Doing and Being

Doing and Being

Pentecost 132

 

On Oct. 4, 2012, a young man called 911, telling a dispatcher, “Uh, I just killed my mom and my sister….”I felt like they were just suffocating me, in a way,” he told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the 911 call. “Obviously, you know, I’m pretty, I guess, evil.”  Responding Parker County deputies found [a woman] and her daughter dead of multiple gunshot wounds inside the house on [XX] Lane in [subdivision and town].  The young man was arrested at the scene.  In a written statement, he told investigators that he had devised a plan to kill several family members after watching [a] remake of the movie “Halloween,” in which a boy murders relatives.

 

The young man used a gun stolen from his grandfather, a retired law enforcement official, to commit the slayings.  He had originally planned, he later told officials, to kill other members of his family but after killing his mother and sister, he placed the gun on the kitchen counter and called 911.  “I know now though that I’m done with killing. It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

We think we know so much and especially as young adults and teenagers, we can be intensely certain that we think we know something.  Earlier this week another young man shot and killed his parent before climbing a fence onto a schoolyard playground and opening fire.  Before going to the school, he called his grandparents who were the ones to discover the young man’s father dead.  The deceased was their son.  At this time no motive has been given nor do we know the intimate details of this young man’s life.  Clearly there was a disconnect between his valuing life and his actions, though.

 

We study to prevent knowledge and life from passing us by, from slipping through the hours of our living.  This series is about making a difference, about making the ordinary count for something, making life extraordinary.  We do this in the connections we form.

 

Did what I do yesterday have value?  Did I connect with another, friend or stranger?  Was there a purpose for my being?  Often we feel helpless and perhaps hopeless.  For the youngest victim of this most recent shooting who is clinging to life while on life support, there is hope within his family and community.  As we go about our daily living, we need to delve into the answers to such basic question and ways of answering such questions. 

 

 

We will each have our own answers and paths of both learning and exploration.  The future is, after all, ours to construct and write.  Life is not about being haunted.  Life is for living and living for the best outcomes for all of mankind.  Enjoy today.  Live your faith.  Exist; believe; rejoice.  Mostly, I hope you smile – at another but also at yourself.

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The Power of Shhh…

The Power of Shhh…

Pentecost 131

 

We all know what the ravages of illness do to our physical body.  Ask anyone who suffers from a debilitating illness and they can assure you that their illness also takes a toll on their mental state and emotional health.  Rachel Naomi Remen was one of the first to connect the process backwards.  Remen is considered a pioneer in connecting conventional medicine and holistic practices in healing such diseases as cancer, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis.  She has spent the past several decades helping people heal and assisting them in finding a positive connection between their spirit and recovery.

 

“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.”  As a professor at the Oster Center of Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and co-founder of Commonweal Cancer Help Program, Remen encourages finding personal peace.

 

Sometimes the best gift we can give ourselves is the gift of sanctuary.  Many claim to find such a calming sense of refuge in music or other arts but in the quote above, Remen encourages us to find it in the silence of our lives.  Moreover, she advocates that we create some silence every day.  The guest speaker  on several Public Broadcast Series on public television, Remen wants us to stop talking.

 

Sometimes the very best way to make the ordinary extraordinary is to simply be and to let the world exist around us.  Some might fear solitude but it is in the quiet of the world and our being that our greatest revelations can appear.  Those involved in transcendental meditation and centering prayer know the power of silence.

 

Of course, our minds tend to keep racing in those quiet moments.  Bryant McGill explains how this is not a bad thing but simply a path during our quiet times that we should not be afraid to follow.  “Each positive thought is your refuge and your sanctuary, where in that thoughtful moment, you are safe.”  Using the quiet in-between the appointments of our busy lives can create a world of its own.  They can serve to be our own sacred space, an altar in our minds that, in the silence, speaks volumes.

Laughter and Kindness

Laughter and Kindness

Pentecost `30

 

Call it a response to a vitreous debate but I think we need to spend a bit more time talking about kindness.  Someone asked me a characteristic of being kind and the first thing I thought of was … laughter.  “Laughter is timeless.  Imagination has no age.  Dreams are forever.”  These words were written by J. M. Barrie in his 1904 play “Peter Pan” and included in the novelization of the play published in 1911, “Peter and Wendy.”

