Saturday, March 30, 2024

WWJE

 

Less than six months ago voices were chiming in to promote a proper respect for the late December Holiday.The familiar, "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." and "Keep Christ in Christmas." became the seasonal mantra. As it is the weekend when Christianity (at least a segment of it) recognize Jesus' exit from a tomb, either I am not listening or there are no chants to properly respect this pivotal Holy Day of the Christian faith. Jesus is still the reason for this season, I believe. Maybe, "Keep East in Easter." isn't as catchy?

Personally, my faith life isn't dependent upon certain days, religious dictates disguised as mantras, or any other trappings. I enjoy celebrations. Any reason to join with others around food and conversation is good enough for me. I also find amusement in our capitalistic, consumer driven culture when it comes to these identified sacred days. Observing the array of products adorning the front shelves of stores is entertaining.

Here is a photo dump of some of my favorite items related to or promoted as Easter appropriate.

Even being chocolate, it seems strange to nibble on something either seen as an instrument of death or jewelry worn on a lanyard.




Speaking of chocolate, those eyes staring at me with such precision is rather creepy. What part of a chocolate rabbit do you eat first?







Could Snap, Crackle, and Pop represent the Holy Trinity?






Far from being a religious purest, I marvel at how we meld, explain, and justify so much stuff to have particular meaning. Obviously the Candy Cane has religious significance.  Here is a short YouTube video so we can indulge guilt free into jelly beans.  

So with this spin-off on the never stale Peeps, do you bite off the Sour Patch Kids head first (similar to the chocolate rabbit)? Or maybe just consume the whole thing at one time? Rather strange for a holiday which symbolizes life that we eat kids.

The list could go on, but you get the point. No matter how you choose to spend this weekend or mark Easter Day, do so in the joy of relationships and the support of community. Life is to be lived with gusto embracing respect, grace, and integrity.


I leave you with one final picture and the question, "What Would Jesus Eat?"  


Thank you for reading!

Sunday, March 24, 2024

What's the Problem?

I am not asking a snarky question in response to a perceived glare from another person. It's not that I'm above doing so. I've reacted that way too many times. Instead the question is posed as a general observation of our culture. Whether it be personal, societal, economic, or work related we live in a quagmire of problems. We focus on problems, real or imagined. We believe these problems demand our immediate attention. We believe we are solution oriented. The label "Problem Solver" is something to be tattooed where everyone can see it. If it weren't for problems to solve, what would keep us busy? 

The problem is the need to be perceived as busy. As I not only look at life currently, but as I recall the past decades have significant problems been solved? Yes, certain real problems have been eradicated. Advancements have been made in agriculture, medicine, and technology. Yet food deserts, news deserts, and geographic deserts are expanding. Problems are outpacing answers. If more problems can be solved sooner by fewer people we will catch up, correct?  This chasing doesn't seem to convince people in the United States that problems are being solved. If so, wouldn't individuals feel more secure and exhibit more happiness? Is contentment increasing? A recent survey measuring happiness between age groups and countries indicates that the United States has dropped overall. Our lives are busier. There are certainly multiple problems to solve. Yet this appears not to add to our satisfaction in life. The viewing of screens, video conferences, and endless email threads create busyness, but lack solutions. 

I have intentionally decided to get off the "busyness train." My desire is to explore, as well as contemplate the world in which I live. Instead of attempting to solve perceived problems, I will investigate and embrace them. In developing relationships with reality and making meaningful connections, not simply scrolling and searching online, I believe satisfaction increases. The internal need to appear productive still exists. It has been fed and exercised for years. However, I am challenging that aspect of my life. I cannot solve major problems by increasing my pace. In reality, I cannot solve major problems. Major problems are addressed 

King's Cross Station in London
through collaboration of people who have had time to think and explore multiple dimensions. Part of staying off the busyness train is meeting with others in a relaxed, unencumbered setting. The buzzing phones, the twisting of wrists (not to see the time), and the need to leave in order to get to the next meeting will not be in that environment. Retirement doesn't equate to retreating and decomposing. I see retirement as a time to get reacquainted with a part of myself which was left on the platform when I boarded the busy train years ago. I am content to let that train leave the station without me!

