Feel

Feel

2019.02.10

Mindfulness – The Human Spirit

 

 

My vacation is over and I realized through it all that some things never change.  Whether we are on vacation, at a spiritual retreat, or caught up in the busyness of everyday living, we continue to feel.  For the last decade, it seems like all we hear about are opinions rather than facts and how we should feel.  It is enough to make a person want to hide.  At a time when most people need to cool down and stop spreading the hateful, nonproductive rhetoric that marked the last several years of political mudslinging in the USA and worldwide, it might seem strange that I am encouraging you to be open and feel.

 

I sincerely hope I get some responses to this question:  How do you feel?  I am not asking just about how you feel regarding the political verbiage.  I am asking how you feel… in general and specifically.  How do you feel?  It really is not a trick question.  Nor is it a complex one.  How do you feel?  The reason I am asking you is that feelings matter.  They comprise the very core of who we are.

 

Feelings are important.  The University of Wisconsin encourages students to consider their feelings as a barometer of their own health and emotional well-being.  “Feelings provide essential information about our reactions to situations. They are often our best clue to the meaning of our current experience — they are less “processed” and more “raw” than our thoughts. They can provide accurate feedback on our current “inside” state.”

 

Eckhart Tolle explains the important of our feelings this way.  “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind – or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or a hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger. The body is getting ready to fight. The thought that you are being threatened, physically or psychologically, causes the body to contract, and this is the physical side of what we call fear. Research has shown that strong emotions even cause changes in the biochemistry of the body. These biochemical changes represent the physical or material aspect of the emotion.”

 

Emotional competency is a popular phrase that is trending right now and learning to recognize the emotions of others as well as ourselves helps build strong relationships.  That brings me to my intention with today’s post.  How are you feeling?  Have you realized that others are feeling those same emotions?  We all experience the same feelings.  Perhaps not at the same time and not in the same consequential fashion but we all experience the same emotions.  At some point we have all felt happy, sad, proud, scared, jealous, hopeful, envious, sorry, tired, exasperated, sympathetic, upset, overjoyed, angry, elated, relieved, grateful, bored, excited….. The list could go on and on.  We all feel the exact same way although not at the exact same time.  Why?  Because we really are, at our core, similar. 

 

Some might argue that not all of these are emotions.  Some would characterize them as mental states of being.  In the 1991 book, “Emotion and Adaptation”, author Richard Lazarus lists several mental states that may be emotion related, but are not themselves actual emotions. The list includes the complex states of: grief and depression; the ambiguous positive states of: expansiveness, awe, confidence, challenge, determination, satisfaction, and being pleased; the ambiguous negative states of: threat, frustration, disappointment, helplessness, meaningless, and awe; the mental confusion states of bewilderment and confusion; the arousal states of: excitement, upset, distress, nervousness, tension, and agitation; and finally the pre-emotions of: interest, curiosity, amazement, anticipation, alertness, and surprise.

 

Again, we all experience those very same mental states of being.  Why?  Because they are related to our emotions, the very same emotions we all experience.  So how does this affect our actions?  After all, most words used to describe emotions are adjectives, not verbs.  It is relevant because our emotions often affect and determine our actions.  More importantly, when we criticize others for their feelings, we limit our right to experience those very same feelings.

 

No one is so good that they should not experience sadness and we all, at some point in time, will.  Even the bravest of us have felt fear and I sincerely hope that we all have hope.  My wish is that I get back hundreds of responses telling me people felt happy, relief, joy, gratitude, etc. but the reality is that some today experienced grief, uncertainty, or pain.  Life is not easy.  Not all feelings are going to be positive.

 

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? …As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”  This passage from Cornelia Funke’s book “Inkspell” refers to reading a book but I think it applies to our feelings.

 

Feelings broaden our perspective and when we allow others to have those very same feelings, we broaden our world.  We begin to see that the world is not made up of many different people but of different variations of ourselves.  The outside packaging might look very different but each is a version of one, at different stages.  When we learn to respond to the pain of others, listen to their feelings, then we can begin to be together, truly together, living in peace and harmony. 

