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.

 

 

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.

Pay It Forward

Paying It Forward

Detours in Life

Pentecost 9

 

When was the last time you did a good deed for someone?”  I recently asked this of a friend.  My friend thought for a minute and then described something over two weeks ago.  Last year about this time my Pentecost series was about “making the ordinary extraordinary”.   It was about making each day count. Most of us would love to have that happen except … Life takes us on a detour instead.

 

Last year I told you about Kim Atwood, a woman who focused on doing a good deed a day.  In the year 2000 another woman named Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a book upon which a movie was based entitled “Pay It Forward”.  Kim took this same premise and put it into action.  “One morning, on my drive to work, I was thinking about the law of moral causation and the karmic energy that surrounded my life.”

 

Kim was not just interested in doing a good deed but it that deed having a ripple effect.  She encouraged her friends to follow her example as well as the strangers who were the recipients of her actions.  The first day she stopped at her favorite donut shop for a pastry and coffee and then bought the same for the person in line behind her, asking the clerk to tell said person what had been done.  The next day she bought a potted plant and left it with a note on a car in a parking lot.  On another day she ordered some pet products from www.totallyfreestuff.com and donated them to a local animal shelter.  Soon life closed in on her and it was bedtime one evening when she realized she had not accomplished her good deed that day.  She went online and in five minutes had donated a few dollars to a charity.

 

The point of sharing with you Kim’s story was that she turned her ordinary commute into a period of retrospection and then took action.  She made each day extraordinary for the beneficiaries of her actions.  Kim was not some millionaire and often her actions took only a few extra minutes.  One day she simply stood at a store and held the day open for people sharing a smile and a brief greeting for a few minutes.  Each smile was returned and as she finished her shopping, she saw others holding the day for those entering.  Kim create her own detour from her normal pattern and started finding a way to make each day count.  She was doing for others but discovered it took her on a trip of her own as well.

 

Behavior is contagious.  That is why gangs are successful and cults have a following.  Kim Atwood used her time wisely and her detour from her normal routine made positive behavior contagious.  The ripple effect of her actions created more extraordinary moments for more living things. 

 

Joni Averill is a columnist with the Bangor Daily News and she wrote about Kim in 2010.  “ Civility. Manners. Thoughtfulness. Understanding. Compassion. Respect. Tolerance.  Our society seems to be losing its grip on those essential virtues.  What a much nicer world it would be if we all made the attempt, daily, to be kinder to one another.”

 

Bangor, Maine is a town that is often the last US stop for soldiers going to the Middle East.  Those arriving and departing usually deplane as new planes are to be boarded, different connections made.  Each soldier is greeted as they enter the Bangor Airport by citizens of Bangor and usually handed a cup of hot coffee or a cool drink.  They all receive a smile and hero’s greeting, justly deserved and earned.  These humble residents, however, are also heroes.  They make an exhausting trip better and remind our brave men and women why they are doing what they do.  Regardless of the weather or the time of day, each plane is met, each servicemen thanked.

 

Steve Jobs once said “If you are working at something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed; the vision pulls you.”  Hopefully, today something extraordinary will pull you to action, something that benefits another person and makes their ordinary day a time of extraordinary living.

 

We think of detours as nuisances but they can be a wonderful way of paying it forward.  Yes it is scary to deviate from our normal and really, who thinks they have the time?  Truth is, we have all time to take a detour of meaning and to pay it forward.  We’ll end up helping ourselves as well as the world.

Hands On: Bah Humbug

Hands On – Bah Humbug

Detours in Life

Pentecost 7

 

“When we feel compassion, we feel the sufferings of others and feel motivated to help relieve them.  But compassionate prayer also calls for compassionate action.” (Br David Vryhof, Society of St John the Evangelist)

 

Four years ago Dr. Temple Grandin wrote an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post about the values of hands-on learning.  I have quoted Dr. Grandin before and if you follow this blog, her story if familiar to you.  Considered an unusual child, Temple Grandin has achieved stature as a well-respected veterinarian but also for her innovations and accomplishments regarding livestock handling and transport as well as being a professor at Colorado State University.

 

Besides all of the above, Temple Grandin was one of the first and remains one of the most visible to announce being autistic.  Rather than use her diagnosis as a reason to withdraw, she embraced it and lives with it, having a full life and successful career.

 

I completely agree with Dr. Grandin’s assessment of hands-on learning.  Please do not interpret the title of this post as my disagreeing with her or the concept of hands-on learning.  In this post today, however, I am referring to hands-on living and the resulting compassion that follows such.

 

Many of us have had the opportunity to pass a car wash or see a telethon trying to raise for funds for a family in crisis or a particular health condition.  Of course you cannot be expected to give away all your paycheck to such causes but many of us never even consider donating.  We are simply too busy living to stop and be compassionate.  In 2016 there were 324,129,511 people living in the USA.  If each person donated one dollar to the top five causes they supported, each cause were get over three hundred and twenty-four million dollars.  In total 1,620,647,555 or over 1.5 billion dollars would have been donated.  That amount of money could go quite far in finding cures or feeding the starving.  Ten dollars could buy a mosquito net for an African family and save lives… if we were stop saying “Bah Humbug!”

