Challenging Belief

Challenging Belief

2019.8.10-11

 

I am taking part in several challenges this month and today they have come together because of a television program I viewed. The program “Expedition Unknown” is currently discussing new findings regarding the archaeological discoveries known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 14,000 fragments of cloth tell the story of a deity and the followers of such. Known today simply as God, belief in this deity led the charge for monotheism, the one deity referenced by the three Abrahamic faiths as “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”. The name means “the God who judges in (on) the Earth.

 

I am not particularly fond of this name and the reason for my displeasure is not really the name but rather the context in which it is used. You see, it appears in the Book of Psalms and references faith in the deity judging one’s enemies. Because one is considered faithful, it is assumed that one’s enemies are not and will be judged and punished accordingly. I should note that some of those fragments that comprise the scrolls contain the earliest writings of the Psalms, and other writings that comprise the Bible such as the book of Genesis and Leviticus, as well as other stories and writings never seen before being found in caves in Qumran.

 

My problem is that this name seems to imply a deity that shows favoritism. What if I am the one in error and not my enemies? Being faithful does not make me perfect; it makes me a believer. Another word for this deity is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”. Obviously I am not bloodthirsty and so seeking vengeance on someone is not a hobby of mine. I believe that I have enough to do trying to live my own life and I really don’t try to live others for them. These two names do raise some interesting questions, however, and I think we should give them consideration, especially in light of current events and killings.

 

What exactly falls under the prevue of “justice”, the purpose for judging someone? How do we define “avenge” and is it something best left to the spirit(s) or should we attempt such? Is there a difference between seeking revenge and avenging? The website “diffen.com” clarifies the issue for avenge and revenge by stating “Avenge is a verb. To avenge is to punish a wrongdoing with the intent of seeing justice done. Revenge can be used as a noun or a verb. It is more personal, less concerned with justice and more about retaliation by inflicting harm.”

 

Once synonymous, the two words today have different meanings. Avenge today implies the process of obtaining justice while revenge is a more personal active physical deed, almost always involving pain or harm for the purpose of retaliatory recompense for real or imagined damages. In the usage of these two names, the deity is expected to protect the faithful by avenging ill will and/or wrong doings, thereby carrying acts of revenge to assuage the injured party or parties. Such beliefs allowed the people to bear the hardships brought upon them by their faith and I fully understand that. I just have a problem with a deity being both a god of love and revenge. For some, revenge is not only pleasurable, it is a form of love.

 

In an article for the Association of Psychological Science, Eric Jaffe wrote: “A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and, for a full minute as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of “Science”, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.

 

“A person who has been cheated is [left] in a bad situation—with bad feelings,” said study co-author Ernst Fehr, director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. “The person would feel even worse if the cheater does not get her or his just punishment. Theory and experimental evidence shows that cooperation among strangers is greatly enhanced by altruistic punishment,” Fehr said. “Cooperation among strangers breaks down in experiments if altruistic punishment is ruled out. Cooperation flourishes if punishment of defectors is possible.”

 

In other words, the possibility of justice being meted out in the form of retaliatory punishment encourages cooperation because it instills an expectation of fairness. Although a bit complicated, this is a concept I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.

 

There are also two other similar names used for this deity of these three monotheistic religions. They are “Jehovah Hashopet or “the Lord the Judge” and Jehovah El Gemuwal, “the Lord God of Recompense.” I freely admit I like recompense better than revenge. Recompense implies fairness in compensation while revenge denotes punishment and pain to me.

 

I wonder if my conundrum, the enigma of whether I want my deity to be an avenging deity or a compensating deity, was felt by those early believers. Perhaps it depends on how recently one feels to have been wronged or the extent to which one felt wronged. As of this date, I have not found a name for this deity that translates into “God of Fairness”. Maybe the key is in how one defines what is right and what is wrong. But then, the context comes into play and we should consider that what is right for one might not be right for another yet not necessarily be wrong enough for the need of revenge or recompense.

 

In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.” Sadly, the events of September of that year changed the minds of many and more and more people wanted revenge for the bombings and murders of almost three thousand innocent victims from over eighty countries.

 

Michael McCullough, author of “Beyond Revenge: “The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct” states:   “You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time.” Revenge began as an altruistic punishment but, McCullough and his research team believe, a secondary system of human interaction has evolved. The act of forgiveness is a system “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.”

 

My problem with revenge is that it is not an answer that permanently solves anything. It may begin with an attempt to right a perceived wrong but it just invites payback which requires more revenge which invites more payback, etc., etc., etc. I like forgiveness as a practice for human interaction much, much better. There is another name for the deity of those scrolls – El Nose, the God who forgives. This is definitely a belief I hope we all practice.

 

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. 

