Acceptance and Denial

Acceptance and Denial

Lent 26-27

 

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Most of us, after a certain age, start to see our parents or grandparents.  We realize that we have Grandma’s nose or Dad’s ears.  Perhaps we’ve always known about the family stature and delighted in either reaching it or passing it.  For some, their vocation is also a matter of family tradition.  There has been an on-going debate about what skills and talents might be genetic since man first realized inheritance applied to more than just land holdings and revenue.

 

Recently one of my own progeny said they heard my words coming out of their mouth.  I should in complete honesty add that they did not seem overjoyed at this event but they did admit the wisdom of the words they’d had spoken to them as a child.  A parent has to take their compliments whenever and however they can!

 

I had an acquaintance once that looked very much like her mother.  She was not very happy about this and I could understand why.  It is to be hoped that all parents nurture and support their children but the truth is that some people never really mature in their roles as parents.  In short, some people bear children without having a clue as to how to nurture them.  My acquaintance’s mother was not a supportive person to her daughter and often was a hindrance.

 

Having known this person for several decades and upon a chance meeting, I inquired about her mother.  I was being more polite than expressing any real interest but was very surprised nonetheless when my acquaintance smiled and said her mother was doing well, having outlived most of her contemporaries.  I asked if their relationship had improved.  My friend smiled and said that it had not.  She then casually said that while one might grow older, one did not always mature with age.

 

I had seen this acquaintance through several crying bouts when we were younger because of the pain and neglect of her mother so her offhanded remarks caught me by surprise and I told her so.  She replied that she still looked like her mother but now had accepted the resemblance.  “Just imagine,” she asked, “what the woman would have done if my looks were not proof I was her own child!”  While her mother’s behavior had not grown with age into a more loving relationship, my friend’s acceptance of her familiarity of physical appearance had brought her comfort.

 

All too often our value as a person is based upon anything and everything except who we are inside.  Regardless of which creation story you believe, we are uniquely made and individuals in our own right.  When we allow the behaviors of others to be the currency of our souls, we are denying our right to self-worth. 

 

I hope this week you are looking into your mirror and seeing past your reflection.  Our true value is found not only in physical appearance but in our actions and our words, our compassion and treatment of others.  At some point we are all alone with ourselves. We should strive to get to know ourselves and then become a person we can like, a person we feel as value. 

 

The Beatitudes, the subject of our series this Lent are about acceptance.  When we recognize the cause and accept the effect, we are then able to move forward.  Sunday is, in many cultures, considered the first day of the week.  It offers new beginnings and hopes, the chance to fulfill our aspirations and meet our goals.  It is followed by Monday, arguably considered the most detested day of the week.  Sunday and Monday are two sides of one twenty-four hour period and our acceptance of their shared twelve hours either determines whether it is a Super Sunday or Manic Monday.

 

We create our own currency.  No one else can do that.   No one else can be us.  When we allow someone else to deny us the right to be ourselves, we are abdicating our own presence and bankrupting our self-worth.   “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”  Harvey Fierstein’s advice is pure gold.

 

Stop, Look, and Listen

Stop, Look, Listen

Epiphany 35-36-37

 

From a childhood road safety game to the Stylistics and Elvis Presley to current communication techniques, the advice continues – stop, look, and listen.  Occasionally this daily blog will group a series of posts together because of their content.  Today (and Thurs and Fri preceding) is one such post.

 

Several years ago Mark McIntyre had the same idea I had about using street and railroad crossing safety as a means of better communication.  “Stop – stop the self-focused mental process so that I can hear and understand what the other person is saying. Decide to really hear.  Look – Look at the other person. Make eye contact. Observe his body language. Take in all the clues to communication.  Listen – By stopping and looking, I am now in a position to listen.”

 

Stop, Look and Listen is the also the name of a short comedic film made by Oliver Norvell Hardy in the early 1920’s shortly before he teamed up with comedy partner Stan Laurel.  Another film by the same name was made in the 1960’s which was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Short Subject, Live Action category.  This movie was also a comedy and contrasted the safe and dangerous styles of two drivers.  The drivers were shown sitting in the street and seeming to move their bodies as though they were automobiles. 

 

I mention these two films because they were, in their own way, forms of communication.  Also communicating this phrase were two songs.  The first was written by Joy Byers and recorded by Elvis Presley in the 1960’s.  “You’d better stop real still, look both ways.   Listen or you’ll get in trouble when you see her go struttin’ by giving you that evil eye and she’s got a kind of dreamy look.  You’d better stop real still, look both ways; listen or you’ll get in trouble.”  A decade later the Stylistics sand a song by the same title, written by Jeremy Noel, William Abbott, Thomas Bell, Grant Black, Linda Creed, And Craig David.  Their chorus was “Stop, look, listen to your heart, hear what it’s saying.  Stop, look, listen to your heart, hear what it’s saying – Love, love, love.”

