A New Beginning

And so we begin …

2017 in review

Advent 1-3

 

This blog is organized into the liturgical season of the Christian calendar and so while December is the last month of most calendars; it represents the beginning of the church calendar.  Advent means coming and it is a season of preparation.  It is, though, also a season of review.  Many find this conflicting but for me, it makes sense.  We cannot prepare for the future if we do not review where we have been and learn from the past.

 

This Advent we will review the topics and some posts from 2017, beginning with the very first post from Advent 2016.  Advent 2016 was a blog series about grace, a commodity of which there is precious little in our world.  Oddly enough, grace is one of those words that, although simplistic in its form and spelling, it really rather complicated with multiple meanings.  My first post on grace rather summed it up.  Entitled “O.M.H”, it discussed our human nature and why we need something like grace. 

 

I began by discussing a presentation from June 20, 2011 when filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg gave a TED talk on gratitude.  For the past twenty years, people all over the world have given and listened to oral presentations sponsored by TED, a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of these short, powerful talks. It began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 110 languages. TEDx events are independently operated local presentations that help share ideas in communities around the world.

 

Schwartzberg employed his skills as a filmmaker and previewed two interviews for an upcoming project of his entitled “Happiness Revealed” in the particular discussion on gratitude.  As he introduced the brief filmed interviews which featured the stunning time-lapse photography of nature that he is known for, he used a popular slang term – “O.M.G.”.

 

In English this popular acronym stands for “Oh my God” and is used both pleasantly and in shock and horror by people of all ages.  Little children are shown on commercials seeing a new bicycle for the time screaming it much the same of older people appear on camera to say it when surprised.  Schwartzberg, however, did not use it in a trendy fashion.  He explained it.  He asked his listeners to think about what they were saying and hearing and gave one beautiful explanation.

 

“Have you ever wondered what that [O.M.G.] meant? The “oh” means it caught your attention, makes you present, makes you mindful. The “my” means it connects with something deep inside your soul. It creates a gateway for your inner voice to rise up and be heard.  And “God”?  God is that personal journey we all want to be on, to be inspired, to feel like we’re connected to a universe that celebrates life.”

 

I discussed how Advent is a liturgical season which captures our attention.  The first season on the liturgical calendar, Advent is the “oh”, a season whose purpose is to grab our attention.  It is the new beginning on such a calendar, the season that ushers in a new year and because of this, we are encouraged to be present and mindful of what we believe and how what we do, think, say, and act conveys those beliefs. 

 

Even if you do not believe in Advent, everything you do illustrates who you are, what you believe, and how you live.  The “my” when we utter it connects us and who we are to the present, to what is happening right in front of us or what we have heard about happening somewhere else.  When we hear of six children dying in a senseless school bus crash and say “O.M.G.”, we are connecting to the pain that must be felt by their families.  Saying it in shock as yet another terrorist action takes place or a natural disaster is experienced, does indeed as Schwartzberg explains “creates a gateway for your inner voice to rise up and be heard.”

 

Over the past almost four years that I have been writing this blog, we have discussed sacred spaces and holy creation stories as well as mythologies that are not perhaps quite so holy.  This blog is read in over forty-three countries and I have delighted in hearing from a diverse group of people.  That is why I truly respect and adore the definition Schwartzberg, considered one of the best naturalist cinematographical artists ever, give to the “g”, the “God!” in this colloquialism. 

 

“God is that personal journey we all want to be on, to be inspired, to feel like we’re connected to a universe that celebrates life,” Louis Schwartzberg explains.  Whether you consider yourself to be religious or spiritual, atheist or Buddhist, young or old, we are indeed all on a personal journey.  We do all want life to inspire us and yes, even the most hardened curmudgeon desires connection to the universe.

 

During Advent 2016, the beginning of the liturgical 2017 year, we discussed a commonly held concept in the entire world.  It is a concept that gives life to how we explain the beauty of a butterfly dancing through the air as well as the kindness of a stranger.  It is the one action that connects us to each other when we experience it, that illustrates our own personal journey, which takes us out of the basement of the everyday and creates something very similar to a miracle made by humans.  It is grace.

