Forever Young

Forever Young

Lent 40

 

Time stopped yesterday for many people.  For those victims of yesterday’s bombings in Egyptian churches, the growth of their lives has forever been halted.  There was no reason for their deaths.  They did not as anything other than they lived – regular people going about regular jobs.  They posed no specific threat and there was no great gain from their deaths.  Their deaths were the very definition of the term “senseless killings”.  Their death diminished the humanity of the human race and made those responsible less than human.

 

In a new cantata written for this time of the liturgical season, famed country singer/songwriter Marcus Hummon hit all the right notes.  Known in Nashville, TN, the country music capitol of the world, for such hits as “God Bless the Broken Road”, Marcus has created a beautiful choral piece entitled “The Passion”.  The accompanying book contains commentary on each section of the cantata and was written by Hummon and his wife, Reverend Becca Stevens.

 

One song in this striking cantata is entitled “Outliving the Child” and the lyrics speak to the casualties from the faithful attending their church yesterday.  First, though, we should recognize that the religious places targeted posed no threat to anyone.  The Coptic Christian faith encourages tolerance for all, humanitarian behavior.   There was nothing gained by these killings, neither religious nor political.  These deaths were truly without reason, the result of psychotic and fearful cowards having too much ammunition and mind control over non-thinking followers.

 

“He will be forever young in my eyes.  He will be forever laughing in the fields.”  This line from Hummon’s piece “Outliving the Child” explains the feelings the parents of yesterday’s victims will feel every day upon waking.

 

It is far too easy to call someone evil and claim they are an enemy.  Any coward can do that.  What takes courage and dedication and true commitment is to live a life of goodness and kindness.  This is not the first time those of this faith have been targeted.  Two years ago Pope Francis said prayers for such victims.  Last December another attack killed twenty-five people.  Sadly history is repeating itself with the attack on April 9th killing thirty-six and injuring more than one hundred.

 

People die every day.  I realize that.  My question to you is this:  How are you living today?  Is it with joy and compassion?  The cosmetic industry makes millions of dollars each year with people trying to stay young.  Salves, creams, procedures are all part of the quest to stay forever youthful. 

 

Murder should never be an acceptable way for someone to stay forever young.  Yes death is part of the life cycle but murder is not.  Yesterday’s bombings were not a religious quest.  They were murder.  No one political platform can ever be considered successful if it comes drenched in the blood of innocent people.

 

My heartfelt sympathies go out to the victims’ families and my hopes are that those responsible have their hearts transformed.  After all, the only true legacy is the one we leave based upon our actions and the number of people we helped live more successfully.  The best way our legacy can stay alive is to make the world a better place, not a bigger cemetery. 

 

 

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Loss and Gain

Loss and Gain

Lent 18 (and 15)

 

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  I messed up.  It is not the first time and will not, I am certain, be the last but I did mess up.  I counted incorrectly, a problem when one works ahead and loses track of where one is and when something will be posted.  I could explain that there were technological issues as well as weather delays but the bottom line is… I messed up.

 

I could get all over on myself about the mistake.  I could listen to the voices inside my psyche that instantly begin to list others instances of my not being perfect.  Having been raised by a perfectionist parent, I don’t have to imagine those voices.  They are ever present, trust me.  It is almost as if, by messing up, I have lost a part of myself.

 

When we mourn, we feel an intense emotion.  Bereavement is described as something less severe but mourning is powerful, concentrated emotion that hits many of us in a number of different circumstances, not just when a loved one passes on or dies.  When I mess up, I mourn and that is followed by, typically, one of the stages of grief – anger.

 

There are those who try to tell us not to overthink when we mess up but sometimes we should.  It often is what keeps us from making the same mistakes over and over.  Grief has a purpose in our bank of emotions and we need to realize it and let ourselves experience it as part of the growing process.

 

Timothy Shriver is chairman of Special Olympics, an organization started by his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.  I like his thoughts on when we mess up:  “What’s to rationalize? You mean you shouldn’t pray if you haven’t got your s–t together? This is another fairly common misconception of faith, which is that people who go to church, or people who pray, or people who talk about their religion must be, somehow more pious or ethically rigorous or have more morally cleansed lifestyle. The high correlation is supposed to be between faith and your search, the depth of your search, your willingness to try, your willingness to admit error, your hope and belief in the ultimate meaning and value of that search.”

 

Are you holding yourself up to an impossible standard, one that disallows both messing up and grief?  When we lose someone or something, we feel sadness because the person or item had value in our lives.  We need to remember that we had the opportunity to have that someone or something special and find comfort in that knowledge.  Messing up simply means we had an opportunity to try something and that is often not something others can say they have had.  I messed up numbering my blog posts but I am still able to post.  The next day several people reposted that blog and I am grateful to them and overjoyed.  Realizing I messed up was not enjoyable but finding comfort in that the post got read and reposted was solace indeed.

 

I am not trying to say that losing a loved one is the same as a numerical mix-up.  It is not.  Both, however, are opportunities, prospects that life has given us to be explored, enjoyed, and valued.  There is much to be gained from spending time with a valued companion and from making mistakes.  Regret should not be part of the equation, though.  Never regret the time spent with someone or something for which you cared.  A mistake is simply a chance to grow and learn.  Both offer great comfort to me.

