  Life is scary and exhilarating.  It needs reflection and preparation.  It demands we are present in the moment and that includes being grateful. 


Life happens.  I hope today you take a moment to give thanks for what you have.  It may not be much but when it is taken from you, it will seem like a great treasure was lost.  We are all precious as is each life.  Today share a smile, a hug, and yes, even a tear.  Be glad in your moments and give thanks, please.

Connection to Gratitude

Connection to Gratitude

Pentecost 88


“At the heart of virtue is knowledge of the good.”  This quote is from Timothy Sedgwick, Academic Dean for Academic Affairs and Vice President and the Clinton S. Quin Professor of Christian Ethics at Virginia Theological Seminary.  Actually Dr. Sedgwick is best known as an Episcopal ethicist, a fact of being that surprises many being.   Not that I mean he should not be known for his standing but that we have such things as ethicists and that they exist within a denomination.


Try as I do to keep this blog open for all religions and spiritualties, at some point we must admit to our commonality and the search for that which is good.  To deny such would be, in my humble opinion, denying the existence of life itself.


Life is lived in relationship to others.  No matter who you are, what you have, your profession, your status or lack thereof…All life is lived in relationship to others – people, places, things, and the whole of creation.  This is a concept also posited in Sedgwick’s book “The Christian Moral Life”.  One of the more interesting things he discusses, however, is not in the text of the book but in the very first footnote:  “The narrative understanding of ethics as a matter of setting, character, and plot has its origins in Aristotle’s “Poems”.


Your life is a narrative, a series of events and your reaction to them.  At each moment in our living, we ask and answer the questions “What do I do?”  “What will I purchase?”  “Where will I go?”  One question leads to another and the way in which we answer them becomes the narrative of our lives.  Our answers to those and other questions signify that life is painful and has recovery.  Why would this be important?  It is important because such is true for all of us – Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Still-Deciding, Refuse-to-Decide, Spiritualist, etc., etc., etc.  If indeed life is lived in relationship to others, then there will be pain, disappointment, unpleasantness, and even betrayal.   There should also be gratitude.


We have, in these past several days discussed gratitude and how being thankful can cultivate a better life for those we encounter and for ourselves.  In essence, we have planted a garden, a garden of self and a garden of gratitude.  Every garden has its pests.  Some arrive blown by the wind but others are intentional visitors.  They plunder the young bulbs out of the earth and disrupt the fragile seeds.  They expose what needs to stay buried and eat what can then never become part of our harvest.  Even the weather can invade our ideal setting of the garden.


Life is much the same.  There are those people who seem to want only to destroy our tranquil souls and there are always the unexpected life events that, much like a sudden storm, can turn our lives upside down in an instant.  Taking a few moments for the fine art of gratitude, connecting to those things for which we are thankful, can help us weather whatever life throws at us, whatever so-called “pests” happen to come our way.


It is how we connect to these people and events that determines our own  narrative, our own life story.  How we connect to our living determines who we are, what self we have planted and nurtured in our being.  Loss can lead to greater understanding and appreciation if we allow ourselves to learn and grow from it.  In his book “The Moral Christian Life”, Sedgwick describes something he calls the Covenant of Hospitality.


‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  There are many variations of this saying which appears in Hebrews Chapter 13, verse 2.  It is sage wisdom and the very definition of who we are.  How we treat and connect to those who can seemingly do nothing for us speaks volumes as to whom we are as beings.


The connections we make in our life are a mirror of our souls.  I am not just talking about the people we know or the charities we may support.  I am talking about the connections we have to our pets, our material possessions, and yes, even our dreams.  Herman Melville wrote about such connections.  “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”


John Lennon explained it a little differently.  “A dream you dream alone is only a dream.  A dream you dream together is reality.”  When we connect with the world and everything in it for positive results, then we are truly living the best self and life we can offer.  Lennon wrote: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  Someday I hope you’ll join us…and the world will live as one.”  We need not only to dream but to give thanks.  It will not only help illuminate our own narrative of life, it can change that of a neighbor or fellow treaveler.