 

Very few people actually enter into a conversation with intentions of creating hate.  Most simply want to get a point across or express their opinion.  It all goes awry when we fail to stop our own self-focused mental process so that we can hear and understand what the other person is saying.   I am not talking about giving polite non-focused attentive looks at the other person.  I mean when you really decide to not just hear their voice but listen to their words.  We do this by first looking at the other person and making eye contact. Then we are able to observe their body language.  Communication is much more than just words being uttered.  We need to take in all the clues to communication.  By stopping and looking, we are now in a position to listen.  Now communication, real communication, can occur.

 

Think about over the past week.  When did you give someone your undivided attention?  I realize you lead a very busy life and that there are many things pressing for your attention.  Did you really make that other person a priority or was your crossword puzzle or TV show or book more important?  Someone recently told me they knew what I was trying to say because they were looking at the back of my head.  Interesting, since  I did not realize I had a caption scroll that played on the back of my head.  Of course, I do not and the person had no way of knowing what my facial expressions were. 

 

We need to stop making excuses, look at how we are communicating and then listen to each other.  We also need to seek out ways to really stop our busy lives, look at the beauty of life around us and listen to what is going on.  For example, The Menil Collection, an art museum in Houston, TX, features Stop, Look, and Listen concerts.  These are free chamber and jazz concerts open to the public at the museum which are designed to feature unconventional, interactive concert formats and fun, adventurous musical selections. Often designed to celebrate specific artwork on display in the museum, these concerts encourage us all to stop, look, and listen while we enjoy life.

 

Your local probably has similar offerings and if it doesn’t, why not help create some?  Aspiring sidewalk artists are a great way to stop, look, and listen as are subway musicians.  Once we develop the habit of slowing down enough to stop, then we are able to see the beauty that often passes us by and listen to the vibrancy of life. 

Imagine

Imagine

Epiphany

 

I really want to write about imagery but since we are focusing on verbs and action this Epiphany season, I elected a verb form of the word family.  Then I realized that that word  “imagine” was really want I wanted to discuss.

 

There are purportedly seven major types of imagery, each corresponding to a sense, feeling, or action.  These include visual imagery which pertains to graphics, visual scenes, pictures, or the sense of sight.  Then there is auditory imagery, a form of mental imagery that is used to organize and analyze sounds when there is no external auditory stimulus present. This form of imagery is broken up into a couple of auditory modalities such as verbal imagery or musical imagery.   It also includes the imagery of onomatopoeia, using sounds or words about sounds to evoke images of such things that create those noises.  Olfactory imagery pertains to odors, scents, or the sense of smell and the less known gustatory imagery pertains to flavors or the sense of taste.  Tactile imagery pertains to physical textures or the sense of touch while the lesser known kinesthetic imagery pertains to movements or the sense of bodily motion. 

 

Finally there is organic imagery or subjective imagery which pertains to personal experiences of a character’s body, including emotion and the senses of hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain.  It is this last type of imagery that often poses the greatest threat to us because it can also raise an awareness of fear.  Recently, over the past eighteen months, this type of imagery has been most prevalent worldwide.  Fear is defined by the website and magazine Psychology Today as “a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats.”

 

Laughter is also a response.  Psychology Today says this about laughter:  “Laughter just might be the most contagious of all emotional experiences. What’s more, it is a full-on collaboration between mind and body. Although laughter is one of the distinguishing features of human beings, little is known about the mechanisms behind it.  Scientists do know that laughter is a highly sophisticated social signaling system, helping people bond and even negotiate. Interestingly, most social laughter does not result from any obvious joke.”  Laughter is also beneficial, as is fear.  Laughter “has numerous health benefits: It releases tension, lowers anxiety, boosts the immune system, and aids circulation.”

 

So today I am asking you to imagine both fear and laughter.  Both are vital responses necessary to the human condition and yet, while they seem very far apart, both serve essential functions.  Carl Sagan, though, reminds us to be certain of that which we consider fearful as well as that which makes us laugh.  “But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

 

In other words, just because we laugh does not mean something is great.  While Columbus, Fulton, and the Wright Brothers proved themselves to be correct, the laughter they received had little to do with their success.  Their actions were backed by just that – real action.

