Grace: Defining the Future

Grace: Defining the Future

2019.11.12

 

In the nineteenth century philosophy became something of a tongue twister at times. According to Arthur Schopenhauer, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” Georg Hegel believed in what he called a “system” of philosophy but maintained that reality was a historical process, examples of changes in the Spirit as a whole. Ludwig Feuerbach believed almost the opposite of Hegel. He believed in no spiritual realm and felt reality was, in the end, immaterial.

 

Interestingly enough, these different viewpoints formed the basis for a huge shift in political thinking and laid the groundwork for the history of the twentieth century. A student of Hegel rejected an individualistic state of nature and believed that mankind’s life was social. Thus, human nature was an expression of labor and activity, all done for the benefit of mankind or, in the trendy term of the period, society. He expressed Hegel’s theories in terms of material rather than spiritual terms. History to this student was a series of class struggles and his vision for the future was to create a classless society. His name was Karl Marx.

 

Born to German Jewish parents who then converted to the Lutheran faith, Karl Marx believed “criticism of religion is the foundation of all criticism.” Marx wanted to make history a science and believed that in doing so the problems of the past could be alleviated. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

 

Throughout its history philosophy and religion have been together – as friends and as enemies. Since the beginning of philosophy was man’s quest to determine what life was, what the world was, and what mankind itself was, the various creation theories and/or myths that exist had to be considered, studied, and related. It is simply impossible to separate philosophy from belief and yet, for the most part, they seem to be at odds with each other.

 

For many, philosophy strives to explain an anguished existence in an irrational world. For others, philosophy seeks to prove what they believe through faith. I ask you to ponder this question for today: Is philosophy what we believe or is what we believe contradictory to the study of philosophy? For some, the study of philosophy is blasphemous. For others, it is a refreshing proof of their beliefs.

 

As you try to answer that question, I ask you to consider how you show grace rather than using how we live as the answer. Philosophy is the science of thinking but life is the art of doing and what we believe is evident in what we do. If I say I have love for my neighbor, based upon Christian beliefs, then I cannot hate those who are different. If I say my life is dedicated to Allah, then I must live the peace the Qur’an speaks of in my daily living. If I believe I am a child of persecuted children of Israel, how can I fail to have sympathy and empathy for others who are persecuted, even if they are of another faith?

 

In all of these examples and if you consider yourself to be a spiritualist, then what part does grace play? Karl Marx is famous for having said “Religion is the opium of the people.” Having absolute certainty in one’s knowledge might also be said to be addicting, even lead to the ego-driven state Marx so harshly wished mankind to avoid. We all believe in something. Does our manner of living and interacting with society bolster those beliefs and make them evident thereby defining us correctly, or do they seem at odds with our words, making a mockery of both our faith and our living?

 

In 1726, Daniel Defoe wrote in his book “The Political History of the Devil: “Things as certain as death and taxes can be more firmly believed.” In 1789, writing to a friend in France, Benjamin Franklin wrote, in giving an update on the newly formed country and US Constitution: “…nothing is certain except death and taxes.” All we can be truly certain of is what we are doing in the here and now.

 

There are many ways to define living and most of them do involve spiritual and/or religious beliefs. However, what really matters is that we have tried to live as we believe. Whatever our philosophy is, we need to make sure that it ascends to the primary core of our actions, that it is the reason behind those actions. Then our personal philosophy will be one we support and believe.

 

To quote Mahatma Gandhi: ““Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.” I propose to you that to whom and in what manner we show grace defines who we are. Thus grace and how we live it becomes our defining moment.

To Retreat, Remain, or Grow

To Retreat, Remain, or Grow

2019.10.21

I have affection for coffeehouses and the wave of humanity that comes ashore in them.   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. A recent visit solidified my penchant for both coffeehouses and children.

I had just sat down when I noticed the table across from me. The grandparents were at what appeared to be their regular Bible Study/Social meeting and the young boy that had accompanied them was obviously a grandson. 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?”

