Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fewer Resolutions, More Reflection

When you’re little, it’s common to count the night stars, only to find the more you count, the more appear. Later in life, education, travel, and experience reveal the same startling truth: You can never know it all.
Given the breadth and depth of nature, no human endeavor––science, religion, nor even Facebook–– can fully explain the universe. 
We can’t even explain the size of humanity.
Population experts claim there are over 7 billion people on this one planet right now. Each person has their own experiences, customs, and values. 
Beyond our earth, astronomers estimate there are billions, perhaps trillions of galaxies with their own attendant stars and planets. Somewhere in those swarms of gas and rock and light, one could safely assume there are even more people floating around the cosmos than we have here.
 As we say on the lefse plains of Minnesota, Uff da.
Even though the totality of creation eludes our human frailty, but we can always understand more.
And should.
So rather than spending the day making New Year’s resolutions, check out this New Year’s reflection.
Understanding More
As we’ve seen in just the last century with the advances in science and technology, there is always more to see, more to do, more to learn. Here are five:
  1. First, the more we can put behind us, the farther we can move ahead. Don't hang on to the mistakes of the past. Embrace the possibilities of the future. For example, the sooner one forgets drinking the finger bowl at a fancy restaurant, the sooner he’ll eat more than Wendy’s or Subway.The social ramifications are endless.
  2. More than what we already know,  we must recognize what we don’t know. Like why there are Brussels sprouts. Really. Somebody tell me.
  3. In our relations with others, remember there is more than one way to think, more than one way to feel, more than one way to live. Individually, we are not the world, although we want to be. Personally, I’d settle for being Nova Scotia, but…
  4. More joy, more love, and more patience lead to better relationships. Remember, people are the creation of God. All are valid. All are valuable. Even the those who told us leisure suits are sexy.
  5. The more we ALL know about ourselves, each other, and the world we live in, the better we will all be. As somebody once said, "Knowledge is strength. Ignorance is stupid." Or something like that.
I'm sure there are more possibilities. More is good.

Friday, September 23, 2016

In Case You've Forgotten: 16 Traits of Love

After watching a evening of television news and commentary, I concluded there has to be a better way to deal with conflict than instigation and retaliation.

There has to be.

From childhood, I was taught "All you need is love," yet I noticed few people using it to settle disputes. When I asked friends and teachers why, the answer was, "We're afraid."

Anyone who has lived through puberty knows that feeling.

But let's be honest, being afraid of love is far different than we've been witnessing the past few weeks. Instead of being afraid of love, people demonize it, adopting anger, hate, fear, and intimidation as fruitless remedies to the antagonism that dominates the media, populace, and highways.

It's like nobody has ever heard or read the word love before.

So, in a recent Instagram campaign, I offered  the following synopsis of the thirteenth  chapter of the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians with slight revision and no commentary. Given this week's violence and rhetoric, I offer the list again...with a few observations for the doubtful:

  1. patient. Breathe! The yoga instructors emphasize the most basic rule of life for a reason.
  2. kind. Say "Good morning." Open the door for somebody on crutches with an armload of Pampers, artichokes, and hamster treats. Everybody feels better.
  3. not envious. Want what you have and let other people have their own.
  4. ...does not brag. It doesn't need to.
  5. not puffed up. Being full of yourself means you need to go on a diet.
  6. not rude. Sinking to insults only brings yourself down.
  7. not self-serving. Looking out for Number One is a sure way of becoming the Only One. As Three Dog Night sang, "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do."
  8. not easily angered. Anger begets anger, high blood pressure, purple veins and uncontrollable spittle.
  9. not resentful. Some people are just... Never mind. Let it go.
  10. not glad about injustice. "Justice for all" is a goal, not a barrier. 
  11. ...rejoices in truth. Not because one hears it so seldom, but because it lifts the weight of falsehood.
  12. ...bears all things. Even laughing snorts and polka versions of "Born in the USA."
  13. ...believes all things. "All things" does not include the moon is made of green cheese, the appropriateness of wearing plaid pants with a flowered shirt, or the superiority of brussels sprouts to M&Ms.
  14. ...hopes all things. Miracles happen. Really.
  15. ...endures all things. Bad things also happen, or as someone once said, "Feces eventuates." Get through them.
  16. endless. Thank goodness!
Okay, that may not be exactly what Paul had in mind, but it beats the heck out of the guck spit out by the talking heads, feuding politicians, and malicious vandals. When it comes to choosing leader of opinion, countries, and life, LOVE WINS!

