Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

Detours in Life

Pentecost 35-36


Campers are on the road, hotel rooms are booked to capacity, and cities across an arc cutting through the mid-section of the USA are preparing for the total eclipse of the sun today beginning at 1715 hours GMT.  That is during mid-morning coffee break time for the west coast and at the just after the noon hour for east coast residents.


For the 1,200,000 people living in the 70-mile-wide (113-km-wide), 2,500-mile-long (4,000-km-long) zone life will be chaotic, if it already isn’t.   The last time the USA witnessed such an event stretching from coast to coast was in 1918.  The last total solar eclipse able to be seen in the USA occurred in 1979.  The fact that this one is happening during one of the busiest vacation months of the year is fueling the desire for families to travel to a spot in the viewing zone.  An estimated seven and a half million people will witness this total solar eclipse in person.


A predictive map issued on Sunday by Weather Decision Technologies Inc. shows clear skies in the West, clouds in Nebraska and northwest Missouri, and partly cloudy conditions farther east.  Regardless of the weather, all observers must wear specially designed eyewear to avoid damage to their eyes.  For wildlife, it will seem as though there was a very short day.  As the shadows on the ground increase and the sky appears to be experiencing a very early sunset, birds will go to their roosts in the trees to settle down to sleep.


For a brief two minutes on Monday, there will be a safe time to view the eclipse with the naked eye but the timing is to critical to risk it.  During the totality or blackout, only the aura of the sun will be visible, the corona or atmosphere of the sun surrounding the circumference of the moon.  Please, do not attempt to see this without protective eyewear.  It is simply too risky.


It will be possible to capture the eclipse on one’s iPhone or tablet but these also will require special filters so as to not damage some or all of the pixels of the screen.  Various websites can provide directions on how to do this.  NASA Sun and Space or @NASASun will provide a great viewing for Twitter followers and other outlets will have live feeds.


Where will you be when this eclipse occurs?  What effect do you think it will have?  The myths surrounding eclipse are plentiful and date back to the earliest of times.  In Italy it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse will grow brighter and more plentiful that flowers planted at other times.  In parts of India, it is believed that food prepared during an eclipse will be poisoned.  In ancient Greece, it was believed that an eclipse was a sign of the gods’ anger.  In some ancient cultures, pots and pans were banged to ward off the evil spirits believed to cause the blackout.


Today we know that the path of celestial bodies is what causes eclipses.  Except for damage from looking at today’s event without protective eyewear, it should not poison any food, cause miscarriages, or even give positive assistance to horticulture.


Today we have the location of wisdom, scientific fact, and history to allow us to have a better understanding and detour from these ancient and incorrect myths about eclipses.  Today we know that when our minds and brains are in a location of wisdom we will see the big picture correctly.  Today our perspective comes from a location that has led to better understanding.


Ursus Wehrli once said “I like to turn things upside down, to watch pictures and situations from another perspective.”  One simple way to view a total solar eclipse requires nothing more than a salad colander and some space.  If you can resist the temptation to look up, you can place the colander upside on the ground or concrete and watch it instead of the sky.  The pinholes will illustrate what the sky is experiencing.


This eclipse will last less than three hours today but for that time, many will come together.  Denis Waitley reminds us that “You must look within for value but must look beyond for perspective.”  I hope that today we will look beyond the skies and envision a world that can come together for peace.  I hope that during those three hours in which our lives are taking a detour to experience this total eclipse we can celebrate each other – the value within and the potential beyond.




Epiphany 7


Nurture is one of those words seldom used and yet envied by all at some point in their lives.  Although they both come from the same Latin root word, “natura”, nature and nurture have seemingly been at odds since the late nineteenth century.  I think this fact to be sad and perhaps one of the root causes of the problems we face today.