I recently attended a retreat and this week I found myself wondering something similar. That is the question I hope you ask yourself this week. What are you? In past series 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 in past posts 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. Albert Camus once wrote: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” This past weekend I did just that. Past retreats included one in a beautiful country, wooded setting where no cell phones or electronic devices were allowed. Time was something measured jokingly with a ruler. It may sound funny but I took the time this time to be on a retreat to make sure that I did not remain, getting stuck in the whirlwind that our lives can become.   I agree with Anna White and this quote from her book “Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith” when she writes “I want my heart to be the thin place. I don’t want to board a plane to feel the kiss of heaven. I want to carry it with me wherever I go. My most recent retreat was actually a conference but the setting was so serene it felt more like a retreat for the soul than a taking care of business. Perhaps there is a lesson in that last statement as well.

 

I want my fragile, hurting heart, to recognize fleeting kairos, eternal moments as they pass. I want to be my own mountain and my own retreat.” Kairos is a Greek word dating back to antiquity and it refers to an opportune moment, that right and critical moment in time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a critical action.   Many times we are so busy reacting to the world that we fail to take the time to deliberate about our actions and what they represent. We are so busy being that we lose sight of what we are or would like to be.

My most recent retreat/conference was not a time of hearing but rather a time of listening. To be sure there were presentations and discussions but there were also times of meditating and truly hearing what all of creation was offering. The serene setting, fullness of life experienced, and the sharing of emotional, spiritual, and physical gifts provided encouragement to move forward, not just remain caught in the busyness of everyday living.

I hope this week you find your own sources of nurturing to help you grow in this endeavor we call living. Sometimes we must retreat from life to move forward in our living. Take a detour from your usual path and you might just find yourself.   More importantly, I hope you find and increase your self-worth and are then able to answer to the question: What am I?

Changing Times

Changing Times

2019.10.11

 

It seemed like good idea. I thought I was being respectful. When this blog began over five years I decided to honor those victims of domestic terrorism both at home and abroad by having a day of silence in honor of the victims. That has resulted in this blog being quiet this past few months. Such events have become more commonplace than the writers of the Bill of Rights could ever have imagined. On September 29th alone, there were four such incidents – Beaumont, Texas, Round Lake, Illinois, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Jacksonville, Florida. While many abroad will claim the frequency of such events is due to the availability of weapons in the United States, the truth is that these incidents are occurring worldwide. Freedom of the press means they get more publicity in the USA without government censorship.

 

While the global temperatures this summer were elevated, it would appear the personal tempers are as well. We have become a race of mad, angry humans, willing to snap back without consideration, acting without moral compass, forgetting the history lessons of the past and with little thought given to the future. An accidental push or shove is all the liberty someone needs to retaliate with the greatest weaponry at their disposal. Social media has become a platform for those who speak first and never think.

 

And so, given the changing times, I too must change my policy if ever I am to post another blog post again. In a three month period this summer, more people died than the sun took trips around the earth. People die every day and each day is a tragedy but these could have been prevents if mankind practiced one simple step – a step of forgiveness.

 

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense It is the letting go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, forswears recompense from or punishment of the offender, however legally or morally justified it might be. Forgiveness includes an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is very different from condoning, excusing, forgetting, pardoning, and reconciliation.

 

According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness might be the best health gift we give ourselves. Forgiveness results in a longer life, better relationships, and an overall increased sense of well-being.

  1. Lower blood pressure

When we no longer feel anxiety or anger because of past grievances, our heart rate evens out and our blood pressure drops. This normalizes many processes in the body and brings us into coherence with our heart and circulatory system.

  1. Stress reduction

Forgiveness eases stress because we no longer recycle thoughts (both consciously and subconsciously) that cause psychic stress to arise. By offering our burdens to Spirit for healing, we learn how to leave irritation and stress behind.

  1. Less hostility

By its very nature, forgiveness asks us to let go of hostility toward ourselves and others. Spontaneous hostile behavior, like road rage and picking a fight for no reason, goes down as our commitment to forgiveness goes up.

  1. Better anger-management skills

With fewer and fewer burdens from the past weighing us down, we can have more self-control when we do get angry. We’ll be better able to take some breaths, count to ten, take a time-out or get some exercise—rather than strike out at someone in anger.

  1. Lower heart rate

Forgiveness relaxes our hearts because we’ve let our pain ease out of our system as an offering to God. Our hearts can calm down, and our heart rate decreases as a result.

  1. Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse

This is a big one. I feel this is one of the biggest and best reasons to jump into a forgiveness practice without delay. Substance abuse is a mask for underlying pain. Forgiveness helps us release that pain and find the gifts in our situation instead.

