Accept

Accept

2018.12.30

12 Days of Kindness

 

 “What goes around comes around”. Like most people, I receive posts on Facebook that are often pictures of animals. Being an animal lover, I revel in each one. One of my favorites, though, is an oldie but goodie. It is a picture of two dogs, German Shepherds, sitting side by side. Both dogs have a sign around their necks, respectively. The first sign states “Don’t let karma bite you in the rear.” The dog sitting beside that dog has a sign that reads “I am Karma”.

 

The old idiom I quoted at the beginning of this – What goes around comes around – has a great deal of truth in it, both in nature as well as our treatment of each other. I first heard it as a definition of karma when doing a religious presentation to a group of first graders.  There was an overly-active young lad who was not prone to sitting still in the class.  On this day he kept jumping up and playing with non-playful objects in the room, things like the light switch or window blinds cord.  He suddenly stopped his actions, though, and looked directly at me when I asked if anyone knew the meaning of the word “karma”.  His response was quick and to the point: “What goes around comes around.”

 

Celtic culture described the areas of grass affected by a common fungus as fairy rings. These circular spots of grass contained grasses that grew a deeper green and were often thicker than the other areas of grass. It was believed that the fairies made them and that they were a sign of good luck. Depending on the mythology and the culture, fairy rings were thought to be made by fairies dancing, perhaps used when illustrated by mushrooms growing as dinner tables with the fairies eating off the mushrooms, or as places for spirits to gather and sometimes be free to release their powers within the circle.

 

Mushrooms are associated with fairy rings and not just because eating certain ones can produce hallucinations that might make one believe he/she really had seen fairies dancing. A common sign of a fairy ring is a necrotic zone, an area in which the grass and other plant life has died. Fungi associated with mushrooms, mushrooms themselves being a fungus, deplete the soil of nutrients and the plants growing within the circle often die. Similarly the area adjacent to such fungus can grow thicker and deeper in color.

 

There is also evidence that rabbits are an important part in the life cycle of some fairy rings. Rabbits eat grass, cropping it very short while their waste products contain nitrogen-rich droppings. Mushrooms need more soil nitrogen than grass does and a fairy ring can be started from a single fungus spore. Subsequent generations of the original spore will grow outward seeking more nutrients since the parent fungus would have used up all in the immediate area. Rabbits eat only the grass and not the mushrooms so the mushrooms soon grow taller than the grass which the rabbits keep low. This can create rings inside of rings.

 

It is said to be bad luck to enter a fairy ring and even worse luck to destroy or disturb one. Superstitions abound in almost every culture based upon such novelties of nature. From the thirteenth century writer Raoul de Houdenc to the modern-day romance writer Nora Roberts, fairy rings have played a prominent role in the literature of the world. They are also found as subjects of art and were a favorite of Victorian art.

 

The roundness of fairy rings is repeated in the Native American Indian culture in the form of medicine wheels. These stone man-made circles were thought to harness the healing power of nature and used to benefit man/woman. Also known as “sacred hoops”, medicine wheels were found in areas of different tribes and are one of the common aspects found throughout the tribes of all such peoples within North America. Alberta, Canada hosts at least seventy medicine wheels that survive today.

 

Archaeologist John Brumley notes that a medicine wheel consists of at least two of the following three traits: (1) a central stone cairn, (2) one or more concentric stone circles, and/or (3) two or more stone lines radiating outward from a central point. The lines of stones radiating outward from the center appear as spokes in the directions of east, west, north, and south.

 

The medicine wheel was not a set pattern, though. The number of spokes differed from wheel to wheel and some spokes were not evenly spaced out in the design. One of the oldest remaining wheels dates back over forty-five hundred years. Some are aligned astronomically with the horizon and others reflect the position of the sun on the four seasonal equinoxes. How their power was utilized is a subject of much debate but it is clear that they held power and served purpose of healing and living.

 

While many fairy rings are found throughout Europe and the medicine wheels of the North American aboriginal people known as American Indians seem to be found only on the two American continents, there are other such rings. The landscape of Africa also hosts fairy rings. The explanations for them in Europe, particularly in Great Britain and Ireland seem to lose validity when comparing that topography to the land of Africa.

