Believe

Christmas/Hanukkah 2019

Believe

12.27.2019

 

Today is the third day of Christmas, a time for three French hens according to the song “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It is also the sixth day of Hanukkah. We have no true diary of the feelings of the Maccabees as they rebuilt their temple but one can imagine that as the sun was setting on day six, anxiety about the oil that lit their lamp which provided light so construction could continue began to rise. What we do know is that on the sixth day of Hanukkah there was a belief that the third day of Christmas contradicts, at least according to the song.

 

The oldest breed of fowl in France is the Crèvecoeurs. It is not a breed one could rely on for food. That needs to be understood before we continue. Although they are quite rare, Crèvecoeurs are primarily used as show birds and make quite the fashion statement with their unique crests. They are black birds and a rich dark green coloring can be found on the crests, hackles, and tail feathers of the roosters. By the nineteenth century, however, there were also black and white variegated versions of the breed.

 

Today we will continue to get news of politicians posturing, much like the French hens would do, about the upcoming or lack thereof impeachment proceedings of the current sitting President of the United States. Much like a gift of fowl that seems to enjoy posturing rather than being productive, these politicians are strutting about and crowing with little thought of actually doing their appointed jobs.

 

Today more than four times the number of children remains isolated from their parents in detentions camps on the USA-Mexican border than were the number of Jewish captives in 1943 on this same date. These children are within USA borders illegally but is that a reason to deny them basic human rights, especially during a season which proclaims love and happiness? Or is this just more posturing without swift resolution or productivity?

 

The miracle that Hanukkah celebrates includes action. One cannot simply light candles, say or sing the accompanying prayer, spin the dreidel, eat any won gelt, and then go to sleep. One is expected to continue building a temple – a life based upon family and community action. Sadly those in Washington, DC who were elected by a large conservative Christian coalition seemed to have forgotten the message of Christmas. They are celebrating the birth of one child by incarcerating many others.

 

It becomes an issue of what we believe and how we live that belief. Today is also the third day of Kwanza, a celebration primarily of the African-American community but open to all. It is not historic, having its roots in the twentieth century but its message transcends time and races. Kwanza celebrates one’s cultural and ethnic heritage without specifying denomination or religion. It is perhaps what all holidays should represent – peace, pride, love, joy, and happiness in a communal setting.

 

The importance of having something to believe in is profound. What we believe controls our behavior. Our beliefs control all our decisions and influence what we think. They often influence the quality of our thoughts and determine our actions. We translate the world as we see it through the filters of our beliefs. Whatever we may identify with spiritually, including not identifying with any one group, affects everything we think, do, and say. Those who believe only in themselves and their own superiority consequently become their own deity.

 

  1. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur defined the American as an immigrant who has become the exact opposite of his own European past. “The changes that came when the immigrant came across the sea eliminated all of the prejudices and the habit of kowtowing that he had learned in Europe”… or so Crevecoeur believed. He was born December 31, 1735, to a family of minor nobility in Normandy. In 1755 he migrated to New France in North America. There, he served in the French and Indian War as a cartographer in the French Colonial Militia, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Following the British defeat of the French Army in 1759, he moved to the Province of New York, where he took out citizenship, adopted the English-American name of John Hector St. John, and in 1770 married an American woman, Mehitable Tippe.

 

Becoming famous for his books on being an American farmer, Crevecoeur later returned to France so he could inherit his father’s lands and it was in France that he later died. Crovecoeur found himself in America after serving in the French Militia which was on the losing side of a major war at the time so perhaps his beliefs and statements are understandable. Certainly in his native country, he would have been imprisoned as being one of the enemy but in America he became a citizen. Sadly, those opportunities are no longer believed in today.

 

Though the breed of the three French Hens given supposedly on the third day of Christmas share the same name, they were not related to the family of St John de Crevecoeur. The family name translates as “broken hearted” and one can only imagine why the name was given to this breed of fowl. Was it because it was believed they would give plentiful eggs or was their strutting around deemed important and yet disheartening?