  1. Fewer depression symptoms

Similar to lowering substance abuse, this is a crucial issue for many people. Depression is debilitating and can lead to suicide. On the other hand, forgiveness gives us healing and grace, and can replace depression with a sense of purpose and compassion.

  1. Fewer anxiety symptoms

Almost everyone needs to forgive him or herself as well as others. Anxiety often arises when we fear that we’ve done something wrong. Our guilty conscience causes anxiety at a deep level. Forgiveness helps us to love ourselves deeply, relieving us of inner pain.

  1. Reduction in chronic pain

Physical pain often has a psychological cause. When we allow a profound shift to happen with forgiveness, we heal ourselves on both psychological and physical levels. Thus, chronic pain can be reversed and we can come back to health.

  1. More friendships

When we’re no longer holding grudges, we can get a lot closer to friends and family. Old relationships have a chance to change and grow, and new relationships can enter—all because we made room for them with forgiveness.

  1. Healthier relationships

When we make forgiveness a regular part of our spiritual practice, we start to notice that all of our relationships (with lovers, co-workers, bosses, neighbors, etc.) begin to blossom. There’s far less drama to deal with, and that’s a huge bonus in life.

  1. Greater religious or spiritual well-being

Whether you’ve chosen a religion or not, forgiveness will bring you closer to Spirit. When we ask God for help and offer our fear, sadness and pain as a prayer, we receive peace and divine love in return. This is true healing.

  1. Improved psychological well-being

By releasing our grievances, we become more harmonious on all levels. Nightmares recede and exciting new life visions become commonplace. We feel calmer, happier and ready to give compassion and love to our world.

A good life, full of quality relationships, service to others and fun, is something that most of us hope for without ever knowing how to create it.

 

Most of our life is consumed with learned traits and that includes despair, hatred, and anger. However, babies are born already knowing how to smile. Think about that for a moment. We are born with the ability to be happy. Babies born blind and deaf can and do smile without ever having seen someone do it. Walking, talking, potty-training, dancing, making music, and throwing a temper fit are all learned traits.

 

We can change the world if we just begin as we are born to do and celebrate the happy.

 

To Walk with Kindness

To Walk with Kindness

2019.08.14-15

 

The greatest myths we encounter are those that influence our behavior the most. These are those myths that directly affect our psyche, our self-esteem, our attitudes about life and our neighbors. Sadly, many politicians and people with a microphone are busy weaving myths about those from whom they differ. Statistics are quoted that have no factual basis. Myths are woven about people who seem different and those different people became the enemy. Statues, temples, and even churches were erected in ancient times to protect people from the villains of myths. Churches were named after saints from whom believers sought protection.

 

“There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple. The philosophy is kindness.” The Dali Lama was not referring to mythology when he said those words but he could have been. Mankind erected temples to the deities created by the myths of the cultures on earth. The temples were evidence of our devotion, our faith. We must recognize that those temples and our modern churches are merely edifices. They hold no real power except that which our faith affords them. They offer no protection nor can they give us life. How we live is the only thing that can do that.

 

The best tool for living might very well be compassion for one’s neighbor. Although compassion is not readily available nor is there an excess of it, it is far easier to have compassion for another human being or animal than for ourselves. Here we encounter a myth. The myth is that it is selfish to have compassion for ourselves. In reality, we need to take care of ourselves. Certainly a parent cannot do this to the exclusion of providing for his or her children but being healthy for ourselves is also important. Living a healthy lifestyle is not a fad; it is a necessity for life.

 

There is a great deal of difference between practicing a healthy lifestyle and making it a priority and indulging in personal likes. Partaking of vitamin D and simple carbohydrates in a healthy portion is maintaining a balanced diet which will result in a fit human being. Eating a gallon of ice cream which contains those vitamin D and simple carbohydrate nutrients is indulgence.

 

All too often many of us have an internal voice that is overly critical and seldom, if ever, compassionate. Having the same compassion for yourself that you might have for a friend is not being indulgent or egotistical. It can be productive and inspiring. Criticism that is destructive has no place in a healthy lifestyle. It is not motivating nor should it be considered such. Helpful critiques, however, can lead to better outcomes. These include noticing what was good, even if the only good thing was that you tried. Give yourself credit for the little things and the big things will no longer be an issue.

