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.

 

You Can Make a Difference!

You Can Make a Difference!

June 2, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

Recently a great deal of the rhetoric prominent in social media has been about “I”.  One person claims to have all the answers while another says they acted or 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 the purpose of this blog is to encourage you think and then affect someone by positive action, the intent is the end result –  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.   Personally, 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.

 

Earlier this week someone exercised what they felt was their right to free speech by, without any cause or pertinence to the speaker’s daily living, insulting someone else.  It was done supposedly in a humorous vein but resulted in quite a backlash.    While language can be a bit confusing, an insult is generally always understand to be just that – a rude, offensive slur about someone.  It is, quite simply, verbal abuse.

 

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 and make the world a much better place for all of us.

 

 

 

The Long Wait

The Long Wait

March 31, 2018

 

We “sprang ahead” three weeks ago and yet many are still waiting for spring-like temperatures.   For those celebrating the Easter weekend, today is Easter Even or Eve, known liturgically as the Great Easter Vigil, a time of waiting for the words of a man crucified to become true, waiting to see if he really could defeat death at its own game.  For those celebrating Passover, this is a period of eight days celebrating deliverance and freedom, something many in the Jewish faith are still waiting to become their reality.

 

It is always tricky to combine Easter and Passover.  Both are major holidays in two religions of the Abrahamic faith and yet, both represent times of trial and racial and religious discrimination.  We tend to gloss over the fact that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was killed for being Jewish.  Many today try to combine the Passover Seder meal with the Christian Holy Week without acknowledging the guilt of the Roman Empire in carrying out the execution of someone simply for preaching the Jewish teachings.  Others simply sigh and continue their own great vigil in waiting for world peace.

 

David Maister, in his paper “The Psychology of Waiting Lines” believes that the actual length of time one waits has very little to do with how long the wait seems to be.  Maister lists eight factors that make our wait much longer than it really is. 

1. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.  When you have something to distract yourself, time passes more quickly. This is why some hotels put mirrors by the elevators.  Many people like to look at themselves and this distracts them so they don’t realize how long they are waiting for the elevator.

2. People want to get started.  Restaurants give you a menu while you wait, and often doctors’ assistants will put you in the examination room twenty-five minutes before any exam actually begins.

3. Anxiety makes waits seem longer.  Perception determines our thinking.  If you think you’ve chosen the slowest line at the drugstore, or you’re worried about getting a seat on the plane, the wait will seem longer.

4. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.  People wait more calmly when they’re told, “The doctor will see you in thirty minutes” than when they’re told, “The doctor will see you soon.” Maister gives the illustration of a phenomenon that is very typical.  When we arrive someplace thirty minutes early, we wait with perfect patience because we know we got there early.  However, three minutes after the scheduled appointment time we begin to feel annoyed and wonder “Just how long am I going to have to wait?”

5. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.  Customers tend wait more patiently for the pizza guy when there’s a thunderstorm than when the sky is clear.

6. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.  People want their waits to be fair.  Crowded subway platforms are one example where there’s no clear, fair way to determine who gets on the next car. The “FIFO” rule (first in, first out) is a great rule, when it works. Often though certain people need attention more urgently, or certain people are more valuable customers. Then how long our wait is and how equitable who waits becomes uncertain and can be seen as being unfair.  

7. The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait.  As a general rule we will wait longer to talk to a doctor than to talk to a sales clerk. People will willingly stand in line longer to buy an iPad than to buy a toothbrush.

8. Solo waits feel longer than group waits.  The more people engage with each other, the less they notice the wait time. In fact, in some situations like buying a ticket or going through a security checkpoint, waiting in line is part of the experience.  The adage misery loves company certainly is true when we are waiting.

 

So can waiting ever be beneficial?  The spiritualist will answer a resounding yes and those in religion should as well.  Whether one’s deity is one of many or the single omnipotent deity of the Abrahamic faiths, the common factor is all is the essence of waiting and the lessons we gain.  Waiting is not something fate has put into the world to annoy us.  It can be the best thing we will ever experience.

