To Retreat or To Remain

To Retreat or To Remain

Detours in Life

Pentecost 106-115

Mega post #6

 

I have an affection for coffeehouses and the wave of humanity that comes ashore in them.   Although I usually order tea and not coffee, the throng of humanity found at a coffeehouse is delightful.  Add children to that and you have a writer’s mall for thoughts and conversations.  In short, at a recent visit, I found myself in a compositional heaven.  A recent visit solidified my penchant for both coffeehouses and children.

 

I had just sat down when I noticed the table across from me.  The grandparents were at what appeared to be their regular Bible Study/Social meeting and the young boy that had accompanied them was obviously a grandson.  His delight at the large-sized orange juice his grandfather had ordered for him was heart-warming.  “I’m gonna grow big and strong with this!” he exclaimed.  His grandmother offered him a spoonful of her coffee upon his request and the expression on his face made everyone laugh.  “That cannot be good for you.” He advised his grandmother.  “You need to drink more orange juice.”  [Somewhere the Minute Maid Company had just loss a great commercial idea.]

 

Introductions were made to the young lad as others joined their group.  I was impressed with the “adult” way they introduced themselves to him.  After all introductions were made, he then asked if he could repeat their names.  It was clear no one expected him to do so but he did.  Upon saying the name of the last person, his grandfather began to open their meeting.  The young boy politely told the grandfather he was not finished talking.  Chuckles were heard and the grandfather pointed out he had named everyone, correctly. 

 

The young boy looked around the coffeehouse and then leaned over to his grandfather.  “I just learned their names,” he explained.  Now I need to ask them something.”  The group seemed amenable so the grandfather sat back and encouraged his grandson to continue.  The wide young person then looked at the first he had named and asked:  “What are you?”  The gentleman began to say he was s retired teacher when the boy interrupted him.  “No, that is what you did.  What are YOU?”

 

I recently attended a retreat and this week I found myself wondering something similar.  That is the question I hope you ask yourself this week.  What are you?  In past series we delved into the question “Who are you?” in our attempt to improve and grow some self-love.  This week we cannot improve our self-worth without knowing what we are.  More importantly, what do you want to be?

 

Any good gardener knows there are various things that need to be done in the process of growing a garden.  There is the cultivating and tilling of the soil, preparing the soil, nurturing the soil with water and perhaps fertilizer and plant food.  The list might seem endless to a non-gardener but to those who believe in growing things, the list is simply a part of daily life.  Essential to gardening, though, is knowing what one is planting.

 

I have stated here that I do not have a “green thumb”; that is to say, my talents do not include being a master gardener.  The truth is that I can grow a nice garden, whether it is flowers or vegetables.  What hinders my success in gardening is my lack of interest in learning about the plants themselves.  I can bore you to no end about the difference between a xylophone and a marimba because I am interested in those things.  The nutritional needs and their differences between a cauliflower and a bell pepper hold no interest for me at all.  For one thing, I am allergic to bell peppers and mildly so to cauliflower.  Ask me about tomatoes, though, and I am right there with answers.  You see, I adore tomatoes. 

 

Life cannot be lived just eating tomatoes, though.  While they hold great nutritional value for our bodies, we do need other things.  I have come to learn how to grow carrots and cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and kale, and attempt to grow beans, although pole beans and legumes are still at the “getting to know you” stage with my gardening skills.  Corn and I have an on-again-off-again relationship and I have never attempted fruit trees although I do love to eat their bounty. 

 

Clearly, if I had to grow my own food I could survive but I would have to alter my eating habits and pray for good health and weather.  I rely a great deal on the convenience of shopping at local markets and stores.  I can grow an avocado plant but cannot get it to bear fruit.  Life for me without avocadoes is unthinkable and I am grateful for imports from other states and neighboring countries.  The same is true for olives.  I am something of a cheese-a-holic and yet, having a herd of cattle and goats would not yield me any cheese homemade.  Again, I am grateful for those for whom making cheese is a talent they share.

 

When it comes to growing my soul, I also rely on others.  I myself can only do so much based upon my skills and knowledge.  I reference many things and listen to many people.  Just as with an actual gardening, there needs to be some weeding out of the information we have available.  Not everything is beneficial and unfortunately some people are more interested in creating followers than helping people grow.  Albert Camus once wrote: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”  This past weekend I did just that.  My retreat was in a beautiful country, wooded setting and no cell phones or electronic devices were allowed.  Time was something measured jokingly with a ruler.

