Little Things

Little Things

Detours in Life

Pentecost 31

 

It is an often-repeated saying that life is made up of little things.  Author Kurt Vonnegut once said that we should “enjoy the little things in life for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”

 

In writing for Lifehack.org, columnist Amy Johnson pointed out forty “little” things that could become “big” things that could bring us happiness. 

1.Finding money in your pocket that you didn’t know you had.

2. Being asked by someone who cares how you are doing.

3. Climbing into bed when you have fresh sheets.

4. Taking an extra-long bath or shower when you have some free time.

5. Smiling at a child you see in public.

6. Receiving a 10 minute massage from your partner or friend.

7. Cuddling someone before you have to get up and start your day.

8. Waking up and realizing it is a sunny, beautiful day.

9. Having a long phone conversation with someone you care about and haven’t spoken to in a while.

10. Watching the rain fall when you have nowhere to be, and you can curl up on the sofa.

11. Watching children playing and laughing together, reminding you of the joy in the world.

12. Spending some time with your pets – or animals in general!

13. A stranger giving you a genuine smile.

14. Having a nice, long stretch when you first wake up to get your body moving.

15. Laughing out loud at a funny memory.

16. A gesture of kindness from someone in your life – as simple as your child helping you cook dinner.

17. A smell you love, from baked bread to a freshly mowed lawn.

18. A meaningful, long hug from somebody you care about.

19. Putting on clothes after they have been warmed on the radiator.

20. Taking a few moments alone when things get hectic.

21. Watching the sunset or the sunrise.

22. The smell outside after the rain has stopped.

23. Listening to your favorite artist or album.

24. Receiving an email or a letter from a friend.

25. The chance to be creative, from painting an old set of drawers to doodling a picture.

26. Holding hands with someone you love.

27. Eating your breakfast in bed.

28. Playing a game you used to love when you were younger.

29. Eating healthy, tasty food that makes you feel good about yourself.

30. An extra half an hour to snooze in bed.

31. Having some time to yourself to read a book you love.

32. Buying your favorite drink or snack and savoring it.

33. Receiving flowers from someone who cares about you.

34. Eating your lunch outside in the sun.

35. Trying out a new recipe and creating something delicious.

36. A gesture of support from your friends or family.

37. Listening to a song you used to love and haven’t heard in years.

38. Taking the time to help someone with their problems.

39. Spending time in your home when it is tidy and clean.

40. Achieving a small victory, like fixing the washing machine or replacing a light bulb.

 

Most of these are little things that, if noticed, would bring a smile to your lips and joy to your soul.  Few, if I am to be honest, would be actual detours and yet… Sometimes the detour is simply our slowing down enough to see the world around us.  We all have countless things to do and few feel they have enough hours in the day to get them all done.  Are we really too busy to find happiness in the little things around us?

 

Johnson answered this question in her article by quoting Dr. Glenn Williams, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University.  “An effective route to happiness is not necessarily through experiencing major events that we might have planned out such as getting married, moving house, getting that all-important promotion or even being on a holiday.  Rather it is the small, and often unexpected, pleasures in life that can make us smile each and every day to help us build happier and more meaningful lives for ourselves and for others.”

 

Feeling in control of one’s life is a great thing and necessary for attaining success.  We should not, however, be in such tight control that we miss the little things, those little detours that take us away from our norm and lead us to happiness.

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Detours in Life

Pentecost 30

 

Some of the hardest detours we travel are those that require us to rethink what we thought we knew.  This past weekend, three people died because of feelings about the subject of race.  The topic of race is a social force and anyone claiming it isn’t has been living deep down at the bottom of the ocean. 

 

For centuries the human race has debated the divisions of, the identification for, and the correlation between the various races, their impact on intelligence, physical potential, genetics, and disease.  It cannot be denied that certain cultures are prone to specific illnesses while others seem to have no susceptibility at all.  This should not be interpreted as a weakness, though.  It is simply a characteristic of a great many things.  Genetics has proven that certain cultures – i.e., races – have a particular connection to various healthcare concerns.  This does not mean there is a correlation to potential or intelligence.

