From Victim to Victorious

From Victim to Victorious
Day 19
Lent 2019

Often to invading armies, the residents of the lands to be occupied are portrayed as potential enemies. They almost always are deemed to be threats to the continued existence of whatever regime has ordered the attack. The Romans probably had little idea of who they were conquering when they invaded Britain and Ireland. The Celtic and Druid culture centered on their pagan gods and goddesses and magic was an integral part of their beliefs, a magic that the Romans believed came not from good but evil. The Romans destroyed the Celtic and Druids’ religious sites and when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, many Britons converted.

It was to this culture that a child named Patrick was born. He was born a Roman citizen to parents Conchessa and Calpurnius. The Roman Empire extended from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean and his home was not near Rome but in the Roman British lands. As a young teen he was kidnapped and forced into child labor by pirates. The life was hard and unfair – the makings for a deep need to extract violence as payback. The exact location is disputed but we know he was an aristocrat, his family second-generation Christians. Patrick was well educated. One fateful day he and his father’s servants were taken prisoner and his life changed dramatically. In an instant he went from living a life of luxury to that of servitude and despair.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom.” The first Beatitude seems contradictory and, let’s face it, a bit defeatist. Do I have to be in dire straits to win the prize? Certainly the millions who purchase lottery tickets might argue with that reasoning since seldom do any win. I know of no other human living or deceased whose life portrays this Beatitude better than that of Patrick, the saint whose day was celebrated earlier this month.

It is said that Patrick believed “If I have any worth, it is to live my life, so as to teach these peoples, even though some of them still look down on me.” His life is often celebrated worldwide with the wearing of green, symbolic of the country from which the pirates who enslaved him sailed and the country to which he returned to share his faith and spirituality.

Patrick wrote that he saw his escape in a dream and he did indeed escape and return to his family. He did remain in Britain, however. He would return to minister to the Irish and to share his creed for living. His life remains shrouded in mystery with many things attributed to him, including the banishment of all snakes from Ireland. What is known is that in the midst of his troubles and captivity, Patrick found solace in his beliefs and faith. “I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s host to secure me against snares of devils, against temptations of vices, against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.”

You might argue that someone with such conviction was never truly “poor in spirit” and I would understand that interpretation. I would offer, nonetheless, that there were days in which Patrick sorely felt downtrodden and exhausted and in that, his physical spirit did indeed seem poor. We need to recognize that we all have those days. We also need to recognize that other people have them, too.

Patrick of Ireland, as St Patrick is often known, serves to represent to me a living testament of how, although we might be victims of another’s cause, we alone control the effect it has on us. The man known as Saint Patrick, in whose honor many have celebrated with parades and parties, wanted us all to find strength in our faith and beliefs, not mugs of beer. We truly inherit the kingdom when we live with assurance and generosity to all. We also make our own environment by how we react with positivity. We all are victims, at one time or another, of something beyond our control. With conviction, though, we can write a life story that, like Patrick’s, will be victorious, not just for ourselves but for others. When terror strikes the world, it challenges our sense of security.

Perfection and Privilege

Perfection  and Privilege

Day Six, Seven, Eight

Lent 2019

 

In the news recently there was a story about how very successful people had made an egregious, stupid error in allegedly cheating the college admissions system to get their offspring into colleges that are considered some of the best in the land.  People at the top of their field had colluded with others also at the top of their fields to cheat the system.  Does this mean that they disliked and distrusted their seemingly perfect lives or is it simply that they themselves doubt their own self-worth or that of their children?

 

This may come as a shock (insert laugh) but I am not perfect.  I am not the most beautiful person on earth or the smartest.  I am, in short, just an ordinary human living among other ordinary people and  I think that is glorious.  We often think of self-love as striving for perfection.  Loving one’s self is simply accepting our humanness and hoping to improve our humanity.  Alexander Pope said “To err is human”.  It might just be the single most important sentence in our human development.  Few would argue with Pope and yet, we often forget that one simple sentence.  We spend our personal reflections hung up on self-criticism.  It may seem like we are trying to better ourselves but by focusing on self-criticism, we simply are living self-defeat.

 

I sincerely hope this does not come as further shock to you but you are not perfect either.  Once we accept that one fact, then we are free to grow and flourish, to bloom in our life’s garden.  In an essay published on Psychology Today’s website, Dr. Emma M. Seppala stated the dangers of being overly critical with ourselves.  “[Self-criticism] keeps you focused on what’s wrong with you, thereby decreasing your confidence.  It makes you afraid of failure which hurts your performance, makes you give up more easily, and leads to poor decision-making.  It makes you less resilient in the face of failure and also less likely to learn from mistakes.”