 

It may sound funny but I took the time to be on a retreat to make sure that I did not remain, getting stuck in the whirlwind that our lives can become.   I agree with Anna White and this quote from her book “Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith” when she writes “I want my heart to be the thin place. I don’t want to board a plane to feel the kiss of heaven. I want to carry it with me wherever I go. I want my fragile, hurting heart, to recognize fleeting kairos, eternal moments as they pass. I want to be my own mountain and my own retreat.”

 

Kairos is a Greek word dating back to antiquity and it refers to an opportune moment, that right and critical moment in time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a critical action.   Many times we are so busy reacting to the world that we fail to take the time to deliberate about our actions and what they represent.  We are so busy being that we lose sight of what we are or would like to be.

 

My three days plus seven hours were not a time of hearing but rather a time of listening.  To be sure there were presentations and discussions but there were also times of meditating and truly hearing what all of creation was offering.  The serene setting, fullness of life experienced, and the sharing of emotional, spiritual, and physical gifts were encouragement to move forward, not just remain caught in the busyness of everyday living. 

 

I hope this week you find your own sources of nurturing to help you grow in this endeavor we call living.  Sometimes we must retreat from life to move forward in our living.  Take a detour from your usual path and you might just find yourself.   More importantly, I hope you find and increase your self-worth and are then able to answer to the question:  What am I?

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You Always Had It

You Always Have It

Detours in Life

Pentecost 99-105

Mega Post #5

 

Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?”

“You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power…”

 

If you are a fan of Judy Garland or one of her iconic movies, “The Wizard of Oz”, you probably recognized the lines above.  They are the most notable of all screen lines and yet, they don’t occur in the film until just before the end.  Since it was published in 1900, many have interpreted this story has something more than just a children’s tale.  “The story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to pleasure children of today” claimed the author L.  Frank Baum.  Still, many believe it is much more. 

 

A high school teacher decided this story was a commentary on the collapse of the Populist movement in the United States.  The green of Emerald City represented the green of currency; the characters represented either ordinary citizens, politicians, or various facets of the workforce.  Even the name “Oz”, the abbreviation for measurements of gold, illustrated by the Yellow Brick Road, became symbolic.  Bankers were portrayed by the Wicked Witch of the East and drought, an enemy of all farmers, was seen in the form of the Wicked Witch of the West who is, conveniently enough, eliminated by water.  This interpretation of Baum’s story by teacher Henry Littlefield is no longer held to be credible but it is an interesting read.

 

Others read this story and see a Glinda the Good Witch conspiracy.    It is her speech that tells Dorothy she can return home and always could have if she had but faith.  Then there are the Jungian believers who see this in light of the philosophies of Carl Jung and still more who see this as a commentary of feminism.

 

Ultimately, for many, this simple children’s tale is either a religious allegory or proof of atheism.  The perspectives for both are interesting and illuminate how two people can see the same thing but believe they saw completely a different thing.

 

Someone asked me recently what the best advice I would give for traversing a detour was.  My answer was one word – prayer.  I think perhaps prayer is like that.  For me it is a very simple thing and something in which I engage daily if not hourly.  For others, however, prayer is much more complex, almost legalistic in its formation and process.  The same could be said about this time of year, a noted holiday period worldwide.  Prayer can be very diverse in format, form, and even function.  That doesn’t make them less powerful or important.  All we really need to do is realize and believe.  When I was a child, it was a custom for the guest to be asked to say grace before we ate.  Many times, the guest would defer, saying they couldn’t possibly do justice.  I always wondered if God graded our prayers.

 

Many times it is the simplest of prayer that we utter:  Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?”  Somewhere, a Great Spirit smiles and replies: “You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power…”  There is no special power required to pray.  I suppose one could mentally clap their hands together three times to echo Dorothy clicking her heels.  And by the way, the actual quote is “Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like home’.”  All we have to do is pray and think to ourselves “My prayer will be heard”.  For the faithful, they’ve always had the power needed to pray and for the new believer…so have you.

 

Detours tend to give us alarm – whether it is an actual rerouting of our path or just an interruption of our schedule.  A friend traveled recently and found themselves stuck in traffic.  Road construction was causing delays and then an accident put even more strain on everyone’s time.  Could prayer have helped that?  Probably it would, even if only to divert one’s attention for a minute.  Prayer is one of those things that remind us life is not all about us nor are we the only ones living it. 