 

We need to make sure that those things which create fear are also real.  Recent news stories have been built upon fiction, not fact.  Certainly there is shame to be heaped upon those who fabricate such false stories, attempting to engage our imaginations and create fear, but there is also shame on those who readily accept such rather than taking a few moments to fully imagine what might be truth.

 

What if we stopped trying to create fear and simply lived today in the best possible way we could, not worrying or being fearful… just being as productive as possible?  Imagine that, as John Lennon did, please.  “Imagine there’s no heaven.  It’s easy if you try – no hell below us, above us only sky.  Imagine all the people living for today.  Imagine there’s no countries.  It isn’t hard to do; nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. 

 

Imagine all the people living life in peace.  You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.  Imagine no possessions.  I wonder if you can; no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man.  Imagine all the people sharing all the world.  You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.

Compassion

Compassion

Epiphany

 

Recently, as perhaps never before, identity has become very important.  Countries are rejecting refugees because of this, they have no identity.  Where we live, what we eat, what type of vehicle we drive, the clothes we wear and where we worship are all a part of our identity – an extremely small part.  And yet, wars are fought and people die because of these material things that truly represent not one molecule of who we really are.

 

Every religion, every spirituality discusses how we should treat others and none of them – that’s right, NONE of THEM, encourage hatred, killing, turning one’s back on another. Even those associated with witchcraft and black magic use the phrase “and harm none”.  What they do all preach is compassion.  Where in the world has compassion gone?

 

The book “My Neighbor’s Faith” is a collection of stories gathered and written by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley.  One was written by Laurie L. Patton and relates her experience while on a soul-searching sojourn in India.  The year was 1983 and women were encouraged to be all that they could be, to celebrate and demand equality.  Laurie decided to find herself in Varanasi, a devout Hindu location where young American students were encouraged to immerse themselves in the Indian Culture.  They wore the traditional saris, silver toe rings, and the accepted number of bangles or bracelets.  Hindi was the preferred language, though, and Laurie opted for silence rather than speak and make a mistake.

 

In her story she tells of being considered the quiet one and about her friendship with another Westerner, a young man she calls Dan.  One day Laurie and Dan take a motorbike trip, planning to have some quiet meditation while visiting the local Buddhist temples.  Laurie packed a book and some crewel embroidery to help occupy her meditation periods and the two set off.  Four hours into the trip they ran out of gas.  Dan hitched a ride into twon with a passing lorry while Laurie stayed behind with the motorbike.  Indian life in the form of ox carts and rickshaws passed by her as she sat on the side of the ride in anonymity. 

 

Suddenly Laurie heard a rustling in the nearby sugarcane fields just beyond the road.  Two women, one near her age and the other twice as old, stood assessing the scene, their saris frayed, evidence that they were workers from the fields.  They paid little attention to the motorbike and, after exchanging a few words with each other in the local native dialect, came and sat, one on each side, beside Laurie.  No words were exchanged as Laurie realized they had simply come to sit with her.  AS time passed, Laurie reached into her backpack and retrieved her embroidery.  She mad a simple French knot and then offered the cloth and needle to the older woman who attempted the same stitch.  Her first attempt was a failure but she laughed and persevered, with Laurie’s help.  Then the younger woman tried.  Her first attempt was perfect.  Another piece of cloth was found in Laurie’s backpack along with more thread and another needle.  The woman taught Laurie a stitch or two and the embroidery commenced.  Soon, however, the lorry and Dan returned with more petrol and as the lorry approached, the women smiled to Laurie and then returned to the fields.

 

Less than five words had been spoken between the women.  Their language was the embroidery, their presence compassion.  These two women perceived Laurie’s vulnerability and offered support in the form of simply sitting with her.  Sometimes the most important evidence of faith is not what we say but merely our presence. 

 

The compassion of presence is a teaching found in all religions and spiritualities.  It might be a simple “How are you?” and then staying to hear the response.  It might be the sharing of an activity, something quite common and humdrum but necessary.  How did your living yesterday show compassion?  What can you do today to live compassion?

Embrace and Tolerate

Embrace and Tolerate

Epiphany 23

 

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”  He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”  “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

 

The above paragraph was in a post I received on Facebook from a young man of strength and character.  This paragraph has become the topic of the world news because of recent events occurring in the United States.  The man elected in part with the support of conservative religious groups seems to have forgotten this part of faith – all faiths.

 

In times where terrorism seems to occur several times a day in some part of the world and several times a year in others, fear is an understandable reaction.  Fear responses are our body’s defense system.  It serves as a reminder to act – not to hate.  We take cover during a storm because our body fears the consequences.  We use medicines productively to combat illness because our body is telling us something needs attention.  When used appropriately, fear can serve great purpose.