 

It is said that someone who is kind to animals must be kind and I have always taken in account how a person treats dogs.  I guess you could say my standard of kindness for a person, their breeding if you will, is exhibited by their response and reaction to dogs.  In other words, one of my standards or ways to determine someone’s kindness quotient is their treatment of canines. 

 

 Generally when a breed is recognized, there are certain standards.  Different breeds of dogs must conform to these standards when competing in dog shows.  An English bulldog, for example, cannot compete if the coloring is piebald.  Piebald, not to be confused with merle, is a spotting pattern of an animal found not only in the hair but often on the skin as well.  The word “piebald” is a combination of the word “pie”, derived from the magpie bird which has a distinguishing black and white plumage, and the word “bald”, referring to a white patch or seemingly hairless spot.

 

Many different animals have the piebald coloring.  In horses it is found in the pinto breed although the coloration is usually brown and white.  The national bird of the United States of America gets its name from its white cap of hair – the American bald eagle.  Many birds have this coloring as do dogs, such as the English bulldog.  While a piebald English bulldog may not be allowed to compete, there are adorable animals. 

 

I will admit I have three rescue animals and all are black and white: two piebald cats known as tuxedo cats and one giant dog whose coloring could be called barely merle or piebald.  I like the coloring of the black and white.  It reminds me of the keys on a piano.  However, I also like the symbolism of how the dark and light come together.  After all, none of us is perfect.  We have a bit of dark and light in ourselves.  We go through our life trying to fix the dark and tinker or improve the light in our souls.

 

 

A tinker was a person who traveled around fixing things.  J. M. Barrie gave his fairy friend of the main character Peter Pan the name Tinkerbell since she tended to “fix” things for Peter and the fairy folk.  In the original musical stage presentation, the voice of Tinkerbell was performed by a percussionist and resembled a tinkling bell although it was actually played on an instrument known as the celesta.  Originally, though, “Peter Pan” was not a musical and Tinkerbell was a darting light that seemed to dance around the stage.  Her voice was a collar of bells that belonged to Barrie himself.  The program, however, listed a Jane Wren as playing the part of Tinkerbell.  Eventually the Inspector of Taxes filed a legal demand that Jane Wren pay taxes for her salary for the play and the truth finally came out.

 

The tinker folk of the British Isles have been portrayed as thieves but generally there were respected for the handyman abilities and cheerful natures.  They moved about seeking work and seemed very content with their lives.  The opening quote of this post is said by Tinkerbell who did indeed gain a voice in later productions.  Though Barrie wrote in the death of Tinkerbell a year after Wendy and her brothers leave Neverland, the fairy remains forever a prominent role for children.  Barrie explained her tempestuous nature as being caused by a personality too small for her body.  Sometimes we feel much the same with life.

 

“Laughter is timeless.  Imagination has no age.  Dreams are forever”.  Dreams are forever and one of mine is that we all practice kindness each and every day.  Dreams are the portals through which we imagine and create goodness, greatness, and kindness but action is what makes those dreams become reality.  Victor Borge, a great entertainer and humanitarian once said, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.”  Share laughter and you will share kindness. 

Kindness 365

Kindness 365

Pentecost 129

 

A group of people is riding around the United States in an old school bus and their sole purpose is to spread kindness.  If you were around in the sixties, you might be forgiven for having flashbacks of kids riding around chanting “Make peace and love, not war!”  However, this group started their journey in 2016.

 

Known as The Kindness Project, their name pretty much says it all.  Rhode island in the summer is a popular place and this past July found The Kindness Project in Newport beach, passing out bracelets that read “Be Kind”.  They encouraged everyone to simply practice kindness.  Things like simply holding the door open for someone, saying thank you to another, sharing a smile with a stranger are all ways to practice kindness.

 

The local NBC television station reported on the group:  Teague Egan came up with this idea and assembled some major sponsors and a group of six to travel all fifty states with this message of kindness.  “We wanted to do something that could create a global movement to help people understand that paying it forward is really important,” he said. “Spreading kindness is really important.”

 

Along the way the group will be donating their time and energy for such things as helping terminally ill children attend summer camp or offering support to the LGBTI community in Orlando, Florida.  Those involved are committed to spreading kindness throughout the country and their sponsors agree with them that we need as much as we can share.  Their website is www.kindnessisfree.com and you can follow their journey by going to it.