 

When life throws you a curve ball, all we have to do is take a second, breathe, and then move forward intelligently.  Detours are not instruments of fear.  And while they are inconvenient, it is good to remember the words given to Dorothy:  You’ve always had the power.

 

 

Showing Up

Showing Up
Detours in Life
Pentecost #81-89
Mega Post #3

In my last blog post I quoted Corrie Ten Bloom: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Prayer is often synonymous in today’s world with faith. Today’s battle cry of “Take a Stand” and “Take a Knee” is all about showing one’s beliefs and/or patriotism or the lack thereof. Everyone from the NFL’s youngest fan to the President of the United States has an opinion. Everyone, it would seem, firmly believes in freedom of expression… as long as the person expressing is saying or doing what the listener/observer believes in.

I was not around during World War II but a Caucasian Christian had to think they were relatively safe from the witch hunt that the Nazis were conducting in rounding up people of the Jewish faith and sending them to concentration camps for eventual extinction. And before I go any further, let’s address the issue of “Did it really happen?” Yes and the hundreds of thousands who died and are buried are the proof that it did. Six million of the Jewish faith from all ages and walks of life were killed for nothing more than believing. Germany became a killing ground as did the countries invaded by Adolf Hitler. He had promised to make Germany great. Instead it made it a graveyard.

Corrie Ten Bloom was something of a superstar in her chosen field. She was the first woman in the Netherlands to become a licensed watchmaker. Corrie also ran a club for young girls which provided them an opportunity to learn and expand their lives. She believed in these young women and in a bright future for them all. Such actions were considered dangerous by Hitler and when he invaded the Netherlands in 1940 he instituted restrictions that banned Corrie’s club for these girls.

Because of her Christian faith, Corrie and her family helped their neighbors who had been targeted by the Nazis and were in fear of being sent to concentration camps. As father stood up for his faith, different from those he was helping, by stating: “In this household, God’s people are always welcome.” Word of their actions eventually reached the Nazi authorities and Corrie Ten Bloom and her family were arrested. Her sister and father both died in the concentration camps. Corrie Ten Bloom spent time in two such camps over a span of eleven months. On New Year’s Eve 1944 she was released due to clerical error. The following week everyone in her age group in the unit in the Ravensbrück concentration camp was sent to the gas chambers.

Corrie Ten Bloom returned home and continued to help the disenfranchised, particularly the mentally disabled. She established with her remaining family members a rehabilitation center in Bloemendaal. The refugee houses consisted of concentration-camp survivors and sheltered the jobless Dutch who previously collaborated with Germans during the Occupation exclusively until 1950, when they accepted anyone in need of care. She returned to Germany in 1946, and met with and forgave two Germans who had been employed at Ravensbruck, one of whom was particularly cruel to her sister.

Corrie Ten Bloom lived her faith, standing up for what she believed and showing up by living it, even when the going got impossibly rough and life-threatening. You might say her faith created the detour her life took by being sent to a concentration camp but really, isn’t that what faith and our beliefs do at times? Life is not all about smooth sailing. Any sailor will tell you that the most exciting times out on the water are not those where everything is calm and bland.

The recent furor over whether one stands or kneels during the playing of the National Anthem is not just about one song. It has become a battle cry to respect those veterans who defend our nation’s ideals every day. But is that really the only way to show such respect?

I would suggest that perhaps we should use our faith as our own personal steering wheel and follow in example of Corrie Ten Bloom. Faith should not be something we pull out only when we get in a tough situation or are scared. Neither should patriotism. Both faith and patriotism should be active parts of our living each and every hour of every day. They should be as evident and visible as the noses on our faces.

I would suggest that we should be respectful and attentive during the playing of the National Anthem of our own and any country. I do think we should take it a step further, though. Because this has become such an issue involving our veterans, let take it all the way. I’d like to see people continue to support the NFL so that the NFL can support our veterans. Let each team donate fifty tickets to Wounded Warriors, injured and disabled veterans that could then attend the game. I would like to see those Wounded Warriors who bravely lived their patriotism escorted to the sidelines for the playing of the National Anthem by team players with all present on the sidelines for the flag and anthem.