 

Often described as a “thousand blinking eyes in the desert”, the fairy rings of Namibia are considered one of the world’s great natural mysteries. In a place called “The Land God Made in Anger’, the Namibian circle number in the millions although such circles are also found where the grassland transition to desert, from Angola to the Cape province of South Africa. The Namib Desert is a remote and harsh environment. Reasons for the circle abound but, just as plentifully, they are found without backing. Biologist Walter Tschinkel was certain the circle were the work of termites. “They are really neat places, these little clean patches. They are like little satellite dishes. I looked at them and thought ‘this has to be termites,” Tschinkel remarked. “It is the sort of things termites do.” However, his theory proved false and while others still believe in the sand termite as the cause, that theory also fails to justify all aspects of the circles.

 

More recently a scientist took a holistic approach. Many theories have focused on the underground gasses believed to be affecting the soil and grass formation. Folklore of the region mentions underground dragons whose breath created the circles. Stephan Getzin, an ecologist from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, in Leipzig, Germany decided to consider all theories but from a different perspective – a bird’s eye view. He took to the air to examine the Namibian circles and discovered something very interesting. The circles not only appeared as eyes in the desert, dancing across the landscape, they were evenly spaced and had an organization to them. His findings have revealed only that there is still we do not know and that all previous theories might have some validity although none would be the entire story. “I’m sure this is not the end of the story,” summarized Getzin.

 

These circles, these evidences of unknown karma upon the environment, whether natural or man-made, are excellent examples of the sacred in our own lives. Sometimes it is what we do to ourselves and sometimes we are simply the victims of another’s behavior or choices. The fact is that we can learn and heal from everything.  Life is a series of lessons, a process of acceptance.   Not all of life’s lessons are pleasant or invited.  Healing occurs when we learn. What we choose to eat and drink affects our living and how we live has just as important an affect.  Selecting to live graciously with respect to all gives us a greater chance of being treated the same. Even when we are not, we can find the lesson and move on to greater things.

 

My readers for this blog come from forty-three countries world-wide.  Those of you who have taken the time to comment have taught me and I accept those lessons with gratitude and joy.  Life is not for the faint-hearted.  Life takes courage and is seldom “easy”.  Your acceptance of these posts has been a blessing and I thank each of you.  My efforts in writing this blog have been rewarded by your reading it.  Some might say that is a type of karma.

 

Eventually, goodness will go around the world and encompass it and us.  The best karma will be found in the acceptance we give one another.  Today’s world is often a world of one of name-calling and inciting terror.  Sharing kindness by allowing people to be, accepting them for their differences rather than in spite of them, opens a door for a better tomorrow and a brighter, safer future for everyone.  May be t greatest lesson is that the sacred part of karma is in learning from the painful and spreading joyful kindness to all.  I do know that if we encompass the world with a ring of goodness, we will all have better karma.  Then, what goes around will be goodness, mercy, kindness, and a better tomorrow to come.

Acceptance and Denial

Acceptance and Denial

Lent 26-27

 

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Most of us, after a certain age, start to see our parents or grandparents.  We realize that we have Grandma’s nose or Dad’s ears.  Perhaps we’ve always known about the family stature and delighted in either reaching it or passing it.  For some, their vocation is also a matter of family tradition.  There has been an on-going debate about what skills and talents might be genetic since man first realized inheritance applied to more than just land holdings and revenue.

 

Recently one of my own progeny said they heard my words coming out of their mouth.  I should in complete honesty add that they did not seem overjoyed at this event but they did admit the wisdom of the words they’d had spoken to them as a child.  A parent has to take their compliments whenever and however they can!

 

I had an acquaintance once that looked very much like her mother.  She was not very happy about this and I could understand why.  It is to be hoped that all parents nurture and support their children but the truth is that some people never really mature in their roles as parents.  In short, some people bear children without having a clue as to how to nurture them.  My acquaintance’s mother was not a supportive person to her daughter and often was a hindrance.

 

Having known this person for several decades and upon a chance meeting, I inquired about her mother.  I was being more polite than expressing any real interest but was very surprised nonetheless when my acquaintance smiled and said her mother was doing well, having outlived most of her contemporaries.  I asked if their relationship had improved.  My friend smiled and said that it had not.  She then casually said that while one might grow older, one did not always mature with age.

 

I had seen this acquaintance through several crying bouts when we were younger because of the pain and neglect of her mother so her offhanded remarks caught me by surprise and I told her so.  She replied that she still looked like her mother but now had accepted the resemblance.  “Just imagine,” she asked, “what the woman would have done if my looks were not proof I was her own child!”  While her mother’s behavior had not grown with age into a more loving relationship, my friend’s acceptance of her familiarity of physical appearance had brought her comfort.

