Unique is Spelled Y-O-U!

Unique is Spelled Y-O-U!

Easter 24

 

In this day and age when we have technology which can help us proclaim our individuality, many hide instead.  For instance, many people utilize the Internet to write every day about personal doings, preferences, style, etc.  These web logs, commonly known as blogs, reach billions each day since there are an estimated 354 million blogs worldwide, this being one of them.  Yet, even with such technology, instead of emphasizing individuality, it has made many of us lemmings.

 

Lemmings are mammals that live as locusts, those winged insects that can strip a habitat bare, wreaking the same destruction to an environment as a plague.  The thing about lemmings is that they follow the group without forethought.  Thus, the word lemming is also a term used to describe someone who joins a movement without proper consideration. 

 

Generally speaking, human lemmings are one of many, lost in a crowd.  The use of the word in this manner describes a person who has forsaken mindfulness.  They are living with no originality and have silenced their own voice.  It takes courage to be one’s true self, to show our uniqueness to the world.

 

In his book “The Crown of Individuality” William George Jordan writes:  “The supreme courage of life is the courage of the soul.  It is living day by day, sincerely – despite all opinions, all obstacles, all opposition.  It means the vine of inspiration comes from the crushed grapes of our sorrows.

 

“This courage makes the simple life great; it makes the greatest life, sublime.  It means the royal dignity of fine individual living… Every man [or being] reigns a king [or queen] over … self.  He [She] wears the crown of individuality that no hands … can remove.”

 

Mindfulness reminds us to be our true self, our best self, our highest self, our self victorious.  We are all wonderfully created unique – no one better than another, just different, unique and special.  A box of crayons all the same color would be boring and dull.  Diversity and uniqueness create life.  With mindfulness we can break out of the cocoon of sameness and soar above the crowd to discover our own beauty and true life.

Herd Mentality

Herd Mentality

Lent 35-36

 

Fear is a part of life.  After all, life is messy.  What we can take from the eight beatitudes is that fear can motivate; fear can inspire; fear can teach.  Benjamin Franklin once said “tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involves me and I learn.”  The Beatitudes say the same thing.  We fail to learn when we let fear become our compass.

 

Bertrand Russell believed “neither a man not a crowd not a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.”  Russell was the winner of the 1952 Nobel Prize for Literature for “recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he campoins humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.”

 

When we allow fear to guide us, then we fall into what is known as herd mentality.  Quoting Russell again – “collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

 

Men and women are pack animals.  We live in social groups and this are conditioned to accept the direction of the herd as absolute and right.  If we fail to really think for ourselves and let fear push us, then we have given up a big part of our living and the direction it will take.

 

There is a lesson to be learned in all aspects of our life.  The Beatitudes offer the promise of this.  They encourage us to consider what we ourselves know to be true and not to follow the herd.  We must strive to avoid pack mentality as well.  The tendency for people to act together without a planned direction detracts from individual responsibility.  In time this restricts needed social change.

 

Life has many features.  Some of life’s aspects include grief, discord, insecurity, and accusation.  Others reflect truth, peace, fulfillment, and mercy.  So how do we learn from the positive and resist fearing the negative?  How do we let the Beatitudes teach us and dissuade us from herd mentality?  How do we take life’s varied events, both good and bad, and not give in to the resulting and natural fear that arises? 

 

The mega hit “I Was Born This Way”, written by Stefani Germanotta who also sings this track and is better known as Lady Gaga, along with Jeppe Laursen, Fernando Garibay, and Paul Blair, offers us some sage advice in answering these question.  “Give yourself prudence and love your friends.  In the religion of the insecure, … [You] must be  [yourself], respect [your] youth.  Don’t hide yourself in regret.  Just love yourself and you’re set.”

Mindful

Mindful

Lent 34

 

Every so often a new word seems to capture our attention.  Recently the term “mindfulness” has become trendy.  It is, however, an integral part of our growing and always has been ever since the first time we fell as babies trying to walk.  During the fifty days of Easter we will discuss this topic more thoroughly but today, the Beatitudes are calling us to be mindful and aware of the events in our own lives and how our response determines the chart we course in our being.

 

Throughout this series we have discussed cause and effect and attitude.  We have compared our living to following a treasure map.  We all are truly adventures on a quest for a better life, hopefully not only for ourselves but for all humanity.  The paths we walk are not always the path we anticipated. 