 

On this third day of Christmas and Kwanza and sixth day of Hanukkah, we have a choice. Do we believe in the goodness and hope of mankind and enact effective policies to create a better tomorrow or do we believe that posturing is all that really counts? The day before the French hens, the song celebrates turtle doves, known as a symbol of love. The day after the third day, the fourth day of Christmas, mentions four calling birds. Perhaps on this third day we are to stop strutting about and prepare for a calling to beliefs that would encourage effective behavior and action. The future will be determined by what we believe. There is no one else who can meet the task of building a better tomorrow than each of us. Perhaps the real miracle of any belief is that we act upon hope and a belief in tomorrow.

Connecting Advent and Christmas

Connecting Advent and Christmas

Advent 2019

2019.12.23

 

Not posting to pay my respects to those killed in gun violence has resulted in very few posts these last six months, I am sad to report. The loss of life is tragic. The failure to prevent such is inexcusable. In the past thirty days the following gun-related incidents occurred:

 

Incident Date State City Or County Address # Killed # Injured
December 22, 2019 Maryland Baltimore 225 Park Ave 0 7
December 22, 2019 Minnesota Minneapolis (Spring Lake Park) 8407 Plaza Blvd NE 1 7
December 22, 2019 Illinois Chicago 5700 block of S May St 0 13
December 21, 2019 Mississippi Waynesboro Turner St 1 6
December 20, 2019 Alabama Tuskegee 2900 block of Davison St 2 2
December 18, 2019 Texas San Antonio 2418 SW Military Dr 0 4
December 17, 2019 Montana Great Falls 1701 10th Ave S 4 1
December 15, 2019 Georgia Columbus 600 block of 32nd St 1 4
December 14, 2019 California Ivanhoe 15700 block of Paradise Ave 0 4
December 12, 2019 Missouri Saint Louis 9900 block of Lewis and Clark Blvd 1 3
December 10, 2019 New Jersey Jersey City 223 Martin Luther King Dr 6 3
December 8, 2019 Texas Desoto 200 block of W Wintergreen Rd 2 3
December 8, 2019 Louisiana New Orleans 3801 Washington Ave 1 4
December 6, 2019 Florida Pensacola 280 Taylor Rd 4 8
December 4, 2019 Alabama Montgomery 500 Eastdale Rd S 2 2
December 1, 2019 Louisiana Cotton Valley 116 Hawthorne Loop 2 3
December 1, 2019 Louisiana New Orleans 2000 block of N Dorgenois St 2 2
December 1, 2019 Illinois Aurora 700 block of S 5th St 1 4
December 1, 2019 Michigan Kalamazoo 6300 block of Proctor St 1 3
December 1, 2019 Louisiana New Orleans 700 block of Canal St 0 12
November 30, 2019 Arkansas Hensley 6500 block of E Sardis Rd 0 5
November 29, 2019 Texas Amarillo 2650 Dumas Dr 0 7
November 27, 2019 New York Bronx E 153rd St and Courtlandt Ave 0 5
November 25, 2019 Florida Brownsville NW 29th Ave and 44th St 2 2
November 24, 2019 Alabama Birmingham 7 15th St W 1 4

 

For the past five years we have explored the connections we have with others. We’ve woven stories, explored through literature, exchanged recipes, and traveled the world seeking sacred places and artifacts. Advent is a time of preparation but it seems to have been a time this year of obliteration.

 

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”  The spiritualist Rumi gave us our challenge. However, I am not so concerned with you changing your views on gun ownership as I am about you finding value within yourself. We are all uniquely made individuals and we all have value. We each bring to the world special talents. Yes, women generally are the ones who bear children but men also bring unique abilities. Historically, though, men got all the attention.

 

In his book “Make the Most of You”, Patrick Lindsay quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” Lindsay mentions that there are three actions we all can participate in: leave everything better than how we found it; wear our scars proudly; unleash our own song. In this series, I want you to plant thoughts that will help you blossom. I want you to sing and sing your own individual song as it becomes harmonious with the rest of mankind.

 

Being an individual in this world is not easy. One of my favorite philosophers of the twentieth century was not a philosopher at all. She was an actress, the late and magnificently great Katharine Hepburn. “We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”

 

Colombian writer and reporter Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his book “Love in the Time of Cholera” explains what we must realize in order to grow a better version of ourselves. We have to understand that “human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

 

Too many people go through life believing they are not good enough. Our journey is valuable and everyone’s presence on the planet is a gift. What we accomplish, though, is ours to make happen. Whether one works at home or on a global platform, is highly educated or has learned of living from life, we all have value. Every life matters. Life itself is a previous gift given to everyone, if they are lucky.