 

Grace is a word that most of us have heard used in a variety of ways.  Some claim it is, as a concept and undeserving gift, the foundation of the Bible and explaining it is what the Bible exists to do.  Others use it as an adjective to describe action of movement.  In the next twenty=eight days we will explore all its definitions and yes, there are many.

 

The word ‘grace” has its history in twelfth century Middle English dialect.  It was derived from the Anglo-French and as a romance language, taken from the Latin “grati” meaning a favor, charm, or thanks, and also from the Latin “gratus” which meant pleasing or grateful.  All were considered akin to the Sanskrit “gṛṇāti” which translates as “he praises”.  In Hebrew grace is “chen” from a root word “chanan” which is defined as “to bend or stoop in kindness to another as a superior to an inferior”.  In Greek “charis” is the word for grace and is refers to a “graciousness in manner or action, derived from the root word “chairo” which meant “to be cheerful, happy”.

 

All of our modern-day definitions for the word “grace” illustrate its varied etymology and all are correct.  Grace has, in all its manifestations, one common element – the human experience.  And so, out title today is a derivation on that popular slang term Louis Schwartzberg so wonderfully described.  In our discussion of grace we will, hopefully become attentive to how we live it and connect it to each other, making it “O.M.H.” – “Oh, my human.” 

 

You see, grace is something we all would like to share and without remembering our human connection to each other, we will fall short of that wish.  Regardless of your age, condition, belief system or lack thereof, grace is still salvation from the human condition that we all need, not only to survive but to thrive.  Today truly is the first day of the rest of our lives, the advent of our living! 

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Come to the Party!

Come to the Party

Lent 41-43

 

Our lives are like a puzzle.  Each day, each event, each sorrow, each joy – all are pieces of this puzzle we call our life.  Sorting out the pieces would be an impossible task if we encountered them all at once.  Fortunately, each piece is revealed much like a treasure map or the clues on a scavenger hunt.

 

During this series we have been discussing life from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes.  Someone asked me to summarize this series in one sentence.  My answer is a quote from Marty Rubin:  “Drink freely the wine life offers you and don’t worry how much you spill.”

 

We need to celebrate being alive.  All too often we find ourselves competing with others.  Life is not a race; it is a pace.  We should spend our time realizing that our being is a gift and celebrate the party that is our life.  So if we are going to consider our lives a party, how do we live that?

 

Every good party planner will tell you that the first step in having a successful party is the invitation list.  Most of us do not have the ability to control everyone who enters our life.  We can and should make sure that we ourselves come to the party that is our life.  We need to be present in our living.  Kevyn Aucoin explains how to do this.  “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”

 

Next in party planning comes the actual planning.  We need to awaken and give thanks for having done so.  Then we need to proceed with a purpose, a plan if you will on our living.  This might include some religious or spiritual aspects but it certainly must involve respect and compassion as well as courtesy toward others.  Essential to every good party is lining up any needed help.  No one goes through life without some help from another.  We need to be confident and reach out to others for assistance.  There is no shame and everything to gain when we recognize this.

 

Crucial to a celebration is having the space to celebrate.  Whether the party is at home or at a rented venue, clearing out space to gather and be merry.  The same is true for our lives.  We need to take the time to declutter, both literally and figuratively.  Next on my to-do list for a successful party is the item “set the stage”.  All too often we forget to set ourselves up for success.  Whether it is by getting the proper education and training or simply putting on a happy face and having a positive attitude, we need to prepare to be the best we possibly can.

 

This week is celebrated by Christians as the last big party and the sentencing and crucifixion of the man known as Jesus.  This year, Jewish people are also celebrating Passover this week, a time of great meaning for them.   In their own way, both holidays celebrate freedom and atonement.  They remind us to forgive ourselves and to forgive others.  To fail to do so is to deny one the joy of living.

 

One of my favorite life quotes is one said by Auliq Ice:  “Laughter is like a windshield wiper, it doesn’t stop the rain but allows us to keep going.”  I think in their own way, the Beatitudes tell us the same thing.  We will encounter negativity in our lives.  That is inevitable.  However, with faith and determination as our windshield wipers, we can use them as lessons to keep going and celebrate the living our life is.  When we decide to come to the party of life, great things are bound to happen and we will truly be free to find joy in our being.