Call to Inspire

Call to Inspire

2019.01.18

Mindfulness – The Human Spirit

 

The measure of any person is by their forward movement, the forward motion of our intentions.  We are not always successful but we should never give up or give in.  Life is best lived moving forward.  It really is the only profitable direction we have to travel.  Going backwards really does not accomplish very much unless we learn from the past.  That just might be the most difficult lesson of all.

 

“It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”  He came from what many would call a less privileged heritage and became the most influential man in his country.  This might have been a quote from Gandhi or Mandela but it is part of Barrack Obama’s farewell address as President of the United States of America.

 

In his speech outgoing-President Obama spoke of the American dream that began in 1776 when a group of colonists committed to a certain belief, not just one he shares but one that the entire nation was built upon and a belief that continues to motivate and inspire. 

 

“And it’s not just my belief.  It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government.  It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.”

 

The American dream is about giving people a chance and freedom or, as President Obama defined it,  “The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good.  For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation.  It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.  It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organize.  It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.” 

 

His farewell address was not so much about saying goodbye but about inspiring everyone to continue the good fight for all people.  He noted that the path towards that is often bumpy and full of potholes.  “So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional.  Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.  Yes, our progress has been uneven.  The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody.  For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.  But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.”

 

The measure of any person is by their forward movement, the forward motion of our intentions.  We are not always successful but we should never give up or give in.  Life is best lived moving forward.  It really is the only profitable direction we have to travel.  That first step of such a life is taken with purpose, with mindfulness.  We must continue the good fight not just for ourselves but for everyone.  Who inspires you?  Who inspires you?  Who do you want to inspire?  I’d love to hear from you because your living is a lesson for us all.

Living the Now

Stories of the Human Spirit

Week One

2019.01.12

 

Living in the moment is often described as the art of now.  During the next six weeks we will discuss how to perfect our ability to do just that as well as read about stories of the human spirit that illustrate this.  After five years of daily postings on this blog, I took a week off to do just that – live in each moment without deadlines.  John Steinbeck once wrote “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” and my vacation plans did just that.  Still, it was in that week of chaos, spelled f-l-u, that I realized the true meaning of a favorite quote of mine:  “You have within you right now, everything you need to deal with whatever the world can throw at you.”

 

Our concept of normal is whatever is familiar to us and so, Julie really thought her life was fairly normal.  She had grown up going to public school and once a week took part in scouting activities in the troop that met at a neighborhood church.  Going to the scout meetings meant her parents did not have to find a babysitter for her after school on meeting days but it also meant she would learn different skills.  The other girls were cordial but as an introvert, their lack of including her in a close circle of friends really wasn’t too troubling.

 

As the years passed Julie continued in scouting although nothing really was a favorite pastime except working with the disabled youth her troop spent time with at a nearby community center.  In the summer she volunteered as a counselor at a camp for the disabled and enjoyed the interactions with the campers.  They made up for the camp lifestyle which was definitely not her style and the lack of inclusion from the other counselors.

 

Winning a college scholarship, Julie continued her studies and, seeing the world through her roommates’ eyes, realized her “normal” was not quite like everyone else’s.  Being forgotten at home had not been the normal for others nor was the exclusion by relatives.  Still, there were classes to attend, papers to write, and a degree to finish.  Life went on and Julie went about it each day.  She convinced one of her classes to volunteer at a local residential school for the disabled and continued to volunteer each summer as a counselor.  There were joys to find in each new day.

 

Julie began her last year in college with great anticipation.  In six month she would have the degree she had worked so hard to attain.  Her family had emphasized their pleasure at anticipating her graduation and having her out on her own which is why she was so dumbfounded when both parents told her they were suddenly going to stop helping her fund the last six month of her education.  Her two parents had divorced years earlier and their acrimony had reached new levels with Julie as the game piece being used to punish each other.  She had a part-time job so she asked for extra hours to pay for a place to store her belongings.  It was little more than a storage unit with no utilities or a place to sleep.  She sold her car to pay for the rest of her tuition and supplies.  Julie earned one meal a day at her work and became an expert at washing up in public restroom stalls.  Using the public restrooms just before dawn meant she could wash her hair in the sink and then leave with no one realizing her hair was now wet.  Walking the two miles to the college campus gave her hair time to dry and her early arrival gave her time to study and complete assignments.