 

Throughout history the body of humans inhabiting this planet has been organized into racial groups, sometimes as few as three and other times as many as fifty.  In 1998, the American Anthropological Association issued the following statement on race:  “The idea of race has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.”

 

Race is not a biological fact and it has no true scientific importance as a means of division.  It should not be used to segregate or discriminate.  This may be a new detour in your thinking but it is fact, based upon pure scientific data, not greed, fear, nor baseless rhetoric.

 

In 2002 the American Anthropological Association published a paper remarking on the social foundations of race: “Although racial categories are legitimate subjects of empirical sociological investigation, it is important to recognize the danger of contributing to the popular concept of race as biological.”    Please take a moment and reread that last sentence.  Race is not a biological fact.

 

The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 had as its purpose a way to better understand genetic components of disease.  A detailed map of humankind’s DNA sequence was constructed which allowed exploration of the various genetic differences across our vast planet.  Their findings were a huge detour from what many of us believed and/or have been taught.  We all are genetically 99.9 percent alike.

 

Within our specific DNA there are six billion bases of DNA with a .1 percent difference representing six million locations that differ between two individuals.  Most of these differences are “neutral” which means they do not change the function of any genes.

 

Before your eyes glaze over, take a minute to think.  A genome is nothing more than the genetic material of something, the complete set of the DNA that an organism has.  In humans, the nuclear genome comprises approximately 3.2 billion nucleotides of DNA, including genes and chromosomes.  So while having six million different sounds like a like, it actually is less than .1 percent.  Imagine having one hundred pieces of tiny chocolate candy like M & M’s on a plate.  Would you really argue if someone took just one?  Of course you wouldn’t because the amount left is much greater and overrides that one piece.

 

Race is a social construct, a way of organizing people by culture and yes, sometimes by skin color.  However, race itself is misleading.  Those deemed Caucasian are of European descent while the term actually comes from the Middle East and referred to people from the Caucus Region, a mountain range in Turkey and Russia.  Asian is a racial term to signify people of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian descent but Russia is also on the Asian continent.  There are many natives of Bermuda which, technically as a former English colony would make them of European descent and yet, these people appear African because they are descended from slaves.  If we assume most people from Bermuda are African, what do the descendants of the British pirates do?  There would then be Caucasian-skinned Africans which is contradictory to the racial separation itself.

 

Racial designation is not a biological fact and will always be misleading because the human race did not remain living in just one place.  Such descriptions and their resulting divisions are a social construct, a harmful collective construct.  Certainly people should take pride in their ethnicity and the culture of their ancestors.  However, this pride should not seek to silence or harm others. 

 

There is no biological division of the races.  We are human beings.  Hatred based upon race is much ado about nothing.  We are all part of the human race and it is time we started treating each other with humanity and respect.

 

 

We Need to learn

We Need to Learn

Detours in Life

Pentecost 28

 

Some difficult parenting moments?  The mother and grandmother thought for a moment and then spoke.  “My now grown daughter’s favorite animal is the bunny and I still remember trying to explain to her as a seven-year-old why the neighbors poisoned her two pet bunnies because we were biracial.  A few months later, coming home from church to find front door shattered because I put up a mezuzah on the inside casing of our front door, a gift from Jewish friends.   KKK neighbors ramming our old Dodge van and then sitting outside our house holding automatic assault rifles.”

 

The Rt. Ref Steven Charleston writes:  “We have seen those faces before, the ones at Charlottesville, the faces contorted by hate, the faces twisted into anger or frozen into ignorance. They were shouting. They were screaming for the pleasure of having someone to blame. We have seen those faces before at other times, on other streets, but the results are always the same. There is no compromise with this kind of hate. No appeasement or denial. Prejudice to this point is virulent and must be confronted head on. The faces at Charlottesville tell us why. They are images of what cruelty can become when it is left unchallenged, unnamed and under estimated.”

 

Color is not a right. Color is a hue, shading that adds interest, not detracts from one’s unalienable rights given by God and the law.   This was affirmed in the Declaration of Independence. Racism is the opposite of patriotism.  Whether it is called racism or terrorism, whether its cause is religious discrimination or racial discrimination, it accomplishes nothing and it based on even less. 