Success, Superstition, Supposition, Sparkle

Success, Superstition, Supposition, Sparkle

05.29.2019

Easter 2019

 

Philosophy has been studied, debated, argued, and discounted then believed for over two and a half thousand years.  The twentieth century saw not only world wars but also great advances in science.  For years, science had depended upon the discoveries and truths of Isaac Newton.  The twentieth century had barely been born when a German Jewish physicist introduced scientific theories that were incompatible with the accepted knowledge based upon Newton’s ideas.  Hume and Locke had introduced thinking that mankind had just accepted certain scientific principles as truth without being able to prove them.  Einstein challenged scholars in mathematics and the sciences as well as the field of philosophy.

 

Einstein challenged both the knowledge and how it had been learned.  “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”  Accepting Newton’s science as certainty had led the world into the Industrial Revolution.  For Einstein to suggest and then prove much of it incorrect asked not only what knowledge had been gained but just exactly what knowledge itself was.  Einstein, the genius who had never excelled at school seemed to discount all earlier ways of acquiring knowledge:  “Only daring speculation can lead us further, and not accumulation of facts.”

 

Karl Popper was another Austrian and he spent a great deal of his life as a professor of logic and scientific method in England.  Popper realized that, although some theories seemed to work, they were still simply products of the human mind and as such, were subject to being incorrect.  “Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and, in time, corrected.”  Popper encouraged advancements; they might not could prove everything but some things could be disproven.  “All we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory.”

 

Benjamin Franklin once said:  “I didn’t fail the test; I just found one hundred ways to do it wrong.”  The history of philosophy has been a series of advances and failures but it should never be discounted because of those failures.  Mahatma Gandhi often spoke of the wisdom found in failure:  “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

 

Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Americans made to twentieth century philosophy was their attitude about failure.  After immigrating to the USA, Einstein was quoted as saying “Failure is success in progress.”  Other Americans have agreed.   American automobile maker and magnate Henry Ford defined failure as “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

 

Ancient philosophers believed that in answering their questions, they would discover the secrets to success.  What we have learned since then is that there is much more that we do not know than was ever imagined.  We have also come to the realization that not everything will ever be fully known since much will never be scientifically proven. 

 

The real quest now is not only the continuation of gaining knowledge but is acquiring patience and respect for all as well.  We need to continue to strive for success without experiencing a fear of failure that binds our living.  We need to realize that true success comes from living in kindness and effort, not in trying to make everything the same.  As Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

 

Philosophy has propelled man forward and, at times, been the basis for governments and nations.  Its value, though, remains not in what we know but in what is left to learn.  The French Voltaire one said:  “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.”   The real value of philosophy, though, remains not in the supposition or superstition but it what it teaches us, the doors that open and lead us to greater understanding of ourselves, each other, our world.  That is when the real sparkle of life becomes evident – when we recognize the value of each and every being within the creation that is our world.

 

 

 

May Day – A time to Bloom

Bloom Where and When You can

05.01.2019

Easter 2019

 

Today is May Day, a day historically set aside to celebrate spring and flowers as well as being a day to recognize Labor Unions and the common worker.  It is also less than twenty-four hours after yet another school shooting, this time at the University of North Carolina, United States.

 

The following is an excerpt from an article in the Fort Worth (Texas, USA) newspaper “Star Telegram”, written by Deanna Boyd.  Names have been omitted due to the age of the individual at the center of this article.

On Oct. 4, 2012, [X] called 911, telling a dispatcher, “Uh, I just killed my mom and my sister….”I felt like they were just suffocating me, in a way,” he told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the 911 call. “Obviously, you know, I’m pretty, I guess, evil.”

Responding Parker County deputies found [a woman] and her daughter dead of multiple gunshot wounds inside the house on [XX] Lane in [subdivision and town].  The young man was arrested at the scene.  In a written statement, he told investigators that he had devised a plan to kill several family members after watching [a] remake of the movie “Halloween,” in which a boy murders relatives.

“While watching it I was amazed at how at ease the boy was during the murders and how little remorse he had afterward,” [X] wrote in his statement. “I was thinking to myself, it would be the same for me when I kill someone.”

Sheriff’s officials have said [X]  used a gun stolen from his grandfather, a retired Fort Worth officer, to commit the slayings.  [X]  told investigators that he had intended to later kill his grandparents and two other sisters.   But after the slayings of his mom and sister, [X]  — in a state he described as “very shocked and scared” — instead placed the gun on the kitchen counter and called 911.