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Windshields and Rear Windows

Rear facing 3rd seat
Many road miles were viewed as they passed into the distance. This awkward and sometimes nauseating view was experienced from the rear facing seat of a 1960 Ford Fairlane station wagon. As a child it was a treat to get away from the adults in the front seat and my brothers in the second seat. It was also a respite from my dad's choice of AM radio stations. There was one speaker on the top middle of the dashboard. The sound did not travel to the third seat. Watching the world move away from me held some intrigue, but overall it was disorienting. It was the price I paid for space to myself.

Over the years vehicles have changed, but it remains that the windshield is larger than the rear window glass. I rarely look out of the rear window other than with the rear view mirror. In so doing my vision of what is behind me gets very limited. On my latest vehicle, the backup camera gives a wider perspective, but what is behind me still has a limited context. Along with a narrow perspective the rear window often gets obscured by various forms of dirt and grime. Instead of a clear view, what is past gets filtered with an impaired perspective.

As a college history major, I have an interest in the past. The interest lies not in data and dates, but in the 

Wiper cleans some dirt
human actions and responses. The adage of "history repeats itself" has little correlation to specific events. Its connection is deeply rooted in human behavior. The social and psychological influences of individuals and groups remain constant over eons even as technology changes the environment. The need for security as fear is promoted has always narrowed and clouded human action. Seeing through the murkiness of social agitation in order to navigate a forward direction has to be an intentional endeavor. If not, our actions and attitudes turn to the past. We begin to believe that safety and security is found in what is behind us. Just like being settled in the rear facing seat, there is some temporary relief in solitude. Yet overall, we become increasingly nauseated, willing to seek answers from the self-serving and unexamined promises of others. 

As I continue my journey in life, my steps have slowed. I experienced more aches and pains which never fully subside. I trip over slight imperfections as my feet don't rise and flex as they once did. Each step is more plodding and less nimble. There are options and purveyors of promises to make my life better. All I have to do is take a back seat.  However, I choose to sit in the front seat with a vast panorama ahead of me. Even as the siren song of the "Oldies" engulfs me from the surround sound speakers, wooing me into nostalgia, I choose to continue forward. Life, the full spectrum of life is ahead of me. I desire adventure with its freedom and its detours. The windshield provides hope instead of the queasiness of looking at what has passed me by.  

Looking toward what is ahead


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Focal Point

 

Keeping in focus
For over six decades I have used corrective lenses. Lenses in frames to be specific. During the childhood years, frames of steel would have been preferred. I had numerous configurations of tape, glue, and fasteners holding my lenses, bows, and frames together. Proper repairs were not only expensive, but time consuming. With the changes that accompany growth my vision changed, as well. Adulthood brought with it bifocal lenses. Those who have experienced bifocal lenses know how the neck muscles become stronger through the continual head movements in order to focus clearly. Now my head is adorned with progressive lenses held by light, sturdy, spring assisted frames. The need for gross head movements have lessened to the point of slight tilts or nods. Many times I can manage visual clarity with eye movement alone. Progress is a great thing!

Changes over the decades have affected more than my vision. The focal point of my attention has ranged from Air Force fighter pilot (no go because of vision correction), to physician, to teacher, to navigating retirement. At one time everything was in the distance. Now it is immediate and quickly behind me. What was envisioned for my career trajectory is now a gliding descent with a hoped for soft landing. The understanding of myself along with a clearly defined system of how the world should operate was once 20/20. The prescription has changed. The lenses through which I understand my beliefs and actions have produced a new focal point. While it is clear to me, others say I need to get my eyes examined (possibly my head, too)!