 

The Beatitudes are eight blessings recounted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Each is a proverb-like proclamation, without narrative. Four of the blessings also appear in the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke, followed by four woes which mirror the blessings. In a fourth century translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, each of the verses contained within what we call the “beatitudes” begins with the word “beati” which translates as happiness or blessed. Many use this group of scriptures to decry religion since they address groups normally isolated or rejected.

 

The Beatitudes show us that everything is good in its own way. The quiet have time to learn. Those that grieve had something or someone of value they loved. Those who seek righteousness will find it. We all have value. We all are good enough when we seek life in all its glory. Religion is not about separating and judging. It is, quite simply, about acceptance and embracing life – all of it, the good and the bad.

 

Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” We often look for the meaning of life and our purpose in exotic, extravagant, external environs. We really should just look in the mirror. None of us is perfect and none of us is a Supreme Being. To honor your own uniqueness does not mean to equate yourself with being a deity or with being egotistical or selfish. It does mean living according to your faith and celebrating life – the life within all of us.

 

You, like all of us, have much to offer and the world is waiting for it. Turn your back on doubt today. It serves no purpose. Focus on the positive and let your self-worth be the seed you plant to day in growing a better you and a better world. You are good enough to be the start of a better future for us all. You are a gift to the world. Celebrate yourself and find joy in living, please. Our world is waiting to celebrate you.

 

 

 

Grace: Defining the Future

Grace: Defining the Future

2019.11.12

 

In the nineteenth century philosophy became something of a tongue twister at times. According to Arthur Schopenhauer, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” Georg Hegel believed in what he called a “system” of philosophy but maintained that reality was a historical process, examples of changes in the Spirit as a whole. Ludwig Feuerbach believed almost the opposite of Hegel. He believed in no spiritual realm and felt reality was, in the end, immaterial.

 

Interestingly enough, these different viewpoints formed the basis for a huge shift in political thinking and laid the groundwork for the history of the twentieth century. A student of Hegel rejected an individualistic state of nature and believed that mankind’s life was social. Thus, human nature was an expression of labor and activity, all done for the benefit of mankind or, in the trendy term of the period, society. He expressed Hegel’s theories in terms of material rather than spiritual terms. History to this student was a series of class struggles and his vision for the future was to create a classless society. His name was Karl Marx.

 

Born to German Jewish parents who then converted to the Lutheran faith, Karl Marx believed “criticism of religion is the foundation of all criticism.” Marx wanted to make history a science and believed that in doing so the problems of the past could be alleviated. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

 

Throughout its history philosophy and religion have been together – as friends and as enemies. Since the beginning of philosophy was man’s quest to determine what life was, what the world was, and what mankind itself was, the various creation theories and/or myths that exist had to be considered, studied, and related. It is simply impossible to separate philosophy from belief and yet, for the most part, they seem to be at odds with each other.

 

For many, philosophy strives to explain an anguished existence in an irrational world. For others, philosophy seeks to prove what they believe through faith. I ask you to ponder this question for today: Is philosophy what we believe or is what we believe contradictory to the study of philosophy? For some, the study of philosophy is blasphemous. For others, it is a refreshing proof of their beliefs.

 

As you try to answer that question, I ask you to consider how you show grace rather than using how we live as the answer. Philosophy is the science of thinking but life is the art of doing and what we believe is evident in what we do. If I say I have love for my neighbor, based upon Christian beliefs, then I cannot hate those who are different. If I say my life is dedicated to Allah, then I must live the peace the Qur’an speaks of in my daily living. If I believe I am a child of persecuted children of Israel, how can I fail to have sympathy and empathy for others who are persecuted, even if they are of another faith?

 

In all of these examples and if you consider yourself to be a spiritualist, then what part does grace play? Karl Marx is famous for having said “Religion is the opium of the people.” Having absolute certainty in one’s knowledge might also be said to be addicting, even lead to the ego-driven state Marx so harshly wished mankind to avoid. We all believe in something. Does our manner of living and interacting with society bolster those beliefs and make them evident thereby defining us correctly, or do they seem at odds with our words, making a mockery of both our faith and our living?

