Little Things

Little Things

Detours in Life

Pentecost 31

 

It is an often-repeated saying that life is made up of little things.  Author Kurt Vonnegut once said that we should “enjoy the little things in life for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”

 

In writing for Lifehack.org, columnist Amy Johnson pointed out forty “little” things that could become “big” things that could bring us happiness. 

1.Finding money in your pocket that you didn’t know you had.

2. Being asked by someone who cares how you are doing.

3. Climbing into bed when you have fresh sheets.

4. Taking an extra-long bath or shower when you have some free time.

5. Smiling at a child you see in public.

6. Receiving a 10 minute massage from your partner or friend.

7. Cuddling someone before you have to get up and start your day.

8. Waking up and realizing it is a sunny, beautiful day.

9. Having a long phone conversation with someone you care about and haven’t spoken to in a while.

10. Watching the rain fall when you have nowhere to be, and you can curl up on the sofa.

11. Watching children playing and laughing together, reminding you of the joy in the world.

12. Spending some time with your pets – or animals in general!

13. A stranger giving you a genuine smile.

14. Having a nice, long stretch when you first wake up to get your body moving.

15. Laughing out loud at a funny memory.

16. A gesture of kindness from someone in your life – as simple as your child helping you cook dinner.

17. A smell you love, from baked bread to a freshly mowed lawn.

18. A meaningful, long hug from somebody you care about.

19. Putting on clothes after they have been warmed on the radiator.

20. Taking a few moments alone when things get hectic.

21. Watching the sunset or the sunrise.

22. The smell outside after the rain has stopped.

23. Listening to your favorite artist or album.

24. Receiving an email or a letter from a friend.

25. The chance to be creative, from painting an old set of drawers to doodling a picture.

26. Holding hands with someone you love.

27. Eating your breakfast in bed.

28. Playing a game you used to love when you were younger.

29. Eating healthy, tasty food that makes you feel good about yourself.

30. An extra half an hour to snooze in bed.

31. Having some time to yourself to read a book you love.

32. Buying your favorite drink or snack and savoring it.

33. Receiving flowers from someone who cares about you.

34. Eating your lunch outside in the sun.

35. Trying out a new recipe and creating something delicious.

36. A gesture of support from your friends or family.

37. Listening to a song you used to love and haven’t heard in years.

38. Taking the time to help someone with their problems.

39. Spending time in your home when it is tidy and clean.

40. Achieving a small victory, like fixing the washing machine or replacing a light bulb.

 

Most of these are little things that, if noticed, would bring a smile to your lips and joy to your soul.  Few, if I am to be honest, would be actual detours and yet… Sometimes the detour is simply our slowing down enough to see the world around us.  We all have countless things to do and few feel they have enough hours in the day to get them all done.  Are we really too busy to find happiness in the little things around us?

 

Johnson answered this question in her article by quoting Dr. Glenn Williams, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University.  “An effective route to happiness is not necessarily through experiencing major events that we might have planned out such as getting married, moving house, getting that all-important promotion or even being on a holiday.  Rather it is the small, and often unexpected, pleasures in life that can make us smile each and every day to help us build happier and more meaningful lives for ourselves and for others.”

 

Feeling in control of one’s life is a great thing and necessary for attaining success.  We should not, however, be in such tight control that we miss the little things, those little detours that take us away from our norm and lead us to happiness.

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Detours in Life

Pentecost 30

 

Some of the hardest detours we travel are those that require us to rethink what we thought we knew.  This past weekend, three people died because of feelings about the subject of race.  The topic of race is a social force and anyone claiming it isn’t has been living deep down at the bottom of the ocean. 

 

For centuries the human race has debated the divisions of, the identification for, and the correlation between the various races, their impact on intelligence, physical potential, genetics, and disease.  It cannot be denied that certain cultures are prone to specific illnesses while others seem to have no susceptibility at all.  This should not be interpreted as a weakness, though.  It is simply a characteristic of a great many things.  Genetics has proven that certain cultures – i.e., races – have a particular connection to various healthcare concerns.  This does not mean there is a correlation to potential or intelligence.

 

Throughout history the body of humans inhabiting this planet has been organized into racial groups, sometimes as few as three and other times as many as fifty.  In 1998, the American Anthropological Association issued the following statement on race:  “The idea of race has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.”

 

Race is not a biological fact and it has no true scientific importance as a means of division.  It should not be used to segregate or discriminate.  This may be a new detour in your thinking but it is fact, based upon pure scientific data, not greed, fear, nor baseless rhetoric.

 

In 2002 the American Anthropological Association published a paper remarking on the social foundations of race: “Although racial categories are legitimate subjects of empirical sociological investigation, it is important to recognize the danger of contributing to the popular concept of race as biological.”    Please take a moment and reread that last sentence.  Race is not a biological fact.