To be sure, some of those Wounded Warriors will not be able to stand but certainly no one can doubt their patriotism. Let’s stop the shouting and start taking real action. Let’s show up for what we profess to believe in and take a stand… or a knee… or a wheelchair to honor the true heroes of the game of life.

 

 

 

Taking a Stand

Taking a Stand

Detours in Life

Pentecost #66-80

Mega Post #2

 

If you live in the United States, then it was very hard to escape the detour in concentration regarding nationally televised professional football games recently.  The focus has, quite simply, been detoured from sports and centered on actions, taken or not taken, during the playing of the National Anthem.  The speed with which this occurred, stemming from the actions of one player almost one year ago, would give a marketing specialist reason to take notice.  Rather than it being something that occurs without much forethought at the start of each game, those ninety-four seconds of the national Anthem  suddenly became the most talked about action of the games.

 

The National Anthem of the United States should, if played and sung in its entirety, take over five minutes but seldom are all four verses sung.  Most deem it too lengthy and so, only the first verse is played or sung at games.  At the time he penned the verses of his poem, Francis Scott Key was aboard an English ship during the War of 1812, attempting to broker a peaceful resolution.  As he stood on board in the harbor of Baltimore a prisoner of war amid the ammunition being volleyed by both sides, he wondered which flag would be waving victorious at dawn.  He called his poem “Defiance of Fort McHenry”.  The words were later put to a tune composed by John Stafford Smith.  Most people only know of Francis Scott Keys and few, if any, know of John Stafford Smith. 

 

John Stafford Smith was a British composer and church organist.  His song “The Anacreontic Song” became the melody for the new nation’s anthem which was not officially adopted as the national anthem until 1931.  You might be curious as to the irony of a song of spirit to encourage independence being composed by a member of the enemy country.  It is a rather interesting detour.  John Stafford Smith belonged to the Anacreon Society, a group of amateur musicians who were bonded by their love of music.  The name of their society came from the name of a Greek poet known for his drinking songs and hymns.  The young nation was a group of amateur politicians – many simple farmers elected by their neighbors to defend their rights.  Few had served in the British Parliament so the appeal of another amateur group is certainly understandable.

 

In the fourth verse of Francis Scott Keys’ poem is the line “free men shall stand between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.”  It should be noted that only someone white (Caucasian or of European descent), male and over the age of 21 could be considered a “free man”.  This is the only place in a legal document that mentions standing in connection to the National Anthem, by the way.  There are codes of conduct and protocol for the playing of the anthem as well as showing respect for the flag of the USA but standing is never nor has it ever been a requirement.

 

During the 2016-17 professional football season a player became distraught over the way he perceived people of color were being treated and how the disproportionate number of their deaths was being ignored.  He wanted to pay tribute to these American citizens that he felt were being forgotten.  Out of respect he did what many in Congress do at official meetings during the playing of the National Anthem – he sat down.   A team player noticed this and after much discussion together, the player decided to kneel instead of sitting.  His sitting was never noticed but his kneeling was and it created a media storm that has escalated over the past ten months to the past ten days, in part because of a politician who needed something to get a crowd interested.  In a state with more football championships than most and no professional teams, he highlighted this player’s actions in a negative light.

 

To fully understand the rights of the American citizen and just who is considered an American citizenship who would be expected to show respect to the National Anthem, we need to look at a timeline of citizenship.  In the beginning a citizen had to be male and own property to vote.  In 1791 this was changed to all white males so that they could vote even if they did not own property.  In 1795 free white persons could become citizens after living in the U.S. for five years but still only men could vote.  In 1848 approximately 80,000 Mexican residents of the Southwest were granted citizenship after the Mexican-American war.  In 1857, because of the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that African Americans who were brought into this country as slaves could never be citizens.   Please read that last sentence again because many do not realize a specific law denied forever these victims of slavery from becoming US citizens.

 

In 1868 the 14th Amendment overruled the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, giving citizenship to African   Americans.   Citizenship did not, however, mean they could vote.  Still only white males could vote.  In 1870 laws were changed to say that white persons and persons of African descent could be citizens and the 15th Amendment gave African American males the right to vote.  In 1913 California and other states enacted the Alien Land Laws which prohibited non-citizens from owning property.   In 1920 the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote.  Then, in 1924, all Native Americans were granted citizenship; most states prohibited them from voting, however.  During the 1940’s, all laws banning Asians from becoming citizens were overturned.   In 1947 Native Americans were given the right to vote but many states put obstacles such as literacy tests in their path and many were unable to vote. 