Stuff Happens

Stuff Happens

Lent 9

 

IN the movie “Forrest Gump”, the lead character runs across the United States.  The reaction to run was born out of a childhood spent being bullied and the advice of a neighborhood friend to “Run, Forrest, Run!”  The cross country trek is undertaken after the death of his beloved mother.  The feeling of being lost overwhelms the character Forrest and so he undertakes a journey to find himself.  During a moment of rest another traveler approaches him, stepping in a pile of manure as he does so.  The character Forrest then says an iconic phrase:  “Shit happens.”

 

Our trajectory of life is not a smooth course.  While each generation is convinced theirs is the most difficult, the fact is that life has never been an easy uphill climb.  The history of the world bears out the fact that stiff happens, shit happens, and we need to deal with it.  One such example is grief.  Queen Elizabeth II is reported to have once said “Grief is the luxury and result of having loved.”  It is.  Blessed are those who grieve because they had something they loved and have now lost.

 

Benjamin Disraeli once remarked that “grief is the agony of an instant, the indulgence of grief the blunder of a life.”  This is why we have the Beatitudes.  They remind us of this very fact.  Life has its moments of unpleasantness but it is only when we roll around in them and become comfortable in them that they become our life.   When we give them the correct attention, they are simply steps along our journey, not the destination.

 

The goodness of grieving is found in the essence of why we grieve – love and goodness.  I myself am horrible at goodbyes so grief is something I could easily become lost in, a destination instead of a moment.  Moving on does not mean we no longer love.  It simply means that we have valued the love and now are using it to live.

 

“Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.”  It may not seem like a blessing to mourn but the blessing comes from having something to mourn, for realizing what we had that is now different.  True love never dies but it does change.  When life happens and we no longer have what we once had in the same form, we learn to move on and find comfort in realizing that whatever it is for which we grieve, we really still have it.  The goodness of love is that it never dies, just takes on a new form.

 

Stuff happens and sometimes life gets icky, sticky messy.  When we grieve properly, we find ourselves moving on in our tears.  The knowledge that love improves our living is not new but using it to grieve and then move forward might be.  The same motivation love provided is still there.  IT is never good to indulge in anything that does not strengthen us.  Blessed are those who view love for the eternal beauty it offers and then move one to spread it and recreate it in the new day.

A Small World

A Small World

Pentecost 134

 

“There is just one moon and one golden sun and a smile means friendship to everyone.  Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all.”  This second verse of one of Disney’s most recognizable songs worldwide really hit home to me yesterday.  The world of laughter and a somber world of tears came together as two friends and I realized just how small a world it really is.

 

A friend posted that a much loved spouse had returned home from a business trip to a small country halfway around the world.  After my first “Wow!”, I realized I knew someone in that small country so different from my own.  The population of this planet is growing.  At the turn of the century the population stood at 1.65 billion.  Today we are seven billion, seven hundred and forty-five million and growing.  Agriculture came into being around 8000 BCE and the world census was an estimated five million strong.  By the first year of the new common era (1 AD or ACE), the growth rate of people on earth was .05% per year.  Today it is 1.13% with over one million births expected during 2016.  In spite of all this, it is still a small world.  Insignificant me knows someone halfway around the world living in a small nation where another friend’s husband just spent a week – a connection between four people, four out of seven billion.  It is a small world.

 

Earlier this week the New York City Fire Department helped police investigate a suspected drug laboratory at a house in Yonkers.  Battalion Chief Michael Fahy led his men into the structure which exploded.  Michael Fahy was born and raised in New York City and became an attorney.  He had one brother and two sisters, one of whom was his twin.  They were not surprised when Michael left his law practice to answer what he described as a “higher calling” and became a NYC firefighter. This past week the world became aware of this heroic man who lived every day in an extraordinary way when he died in that explosion.  I became aware of Michael Fahy when a friend realized she had purchased her home last year from his parents. This friend lost her own mother two years ago due to a distracted driver who took his eyes off the road and stared at his mobile phone for just five seconds.  In that five seconds he took a life almost as quickly as the explosion from the illegal drug activity ended the life of Michael Fahy.  My friend is a college professor and native of Colorado but she knows too well the grief of losing a family member in an instant.  “A world of laughter, a world of tears’…It’s a small world after all.

 

It is election season in the United States and volunteers are trying to help register people to vote.  Few states automatically do this when people obtain driver’s licenses or state sponsored Identification cards and often people fail to make that extra trip to register.  This past week another friend was helping register people and found himself volunteering to do so at a homeless shelter.  Suddenly he saw a familiar face, someone with whom he worshipped.  This friend is a humanitarian and yet even he was surprised to realize that the theory of “Anyone can become homeless” was now a reality standing in front of him.  The world of economics is not just for a chosen few and the effects of financial woes can and do happen to anyone.  “It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears” and being unable to maintain a certain lifestyle will probably be experienced by many.  Sometimes that lifestyle change is for the better but all too often it is not.  It truly can happen to anyone.  It’s a small world after all.