 

The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 had as its purpose a way to better understand genetic components of disease.  A detailed map of humankind’s DNA sequence was constructed which allowed exploration of the various genetic differences across our vast planet.  Their findings were a huge detour from what many of us believed and/or have been taught.  We all are genetically 99.9 percent alike.

 

Within our specific DNA there are six billion bases of DNA with a .1 percent difference representing six million locations that differ between two individuals.  Most of these differences are “neutral” which means they do not change the function of any genes.

 

Before your eyes glaze over, take a minute to think.  A genome is nothing more than the genetic material of something, the complete set of the DNA that an organism has.  In humans, the nuclear genome comprises approximately 3.2 billion nucleotides of DNA, including genes and chromosomes.  So while having six million different sounds like a like, it actually is less than .1 percent.  Imagine having one hundred pieces of tiny chocolate candy like M & M’s on a plate.  Would you really argue if someone took just one?  Of course you wouldn’t because the amount left is much greater and overrides that one piece.

 

Race is a social construct, a way of organizing people by culture and yes, sometimes by skin color.  However, race itself is misleading.  Those deemed Caucasian are of European descent while the term actually comes from the Middle East and referred to people from the Caucus Region, a mountain range in Turkey and Russia.  Asian is a racial term to signify people of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian descent but Russia is also on the Asian continent.  There are many natives of Bermuda which, technically as a former English colony would make them of European descent and yet, these people appear African because they are descended from slaves.  If we assume most people from Bermuda are African, what do the descendants of the British pirates do?  There would then be Caucasian-skinned Africans which is contradictory to the racial separation itself.

 

Racial designation is not a biological fact and will always be misleading because the human race did not remain living in just one place.  Such descriptions and their resulting divisions are a social construct, a harmful collective construct.  Certainly people should take pride in their ethnicity and the culture of their ancestors.  However, this pride should not seek to silence or harm others. 

 

There is no biological division of the races.  We are human beings.  Hatred based upon race is much ado about nothing.  We are all part of the human race and it is time we started treating each other with humanity and respect.

 

 

Color Blind

Color Blind

Detours in Life

Pentecost 29

 

A friend on Facebook asked how in the world the American Civil Liberties Union could have sanctioned the white supremacist rally scheduled for August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am neither an attorney nor a member so I certainly and most definitely do not speak for the ACLU.  However, knowing their mission, I do think perhaps they felt it was an opportunity for the conveyance of civil liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

 

The melee that became this event, the murderous action that resulted in injury to almost twenty people and the deaths of three was not civil.  It was, most definitely, an excuse to be everything except civil.  The right to free speech is not a guaranteed right to hate nor does it give one the right to inflict bodily harm or the spewing of insults.

 

Color is not a right. Color is a hue, shading that adds interest, not something designed to detract from one’s unalienable rights given by God/the Creator/Allah/ science and pertinent laws.  There are no scientific bases for discrimination and I will discuss that more in detail in tomorrow’s post.

 

Today I simply ask that you go about your daily living color blind.  If you cannot appreciate all colors, including those of the epidermis of mankind, then disregard all color.  Perhaps that will afford you the opportunity to appreciate diversity.  It is a most interesting and beautiful world because of that diversity.  I hope and pray that today you realize that.  Detour from your usual thinking and simply breathe in the diversity that the world has to offer.  Allow yourself the freedom to let others be just that – beautiful, different, and free.

We Need to learn

We Need to Learn

Detours in Life

Pentecost 28

 

Some difficult parenting moments?  The mother and grandmother thought for a moment and then spoke.  “My now grown daughter’s favorite animal is the bunny and I still remember trying to explain to her as a seven-year-old why the neighbors poisoned her two pet bunnies because we were biracial.  A few months later, coming home from church to find front door shattered because I put up a mezuzah on the inside casing of our front door, a gift from Jewish friends.   KKK neighbors ramming our old Dodge van and then sitting outside our house holding automatic assault rifles.”

 

The Rt. Ref Steven Charleston writes:  “We have seen those faces before, the ones at Charlottesville, the faces contorted by hate, the faces twisted into anger or frozen into ignorance. They were shouting. They were screaming for the pleasure of having someone to blame. We have seen those faces before at other times, on other streets, but the results are always the same. There is no compromise with this kind of hate. No appeasement or denial. Prejudice to this point is virulent and must be confronted head on. The faces at Charlottesville tell us why. They are images of what cruelty can become when it is left unchallenged, unnamed and under estimated.”