 

In 1726, Daniel Defoe wrote in his book “The Political History of the Devil: “Things as certain as death and taxes can be more firmly believed.” In 1789, writing to a friend in France, Benjamin Franklin wrote, in giving an update on the newly formed country and US Constitution: “…nothing is certain except death and taxes.” All we can be truly certain of is what we are doing in the here and now.

 

There are many ways to define living and most of them do involve spiritual and/or religious beliefs. However, what really matters is that we have tried to live as we believe. Whatever our philosophy is, we need to make sure that it ascends to the primary core of our actions, that it is the reason behind those actions. Then our personal philosophy will be one we support and believe.

 

To quote Mahatma Gandhi: ““Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.” I propose to you that to whom and in what manner we show grace defines who we are. Thus grace and how we live it becomes our defining moment.

To Retreat, Remain, or Grow

To Retreat, Remain, or Grow

2019.10.21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When it comes to growing my soul, I also rely on others. I myself can only do so much based upon my skills and knowledge. I reference many things and listen to many people. Just as with an actual gardening, there needs to be some weeding out of the information we have available. Not everything is beneficial and unfortunately some people are more interested in creating followers than helping people grow. Albert Camus once wrote: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” This past weekend I did just that. Past retreats included one in a beautiful country, wooded setting where no cell phones or electronic devices were allowed. Time was something measured jokingly with a ruler. It may sound funny but I took the time this time to be on a retreat to make sure that I did not remain, getting stuck in the whirlwind that our lives can become.   I agree with Anna White and this quote from her book “Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith” when she writes “I want my heart to be the thin place. I don’t want to board a plane to feel the kiss of heaven. I want to carry it with me wherever I go. My most recent retreat was actually a conference but the setting was so serene it felt more like a retreat for the soul than a taking care of business. Perhaps there is a lesson in that last statement as well.

 

I want my fragile, hurting heart, to recognize fleeting kairos, eternal moments as they pass. I want to be my own mountain and my own retreat.” Kairos is a Greek word dating back to antiquity and it refers to an opportune moment, that right and critical moment in time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a critical action.   Many times we are so busy reacting to the world that we fail to take the time to deliberate about our actions and what they represent. We are so busy being that we lose sight of what we are or would like to be.

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

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

Changing Times

Changing Times

2019.10.11

 

It seemed like good idea. I thought I was being respectful. When this blog began over five years I decided to honor those victims of domestic terrorism both at home and abroad by having a day of silence in honor of the victims. That has resulted in this blog being quiet this past few months. Such events have become more commonplace than the writers of the Bill of Rights could ever have imagined. On September 29th alone, there were four such incidents – Beaumont, Texas, Round Lake, Illinois, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Jacksonville, Florida. While many abroad will claim the frequency of such events is due to the availability of weapons in the United States, the truth is that these incidents are occurring worldwide. Freedom of the press means they get more publicity in the USA without government censorship.

 

While the global temperatures this summer were elevated, it would appear the personal tempers are as well. We have become a race of mad, angry humans, willing to snap back without consideration, acting without moral compass, forgetting the history lessons of the past and with little thought given to the future. An accidental push or shove is all the liberty someone needs to retaliate with the greatest weaponry at their disposal. Social media has become a platform for those who speak first and never think.

 

And so, given the changing times, I too must change my policy if ever I am to post another blog post again. In a three month period this summer, more people died than the sun took trips around the earth. People die every day and each day is a tragedy but these could have been prevents if mankind practiced one simple step – a step of forgiveness.

 

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense It is the letting go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, forswears recompense from or punishment of the offender, however legally or morally justified it might be. Forgiveness includes an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is very different from condoning, excusing, forgetting, pardoning, and reconciliation.

 

According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness might be the best health gift we give ourselves. Forgiveness results in a longer life, better relationships, and an overall increased sense of well-being.

  1. Lower blood pressure

When we no longer feel anxiety or anger because of past grievances, our heart rate evens out and our blood pressure drops. This normalizes many processes in the body and brings us into coherence with our heart and circulatory system.

  1. Stress reduction

Forgiveness eases stress because we no longer recycle thoughts (both consciously and subconsciously) that cause psychic stress to arise. By offering our burdens to Spirit for healing, we learn how to leave irritation and stress behind.

  1. Less hostility

By its very nature, forgiveness asks us to let go of hostility toward ourselves and others. Spontaneous hostile behavior, like road rage and picking a fight for no reason, goes down as our commitment to forgiveness goes up.