 

We need to befriend ourselves. Most know the exercise on Facebook of responding to a friend request. How often do we send ourselves a friend request? Once sent and accepted, how often do we use our internal voice as a friend to ourselves? Very few people would tell a friend it was their fault that the plants in their garden died during a drought. Most who garden, though, expect themselves to be able to predict the weather, control the weather, and produce the most bountiful and beautiful gardens ever imagined. We seldom place impossible expectations on our friends and yet almost always place them on ourselves.

 

Dr. Kristin Neff from the University of Texas at Austin talks about the myths regarding compassion in her aptly titled book, “Compassion”.   She discusses the isolation that we often feel when confronted with our imperfect actions. “The important thing is to remember that we have a shared humanity. We all are flawed, we all make mistakes, we all have weaknesses.”

 

Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel has written a book about overcoming the imperfections we experience in life. Her book is titled “Bounce Back! 5 Keys to survive and thrive through life’s up and downs.” She offers this suggestion. “I want you to visualize this: You’re sitting on a plane and, as it begins to taxi, the flight attendant starts the safety review. You’re so used to this that you hardly hear what she’s saying. But I want you to pay attention to something she says that is very important: “Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.” In order to be most present and compassionate with others, you must first practice loving-kindness and compassion with yourself. Go ahead. You deserve it.”

 

Currently it would seem that a religion of hatred has become popular. Most have heard the directive to love thy neighbor but suddenly it would seem that the “neighbor” has become the enemy. No one race is better than another and no one person deserves more compassion than another. We are all part of the fabric of mankind. Believe in the myth that allows compassion…for yourself and for others. It is a road which will lead to a healthier and more productive life for us all.

 

The Gift of Sight

The Gift of Sight

2019.07-09

 

It has been a troubling summer. A much anticipated summer festival in Gilroy, California, the Garlic Festival is a time of fun, frivolity, and food. It is held annually the last weekend in July and celebrates a much-maligned vegetable – the garlic. A very close relative of the onion, garlic is native to Central Asia and northeastern Iran, and has long been a common seasoning worldwide, with a history of several thousand years of human consumption and use. It was known to ancient Egyptians, and has been used both as a food flavoring and as a traditional medicine. This year was the fortieth anniversary of the three-day event and it ended in tragedy with three dead and thirteen injured in a mass shooting.

 

Much too soon after, the town of El Paso, Texas had a mass shooting. To date, twenty-two have died with over thirty injured. The deliberately planned execution of innocent people whose only crime was to be shopping the weekend before school was to begin in the area seemed incomprehensible. About the time most Americans were trying to make sense out of the senseless killings, another mass shooting occurred in Dayton, Ohio. This time there were two dozen injured and nine victims killed, including the shooter’s own sister.

 

It should be noted that the statistics of such shootings do not always tell the true story in that there are always unreported victims, generally called survivors. Those who escaped the carnage of such acts must live with the memories of them and somehow try to rebuild their lives, even if they suffered no physical wounds. Two students who survived the Parkland Florida school mass shooting have since committed suicide.

 

The aftermath of such incidents always brings up the question “Why?” Perhaps more importantly, there is the follow-up analysis of what could have been done differently to avoid such events. How in the future can we acquire the gift of sight to keep these tragedies from being repeated?

 

If you have an email account, you probably are aware of your spam folder. A Bayesian filter is used to decide which of your emails are rubbish and which are something you might want to read. Companies and advertisers invest quite heavily in copywriters who can bypass these filters and get there promotional material before your eyes. Based upon what you have deleted in the past and what you have opened and read, it is used to evaluate the header and content of email messages and determine whether or not it constitutes spam.

I wish we had such filters on our public speaking. When I was much younger, there was a popular saying: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” These three sentences were what one was to consider before speaking. If the answer to any of the three questions was no, then it was advised not to say whatever was about to be said. It is really good advice.

 

Decision theory states that one should use the same basic criteria with every action taken – risk, reward, consequences, certainty. We need to start applying that criteria to our public speaking, in addition to the above three sentences. Public speaking today has become the repetition of trending phrases so as to sound “current”. Little thought is given to the actual meaning, content, or possible consequences.