The insightful author of Ecclesiastes writes, "God has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, God has put eternity into human hearts, yet humans cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also everyone should eat, and drink and take pleasure in their toil - this is God's gift." (3.11-13, English Standard Version)

Flowers were nice decorations, but they were secondary to the vegetables in the garden. The flowers provided a bit of diversity, but in the long term they were of little value. As I began pastoral ministry, my focus was on well written and properly delivered sermons which had a liberal, if not excessive use of the 

Wrong focus?

name, Jesus. It could almost become an incantation to help people move beyond the trivial concerns of their lives. The other focus was numerical growth. Bring in new members, activate the inactive, swell the offering plates, and count the saved souls. Eternity was the destination. It was my mission to get people there, no matter what. The day to day stuff was sideline distractions for the greater calling of eternal salvation. My youthful focus was clear!

During the first month of clinical training to earn national certification as a chaplain my vision became blurred. I was requested to visit a couple who birthed their first child. Upon arrival on the nursing unit I was informed the child was stillborn. In conversation with the young couple, they expressed their desire to have their baby baptized. The standard theological and sacramental practice was not to baptize a deceased person. Standing alone in a small room with their stillborn daughter, I provided a baptism using the name the parents had given her. It was an unseen ritual. Seeing the profound relief on the parents' faces when I returned to their room provided a brief glimpse of clarity. I did nothing for their daughter, but what I unknowingly provided for them was significant. It had little to do with eternity, but weighed heavily with immediacy. Theological doctrine was being blurred as pastoral care came into focus. 

Focus on people
Eternity is no longer an interest. All I have each and every day is immediacy. I eat many vegetables, but I intentionally spend more time appreciating the details of flowers. Our cultural and political climate focuses on rigid, long held beliefs which divide and ferment anger while overlooking people on the borders, in the clinics, seeking housing, and desirous of an immediate sense of safety. This climate is fed as much by churches as it is by political parties, governmental legislation, and judicial decisions. Eternity is meaningless when immediate needs are neglected. Doctrines and laws are good talking points. They provide both distance and self satisfying safety. Currently my focal point is much closer and responsive to the specific needs of people. My vision is not 20/20. Friends have advised me to get examined and change my prescription. Sometimes my blurred vision is personally frustrating. But for myself there is nothing better than to eat, drink, and cherish personal interactions which are a gift for today.

Thank you for reading!  

Also, at the end of March, I will no longer post notices or links to the blog on Meta platforms. Bookmarking the blog is one way to see new posts which usually occur every two weeks. 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Is Nothing Sacred?

 

In the late 1970s, this cartoon by Gaham Wilson was published in Playboy. I remember that it not only brought a chuckle, but it made me think about its paradox.I then went on to look at more illustrations and photographs in the magazine. No, I did not read the articles!

My online search for this cartoon was spurred by an episode of 1A from WAMU, a public radio station from American University in Washington D.C. The episode which aired on February 6th was entitled, "The Art of Doing Nothing." It focused on the negative image given to "doing nothing" in our current culture. We are a 24/7, always connected, seeking monetary benefit, and frightened of not knowing the latest trends society. The old adage, "don't just sit there, do something" has become so ingrained that many people never get away from email, scrolling, and feeling anxious and afraid about the world they inhabit. One of the show's guests was Jenny Odell. She is the author of, Saving Time: Discovering Life Beyond the Clock (2023), and How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019).

A personal struggle ebbs and flows; that being a decision to "fully retire." I have pondered the phrases used in describing this later portion of life. Am I "semi-retired?" Am I still "working?" If I don't get a W-2 does this indicate full retirement? Because clergy are deemed self-employed by the IRS, can I retire from myself? At the foundation of these intellectual questions is the aforementioned stigma of doing nothing. If I am not receiving compensation, if I am not producing something tangible for the benefit of others, if I am not leaving the confines of my dwelling, do I have value? Many people come up with simple answers to these questions. I struggle to find and accept an answer that satisfies this inner yearning.

