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Showing posts from November, 2014

Thanksgiving: a Day and a Way of Life

As Americans, we enter the Thanksgiving season.  Already people are wishing me a “happy Thanksgiving.”  I am delighted with that greeting.  And I would be delighted if someone next week wishes me a “happy Monday.”  But I guess Mondays are supposed to be normal…not so happy, not so awful.

I am not sure I do major holidays very well.  I am not against them.  They celebrate important events in national, religious, and often personal lives.  Thanksgiving is an American deal.  In Turkey it is just another weekday!  As an American, I welcome it.  And I hope it is happy.

I am confident one of the reasons I am not sure about major holidays is the trickiness of expectations.  For example, Thanksgiving is supposed to be “happy.”  Christmas is supposed to be “merry” and, of course, we return to the “happy” theme for New Years.  Clearly, for too many people there are too many lousy things going on to gear up to be “happy” and “merry.”  Holiday expectations are tricky things.

The truth is Thank…

Agency

If you glanced at the title of this, it might make very little sense.Many folks would know the word, agency, but have no idea what it actually means.We would know the word, agent, and assume they are related---which they are.Agency means the capacity to do something---to get something done.It requires some power to pull off the task.

The idea for this inspirational message came when I read a recent editorial by David Brooks.While I do not always agree with Brooks, I find him incredibly thoughtful and articulate.He writes about philosophical and spiritual things and writes for an audience that would not always be eager to read such things.He is an astute observer of human nature and our communities.The title of the recent editorial was “The Agency Moment.”I began reading that column with interest and with no guess what he was going to do.
He began by talking about the nineteenth century writer, George Eliot.Even though it is a masculine name, George Eliot was a female.Brooks calls her …

A Variety of Fortunes

I was in a situation yesterday that provoked my thinking about a variety of fortunes.I understand most of us never use the word, fortune, in the plural.We never talk about “fortunes.”Instead we employ the singular word, “fortune.”But when I thought about it, I realized there are a variety of fortunes.Let me explain.

I think it is obvious there are two major ways the word, fortune, is normally used.Probably the most obvious is to talk about monetary wealth as a fortune.If I am a billionaire, like Warren Buffet, then appropriately they can be said, “to have a fortune.”Some people really are stinking rich!Some executives earn more in a year than most people earn in a lifetime. It does seem absurd to me to think that some people earn multi-millions of dollars annually.It makes my salary look like chump change!And I know I have earnings above the average American.Compared to a very poor person, I suppose it is correct to say I “have a fortune.”But I don’t think about it this way.
Does this…

But Not of the World

Sometimes the classes I am teaching hit really interesting issues and the students and, even I, are challenged by the idea and have to figure out what we really think.This happened recently.Often I can see these issues coming and know the students will be challenged.Other times, I am as surprised as they are.This latter was the case on this one.

Students were reading a chapter in a book on contemplative spirituality.However, one student picked on what could have been an obscure, not very important sentence in the chapter.But the question turned out to be not only interesting, but also challenging.The sentence talked about “being in the world, but not of the world.”The student said that she was perplexed by what this meant.And the minute she confessed that she was perplexed, about twenty-five more said they were unsure what it meant.We had engaged an interesting text and issue.
Sometimes in these situations, I have no more clue than the students.But I do have more practice in thinking …

Wendell Berry on Spirit

My friend gave me a poem written by Wendell Berry.My friend knows I like Wendell Berry, although I would never claim that I know too much about him.Born about ten years before I was born, Berry is still active.Berry is a fascinating guy.Berry is a Kentuckian farmer.However that does not tell you much about this man.He is a learned farmer.He is famous writer and poet.He is an active Christian---a Baptist.He is a contemporary prophet who has challenged the complacency of so much of the traditional church.I have laughed at him and cringed at some of his challenge to my own faith.

My friend gave me a poem Berry penned in 1991.He entitled the poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”Berry may be the most quotable living American.So to be given this poem is to be given enough thoughts and one-liners to fill a month’s worth of these inspirational reflections.Let me pick one line that my friend dearly loves and reflect on that.
Near the end of the poem, Berry writes that, “Laughter …

The Servant Leader

I have been privileged to be able to see myself as a leader.I do bring some native talent to the leadership opportunities I have had, but I also have had a helping hand offered by many different people at a number of junctions in my life.I have had many good leadership models to help me get clear about what leadership style fits my personality and my own Quaker convictions.I also have watched some leaders whom I thought were not very good and were more of a negative model.They showed me ways I never wanted to be seen as a leader.

I remember getting some leadership opportunities as early as elementary school.In the bigger scheme of things, these were miniscule leadership chances.However, they gave me an early chance to practice being a leader.Much to my surprise, some other kids followed my lead!I guess you are a leader if someone follows you.
As I grew, so did some of my leadership opportunities.In high school I became more aware there were different ways to be a leader.In my vainest …

Let It Snow!