 

In 1965 Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march to protest lack of voting rights, and the Voting Rights Act was enacted to get rid of all barriers to voting (literacy tests, taxes, etc.).   The last change to citizenship and voting laws occurred in 1971 when the voting age was changed to 18 by the 26th Amendment.  It should be recognized that the Voting Rights Act did not just benefit African Americans.  Finally, all people of color were to be treated as equals.

 

Corrie Ten Bloom once asked:  “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”  Many consider the most devout evidence of prayer to be kneeling.  In the earliest churches, prayer was done most solemnly when the person praying was prone.  In mosques worldwide, men pray in a semi-reclining position, on their knees with the torso laying outward and down.  Many churches of a historic episcopate use kneelers in their churches and people pray as a sign of devotion and obedience.

 

Last week many teams took to their knees; others stood solemnly with arms joined.  It was the first time in my life I had seen entire teams show respect while the National Anthem was played.  It should be noted that no stadium closes its concession stands during the playing of the National Anthem.  Public restrooms remain open as do ticket agents and sports memorabilia stands.

 

Showing patriotism is much more that simply wearing a red, white, and blue outfit or combining stars with stripes.  Wednesday we will discuss Corrie Ten Bloom and how a respectful Christian came to be detoured to a concentration camp during WWII.  For now, I ask you to ponder her query.    I hope the respectful action of one professional football player has become your own personal steering wheel in thinking about your own patriotism and how it is displayed.  Loyalty to the concept of freedom for all and those who teach it, protect it, and live it certainly deserves much more than merely being derailed by some politician’s spare hot air.

Resilience versus Weakened

Resilience Vs Weakened

Detours in Life

Pentecost 46-65 Mega Post

 

Travel south in Interstate 65 between Birmingham and Montgomery and you pass through history.  It is a trail of civil rights and farmers and if you happen to get stuck in a repaving project, you might find yourself detoured through the town of Prattville. 

 

Most people have few positive thoughts regarding the state of Alabama unless you are talking football.  At first glance, it appear as if the detour would confirm those negative thoughts.  Prattville comes across as a sleepy little rural town where dust hangs in the air and farming is the mainstay of life.  Detours afford us a chance to rethink and Prattville is certainly much more than just cornfields.  This coming month, for example, there will be a fall pops concert, an art walk, and a community trick or treat opportunity for children to participate in centuries-old traditions safely. 

 

What might not be quite so evident as you follow your detour back to the mainstream of society if that Prattville, Alabama is a member of the International Association of Character Cities.  Each month a different character trait is emphasized.  Additionally, citizens are encouraged to recognize that character begins with the individual.  There is a pledge to take as well:  “I pledge to… to practice the character quality of the month; to take the high road, the higher thought, the kinder word, and the best action in my daily life; to uphold what is true, right and just; to be a model of good character for those around me to operate with honesty and integrity in my dealings with others, and; to do my part to make the Autauga County and all its communities, including Prattville and surrounding cities, communities of good character where individuals and families are strong; homes and streets are safe; education is effective; business is productive; and citizens care for one another.”

 

September’s trait is resilience and that is often needed as we confront life’s detours.  Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.  Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, the resilient person will find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and continue.  Resilient people do not see detours as a roadblock or dead end.  They dee detours as a lesson and move forward, equipped with the new knowledge their detour has offered them.

 

 Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell has written extensively on the topic of resiliency.  “Over 100 years ago, the great African American educator Booker T. Washington spoke about resilience when he said, “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed.”  Research has since established resilience as essential for human thriving, an ability necessary for the development of healthy, adaptable young people. It’s what enables children to emerge from challenging experiences with a positive sense of themselves and their futures. Children who develop resilience are better able to face disappointment, learn from failure, cope with loss, and adapt to change. We recognize resilience in children when we observe their determination, grit, and perseverance to tackle problems and cope with the emotional challenges of school and life.

 

“Resilience is not a genetic trait. It is derived from the ways children learn to think and act when they are faced with obstacles, large and small. The road to resilience comes first and foremost from children’s supportive relationships with parents, teachers, and other caring adults. These relationships become sources of strength when children work through stressful situations and painful emotions. When we help young people cultivate an approach to life that views obstacles as a critical part of success, we help them develop resilience.  