“Natura” as a Latin word referred to not just the natural way of the things but that which exists from birth forward.  A form of the Latin word “natus” which means birth, “natura” was used in the context of all things in the universe which were a part of the natural order of things. It referenced one’s natural character, both of humans but also of the universe itself.  The innate disposition of all of creation was thought to be one of a nurturing disposition.  Somehow, with all of man and womankind’s advancements, we seem to have forgotten that one fact.


There is great debate on the topic of nature versus nurture but, for me, the best discussion comes not from psychologists and sociologists but from a faction author, the entertaining and seldom-considered overly deep Mark Twain.  “When we set about accounting for a Napoleon or a Shakespeare or a Raphael or a Wagner or an Edison or other extraordinary person, we understand that the measure of his talent will not explain the whole result, nor even the largest part of it; no, it is the atmosphere in which the talent was cradled that explains; it is the training it received while it grew, the nurture it got from reading, study, example, the encouragement it gathered from self-recognition and recognition from the outside at each stage of its development: when we know all these details, then we know why the man was ready when his opportunity came.”


The environment we create and decide to plant ourselves in determines a great deal about us, not only who we are but our hopes and aspirations.  Suzy Kassem explains it most succinctly:  “Empathy nurtures wisdom. Apathy cultivates ignorance.”  We may inherit a certain amount of DNA from our heritage but we alone control our future, in spite of whatever circumstances to which we were born.


“While genes are pivotal in establishing some aspects of emotionality, experience plays a central role in turning genes on and off. DNA is not the heart’s destiny; the genetic lottery may determine the cards in your deck, but experience deals the hand you can play. Scientists have proven, for example, that good mothering can override a disadvantageous temperament,” maintains Thomas Lewis, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of California in San Francisco.  I think those of days gone past knew something when they made nature and nurture from the same word. What if we lived as if they were truly the same thing?


If we lived in this natural world and considered to the need to nurture each other just as important as sharing the air we breathe, if nurturing became a natural order of our living in our relationships with each other, what type of world would we create?  If when we opened our mouths, what might result if we did so with the intention of only uttering that which would nurture our audience and not alienate or judge?  Would we perish from the effort or would we reap a more beautiful, productive world without the need for alienation and terrorism? 

The Truth about Grace

The Truth about Grace

Advent 28


Ann Lamott felt there was a mystery to grace, that concept we have spent Advent discussing:  “I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”  Describing it is terms of a mystery makes one wonder about its axiomatic presence.  Can something be a mystery and self-evident at the same time?


In our approach to discussing grace, using the four realms of probability, we removed the mystery when it comes to grace.  Whether it was classical, empirical, subjective, or axiomatic, we held true to the belief that grace exists.   While some might try to isolate as the provenance of grace to the religious, we considered that it really is in the air we breathe, simply waiting for us to reach out and grasp it, holding it and then releasing it back into the world. 


So why did I elect to use the four realms of probability in my approach to grace?  Because there is a very great probability that you have shared grace, both as the giver and as the receiver.  We tend to think of things as concrete or abstract.  Those things we can see, hear, smell, or taste are definitely concrete while our feelings lean towards the abstract realm.  The truth is that our feelings, where we often give and receive grace, are as real as anything on earth.  The probability of grace in your life is a certainty. 


The actor Bradley Whitlock has a great quote about grace.  Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.”


Life is not simple.  It is complicated and will have periods of darkness and light.  The darkness can serve to clean the slate and lead us towards a brighter tomorrow.  Author Patricia Briggs advises ““When life doesn’t meet your expectations, it was important to take it with grace.”


Writer and thinker C. Joybell C. expounds on that thought.  “Peace is the number one beautiful ornament you can wear, I really believe that. They say you should always wear a smile, but I don’t believe that you should “always” wear a smile.  Seriously, you’re going to look stupid!  But peace, you should always carry peace within you.  It’s the most beautifying thing you could ever have or do. Peace makes your heart beautiful and it makes you look beautiful, too. You want to have perfect physical posture when you stand, sit, and walk, and peace is the perfect posture of the soul, really. Try perfect posture outside as well as inside. Peace creates grace and grace gives peace.”