 

The spirit of the disabled youth she had worked with was Julie’s example.  She had watched kids struggle to walk, delight in learning to write their names, and exude joy in breathing in each second of their lives.  These kids who had so many obstacles took each minute as it came and had never given up.  Julie was determined to do the same.  She sometimes slept behind a friend’s apartment or, after offering to clean up the choir room after choir practice, on a couch in the music department at the local church. 

 

On a cool spring day, Julie walked across the stage to receive her diploma.  She had been homeless the last six month and no one had noticed.  Not once had her appearance seemed different to her classmates.  She had relied on the skills learned as a child, the examples of those many deemed incompetent, and completed her college education with honors.  Her life exemplified Brian Tracy, Canadian author and motivational speaker, statement:  “You have within you right now, everything you need to deal with whatever the world can throw at you.”

 

Life does not come with guarantees and I sincerely hope none of you ever end up in Julie’s position of being homeless.  I do believe, though, that we do have in our history a wealth of knowledge that helps us meet the challenge of each new day.   I will close with another of Tracy’s quotes:  “The potential of the average person is like a huge ocean unsailed, a new continent unexplored, a world of possibilities waiting to be released and channeled toward some great good.”

 

So how do we start to perfect our ability to live in the moment.  Years later someone asked Julie how she had found the strength and courage to keep going during her last year in college.  “It was simple”, she replied.  “I kept breathing and as long as I was breathing, I needed to live today so I’d hopefully be able to do the same tomorrow.”   This past week I lived in the moment of being ill and breathing was sometimes a bit uncomfortable.  However, it gave me a great understanding about the concept of breathing through the moment. 

 

A young man picked up a phone in a phone booth in the middle of the dessert one day and received the same sort of answer.  The setting was Burning Man, an electronic arts and music festival for which 50,000 people descend on Black Rock City, Nevada, for eight days of “radical self-expression” – dancing, socializing, meditating, and yes, even a bit of debauchery.  One can see all sorts of things at Burning man but a phone booth in the middle of nowhere that purported to be a direct line to God was unusual, even for Burning Man.  The voice at the other end had one word of advice – Breathe.

 

“Ordinary thoughts course through our mind like a deafening waterfall,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biomedical scientist who introduced meditation into mainstream medicine. In order to feel more in control of our minds and our lives, to find the sense of balance that eludes us, we need to step out of this current, to pause, and, as Kabat-Zinn puts it, to “rest in stillness—to stop doing and focus on just being.”  We need to stop, breathe, realize we are living in this moment and not two days away, and breathe in the “now”.  Once I gave up trying to pretend I wasn’t ill, I started to improve.  Stay focused on the here and now and let tomorrow worry about itself.

 

 

Expect

Expect

2019.01.05

12 Days of Kindness

 

Someone once asked Michael Jordan to what did he attribute his success on the basketball court and in life.  Jordan answered:  “You have to expect great things of yourself before you can do them.”  While most of us can never achieve what Michael Jordan has, his advice is excellent advice for us in this new year of 2019.  Michael Jordan lived his career in the present tense and we need to live our lives the same way.

 

“I don’t expect you to except me, but I do expect you to accept me.”  This quote from Jarod Kintz may seem like a perfect example of how confusing the English language is but it also is a great example of  how most of us should live.  Life is the quintessential on-the-job training experience.  No matter how hard we try we cannot fully prepare for tomorrow because it is always something of a surprise.  Each hour offers a chance to succeed or fail. 

 

Why expect anything other than success?  In a world where our differences seem amplified, it has become commonplace to expect the worst.  We do not turn to the news expecting the program to be full of happy thoughts and joyous happenings.  We have become slaves to depressing expectations.  What if we expected goodness?  What if we expected greatness in ourselves and then realized it when it occurred?

 

Few of us will ever win the championships Michael Jordan won but he can’t cook my special breakfast gravy like I can.  In that, I am the great one.  We all have talents that make us special.  The other day I sat in front of a toddler, an adorable baby only five months old and together we listened to a guest speaker.  The baby understood little about the speaker but gurgled at all the right times and smiled throughout.  She made me happy I was present and her smile still brings a smile to my face several days later.   In expecting a great time of life, the baby was as much a pro as Michael Jordan.  For sure the baby was great at smiling.