 

Too many of us have forgotten in our busy hands-on living to be compassionate and really live our faith.  It is time to take a second and think of others.  You can make a difference if you will just do it hands-on.

Twelve Steps Forward

Twelve Steps Forward

Easter 8 – 19

 

Charles A. Francis published a book in 2015 about mindfulness entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding Inner peace”.  Mindfulness is an important lifestyle technique that I believe we all need but few of us truly understand it.  For that reason, I am publishing Francis’ summation he wrote about his book and the twelve steps he advocates.  His way is not the only path one can embark upon in being mindful but it is an excellent journey if you desire to engage in this journey of mindfulness.

 

I do not know Charles Francis and this really is not an advertisement for his book.  I do recommend reading his explanation of each step, however, and perhaps trying one a day for the next twelve days.  Of course, without having read the book, it might be difficult but you can get enough of an idea to try some rudimentary practices regarding each step. 

 

Step 1—“We became aware of the pain and suffering created by unmindful thoughts, speech, and actions.” Step 1 teaches you some important concepts to help you understand the practice. In this step, we’ll talk about the Four Noble Truths, which deal with suffering and how to overcome it. We will also talk about the Five Hindrances, which deal with things that get in the way of your meditation and spiritual development.

 

Step 2—“We learned how to develop our primary tools of observation: concentration and mindfulness.” Here you will learn how to use your two most important tools of observation. If we want to understand ourselves, and our relationships with others, then we need to learn how to observe the world with unbiased clarity.

We often make quick judgments based on preconceived ideas, because it’s easier than examining situations further, and often less painful in the short-run. That is, we jump to conclusions without having many of the facts. So, to observe reality without bias, we need to develop our skills of observation. Like a journalist, we’re trying to get at the truth.

 

Step 3—“We sought to eliminate the things that agitate our mind, and prevent us from achieving inner peace and serenity.” A common challenge for beginners is dealing with a racing mind. We’re often unaware that many of our daily activities are agitating our mind. In this step, I’ll show you how to identify and eliminate the sources of agitation. I’ll also give you some effective tools for calming your mind.

 

Step 4—“We learned how to structure our meditation session for maximum effectiveness, and to fit our lifestyle.” In Step 4, we discuss our meditation environment. There is no best time or place that applies to everyone, because we all have different commitments and living situations. I’ll give you some guidelines for choosing the best time and place for you. We’ll also talk about sitting position and how long to meditate.

 

Step 5—“In order to enhance our spiritual evolution, we made mindfulness meditation a regular practice.” This step deals with the actual mechanics of meditation. You’ll learn exactly what to do during your meditation sessions. I’ll give you different formats, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for your needs, and I will even guide you through a typical meditation session.

 

Step 6—“We remained vigilant in our meditation practice, so that we continued making steady progress.” In Step 6, you’ll learn how to track your progress by keeping a meditation journal. This will help you stay grounded in proper techniques by establishing goals and measuring your progress. It will also help you stay motivated.

 

Step 7—“We became aware that other people can provide us with the spiritual nourishment vital to our development.” Other people can be invaluable sources of spiritual nourishment that will dramatically speed up your development. I will show you how to connect with them, so that you not only enhance your own spiritual development, but also that of others.

 

Step 8—“We sought to cultivate peace and harmony in our relationships and interactions with others by practicing deep listening, mindful speech, non-judging, and forgiveness.” In this step, we’ll examine how our behavior impacts our spiritual development and our relationships, and I’ll share with you some powerful tools for improving them.

 

Step 9—“We sought to dwell deeply in our spiritual community in order to enhance our development, and that of others.” In Step 9, I’ll show you how to avail yourself of the healing power of your spiritual community. I will introduce you to some more useful tools for enhancing your practice, including loving-kindness meditation, and a new meditation technique we’ve developed—writing meditation. You will also learn about the most powerful tool of all—the mindfulness meditation retreat.

 

Step 10—“We became aware of how unmindful consumption perpetuates our suffering, and prevents us from achieving true inner peace.” In this step, we’ll discuss how your consumption of nutrients and other substances can either enhance or hinder your spiritual development. As you progress in your practice, you’ll develop the wisdom and inner strength to make healthier choices.

 

Step 11—“With the strength, courage, and mindfulness we attained through our meditation practice, we confronted and overcame the wounds from our past.” Many of us have wounds from long ago that have never healed. These are serious obstacles to our development. In Step 11, I will show you how to use your emerging mindfulness to overcome them, so you can be free of them once and for all.