  1. Better anger-management skills

With fewer and fewer burdens from the past weighing us down, we can have more self-control when we do get angry. We’ll be better able to take some breaths, count to ten, take a time-out or get some exercise—rather than strike out at someone in anger.

  1. Lower heart rate

Forgiveness relaxes our hearts because we’ve let our pain ease out of our system as an offering to God. Our hearts can calm down, and our heart rate decreases as a result.

  1. Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse

This is a big one. I feel this is one of the biggest and best reasons to jump into a forgiveness practice without delay. Substance abuse is a mask for underlying pain. Forgiveness helps us release that pain and find the gifts in our situation instead.

  1. Fewer depression symptoms

Similar to lowering substance abuse, this is a crucial issue for many people. Depression is debilitating and can lead to suicide. On the other hand, forgiveness gives us healing and grace, and can replace depression with a sense of purpose and compassion.

  1. Fewer anxiety symptoms

Almost everyone needs to forgive him or herself as well as others. Anxiety often arises when we fear that we’ve done something wrong. Our guilty conscience causes anxiety at a deep level. Forgiveness helps us to love ourselves deeply, relieving us of inner pain.

  1. Reduction in chronic pain

Physical pain often has a psychological cause. When we allow a profound shift to happen with forgiveness, we heal ourselves on both psychological and physical levels. Thus, chronic pain can be reversed and we can come back to health.

  1. More friendships

When we’re no longer holding grudges, we can get a lot closer to friends and family. Old relationships have a chance to change and grow, and new relationships can enter—all because we made room for them with forgiveness.

  1. Healthier relationships

When we make forgiveness a regular part of our spiritual practice, we start to notice that all of our relationships (with lovers, co-workers, bosses, neighbors, etc.) begin to blossom. There’s far less drama to deal with, and that’s a huge bonus in life.

  1. Greater religious or spiritual well-being

Whether you’ve chosen a religion or not, forgiveness will bring you closer to Spirit. When we ask God for help and offer our fear, sadness and pain as a prayer, we receive peace and divine love in return. This is true healing.

  1. Improved psychological well-being

By releasing our grievances, we become more harmonious on all levels. Nightmares recede and exciting new life visions become commonplace. We feel calmer, happier and ready to give compassion and love to our world.

A good life, full of quality relationships, service to others and fun, is something that most of us hope for without ever knowing how to create it.

 

Most of our life is consumed with learned traits and that includes despair, hatred, and anger. However, babies are born already knowing how to smile. Think about that for a moment. We are born with the ability to be happy. Babies born blind and deaf can and do smile without ever having seen someone do it. Walking, talking, potty-training, dancing, making music, and throwing a temper fit are all learned traits.

 

We can change the world if we just begin as we are born to do and celebrate the happy.

 

Address: Comfort Zone

Address: Comfort Zone

2019.08.12-13

 

I attended this past week what was billed as a community forum to eradicate hate. What I discovered upon arriving was a group of people who believe very similar ideologies, who come from similar economic levels, who listened to a panel, two of which spent a great deal of time speaking negatively about one specific segment of society. Surprised not to see a more community reflective group of people, I was told that when it was suggested to include people of other belief systems, the organizer declined saying “People would not be comfortable with that”.

 

The term “comfort zone” is simply a collection of behaviors that we continue to repeat. It is not a location nor should it be our destination. For most of us, our “comfort zone” is where we live, where we feel most comfortable. It is what we do and continue to do… over and over again. Our comfort zone is made up of those things that are common to us, familiar in their repetition.

 

None of us are born with a comfort zone, by the way. We come into this world making the biggest leap of faith possible. We leave a safe and protected environment and are immediately thrust into a world in which we must fend for ourselves. We also suddenly are dependent upon others for everything. We have no chance to develop a comfort zone because we are too busy learning and developing, acquiring new skills and trying new things. It is called growing, surviving and thriving.

 

At some point, though, we do cultivate a comfort zone and it is often without even realizing it. We settle in and get cozy in our comfort zone and then suddenly – BAM! An insult comes along and shatters our sense of security we have found within that comfort zone home. You can find a survey about most anything and Facebook is certainly proof about that. Several years ago I came across a survey on the social media platform entitled simply “Your Best Insult”. Most of us try to avoid insults so why on earth, I thought to myself, would some create a survey entitled “Your best insult”, especially in an article about bettering one’s self?