 

Using the eight factor Maister lists, we can see valuable insights and lessons to be learned.  I am going to begin with number eight and work backwards.  Often taking an annoyance and turning it around is the key to gaining insight and growth.

 

8. Solo waits feel longer than group waits.  We all live on this planet together.  When we connect one with another, we are taking great strides towards world peace and a better living for everyone.  Kindness is the art of reaching out to others and when we connect we are showing benevolence and humanity to each other and to ourselves.

7. The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait.  Sometimes we find ourselves doing something simply because it is trendy or fashionable.  When we have to wait to do it, we have the opportunity to examine our motives and desires.  Waiting gives us the chance to question our faithfulness in being authentic to our goals and desires.

6. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.  Patience is often defines as being able to endure.  What really comes into play is our ego.  Are we too good to wait while another is being served?  Most of us would say no but do our actions really illustrate that if we become impatient?

5. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.  Self-control is discipline and sometimes it is harder to discipline ourselves than our children.  No one knows everything and we have no real knowledge of all the factors that might be affecting our wait.  Mastering ourselves is often the first step to not only peace in our own lives and community but success in our living.

4. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.  Trust – the one word that makes living so difficult.  It is hope and confidence, dependence and reliance, conviction and faith.  Waiting is often who we are put into action.

3. Anxiety makes waits seem longer.  Peace within will reflect peace in our actions.  How we overcome anxiety really speaks to who we are as a person, as a nation, as all of humankind. 

2. People want to get started.  Patience is required when one is waiting.  We often fail to realize that the wait might be our first step to the realization of our intentions. 

1. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.  Joy can be found in each second.  Too often we are busy rushing from one place to another, one project to the next.  When we wait, we are given time to enjoy our world and our day.  Instead of counting the second, we need to count the smiles around us, the flowers in the window, and the sounds of life around us.

 

Those of the Jewish faith are still waiting to live completely in freedom without derision as are those of other faiths.  Many Christians have forgotten that the grace they seek is simply theirs for the praying.  As a world we have overlooked that the key to world peace is in our waiting upon each other with dignity and generosity, kindness and forbearance, honesty and respect.  The biggest vigil of all is waiting for each of us to explore the humanity within our souls and then live it.

Stewardship of Prayer

Stewardship of Prayer

March 14-15, 2018

 

Stewardship is often defined stewardship as raising money, getting pledges of tithing from membership which creates a stream of income for the coming year.  Recently a friend was facing an upcoming surgery and mentioned needing to make certain church attendance was on the agenda, needing to have God on their side for the operation.   Many view their attendance at their house of worship as a stewardship of prayer, a type of “praying it forward” to earn brownie points for those times they mess up or do not live their faith.

 

Let me explain the term “brownie points” in case you are reading this and are unfamiliar with this popular slang term.  Like most slang terminology, there are several opinions about its origin.  In the 1960’s a system of brownie points was created in the Girl Guides/Scouts program.  In order to earn a badge, Brownie Guides or Scouts had to complete a certain number of tasks concerning the particular badge in question, usually six tasks.  As each undertaking was completed, they were said to have earned a “brownie point”.  [I was a proud Brownie Scout and yes, I earned all the badges.]

 

After World War II the practice of issuing stamps based upon the amount of purchase became prevalent in many retail businesses.  The stamps would be accumulated and then exchanged for household items that were often a luxury for the average household.  The first such stamps were brown in color so the consumer was said to earn Brownie points while supporting the local economy.  In New Zealand a utility company still uses what it calls Brownie points in their marketing. 

 

Although the earliest reference of brownie points in print is found in a 1960’s article in California as a man spoke about his wife earning brownie points, a sexist attitude I have to dislike, it is much more likely that the real credit for the term belongs to an American railroad superintendent, George R. Brown.   In 1886, Brown developed an innovative system of merits and demerits for railroad employees who worked for the Fall Brook Railway in New York State.   His system of rewarding and punishing employees was written about in business publications and it garnered great fame as other railroads began using it.  Railroad employees referred to the merits and demerits as “brownie points” and the slang term worked its way into our common vocabulary.

