Knowledge: Cause and Effect

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

04.25.2019

Easter 2019

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Five years ago   the Nobel peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, Malala Yousafzai,  because she dared to follow her dream to learn.

 

In the Christian tradition the fortieth day after Easter is known as Ascension Day.  It is the day Christians celebrate as being the day of Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could they believe that a man could be crucified, buried, walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms and he lived five centuries before the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church in the form of the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion and their beliefs can be understood.  These invasions unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  Yet, do we live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”

 

I fear the real truth is much simpler and in its simplicity, much more complicated to live.  We cannot spend time on this earth without affecting it.  We occupy space and the air we inhale and exhale affects our environment.  We all have a carbon footprint and that also affects the future.  How we gain in knowledge is really up to us.  That is the simple part.  The complications arise when we live or fail to live our beliefs.  We do make a difference by being on this planet and we will either leave it a better place or worsen it.  The future is the fruit of the seed of our actions today.  What will you decide to do?  How will your curiosity lead to greater knowledge?

 

 

Are We Real?

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

American author and artist James Thurber once stated:  “Philosophy offers the rather cold consolation that perhaps we and our planet do not actually exist; religion presents the contradictory and scarcely more comforting thought that we exist but that we cannot hope to get anywhere until we cease to exist. Alcohol, in attempting to resolve the contradiction, produces vivid patterns of Truth which vanish like snow in the morning sun and cannot be recalled; the revelations of poetry are as wonderful as a comet in the skies, and as mysterious. Love, which was once believed to contain the Answer, we now know to be nothing more than an inherited behavior pattern.”

 

Thurber would probably not be pleased that I am considering him a philosopher.  Born in Ohio and raised in both Virginia and Ohio, Thurber had a rather typical early twentieth century American boy’s childhood.  Not so typical was an injury he suffered as a child when an arrow of his brother’s resulted in Thurber being blinded in one eye.  He worked as a journalist in Ohio after attending but not graduating Ohio State University and then moved to New York City where he obtained a position on the staff of ”The New Yorker” magazine.  Thurber become known for his cartoons of animals and his drawings of dogs soon had their own career on pages of periodicals, newspapers and books, often watching strong-willed women and seemingly weak men.

 

Thurber once remarked “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people–that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.”  Many enjoyed both his drawings and his books, of which there were more than just a few.  Often people saw themselves on the pages of Thurber’s drawings; always they saw their neighbors.  Few took offense, though, knowing that Thurber was pointing his pen not only at them but also himself.

 

“There but for the grace of God go I” is an idiom attributed to Anglican priest James Bradford.  It is also a paraphrase of the scripture found in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:10.  That the quote in English form is also attributed to a Roman Catholic priest is no surprise and quite fitting given Bradford’s life.  Ordained an Anglican priest shortly before the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne as reigning monarch of England, he was later imprisoned and hung for his beliefs.  Bradford preached of the connectivity of mankind and saw himself in the face of the lowest of it.  Mostly, Bradford saw each man has a reflection of another except for perhaps life’s circumstances.  He advocated spreading good will not judgment.

 

However you might define reality, we are real.  If you doubt that, get a hammer and bring it down intensely upon your finger.  I really doubt you will question the pain experienced.  Life is transitory but the travails we experience are very real to us.  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  Elie Wiesel was referring to events leading up to World War II specifically but his words ring true for everyday living.

 

We are not only real, we are connected one to another.  A couple of years ago after a natural disaster, Face Book began running a streamer at the top of personal pages giving ways people could contribute to charities helping the victims of the earthquakes in Nepal.  Some people have protested this, good people with no motive for malice.  “Wouldn’t it be better to help people in our own country?” was a common response people posted on their own pages.  “Why do we have to see this ticker about giving to Nepal?”  The unspoken meaning here is let the Nepalese help themselves while we help our neighbors.

 

That is a great thought except for one thing – Nepal was a country in dire straits even before the earthquake.  The victim of countless regimes whose only purpose was personal greed, these “live and let live” people were in abject poverty before nature took its revenge on them.  How can someone with nothing have their lives and homes literally upturned by seismic events then pull wealth out of their empty pockets to “help themselves”?