 

To hate one’s neighbor, though, is not productive and none of the world’s top religions encourage it although they all speak of it.  “Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define your ‘neighbor’?”  In other words, who do we embrace, loving them as ourselves?

 

We all have had neighbors with whom we were not friendly.  It is inevitable that at some point in time our neighbors will not share our interests or respect for boundaries, play loud music, push their leaves onto our yard, etc.  In some settlements, the neighbors have guns aimed at the houses.  How on earth are we supposed to embrace these people?  Surely they are not our true neighbors.  Or are they?

 

“Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side…”.   This quote is from the Quran, 4:36.  Islam speaks highly of the one who not only sees their neighbor and embraces them but also tolerates them and treats them with respect.

 

“The Scale of Wisdom” is a collection of sayings of the Prophet Mohammed and the Twelve Imams compiled by M. Muhammadi Rayshahri.  “It is to help him if he asks your help, to lend him if he asks to borrow from you, to satisfy his needs if he becomes poor, to console him if he is visited by an affliction, to congratulate him if is met with good fortune, to visit him if he becomes ill, to attend his funeral if he dies, not to make your house higher than his without his consent lest you deny him the breeze, to offer him fruit when you buy some or to take it to your home secretly if you do not do that, nor to send out your children with it so as not to upset his children, nor to bother him by the tempting smell of your food unless you send him some.”

 

What does the Torah say about loving one’s neighbor?  “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.”   This passage from Leviticus 19:18 is important as is the Jewish definition of love.  Judaism defines love as “the emotional pleasure of identifying virtues in another person.”   It is not seen as an act of fate nor a physical pleasure but a deliberate embracing of another and a purposeful identification of their existence.

 

The third of the world’s largest religion is Christianity, the third of the Abrahamic faiths.  Scripture for this topic is found in many places in the Christian Bible but it appears first in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, in the twenty-second chapter.  To the question at the end of our first paragraph, the man known as Jesus of Nazareth gave this answer earlier in this book.  Matthew 5:43 states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. 

 

 Later in that same book, Matthew 22:36 we find this:  “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  We are to embrace all and tolerate them.  In Islam this is illustrated by not having your house higher than your neighbors so as to prevent him from the breeze.  In Judaism, it is to recognize that we are all different but those differences have value.  In Christianity it is to allow that your enemy is still your brother and sister as children of the Creator and should be treated as you would wish to be treated.

 

Who is the neighbor you are to embrace and tolerate?  The person who is standing beside you, the person standing halfway around the world, the person who looks nothing like you or whose speech is unfamiliar because they exist and are, therefore, your neighbor.  We should embrace and tolerate.  To do anything else is to live a lie and hasten the end.  This is not political or even religious.  It is simply good common sense.

 

 

 

 

Feel

Feel

Epiphany  21

 

At a time when most people need to cool down and stop spreading the hateful, nonproductive rhetoric that marked the last eighteen months of political mudslinging in the USA and now worldwide, it might seem strange that I am encouraging you to feel.

 

I sincerely hope I get some responses to this question:  How do you feel?  I am not asking just about how you feel regarding the political verbiage.  I am asking how you feel… in general and specifically.  How do you feel?  It really is not a trick question.  Nor is it a complex one.  How do you feel?

 

Feelings are important.  The University of Wisconsin encourages students to consider their feelings as a barometer of their own health and emotional well-being.  “Feelings provide essential information about our reactions to situations. They are often our best clue to the meaning of our current experience — they are less “processed” and more “raw” than our thoughts. They can provide accurate feedback on our current “inside” state.”

 

Eckhart Tolle explains the important of our feelings this way.  “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind – or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or a hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger. The body is getting ready to fight. The thought that you are being threatened, physically or psychologically, causes the body to contract, and this is the physical side of what we call fear. Research has shown that strong emotions even cause changes in the biochemistry of the body. These biochemical changes represent the physical or material aspect of the emotion.”

 

Emotional competency is a popular phrase that is trending right now and learning to recognize the emotions of others as well as ourselves helps build strong relationships.  That brings me to my intention with today’s post.  How are you feeling?  And why do you not realize others are feeling those same emotions?

 

We all experience the same feelings.  Perhaps not at the same time and not in the same consequential fashion but we all experience the same emotions.  At some point we have all felt happy, sad, proud, scared, jealous, hopeful, envious, sorry, tired, exasperated, sympathetic, upset, overjoyed, angry, elated, relieved, grateful, bored, excited….. The list could go on and on.  We all feel the exact same way although not at the exact same time.  Why?  Because we really are, at our core, similar. 