 

Living kindness every day should be a goal for each of us.  Plato once admonished “Be king for everyone is fighting a harder battle”.  Booker T. Washington updated the advice.  “Of you want to lift yourself up, lift someone else up first.”  Practicing kindness is someone every single person can do.  It requires no special skills or monetary output.  We just have to commit to being kind and make that commitment count each and every day.

 

 

 

Kindness Prompts

Kindness Prompts

Pentecost 128

 

Are you living with intention?  I was asked that question several years ago and my first thought was “Of course I am!”  Then I really started thinking.  Was I?  Living intentionally means doing things with a purpose, not because they are a habit or because we have always done them.  That is best described as living by rote.  Too often our routines become habits and we simply stop thinking about why we are doing what we are doing. 

 

The purpose of this series has been to ask you to stop doing things unconsciously and to begin doing with with a purpose.  That purpose was to make something, someone’s day, some hour better than it might be otherwise.  Instead of accepting the ordinary life, I have asked you to vary your normal schedule in order to make the ordinary extraordinary.

 

It really is not that difficult to do.  Are you busy working and trying to get ahead?  Why not take some time and back some cookies.  You can even purchase them at a bakery or grocery store.  Take them into work and just put them on the table or counter in your break room.  Drive through and take a dozen doughnuts in or perhaps two dozen doughnut holes.    Even something as simple as a box of wrapped bite-size candies on your desk can help brighten someone’s day.

 

In many parts of the world the seasons are changing and so are our wardrobes.  Why not check out a local thrift store whose profits go for charity.  You can save some money and do a good deed.  The money you save and either go into your own personal vacation fund or be donated to yet another charity.

 

Even sharing a thank you or a compliment can make someone’s day.  Yesterday we discussed the purpose of talking.  Civility, manners, thoughtfulness, understanding, compassion, respect – These are all positive emotions conveyed via our speech one to another.  It costs nothing monetarily and the amount of energy expended and time required is minimal.  The rewards, however, are amazing, extraordinary in fact.

 

 

 

Talk is … A Presidential Debate

Talk Is ….

Pentecost 127

 

“Talk is cheap.”  Some call that saying an idiom while others classify it as a proverb.  That brings to light a question.  What is the difference between an idiom and a proverb?  Most dictionaries define an idiom as a fixed distinctive expression whose meaning cannot be deduced from the combined meanings of its actual words or the manner of using speech that is comfortable to a specific person or group of persons.  A proverb has a much simpler definition: a short well-known saying that expresses an obvious truth and often offers advice.

 

Talk, however, can be confusing because while the definitions of an idiom and a proverb are not that similar, their synonyms are – phrase, saying, expression.  The phrase “talk is cheap” refers to the fact that it is easy to speak but much more difficult to defend what has been spoken or even to verify its truth.

 

The easiest way to make a story less ordinary and more extraordinary is by the use of hyperbole.  The word hyperbole comes from two Greek words “ὑπέρ” and “βάλλω” [or the English versions “huper” and “bailio”] and translates as “I throw above.”   It literally means an over exaggeration or magnification.  The American folk tales about a lumberman and his pet known as Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are perfect examples of hyperbole.  Tonight’s American presidential debate will probably be another one.

 

This will not be a post favoring one candidate or the other.  I respect my readers too much to do that.  This blog is about living better and, alas, politics seldom is about that.  What this debate does offer, though, is a chance to be mindful of what we say and how we live what we say.  If our living does not match our talk, then we have lived in vain.

 

Many believe it is better to just be quiet.  That way, no one can claim you said something you may not have said and no one can protest what you might have said.  In other words, it is the easy way out.  The problem with staying silent all the time, however, is that the only thing heard is that of someone else and they may not be stating the truth.  That means only the lies will be heard, never the truth and/or the facts.

 

Shannon Adler disputes the idea that being silent is better than speaking out.  “When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” 

 

After all, that is the only way to truly listen.  It is good sometimes to be quiet.  And, after listening, we need to think about what has been said.  Reactive speech is sometimes not speech that has been thought about before being uttered.  One of my favorite bumper stickers gave a great warning – “Engage brain before putting mouth in gear!”