 

Every country has its poor, its disenfranchised societies.  For many, these populations are simply uneducated, sometimes on purpose based upon gender, and/or the wrong ethnicity, again the victims of deliberate discrimination.  Sometimes these populations suffer from illnesses that are not fully understood or greatly feared.   No one country has enough money given to completely render all needed assistance to these groups.

 

Tragedy is forever with us.  The tragedies in Sri Lanka this past weekend are evidence of that.  With the complexities of weather systems and the natural disasters we face, mankind has decided to up the ante and make staying alive even harder.  People are being led by fanatical zealots as well as greedy politicians to kill themselves and take with them, hundreds of innocent victims.

 

Reality may be a word that means different things to different people and sadly, many feel they are invisible and that their lives do not matter.  Another thing all countries share is that somewhere today someone will take their own life.  In spite of a number of terminal illnesses, accidents, and crimes that will result in death, people will feel their own personal situation has no meaning and is just a riddle too hard to contemplate resolution except by death.  TO not give others a chance to live must surely be among the most heinous of crimes.  People are dying simply because they were engaged in living.

 

Einstein might have been correct when he said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  I prefer to believe that human stupidity is reversible, though.  Another in common is countries where children and adults wear socks is that, at some point, one will end up with a mismatched sock.  Seeming to defeat the laws of physics, one sock will magically disappear.  Once during an epic spring cleaning, my spouse and children put all their mismatched socks into bags.  The final count was an even one hundred pairless socks.  Of course, once the socks were all laid out, pairs were found or someone remembered the puppy tearing a sock up, etc.

 

Just as our socks were real, the mystery of the disappearance of their matches had resolution.  For an hour, said spouse and kids enjoyed making up stories about the disappearances.  Their imaginations took flight and they did indeed come up with delightful tales.  In fact, I think at least still imagines at least two socks are orbiting the earth as I type today!  The reality was far less exciting and entertaining but resolution was found.  We did not find all the socks but those that remained single became adorable little snowman figures (comment here and I’ll send you the instructions for this craft!).

 

James Thurber felt that love was simply an inherited behavior pattern but I would differ with that sentiment.  Love for ourselves and one another might just be the answer the world needs to exist.  Surely it is the one way we can prove we are real, we are alive. 

 

Man is real.  We have solutions if we but have faith that we can find them.  It will not be easy but then, most things seldom are.  Pain cannot be seen or even quantified on a scale with weights and balances and yet, pain is all too real for those experiencing.  We should not share in another’s blame or guilt but we can and should offer to help.  Life is hard but it is not impossible.  All we need to do is believe in ourselves.  Perhaps that is the hardest problem philosophy has to solve.  Today I hope you smile more than you cry and, when you pass another, your eyes are opened to not only see that other person but also your own value.  We are real.

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Day 39 – Palm Sunday*

Lent 2019

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope.

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward.  In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.

The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

Days 37-38

Lent 2019

 

Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although that document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights.  It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed.  Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all.  In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent.   “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.”  This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.   

 

Today many people are seeking freedoms, both for religious purposes but also for just basic living.  Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule.  She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion.  Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim.  She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”.  Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War I, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others.  She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career.  Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.

 

Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War II.  While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong.  As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII.  Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman.  Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.

 

More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice.  Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement.  Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue.   Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

 

The Beatitudes offer us a reason to continue to believe, in spite of what life throws at us.  They also have, for many, provided a foundation for which to live.  With no mission board to support or guide her and less than ten dollars in her pocket, Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China.  Amy Carmichael is an Irish missionary who spent fifty-three years in South India without a break.  Both women believed that their Creator would provide for their needs.

 

Dr. Helen Roseveare graduated in medicine from University of Cambridge in the late 1940′s. A well-known missionary doctor and author, with several of her works still in print, she worked in the north-eastern province of the Belgian Congo with the Heart of Africa Mission in the 1950′s & 60′s.  Art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, but Lilias Trotter’s devotion to Christ compelled her to surrender her life of art, privilege, and leisure. Leaving the home of her wealthy parents for a humble dwelling in Algeria, Lilias defied stereotypes and taboos that should have deterred any European woman from ministering in a Muslim country. Yet she stayed for nearly forty years, befriending Algerian Muslims with her appreciation for literature and art and winning them to Christ through her life of love.

 

Khadīja Khuwaylid Even was an important figure in her own right even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, since she was a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. 

