Identity – Who Dat?

Identity – Who Dat?

Epiphany 2020

02.20.2020

 

Who are you? When I first began writing this blog, someone asked me that very question. Then I was asked to complete a profile and again, that question came up. What is your identity? More importantly, what do you want people to remember about you?

 

We’ve discussed in past blog posts about “Who dat?” I know many New Orleans Saints NFL team fans want to believe they invented this phrase but, alas, history proves it predates the National Football League. It was first sung as a line in a song in an operetta written by Dunbar and Will Marion Cook entitled “Clorinda: the Origin of the Cakewalk”. It was presented as part of the 1898 “summer Nights” show produced by E. E. Rice.

 

US service men picked up the catchy phrase and it was often heard over plane radios as servicemen radioed each other. One of the lines of the original song asks a question we might all ask ourselves: “Who dat inside who’s dat outside; who’s dat inside who dat well outside?”

 

Several years ago the Anglican Communion voted to sanction the Episcopal Church of America. The issue was the Episcopal Church’s interpretation of the Bible which, in the Episcopal Church’s view, states that the creator known as God loves all equally and so should man. In his response to this action, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, a man quoted in this blog from time to time, asked: “By what identity do we want to be known?” In other words, when it comes to believing and sharing God’s love, do we want to be picky and choose only certain ones?

 

George Orwell once wrote “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” As a child, I was often mistaken by some as being of a different race. It was a time of segregation and so, when in the company of my red-haired, freckle-faced mother, I had no difficulty in using the same restroom and water fountain as she did. However, when alone or with a group of children, I would sometimes be directed to the facilities marked “colored”. I felt no shame because I was curious.

 

We all wonder what is on the other side of a closed door. The enticement of the unknown affects us all. To my surprise and, yes I admit it, to my disappointment, the other side of the door looked just the same as the room marked “white”. The water fountain used the same intake pipes to bring water to the spigot and the drains went into the same outtake pipes. The only differences were the markings, the identifying signs designed to separate and discourage acceptance.

 

Who do you want to be? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr wanted to be known as a man. He wanted his children to be just children, not identified by color but by their being. They had names, not shame. They were God’s own. Maybe not in the eyes of the Anglican Communion way back when but now…Who dat?

 

Who are you? What do you believe? What is evidenced by how you live? I remained me whether I used the “white” restroom or the “black” restroom. I did not change because of another’s perception. And whenever someone asks me who I am, my first thought is “a child of God.” Of course, just saying it doesn’t make it so. I have to live it. That is what gives me my identity. Not what someone else thinks or sanctions but my own actions. My identity is what I do, what I say, how I evidence my faith in my life.

 

We humans are a curious lot. I am certain someone famous has said that but tonight it is my own quote. In an effort to avoid schism within the Anglican Communion, the Communion created a schism with itself and the Episcopal Church. The issue is about who qualifies as a child of God and is thereby entitled to respect, love, and forgiveness…all those things we humans expect. It should be noted that the very things that created such schism would later be adopted and today there is little difference to note.

 

It makes me wonder if the Anglican Communion thinks we have invented a new breed of mammal – the homosexual Christian. It really is not about who the outcasts are. It is completely about who we become with such decision. What identity do we then take on when we fail to recognize these as children of God, or the Creator, or Allah, or the Supreme Being, or any of the other one hundred common names for the Creator Spirit?

 

There is a national holiday declared as Martin Luther King, Jr Day in the U.S.A. He had a dream that one day all people and children would be seen as just that – people and children. “Who dat inside who’s dat outside; who’s dat inside who dat well outside?” We cannot be well in our identity if we fail to see the inner soul and respond to the being within. Recently those who work in the nation’s capital seem to have forgotten the purpose behind this holiday. Instead they use their positions as an excuse to engage in name calling and acceptance of those who commit illegal acts.

 

I am proud to be a member of a group of people who have chosen their identity to be open to envelope in God’s love all the souls of the earth, regardless of color, creed, race, or status. My identity is not that of God nor am I any better than another. Who dat? It’s me, a child of God, a child who still hears the echoes of Dr. King’s words.