 

Born Deirdre Blomfield and later adding Brown to her name, the American Buddhist nun Ani Pema Chodron practices the Tibetan tradition through the Kagyu school and Shambhala tradition.  She grew up in Connecticut and graduated from college at UC Berkley.  She became a mother(and grandmother) and taught elementary school in California and New Mexico.  On a trip in her later thirtie’s to France, she encountered

 

While in her mid-thirties, Deirdre traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years.   Soon her path led to her becoming a novice nun and then receiving full ordination with the name Ani Pema Chodron.  Ani Pema served as the director of the Karma Dzong, in Boulder, CO, until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey.

 

I think this Western nun’s philosophy towards finding mindfulness in our own living is best summed up in her book titles:  “Start Where You Are”; “Comfortable with Uncertainty”; “The Wisdom of No Escape – How to Love Yourself and Your World”; “Living Beautifully”.  Her philosophy is simple, direct, and true:  “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

 

To be mindful is simply, quite simply, to be aware.  I referenced a baby learning to walk.  The child will fall several times and yet, the wisdom in getting up and trying again is the key.  We learn to walk not because of any first time success but because when we fall, we get back up and try again.  With each unsuccessful attempt, we gain knowledge.  We become aware.  We learn to be mindful of how to balance and then take that first successful step.  Blessed are the children who fall because they learn to get back up.

 

Nun and spiritual teacher Pema Chodron encourages us to view our world, being mindful of the lessons found in it.  “The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. … If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”  Then and truly then, will we become mindful in our own living.

Find

Find

Epiphany 39

 

It is a popular childhood game called hidden pictures.  I myself belong to a coloring page on Facebook and once or twice a month the page administrator will post a picture with things hidden within it.  Could you spot a fork hidden in the handle of a broom or a comb hidden in a picture of a cob of corn?  Better yet, could you spot the virtuoso playing in a subway station?

 

According to Snopes.com, the go-to site for all unearthing the truth hiding amongst Internet pages, no one did – either ten years ago or in 1930.  “Many a marketing survey has been conducted to gauge how presentation affects consumer perceptions of quality, and quite a few such surveys have found that people will frequently designate one of two identical items as being distinctly better than the other simply because it is packaged or presented more attractively. Might this same concept apply to fields outside of consumer products, such as the arts? Would, for example, people distinguish between a world-class instrumental virtuoso and an ordinary street musician if the only difference between them were the setting? These were questions tackled by Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten in 2007 when he enlisted renowned violinist Joshua Bell, a winner of the Avery Fisher Prize for outstanding achievement in classical music who regularly undertakes over 200 international engagements a year, to spend part of a morning playing incognito at the entrance to a Washington Metro station during a morning rush hour. Weingarten set up the event “as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

 

Snopes continued:  “On 12 January 2007, about a thousand morning commuters passing through the L’Enfant Plaza Station of the subway line in Washington, D.C. were, without publicity, treated to a free mini-concert performed by violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, who played for approximately 45 minutes, performing six classical pieces (two of which were by Bach) during that span on his handcrafted 1713 Stradivarius violin (for which Bell reportedly paid $3.5 million). Weingarten described the crux of the experiment: “Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?”

 

Weingarten ended up winning for the Washington Post a Pulitzer Prize for his category, the award being given in part for the originality of the ruse.  However, it was not that original.  Seventy-seven years earlier another periodical named the Post, The Chicago Evening Post had done something quite similar.  In fact, several aspects of this story, the hiding in plain sight of a concert violinist were eerily similar.  In May 1930 Milton Fairman wrote a story titled “Famous Fiddler in Disguise Gets $5.61 in Curb Concerts.”   Violin virtuoso Jacques Gordon, a onetime child prodigy, performed for spare change on his priceless Stradivarius, incognito, for three-quarters of an hour outside a subway station. Most people hurried past, unheeding. The violinist made a few measly bucks and change. It was a story about artistic context, priorities and the soul-numbing gallop of modernity.  Fairman’s story began: “A tattered beggar in an ancient frock coat, its color rusted by the years, gave a curbstone concert yesterday noon on windswept Michigan Avenue. Hundreds passed him by without a glance, and the golden notes that rose from his fiddle were swept by the breeze into unlistening ears …”

 

Both Jacques Gordon and Joshua Bell played Massenet’s “Meditation” from “Thais” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Of the hundreds of people who walked by Gordon, only one recognized him for whom he was. Of the hundreds of people who walked by Bell, only one recognized him for whom he was.  Gordon died twenty years before Bell was born but the younger man had heard of him.  In fact, for ten years Bell played the same Strad that Gordon had once owned, the same one Gordon had played on the Chicago streets that day in 1930. By the way, Gordon earned $5.61 that day – the equivalent of $59.73 in today’s economy.  Bell earned $32.17 which would be worth $32.35 today.  AS the nation was recovering from the Great Depression, Gordon had earned more playing than Bell did playing in one of the more heavily traveled subway systems in the country.