 

All too often our value as a person is based upon anything and everything except who we are inside.  Regardless of which creation story you believe, we are uniquely made and individuals in our own right.  When we allow the behaviors of others to be the currency of our souls, we are denying our right to self-worth. 

 

I hope this week you are looking into your mirror and seeing past your reflection.  Our true value is found not only in physical appearance but in our actions and our words, our compassion and treatment of others.  At some point we are all alone with ourselves. We should strive to get to know ourselves and then become a person we can like, a person we feel as value. 

 

The Beatitudes, the subject of our series this Lent are about acceptance.  When we recognize the cause and accept the effect, we are then able to move forward.  Sunday is, in many cultures, considered the first day of the week.  It offers new beginnings and hopes, the chance to fulfill our aspirations and meet our goals.  It is followed by Monday, arguably considered the most detested day of the week.  Sunday and Monday are two sides of one twenty-four hour period and our acceptance of their shared twelve hours either determines whether it is a Super Sunday or Manic Monday.

 

We create our own currency.  No one else can do that.   No one else can be us.  When we allow someone else to deny us the right to be ourselves, we are abdicating our own presence and bankrupting our self-worth.   “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”  Harvey Fierstein’s advice is pure gold.

 

Allergies

Allergies
Lent 30

Most of us have had them at some point. Maybe you cannot eat strawberries or take certain medications. If you are like most of mankind, you also have seasonal allergies. The human body has built-in defense systems. They are marvelous creations of both design and evolution. Unlike military defense systems which can kill both target and user, the body’s defense systems target specific intruders without harming the host.

Of course, we don’t generally think of our bodies as defense systems. Instead, we call that part of our being our bodies’ ability to produce natural antibodies. Antibodies are those cells that attack the intruder and continue our well-being. Vaccinations encourage the production of antibodies; that is their purpose and function. Man has greatly increased his lifespan by inventing such vaccinations and while a very small minority might suffer side effects from them, vaccinations do save lives and should not be feared or distrusted. [Parents should be diligent in exploring and educating themselves on their family history of health, however, so that their doctor has a clear picture of how the vaccination might affect a small child or adult.]

Allergies become present when our bodies misidentify an intruder and assume something is harmful when it generally is not, at least to most of the general population. The Mayo Clinic website describes an allergic reaction this way: “An allergy starts when your immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance for a dangerous invader. The immune system then produces antibodies that remain on the alert for that particular allergen. When you’re exposed to the allergen again, these antibodies can release a number of immune system chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergy symptoms.”

Make a date to meet an old friend in the park, sit down on the park bench when both arrive and start your conversation this way: “Let’s discuss theology!” I guarantee you that you will most likely create an allergic reaction of sorts. Your friend might not start sneezing or break out in hives, but odds are, there will be some stammering, looking at the watch or time on their phone, and suddenly the friend will remember a pressing engagement that requires an immediate departure.

Our series is about finding the sacred in the everyday and yet, while it sounds great, most of us would never really start a conversation about it…or about theology….or even spirituality. How are we going to find something we run away from or are too shy to consider? Do we have an allergy to that which is sacred? Doctors will tell you that if there is a family history of allergies, then one is more likely to have them. DO we overlook the sacred because of inherited lifestyles or priorities? Children are also more at risk for allergies than adults although the allergy may disappear as the child ages. Some feel this is due to an immature immune system while others feel one gains tolerance to a substance as one ages and the body adapts. All agree that having one allergy increases the risk of another.

IF we are taught to live our lives negatively, always expecting the worse and focusing on all that is wrong or could go wrong, then we will have a hard time believing in the sacred, much less identifying it. To assume all is lost, though, would be wrong. Mankind was not born knowing how to use computers or even how to use the bathroom. We learn more in the first five years of life than we do in the rest of our lives. We learn to speak, to comprehend a heretofore unknown language; how to flex and use our fingers, arms, legs, and bodies; how to interpret other people’s facial expression and body language; how to sit, walk, skip, run, and sometimes even stand still. Life is a skill and we can learn to live it in a positive fashion regardless of our inherited dispositions. We can learn to see the sacred and value it.

When it comes to living, we are all children. Even the oldest of us still has much to learn. The marvels of modern architecture pale in comparison to the buildings from antiquity so clearly, we still have much to learn as far as spacial constructs, balance, and construction are concerned. We also build lives and in that we also have a lot to learn. We may grow old and mature but we never reach the point of knowing everything.