I, too, have a dream, a dream of a world in which respect is given to all living things. My identity is based upon equality and the hope that we will someday truly realize equality for all. When it comes to acceptance, I don’t think anyone should be left outside.   Who are you?

Control and Determination

Control and Determination

Epiphany 2020

02.19.2020

 

Ask any student that has ever taken a mathematics test. Simply answering the question is not giving a complete answer. One must be able to show the work to explain how the answer was obtained. In other words, the student cannot simply guess; computations must give evidence of how the answer was determined.

 

In 1956 Kurt Godel wrote a letter to John von Neumann and, basically, asked if he thought a computer could determine answers to certain problems from scratch. Computers had already proven quite successful at verifying answers; Godel wondered if they could posit the answer all on their own, especially regarding those problems that were easily verified but not so easily solved. This question was put into mathematical terms fifteen years later by Stephen Cook who wrote “P versus NP”.

 

The questions involved in the P versus NP debate are, simply put, questions whose answers cannot be determined without testing every possible answer. In 2000 seven mathematical problems were named Millennium Prize Problems by the Clay Mathematical Institute. Anyone solving one of these seven would win a million dollar prize. To date, only one of the seven has been solved; six are still unsolved.

 

These are not the only unsolved problems that exist, however. Even in mathematics, there are still a host of problems in each specialty that continue to challenge mankind. One of my favorites is found in Discrete Geometry – solving the happy ending problem for arbitrary . The problem itself has nothing to do with marriage. It states “every set of five points in general position contains the vertices of a convex quadrilateral.” There are quite a few theorems but none have been proven and proving is what solves the problem. In other words, the work must be shown. By the way, two mathematicians met while studying the problem and married; hence, the name.

 

The Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge between 1979 and 2009 was a gentleman named Stephen. A prominent theoretical physicist and often called one of the greatest scientific minds of all times, Stephen illustrates a great deal of unbelievable control for many people. He served as the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, was a most successful author and a fervent supporter and fan of quantum mechanics. He was also an avid supporter of SOS Children’s Villages in the United Kingdom.

 

The SOS Children’s Villages support vulnerable children who have lost their parents or have parents that no longer reside with them. The agency provided family strengthening programs, health, educational, and psycho-social support. Emergency relief programs are also available and the organization works within the intention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as working with the UN Economic and Social Council.

 

For me, though, one of the most astounding things about Stephen was his own lack of physical control that so many of us take for granted. Those that knew him claimed he had an incredible amount of determination or obstinacy, the perspective being determined by whether or not one agreed with him. He serves today as an example for us all in what hard work can accomplish since he did not come from a background of wealth or privilege.

 

For many just the fact that he was still working illustrated the P versus NP issue. You see, Stephen was Dr. Stephen Hawking, a man who in his mid-20’s contracted ALS and lived much of his life in a wheelchair and unable to communicate naturally. As he lost control of his muscles and movement became limited, his geometric insight seemed to increase and he began performing equations in his head that most people could not solve with pen and paper/chalk and chalkboard.

 

All too often we write people off based upon their background. This is especially true for children who have grown up in deplorable conditions without a proper mentor or example set for them. We consider those that manage to become successful as anomalies, not the norm. We assume the children of Poverty will never Negate Poverty, that these People will not ever be Noticed People. They are the P versus NP problem of the world and by simply continuing to do what he once set out to do, Stephen Hawking has proven that life can be lived.

 

We seek to control so many things in our lives and yet, we often become our own enemy, our own handicap. Dr. Hawking let nothing prevent him from being and by doing that, he maintained control over his handicap. So how can we follow his example and how do we help the children he so proudly supported in his own humanitarian efforts?

 

I cannot imagine someone ever rushed into the building that housed Dr. Hawking’s office and complained about too much, especially if he was rolling into the building in his wheelchair at the same time. He served as a role model simply by being present.

 

Each of us does the same, although certainly not to the extent of Stephen Hawking. We can help children in our own areas by being a mentor or role model for them. So many children, especially those living without a great deal of positive parental involvement, need to simply see an adult being a functioning adult.