Grace is not something we should be awaiting to fall into our laps, placed there by another.  Grace is something we should be sharing.  It is a verb, not a flimsy concept hovering just outside the realm of our own existence.  It is an action verb, the one thing that can turn a subjective judgment into a unifying movement, the first step for a better tomorrow, the hope of the hopeless and the light for those who do not see the beauty of the world.



Moving Forward

177 – Moving Forward

Pentecost 177


There once was an old proverb common to the New England area of the United States.  New England is in the northeastern section of the country and was settled in the 1600’s by the Puritans who were escaping religious persecution in Great Britain.  The Puritans were not the region’s first settlers.  Those would have been the groups known as American Indians who came roughly twenty to thirty thousand years earlier, having crossed the Bering Straits from the Caucasus Mountains in Euro-Asia.


The Puritans were a non-nonsense type of folk.  They were not known for their sense of humor nor wild behavior.  Their religious principles included strict adherence to their interpretation of scripture.  Their clothing was very modest and did not include bright colors.  Men and women had narrow gender roles and one did one’s best in all things.


The proverb of which I am referring today goes like this:  “Use it up, wear it out; make it do or do without.”  Descendants from these early Puritans take pride today in having those same principles as their forefathers in being practical.  Such practicality as is denoted in this proverb is a type of altruism that many have forgotten today.


It is hard to regroup and move forward if you feel defeated. The fact is that nothing can really defeat us unless we allow it to do so.  So maybe we were not the winners in a particular endeavor.  There is still much we can do to be a winner.  Let’s talk about five “R’s” of earthly altruism that we can each do every day.  Not only does it not have to be expensive, it can even result in saving us money!


The first “R” is respect.  We need to respect the earth and our natural resourced.  Water is a vital resource that all living things require.  We have to imbibe and clean so how can we economize on our water usage.  The easiest is to take shorter showers or baths.


The second “R” is reserve.  For instance tonight, instead of leaving your computer on all night, turn it off.  Yes you will have to reenter all your passwords but seriously…how long does that take?  The amount of electricity saved might not seem like a great deal but if multiplied by all the computer users in your area, it does make a difference.


The third “R” is reuse.  We all know about reusing glass bottles but before you get to that point, think.  Purchase reusable water bottles and other containers.  Make sure that the bottles you are reusing should be but if they are, then you are saving the planet from becoming an unnecessary landfill.


Our fourth “R” is recycle and, since we are talking technology, think about recycling your own tech gadgets.  The easiest to recycle are batteries.  Most metropolitan areas have recycling centers for such things and we should all utilize these.  Batteries can be recharged but also reincarnated.


Our fifth “R” is not a common one when environmentalists discuss such things.  It is repair.  All of these other things are good and necessary but we really purchase far more things than we need.  Alan Minter explains: “Recycling is better–I won’t write “good”–for the environment. But without economics–without supply and demand of raw materials–recycling is nothing more than a meaningless exercise in glorifying garbage. No doubt it’s better than throwing something into an incinerator, and worse than fixing something that can be refurbished. It’s what you do if you can’t bear to see something landfilled. Placing a box or a can or a bottle in a recycling bin doesn’t mean you’ve recycled anything, and it doesn’t make you a better, greener person: it just means you’ve outsourced your problem. Sometimes that outsourcing is near home; and sometimes it’s overseas. But wherever it goes, the global market and demand for raw materials is the ultimate arbiter.  Fortunately, if that realization leaves you feeling bad, there’s always the alternative: stop buying so much crap in the first place.”


Maybe I should add a sixth “R” – realization.  We need to realize that we all are living together on this big blue marble of a planet we call earth.  We need to take care of it and practice altruism on a global basis.  It is the best way we can be ready for tomorrow.