 

Color is not a right. Color is a hue, shading that adds interest, not detracts from one’s unalienable rights given by God and the law.   This was affirmed in the Declaration of Independence. Racism is the opposite of patriotism.  Whether it is called racism or terrorism, whether its cause is religious discrimination or racial discrimination, it accomplishes nothing and it based on even less. 

 

Someone once asked me if I believed in the Devil, a capitalized name.  I believe in evil.  The history of the world tells us it exists.  It can live in each of us if we allow it.  Life happens and we do not always like it.  We look for answers and sometimes, instead prefer to seek blame.

 

There is no basis for discrimination.  There is a great deal of evidence for the foundation of love and what it can accomplish.   Screaming hatred and spewing unfounded insults accomplishes nothing.  Positive action to improve the world does.  When will we ever learn this?

Answering the Call

Answering the Call

Detours in Life

Pentecost 27

 

I am not sure what they had originally planned for yesterday, Saturday, August 12th.  Maybe spending family time or simply doing chores at home.  One was a veteran law enforcement officer with more than two decades as a Virginia state trooper. The other was a pilot who transferred to the state police aviation unit last month and was one day away from his 41st birthday.

 

Both Virginia State Police troopers died Saturday when their police helicopter crashed and burned in Charlottesville, as they patrolled near the site of clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters.  State police identified the victims as pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40. Both men died at the scene.

 

Their helicopter was “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” according to a police statement.  The aircraft crashed in a wooded area near a residence just before 5 p.m. No one on the ground was injured, and officials are still investigating the cause of the crash.

 

Others had decided to spend their Saturday upholding the ideals of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.  A young paralegal from Green County, Virginia, Heather Heyer had decided to peacefully protest the white supremacists holding the rally.  She was run over twice by a car driven by a twenty-year-old man, James Alex Fields, from Ohio.  Nineteen others were injured and taken to area hospitals.

 

All of these people suffered a detour yesterday.  Three made a detour from the living to death while another made a terribly misguided choice that resulted in injury and death.    Sometimes these things happen – death and injury.  Hopefully, when they do, it is for a good cause.  Yesterday it was not for a good cause.  Hatred is never a good excuse for death. 

 

We should strive to detour away from hatred and yet, many see, to thrive on it. We need to realize that we alone are responsible for many of the detours in our lives.  When we answer the call to be kind and just, supporting equality and goodness, then we can detour away from hate and create a positive, effective world.

 

I have mentioned the names of these casualties because we need to remember they were people.  It really does not matter what “side” they were on or if you agree with them.  When one person dies, the fabric of humanity is weakened.  Each life matters.  Each death is a tragedy.  Tomorrow should be promised for us all.

Life Happens

Life Happens

Detours in Life

Pentecost 26

 

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 spilt 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.

 

In the past we have talked about how practice makes perfect.  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.

 

As adults, we tend to overlook that learning process, the series of one step forward and two steps backwards that we all make.  Detours are a time of learning.  Life is not about standing still.  It is about growing and falling down, getting right back up –   the good and the bad, and how to improve. 

 

Several years ago I took a class (a wonderful class) on spiritual practices.  I freely admit I signed up for it because of I was going to do a series on prayer (Advent 2015).  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?

 

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. 

 

If we think about it, a detour is a time of reflection and supplication, of reviewing like that coach the day after the game.  It can also be a time of understanding.  Life can be very confusing and confounding.  A detour offers us a different perspective.

 

Spirituality is a very popular word these days, very trendy and often said in all the right places.  True spirituality is usually the result of and the cause of a detour in life.  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.  Not all spirituality can be good or have positive outcomes.  Adolf Hitler and ISIS are two prime examples of such as are Charles Manson and Jim Jones.

 

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.  When faced with a detour, we tend to react instead of act.

 

Who are you?  What would you be without your personal “ordo amoris”?  When we encounter acts of terrorism, the fabric of many lives is ripped apart as people doing rather mundane tasks are suddenly faced with a tragic detour.    In a matter of moments destructive spirituality literally tears hundreds of lives apart. 

 

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.  Detours are scary and exhilarating.  They need reflection and preparation.  They demand we are present in the moment in navigating these detours in our living.  After all, if we are lucky, life happens.

What are You?

What Are You?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 25

 

A very astute reader noticed that yesterday was not the 24th day of Pentecost.  I number these posts according to the day of the liturgical season in which they were written.  Sometimes the series them for a season correlates with the season and sometimes it does not.  However, generally speaking, the post matched the day of the season in which it is published.

 

This Pentecost theme of detours was selected several months ago with some of the posts written at that time.  Others, like today, are written in response to world events or reader questions.  I had no idea the number of detours I would encounter sine the second week of May this year.  I did fleetingly wonder if I had jinxed myself by selecting this topic but I really think I am just more aware.