 

Perhaps your talent isn’t cooking but it is in cleaning a house or repairing an engine.  Some of us are loving caregivers while others are detailed researchers.  We all have a uniqueness that makes us great.  Perhaps yours is in expressing joy or gratitude, organizational skills that keep things rolling, or maybe you are a dreamer that envisions great projects.  Everyone has something to offer the world. 

 

Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing our supposed faults, what if we looked in the mirror and expected to see our greatness?  William Shakespeare advised “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”  The actress Judy Garland summed it up best:  “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”  Expect to be you and expect that you are not only a person of value but greatness.

 

This ends our twelve days of kindness and, if you have been paying attention, you will have figured out that each day’s title was a clue.  The titles, in order of the twelve days, were Generosity; Respect; Acknowledge; Clemency; Envision…  Accept; Need; Dare …. Laughter; Open; Veer; Expect.  These are ways to experience and live kindness:  G-R-A-C-E … a-n-d … L-O-V-E.  When we are generous, show respect, acknowledge one another with forgiveness and clemency, we are then able to envision a better life.  We should accept and need each other, daring to laugh, be open, learning from life’s detours when we veer off course, and expect good things.

 

The Christmas season has reached its end with the twelfth day of Christmas being today.  Tomorrow begins Epiphany, a season of revelation, expectation, and presence.   It is a good lesson for us all to expect ourselves to be present in each moment, reveling in what life offers us, and expecting to make today great and tomorrow even better.

Open

Open

2019.01.03

12 Days of Kindness

 

The teacher read the message reluctantly.    The sender’s name was not familiar and yet…  There was something familiar about it.  While his life history wasn’t a secret, the message did reference a position he’d held for only one year.  Hesitantly, he responded and the answer he received confirmed that the message was indeed from a former student, a student at a school he’d been at for only one year.  The former student just wanted to say thank you, thank you for believing in his class, in opening their minds to the world outside their own small town and rural countryside.

 

The student had traveled the world, a bit unexpected for someone who had grown up in a rural sparsely-populated area in the middle of the country.  The student had limited access to television and radio and a night out for the student in high school was spent behind the barn throwing bottle caps at a homemade target.  The teacher had never traveled outside their home country but had lived in large cities, seen Broadway plays, opera, and live concerts and loved his cable tv.  The student thanked the teacher for showing him life was about taking risks while the teacher was considered a planner, non-spontaneous in his living.  This irony was not lost on the teacher.  He had received a beautiful thank you note for teaching the student lessons that were not evident in his own life.  He had no regrets, though, and was glad the student had surpassed the teacher. 

 

Life is about a great many things but perhaps the best summation is that life about being open.  Sometimes that means being open to going where life takes us and sometimes it simply means being open to what is in front of us.  Every day asks us to be open to the goodness in people, even when such goodness is very well hidden.    Each day also offers us a chance to be open to a positive perspective.  My challenge to you today is to be open, to choose to see the positive.  After all, we awake each morning with a choice. 

 

Shannon Adler’s poem is directed toward female empowerment but applies to both men and women:  “You chose.  You chose to give away your love.  You chose to have a broken heart.  You chose to give up.  You chose to hang on.  You chose to react.  You chose to feel insecure.  You chose to feel anger.  You chose to fight back.  You chose to have hope.  You chose to be naïve.   You chose to ignore your intuition.  You chose to ignore advice.  You chose to look the other way.   You chose to not listen.   You chose to be stuck in the past.  You chose your perspective.   You chose to blame.  You chose to be right.  You chose your pride.  You chose your games. You chose your ego. You chose your paranoia.   You chose to compete.  You chose your enemies.  You chose your consequences.”  Adler concludes:  “Choose to let go.  Choose dignity.   Choose to forgive yourself.  Choose to forgive others.  Choose to see your value.  Choose to show the world you’re not a victim.  Choose to make us proud.”