 

“Many teachers are familiar with Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s important work with growth mindsets—a way of thinking that helps children connect growth with hard work and perseverance. Educator David Hochheiser wisely reminds us that developing growth mindsets is a paradigm for children’s life success rather than a pedagogical tool to improve grades or short-term goals. Simply put, it’s a way of helping children believe in themselves—often the greatest gift teachers give to their students.

 

“The ability to meet and overcome challenges in ways that maintain or promote well-being plays an essential role in how students learn to achieve academic and personal goals. Resilient young people feel a sense of control over their own destinies. They know they can reach out to others for support when needed, and they readily take initiative to solve problems. Teachers facilitate resilience by helping children think about and consider various paths through adversity. They also help by being resources, encouraging student decision-making, and modeling resilient competencies.”

 

Simply, we illustrate our own personal resiliency by learning from the detours in our lives.

 

Really? You Seriously Expect Me to Believe That?

Really? You Expect Me to Believe That?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 44-45

 

Two years ago in the late fall, we delved into over twenty-five various religions and spiritualties.  Of recent years there has been much debate regarding religion and spiritual beliefs.  Usually it is in the form of an opposing debate: religion versus spirituality.  I always find this very interesting because the religious explanation(s) of the universe are derived from the philosophies of various spiritualties.  Today it would seem that religion and spirituality have both been detoured by politics.

 

The country of India was the beginning of many religious traditions.  The early civilizations of India all contributed their own versions interwoven with their specific cultures but most shared similar basic concepts.  Today we know these as forms of Hinduism which believes in reincarnation.  The samsara spoke of the cycles of life – birth, life, death, and rebirth.  A person’s rebirth was based upon their living a good life, our focus during Lent, and introduced moral philosophy as a basic part of religion.

 

Siddhartha Gautama was born in India during the sixth century BCE.  Better known by most of us as Buddha, he introduced the Four Noble Truths.  They included suffering, the origin of suffering, the end of suffering and the Eightfold Path to the end of suffering.  This Eightfold Path told one how to live a life of fulfillment and centered around the eight principles of right, mindfulness, right action, right intention, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, right speech, and right understanding.

 

Then the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was born and after living approximately thirty years began to spread his own version of philosophy around.  He claimed no great title or crown but neither seemed confused about life – its origins, its purposes, its ending.  He spoke of many of the same things Greek philosophers had wondered about and eastern spiritualties referenced.  Thus it is no surprise that the teachings of Christianity dominated the philosophical world in Europe through the first ten or more decades ACE.

 

Questioning was not forgotten, though.  The first noted Christian philosopher is considered to be Augustine of Hippo.  Augustine’s mother was a proud Christian but he himself at first followed Manichaeism, a Persian religion.  Intense and careful study of classical philosophy led him to his Christian beliefs, however.  He saw no divisiveness between his faith and philosophy and wrote “The City of God”.  In this book Augustine explained how one could live on an earthly place and also live in the heavenly world of what he called the kingdom of God, an idea he adapted from Plato.

 

While Augustine encouraged open thinking, he also warned against ego in one’s thinking.  “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”  All too often, we believe until it makes us uncomfortable or we believe only what we want to believe.

 

It is easy to believe in something that benefits us.  Recently one very prominent politician has been noted for saying one thing and then within twenty-four hours professed to believe something else.  The earliest statements were then said to have been said in irony and that the general public simply was not clever enough to understand.  One’s belief should be constant and steadfast, not something that wavers like a dried up cornstalk on the Kansas plain in a windstorm.

 

The true test comes when we believe in something that might not give us everything we think we want or should have.  “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.”  Augustine encouraged learning but lamented that many people saw this as an outward exercise, desiring only to learn about things and others, not themselves.  “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”

 

Taking time to study one’s self or one’s life is tough.  It truly puts the test of learning through its paces.  We are often so busy navigating life’s detours that we do not appreciate the scenery or the lesson the journey can teach us.

 

It is always much easier to see the dirt on another than on ourselves.  I remember hearing a friend remark on her recent weight gain.  Having been ill, she stayed inside recuperating.  She knew rationally that her medications could result in weight gain but really had not given it much thought, that is until she needed to dress for an outing with friends.  “I stood in front of the mirror every day, brushing my hair and teeth, putting on a robe, etc.  Yet, I never noticed I had gained weight until my “going-out” clothes did not fit when I put them on!”  From her perspective, the added weight was invisible until she had her eyes opened by a zipper that would not close.