 

Some might argue that not all of these are emotions.  Some would characterize them as mental states of being.  In the 1991 book, “Emotion and Adaptation”, author Richard Lazarus lists several mental states that may be emotion related, but are not themselves actual emotions. The list includes the complex states of: grief and depression; the ambiguous positive states of: expansiveness, awe, confidence, challenge, determination, satisfaction, and being pleased; the ambiguous negative states of: threat, frustration, disappointment, helplessness, meaningless, and awe; the mental confusion states of bewilderment and confusion; the arousal states of: excitement, upset, distress, nervousness, tension, and agitation; and finally the pre-emotions of: interest, curiosity, amazement, anticipation, alertness, and surprise.

 

Again, we all experience those very same mental states of being.  Why?  Because they are related to our emotions, the very same emotions we all experience.  So how does this affect our action this Epiphany season?  After all, most word used to describe emotions are adjectives, not verbs.  It is relevant because our emotions often affect and determine our actions.  More importantly, when we criticize others for their feelings, we limit our right to experience those very same feelings.

 

No one is so good that they should not experience sadness and we all, at some point in time, will.  Even the bravest of us have felt fear and I sincerely hope that we all have hope.  My wish is that I get back hundreds of responses telling me people felt happy, relief, joy, gratitude, etc. but the reality is that some today experienced grief, uncertainty, or pain.  Life is not easy.  Not all feelings are going to be positive.

 

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? …As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”  This passage from Cornelia Funke’s book “Inkspell” refers to reading a book but I think it applies to our feelings.

 

Feelings broaden our perspective and when we allow others to have those very same feelings, we broaden our world.  We begin to see that the world is not made up of many different people but of different variations of ourselves.  The outside packaging might look very different but each is a version of one, at different stages.  When we learn to respond to the pain of others, listen to their feelings, then we can begin to be together, truly together, living in peace and harmony. 

Walk/March

Walk/March

Epiphany 18

 

This past weekend over two million women worldwide walked.  Called the Women’s March, many felt moved to participate because of conflicting ideals with a new administration.  Many marched because they feared the loss of freedoms and rights.  Others marched as a show of solidarity for women.  Some walked simply because they could.  They donned pink hats and walked, marched, or simple gathered to support women, wearing pink hats and carrying signs.

 

“In the end, our success in resolving conflict and affecting deep change is not made by focusing on the leading figure of our discontent, but rather on the much less visible number of women and men who form his or her base of support. While it may be tempting to focus our attention on the leader, waiting for and pouncing on his every misstep and falter, in the long run our most effective response will be in how well we do at the hard work of creating a new solidarity with those who see the situation so differently than we. A good reminder of this fact is in considering how we came to this crossroads in the first place; the responsibility is not the Russians alone, but our own: we got in this situation partly by overlooking the need to reassure some of our good neighbors that they were needed and valued. Taking human hearts for granted can be a costly mistake and not one to be made twice. So while we may be mesmerized by what goes on in Washington, D.C., it would do us well to be even more active in communities farther afield. Building bridges there could be the ethical and political infrastructure we need for winning the next series of crucial elections. The question is not how many in the inner circle are hearing us shout, since they will be largely deaf to our appeal, but instead how many of those who put them there are hearing us in quieter conversations all across America. Success will be measured not by how many of our own we can put in the streets, but even more importantly, by how many women and men in the rust belt will be willing to wear a pink hat the next time around.”  These words by retired Episcopal bishop Steven Charleston bring us to my point and our verbs for today.

 

What comes after we have walked?  What comes after we take a stand for a cause or ideal?  The answer is life, that forward progression of steps we make each day that, eventually, will comprise the journey of a lifetime.  You see, getting your dander up for a good cause is great but that can only last for a certain amount of time.  How do we live those ideals for which we marched?

 

Sometimes the conflict is not so much about the other guy but about our response and the manner in which we respond.  It is so much more fun and easy to get mad and stay mad but seriously, unless you do jumping jacks or some other exercise in your anger, getting mad really accomplishes very little.  Real, long-lasting action requires thought and – gulp – reconciliation. 

 

Reconciliation starts with understanding.  First we need to admit and understand that there are other points of view.  No matter how wrong or ill-conceived we may judge them to be, they do exist.  Generally speaking, many have as valid a right to be felt as do our own.  Those incorrect beliefs that are wrong, as in harmful or illegal, need to be understood and explained.  Appeasement does not always mean acceptance and that is something to remember. 

 

No one person is a god or even a demi-god.  We all are human beings and deserve equal respect and opportunity to survive and thrive.  Some of our steps need to be toward building bridges to carry us all into a productive and efficient future.  That is the best march of all.