 

The survey questions numbered twenty and I am not going to list them all here. A few did catch my attention, however, so let’s discuss those. First, what insult was said to you that you actually consider a compliment? I remember once having my name mentioned as being the chairperson of an upcoming event. Another stood up and said: “Not her! She thinks life is just a collection of learning opportunities.” The statement was said in a room of almost one hundred people and two hundred eyes instantly turned and looked at me to see how I was reacting. A few close friends began to say something but I stood up and replied: “I was going to protest but you know what? She is absolutely right. Thank you for noticing.” I had never really thought of myself or life in that connotation but the statement was absolutely correct. It not only became a compliment, it helped me define my approach to life.

 

More recently I received another such “insult”. It would certainly answer the above insult survey question as well as this next one: What so-called “insult” will you adopt as a life mantra? It is no secret that I attend a church and, like many churches, this one has educational and self-growth opportunities. One such retreat was being discussed when one of those talking suddenly turned to me and asked why I was not contributing to the conversation. I replied I had not ever been to the retreat. Her response was immediate: “Oh, of course not. You wouldn’t fit in!” She then continued to try to talk the woman sitting right next to me into attending. Even more recently I was told to stop my “monkey mind” and I when I asked what was being implied, I was told most emphatically I should stop thinking. While I sat there in my instant “OUCH!” reaction, which is how most of us first respond to insults, I suddenly realized just what a great compliment I had been given.

 

The meeting I attended was held at a house of worship and I expected a great deal of discussion about ways to show love and respect. Instead I heard a great deal of the opposite. Let’s ignore that the purpose of a church is to share the “good news” of the faith. Let’s ignore the fact that one of the admonitions given to those that believe is kindness and charity to all. It is my fervent and constant belief that any faith-based group that is exclusive is more a social club than a faith-based group. Whether they are called synagogues or churches, temples or shrines, they have doors and those doors are supposedly open to all who wish to believe. Please reread that last sentence. I did not say the doors were open to a select few, or those who shopped at certain stores. They are not open only to those who know everything. The doors are an opening through which all who wish to learn and believe can pass.

 

We can either let insults grow ourselves in being better people and then be proud of that better person or we can let them be a pesticide that sucks the life out of us. The survey concluded with some very intense questions: At the last event you attended that included people you consider friends. Who approached you and shared a handshake or hug? Who asked about how you were doing? Who just talked about themselves without inquiring about you? How do you define friendship? How do you define yourself?

 

We often let insults define us. We give into the pain they generally cause and let them motivate us into crawling deeper into our comfort zone. Recently there was an event I attended in which I knew almost everyone present. Less than one tenth said hello to me, two approached me but none offered a hug or handshake and no one asked how I was. The paragraph at the end of the Best Insult Survey advised that we need to survey our situations, not just ourselves. At this event, people congregated in clichés, staying within their own comfort zone. Two joined my group that only vaguely knew the others. As one said, “My eyes know you because I have seen you around.”

 

Surveying the situation led me to realize that my group at this event was not a cliché and people felt comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone and joining such a group. During the exercise, the group of strangers became a group of acquaintances, realizing those things held in common and supporting each other in those things that made them different. A group that began with people who did not seemingly “fit in” became a group of believers and sharing, a group practicing their faith instead of just talking about it.

 

Certainly if people shy away from us we need to take stock and ask if we are subconsciously sabotaging ourselves. Sometimes, though, maybe we need to look at the situation and not just ourselves. We can all recognize an insult when one is given or acted out. However, maybe we need to do a quick survey of said insult and ask ourselves if it is really painful or something for which to be thankful. Sometimes that insult might just be the best compliment you have ever received. After all, the only real comfort zone any of us has is found within – at that moment in time in which we are comfortable with ourselves.

Challenging Belief

Challenging Belief

2019.8.10-11

 

I am taking part in several challenges this month and today they have come together because of a television program I viewed. The program “Expedition Unknown” is currently discussing new findings regarding the archaeological discoveries known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 14,000 fragments of cloth tell the story of a deity and the followers of such. Known today simply as God, belief in this deity led the charge for monotheism, the one deity referenced by the three Abrahamic faiths as “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”. The name means “the God who judges in (on) the Earth.