 

One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:

“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

 

Throughout history women have been prevented from participating in a great many things, including religion.  Throughout history women have lived and fought for their religious beliefs and freedoms, finding strength in the cause and effects echoed in the Beatitudes.  These named represent a small minority of the thousands of thousands of brave and spiritual women who have lived according to their beliefs.  The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith. 

 

A news story today chronicles a suggested answer to the high number of people illegally entering the United States was to “dump them” in various locations across the country.  It should be noted that attorneys within involved agencies rejected this offer.  Throughout history women have been prevented from attaining an education and were considered good only as slaves, much like these immigrants have become – slaves and prisoners to an inept and ineffective system.  The fact is that all lives matter and we need to address issues as if we ourselves were the victims of the problems.  After all, whyat affects one really will, at some point, affect us all.  We truly and effectively need to treat others as we would want to be treated if we are to have success in living.

 

The women mentioned here today, as well as those in education, health care, and politics, live their belief that all lives matter.  After all, why do we believe and go through our daily living if it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?

 

 

 

 

 

That “E” Word

That “E” Word

Day 28

Lent  2019

 

I once went to a training seminar and the speaker introduced the next discussion topic by saying “Next we will discuss that hated “E” word.”  Most people guessed he meant education but the topic was evangelism.  “Whoa” everyone reacted.  We were not there to pass out tracts on some street corner nor walk around proclaiming the world’s end was near.  You might be thinking the exact thing right now.

 

I know what you’re thinking…Evangelism?  What does that have to do with mindfulness, better living (for those not interested in evangelical beliefs) and growing a better self?  In a word – harvest.  That which we reap from our being is our evangelism to the world.  Recently I heard a talk in which the speaker accurately portrayed the shunning many have for this word “evangelism”.  Evangel is the root of the word evangelism and while, like many words, it has had its metamorphoses throughout time, it means to “announce”.  For us today, in this context, it means how we are seen and heard.

 

Evangelism became the property of Christians when they began to define the word to mean the good news or gospel.  This occurred sometime in the mid 1600’s and still relates to the original meaning.  The speaker I heard said we needed a new word, a different synonym for the word “evangelism” that was less frightening and less denomination specific.  Some suggested “practice” while others simply wanted to forget the word existed at all.  It is a word that ranks in the lower forty percent of all words so clearly others would like to ignore it as well.

 

The problem is that we cannot ignore our personal evangelism.  It is how others see us and hear us and it is not based just on our appearance but more importantly on our actions.  This blog is not just for Christians nor is it devoid of spirituality.  We are discussing evangelism today because I firmly believe that evangelism is not the property of the faithful, any faithful.  I believe evangelism is dialogue and we all have that every day.

 

Adam S. McHugh wrote a book about introverts in today’s culture of extroverts.  “The verbal tool… is not confrontation or preaching but dialogue.  We subject ourselves to the same questions we pose to others, and as we traverse them together, we may arrive at surprising conclusions we could never have reached when simply trying to defeat one another’s logic.  The process is more important than an immediate decision.”  When we engage in dialogue, whether of the voice or of actions, we are participating in evangelism and sharing who and what we are.

 

Each day we live we “grow” our self-worth.  Every hour we live we should “water” that self-worth by increasing our knowledge, gaining understanding of self as well as wisdom for encouraging dialogue with others.   The biggest stop sign we have in our communion with others is fear.  We may think of it as hesitancy but it is fear, fear that we don’t really know how to proceed.

 

I really wish I could give you an owner’s manual for life but there just is not one.  Hindsight is definitely easier than trying to predict the future.  I have a notepad that states “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  How do we create the future?  That is also not a certainty but we can have a better chance at creating a good future if we live what we seek.  If we want a more peaceful world, we have to live peacefully.  If we want a better environment, we have to be better stewards of our natural resources.  We have to learn from the past, practice in the present, and believe in the future.

 

Gardeners do just that when planting their gardens.  After all, it takes hope and faith in the future when planting a garden.  A successful gardener learns from past years and evaluates what worked and brought about a better yield.  They then apply those lessons to the current crop, believing in the potential of future harvests.  We should do that with ourselves and yet…we seldom do.