Gaining tolerance might be the very hardest skill of all to acquire regarding having an allergy to that which is sacred. Tolerance requires us to be exposed to things that take us outside our comfort zones. Tolerance requires we be exposed to people and conditions that are foreign to us and that can be very scary. The people and conditions are not always life-threatening; in fact, they seldom are. What we protest is feeling uncomfortable and not being sure what to do. The answer is to simply do as we would want done. If you are about to shake the hand of a stranger wearing clothing that is unknown to you, think how you would feel. Would you want stares or a smile? Tolerance is the least strenuous skill and yet, is also the least lived.

We act as if we have an allergy to those who are not our clones, forgetting that no one really is just exactly like us. We share many things in common with family, friends, those in our own area or lands but we are unique individuals. There is no one exactly like us. We forget and become fearful when really, we need to realize they pose no threat to us. Writer Lloyd Shearer widely wrote: ““Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.”

George Orwell, famous for his book about the future “1984”, summed it up succinctly: “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” When we realize that that which is strange is not intruding on our lifestyles, then we no longer have an allergy to life and can see the sacred. To paraphrase the pop star Lady Gaga, acceptance, tolerance and love feed a community. They illustrate the sacred in our lives.

Pentecost 74

Pentecost 74
My Psalm 74

Faith & Strength

It is a Wednesday (or should be if I have scheduled this correctly!). One of my favorite commercials is the one of the camel walking through the office asking: “What day is it?” Camels are wonderful creatures and, I believe, a life lesson that God has given us. They provide life-essential transportation in terrains that make it virtually impossible to traverse on foot for any great distance. Their ability to trek long miles with little sustenance or water defy the basic way most of us live which, I think, offers us a reminder to expand our knowledge.

Camels are not the most beauteous of God’s creation. Though graceful in their own way, they lack the peaceful movement of a butterfly, the grace of a gazelle, and even their coats are not the calming smoothness of a cat or dog. Their faces are….interesting and even their dispositions do not give credence to a happy disposition. In short, they will most likely spit on you if you are near them and they seemingly do it without cause or provocation.

So for a camel to walk through the office in a manner that seems to suggest the camel is happy and excited to hear the answer to his or her query is humorous. More than that, it is memorable. The punch line, of course, to the commercial is that “It is Hump Day!” A seemingly not gorgeous, rather mundane beast of burden, takes the least special day of the week, Wednesday, and makes it memorable for being “Hump Day”, that day that tells us we have gotten through the first part of the week and are heading into the home stretch towards the coveted weekend.

As I have said before, life is messy. This isn’t a news headline. We all know that life has its challenges, its ups and downs, its mean people, and those times that you did everything right and it all blew up in your face, hopefully metaphorically speaking and not literally. Faith can sometimes be like that as well.

As mentioned previously, I firmly believe we are to garner strength from our beliefs. After all, if they do not serve to make us stronger and better and healthier, then why bother with them? Churches across the world are suffering demise in attendance. Many have made attendance numbers their focus while others have turned their spiritual centers into little more than social gatherings, a country club that occasionally mentions their doctrine. There are those greedy, power-hungry fanatics who even twist their doctrine into vendettas to accomplish irrational goals that benefit only them and not their flock or community of believers.

Living in the Western world as I do, I have access to multiple cable television channels and radio stations that broadcast religious programming. If I defined faith or religion as listening to someone berate me or explain the lessons of holy teachings, I could do that at home….in my pajamas….drinking hot tea or eating cupcakes…petting a silky-haired pooch or being intimidated by a hungry feline who would really prefer I spend time paying homage to it and not some deity.

I attend my house of worship for the strength that a community offers. The temple, mosque, church, meeting house are all places of family. We should greet each other as such. Our identity as believers is not based upon any leader other than the Great Spirit, the Creator, your Lord. If the purpose of attending such is not for the strength that comes from corporate worship, why not stay home in your comfy clothes sitting in a comfy chair. You can even record the religious program and watch it at your leisure, sleeping later than the timing of most religious services.

Unfortunately, many people do not feel welcome in their religious community. If they don’t drive the fanciest car, live in the largest house, make the largest public monetary donation, then they feel more like a camel than a beautiful butterfly. Faith serves to release us from our cocoon and sees all of Creation as worthy and beautiful. I am more like that camel than a butterfly or a gazelle but faith tells me I too can serve. I too have a purpose.

Camels may be ugly but try riding a butterfly across the Sahara Dessert. We all serve a purpose. We all have value. Faith turns us into valued members of the world and Creation. Faith takes our grief and makes it beautiful. Faith gives us purpose, meaning, life. However, it does not one any good if faith divides or inhibits. We need to be welcomed and free to get over the hump of our differences and value each other. We need to sing out our faith. We need to let the transformation that faith brings be heard.