It's the better way.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Beyond Opposites

The dualities of existence can be confusing, debilitating,....and also liberating. Consider this poetic offering:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Positive Resolution

New Year’s resolutions are too often a list of don’ts: Don’t swear. Don’t drink. Don’t scratch. Don’t stick carrots up your nose.
Even the positives like “I will lose twenty pounds” carry a negative: “I will not eat candy, doughnuts, or anything good.”
All night long after the celebratory fireworks across the street, I looked for items to add to my ever-growing list. Like most people, I realized how daunting a task this self-perfection was going to be and turned over, thinking “Maybe next year.” 
At which point I woke up with my favorite Bible passage whapping me upside the head: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
In other words, a resolution list needs only one item: Love.
Not to make it sound simple or anything, but it’s that simple!
Because here’s a startling reality: Love is a forward motion. 
Unlike any other resolution you make, with love you never go backward. You never lose ground by trying and failing. Attempting to love always causes you to love more than you ever did before. You never go back to zero. 
Instead, you gain patience and perseverance. You gain perspective. You gain ground on the ultimate goals of peace, joy, and harmony that you never could with any other resolution.
Seeing people through the eyes of love rather than of judgement reveals every individual’s worth, uniting the world through mankind's qualities rather than dividing it by human failings.
I can hear the voices now. That is totally whacked. Talk about pie-in-the-sky! Get a clue, ya hippie!
I know. The thought is idealistic, beyond the grasp of reality, but here’s a plan for the naysayers: Hush! 
Rather than limiting the scope of love, let it be as illogical, unreasonable, and impractical as possible. 
Replace I can’t with we can
Love the unlovable.
Seek beauty in chaos. 
Seek wonder and awe.
Embrace joy.
Let us be the incredibly loving human beings we were always meant to, and when someone tells us it's impossible, do it anyway.
Jesus did.
Happy 2015.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Dangerous Descent into Doctrine: Step Away, not Down

Please note: Today’s worldly strife is NOT of God! Yes, much of the fighting deals with religion, but God is not religion.
Many justify the destructive hatred and violence as God-ordained, God-directed, and God-orchestrated. They are wrong.
The Judeo-Christian creation story never mentions divine wrath or annihilation. No revisions. No rebuilds. The whole universe in its original condition earned God's pronouncement, “It is good.”
And when God created humanity in His own image, He reveled in his handiwork, bestowing nothing but blessings.  
Life. Water. Food. Everything "that was pleasing to look at and good for food." (Genesis 2:7-9)
Most significantly, God provided companionship, relationships based on love. While he labeled the rest of the cosmos good, the tie between God and humanity was supreme.
Then came sin, humanity's betrayal. Despite the pain, did God sever the relationship in a flurry of flogging, disembowelment and death by chigger bites?
Was there punishment?
Yes. But not not abandonment. Not destruction. Not divine hatred and retribution.
Instead of schmucking Adam and Eve with a brick as He could, God gave them a new set of clothes, exchanging their fruity patches of fig leafs for more durable garments of skin. 
Violence and the destruction of life eventually came, but not at God’s hand. As human jealousy and anger grew, God tried to head off the inevitable. 
He exhorted Cain, "Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It is desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it." (Genesis 4:6-7)
Still, Cain murdered his brother Abel. But even when he did, God did not break relationship with him. 
No capital punishment. No corporal punishment. Not even future condemnation to hell. In fact, God protected Cain from the violence of others. 
In fact, the first mention of vengeance in Genesis is not of God’s, but rather Lamech killing an unnamed man for some unknown crime. 
And the descent into doctrine began.
Like Lamech, people abandoned their relationship with a loving God and depended on recrimination rather than repentance.
Instead of accepting responsibility for sin, people justified themselves without consulting God, punishing others with a ferocity God never even visualized. Rather than turning to God for direction, they relied on doctrine and revenge.
And so mankind began a four-step descent of doctrine that led to the type of destruction we see today, beginning with the initial step of
Humanity's first creation chronicles succinctly and joyously pronounced God’s action and proclaimed our importance to Him. No detailed explanation of how and why. Just that it was and that it was good.
As sin became more prevalent and pervasive, however, humans recognized the need to control the unruly. Authority needed to be asserted, people thought, and if God wasn’t going to do it…. That altered description of God's nature––a human-tempered avenger––led to perverted human justice. 
Still, to lend credence to their savagery, mankind invoked God’s name and moved to step two of the descent into doctrine:
 Rather than highlighting God’s forgiving and protective reaction to the Fall, humans further disguised and warped His image, portraying Him as what modern skeptics call a savage, hate-filled "invisible sky wizard.” 
In God's wrathful name, humans eagerly unearthed the depravity in others and willingly ignored their personal perversion while slaughtering the heathens.
Unfortunately for them, God’s voice kept speaking annoyingly in their defiant ears, which necessitated step 3:
Easing––or rather, ignoring––mankind’s collective conscience required a speck of mental gymnastics and a whole mountain of denial. 
First, they had to disavow any involvement in the disintegration of society. This meant that they must embrace hypocrisy by selectively utilizing and ignoring the truths of history, science, and reality.
Secondly, they must deny the very composition of God, rejecting what they knew from the moment of their creation, that God is love.
Finally, to assert their singularity, mankind had to deny God's supremacy, by denying His very existence and relying on their own "wisdom and strength." 
All of which has led the world to the final step in doctrine's descent,
To some, the outbreak of war and violence today causes little concern. The incidence is limited in scope, they argue, and sure to end soon. 
But despite this wishful thinking, human behavior is as subject to the Laws of Nature as a feather in a windstorm.
When Sir Isaac Newton postulated his Third Law of Motion (“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”), he did not simply clarify the physical universe; he exposed the human instinct to meet violence with further violence.
Unfortunately, the endless echo of retribution from competing doctrines, with the attendant devastation and death, can only truly end in one way––the permanent annihilation of the combatants.
Alternative plans
Which leads us to the good news. If mankind prefers to exist––and most people do–– particular remedies can be taken. 
First, reject violence as a solution to anything. Just stop. Violence has never ended violence in the past; it never will.
Second, reject any doctrine that embraces or even allows anger, hatred, and violence. However, most descend to this level and are better exchanged for the third and only real solution to the problem.
Accept the reality that GOD IS LOVE! And created us to be. Seek the relationship He always wanted to have with us…and for us to have with each other.
In other words, step away from the dangerous descent into doctrine and up to the rewards of relationship.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Grandpa's Notecard