“I know now though that I’m done with killing. It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

We think we know so much and especially as young adults and teenagers, we can be intensely certain that we think we know something.  Philosophy is about the “knowing” but how do we know?  Sadly, many cult leaders never give their followers the chance to reflect upon their actions.  These misguided young people searching for knowledge and truth are sacrificed for the greed and egos of others.  At a time when so many are resorting to violence as an answer, we need to stop asking when will then killing stop and start asking what are these young people thinking.  Philosophy is about the search for knowledge and it is a search conducted without a great deal of physical action, just mental.  For that reason, many disdain it and consider it, to borrow from Shakespeare, “much ado about nothing”.  Some say that about spiritual sects and religious denominations and faiths.  We study to prevent knowledge from passing us by, from slipping through the hours of our living.  The ancient philosophers saw the world moving on and asked why.  We need to question our daily actions in the same way.  Did what I do yesterday have value?  Did I connect with another, friend or stranger?  Was there a purpose for my being?

 

There is no one hard and fast rule that will be sufficient as an answer.  The religions of the world usually claim love to be the answer but how do we live a healthy love for all?  We will each have our own answers and paths of both learning and exploration.  The future is, after all, ours to construct and write.  Hopefully, we will connect with others and thrive.  Hopefully, others will look back upon their connections with us and be thankful for them.  Mostly, though I hope you never feel what this young man has felt.  “It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

A common meme that has been around for decades is the admonishment to “Bloom where you are planted.”   Mary Engelbreit, a children’s author and renowned illustrator and artist, is often credited with this saying but it predates her.  Some claim the phrase is Biblical and cite Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14 but it never actually says we should bloom where we are.  Others claim that was the intention of Paul in his writing to the church in Corinth, the text of which is found in 1 Corinthians 7:17.

 

The advice is good but is comes more from common sense than from spiritual or religious teachings.  What about the saying thrive to survive.  Often people ask if they are merely surviving or if it possible for them to thrive.  In writing for the website The Chopra Center, Tamara Lechner suggests that “There is a fundamental difference between thriving and surviving. Surviving means, “to continue to live or exist,” while thrive can be defined as “to grow or develop well, to prosper or to flourish.”

 

In many countries surviving is a difficult task.  Is it possible to break out of the mindset of survival mode to thrive?  Lechner offers this advice:  “Thriving happens when you have a life of purpose, vitality, connection, and celebration. This isn’t tied to a specific salary, job title, type of car, or relationship. Material possessions are not part of the recipe to thrive. Follow these four steps to stop surviving, and start thriving.”

 

Life is not about being haunted.  Life is for living and living for the best outcomes for all of mankind.  Enjoy today.  It is the first day of the month of May and, in many areas, the true first day of spring.   Live your faith.  Exist, believe ,rejoice.  Mostly, I hope you smile – at another but also at yourself.  When we seek to thrive and help others do the same, then we have a much brighter future, one in which everyone has a chance to bloom, grow, and flourish.

 

Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

04.28.2019

Easter 2019

 

Leonardo da Vinci described water as “the driving force of all nature”.  The 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to a Hungarian biochemist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.  He is noted for a great many things but I think his definition of water is the best.  “Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium.  There is no life without water.”

 

Water is necessary for all living things, animal or vegetable and sadly it is not as abundant as the world needs.  Water became the answer when on man sought to discover what the world was made of by rational thought.  Known as Thales of Miletus, he is considered to be the first philosopher.  Because water is essential to all living things, Thales reasoned that everything must be derived from it.  Water exists in several forms: solid when cold; a gas when heated; liquid in what most consider its natural state.  From this beginning and the reasoning of Thales of Miletus comes the modern theory that all matter can be reduced to energy.

 

The Tao philosopher Lao Tzu also considered the philosophical properties of water in the sixth century BCE.  “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water.  Yet, when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it.  So the flexible overcome the adamant; the yielding overcome the forceful.  Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.”

 

Thales reasoned that the earth grew out of the water that surrounded the land masses.  Over seventy-one percent of the earth’s mass is water, after all.  His student Anaximander reasoned that the earth must float on air.  If water supported the earth, he asked, what supported the water?  Anaximander believed everything could be reduced to air.  While neither man was correct, their argument/counterargument form of deduction still forms the basis for philosophical thought and discussion today.

 

OF course, though, philosophy encourages questioning and someone did just that after Thales and Anaximander.  Heraclitus proposed a “theory of opposites”.  He believed that rather than everything being derived from a single element, there was an underlying principle of change.  The world to him consisted of opposing tendencies.  His argument to support this theory was the basic fact that the path that went up a mountain was the same path that went down the mountain.  Another analogy was the fact the while a river remains constant, the water within it is constantly moving and flowing.  Heraclitus proposed that the reality we see as constant is really a reality of processes and changes.

 

Later Xenophanes would suggest that the knowledge we claim to know is just a hypothesis.  Our searches for knowledge start from working hypotheses but the actual ultimate knowledge, the “truth of reality” will always be beyond our grasp to understand.  Xenophanes believed in a cosmic composition of life, based upon two extremes – wet and dry.  He combined the Milesian ideas of air and water with Heraclitus’ views of opposites and used fossils to support his theories.  This was the first evidence-based argument recorded.