Pentecost 108


“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”   Robert Fulghum made that statement in his book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”.  His words are both powerful and true.


Philosophy was born once mankind decided to ask the important question “What is the world made of?”   That first question led to possibilities, answers, if you will, but those led to another important question: “How do we know that?”  If metaphysics was the first branch of the tree of knowledge that is philosophy, then epistemology became the second although the name itself was not used until 1854, introduced by Scottish philosopher James Ferrier in his work “Institutes of Metaphysic: The Theory of Knowing and Being.”


Epistemology is the study of knowledge, of “justified belief”.  One school of philosophers believed that man’s senses were the greatest teachers as well as experience.  This was known as empiricism.  Others, however, believed that knowledge was the result of the process of thinking, reasoning out facts.  This manner of gaining wisdom was known as rationalism.  Epistemology primarily, though, dealt with the relationship between knowledge and concepts like truth and belief.


Aristotle developed what became the basis for determining the truth or logic of an answer.  His syllogism or logical argument used two premises to arrive at a logical conclusion.  One famous example is “All men are mortal.  Socrates is a man.  Therefore, Socrates is a mortal.”  This was the basis for philosophical logic until the nineteenth century.  There are some fallacies in this way of determining the validity of knowledge.  For instance, “I am a mammal.  My cat is a mammal.  Therefore, I am a cat.”  Trust me; my cats are firmly convinced I am not smart enough to be a feline!


Fulghum’s book title was based upon a poem he wrote.  In his poem, Fulghum mentions the rules he was taught at the age of five and how they relate to his life as an adult.  Those rules were basic guidelines which related to treatment of others:  share everything; play fair; don’t hit people.  Others concerned basic living and living on the planet with others:  put things back where you found them; clean up your own mess; don’t take things that aren’t yours; say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.  Still others concerned basic health and a recent study proved one of the rules correct.  “Wash your hands before you eat” is touted as being the best offense in cold and flu season and “take a nap every afternoon” has been shown to be healthy as well.  Fulghum included the importance of living a balanced life, advocating both play and work as daily habits, and the sage advice of looking before crossing a street, being mindful of coming traffic.


Kindergarten, the first formal schooling for most of us, teaches us to, in Fulghum’s words, ‘learn some and think some.”  In his poem he states that wisdom is not found at the top of the educational ladder in a formal classroom but, in Fulghum’s words “there in the sandpile at Sunday school”.  I want you to not focus on the reference to organized religion but interpret/define his “Sunday school” as any spiritual or religious basis.  After all, that which we truly believe becomes truth for us, often because of but usually in spite of either empirical or rational knowledge.


This year has been the warmest on earth and, not surprisingly, as I write this China and Taiwan are bracing for what is expected to be the “biggest storm on earth” this year, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.  Outer bands have already caused disruptions to the power grid and closed some schools.  While 2014 holds the record for being the warmest year and 2015 for being the second warmest on record, we need to think about how our living is affecting the planet and our future.  We cannot just think for today.  We must think big and consider tomorrow.


Fulghum’s poem concludes with this verse:  “Hold hands and stick together” and it is a great philosophy for living.  We cannot survive as a planet if we do not work together for the good of all, nature and mankind.  Being a “tree hugger” doesn’t just mean caring about the environment.  It means embracing all life, hugging those things that make life possible.  Regardless of your creation belief or lack thereof, we still all need the same things.  We need to hold hands and stick together while we think big and remember that, in the big scheme of things, we are all very small and…very important.


We learn when we look beyond ourselves, when we look at the big picture so to speak.  However, it does not become truth for us until we absorb that knowledge into ourselves.  After we look up and think big, we need to think small, think about what we believe, and then live it.