Life gets hectic. 

Time is short. 

We need to go here. We need to go there.

We need more STUFF!

When the mind fumbles and jumbles with desires and inconsequentials, the wisdom of the past reminds us that the most significant contribution to our sanity is not the amount or monetary value of our possessions. It is a simple thing. Like an old, stained, and worn 3x5 notecard. 

Let me explain.

My late paternal grandfather was the most even-tempered man I ever met. He witnessed much in his 90+ years: Two presidential assassinations (McKinley and Kennedy), the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the development of air and space travel, the transformation of the Industrial Age to the Information Age...

The 20th Century with all its change and turmoil, both good and bad, had to be be mind-boggling and threatening  The opportunities and pressures had to tear at at even the strongest psyche. (And we of the 21st Century have difficulty deciding between Netflix or Hulu.)

Grandpa was noted for his quiet patience, his integrity, his perseverance, and his willingness to take on a challenge.  His talents and efficiency cast in many crucial roles at work and in his community. The secretary at First Congregational Church of Berkeley (CA), after examining the church archives, told me, "Your grandfather held every office in this congregation except president of the Ladies Aid."

Berkeley? You mean...?

Yes, that Berkeley. Berkeley, California. Home of the Hippie. The only city I have ever seen with an officially-designated "Drug-Free Zone." I always wondered how Grandpa maintained his calm demeanor and positive outlook on humanity living amongst the social upheaval and day-to-day struggles of existence in that Pacific Pandemonium.

Last night, I discovered one way.

In preparation of the upcoming Mega-Purge of 2014, my wife and I spent the evening digging through old family papers and pictures to cull the precious from the "What-were-we-thinking-when-we-kept-that?" Among the legal documents, the pile of canceled checks, and innumerable travel slides my grandfather had accumulated, we found a peculiar stack of 3x5 index cards. We understood that the other material explained his terrestrial lifestyle. We discovered that this collection of notecards exposed the foundation of his spiritual survival.

Each item in the stack included handwritten a maxim, Bible verse, prayer, or self-disciplinary exercise which Grandpa used for inspiration and direction. The most important thoughts, the ones to which he referred repeatedly, he wrote in ink. Others, the ones that corrected wording or expressed his immediate reaction, he quickly scrawled in pencil. 

The once bright-white cards had discolored unevenly, some to dark gray, some to a brownish yellow. The hard edges of the cards curled limply, worn soft from shuffling. On some the script itself had faded, smudged by intrigued fingers rubbing across the most important words, the ones read and considered, read and contemplated, read and memorized .

One card stood out among the rest. 

Ink and tea stained, this was the only one with a heading: "Tranquility––Serenity." Two simple words written large, taking up two of the now-barely-visible printed blue lines. One long curving streak of dark ink underlining them emphatically. 

Beneath the heading read this simple passage in carefully formed letters: "Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes away except God. God alone is sufficient." 

Unlike the other cards, the handwriting here was larger, more legible. The only missing element was enough room to fully cite the source. This was not only uncharacteristic of the other cards, it was highly unusual for a man who meticulously labeled every book, every piece of furniture, every travel slide in his house before he died. Since the words were obviously most important, Grandpa obviously thought the speaker need only be known as a "16th Century mystic."

What Grandpa needed when he wrote this card was daily direction, plain words to reinforce his mental well-being, the assurance that "God alone is sufficient." That this promise was originally spoken by a Spanish nun (Sr. Teresa of Avila) was secondary. (For a complete modern translation, see the photo below.)

As indicated earlier, this notecard expressed the foundation of my grandfather's spiritual survival. Instead of accumulating fortune and stuff, instead of nurturing status and acclaim, he built on the card's assurance, cultivating relationships and exploring the vast beauty and mystery of God's world. Through the tragedies and triumphs of nearly a century of constant cultural chaos, four simple words comforted him, inspired him, molded him. Those four words ensured and enrich his legacy. 

I always knew words had power. I just didn't realize how much power could fit on a single 3x5 notecard.

Thursday, May 8, 2014