 

Someone once asked me if I believed in the Devil, a capitalized name.  I believe in evil.  The history of the world tells us it exists.  It can live in each of us if we allow it.  Life happens and we do not always like it.  We look for answers and sometimes, instead prefer to seek blame.

 

There is no basis for discrimination.  There is a great deal of evidence for the foundation of love and what it can accomplish.   Screaming hatred and spewing unfounded insults accomplishes nothing.  Positive action to improve the world does.  When will we ever learn this?

Answering the Call

Answering the Call

Detours in Life

Pentecost 27

 

I am not sure what they had originally planned for yesterday, Saturday, August 12th.  Maybe spending family time or simply doing chores at home.  One was a veteran law enforcement officer with more than two decades as a Virginia state trooper. The other was a pilot who transferred to the state police aviation unit last month and was one day away from his 41st birthday.

 

Both Virginia State Police troopers died Saturday when their police helicopter crashed and burned in Charlottesville, as they patrolled near the site of clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters.  State police identified the victims as pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40. Both men died at the scene.

 

Their helicopter was “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” according to a police statement.  The aircraft crashed in a wooded area near a residence just before 5 p.m. No one on the ground was injured, and officials are still investigating the cause of the crash.

 

Others had decided to spend their Saturday upholding the ideals of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.  A young paralegal from Green County, Virginia, Heather Heyer had decided to peacefully protest the white supremacists holding the rally.  She was run over twice by a car driven by a twenty-year-old man, James Alex Fields, from Ohio.  Nineteen others were injured and taken to area hospitals.

 

All of these people suffered a detour yesterday.  Three made a detour from the living to death while another made a terribly misguided choice that resulted in injury and death.    Sometimes these things happen – death and injury.  Hopefully, when they do, it is for a good cause.  Yesterday it was not for a good cause.  Hatred is never a good excuse for death. 

 

We should strive to detour away from hatred and yet, many see, to thrive on it. We need to realize that we alone are responsible for many of the detours in our lives.  When we answer the call to be kind and just, supporting equality and goodness, then we can detour away from hate and create a positive, effective world.

 

I have mentioned the names of these casualties because we need to remember they were people.  It really does not matter what “side” they were on or if you agree with them.  When one person dies, the fabric of humanity is weakened.  Each life matters.  Each death is a tragedy.  Tomorrow should be promised for us all.

Life Happens

Life Happens

Detours in Life

Pentecost 26

 

Sometimes things don’t go like we had planned.  Maybe the car won’t start so you are late to that meeting.  Maybe the store was out of your secret ingredient for your holiday casserole.  Maybe you discovered that you thought you had scheduled a blog post only to discover there was a glitch in the system.  Maybe the power went off overnight and so your alarm didn’t go off.  Maybe you spilt coffee on your tie right before you walked out of the house.  None of these things were really your fault and yet, you are the one who has to make things right.  After all, life happens.

 

In the past we have talked about how practice makes perfect.  The same is true when it comes to basic living.  We plan for the successes in life but it is the “oops!” and goofs that really build strength.  We seldom practice success; it is its own reward.  What we practice are the mistakes either we made or life just threw our way.  By practicing, we gradually overcome and learn.  We gain strength but also confidence to move ahead in life.  We feel we can take on another project, which comes with a new set of challenges.  Because they are new, these challenges come with their own set of mistakes… and the process starts all over again.  Life happens.

 

As adults, we tend to overlook that learning process, the series of one step forward and two steps backwards that we all make.  Detours are a time of learning.  Life is not about standing still.  It is about growing and falling down, getting right back up –   the good and the bad, and how to improve. 

 

Several years ago I took a class (a wonderful class) on spiritual practices.  I freely admit I signed up for it because of I was going to do a series on prayer (Advent 2015).  I thought it would be a great reference and the timeliness of the class offering made it a perfect fit.  I was certain such a class had to include praying.  I was wrong.  Life happens.

 

The class focused on the spirituality within each of us as we go about our daily livings.  It was less on the “churchy” things we tend to tack on to such things as prayer and more about the mundane everyday things we all have to do … or should do.  Instead of hearing someone talk about how to pray, I heard about washing the dishes.  Was this an “Oops!” moment?