 

I am not particularly fond of this name and the reason for my displeasure is not really the name but rather the context in which it is used. You see, it appears in the Book of Psalms and references faith in the deity judging one’s enemies. Because one is considered faithful, it is assumed that one’s enemies are not and will be judged and punished accordingly. I should note that some of those fragments that comprise the scrolls contain the earliest writings of the Psalms, and other writings that comprise the Bible such as the book of Genesis and Leviticus, as well as other stories and writings never seen before being found in caves in Qumran.

 

My problem is that this name seems to imply a deity that shows favoritism. What if I am the one in error and not my enemies? Being faithful does not make me perfect; it makes me a believer. Another word for this deity is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”. Obviously I am not bloodthirsty and so seeking vengeance on someone is not a hobby of mine. I believe that I have enough to do trying to live my own life and I really don’t try to live others for them. These two names do raise some interesting questions, however, and I think we should give them consideration, especially in light of current events and killings.

 

What exactly falls under the prevue of “justice”, the purpose for judging someone? How do we define “avenge” and is it something best left to the spirit(s) or should we attempt such? Is there a difference between seeking revenge and avenging? The website “diffen.com” clarifies the issue for avenge and revenge by stating “Avenge is a verb. To avenge is to punish a wrongdoing with the intent of seeing justice done. Revenge can be used as a noun or a verb. It is more personal, less concerned with justice and more about retaliation by inflicting harm.”

 

Once synonymous, the two words today have different meanings. Avenge today implies the process of obtaining justice while revenge is a more personal active physical deed, almost always involving pain or harm for the purpose of retaliatory recompense for real or imagined damages. In the usage of these two names, the deity is expected to protect the faithful by avenging ill will and/or wrong doings, thereby carrying acts of revenge to assuage the injured party or parties. Such beliefs allowed the people to bear the hardships brought upon them by their faith and I fully understand that. I just have a problem with a deity being both a god of love and revenge. For some, revenge is not only pleasurable, it is a form of love.

 

In an article for the Association of Psychological Science, Eric Jaffe wrote: “A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and, for a full minute as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of “Science”, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.

 

“A person who has been cheated is [left] in a bad situation—with bad feelings,” said study co-author Ernst Fehr, director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. “The person would feel even worse if the cheater does not get her or his just punishment. Theory and experimental evidence shows that cooperation among strangers is greatly enhanced by altruistic punishment,” Fehr said. “Cooperation among strangers breaks down in experiments if altruistic punishment is ruled out. Cooperation flourishes if punishment of defectors is possible.”

 

In other words, the possibility of justice being meted out in the form of retaliatory punishment encourages cooperation because it instills an expectation of fairness. Although a bit complicated, this is a concept I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.

 

There are also two other similar names used for this deity of these three monotheistic religions. They are “Jehovah Hashopet or “the Lord the Judge” and Jehovah El Gemuwal, “the Lord God of Recompense.” I freely admit I like recompense better than revenge. Recompense implies fairness in compensation while revenge denotes punishment and pain to me.

 

I wonder if my conundrum, the enigma of whether I want my deity to be an avenging deity or a compensating deity, was felt by those early believers. Perhaps it depends on how recently one feels to have been wronged or the extent to which one felt wronged. As of this date, I have not found a name for this deity that translates into “God of Fairness”. Maybe the key is in how one defines what is right and what is wrong. But then, the context comes into play and we should consider that what is right for one might not be right for another yet not necessarily be wrong enough for the need of revenge or recompense.

 

In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.” Sadly, the events of September of that year changed the minds of many and more and more people wanted revenge for the bombings and murders of almost three thousand innocent victims from over eighty countries.

 

Michael McCullough, author of “Beyond Revenge: “The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct” states:   “You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time.” Revenge began as an altruistic punishment but, McCullough and his research team believe, a secondary system of human interaction has evolved. The act of forgiveness is a system “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.”

 

My problem with revenge is that it is not an answer that permanently solves anything. It may begin with an attempt to right a perceived wrong but it just invites payback which requires more revenge which invites more payback, etc., etc., etc. I like forgiveness as a practice for human interaction much, much better. There is another name for the deity of those scrolls – El Nose, the God who forgives. This is definitely a belief I hope we all practice.