 

How many hidden gems do we pass each and every day without noticing them?  It may not be a concert violinist you hear but that young child singing while waiting for the school bus might someday become an opera star or pop sensation.  I assure you that in your daily commute you pass by someone in need as well as someone helping others.  The beauty of life is all around us.  We just need to really open our living, take a moment and find it.

 

Build

Build

Epiphany 34

 

There is a great deal of talk worldwide about refugees and people act like it is a new thing.  It isn’t.  Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.

 

It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  These kids who had protested eating vegetables their entire lives now realized what a gift they were on the dinner table and how lucky it was to have them to eat.

 

In the 1990’s, as the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA, we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there, buts of paper napkins folded into beautiful works of sculptural art.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  These were people trying to escape a Communist regime that allowed for no one to be a dissident; no freedom of thought respected.  Eight hundred men and women had attempted to flee the harsh conditions of their lives.  Their ship, the Golden Venture, did not complete the journey and some perished in the ocean before being pulled out, only to be arrested and some, eventually returned to China.

 

Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring.  My faith gave me strength to help disband it, wading through all the necessary agencies to report it and make sure the case was not lost in the myriad of cases that existed. 

 

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

 

I have been lucky in my life, although not as lucky as some.  Usually my displaced feelings come from peer pressure, not attempts on my life nor missiles and bombs exploding in my ear.  Still, life is not a competition and displaced feelings are valid regardless of their level of threat to our well-being.  The saving grace in life comes not just from our beliefs and faith but from our actions.

 

I believe that the world needs more bridges and fewer walls.  When we connect, we build bridges and recognize how similar we really are.  The world benefits from our connections when we build them.  Such human bridges serve to strengthen our world and create a better future for us all.  The world will never have enough sanctuaries and it is up to each of us to help build them.

 

 

 

Imagine

Imagine

Epiphany

 

I really want to write about imagery but since we are focusing on verbs and action this Epiphany season, I elected a verb form of the word family.  Then I realized that that word  “imagine” was really want I wanted to discuss.

 

There are purportedly seven major types of imagery, each corresponding to a sense, feeling, or action.  These include visual imagery which pertains to graphics, visual scenes, pictures, or the sense of sight.  Then there is auditory imagery, a form of mental imagery that is used to organize and analyze sounds when there is no external auditory stimulus present. This form of imagery is broken up into a couple of auditory modalities such as verbal imagery or musical imagery.   It also includes the imagery of onomatopoeia, using sounds or words about sounds to evoke images of such things that create those noises.  Olfactory imagery pertains to odors, scents, or the sense of smell and the less known gustatory imagery pertains to flavors or the sense of taste.  Tactile imagery pertains to physical textures or the sense of touch while the lesser known kinesthetic imagery pertains to movements or the sense of bodily motion. 

 

Finally there is organic imagery or subjective imagery which pertains to personal experiences of a character’s body, including emotion and the senses of hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain.  It is this last type of imagery that often poses the greatest threat to us because it can also raise an awareness of fear.  Recently, over the past eighteen months, this type of imagery has been most prevalent worldwide.  Fear is defined by the website and magazine Psychology Today as “a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats.”

 

Laughter is also a response.  Psychology Today says this about laughter:  “Laughter just might be the most contagious of all emotional experiences. What’s more, it is a full-on collaboration between mind and body. Although laughter is one of the distinguishing features of human beings, little is known about the mechanisms behind it.  Scientists do know that laughter is a highly sophisticated social signaling system, helping people bond and even negotiate. Interestingly, most social laughter does not result from any obvious joke.”  Laughter is also beneficial, as is fear.  Laughter “has numerous health benefits: It releases tension, lowers anxiety, boosts the immune system, and aids circulation.”

 

So today I am asking you to imagine both fear and laughter.  Both are vital responses necessary to the human condition and yet, while they seem very far apart, both serve essential functions.  Carl Sagan, though, reminds us to be certain of that which we consider fearful as well as that which makes us laugh.  “But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

 

In other words, just because we laugh does not mean something is great.  While Columbus, Fulton, and the Wright Brothers proved themselves to be correct, the laughter they received had little to do with their success.  Their actions were backed by just that – real action.