 

The “Everyday Spiritual Practices” class I took was a great class but it did not discuss praying.  What it did discuss was being connected to our living, being present in the moment.  Coaches tell athletes that they need to be “present in the moment.”  What they are really saying is forget about that last pass you didn’t catch, the goal you didn’t make; live the play at hand.  It is great advice…in the moment. 

 

Tomorrow, though, after the game is over, that same coach will spend all day going over the game and showing the players where they made their mistake.  That coach will point out where the player was supposed to turn so that he could have caught the ball or how distraction from a guard threw the passer off a bit so that a ball caught and then thrown was too far to the right to hit the basket.  Today they need to live in the moment to win the game but tomorrow they will live in the past to prepare for the future.

 

Such a habit of living and learning is great for sports but it doesn’t do much for our spiritual life and yes, even atheists have a spiritual life.  We all have a soul, a spirit within us.  We all exist and by existing, we are connected to other things and people.  Even the homeless are connected, maybe not to a structural house but to their own favorite place to sleep on the ground, their comfortable blanket or hat. 

 

If we think about it, a detour is a time of reflection and supplication, of reviewing like that coach the day after the game.  It can also be a time of understanding.  Life can be very confusing and confounding.  A detour offers us a different perspective.

 

Spirituality is a very popular word these days, very trendy and often said in all the right places.  True spirituality is usually the result of and the cause of a detour in life.  For some, spirituality is a term they use to avoid in-depth retrospection.  For others, it is a curse to be avoided and for still some, it is a way to avoid the unpleasant truths about ourselves.  Not all spirituality can be good or have positive outcomes.  Adolf Hitler and ISIS are two prime examples of such as are Charles Manson and Jim Jones.

 

We all have what St Augustine called “ordo amoris”, an ordering our loves.  In other words, we have things we love and place a priority on those things.  We also place a priority on the everyday mundane tasks that life requires; washing dishes, doing laundry, keeping the car in working order and filled with gas.  Few of us love doing those mundane tasks but they allow us to live and do what we do love or need to do.  When faced with a detour, we tend to react instead of act.

 

Who are you?  What would you be without your personal “ordo amoris”?  When we encounter acts of terrorism, the fabric of many lives is ripped apart as people doing rather mundane tasks are suddenly faced with a tragic detour.    In a matter of moments destructive spirituality literally tears hundreds of lives apart. 

 

None of us are born with a warranty tag attached under our arms or on the back of our necks.  Life happens.  The importance of prayer, that conversation we have with our faith as we live, keeps us sane and emphasizes our being connected.  Our spirituality, that which connects us to our universe and life, tells us we are alive.  Life happens and so, we need to live it.  Detours are scary and exhilarating.  They need reflection and preparation.  They demand we are present in the moment in navigating these detours in our living.  After all, if we are lucky, life happens.

To End is to Begin

To End is to Begin

Detours in Life

Pentecost 21

 

Today is Monday; that is, if I have scheduled this correctly.  There are no guarantees in life and when it comes to technology and me, well, best not to place any bets at times.  Technology is one of those things that often gives me a detour in life.  Today, however, I am navigating technology with confidence, much as we should the days of our living.

 

Kahlil Gibran once said “When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.”  This wonderfully talented Lebanese-American artist and poet never had to deal with computers, however.   All too often when I reach the end of my rope because life has thrown a roadblock or detour in my path, I feel frustration.  Gibran is saying I should be at the beginning of some enlightening experience.  Really?

 

His words are true, however, once we get past that frustration, that feeling of being lost, that feeling of being scared.  The truth is that when we reach the end of what we know, we become open to learning something new.  We are ready to approach a new experience, perhaps as is the case on Mondays, a new week.

 

I do not have a crystal ball nor do I know what challenges will present themselves to me in the form of a detour twelve hours from now.  Hopefully my day will go as scheduled.  If the past has taught me anything, though, there will be a few detours today.  Whether they are catastrophes or not, will be determined by me, not what is happening. 

 

How is that possible? All we have to do is commit to happiness.   Shannon Adler explains:  “When you let go of control and commit yourself to happiness, it is so easy to offer compassion and forgiveness. This propels you from the past, into the present. People that are negative, spend so much time trying to control situations and blame others for their problems. Committing yourself to staying positive is a daily mantra that states, “I have control over how I plan to react, feel, think and believe in the present. No one guides the tone of my life, except me!”