 

We cannot control everything we encounter in life but we can control how we choose to react.  Be open today to the positive choice, the lesson contained within the openness of living.  Leonardo da Vinci is reported to have said, “Pity the student who does not surpass his master.”  The student who cannot surpass the teacher is a student who has never been shown how to be open, the value of being open to life’s choices, the advantage of what being open can bring. 

 

American statesman Benjamin Franklin understood the challenge of being open to living.  “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  Be open top being involved in life.  “It’s opener, out there, in the wide, open air.” Even the children’s book “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Suess recognizes the value of being open.  Try it today and you’ll give yourself a gift of kindness.

Respect

 

Respect

2018.12.26

12 Days of Kindness

 

There are five days left in this year and, if you haven’t already been overrun with flashbacks, consider yourself lucky.  It is the time of the year when it seems like everyone and every media outlet are talking retrospectives – the best of the year in everything from fashion to electronics, music to toys, etc.  It is that time of year when it seems As though we should worship “the good ole days”. 

 

We seldom think about the concept of retrospection having anything to do with the word “respect”.    Its history or etymology dates back to the Latin “respectus” which translates as “looking back”.  The more modern definition dates back to the late sixteenth century.  It was probably the result of someone’s retrospection and consideration of another’s past behavior but somewhere around the late 1580’s, the word came to mean a feeling of regard or esteem based upon the actions or attributes of a person rather than a way to look back or reflect on days gone by.

 

The term respect is a subject of great debate among philosophers and psychologists.  A teenage driver respects the speed limit while also respecting his/her parents.  Surely one is not exactly the same as another.  Most agree that how we respect ourselves often determines the lives we lead and the choices we make.   

 

It is most important to have self-respect but it is also important to respect others.  The relationships we have in this world revolve around the respect we show others and how we live is based upon the respect we have for ourselves.  In other words, the kindness we live towards ourselves is mirrored in the kindness with which we treat others.  The person who dislikes him or herself will probably be equally as critical to those around them and being critical does not take one down a path populated with friends.

 

One of the first steps for respecting others and ourselves involves losing assumptions.  When we let life teach us rather than assuming we have all the answers or know what another is thinking, then we open ourselves up to being free and create opportunities to learn.  Sometimes the greatest way to be kind is to let the person be uniquely themselves without insisting they conform to our own ideas or standards.  The lack of assumption usually leads to a heightened sense of dignity.  When we let people be themselves, we give that which they are dignity.  Feeling that you are entitled to have dignity is the foundation for a healthy self-esteem, both in us and in others.

 

When we show dignity to another we are also usually being fair.  Injustices occur every day based upon someone’s assumptions and more times than not, those assumptions are flawed and faulty.  Letting go of assumptions also means fairness will rule the day.  We need to take the time to treat everyone equally and meet out the same justice to all, regardless of their position, race, creed, financial status, etc.  Such fairness and dignity extended to all comes under the heading of good manners and correct etiquette.  The use of derogatory language is again based upon flawed and ignorant assumptions which lead to discrimination.  No one feels dignified or respected if they are the victim of discrimination. 

 

Consideration is also a part of good manners as is punctuality.  Sometimes we think our time schedule is the most important in the world.  Insisting others follow our schedule is permissible every now and then.  It is not respectful to make everyone dance to our own tune and nothing else.  Letting people explain themselves is also a great kindness.  When we listen to others, truly listen to them, we are giving them our attention, our time, and letting them know they are valued.    

 

You might have noticed that nothing I have mentioned as a way to show another person respect costs money.  To show kindness to someone by respecting them requires no financial outlay at all.  It is not only a gift of kindness that we share with others; it might just be the very best gift we can give ourselves.

 

Life coach Steve Maraboli explains it this way:  ““How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”   

 

Yesterday I challenged you to share a smile.  Today’s challenge in this the twelve days of kindness is to live two acts of kindness – one to another person and one to yourself.  It might be letting go of some guilt or simply being on time for a movie date.  Whatever it is, remember that respect is a two-way street.  It is a gift we give ourselves whenever we look back and give respect to another.