 

Philosophy would not remain in this mode of thinking for long.  It would evolve into theories based upon something being everything and nothing being impossible to be something.  We’ll save that for another day, though.  What we should focus on today as we start Monday and a new week is whether or not we are one element or living in a state of contrasting opposites.

 

Night falls at different times on the earth as the planet revolves through its orbit around the sun.  Just as the timing of the night is different so does what nighttime looks like.  For the child growing up in a refugee camp, night might be a period of cooler temps but scary flashes of light indicating mortar rounds being fired.  For the child snug in their bed in Paris, the City of Lights, nighttime is a warm blanket and a calming bedtime story.

 

Today I heard a story about a school-aged child whose class went on an over-night field trip to a state camp.  The two-day excursion included nature walks and environmental lessons.  The child’s class was to be the last to experience such a visit as the camp was deemed inefficient with a delinquent revenue stream.  Sitting around the campfire, the children listened to the sounds of the night.  Two weeks later, as he closed down the program and prepared for his next job, the director of the program received an envelope of thank-you notes from that last class.

 

The drawings of the various birds, and other wildlife discussed he had expected but it was the simple handwritten note of a young girl that truly touched him.  “Thank you,” she wrote, “for showing me what creation is really about.  I liked the walking, the trees, the flowers, and learning how to reuse things.  I liked seeing the baby rabbits and although it was scary, even the snake in the grass on the trail.  My favorite, though, was learning that nighttime can be nice.  At my house I cannot see the stars.  I see the restaurant signs.  We don’t have quiet on our block.  We hear cars and sometimes, gunshots.  At camp, I got to see the stars and hear the quiet and then the call of the night animals.  What I saw at camp was creation.  Bobby next door calls it Allah and my grandma calls it God.  I am just going to call it life.  Thank you for showing me what life can be.”

 

We all see life each and every day.  Like the water Lao Tzu spoke of, life can sometimes attack us and we might feel we cannot withstand it.  With knowledge though, and thought, we can learn to be flexible and by being flexible, gain strength.  Knowledge is power when applied properly.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr summed it up:  “Science investigates religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control.”

 

Wallace Stevens remarked that “Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.”  The environment with which we surround ourselves influences us.  Alysha Speer compared life and water:   “You never really know what’s coming. A small wave, or maybe a big one. All you can really do is hope that when it comes, you can surf over it, instead of drown in its monstrosity.”

 

Many cultures use water as a type of rebirth, a cleansing of the old in preparation for the future.  Da Vinci pointed out that “in rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes.” 

 

Man does not live very long without water.  It is more than essential; it is life itself – both in birth and in destruction.  Most of us forget to really use water in our daily living.  Charlotte Eriksson offers us the best way, I believe, to face the morrow and our life.   “Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes.  Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it, another day. And you can make it one more.  You’re doing just fine.”

Slip Through the Cracks… and Stop!

Slip Through the Cracks … and Stop

Day 40

Lent 2019

 

The note was short and written in a surprisingly strong hand.  “It is ironic that I have chosen this course of action.  I do so because I am tired of slipping through the cracks.  I offer suggestions that are never followed up.  I volunteer only to never get called.  I am, apparently, a profession al slipping through the cracks.  Emails go unanswered; phones never returned.  I thought I had something to offer.  I thought my life had value.  Apparently I was wrong.  And so, I am calling it quits.  The irony is that some will consider that choice to be “cracked”.  Perhaps that is fitting since it was caused by my slipping through the crack of life.”

 

I have written some posts in this series about the Beatitudes.  A well-known piece of scripture, the Beatitudes are about eight groups of people upon whom blessings will be given in the after-life.  One of the comforts of the Beatitudes for me is that they describe what we all experience in life – the good and the bad.  No one walks a smooth and straight path all the time.  We all encounter detours and bumps and yes, sometimes dead ends.  Marlon Wayans believes that “Success is not a destination but the road that you’re on.  Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day.” 

 

Henry David Thoreau sought peace and personal success in his own unusual walks of life.  “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

 

We cannot give control of our lives to others, even when we seem to be ignored, forgotten, or slip through the cracks.  As Gautama Buddha once said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”   More recently Jay Woodman said something similar: “The world is a wide place where we stumble like children learning to walk.”

 

We all stumble and at some point in time, feel like we have slipped through the cracks.  Maybe we have but anything that can slip though can also crawl or pull itself out.  When we forget that one basic fact, that even the negative things in life, the stumbles and falls we make on our path can offer us lessons, that is when we truly stop living.  Our life is a gift and we have much to learn and to offer.  If you feel you are being ignored or overlooked, make a turn and go down a more productive path.

 

Steve Maraboli offers this wisdom:   “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.” 

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.