 

 

 

Rocky Road

Rocky Road

Lent 33

 

“If the Creator sends you down a stony path, may He/She give you strong shoes.”  This old Irish blessing has changed throughout the centuries but from the Celtic to the Gaelic to the Romans who invaded, they all believed in something greater than mere mortals.  They also believed in the obstacles of life having solutions.

 

As we think about cause and effect, we need to also consider how we, in our actions and by our thoughts, affect both.  In the ebb and flow of life, one effect not only affects another, it often leads to it.  Cause and effect, a summary of the Beatitudes for which this particular series is based, is the basis for most research.  Inquiry, examination, and study is how we learn, discover, and sometimes predict not only the future but also the past.  Determining and evaluating is not easy, though.  Neither is a true cause and effect relationship, efforts to establish such and to prove such. 

 

Far too often in life we find ourselves feeling the victim, usually of others.  We are seldom able to control the actions of even influence the behavior of others.  What we can do, however, is change what we do.  This can make a difference in our own lives. 

 

Simply put, a cause is why an event happened.  The effect is an event that results from said cuase.  Sounds pretty simple and straight forward, right?  Think again.  It is true that examining cause and effect will allow us to identify patterns and explain life events but we must be objective and that is hard to do.  We also must consider our own actions.  Can they be a cause for our personal misery?  Is it possible to be a victim of ourselves?  Of course, the answer is yes.  We are, many times, our own worst enemy.

 

One of the greatest lessons for me from the Beatitudes is that the effect of each cause is a lesson.  The events in our lives are not a judgement or a life sentence.  They are simply one page ot of the book of our lives, a page that serves as a lesson for tomorrow’s living.  With hope we can create strength from our experiences to help us navigate whatever rocky roads we might encounter.  The story is ours to write as we climb the hills of life

 

 

Love

Love

Epiphany 40

 

Today is, if I have scheduled these post correctly, not just the fortieth day in the season known as Epiphany, it is also Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day is, in many locations on and off this planet, the day for celebrating love.  Love truly is a verb although we tend to think of it only as a noun.  During this series we are discussing verbs and the actions they represent, actions that might make our lives a bit better.  On this day is there a better time to remember that love is a verb, something we can do and just hope to receive?  Can living better really be as simple as loving better?   After all, as one 1960’s popular song advised, “all you need is love.”

 

The man who would become known as Saint Valentine, in whose honor gifts and cards are given on this day in the name of love, is considered a third century Saint and yet, his Saint Day does not appear on the Roman Catholic’s Church’s General Calendar and when this Saint Day was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I the man known as Saint Valentine was among all those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”

 

Historians now believe there were actually three Valentines.  Being a common name which meant powerful, one of these men named Valentine was a Roman priest, another the bishop of Interamna now known as modern Terni in Italy.   Both are buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city. The third is said to be a saint who suffered on the same day with a number of companions in the Roman province of Africa, and nothing else is known of his life.

 

Love seems to be just as elusive and illusionary as the holiday.  While the day celebrates our love for each other, we first must love ourselves before sharing love.  In order to do that, we need to go back a couple of days to the blog post entitled “Befriend” and become our own best friend.  We all have that voice of conscious in our heads and that voice can be a positive thing at times.  However, friends not only remind you when you stray off your chosen path, they also build you up and our inner voice needs to that friend as well. 

 

Environment should not be overlooked.  “Location, location, location” is a popular phrase in real estate but it is true for our own self-love as well.  We need positive people in our lives, not depressed, envious people who only destroy any sense of positive self-love we might possess.  We need to walk through supportive friends in our daily living, friends that will help us formulate and then build our vision for the rest of our lives.  This is the only way to make our dreams become a reality.

 

We need to live authentically and truly live what we are inside.  This means developing a plan and then following it to achieve our dreams.  It also means giving ourselves time and space to accomplish those goals and dreams.  Declutter your life and clean up your life – throw away the baggage from the past to make room for the future.  Making our bodies and our home space a priority is actually a luxury but even in dire circumstances, it can happen.  A refugee camp showed people living in tents made from discarded clothing.  In one such tent some string had been strung with metal bottle caps hanging.  Even in this environment of misery and uncertainty, the breeze would turn this string and metal trash into a wind chime, a respite for all within hearing distance.