 

The fact is that life throws us detours practically every day.  Many are very small but others are really life changing or at least career altering.  The type of detour is seldom as important as our response to it.  In fact, our response to the detour is really what life is all about.  That is what defines who we are and what type of person we are.  I am not a quitter and so, within the next seven weeks, I will get caught up,  I am not considering this series a bust nor the topic absurd.  As an optimist, I am looking forward, not wallowing in the past.  I have had some wonderful mentors in my life and thus, I can appreciate the lesson in detours that life has given me the past three months.  After all, a detour is just a different route to the same destination you were headed for, not a roadblock or stop sign.

 

If you are a somewhat regular reader of this blog, then you know my penchant for coffeehouses and children.  Although I usually order tea and not coffee, the throng of humanity found at a coffeehouse is delightful.  Add children to that and you have a writer’s mall for thoughts and conversations.  In short, at a recent visit, I found myself in a compositional heaven.

 

The grandparents were at their regular Bible Study/Social meeting and the young boy had accompanied them.  His delight at the large-sized orange juice his grandfather had ordered for him was heart-warming.  “I’m gonna grow big and strong with this!” he exclaimed.  His grandmother offered him a spoonful of her coffee upon his request and the expression on his face made everyone laugh.  “That cannot be good for you.” He advised his grandmother.  “You need to drink more orange juice.”  Somewhere the Minute Maid Company had just loss a great commercial idea.

 

Introductions were made to the young lad as others joined their group.  I was impressed with the “adult” way they introduced themselves to him.  After all introductions were made, he then asked if he could repeat their names.  It was clear no one expected him to do so but he did.  Upon saying the name of the last person, his grandfather began to open their meeting.  The young boy politely told the grandfather he was not finished talking.  Chuckles were heard and the grandfather pointed out he had named everyone, correctly. 

 

The young boy looked around the coffeehouse and then leaned over to his grandfather.  “I just learned their names,” he explained.  Now I need to ask them something.”  The group seemed amenable so the grandfather sat back and encouraged his grandson to continue.  The wide young person then looked at the first he had named and asked:  “What are you?”  The gentleman began to say he was s retired teacher when the boy interrupted him.  “No, that is what you did.  What are YOU?”

 

That is the question I hope you ask yourself this week.  What are you?  Last week we delved into the question “Who are you?” in our attempt to improve and grow some self-love.  This week we cannot improve our self-worth without knowing what we are.  More importantly, what do you want to be?

 

Any good gardener knows there are various things that need to be done in the process of growing a garden.  There is the cultivating and tilling of the soil, preparing the soil, nurturing the soil with water and perhaps fertilizer and plant food.  The list might seem endless to a non-gardener but to those who believe in growing things, the list is simply a part of daily life.  Essential to gardening, though, is knowing what one is planting.

 

I have stated here that I do not have a “green thumb”; that is to say, my talents do not include being a master gardener.  The truth is that I can grow a nice garden, whether it is flowers or vegetables.  What hinders my success in gardening is my lack of interest in learning about the plants themselves.  I can bore you to no end about the difference between a xylophone and a marimba because I am interested in those things.  The nutritional needs and their differences between a cauliflower and a bell pepper hold no interest for me at all.  For one thing, I am allergic to bell peppers and mildly so to cauliflower.  Ask me about tomatoes, though, and I am right there with answers.  You see, I adore tomatoes. 

 

Life cannot be lived just eating tomatoes, though.  While they hold great nutritional value for our bodies, we do need other things.  I have come to learn how to grow carrots and cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and kale, and attempt to grow beans, although pole beans and legumes are still at the “getting to know you” stage with my gardening skills.  Corn and I have an on-again-off-again relationship and I have never attempted fruit trees although I do love to eat their bounty. 

 

Clearly, if I had to grow my own food I could survive but I would have to alter my eating habits and pray for good health and weather.  I rely a great deal on the convenience of shopping at local markets and stores.  I can grow an avocado plant but cannot get it to bear fruit.  Life for me without avocadoes is unthinkable and I am grateful for imports from other states and neighboring countries.  The same is true for olives.  I am something of a cheese-a-holic and yet, having a herd of cattle and goats would not yield me any cheese homemade.  Again, I am grateful for those for whom making cheese is a talent they share.

 

When it comes to growing my soul, I also rely on others.  I myself can only do so much based upon my skills and knowledge.  I reference many things and listen to many people.  Just as with an actual gardening, there needs to be some weeding out of the information we have available.  Not everything is beneficial and unfortunately some people are more interested in creating followers than helping people grow.  I hope whatever your next detour is helps you find your own sources of nurturing to help you grow and flourish.  More importantly, I hope you find and increase your self-worth and are then able to answer to the question:  What am I?