 

Quantifiable behavior tells us that we can expect specific outcomes when a particular behavior is encouraged. When those in the public eye resort to trendy catch phrases that inflame and incite fear rather than quote accurate and somewhat boring statistics, then it is expected people will use whatever measures at end to protect themselves.

 

Until we monitor what we say and apply decision theory to it, we cannot expect differing outcomes. We will continue to have rampart fear and the resulting shootings and deaths. Words have meaning and when we speak, we need to speak from a place of honesty and fact. We need to apply a Bayesian filter to ourselves before we open our mouths. We need to speak with forethought and decision, with the intention to accurately inform and not incite. Otherwise, the future will be very easy to predict because it will look like the past month with needless deaths and pain.

The Panorama of Fear

The Panorama of Fear

Creating a Legacy

2019.08.05

 

“We and all creation reflect the image and nature of God the Divine Artist. Creativity, the ability to make or think new things, is of God’s essence. Creativity reflects God.”  These words of Br. Luke Ditewig sounded so wonderful to me the first time I heard them.  It was during a sermon and I was an impressionable teen-ager.  Suddenly from the pew behind me I heard a very gruff whisper.  “Oh yeah?  Then how do you explain heavy metal music?”  The elderly gentleman’s wife saw my shoulders move as I tried to stifle my chuckle.  After the service she turned to her husband and gave his shoulder a marvelously targeted punch:  “Maybe heavy metal music is what God sounds like when he’s mad,” she replied and then winked at me.

 

Recently a young child was asked how God sounded when mad.  I remember being told as a child that thunder was just the angels playing ball or perhaps yelling at each other.  I expected this child to say something similar.  Instead, with a great deal of confidence, this child loudly proclaimed that the sound of gunfire was the sound of an angry God. 

 

Every day we all create our life and our legacy.  It is up to us to have opinions and act upon them.  We have brains and we, hopefully, think so we are going to have an opinion.  IT is also up to us to make sure that those opinions and actions are creating a positive future, though, and that does not always happen.  We have stopped the dialogue of creativity and have become critics instead.

 

We are all critics.  Seriously.  If we are to be honest, we really are all critics.  Everyone knows what they like and what they do not like.  We also all want to matter.  All lives do matter; it is not a new concept.  However, history seems to have forgotten how to record and address the critics.  Instead we have tried to sweep them under the carpet.  History tells us that people are not so easily silenced.  The creative arts are also evidence of this.  It may seem that the artist owes his/her audience something delightful but the truth is…What the artist owes the world is an honest reflection of the moment in time they are capturing.

 

Any creative work is a dialogue between the artist and the audience member and no two audience members are going to hear the exact same dialogue.  Criticism is also dialogue and an important form of feedback that the artist should not ignore.  First, if someone takes the time to critique you, they are honoring the time you spent creating.  Negative critiques do not seem like a compliment but they are.  They also offer a chance to evaluate your work.  Not every critic is going to understand your intent or perhaps the meaning of your work.  Not every critique needs to be followed but they should be given respect and heard.

 

The language one uses in response to criticism is vitally important. Never engage in an argument. Instead, turn the exchange into a discussion about how to resolve the differences or what was unclear.  Most create because we have a burning need inside to let that creativity out.  However, we do need the audience, the viewer, that person who listens to what we are trying to say in whatever form we are creating.

 

“The Critic as Artist” is an essay by Oscar Wilde, containing the most extensive statements of his aesthetic philosophy. A dialogue in two parts, it is by far the longest one included in his collection of essays titled Intentions published in May 1891. “The Critic as Artist” is a significantly revised version of articles that first appeared in the July and September issues of The Nineteenth Century, originally entitled “The True Function and Value of Criticism.” The essay is a conversation between its leading voice Gilbert and Ernest, who suggests ideas for Gilbert to reject. 

 

Through the title, Wilde explores the fact that even a critic is an artist and the critique is in itself a creative art form.  The essay champions contemplative life to the life of action. According to Gilbert, scientific principle of heredity shows we are never less free, never have more illusions than when we try to act with some conscious aim in mind. Critical contemplation is guided by conscious aesthetic sense as well as by the soul.