 

Research illustrates how we can become our own worst enemy.  Men and women respond differently to unsuccessful ventures.  Men tend to blame circumstances while women look inward.  Let’s be honest.  Sometimes it is someone or something else that is affecting our success and sometimes it is us.  However, how we respond, regardless of the cause, determines our self-love.  We all have a little voice in our head that talks to us.  Whether you call it a conscience or the echo of a parent, self-talk is a very common phenomenon.  It can be very productive but it can also be destructive.  Do you talk to yourself that same way you talk to your best friend?  Most of us don’t. 

 

Self-compassion is a seldom heard and even less seldom used device for increasing self-love.  Self-love and feeling self-worth is not based upon perfection.  None of us are perfect.  It is based on treating ourselves as a friend.  Researcher Kristin Neff believes self-compassion is the key ingredient towards developing resiliency, a trait I believe imperative to surviving life.  Neff suggests writing a letter to ourselves in times where we think we have made huge errors.  She herself as a personal mantra for those periods of high stress in which self-love is not present:  “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment; may I give myself the compassion I need.”

 

Kindness to one’s self is another great tool for improving our feelings of self-love and self-worth.    All too often we spend our time trying to achieve material success while losing sight of the need for creating the soul’s success.  Our inner voice needs to be loving and encouraging, not overly critical.  Stress is not fertilizer that helps us grow.  Once the challenge of stress is met, it can provide some benefits but only if we apply our success, let our inner voice applaud us instead of berating us.

 

Much of the discussion regarding the college entrance scandal has centered on the unfairness children of privilege have in the current system.  If we are to be honest, most of us forget the very basic constructs of our faith in believing people of privilege have an unfair advantage in everything.  I do not come from privilege and I live each day wondering how to pay for the next one.  Yet, our doctrine tells me that I also am a person of privilege – the privilege of being God’s own. 

 

When we accept Alexander Pope’s simple sentence, “To err is human”, and I mean really accept it, then we can blossom and grow internally and in life.  There is a reason we say the general confession – we are not perfect.  Developing self-compassion leads to accepting ourselves for who we are and what we can become.  Once we do that we can then accept others and move the world forward in love.  The potential of each human being is endless!  Self-esteem tends to focus on performance and none of us are going to perform perfectly in all settings in all situations for all times.  Our potential to love, though, is as endless as God’s grace.

 

Perfection is highly overrated.  Life is not about being perfect.  The best life is the one lived with acceptance and joy, the one based not upon the world’s definition of living but upon doing what makes you happy and shares God’s love with others.  We are successful when we pursue what has meaning for us.  Each day is a journey.  Walk your steps today with self-acceptance and show yourself some self-compassion if you stumble.  After all, to err is human but to get back up and try again, trusting in God’s promise… That’s being successful.

 

Dare

Dare

2019.01.01

12 Days of Kindness

 

It is an old colloquialism. “Milking” someone means to con them out of something. In the song “Twelve Days of Christmas”, day eight is “eight maids a milking”. While it is doubtful that this is what the song means, eight maidens going about conning people out of their possessions or money, it is quite fitting if you live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For it is on this day eight of Christmas tide, this celebration of the New Year, that people participate in what is called the oldest American folk tradition still in existence – being a Mummer!

 

The Christian calendar has December 21st as the feast of St Thomas and to commemorate it, people went about collecting money for charity. Prior to that, the poor would stand outside the wealthy landowner’s house begging for a bit of starter for their Christmas or plum puddings. The puddings were more a wheat porridge with things added such as fruit or meat suet since most poor people could only obtain the discarded part of the meat. Over time fermenters were added to prolong the shelf life of the pudding and plums were replaced by the more affordable and available raisins.

 

The first president of the United States of America George Washington supported the tradition of mummers, groups who by this time had evolved into charitable carolers who celebrated the joy of the season of Christmastide and showed love for their fellow man by collecting things given to the less fortunate. Today this tradition continues in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania every New Year’s Day. The Mummer’s Day Parade is not just a time of festivities amid the bleak winter horizon. It is a joining of cultures and traditions.

 

In Ireland mummers were often seen on St Stephen’s Day or December 26th. Groups of young men had adapted the custom begun by children in going about and singing. Once children had wandered the streets, begging for a cup of hot wassail and perhaps an apple but now groups of young men would stand outside a home a sing until given a “donation”. History records that, since their singing was not always harmonious, money was sometimes given just to make them continue on to the next house. These carolers became mummers as Swedish, African, German, and the Anglican customs were all joined together in the new colonies and later the new country on the first day of the New Year.