 

Tonight millions may or may not listen while two candidates and a moderator engage in a political debate.  Hopefully, there will be little hyperbole and much fact, more substance than ego.  For many this debate will seem like a waste of time but when we truly communicate with real thoughts and intentions to which we are deeply committed, then talk is never a waste of time.

 

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals,” Stephen Hawkins believes.  “ Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Letting Others In

Letting Others In

Pentecost 126

 

Sometimes we need help.  There is nothing shameful in this fact.  And yet, we are often so hesitant to ask for it.  It is a fact that at some point in our lives, we all will need help.  Being able to ask for it is not only a gift, it is a blessing. 

 

One Saturday night over a decade ago  I was driving along a detour on an interstate (or so I thought) on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas.  About the time I realized the oddity of being the only car on the roadway in the 8th largest city in the United States of America, the road stopped.  There was simply no more asphalt, no markers, no barricades.  Looking through the windshield of my car as the dusk approached after the setting sun, I could see only about a foot of dirt and then grass.  The grass echoed the empty fields all around me, along the stretch of highway.  The median was dirt but I had learned to drive on turn-rows in cotton fields so I just drove across the dirt median to the opposite side of road and began driving back the other direction, the direction from which I had just come.  I saw an exit and lights of a fast food restaurant and, convinced that a glass of iced tea can solve everything, I took the exit and stopped at the eatery. 

 

There was a man in his late 30’s who was hanging around the counter waiting.  It quickly became apparent he was waiting for his hot apple pie.  Hispanic, he apologized first in Spanish and then in English and stepped aside so I could order.  Ordering my unsweetened ice tea, I then asked, apologizing for how crazy my question was going to sound and assuring them I was not crazy, where I was.  The counter help laughed and then replied with a name I had never heard.  “Am I still in Texas?” I asked.  Both the girl behind the counter and the man laughed and assured me I was.  The girl asked if they could help.  I explained I was in the area due to my son graduating from a training and thought I was on a bypass of San Antonio in an attempt to return to my hotel.  The cook came through a door from the grill area with a tray of hot apple pies and explained I had somehow gotten on a highway still under construction.

 

The Hispanic man said he was on his way downtown and offered to let me follow him.  The girl and the cook assured me I could trust him so we got in our respective vehicles, him in his pickup truck and me in my rental sedan.  Fifteen minutes later we parted ways in San Antonio and I quickly made my way to my hotel, grateful that I had returned.  I realize how this could have ended and I am certainly not encouraging people to follow a stranger into the darkness of unknown territory.  The entire trip back to San Antonio I was on the phone (hands free and safe) with my family on the other side of the country.  I also had complete control of my vehicle and we stayed on major thoroughfares with were very well lit and heavily traveled. 

 

When I think of the God of my life, I think of these three strangers, these three people at a well-known fast food restaurant in a small town in the middle of the largest state in the continental United States.  I had once in college held a similar job so I had something in common with the cook and the girl behind the counter.  I also had something in common with the Hispanic man since we were both out on a Saturday night and returning home in our cars.  We were strangers and yet shared many things in common.

 

The extraordinary in this story is not that I got lost.  People get lost figuratively and literally every day.  The extraordinary is not about my trusting them.  It might seem extraordinary to some that these three people were willing to help me but I think most people are willing to help.  If I am honest, I happily admit this was not the first time I got lost.  That is a bit ordinary in my life.

 

I think what makes this story have value is that first, I was willing to admit I needed help and asked for it.  Secondly, there is their kindness in helping me.  These three could have verbally given me directions and then, after I left, had a good laugh.  They could have even given me wrong directions.  Instead, one let me follow him, trusting me as I trusted him.  The others were sensitive to my hesitancy and told me he was a building contractor who worked in the area and frequently stopped by to take apple pies home to his family.  He was, they explained, someone they trusted and that I could trust.  They did not know me but knew my worries.

 

Too often we try to live our lives all by ourselves.  We hesitate to let others in and by doing that, we limit our own potential.  None of us can be all things at all times.  We need help.  We need to let others in.  Being able to ask for help and being honest about needing that help is not a sign of weakness.  It is a sign of being human.  We are not alone in our living and learning to share that living means a better life for all.