 

The soul is wiser than we are, writes Wilde, it is the concentrated racial experience revealed by the imagination. Criticism is above reason, sincerity and fairness; it is necessarily subjective. It is increasingly more to criticism than to creation that future belongs as its subject matter and the need to impose form on chaos constantly increases. It is criticism rather than emotional sympathies, abstract ethics or commercial advantages that would make us cosmopolitan and serve as the basis of peace.

 

“Critics don’t help you at all, they are not better than a randomly-picked person,” says Dr. Pascal Wallisch, a psychologist at New York University.  A 2017 study by Wallisch and perception researcher Jake Alden Whritner found that our taste in movies is highly idiosyncratic — they’re peculiar to an individual. Their paper, entitled ‘Strikingly Low Agreement in the Appraisal of Motion Pictures’, also revealed that our preferences are often at odds with those of film critics.  Wallisch and Whritner gave almost 3000 people a list of over 200 popular films — major motion pictures released from 1985 to 2004 (including some in the Star Wars series). The data was collected over 10 years (2005-2015) via an online survey where participants were asked to rate every film they had seen and give each movie a star rating on a scale of 0 to 4 stars.

 

The scientists compared everyone’s scores with everyone else’s in a pairwise manner, compared people to 29 professional film critics (like Roger Ebert) and compared individual scores from those groups with aggregated sources of reviews, including Rotten Tomatoes and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).  As reported earlier this year in Forbes, “Prior to our research, what was shown is that critics agree highly, but no-one’s ever looked at how critics correlate with regular people,” says Wallisch. “What was relatively unusual is that the average rating between critics and movie-goers was so different. This is the only research that actually shows scientifically that critics and people don’t agree.”

 

In a 2014 New York Times article James Parker answered that age-old question “Should we respond to our critics?”  Parker’s answer was succinct and to the point.  “No. … Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. We’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere.”  He continues:  “Sometimes you are the pigeon,” Claude Chabrol said, “and sometimes you are the statue.” Wonderful, Gitane-flavored words. But we are not statues — we are not made of stone. Anointed with guano, do we not feel it? And right now everybody feels it. Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. Writers and non-writers, mandarins and proles, we’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere, at the bottom of some page. Scroll down, scroll down, take that Orphic trip into the underworld of the comments section, and there they are — the people who really object to you. Their indignation, their vituperation, is astonishing. It seems to predate you somehow, as if they have known and despised you in several former existences. You read their words and your body twitches with malign electricity. You must get out of this place immediately, run toward the light. Let the dead bury their dead. And don’t look back — because if you do, like Orpheus, you’ll lose what you love the most.”

 

The critique is a reflection of the moment in which it was given, nothing more.  In his memoir, “Prince Charming,” the great poet Christopher Logue, in mellow old age, speaks of diving into “a chocolate-liqueur box filled with dated clippings of every review that my books, plays or radio programs had received since 1953.” It is there that he made a discovery: “How differently they read now. At the time, oh, the complaining: That fellow failed to praise me for this, this fellow blamed me for that. . . .”   Now, Logue has a different perspective: “How fair-minded their words appeared, how sensible their suggestions for my improvement.”

 

This blog is a creative work and, like all other creative works, merely a reflection of the moment in which it was written.   Today, August 5, 2019, is a reflection of thirty-six hours of death, the death of innocent people, creative souls in their own right.  It has been thirty-six hours of sorrow and disbelief, a panorama painted with blood and fear, based upon hatred.   I do not know what lessons we will learn from these events of El Paso and Dayton.  Later this week we celebrate the second anniversary of a similar event in Charlottesville.  It would seem we have learned little and yet…  Dialogues have been created and our legacy from these events is one of continued effort. 

 

All the minutes we live and survive are creative efforts.  To honor those who died and to give faith to all still living means we must carry on and have hope.  Acceptance, faith, and hope are the steppingstones of the past that lead to a productive future.  We and we alone will create the legacy of today.  I pray it is one of joy and generosity and kindness to all. 

We Are the Village

A Fractured Village

El Paso & Dayton

2019.08.04

 

Words have meaning.  They exist for no other purpose but to convey meaning.  When someone, whether in an effort to be humorous or in being sincere, uses hate rhetoric, they become responsible for everything that follows as a result of their words.  An old African folksong asks “Who is watching the children?  It takes a whole village to raise a child.”