 

“Here we stand before your door; As we stood the year before; Give us whiskey, give us gin; Open the door and let us in! Or give us something nice and hot; Like a steaming hot bowl of pepper pot!” The modern mummer is from age fifteen to eighty. Instruments never seen in a marching band, like a baritone sax, stringed instruments, or the accordion, are found in a mummer’s parade. Brightly garish costumes are made by groups who consider it a part of their patriotism as well as human benevolence. Like many things, the official Mummer’s Day Parade fell victim to harsh economic times itself but, in true mummer tradition, it also has been saved by the joining of strangers to help out a good cause.

 

When the winter winds are blowing cold, it is a good time to remember that no matter our faith or belief system, it helps us to help others. The goodwill on the streets of Philadelphia, the city known for “brotherly love”, on New Year’s Day is evidence of the hope that exists in the world. It is always a good day to be a mummer – to reach out and help others while reveling in the joy of life. There is no better way to celebrate a new year’s dawn than to be joyful and show love for one’s fellow beings on earth.

 

It takes courage to dare to show such kindness, though.  This post is being posted a day late because I thought I should not challenge you on the first day of the New Year 2019.  Life itself is sometimes its own challenge.    Throughout the past days I have challenged you, though, to participate in twelve days of kindness.  Today, on the eighth day of our twelve days, I give you this challenge:  Dare to be kind.  You can select the manner and format but ….Be kind, please.  Accept the dare and show someone a bit of kindness that we all crave and yes, need.  Dare to be the one who is kind.

 

Erik Larson

Erik Larson

2018.08.23

Literature and Life

 

Despite many attempts to make it so, life is not black and white.  We live in the shadows and no author portrays this so well than our featured author for today and his favorite author.  Erik Larson describes himself as a journalist who has also written nonfiction books.   Larson has written a number of books, mostly historical nonfiction. In a 2016 interview with the Knoxville Mercury, Larson stated he does all of his own research, asking, “Why should I let anybody else have that fun?” He also rejected the idea of trying to imagine or take factual liberties with scenes and conversations from the past, stating that in his work, “anything that appears in quote is something that came from a historical document.” He included among his literary inspirations David McCullough, Barbara Tuchman, David Halberstam, and Walter Lord.

 

Larson calls “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett his all-time favorite book.  “I love this book, all of it: the plot, the dialogue, much of which was lifted verbatim by John Huston for his screenplay for the beloved movie of the same name.  [The film was shot in film noir style – black and white.]  The single best monologue in fiction appears toward the end, when Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy why he’s giving her to the police.”

 

Larson is also an avid reader.  “I’m very perverse.  If someone tells me I have to read a book, I’m instantly disinclined to do so…. Reading is such a personal thing to me.  I’d much rather give someone a gift certificate to a bookstore, and let that [person choose his or her own books.”  Larson says he never starts a book with great intentions but rather a blank slate.  The one difference might be his writings on H. H. Holmes, Chicago serial killer around the turn of the 20th century.

 

In an interview for Bookpage with Alden Mudge, Larson explained how he stumbled across the gruesome particulars of Chicago serial killer Herman W. Mudgett, alias Dr. H. H. Holmes.  “I was suitably horrified,” Larson recalls from the comfort and safety of his home in Seattle, where he lives with his wife, Christine Gleason, M.D., head of the neonatology department at the University of Washington medical school, and their three daughters. “I actually read a little more about Holmes,” Larson says, “and then decided that he was a kind of slasher and that I wasn’t that interested.”   Instead, Larson tracked another small detail that played a bit part in another Gilded Age murder mystery. [This] led him to begin reading about the big Galveston hurricane of 1900. [That] resulted in Larson’s thrilling 1999 best-selling narrative of that catastrophe, Isaac’s Storm, which proved to be a turning point.

 

According to Larson, although he had always known he wanted to write books, he approached a book-writing career obliquely. After college he got a job as a gofer in a publishing house and “convinced myself that I was actually kind of writing because I was working in publishing.” Next he made the mistake of seeing the movie All the President’s Men and “decided that’s what I want to do: bring down a president.” Unsure of his exact course toward that end, he determined to let fate rule, so he applied to only one journalism school. He got in. Eventually, he took a job with the Wall Street Journal, reluctantly accepted a transfer to San Francisco, where he met the woman who would become his wife, then a day after marrying her, moved with her to Baltimore where she had been hired by Johns Hopkins University. “I was going to write novels,” Larson says, “but once again I took the oblique path and freelanced.”

 

Larson has taught non-fiction writing courses at San Francisco State University, Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, and the University of Oregon.  He work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, where he is still a contributing writer. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and other publications. 

 

 

The Guilt of Missed Connections

The Guilt of Missed Connections

June 19, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

Today I saw a neighbor at the local branch library.  She mentioned that the husband of another neighbor had passed away two months ago.  The couple in question had just purchased a house on our street and had not even moved in a great deal of furniture.  It was still very sad to think that we had all seen this woman walking her dog each morning and had never really connected.  If not for a family member who lived in the next block we would never had known of the death of her spouse, a man who had only visited their new home once since its purchase.