 

The human spirit should be celebrated every day but on this day in which we take time to share love, remember to love your own self.  “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  Martin Luther King was speaking not only to the crowd before him but to each individual about their own life. 

 

I wish love to you all, both for another person but also of yourself.  Educator Dr. William Purkey gave us the best lesson plan for doing this:  “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching.  Love like you’ll never be hurt.  Sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.”

 

 

Loving Tomorrow

Loving Tomorrow

Pentecost

 

One cannot try to decipher life or think about life without, at some point, coming to the topic of love.  Aristotle asked:  “”To the query, in the same text, “What is love?”  What is life without love? Love is like the sun; without light, there’s no life.” 

 

Augustine of Hyppo thought of love as the impetus for verbs, the motive behind an action. “Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”

 

Leonard Cohen saw love as that one thing transformed an ordinary human being into a saint.   “What is a saint? He queried.  His response:  “A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world.  He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.”

 

Plato also saw love as a motivating force.  “Love will make men dare to die for their beloved—love alone; and women as well as men.”  So is love the mover, the saver, or that one thing that could possibly lead us willingly to our death?  Is it a sense?  Do we feel it, see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, or is it just a figment of our imagination, a pleasant story we tell ourselves to give credence to our actions?

 

The Greek Empedocles who lived in the fifth century BCE called Eros, the Greek god of love and desire, a force that bound the world together.   With Plato’s “Symposium”, love was divided into three parts, a description that has remained in the time that followed him.  The first description of love consisted of two parts – one rational, and the other based upon and exciting desire.  The second was based upon Aristophanes’ belief of the beginning of mankind as the splitting of an atom.  He saw man and woman as the splitting of an original whole.  Freud also utilized this theory in his theory of repetition compulsion: “everything about these primeval men was double: they had four hands and four feet, two faces.”  The third was built upon Plato’s sublimation theory of love:  “mounting upwards…from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty”.

 

With Aristotle, love became the parent of friendship on which he placed greater importance.  Cicero spoke of the delineation of love as coming from friendship.  Some classical writers might have praised the goddesses of love but most simply criticized the lovesick.  In the twelfth century, based upon literature and Islamic influences, came the notion of a courtly love and with Petrarch would come the romantic love the modern world knows.

 

But what does it truly mean to love?  Where did it come from?  How do we decide what it is that we love?  What does it not always last?  For many, love is a temporary state of being, a fickle emotion that blows both hot and cold but never stays around for long.  For others, love is as lasting as their life. 

 

Today I hope you simply love.  Feel the warmth of it on your face, the comfort of it enfolding you, the strength of it moving you forward.  Today let love propel you forward in your living, in your laying the foundation for a better tomorrow.  Love is not about great riches or huge accomplishments, trophies or possessions.  Love is about sharing and making someone’s today the perfect introduction for a better tomorrow.

 

 

You Are the First Step

You Are the First Step

Pentecost 183

 

Recently a great deal of the rhetoric has been about “I”.  One person claims to have all the answers while another says they voted to protect themselves.  The ego or “I” is the conscious self so it is not unnatural that we would consider it in most things.  The problem is that the “I” is not the only living entity on the planet.  There is also a “You” and “We”. 

 

The word affect is a verb, grammatically speaking, in the English language.  Basically it means to have an impact on something or someone.  In writing this blog I am hoping to affect your thinking and encourage you to do something positive to benefit all of us, the family of mankind.  Since a verb is an action word, to affect something or someone is to bring about change.

 

Effect is most commonly used as a noun, the result of an action or, as we just discussed, a thought process.  While I am encouraging you to affect someone in this series by positive action, the intent is that your actions will create a productive effect or result.  “Affect” refers to the doing; “Effect” denotes the end result of that doing or action. 

 

Effect also can be defined in another way.  It can also mean someone’s personal belongings.  This might seem confusing and yes, it can be but I like that effect is both the result and the possession.  It encourages us to be accountable for our actions.  No one is going to score a perfect rating on our actions.  We all make mistakes.  This is where thinking positive can keep us from letting past actions become a future death sentence.  Thinking positive people also have lower blood pressure and sleep better.

