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Dedicated to My Son, His Wife and My Two Grandchildren … and All the Parents Raising Children

To be a good parent … we do not need to be people who have arrived; God simply calls us to be on the way, seeking, finding, and rejoicing in what we find. (Emphasis added.)

Catherine Stonehouse, in Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey: Nurturing a Life of Faith.

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My son and I recently had a very interesting conversation about providing for the spiritual lives of his two small children, ages almost three and almost one.

Yes, children have – as all human beings do – innate spiritual needs and desires.

Throughout the ages people are confronted with all sorts of probative “why” and “how” and “what” and “who” questions.  Why do bad things happen?  How can we be good? What is love? How do you forgive someone? Who made the world? Why go to church?

Yes, we are all bound by these questions.  And, no – politics does not provide the answer.  And, yes – by thinking all things are political as many do in this imploding secular culture we establish one thing for sure: life and cultures demand that individuals pay particular attention to our interior, the spiritual plateau in all human beings or court chaos and destruction, disintegration.  Absent attention to the spiritual: cultures, societies, communities, families, nations, individual people are undone – destroyed – trapped in selfishness, error, hostility, destruction, conflict, injury and despair.

Frankly, we are inclined precisely in that destructive dimension in contemporary America and the West at this very moment.  

We are, of course, not human beings seeking a spiritual experience, but rather – spiritual beings seeking a human experience.

Look around you.  Do you see how costly denying God and spiritual reality can be?

Parents attend to your spiritual existence and invite your children to join you.   Individually you will each be better – together you will be a family – a sacred, life-saving vessel in a world of choppy waters and occasional gales.

I wish you smooth seas – no matter the conditions you meet.

Shalom.

Moral Indignation.  Been alive for seven-plus decades.  Ain’t met a single perfect person, nor an angel.  My conclusion: we are not perfect.  Yet, now some (armed with moral indignation) are set on tearing down statues of people they find unsavory.  With this approach the Democrat Party may find itself banished after their lengthy history of favoring the Klan and racial segregation.

In the language of Boston politics – what goes around, comes around.    

 

 

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Technical knowledge is not enough.  One must transform techniques so that the art becomes artless art, growing out of the unconscious.

D. T. Suzuki, in Zen and Japanese Culture

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How do you fully live?  Yes, how do you access and activate the unconscious – awaken the essence of the human legacy?  Same question really.

He met the conformity of culture as structured by man but never conceded its control over his breathing, his heartbeat, his life here – as it preceded him and stretched into eternity.

He always had one foot outside the box.  His wry comments and independent judgment kept him free and gave him a sharper vision than most.  He saw behind the silk scene – people, after all, were not clever in concealing their shallow and predictable motives.

He was not often fooled.

Having access to the unconscious, getting to know it in detail made his life art – artless art, a movie from birth to mortal death … and then the everlasting sequel, a seat above in the presence of a warm May sun.

He was never much for formulas.  A blank canvas was more his comfort. Something to write on, to scribble freehand what came to heart, mind, wrist and hand.  Free flowing.

Operating on the margin of the box – turning the rules into sources of amusement and dismemberment so to say: “You do not have me yet.”  Life in the present structures as a game of escape and evasion, lest he suffocate, dry up and become weak and brittle.

Victory.  Life as artless art in all its ease, in each breath, in listening, hearing and seeing.

The experience of experience in its full range – from joy to sorrow and back again, never a dark day in triumph over the warmth of the sun reflected in the others, the friends, the children, love, laughter, kindness, the beauty, the quiet, the memories, the experience in yesterday and today.

… artless art …

Shalom.

God works in history, therefore a contemplative who has no sense of history, no sense of historic responsibility … is not fully a Christian contemplative: he is gazing at God as a static essence … But we are face to face with the Lord of history and with Christ the King … light of the world … We must confront Him the awful paradoxes of our day …

Thomas Merton

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If there is one (and there is) central failure that puts us in the conflict, and confusion, and chaos … and danger and division, that we face today it is our failure to know and serve God as the Lord of History.

All of the immorality, hostility, bitterness, rancor, hatred and rank stupidity can be assigned to that one failure.

Likewise, the destructive behaviors we witness in special pleaders of unwise causes are the product of God’s exile, and in that absence – the geometric ignorance and needless destruction it produces.