 

This all is sounding very simplistic, you might be thinking.  Can life really be that easy?  Can we navigate a detour with that little stress?  It really is a matter of perspective.  Are you envisioning your next detour as a roadblock or an opportunity?  AS a story teller, I know full well that each day starts with the familiar “Once upon a time…”  You may not get to choose the setting but you and your alone direct the character’s actions in writing your life story. Lindsay Edgar once wrote:  “Stories don’t end.  They just turn into new beginnings.”

 

Today is Monday.  The yesterday has ended and opened the day to a detour called today.  Every great poem, novel, TV program, and blues ballad has its Monday morning beginning.  Whether today will be a marvelous Monday or just another manic Monday is up to how you travel your detours today.  I do know one thing.  Today is the end of Sunday and the beginning of the rest of the masterpiece that is you.

 

 

Intention and Disconnect

Intention and Disconnect

Detours of Life

Pentecost 20

 

One of the most common detours with which we are faced are often those of our own making, those times in which what we intended did not quite happen.  In spite of the most careful planning and fervent effort, things go awry.  Life happens and sometimes, perhaps often, it simply does not go as planned.  We end up on a detour, an unexpected and usually undesired detour.  Do we respond with this detour with good humor and grace or do we get angry over the inevitabilities of life?

 

One cannot approach the concept of grace either objectively or subjectively without including the religious community.  Indeed, many do not even attempt to define the concept of grace outside of a religious and theological construct.  I am asking you to consider it a form of living but today I will not discuss it as an inevitable part of one’s spirit of living but as it relates to organized religion and its followers.  This is important because often the religions of the world have become stumbling blocks to grace, especially when seen through a subjective lens. 

 

Beyond Intractability was developed and is still maintained by the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. The missions of the Consortium and, more specifically, the Beyond Intractability project reflect the convergence of two long-standing streams of work. The first is an exploitation of the unique abilities of Web-based information systems to speed the flow of conflict-related information among those working in the field and the general public. The second is an investigation of strategies for more constructively addressing intractable conflict problems — those difficult situations which lie at the frontier of the field.

 

We will begin our discussion with a quote from the Beyond Intractability website:  “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe.  Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.  … However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world.

 

“Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition.  Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God’s wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God’s will.”

 

Manichean may be a word unfamiliar to you but its meaning is how many people view the world and try to live their lives.  Manichean comes from the word Mani, which is the name of an apostle who lived in Mesopotamia in the time frame of 240 ACE, who taught a universal religion based on what we now call dualism. If you believe in the Manichean idea of dualism, you tend to look at things as having two sides that are opposed. To Manicheans, life can be divided neatly between good or evil, light or dark, or love and hate.

 

In other words, in an attempt to live their doctrines of peace and love, people tend to think with a narrow field and view the world as either black or white.  Human beings are complex creatures and no one is one-dimensional.  In other words, no one person is all anything.  In our intention to live a doctrine of love and peace, we allow our subjective narrowness to trip us up.

 

To be certain, some things are either right or wrong.  You cannot murder someone halfway.  A person is either killed or alive.  However, the quality of life then comes into question and such is often what leads people to commit suicide.  Rather than offer grace, their expectations, based upon their belief system, suffocates any grace they might find.

 

So should we assume religion is the problem and not the answer?  Absolutely not!  Religions tend to connect us and remind us of that which we are deep inside.  They are, I believe, most necessary to life.  Religions offer us ways to show, recognize, and live grace.  Life is hard but grace makes it not only possible but worthwhile. 

 

Quoting David Smock, the Beyond Intractability website offers one solution to consider in finding grace amid all this conflict and discord.  “Religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths.”

 

We all have intentions and the faith-based communities of the world are no different.  However, when need to give closer attention to our efforts and revitalize them every day.  Grace might very well be the key to world peace and it certainly makes each of our lives better.  Rather than being the problem, grace is the answer.  When navigating the detours that life will certainly give us, grace is the best compass one can employ.  Grace should be the connection between us and the rest of the world.