Mixture of elements
"It's better to do nothing than to waste your time." was a poignant sentence from the WAMU broadcast. In the exploration of this statement, doing nothing could range from lying on the ground looking at the sky to structured meditation. Scrolling through social media feeds was not seen as doing nothing.  Scrolling may seem mindless and relaxing. As I conclude a scrolling session, I do not feel enlightened, relaxed, or satisfied. I feel used and dirty. I have wasted my time. A ten minute shower, 5 minutes of exploring what pops into my mind, or a walk around the apartment building would provide greater benefit. Social media is capturing our attention, monetizing our data, and softly infecting our outlook in order to promote the idea that we can never be enough. In a capitalist economy, sales cannot be sustained by reinforcing personal wholeness. Doing nothing, being satisfied, meaningfully connecting with other people and communities, all of which is falsely 
Is this nothing?
being promoted by the purveyors of social media, does nothing to sustain a consumer driven economy. Currently the answer to Gaham Wilson's cartoon question is, "Nothing isn't sacred. Nothing is evil and nothing needs to be destroyed."

The sacredness of nothing is a pilgrimage I desire to begin. How it unfolds in the weeks and months to come is uncertain. Setting aside decades of busyness which overall has been beneficial will take dedicated effort.  I will label this pilgrimage as "Intentional Nothingness." My desire is to embrace the everyday, natural surroundings. I want to interact with the beauty which surrounds me, as well as the beauty which is within me. It has beauty not because it is experienced as pleasing, but simply because it is. Experiencing pain and discomfort and sitting in it can enlighten my perspective. Instead of labeling and judging, I would rather observe and incorporate. Is nothing sacred? I intend to plunge into its manifold dimensions.

Please bookmark this address if you want to continue reading future posts. New posts drop every two weeks. At the end of March, I will no longer be using Meta (Facebook and Instagram) to post links to this blog. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Puffed Up? Built Out!

Sunday morning view
Two random occurrences within a week came together in my thoughts. The first was considering the use of 1 Corinthians 8.1+2, "We know that 'all of us possess knowledge.' This 'knowledge' puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he/she knows something, she/he does not yet know as he/she ought to know." (English Standard Version) The other was reading a blog entitled, "The Advice Epidemic" on The Minimalists website. A portion reads, "Each time we advise someone, it may feel like it's arising from a place of love, but it's actually the ego saying I know what's best for you....There is no bigger ego than that of the Helper."

Later this year will mark 43 years as an ordained pastor. This means four years of graduate school, the recommendation of a board of experienced clergy and graduate school faculty, and a congregation which recognized my skills and personality as being beneficial for spiritual leadership. Not only is there knowledge, but some people claim an innate desire to be a helper. This often is surrounded by a phrase of awe and praise, "God chose you!" In other words, the probability of operating out of an increasingly puffed up ego is inevitable. From childhood I had a large cranium. The skull grew proportionally in the developmental years. In adulthood, while the bony structure stabilized the ego inflated like an airbag in a front end collision. 

Joshua Fields Millburn (one of The Minimalists) continues, "The ego is not a 'bad' thing. Just like fire is not 'good' or 'bad.' It can warm you; it can burn you...To advise is t put oneself on a pedestal, a plinth upon which no sincere person rests - it necessitates we look down on others, which is an abhorrent position for any human."

Sharing insight, frailties, and life itself is an honorable and worthwhile activity. I can share when asked, but I can also choose to get into a prescriptive mode. When I relate what has worked and not worked for me at 


various times of my life, this is descriptive sharing. Yet it feeds my ravenous ego to get into the mindset of, "if he/she/they would only listen." The ego expands as I relish my superiority all while imagining people looking up to me. Those words reverberate loud and clear, "God chose you for this work!"

I wonder why we don't call one another out on this perspective which rarely creates commonality or beneficial results? Could it be that all of us are so inundated with election year egos that we no longer notice? Advice giving, not about issues and policies, but name calling and disparaging personal attacks are normative. The tenor is that individuals are too ignorant to understand. If fear can be generated we will worship the one who provides easy directives to complex issues.  Ostentatious advice isn't about ignorance. It is about a puffed up ego. Puffed up egos are not cute!