 

An important thing to remember is that brownie points are imaginary and are not free.  One earns them either through effort or by paying a monetary price.  Their imaginary existence is the result of action.  I am not a deity to which anyone offers prayer so I cannot speak with authority but I am fairly certain that the concept of “praying it forward” is far less effective than the generosity of spirit involved with “paying it forward”, a concept suggested by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book “In the Garden of Delight” in which a person does a good deed for a stranger instead of the original benefactor from which they received something favorable.  Paying it forward might be considered giving it back while praying it forward is more of a savings loan program.  Paying it forward involves at least two or more people and usually can become a bit contagious with others following the example.  Praying it forward is an idea predicated on the belief that one will need extra favor due to a mistake or intentional wrongdoing.

 

Many donate or tithe based upon the knowledge that they are not perfect and will need forgiveness from their supreme spirit to which they believe they are accountable.  This use or practice of giving money as a type of “fine paying” treats forgiveness and being blessed as something that can be bought.  Indeed, there are some denominations and religions that still purport this concept.  It is, in fact, the reason many suicide bombers detonate their bombs; they believe it is the ultimate payment for the ultimate resting place for their soul.

 

I will not even get into the theology or lack thereof of such concepts.  The fact is that stewardship has really very little to do with money or even earning favor.  How often have you visited a busy shopping mall or large office complex and seen someone mopping up a spill or emptying the waste cans?  While the majority of such cleaning is done by a custodial staff after hours when the general population is not present, there are those little mishaps that require constant attention.  This is the real definition of stewardship, the caretaking of the establishment.  Do we stop to thank those stewards, those custodians or do we simply walk around them, maybe acknowledging their presence with a quick nod or the briefest of smiles?

 

Almost every culture has a flood myth and during Pentecost one year we discussed several of those, the most famous of which is the story from the Abrahamic faiths of Noah and the Ark.  What we fail to realize is the stewardship required of Noah and his family in this story.  Anyone who has had a household pet or lived on a farm or ranch knows the efforts required by owning animals.  Imagine doing that on a boat in the middle of nothing but water.  The mucking out of cages and stalls, the sweeping up of shedding hair…you get the picture.  All of a sudden the mythology of this story takes on a very different meaning than simply a man saving his family and two of each species so they can repopulate the planet.  Providing sustenance, a source of staying alive, a healthy environment…these are the realities of stewardship.

 

What sustenance do we give our prayers and how do we keep our prayer life alive?  While many times there are those on-the spur-of-the-moment prayers, how do we provide for those deeper meditative prayers and do we create a healthy environment for those?  Do we make very necessary quiet pockets within our day to engage in a prayerful dialogue, one in which we can listen?  Before we start to worry about earning brownie points, we first need to really engage in prayer, real active prayer.  Regardless of our spiritual leanings or direction, we can go nowhere until we have stewardship of our praying. A vehicle without petrol or gas will go nowhere and even an electric car needs recharging after its first drive.

 

Literature is full of examples of the Devil, the ultimate evil spirit, the nemesis for most faithful people.  Before you tell me you are too busy to be a good steward of prayer, let me remind you that Milton’s Lucifer and Goethe’s Mephistopheles were considered the most interesting of all the characters in the plays they inhabited.  Delightful and witty, their evilness does not appear as repulsive but rather charming and charismatic.  Yet, they represent the most evil of all, that which separates us from God – “I am the eternal spirit of negation” Mephistopheles explains to Faust in Goethe’s play.

 

It is that “I haven’t the time”, the subconscious “NO!” playing in our heads that keeps us from actively taking control of our praying and our prayer life.  Anywhere can become a sacred space as we discovered last Advent 2014 with the series that explored all the different sacred spaces on earth.  It is up to us to create that sacred space in our own lives, that time no matter how brief and that place no matter where it is that allows us to be faithful stewards of our praying.  We have no need to pray it forward.  We simply need to pray.