 

Step 12—“Having found freedom from our suffering through mindfulness meditation, we shared this practice with others, and continued dwelling deeply in the present moment through mindful living.” One of the great gifts you will receive from your practice is a deep sense of caring and compassion for other people. In this step, you’ll learn how to help others achieve inner peace as you have, and how your mindful leadership can help create a more mindful society. You’ll also learn how to apply mindfulness to all your daily activities, so that you continue making progress.”

 

This series topic of mindfulness is not designed to create more things to do in your daily schedule.  Once being mindful becomes a habit, it actually improves your schedule and your response to life itself.  The true purpose of mindfulness is to recognize the joy in living that is all around us.

The Long Walk Home

The Long Walk Home

Lent 44-45

 

Lent is traditionally thought of as a period of forty days and forty nights.  This year, because the date for Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Vernal Equinox, we have six extra days.  It is as if Mother Nature decided we needed some extra time.  Most of us go through life begging for more time, wishing a day had a few extra hours.  Thus this Lenten season begs the question:  Did you use your extra time wisely this year?

 

This Lenten series has been about how we respond to life and I used the eight verses of the Beatitudes as both prompts and lessons for doing so.  In deciding how to spend one’s time and in retrospect, if our time was used wisely and efficiently, productive not only for the present but as a prelude to the future, we need to really consider the words of the Beatitudes.  They offer truth as well as encouragement.

 

I have also used the analogy that our life is something like a treasure hunt, an adventure in which we seek the best we can obtain – happiness and joy.  If we are authentic about our reasons for our actions and our purposes, we must admit that the ultimate quest is one for contentment and delight.  In our careers, our hobbies, and even our mates, we seek that which brings us pleasure and amusement, giving reason to the humdrum necessities of life.

 

Google executive Mo Gawdat seemed to have it all and yet, he was not happy.  He set about to find real happiness and recently gave an interview about his search.  He used the common analogy we have all heard:  Is the glass half full or half empty?  Gawdat believes “Happiness is looking at the glass and seeing the truth of the glass.”  He goes on to explain that we need to recognize that glass as being half full and be grateful for that.  Then, he continues, we need to see the half empty portion and ask what we can do about it.  “True happiness is not about what the world gives you.  It is about what you think about what the world gives you.” 

 

Happiness is equal to or greater than the expectations of one’s life and the reality of it.  We sometimes believe life should behave a certain way and if it doesn’t, then we become unhappy.  Life is not always fun, Gawdat believes.  Fun is when we accept our life and are happy.  We achieve happiness when we accept the life we have at that moment and feel at peace about it.

 

Many people reading this are going to say “Well, yeah, easy for an executive to talk about accepting life.”  Mo Gawdat came to this realization the day he went from having a delightful family vacation to his son dying, a time span of four hours.  He went from fun to the harshest life had to offer in four brief hours, one-sixth of a day’s span.  How was he ever going make that long journey home and find normalcy ever again?

 

The Beatitudes do not offer us a perfect life.  They offer us a way to find the peace and happiness Mo Gawdat spoke about and encouraged us to seek.  For Christians, today is Maundy Thursday and tomorrow is Good Friday, a day in which their hero was tortured and left to die, crucified in front of his mother and followers, one who had betrayed him and another who had denied knowing him.  There is no joy in the events of this Thursday and Friday remembered and yet, without them, the rest of the living of this hero’s purpose would not have been possible.

 

The long way home for Mo Gawdat was not an easy one but he says that each day gets a little bit better.  The secret to happiness, he believes, is to accept where we are at the moment and move forward at peace.  “I can either chose to suffer, or I can choose to sort of accept life as harsh as it has become and reset, make that the zero-point and try to make that slightly better than it is today, and slightly better tomorrow…  “Happiness is not about what the world gives you – happiness is what you think about what the world gives you.”

 

As we make that long walk home from whatever we have encountered today, we can choose what to think about what life has given us.  We can reset for tomorrow and vow to make it better or we can crawl in a hole and let the tides of life drown us.  Make whatever thorns came your way today a crown of success for tomorrow or at least, a first step towards a better future.  You alone are the only one that can take that step for yourself.  Sometimes smiling and being nice is the best way to run the race of life.  And then, to quote the Moody Blues, “When all the stars have fallen down into the sea and onto the ground, and angry voices carry on the wind, a beam of light will fill your head and you’ll remember what’s been said by all the good men this world has ever known.”

 

 

Sanctuary

Refugees and Sanctuary

 

Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.

 

It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  I can still hear the clown of the group:  “Thank you Lord for this food, this colorful rainbow of blessings, we are about to eat.”

 

In the 1990’s I was the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA and we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring and this time faith gave me strength to help disband it.

 

The Beatitudes for me speak of sanctuary in that they provide hope and clarity in understanding what life throws at us.  My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary.  I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life.  Because of that, Jesus came and lived and died – all to provide me and you a sanctuary.  There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it.  “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”  Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.