My Psalm 74

They mocked me, O God.
They cast me out and I was alone.
Where are you, my God?
Why do you let your words be twisted?
Where is the truth in your teachings?
Help me, O Lord, to remember I am loved.
Deliver me from the vileness of others;
Protect me from the evil around me.
I call out to you, my God and Savior.
I need you with me.
I need your love around me.
I need to remember I am not alone.
I am your child, Great Father/Mother.
You cannot make anything without form or function.
I need to trust in my existence as evidence of my worth.
In you do I place my trust, O God.
I will sing of your love forever.

Easter Eleven

Easter Eleven
April 30, 2014

The Good, the Bad, the Serving
RIP John Servati

Monday a young man, a student at the University of Alabama, died. A stellar athlete and good friend liked by most, he died holding up a retaining wall in the basement of his rented college house while his girlfriend escaped. They had sought refuge in the basement of the home just as all the experts advise. Tuscaloosa had suffered tragic and extensive damages three years and one day earlier. Every student and resident in the town knew what to do in case of a tornado and this young man and his girlfriend did just what they should have done. Maybe the town needs stricter and more frequent inspection of rental properties. Maybe the homeowner needed better waterproofing for the basement of better drainage of the yard around the home’s foundation. One fact is certain: Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

Sometimes people we thought were good do bad things. No one is perfect, in spite of our expectations. We are always quick to admit we are human and along with that sometimes comes an assumption that our actions will be excused or forgiven because we are human. How often do we apply that to others? Do we give them that same “pass” or are we quick to judge? How exactly do we see others? “Jehovah sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 16:15). How do we serve each other by offering mercy?

Man is an animal that likes logic and rational behavior. We like to think every problem has an answer and that we, as animals at the top of the evolutionary ladder, can determine a working solution. We like to think we know a great deal, especially about each other. In 1 Corinthians 2:11, Paul admonishes that no one can really know the mind of another. He reminds his audience that everyone has secret places, secret hopes, secret fears within them. He uses that fact to illustrate that since we cannot know everything about each other, we certainly cannot begin to know everything about God. I would add that we cannot know everything about life.

Paul is trying to explain that the wisdom God has, the purpose of the Holy Spirit, is to help us live. While this passage centers more on the Holy Spirit and that is what Pentecost is all about and we are not yet there on the Christian calendar, the metaphor is a good one we can all use, regardless of religion or spirituality. The Christian faith is based upon a deity that serves man, not the other way around.

Man has evolved, whether you believe he did so walking out of the Garden of Eden or crawling out of the ocean. We are not as we once were. If you are reading this, then you were born from a human, regardless of past lives or forms. You are now human; you now live. Paul’s admonition applies to all of us. Like all scripture, it came to us through many variations and translations and even today, disagreement exists over which words might have actually been written. His basic message remains for us to hear, though. Our knowledge of God must always be relative, not absolute. It is not possible to measure the arm of God with the finger of man.

Good things happen to undeserving people and bad things happen that are undeserved to good people. None of us can be absolute about our tomorrow here on this planet. We may plan for it, prepare for it, and do all the right things to make it successful. All we can do is live with mercy and pray for mercy. Christian doctrine encourages a way to do this is by serving others, putting others first. So do many other spiritualities.

On a Monday evening, possibly discussing the recent swim meet between two of the sport’s greatest, a young man prepared for the end of the semester. An honor student in finance, as his hometown in a neighboring state was being devastated by tornadoes, John Servati did all the right things. He showed mercy and his legacy is one of grace. While his parents and two sisters will someday take pride in his multiple medals and record-setting swims, right now they are able to take comfort that he died living his faith, being as successful a human as is possible.

None of us live in a perfect world basking in perpetual sunshine. That’s a good thing because the star we call the sun could not provide for us what we need without the precious water which gives us life. When the clouds of our necessary water gather, when those clouds turn stormy as life often does, as the floods of reality of our own humanness threaten to overwhelm us, we need to remember to have mercy and to ask for mercy – from ourselves, our neighbors and fellow residents, and from our Creator or Spirit Guide. We also need to show mercy so that we can share the grace of living a spirit-filled life. We need to see with our hearts and act in faith. We need to learn from a twenty-one year old young man who, in his last moments, turned the bad into good and lived a most successful life, though all too brief.

The Latin word “servatus” means saved or kept. May God have mercy to help us all be as brave, as successful, as a loving servant to each other, following the example of John Servati.