 

Several years ago Jacob Devaney penned:  “No matter how old we are, we are children of ‘the village’, the community that raised us and supported us helped to shape the way we see the world.”  Many of us had nurturing families in which we lived but many others did not.  Regardless of the family unit or lack thereof, the community around us was our village.  Pam Leo explains that “How we treat the child, the child will grow up to treat the world.”

 

This is not a new concept.  What we know of ancient civilizations is based upon the archaeological finds of their communities.  The shards of pottery tell us how and what they ate.  Pieces of ancient tools help understand how they lived and in what types of abodes.  The community is as much a vital part of our living as the air we breathe.

 

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an Igbo and Yoruba proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community and may have its origins in a biblical worldview.  This proverb is so widely used in Africa that there are equivalent statements in most African languages, including “One knee does not bring up a child” in Sukuma and “One hand does not nurse a child” in Swahili.  The widespread use of this proverb by cultures around the world shows its timelessness and relevancy.  The saying is used in America to evoke feelings of community on the small scale as well as on the national and even global scale.

 

Some believe the proverb may have its origins in the Bible, since it reflects a worldview regarding unity and self-sacrifice expressed in several passages of the Bible, such as Ecclesiastes 4:9,12 and Isaiah 49:15-16.  This worldview is commonly seen in African cultures today. In many African communities it is common for a child to be raised by its extended family, in many cases spending extended periods of time living with grandparents, aunts and uncles. Even the wider community sometimes gets involved, as children are seen as a blessing from God upon the entire community.  We could debate for hours which came first – the Biblical scriptures or the African communities.  One thing is certain – We need community.

 

Robin Grille is an Australian psychologist and writer who has authored “Parenting for a Peaceful World”.  He encourages parents and the community to consider how our daily lives are influencing our children.  A fractured society cannot be an effective community.  We must work together and be supportive in order for the future generations to understand how to form, grow, and continue the concept of community.

 

Health and fitness coach Jen Waak believes there are six vital reasons for us to grow community.  First there is the concept of Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers, consulting with experts is always going to give you better information.  Secondly, life pushes our limits. When working alone, it’s oftentimes too easy to give up when things get hard. By surrounding yourself with others working toward a similar goal or objective, you’ll get motivation, support, and friendly competition to push yourself just a bit further than you would have done on your own.

 

Support and belief are the third reason for developing community. Some days those big goals just seem impossible. On those days when you most want to give up, you need to lean on your community the most. They believe in you—probably more than you belief in yourself.  Next, there is the need for new ideas.   When you are working within a community of like-minded people, the wisdom of crowds is considerably greater than any one person working alone. Our divergent world views and lenses mean that we all approach the exact same problem slightly differently.

 

Fifth, communities offer borrowed motivation. Even on those days when your belief in yourself isn’t waning, doing what needs to get done can often seem overwhelming. Look around your community and be inspired!  Lastly, we need community because there is the need for accountability.  If you’re an uber-responsible person, you may not want to admit to people you care about who are pulling for you that something didn’t get done. There’s nothing like having to be accountable to others to up your game.  Allowing others to help is hard, but it ultimately raises everyone’s game.

 

Khalil Gibran spoke of this concept of community and children, the need for the village to be a sustainable community in this poem.

“Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”

 

It takes a community to grow a world.  Idowu Koyenikan once remarked that “There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.”  We need to not only value the freedom of speech but recognize its power.  Politicians today seem to have forgotten that they open their mouth and become instant teachers.  We all teach – through our actions, our deeds, but most importantly, by what we say.

 

Who pulled the trigger in El Paso and Dayton?  The greatest threat to the average American is not someone from another country but the person listening to the hate language being shouted across the airways and social media.  Words have meaning.  They exist for no other purpose but to convey meaning.  When someone, whether in an effort to be humorous or in being sincere, uses hate rhetoric, they become responsible for everything that follows as a result of their words.

 

Our words are the bows from which others as living arrows are sent forth.  May we send arrows of kindness and generosity, not hate.  Let the killing end.  Let the right to stay alive supersede the right to own an assault weapon.  Someday I hope we value life more than the sound of our own voice.  The death of one diminishes us all.  Today our community is fractured by hate, needless and senseless, hate.  We may be the problem but we can also be the answer.  “There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.”  We are the village.