Yesterday, I watched an episode of The Ozzie and Harriet Show and one of The Rockford Files.  The former from the 1950’s and the latter from the 1960’s.  Each was a delight. Each well-written, and nicely acted. Each told an engaging story – the former in a family context, the latter in a detective format.

In the former we saw truths about husbands and wives, men and women, family, brothers, neighbors, boys and girls and human nature.  It was fun to watch. Truth told in a gentle and amusing manner.  It was nice TV … it sat a tone, was believable – represented a reality that was and could be: a relaxed and kindly family environment.

In the latter, we had a “who done it” yarn with the focus being the work of a not-so-successful, and unflappable private detective whose status-life was that of living in a trailer parked on asphalt adjoining a stretch of California beach.

Our hero detective was an anti-hero – an earnest man (yet not beyond employing a street-smart trick now and again) who was resigned to the riff-raff of life without losing his kind and understanding nature.  He was, indeed, an everyman with the wonderful grace to live life as it presented – without scorning what he saw.

Yes, in the 50’s and the early 60’s we effortlessly lived with God the Lord of History and in so doing, we were not out-of-control, frantic, required to “get-our-own-way.”  We were then, sublime, without anxiety or fits anger, public or otherwise … better yet there was no need for intolerant crusaders.  Social justice had yet to emerge to anoint any and all mediocre C-minus-minus people into obnoxious “know-it-all” crusaders.  In short, looking back you see that when God is recognized as the Lord of History … our life is easier and our relationships much more pleasant.

I’ll pass on the very unfunny bores of late night TV, and the likes of Chuckie Schumer and the talking heads of CNN, MSNBC, et al, the vacuous celebrities who have opinions about all manner of things never thoroughly considered, and on the minor leaguers of The Times, The Post etc.

Today we are so dumb and uninformed we don’t realize life (properly considered and experienced) is so much easier … death-defying anxiety and hostility is not mandatory.

Try thinking of God as essential – as the Lord of History … ignore those who speak as if God is either dead or indifferent to us … Such people are as common as a penny and just as valuable.

Shalom.

… you wicked and lazy slave … Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness, in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth …”

Mt 25: 26, 30

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… “wicked,” “lazy,” “worthless” …

These are powerful words to use and to aim at another person.  However these are the words of condemnation that Jesus used in telling the story of the master who left for a journey and gave to each of his three servants money (talents) to hold in his absence.

As you may recall, these are the words the master aimed at one of his three servants when he returned and found that the servant never used the money positively, but rather buried it in the ground for fear of losing it.

Much to the master’s displeasure, he had not used what the master gave him.

This is a story about slothfulness – about not using what you have been given. It raises a serious question for us (individually) and for our culture today.  Indeed, it is a measure wisely applied to those who profess to lead us today.

What is slothfulness?  In scripture we see it is rebellion.  The slothful do not serve God in their life.  No, in not serving God they register no gratitude to God for what they have been given (a life in being, for one thing).  Nor do they show obedience to God.  They shun the works God has called them to in this life.  They “do their own thing.”

Sloth is also wastefulness.  These people (and there are many) never use their spiritual gifts to glorify God.  They waste their time, gifts, and life on things that do not further God’s intention.

The slothful are selfish. They serve, not others, but their own desires.  They are lazy, as well, – preferring things that are easy to things that are hard.  These are the people who avoid work, depend wholly on others, take the low road or sit and do nothing, or in working never fully commit themselves to excellence.  These are the people who, while doing little, believe that they know better than others.

In thinking about this parable, I could not help but think about the Democrat Party of the Left here in the United States.  They are chock full of people who never held a private job in their life.  I think of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Bill Clinton, and Senator Charles Schumer.

Schumer, a Harvard Law School grad, never practiced law nor held a job in private industry after his schooling.  Rather as a young man with the gift of a “good education” he entered politics and never left.  He is one of those people who think, without any instructive life experience in the rough and tumble of daily work, that he knows better (always) than anyone else.  These are the slothful people who are perpetually foolish, trivial, loud, self-serving, and wrong. The Democrat Party of the Left attracts these people.  And in building dependents and the Nanny State, they breed slothfulness.

Think about it.  Does in make any sense for you to depend on the judgement of those with no life experience to speak of?  Would it not be better to cast them out to a dark place much as the master in the parable did to the lazy and wicked servant full of inertia and fear?  Have people such as these not done enough damage?