 

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do to and succeed at.” Those are the words of Dr. Hawking. They are words that you can help a child discover by manifesting your faith and living your beliefs. We each put forth an image every time we encounter another. Six days ago Stephen Hawking turned 74. His life was the proving of a theory he proposed at his graduation from Oxford over fifty years ago: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

 

We might think control and adaptation are two different things just as five points might not seem like they would make a four-sided figure or quadrilateral. Yet, though not yet proven, the happy ending problem in Discrete Geometry exists. When teach control when we teach children how to adapt and we do that by helping them. This is something you can do. Be a hero to a child and you will help yourself in ways no computer could ever count. Charity really does begin at home.

Winning

Winning

Epiphany 19

02.16.2020

 

Peyton Manning and Bangambiki Habyarimana may not seem to have much in common. One spent today playing a football game, the American Football League Championship game in Denver, Colorado. The other was either writing another of his books, having already published eighteen, or working with young adults, educating them about HIV Aids as a community worker.

 

This is not the story of two distinctly different men although they are. It is the story about two men who are helping children and young adults win in life. Winning is, whether we admit it or not, something we all seek. We might not all be trying to win a spot at the Super Bowl in two weeks but we all want to win at something.

 

Bangambiki Habyarimana writes books about personal growth, inspirational books and happiness and self-help. Peyton Manning puts a more private face on his work with youth. One lives in affluent areas of the United States while the other works in his native homeland on the continent of Africa. Yet, the both are winning the same game of life. I think Quarterback Peyton Manning would applaud author Bangambiki Habyarimana’s words: “When you say you can’t, you stop the creative powers in you; when you say you can you free them.”

 

The point of this blog discusses how we manifest what we believe, how we show the world our faith in our actions. It may not seem like much, this game of American football. Certainly it has had its fair share of scandals and even Peyton Manning has been the subject of accusations and claims. The ramblings of someone attempting to get his ten minutes of fame cannot erase the good deeds of the man, however.

 

The players and owners of American football teams have a long history of charitable acts. Manning played for the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos.   The Denver Broncos is a team owned by the Bowlen family with Pat Bowlen being the major stockholder. Born in Wisconsin, Bowlen is an attorney and member of the Canadian Bar, among other things. Born into a family that became wealthy while he was still a child, Bowlen set about making his own place in the world.

 

Under his ownership the Broncos have won seven AFL Championships and two Super Bowls, all since 1984. More impressive, they have raised millions of dollars for Denver’s poor and homeless populations. He is also one of the largest contributors to the University of Denver, helping to promote educational opportunities for all students.

 

Manning, as I mentioned, does not flaunt his charitable work. He never mentions that fact that there is a hospital named after him, the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana. Even after leaving Indiana and moving to Colorado, Peyton Manning has continued to support the hospital and, perhaps most importantly, continued to interact with the young patients there. Once he has the parents’ approval, Manning calls the young patients and then lets them talk.

 

The PayBack Foundation in Denver provides Thanksgiving meals to low income families in both Denver and Indianapolis and yes, Manning is heavily involved in it. His foundation gives over one million dollars annually to various groups. Manning donates time and energies to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as well as the local Community Development.

 

Living on a continent where there are countries where it is illegal to speak with people with Aids or HIV, Bangambiki Habyarimana risks it to help young adults stay alive. Every day he goes out makes him a winner. As American rodeo cowboy and barrel racer Doug Firebough once said, “Winning is life is more than just money; it’s about winning on the inside and knowing that you have played the game of life with all you had….and then some.”

 

Winning does not instantly happen, though, and sometimes that is exactly what we think should happen. One of my favorite quotes from Habyarimana is this: “success sits on a mountain of mistakes.” IN other words, you have to accept that you are not always going to win. What makes a winner is that failure is just a step towards winning, not a dead end.

 

We all can be humanitarians and help others. First, we must help ourselves. That starts when we adopt a winning attitude. Perhaps each step will not result in what we wanted but we can make it successful as long as we keep trying. As writer Johnnie Dent, Jr reminds us: “God will not allow you to add the words “Next time” to now faith. Sadly for Pat Bowlen, his time is now spent battling Alzheimer’s. For Habyarimana and Manning, today was a good day to be a winner. Make tomorrow yours.

 

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?