I arose early this morning---long before the first glimmer of light appeared in the eastern sky.  With my first step out the door, I was aware of how cold it was again going to be today.  I could feel it on my exposed cheeks and the sound of the snow’s crunch underfoot told me that sub 32-degree weather still engulfed us.

Having a hot cup of coffee and sitting inside a warm room means all is well---for me.  But I know that people will complain about the cold weather, and the snow will be condemned as a nuisance or a problem.

As I think about this negative view of the winter weather, I wonder what would happen if we looked at the snow as this season’s blessing from nature.  The snow is white---for centuries this has been the religious color of purity.  Let us look at the snow as God’s natural way of purifying this part of the world.  I want to be able to see my “white world” this day and appreciate the beauty of its purity.

It is so true of our world and those of us who live here that …

Preventative Spirituality

Recently, I took the opportunity to undergo one of those tests that we all should do when we get older.Of course, there are ranges of these tests that are good for older folks to do.There are a number of good reasons for us to do these things, but probably the key issue is called self-interest!The problem here however, it sometimes does not seem to be in our self-interest.In all honesty I had no interest at all in doing it!And I could come up with ten reasons why I “really did not need to do it….not now anyway.”

To follow my own “logic” here would only prove my stupidity.I know there are other ways I opted to be stupid, but most of the time when it comes to my health, I sacrifice stupidity and go with safety.Throughout the process I am always intrigued by the guile and gravity of my mind.It is one creative, tricky little dude!Sometimes I don’t even think it is my mind.
There are tests that only women do and ones that only men do.And there are many more that are not gender specific.Wom…

A Time of Respite

I have been teaching long enough to be able to guess when the students will not know a particular word that I might use.For example, using the term, respite, in the title of this inspirational piece would be something many of the students in a typical classroom would not know.And if they do not know the term, they would not use it.Not knowing the term I understand.Once upon a time, none of us had language.All the words we know and use we had to learn.

What I don’t understand in so many students in my classroom is their lack of curiosity.It strikes me as quite sad when folks still so young don’t seem curious.Of course, they may be curious in other arenas in life.But I suspect curiosity is a fairly broad trait.If I am not curious in one area, I think it is likely my “curiosity quotient” is pretty low across the board.I know part of my function as a teacher is to raise that curiosity quotient---to elevate their potentiality.That is a key to learning.
I also realize there are limits.Every…

Spirituality for All Seasons

Too often spirituality, and religion for that matter, is portrayed as the antidote to sadness, sickness and sundry other less than desirable aspects of life.Of course, no one told me explicitly that was the case, but it is true this was the implication I took from my young days.The implication was the truly religious or spiritual never would suffer from being sick, from being sad or other human maladies.When I was young, I guess I thought religion was a kind of inoculation shot against human problems.

Now that I am older (but questionably wiser!), I don’t think this is true at all.Religious and spiritual folks get sick just like normal people.We have bouts of sadness just like all humans.And we are not immune from any of the other maladies that afflict the human race.In fact, I would argue to be human is to be a sitting duck for sadness, sickness and sundry other aspects of life.That just seems to be the reality of the deal.So what does this suggest about spirituality?
The first thing…

Experience of Divine Presence

I enjoy finding pithy or great summary statements.I just found one in my favorite Quaker book.Thomas Kelly wrote the popular Quaker book, A Testament of Devotion, which actually is a series of lectures.Some of these come out of his experience of WWII.Kelly spent some time in Germany watching Hitler come to power.He returned to this country.One of the chapters is entitled, “The Eternal Now and Social Concern.”The core ideas were originally a lecture delivered to a gathering of German Quakers.

The summary statement embodies so much of what I have been taught when growing up as a Quaker.Kelly writes that the central Quaker message affirms “The possibility of this experience of Divine Presence, as a repeatedly realized and present fact, and its transforming and transfiguring effect upon all life…”If I can unpack this amazing sentence and understand it, I will have my own central message.And more importantly, if I can embody this message and live it out, then I truly will be engaged in the…

Our Machine Masters

I confess up front that the title for this inspirational reflection is stolen from a recent article by David Brooks who uses the same title.I am a regular reader of Brooks, not because I agree with everything he says, but because every thing he says is so thoughtful and insightful.He takes on big, important issues and deals with them in a way that I have to take seriously.In this article Brooks focuses on artificial intelligence.

I confess, too, that I know virtually nothing about artificial intelligence.Rather than take pride in my ignorance, I am worried about it.I know that ignorance is seldom good---especially for the one who does not know.And that is precisely the point of Brooks’ trenchant treatment of the topic.I figure if I am ignorant, at least I ought to know of what I am ignorant!What are the issues?
Early on Brooks quotes technology writer, Kevin Kelly.Kelly “argues that the age of artificial intelligence is finally at hand.”Then Brooks adds another line that is deep, but …