Shalom.

The cows are in the pasture.  The prayers have been said.  The sky is dressed in gray.  Push-ups have been done.  The fire is young but alive.  Bach soothes.  The mountains maintain their vigil. Peace prevails.

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The desert was created to be itself … So too the mountain and the sea.

Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude

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Alone I find how anonymity allows you to meet your self.  Social man gives way to himself, to his sacredness, his holy being – its composition, the divine harmony of its contradiction, peace and His Creator.

It is a relief to no longer be among the crowd, adhere to the “to-do’s,” the hubbub and the gloss, the artificiality of it all, its costumes and its absurdity, its contaminated pecking order.

The desert, and the mountain, and the sea were created to be itself.  So too are we, each one of us.

Shalom.

To be in harmony with the wholeness of things is not to have anxiety over imperfections.

Dogen

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I was asked this week to share a story about a law school classmate of mine on his 70th birthday.  In doing so, I recalled how each of us laughed easily at ourselves and all the people and events we encountered in the world around us.

The imperfection of humans (ourselves included) and the things we create always seemed quite obvious to me and to my classmate.  Hence, we laughed a whole lot.

One time my son asked me how I maintained the disposition I have, and I answered, “I see the world as an episode of MASH (one of his and my favorite television shows) and I’m in it.”

Yes, there is reverence in irreverence.  Yes, doing good amid the chaos is possible and it is more the everyday challenge than one might initially think.

We are by nature and design perfectly imperfect.  But, oh, how we try to ignore that fundamental reality!!!  And what disaster flows from it!

Disaster?  Yes.

Some examples.  “Political correctness.”  Obamacare.  The quest for physical appearance, the Fountain of Youth.  Marxism.  Just about any government program.  Saving the planet from “Global Warming!!!

In seeking perfection we can create great tension and great anxiety.

Yes, it is good to seek the good we are, to maintain beauty.  But at what price?  Does the good we seek not also include our tranquility?  It seems that it must.

Often the task of coming to imperfection as an accepted and natural state requires a process of re-parenting.  That is: unlearning the habits and demands of those who tutored us in the illusion of perfection.  Thank God that has not been the case in my life.

Fortunately, I grew up in a family and a community that was utterly realistic, that saw the calamity we humans so often generate (most frequently in the name of “perfection).  We surely never “bought into” the utter fiction of the “hierarchy of elites” who fashioned, like Ms. Hillary, that they know best and we are a “basket of deplorables.”

So, slow down.  Accept the human being that you are.  Ignore those who “sell” perfection for they peddle snake oil, illness, unease, tension, foolishness.

Life is composed of tatters, shreds of this and that.  Find the ease, the humor, the implicit instability, creative imperfection of it all.  Live in joy by living what is.  Dispatch those who keep you in constant tension and anxiety.  Let them drive themselves crazy.

Laughter lubricates very nicely.

Shalom.

A man must at times be hard as nails: willing to face up to the truth about himself … refusing compromise when compromise is wrong.  But he must also be tender.  No weapon will breach the armor of a woman … like tenderness.

Elizabeth Elliot, in The Mark of a Man

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Perhaps the strange time of “war on men” in the West is at a close.  Seems like it must be as a matter of nature, of re-adjusting the balance necessary for happiness and self-defense and preservation.

My life began when men were men – you know the guys who won World War II and came home humbled, yet confident for war does that to you, hell – all combat does that to you.

Men, and I mean real men, have not been stymied in the decades in which they bore the brunt of the post-1968 feminist fits of resentment.  Oh, some have been bent to feminism’s false measure but others have survived and the seed remains planted.

Truth is the world, including America, cannot survive unless men are men and women are women – in the measure of nature as The Divine hath made, no matter what Marx (Karl, not Groucho) or Betty Friedan and her progeny might say to the contrary.

Without men, there is no boundary held, no bleeding done for others, nor lives laid down in battles while many eat and sleep in safety, far from the killing and deprivation, the brutality and corpses.

To understand men, know that they die for principle – that is their proving ground.

To understand men, know that while they kill and die, they also love and long for peace and the embrace of a woman whose divine superiority is giving life to life.

Good men and good women know who they are and know that the difference between them is closed tight only when they cherish one another.