Practice Makes Nice

Practice Makes Nice

Pentecost 87


In 2013 Lisa Curtis published an article for Forbes Magazine.  At the time, Lisa was the Communications Director for Mosaic, an online marketplace for investing in high-end solar projects.  The articles was titled “The Art of Gratitude” and in it, Lisa described how she, a product of the instant gratification generation, needed to learn the fine art of expressing gratitude.


She described how she felt she had already mastered this skill, using a wall calendar in her bedroom to record something great about each day before retiring for the night.  She referenced the difficulty in trying to find something positive, just one thing even, about each and every day.  She also mentioned the growing body of research (which continues to this very day) that supports the theory that a happier and healthier life can be achieved through finding at least one thing for which to be grateful each day.


We seldom think about the concept of retrospection having anything to do with the word “respect”.    Its history or etymology dates back to the Latin “respectus” which translates as “looking back”.  The more modern definition dates back to the late sixteenth century.  It was probably the result of someone’s retrospection and consideration of another’s past behavior but somewhere around the late 1580’s, the word came to mean a feeling of regard or esteem based upon the actions or attributes of a person.


The term respect is a subject of great debate among philosophers and psychologists.  Is a teen driver respecting the speed limit the same as respecting his/her parents?  Surely one is not exactly the same as another.  Most agree that how we respect ourselves often determines the lives we lead and the choices we make.  Could how and what for which we are thankful do the same?


It is most important to have self-respect but it is also important to respect others.  The relationships we have in this world revolve around the respect we show others and how we live is based upon the respect we have for ourselves.  Gratitude is a part of respecting others.  In other words, the kindness we live towards ourselves is mirrored in the kindness with which we treat others.  The person who dislikes him or herself will probably be equally as critical to those around them and being critical does not take one down a path populated with friends.


One of the first steps for respecting others and ourselves involves losing assumptions.  When we let life teach us rather than assuming we have all the answers or know what another is thinking, then we open ourselves up to being free and create opportunities to learn.  Sometimes the greatest way to be kind is to let the person be uniquely themselves without insisting they conform to our own ideas or standards.  The lack of assumption usually leads to a heightened sense of dignity.  When we let people be themselves, we give that which they are dignity.  Feeling that you are dignity is the foundation for a healthy self-esteem, both in us and in others.


When we show dignity to another we are also usually being fair.  Injustices occur every day based upon someone’s assumptions and more times than not, those assumptions are flawed and faulty.  Letting go of assumptions also means fairness will rule the day.  Taking the time to treat everyone equally and meet out the same justice to all, regardless of their position, race, creed, financial status, etc. results in a better social personality.  Such fairness and dignity extended to all comes under the heading of good manners and correct etiquette.  The use of derogatory language is again based upon flawed and ignorant assumptions which lead to discrimination.  No one feels dignified or respected if they are the victim of discrimination. 


Consideration is also a part of good manners as is punctuality.  Sometimes we think our time schedule is the most important in the world.  Insisting others follow our schedule is permissible every now and then.  It is not respectful to make everyone dance to our own tune and nothing else.  Letting people explain themselves is also a great kindness.  When we listen to others, truly listen to them, we are giving them our attention, our time, and letting them know they are valued.    


Life coach Steve Maraboli explains it this way:  ““How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”  Respect is a two-way street.  It is a gift we give ourselves whenever we look back and give respect to another.


In her article, Lisa Curtis mentions an employee complaining about her to management.  This was an employee for whom Lisa had served as a mentor.  Suddenly the person who thought she was easy to work with was being told someone did not like working for and with her.  Though her department’s productivity level was high, Lisa realized she had forgotten one very important aspect, not only of managing people but in being a person herself.  She had forgotten to show gratitude.


Now, Lisa Curtis revealed in that 2013 article, she has a new bedtime habit.  She not only records great moments of her day, she also records when a colleague or friend has done something nice.  She also made a new goal for herself to express gratitude to at least two people every week.


Giving someone respect, honoring the dignity of who they are, and expressing gratitude to them really costs a person nothing except a few moments of his/her time.  Most of us on Facebook spend at least an hour every day online, clicking the like button for a variety of things.  We need to “like”, wrote Lisa Curtis, in showing gratitude to others and I completely agree.  A simple “thank you” can make someone’s ordinary time extraordinary.