Again from "The Advice Epidemic, "I don't want to help you; I don't want to nor help you, either. I want to Love you. Love requires speaking the Truth and remaining neutral as to whether it 'helps' anyone...The Truth does not require persuasion, coaxing, or coercion - it is the Truth whether you've convinced or not. As is Love."

Stay Puft from
Ghostbusters

My current image and understanding of the words from 1 Corinthians 8, is using love, not to build up, but to build out. Building up may use less space, but it also limits access. Then it becomes an unspoken (possibly spoken) hierarchy of height. Love becomes measured on a vertical axis. As love is built out it surrounds and includes. Love encompasses and nourishes. It's similar to radiating ripples on an infinite pool of water. It is not my helping or advice which sustains this process. Tossing love into the pool of humanity while allowing the same to ripple in multiple directions in my life provides a freedom which an inflated ego cannot experience. 

In an episode of Ted Lasso, Coach Roy Kent answers a question in a press conference following the unrestrained reactions of one of the Richmond players toward an obnoxious fan. (If you want to watch the clip)



It is Roy's words, "So for Isaac to do what he did today, even though it was wrong, I give him love." which I believe are the essence of allowing love to build out. My desire is to locate myself in that horizontal plain. God did not choose me. God created me in the swells and troughs of a magnificent, ongoing creation. My desire is to wade and waddle in this for as long as possible.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post!

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Drowning in Data

 

GPS Device
The reviews kept popping up. Everything from the music to which I listened, to my favorite day to visit the convenience store, to the posted photo which received the most likes, to the total number of steps measured by my fitness tracker; my 2023 was neatly summarized.as compiled data Along with the summary was the challenge to do more in 2024.

If it wasn't for all of the devices and associated apps these summaries would be nonexistent in my life. Recording and tracking day-to-day activities isn't high on my list of priorities. The phrase, "If you don't document it, it never happened." hasn't established a foothold in my routine. The desire to be spontaneous, to wander and wonder, to flit around my environment continues to override the recording of daily details. "This is a character deficiency to be corrected." was the advice of a career counselor from decades ago. "You need to control your wanderlust." was added later in the session. I realized the truth in these statements years later as a chaplain in a healthcare system. Documentation was vital, even though my visits were not reimbursable nor did most medical staff read what I scribed. As a way of thumbing my nose at the system, I defended that narrative jottings were stifling my ability to spontaneously interact with patients and staff. My sense of freedom became encased in data keeping. My freedom was regained as I was informed that my services were no longer needed. A character deficiency not corrected cut deep into my sense of worth. The counselor's word, heard but not heeded crushed my core.

There may not be more in 2024 other than continued enjoyment of spontaneity. Wanderlust cultivates 

Icy Beauty
creativity in my spirit. Being randomly sidetracked and captured by a distraction instead of being relentlessly focused on a result is the invitation I am accepting. My creativity cannot be manufactured by rules and algorithms. It organically erupts out of curiosity. The idiom, "Curiosity killed the cat," continues with "but satisfaction brought it back." Maybe there is more to the resurrection concept than the Christian motif of an empty tomb on Easter?

White wonders
The photos and video accompanying these words are from a recent trek at Buffalo River State Park. I wanted to exercise away from the sidewalks and streets around the apartment. I had a goal of steps to accomplish according to an invisibly manufactured number buried within the microscopic world attached to my wrist. The winter setting, instead of being an environment to use for my personal achievement transformed into a studio in which to admire the beauty encompassing me. I was able to subdue not only the goal generated by the gadget, but more significantly my internal impulse to measure personal value by documenting physical activity. 

Windswept Frost

Also in 2024, I plan to use social media sparingly. Instagram and Facebook will become cyber bulletin boards directing people to my blog and YouTube channel. Eventually I will cease using the aforementioned platforms even as directional connectors. Thus you can decide how to access my writings and videos. Sundays will continue to be the day on which I post. 

Thank you for reading!