 

“There’s so much that we share” the lyric goes but I wonder…Do we really share?  Are we really living with a thought making and seeing the connections we all have or do we simply go about our lives getting as much as we ourselves can personally garner?  “That it’s time we’re aware” is perhaps the most telling way to describe this past week for me.  I realized an awareness that even though I myself have never traveled to some exotic locale, I know people in many such settings and we are connected.

 

I sincerely hope that you have never been homeless or experienced the death of a loved one but most likely you have experienced death and certainly some sort of tragedy.  They are a part of life.  “A world of laughter and a world of tears” describes one’s overall living.  What makes it extraordinary and even bearable is that we share both the good times and the bad.  We need to create connections in a positive way so that we make our living count for something. Whether someone is an attorney, a firefighter, or a volunteer, we all have the opportunity to make the ordinary process of living extraordinary.

 

Pentecost is called the “Ordinary Time” but it really is not so ordinary after all.  No single day is.  They may all blur into a sort of oneness or sameness but they shouldn’t.  We can make them count for something but showing kindness, concern, and realizing that “There’s so much that we share”.  We have the power to make these ordinary times spectacular and meaning and by doing that, we gain strength to get through the tough times.  We are in this thing called life together and we need to connect and help each other.  “It’s a small world, small world after all.”

 

 

Life Happens

Still Give Thanks

Pentecost

 

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.

In Memoriam

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This blog will honor those senselessly killed in Orlando with prayer and no written posts until June 18th.  May we one day learn that faith does not involve killing and that all have an unalienable right to live.

Responsible

Responsible

Pentecost 23

 

One of the first rules in marketing is to NOT use a word that puts people on edge.  With the title of this post I have violated that rule.  I make no apologies and trust my readers are mature enough to continue reading.  This series is about turning the ordinary into the extraordinary and while we will explore over two hundred ways to make that happen before its conclusion, I would be remiss if I did not point out the easiest way to make that happen – Be responsible.

 

In number thirteen of this series we discussed some of the ways we can live responsibly.  That post was entitled “ ‘R’ You Ready?” and, as you might recall, discussed ways to live responsibly by recycling, repairing, reusing, and reserving.  Let me add another ‘R’ word – remember.

 

I could have titled this piece Remember.  That would attracted more attention but I think, to be true to you the reader, I needed to be honest.  I don’t what to take you down a nostalgic path on memory lane to a lovely time in your childhood or teen years.  I neither am not extolling the good old days nor the virtue of a period long forgotten. 

 

I want you to remember the value of your life.  Hopefully you feel your life has matter because it definitely does.  All lives matter.  There is nothing so precious or fragile as the life of a human being.  We all enter this world through incredibly similar means, whether with the help of medical personnel or with only family present.  Whether it be by natural process or surgical means, the birth of a human being varies little age to age, culture to culture, religion to religion or absence thereof, economic status having no bearing.

 

While there are various means of dying, we all go through a similar reverse process when our life ceases.  In our birth and our death, we become equal and no one is better than another.  Yesterday’s funeral of Muhammed Ali proves my point.  It was attended by people of all races, socio-economic status, creed, age, economic strata, and color.  The legacy of this man who called himself “The Greatest” is that all could and did relate to his living and his words.  A black Muslim, Ali called a much smaller Caucasian Jewish man his “Little Brother”. 

 

Ali knew that truly we all are brothers and sisters.  Because of that, we all must live in a responsible manner.  Last night a concert was held in Florida and it ended with an autograph signing session where concert goers could get up close, personal, and meet the performing artists.  Sadly, because of the irresponsible actions of one attendee, the evening ended in death.

 

The shooter’s name has not, as of this posting, been released.  His name is not really the issue, though.  His actions are.  This man, for whatever reason, felt he had the right to irresponsible gun ownership and behavior.  He joins hundreds by doing this and adds to the tally of deaths at the hands of such people.

 

It is considered one of the basic freedoms granted in the United States Constitution to bear arms.  It was written immediately after the small group of colonies had defeated their mother country, a defeat many felt was made possible because the colonists were armed.  Early colonial life meant everyone was responsible for obtaining their own food.  The only grocery stores were found in nature and the kitchen garden or farm.  Carnivores hunted and killed animals for their meat.

 

Today, this right has negated the basic right of life for the victims of those whose mental capacity negates their ability to responsibly own a firearm.  The gun lobby protests changing or limiting gun ownership, saying it would put basic democracy at risk.  There are no easy answers other than for all of us to be responsible.

 

I do not know why this man felt he needed a twenty-two year-old singer from New Jersey to be his target.  A woman of faith, a professed Christian, would have made her a target in some countries but, again the Constitution guaranteed a right to her faith.  It guarantees everyone a right to their faith, providing said faith is really a faith and not mental instability or simply a quest for uncontrollable power.

 

I know of no country that guarantees its citizens to right to stand in front of a speeding train but apparently standing in front of a speeding bullet makes sense to many gun owners.  We are not calling for the elimination of trains; we employ safety measures to ensure everyone’s safety.  We can do better than just sit and watch more innocent people die.  We can and need to be responsible in our living.