 

Today the first step you should take is to think positively.  Negative thinking narrows one’s field of vision.  Imagine yourself swimming in the shallow waters of a beautiful ocean resort.  Suddenly someone cries “Shark!”  You no longer are focused on the rest of the people on the beach but only on getting yourself out of the water.  This is a healthy instinct of self-preservation but your focus has also become extremely self-centered. 

 

Positive emotions help us to broaden our field of vision and imagine what is possible instead of seeing only the negative and dire outcomes.  Maybe yesterday really was the worst day of life.  Today really can be the first day of the rest of your life.  Take care of yourself and start the day off thinking of possibilities.  Share a smile with another and together you will create something extraordinary out of an ordinary facial movement.   Maybe you really don’t have time for going to the movies but take the time hurrying on your commute to notice the flowers along your path.  A healthy person can accomplish much more than one who is thinking or feeling negative.  We all have time for a smile and the first smile of the day should be a smile to you.

 

Living positively benefits the “I” and also the “We”.  To make the most of living and do what is best for “You” involves helping another.  The time for talk is over.  It is now time for action.   As Walt Whitman once said, “If you keep your face towards the sunshine, the shadows will fall behind you.”  With one ordinary affect, you will create an extraordinary effect.

 

 

 

A Better Self

A Better Self

Pentecost 148

 

This is the third part of liking ourselves and using that new-found favorable opinion of ourselves to make a difference. There are many things we can all do to create positive change.  One way is to vote.  Another is to make sure what we say truly reflects what we believe and is not just being said for humor.  Life deserves much more than a thirty second sarcastic sound bite, as one man discovered.

 

 He uses a bicycle instead of driving a car that would pollute the environment.  He takes commercial airplanes and lives modestly.  He is the youngest writer to have worked for the legendary comedian and humanitarian (his story comes later this week) Bob Hope and is the comic genius behind such movies as Evan Almighty, Bruce Almighty, Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, and others.  He has taught in colleges in California, Colorado, and Tennessee.  And once upon a time, he almost died and discovered death was no laughing matter.

 

“Facing my own death brought a sense of clarity and purpose,” Tom Shadyac told Oprah Winfrey once in an interview. “If I was, indeed, going to die, I asked myself: What did I was to say before I went? It became very simple and very clear. I wanted to tell people what I had come to know. And what I had come to know is that the world I was living in was a lie.”  Shadyac’s recuperation included starting a foundation, the Foundation for I AM.  “Ultimately, the goal of the Foundation for I AM is to help usher in a more loving, kind, compassionate, and equitable world for all.”

 

The mission of the Foundation for I Am is quite simple:  “The specific purpose of this corporation is to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of those impoverished in our society. We will use our resources to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the sick, and help heal the natural world; we will also serve those in spiritual need, those suffering from a different kind of poverty, a poverty of perspective and purpose, through educational programs and media that will foster a dialogue around the ideals of love, compassion, kindness and empathy. In addition, we will financially support existing non-profits whose work is kindred with the Foundation’s principles.” 

 

Some of the organizations and missions supported include St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital which treats and seeks cures and prevention for pediatric catastrophic diseases without charging parents for such services.  The Haven at First and Market Streets is a community service center for the homeless and very poor in Central Virginia.  The International Charity Invisible Children seeks to end the war in Uganda and the abduction of children for use as child soldiers.  The mission of The MY HERO Project is to use media, art and technology to celebrate the best of humanity one story at a time.

 

By integrating the Fine Arts and science with the needs of mankind, Shadyac offers us all a chance to redefine who we are and the opportunity to discover who each of us really is.  He reminds us that we can redefine who we are every day by the hope we live and give to others. 

 

We don’t need a big screen or even an art gallery to connect with the artistic side of our souls.  We can become donors for St Jude’s or other charities via the Internet or local contributions.  What the Foundation for I Am really does is remind us we are all connected and how we honor those connections defines that “I am”.  As we wind down our series on making the ordinary days something more, something positive, we will review just how we all can bring about a difference in life. 

 

What do you want the definition of your life to be?  How are you going to make it happen?  You are truly the master of the ship called your life.  No one can make you into something better unless you become an active part of that effort.  We should not simply follow the crowd but make informed decisions that reflect what we want our lives to be and to encompass.  A better self is possible if we work for it and that better self will lead to a better world and future.