 

We need to make sure that those things which create fear are also real.  Recent news stories have been built upon fiction, not fact.  Certainly there is shame to be heaped upon those who fabricate such false stories, attempting to engage our imaginations and create fear, but there is also shame on those who readily accept such rather than taking a few moments to fully imagine what might be truth.

 

What if we stopped trying to create fear and simply lived today in the best possible way we could, not worrying or being fearful… just being as productive as possible?  Imagine that, as John Lennon did, please.  “Imagine there’s no heaven.  It’s easy if you try – no hell below us, above us only sky.  Imagine all the people living for today.  Imagine there’s no countries.  It isn’t hard to do; nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. 

 

Imagine all the people living life in peace.  You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.  Imagine no possessions.  I wonder if you can; no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man.  Imagine all the people sharing all the world.  You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.

Lay Down, Build Up

Lay Down – Build Up

Epiphany 25-26

 

A common cry throughout the history of the world has been the call to lay down arms.  In other words, stop fighting.  The quote “War is hell” has been attributed to General William Tecumseh Sherman, although he himself claimed to not remember saying it.  David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, authors of the series “The People’s Almanac” explain: Historians generally agree that this is Sherman’s statement on war, but the Civil War general could not remember ever having said these three words. Before his death in 1891, Sherman made an extensive search through all of his private papers in a fruitless effort to convince himself that the words were actually his. There are several accounts of when the words were said. The earliest version dates back to 1863, after the fall of Vicksburg, when Sherman’s troops were crossing a pontoon bridge over the Pearl River at Jackson, Miss. According to eyewitness John Koolbeck, a soldier from Iowa, Sherman watched the crossing from the water’s edge and then said to the passing troops, “War is hell, boys.” Another account has Sherman delivering the line in a graduation address at the Michigan Military Academy on June 19, 1879. Still a third account says that Sherman made the famous statement in a speech before a group of Union veterans in Columbus, O., on Aug. 11, 1880. At other times, he did state, “War is cruel and you cannot refine it” and “War at best is barbarism.”

 

The bearing of a weapon greatly increases the likelihood that said weapon will be used.  Hateful words spoken aloud greatly increases the chance that uttered hatred will spread.  History bears witness to the truth of those two statements.  Usually, religion is given as the cause for such things like war.  Within the last two thousand years, the three Abrahamic faiths have been the culprits and there is evidence that they have contributed even though was is not a part of any religion’s doctrine.

 

Those who claim that isolation and violence are the path towards goodness are walking blindly.  It is with much sadness and anger that I must admit the events of this past weekend at US airports will be forever linked to Christianity.  People with legal documentation that gave them the right to travel to and in the USA have been held up and prevented from arrival.  Claiming to be laying down arms while beefing up security, a new regime has hijacked both the US Constitution and the Christian faith.

 

How do I make such a bold statement?  Matthew 25:31-46 from the New Testament is my proof.  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the 3holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”

 

Borgna Brunner explains how Islam actually has two holidays that reference helping others, the building up of each other.  Eid al-Fitr (1 Shawwal)is the Celebration concluding Ramadan, the month of fasting.  Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (Eid al-Adha is the other). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.  A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.

 

Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Adult Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lifetime.  Eid al-Adha (10 Dhu’l-Hijjah) is the celebration concluding the Hajj.  Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Ishmael. According to the Quran, just before Abraham sacrificed his son, Allah replaced Ishmael with a ram, thus sparing his life. One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha begins on the 10 day of Dhu’l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims all over the world celebrate, not simply those undertaking the hajj, which for most Muslims is a once-a-lifetime occurrence.  The festival is celebrated by sacrificing a lamb or other animal and distributing the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.

 

“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.  Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need. Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the importance of tzedakah in Jewish thought. Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins.

 

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon went one step further in explaining how such charity should be given, a hierarchy of learning how to give.  Giving begrudgingly is the first step, followed by giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully. Giving after being asked and giving before being asked follow.  Then there is giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity and giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.  After a while, giving becomes the important thing, not being known for giving as in giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.  Finally, at the top is the true purpose for tzedakah which enables the recipient to become self-reliant.

 

When we lay down our hatred and weapons, we are then able to build each other up through the Christian, Jewish, and Islam paths of charity and generosity.  War with its many forms and variations is cruel and does little to build for the future.  Evil should be stopped but we are an intelligent race.  Surely we can figure a way to create peace and a better tomorrow with mercy and goodness.