 

 

A Bi-Polar Holiday, Part Two

A Bi-Polar Holiday, part two

2018.12.08-12

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

The story of two people about to have a child traveling is not that unusual.  Thousands are doing just that south of the US border along Texas west to Arizona and California at this very minute, having left their homeland because of political unrest, threats of death, or lack of living conditions that make living sustainable.  Hopefully most are not about to give birth but some might be. 

 

Many would argue that what makes the Nativity Story important is that the child was the Son of God.  However, that very child grew up to become a man who made it his life’s work to preach that we all are sons and daughters of God.  He lived showing love to all, especially those disenfranchised by society.  You could honestly say that most if not all of his actions were everyday miracles. 

 

Those of the Christian faith put great stock in the Nativity Story, the story of Mary and Joseph who traveled a great distance, not in the easiest of circumstances, to be registered on the census rolls.  Without doing so, they would be without verification, a couple without a country so to speak.  There is some discrepancy within the Bible about this story, I should note. 

 

 The Gospel According to St Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph travelled from Galilee to Bethlehem because of a Roman census during the time Quirinius was governor of Syria. This census took place in the year 6 ACE, and the Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that this was the first such census that affected the Jews. A paradox in this passage comes from the fact that we also know that King Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, some 10 years before the census. Moreover, it is highly improbably that such a census would include Judea, since Herod was empowered to raise his own taxes and was not required to report on the population or wealth of his dominion.  

 

The Gospel According to St Matthew provides a different telling of this story and it suggests that Mary and Joseph did not travel from Galilee at all. Bethlehem was their home town, and the wise men found Jesus in a house, not a manger. The family fled to Egypt to avoid the Slaughter of the Innocents and returned to Judea after the death of Herod. But when Joseph heard that Herod’s son, Archelaus, had succeeded to the throne, he turned aside and went to Galilee and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, thus fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.

 

Like many myths, there is some truth, some storytelling embellishment, and some history in the Nativity Story.  At this time of the year when rather than experience joy, many feel depression, it is of great use to explore the reality of the time period.  In 2011 Justin Taylor wrote a very interesting article regarding the political scene of Galilee and Judea at the time of the birth of the baby Jesus.  He quotes historian R. T. France in his article. 

 

“The northern province of Galilee was decisively distinct—in history, political status, and culture—from the southern province of Judea which contained the holy city of Jerusalem.  Racially the area of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel had had, ever since the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century B.C., a more mixed population, within which more conservative Jewish areas (like Nazareth and Capernaum) stood in close proximity to largely pagan cities, of which in the first century the new Hellenistic centers of Tiberias and Sepphoris were the chief examples.  Geographically Galilee was separated from Judea by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria, and from Perea in the southeast by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis.

 

“Politically Galilee had been under separate administration from Judea during almost all its history since the tenth century B.C. (apart from a period of “reunification” under the Maccabees), and in the time of Jesus it was under a (supposedly) native Herodian prince, while Judea and Samaria had since A.D. 6 been under the direct rule of a Roman prefect.  Economically Galilee offered better agricultural and fishing resources than the more mountainous territory of Judea, making the wealth of some Galileans the envy of their southern neighbors. 

 

“Culturally Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence.  Linguistically Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches!) were the butt of Judean humor.  Religiously the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, and the problem was exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the temple and the theological leadership, which was focused in Jerusalem.”

 

Today many people are discriminated against because of their religion.  This was also true of the man we call Jesus.  According to R. T. France, “even an impeccably Jewish Galilean in first-century Jerusalem was not among his own people; he was as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as “not one of us,” and all the communal prejudice of the supposedly superior culture of the capital city would stand against his claim to be heard even as a prophet, let alone as the “Messiah,” a title which, as everyone knew, belonged to Judea (cf. John 7:40-42).  The man for whom we celebrate his birth was very much a stranger among even his own people and at this time of the year, many feel exactly the same way. 

 

Mathematician Blaise Pascal believed “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it cannot be filled by any created thing.”  He believed that by surrendering ourselves we would gain everything.  Pascal saw the gridlock of ego as the world’s biggest problem.  It would be an everyday miracle and the solution to this holiday that seems to celebrate and yet cause depression if we would liberate ourselves from the gridlock of our own ego.