 

Most of us know right from wrong.  We know it is wrong to drive faster than the posted speed limit but sometimes feel our reasons warrant the infraction.  Many people feel they can tell when they are inebriated.  Sadly, the statistics on deaths from drunk driving prove most people cannot tell accurately.  “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”
Life is about growing and growth comes from knowledge.  Augustine himself explained life as a journey of hope.  “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”  We cannot allow anger in all its many forms such as grief and discomfort or fear keep us from taking courage to have hope and grow, learning with each day.  After all, to quote Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”

 

Mapping the Deep

Mapping the Deep

Pentecost 43

 

French philosopher Gilles Deleuze once remarked that “Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with land surveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.”  I love that quote because it speaks to the effects of what is written today on tomorrow.  I have mentioned in the past that these blog posts are a type of theological reflection with less emphasis on the theology and more on life itself.  The final step of such a reflection involves moving forward, living tomorrow based on how one has mapped out the reflection.

 

Maps have always been of interest to me and if I lived somewhere with enough wall space I would have a map in every room.   I marvel at the earliest cartographers, those explorers and artists that took the land they were standing on and turned it into a drawing with the highest importance and meaning. 

 

I marvel at their ability to take a path well known and walked and turn it into a one dimensional drawing that others can interpret and then travel.  Recently I threw in the recycle bin several paper maps,  They were out of date and yes, I have Google maps on several devices so I did not need them but still, tossing them out was difficult. 

 

I found the algorithms used by cosmologists and physicists fascinating in mapping outer space.  Their confidence in knowing what to be positive about and what to estimate (read guess) boggles my mind.  The most talented of cartographers, however, for me must be those that map out the ocean’s floor.  They not only tell us where we are but can also tell us where our world has been and what it looked like eons ago at the beginning.

 

When you read this, no matter where you are or when you read this, an earthquake will have occurred in the past twenty-four hours.  Hurricane Maria is still churning in the Atlantic while people in Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey and people in Florida and the Caribbean deal with the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  The importance of these is understandable.  For people in the affected areas, it is an upheaval and often a matter of life and death.  For the rest of us, though, we tend to forget about them.  We should be ashamed of ourselves.

 

Earthquakes are the world’s biggest makeover show, a reality program by every definition possible.  Earthquakes have created and changed and created again much of the world we know today.  And yet, the Teutonic plates and their movement which create the earthquakes was never fully mapped out until the mid-1900’s and yes, it was co-mapped by a woman.

 

Maria Tharp first earned degrees in music and English before getting graduate degrees in geology and mathematics.  She was hired as a geologist and typical to members of her gender, given mostly desk work.  Hired at the Lamont Geological Observatory at Columbia University, Maria could not go out on ships to obtain the necessary data used in attempts to locate downed aircraft.  She worked with coworker Bruce Heezen using photographic data.  For the next eighteen years, Heezen would go out on a ship while Tharp stayed in the office.  Women were not allowed on the Observatory’s ship so Heezen collected the data and then Tharp would map it out.  This was the first systematic attempt to map the ocean floor.

 

Tharp’s maps gave much credence to theories that North and South America were once connected to Europe and Africa.  The mapping of Teutonic plates and the puzzle pieces of the continents that became one big continent based upon such oceanographic data has helped to explain the similarities of flora and fauna as well as bacteria found in differing parts of the western and eastern hemispheres.

 

In 2009 Maria Tharp’s Historical Map layer became a part of Ocean in Google Earth so you can check out her cartographic ability yourself.  It is simply fascinating.  Maria Tharp knew the importance of maps.  They represent our living, our past, and our future destinations. 

 

Detours take us off the beaten path.  They create a sense of chaos and inner turmoil because we find ourselves suddenly without a map for our living.  Maria Tharp knew how to navigate the detours caused by gender discrimination.  She made the best of her situation and navigated the world, creating the maps that we still use today, maps that help us navigate not only the familiar paths but also the detours.

 

Life is about doing just that.  Each of us will at some point find our life shaken to its core, an earthquake not of geological proportions but one of emotional or professional disorder and/or confusion.  At some time the tides of life will flood us to the point we doubt our ability to continue.  Life is a puzzle at times but we all have the power to solve and carry on.  Life is a journey, full of detours.  Where will you go today?