 

We need to plant our feet firmly in evangelistic soil, the territory of good news and positive thinking.  We all have had those “oops!” moments.  We all have had a time we stumbled or bumbled our way through something.  What we need to do is remember we are growing each and every day in the soil of those goofs.  Our very being here on earth is a story of hope.  We are the living embodiment of potential and survival.  That minute of great embarrassment or failure or even grief has already become history.  It is now evidence of survival and provides the seed for tomorrow’s success.

 

The best knowledge we can remember is that we are always growing.  For me the best synonym for evangelism is presence.  We need to always be present in our living, practicing what we believe and remembering that life is a learning experience.  When we are truly present in our living, then we will share the good news of our beliefs and our being, the presence of life itself. 

 

 

Connection & Gratitude

Connection to Gratitude

Day Nine

Lent 2019

 

“At the heart of virtue is knowledge of the good.”  This quote is from Timothy Sedgwick, Academic Dean for Academic Affairs and Vice President and the Clinton S. Quin Professor of Christian Ethics at Virginia Theological Seminary.  Actually Dr. Sedgwick is best known as an Episcopal ethicist, a fact of being that surprises many being.   Not that I mean he should not be known for his standing but that we have such things as ethicists and that they exist within a denomination.

 

Try as I do to keep this blog open for all religions and spiritualities, at some point we must admit to our commonality and the search for that which is good.  To deny such would be, in my humble opinion, denying the existence of life itself.

 

Life is lived in relationship to others.  No matter who you are, what you have, your profession, your status or lack thereof…All life is lived in relationship to others – people, places, things, and the whole of creation.  This is a concept also posited in Sedgwick’s book “The Christian Moral Life”.  One of the more interesting things he discusses, however, is not in the text of the book but in the very first footnote:  “The narrative understanding of ethics as a matter of setting, character, and plot has its origins in Aristotle’s “Poems”.

 

Your life is a narrative, a series of events and your reaction to them.  At each moment in our living, we ask and answer the questions “What do I do?”  “What will I purchase?”  “Where will I go?”  One question leads to another and the way in which we answer them becomes the narrative of our lives.  Our answers to those and other questions signify that life is painful and has recovery.  Why would this be important?  It is important because such is true for all of us – Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Still-Deciding, Refuse-to-Decide, Spiritualist, etc., etc., etc.  If indeed life is lived in relationship to others, then there will be pain, disappointment, unpleasantness, and even betrayal.   There should also be gratitude.

 

We have, in these past several days discussed gratitude and how being thankful can cultivate a better life for those we encounter and for ourselves.  In essence, we have planted a garden, a garden of self and a garden of gratitude.  Every garden has its pests.  Some arrive blown by the wind but others are intentional visitors.  They plunder the young bulbs out of the earth and disrupt the fragile seeds.  They expose what needs to stay buried and eat what can then never become part of our harvest.  Even the weather can invade our ideal setting of the garden.

 

Life is much the same.  There are those people who seem to want only to destroy our tranquil souls and there are always the unexpected life events that, much like a sudden storm, can turn our lives upside down in an instant.  Taking a few moments for the fine art of gratitude, connecting to those things for which we are thankful, can help us weather whatever life throws at us, whatever so-called “pests” happen to come our way.

 

It is how we connect to these people and events that determines our own  narrative, our own life story.  How we connect to our living determines who we are, what self we have planted and nurtured in our being.  Loss can lead to greater understanding and appreciation if we allow ourselves to learn and grow from it.  In his book “The Moral Christian Life”, Sedgwick describes something he calls the Covenant of Hospitality.

 

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  There are many variations of this saying which appears in Hebrews Chapter 13, verse 2.  It is sage wisdom and the very definition of who we are.  How we treat and connect to those who can seemingly do nothing for us speaks volumes as to whom we are as beings.

 

The connections we make in our life are a mirror of our souls.  I am not just talking about the people we know or the charities we may support.  I am talking about the connections we have to our pets, our material possessions, and yes, even our dreams.  Herman Melville wrote about such connections.  “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

 

John Lennon explained it a little differently.  “A dream you dream alone is only a dream.  A dream you dream together is reality.”  When we connect with the world and everything in it for positive results, then we are truly living the best self and life we can offer.  Lennon wrote: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  Someday I hope you’ll join us…and the world will live as one.”  We need not only to dream but to give thanks.  It will not only help illuminate our own narrative of life, it can change that of a neighbor or fellow treaveler.