A Bridge

A Bridge

Pentecost 98


We are in that time of year known as a bridge, a time when the weather hints at what is to come while still giving us a taste of what has been.  It occurs four times a year but this time of year, the bridge between summer and fall seems the most… I’m not really sure what to call it.  For those that are generally in the path of hurricanes, it can be a time of waiting and praying.  For those who have eagerly anticipated the return of American football, it is a time of rejoicing.  For those who thrive on holidays, it is the beginning of three heavily celebrated in the United States – Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa.


It is that time of year that spans a period of laziness and summer vacations with the start of many school terms, much like Egypt spans three continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Egypt is the world’s only Eur-afra-sian country since it is bordered by the Mediterranean on the north as it shares a northern border with the Gaza strip and Israel, the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, the Red Sea to the south as well as Sudan, and Libya on the west.  It was an area that connected the earliest beginnings of man with the spread of mankind, both to the Far East and to Europe and beyond.


Egypt is located in what historians and anthropologists call the cradle of civilization.  Its history is as long as any nation and it became one of the world’s first cultural and ethnic entities while at the same time becoming one of the first actual political and geographical countries.  At one time or another, Egypt has been ruled and influenced by Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, Ottoman, and European cultures.  Its eighty-nine million residents were some of the first Christians but Islamic conquests during the seventh century made it an Islamic nation.


Many of us only know Egypt from the big and small screen.  Movies about the early Christians with the actor Charleston Heston and later music videos by Michael Jackson starring comedian Eddie Murphy and supermodel Iman do little to tell the true story of Egypt.  The ancient name for the country is from a word meaning black soil, and is best written as “km.t”.  This was to distinguish the land of Egypt from the desert area or red soil.  The English version of the country’s name comes from an ancient Greek word “Aigyptos” which dates back to the French “Egypte” and Latin “Aegyptus”.   Early Greek tablets show it written as “a-ku-pi-ti-yo” which became the Coptic “gyptios” and the Arabic “qubti”.  The official name of Egypt is “Misr” which translates as metropolis, civilization, or country.


Bridging the three continents and the various cultures involved has resulted in a history full of conflict.  It has not gotten easier as time has progressed.  We must learn to build figurative bridges and join all the cultures of the world if we are to move forward and have a future.  Egyptian-American writer Suzy Kassem explains: “It is up to us to keep building bridges to bring the world closer together, and not destroy them to divide us further apart. We can pave new roads towards peace simply by understanding other cultures. This can be achieved through traveling, learning other languages, and interacting with others from outside our borders. Only then will one truly discover how we are more alike than different. Do not measure anybody strictly based on the bad you see in them and ignore all the good.”


This past weekend, a hurricane traveled into the Gulf of Mexico and then crossed the Florida upper peninsula to travel up the Atlantic coastline.  On what is generally considered the last weekend for beach activities, those in the affected areas stayed home or in their hotels.  There was no last rite of passage for summer, no bridging of summer and fall.  Weather forecasts have guaranteed warmer weather will continue and another opportunity for swimming will present itself this coming weekend but many will forego traveling to the beach since it will not be a three day weekend.  For them, Hurricane Hermine was a lost opportunity.


Often life gives us chances that somehow seem to fall flat.  If we could only tweak the timing or change just one little decision, we might have become something better or greater, something extraordinary.  Midway through last week there were six tropical depressions in the Atlantic.  While several were named storms, a designation saved only for those of a certain power and magnitude, only Hermine really affected the U.S.A.  Two in the Pacific knocked on the shores of Hawaii but they, like the other storms in the Atlantic, did little if any damage.


If you were one of the ones sitting in a hotel room or a worker on a beach losing holiday income because of Hurricane Hermine, then seeing the positive will be difficult.  It often is hard to see past our disappointments to find the positive, to bridge one hour of our life to another.  A shaman was quoted as saying, “A story is like the wind: it comes from a distant place and we feel it.”