 

When is the last time you looked at your Facebook friends list?  I mean, really looked at it and thought about each name listed.  We all have those friends whose name does not ring a bell.  “Who is this?” we wonder.  “How did I become friends with them?”  I am as guilty as anyone else in sometimes answering a friend request in the affirmative just because… it is late or you vaguely recall someone by that name having been a coworker or perhaps a classmate from decades ago.

 

Recently a post came up from someone whose name I did not remember at all.  No inkling tickled my memory whatsoever.  Curious and with some time to spare, I clicked on their profile.  The post was not something with which I disagreed, quite the opposite in fact.  Still, I really expected I would have remembered someone so insightful and yet, I did not; hence, the clicking on their profile to try to remember who they were.

 

I saw that we had did indeed have some friends in common, friends with whom I had gone to school and so I quickly determined this had to be someone I had known although not as best of pals or anything.  Then a posting on their timeline caught my eye.  It went something like this:  Recently a neighbor caught my eye.  (This is in quotations but it is NOT an exact quote.)  “A slender, attractive neighbor attracted my attention yesterday and, emboldened by a twinkle in her eye, I ventured to start a conversation.”

 

The ensuing description of their first meeting was sweet and did indeed lead to other meetings.  My forgotten friend offered to help with some yardwork and carrying her groceries inside, favors which were rewarded by a banana or some chocolate chip cookies on a table by his front door mailbox.  The somewhat intimate and yet innocent activities took up an entire paragraph and were, as I’ve described before very sweet and touching.

 

You can understand then my surprise when the next paragraph began with my friend confessing how guilty he felt.  Instantly angered at some unknown act of treason against this woman, I was completely caught off guard by his next sentence.  “Here I had lived next door to this delightful and yet frail ninety-six-year-old woman without ever noticing her for several years.”

 

The posting about this neighbor went on to encourage us all to take note of the elderly around us.  My friend explained how most recently the woman contracted a cold and he was her only contact for several weeks with the outside world.  Her spouse was long deceased as were most of her friends.  Childless, she was living an almost invisible life… invisible that is until a neighbor happened to notice a brief smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

 

We all hurry through our lives when we need to stop and take stock of the world around us.  How many times have we passed by someone without noticing them?  How often do we hasten to explain how we are feeling or what we doing without asking about how a friend is doing?  How much energy and time would it take to share a smile with those we pass in our daily walk of life?  We all live on this planet together and if we ask others to share our lives, we should be willing to share theirs. 

 

We are all guilty of being ego-focused.  We need to recognize that the best life is one lived in harmony with not only nature but also each other and to do that, we must see them.  We need a line of sight that includes others, not just ourselves.  Then we will be open to the real beauty of the world and the ordinary of our environment will become extraordinary.

 

Humanity Lost

Humanity Lost

June 18, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

It was a Friday when Frederick Lewis Donaldson said the following in a sermon given at Westminster Abbey in London, England:  “The seven social sins are…wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice; politics without principle.” 

 

Most of us freely admit to being human and by that, we imply that we are not perfect.  Mistakes are going to be made and while we are better at forgiving our own than those of others, we do allow the possibility for their being made.  What about when society makes them?  How forgiving are we when it is a collective sin?  Do we still extend a sense of humanity to such?

 

 “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to belong to each other.”  These words from Mother Teresa might very well be the key to making this ordinary time extraordinary.  How we think of ourselves is reflected in how we treat others.  Truthfully, though, there is no “them” and “us”.  There is only “we”.

 

Recently a group of people identifying themselves as being patriotic to their own cultures and homelands came together for an experiment.    You can watch the results here and they are far more compelling than anything I could write.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyaEQEmt5ls

 

 

Similarities

Similarities

June 5, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

Founded in the mid-3rd century B.C.E., Berenike was a thriving Roman port on the Egyptian Red Sea. Artifacts prove that the Romans traded with lands we now call Yemen, Pakistan, India and peppercorns were worth more in their weight than was gold. Emeralds and gold, spices… the list of treasures is lengthy. 

 

To me, though, it is a rolled up piece of papyrus that is the real treasure. Berenike was a place where more than eleven different languages were spoken, where different cultures meshed in harmony. And on the rolled up papyrus is a clue as to the key to such harmony. People are people – no matter the dress, the ethnic physical characteristics.  We really are the same.

 

On that rolled up piece of papyrus was written a letter…. from a mother to her trading sailor son. “You never visit. It has been too long since we have seen you.  You owe your mother a loving visit so I can see you are well.”

 

The word that unites us is respect.  This mother wanted some respect from her son.  Our neighbors want respect from us.  We want respect from the world.  No matter the country or century, we really are one.