 

 

Engage and Touch

Engage and Touch

Day Two & Three

Lent 2018

 

I am a reader (and that is an understatement!) and as such, I connect with some of my favorite authors via social media.  I have always found the struggle they discuss to name a book interesting.  I never really understood the struggle they faced to find a title; that is, I never understood it until now.  In writing these posts I usually begin with a title and then elaborate on that title in the body of my work.  For example:  This post is part of a subset within a series.  It comes following a post discussing self-worth.  Its subject matter is supposed to illustrate how we use our perceived self-worth.  In other words, how we feel about ourselves determines how we act, how we engage others in our lives and the “touch” we make and leave on another.

 

I firmly and completely believe that the most important things we will ever do in our lives are primarily centered on how we treat people.  What we do is based on what we believe we can do.  Before we attempt anything, we must first believe it is possible and that we can achieve it.  The title above, “Engagement and Touch” seemed both timely and on topic as well as self-explanatory.  It met all of the criteria of a title and yet, I did not really like it.  Why?  I guess because I thought a better title would be that which describes what stops us from engaging with others and making a difference, touching others with our own self-worth.  However, this is the title I finally decided upon using.

 

When we feel good about ourselves, we feel powerful and capable.  The explorer is willing to begin the journey because he/she feels capable of surviving whatever may come.  A scientist is willing to work the experiment because he/she understands the process and the value in both success and unexpected results.  The carpenter understands the wood and his/her tools and that confidence builds and transforms a block of wood into a work of artistry.  The physician trusts his training and experience and so has no problem opening up one of the most complex systems known to man, the human body.

 

It is in living, though, that the real challenge comes into play – the challenge to live a good life.  We must reach out to “touch” our neighbors on this planet.  Sometimes that “touch” is a figurative touch that offers support and sometimes it is a literal touch that provides comfort.  It should never be a harmful or painful touch.  We do not fully live until we are engaged in living.

 

The Reverend Russell H. Conwell was once the minister at Grace Baptist Temple in Philadelphia, PA over a century ago.  The church at that time met in a cramped building and often more people came than could fit in the space available.  There were always more children who wanted to attend the Sunday School than the space could accommodate.  One of the children who often was left in the crowd outside was Hattie May Wiatt.  The Rev Conwell visited Hattie and her family at their home one day as a means of apology for their being unable to gain admittance to services.  During the visit he described his hope for raising funds to construct a building large enough for everyone.

 

Hattie May applauded this dream of a place where children could go to learn, the future Temple Sunday School.  She secretly began saving what pennies she could and looked forward to seeing the minister’s vision become reality.  Unfortunately, Hattie became ill and passed away.  The family gave the Rev Conwell a handmade purse they found among Hattie’s things.  Inside were fifty-seven pennies and a note: “To help build Temple Sunday School so more children can go.”  Rev Conwell showed his congregation Hattie’s fifty-seven pennies and asked them to believe as Hattie had.  Touched by the little girls’ endeavors, the congregation became engaged in the vision of a new building.  Hattie’s original fifty-seven pennies were sold.  Her fifty-seven cents became two hundred and fifty dollars.  The congregation took that money, converted it into pennies, and sold them.  They purchased land next door and the subsequent engagement of the congregation became not only a new church but the seed money for Temple University’s Hospital and School of Medicine.  Hattie believed in her own self-worth and that of Rev Conwell.  Look at what that positive self-worth accomplished and continues to accomplish today!

 

So why don’t we all make such great efforts?  Why my dilemma with the title of this post?  The answers are just one word…Doubt.  Doubt is our over-thinking; our enemy that manifests itself as worry.  Doubt is not a new human condition.  Buddha offered advice about it between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.  “There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt.  Doubt separates people.  It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations.  It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.”

 

Today I invite you to take five minutes and list your most pleasant memory and then your happiest activity.  Each of those required skills.  Focus on those skills and talents and realize that they are things you have.  Celebrate that, please.  I am pretty certain you probably have another great memory or activity with even more skills.  Recognizing those increases and helps build your own self-worth.   You have much to offer and the world is waiting for you to offer.  We need you!  Turn your back on doubt.  It serves no purpose.  Focus on the positive and let your self-worth be the seed currency for a better you.  Engaging in life and touching the lives of others helps us grow and flourish.  Remember, we do not fully live until we are engaged in living.