Today you will write the story of you.  You may not have control over the setting, the characters, or even the action to a large part, but you do have control over yourself.  We make a choice each and every hour whether to act or simply react.  Steve Jobs said it best:  “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”



Pentecost 69


Last night the world came together as it does every two years.  This time it was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The Olympics are not without controversy and these Olympics are considered the yet another installment of the “modern” Olympics.  We think of mythology as something akin to fairy tales, imaginary happenings and yet, last night, the world came together as part of a dynasty that, according to legend, was started by the mythical hero Heracles, also known as Hercules.


It is considered Olympic history that these games were held from 776 BCE to 393 ACE, a span of over twelve hundred years.  Most believe the games had been ongoing for a period of time before 776 BCE but this is the first year that the games were documented.  The single event was a race run by a naked runner.  A cook by the name of Coebus ran the 192 meters/210 yards and was victorious. 


This year is a continuation of the games’ reboot in 1894, the idea of a Frenchman.  A child during the Franco-Prussian War in which France was defeated, Pierre de Coubertin believed the key to France’s recovery was in strong athletes.  While others had tried to revive the games abolished by the Emperor Theodosius, Coubertin was a nobleman with the resources to persevere.    He founded the sports organization Union des Sociétés Francaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA) and two years later proposed reviving the Olympic Games.   


“Let us export our oarsmen, our runners, our fencers into other lands. That is the true Free Trade of the future; and the day it is introduced into Europe the cause of Peace will have received a new and strong ally. It inspires me to touch upon another step I now propose and in it I shall ask that the help you have given me hitherto you will extend again, so that together we may attempt to realise [sic], upon a basis suitable to the conditions of our modern life, the splendid and beneficent task of reviving the Olympic Games.”  In 1892 Coubertin gave this speech which was not well received.  In true Olympic spirit, however, he repeated it two years later at a meeting he hosted with seventy delegates from other countries and was met with more success.


Last night the world came together once again, this time with ten athletes marching homeless.  Entering under the flag of the International Olympic Committee and without a country to sponsor them, these refugees illustrated the current state of the world.  They also embodied the Olympic spirit, a spirit that Coubertin felt would benefit his country.  Their spirit will benefit the world and last night brought us together as one mankind, one people.


The flag bearer of this delegation without homes was a female swimmer Yusra Mardini.  She and others escaped the conflict and genocide in her native Syria and arrived in Turkey.  From Turkey the sought to reach Greece by boat but the boat’s engine died partway across the dividing waters.  Yusra jumped out and swam, pulling the boat and seventeen other refugees.  This petite young woman reached the shores of Greece and her journey continued to Macedonia then Munich and eventually Berlin. 


Riding in overheated and overcrowded busses and walking distances that would tire a marathon runner after swimming an event equal to those the Olympic weight lifters will endure, Yusra Mardini held onto her dream.  This year the IOC announced it would allow refugee athletes to compete under their own International Olympic Committee flag.  Companies such as VISA offered to help these athletes reach Rio so that they could compete.


The Opening Ceremonies told the history of Brazil as many countries do when the world’s sports stage comes to their shores.  However, Rio showed a ceremony that focused not only on the past but the present and the future.  They gave each athlete a seed to plant as they entered the coliseum which was then planted for the future Athletes Forest.  Nature has supported us and our life on this planet and while current emissions are putting such support in jeopardy, Rio 2016 planted seeds for the future.


The athletes are winners by virtue of trying but Rio showed us we can all be winners when we come together and work for the real meanings of life.  Coubertin believed  that the future was possible. “Let us export our oarsmen, our runners, our fencers into other lands. That is the true Free Trade of the future; and the day it is introduced into Europe the cause of Peace will have received a new and strong ally.”  He believed the future was in the hands of those who ran a fair race in communion with all.  Yusra Mardini said it another way when asked about VISA’s corporate sponsorship.  “I think Visa is sending a message” that we “are all human in the end”.


We are all human in the end.  Together was can accomplish great things.  Together we can make an ordinary present into an extraordinary future.  With preparation, forethought and effort, we can create a better tomorrow together.