Maybe we are drawing back to normative reality.  If so, it is none too soon … and we will be happier and more at ease for it.

Enough of the Age of Menless Men and Angry Women.

I’ll take brave men and beautiful, loving women every time.

Shalom.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not same river and he’s not the same man.

Heraclitus

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There is probably nothing in our life that is as constantly intimate as our journey.

In our journey we are most ourselves.  Oh, we do not know this when we start, but then in our childhood we live so spontaneously and each day is so full of adventure and exploration – the kind that comes from without and lands deep within where it takes its root where the real us live.

It is only in time that we come to understand that getting up each day we have collaborated with The One who mapped out our walk.  There is a contenting humility in knowing this, in getting to the point where you realize that your “achievement” was this: you journeyed as you were called to journey … and, yes, you like all others are unique and God walked with you all the while.

As I write this morning Aaron Copeland’s Our Town plays and the birds chirp and the morning sun bathes the green slopes and lush valleys of the Shenandoah. The music itself is scored to those who journey – know the sights and sounds of the innate intimacy and peace of life in the small town with kind and quirky neighbors – all the same, delightful and full of life itself.

On the journey, neither rivers nor days are the same.  Like you, they change as the music and its tempo changes with the moment and our age.  In youth the tempo is more frequently quick, light as if for those agile and fast of foot.  Then, age comes and the quickness lives more in the heart where joy reverberates in sweet memories and warm embraces.

Make no mistake – whether you recognize it or not, you are on a journey.  It has a pull all its own.  No need to clutch the wheel and aim your way.  No maps needed – just move as you are called.

Anyway, the detours are where the flowers are the brightest and the views the best.  They are the places where peace comes, where your heart knows beauty, and time seems to stop.

I still remember my first view of the Collegiate Peaks in Colorado – standing surrounded by the vastness of yellow grazing land and those three mountains on the horizon.  And Scotland, too – its isles, the Highlands, and the august ruins of former cathedrals on emerald fields under blue skies.  Yes, peace, beauty and time stilled.

The journey is your privilege – God’s gift.  Enjoy it.  Receive it with joy and ease.

Every man has two journeys to make through life.  There is the outter journey, with its various incidents and milestones … There is also an inner journey, a spiritual Odyssey, with a secret history of its own. (Emphasis added.)

William R. Inge, in More Lay Thoughts of a Dean

Ah, I see that a small contingent of robins are dancing outside my window. Perhaps they heard the music.

Shalom.

Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and others have it thrust upon them.

Joseph Heller, in Catch 22

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Joseph Heller tells us something useful here.  He describes human experience today in mass, exclusionary secular culture – in the disordered state we presently find ourselves.

How so?  Substitute “inept” for mediocre. (By “inept” I mean nonsensical, foolish, incompetent.)

Bobby’s Line Graph works this way: imagine a line graph with zero on one end and 100 on the other and 50 as the mid-point.  Now imagine people are aligned along the line graph.

In Bobby’s Line Graph there are three sections: 0-44, 45-55, 56-100.  We shall call them section A (0-44), section B (45-55), section C (56-100).

Sections A houses those Heller sees born to a state of being – in our line graph, a state of relative ineptitude.  In our discussion these people, without any fault of their own, cannot easily make much sense of their being and life around them.

Section C, however, is composed of those who cultivate and “achieve” ineptitude. They attend university, gain positions of “authority,” status, privilege, money, power, public voice, celebrity.  They come to believe that they are “special,” know what is best for everyone – often exempting themselves from the grand designs they foist on others. These people cannot easily concede their implicit human limitations.  Humility escapes them.

Section B is the “golden mean.”  There one finds those who are comfortable with their own limitations and aware of their faults and imperfections.  They are the humble ones who work hard, are courteous, thoughtful, generous, helpful, contented, at ease, relaxed, balanced.

A healthy society has a critical mass (not a majority) of people in Section B.

Such a culture is not in perpetual conflict, has a cohesion, is not divided, over-regulated, “ruled” from the top down, has an ethos of trust and confidence and is not disintegrated.

It is a culture that adheres to what is sensible, smart, fair, thoughtful, considerate, stable, wise, peaceful, honorable, moral, and self-governing and self-sustaining. This culture presents confident citizens and seeks excellence while being aware of its human limits. It is one that is unified and seeks the greatest good for the greatest number.

It is a culture that draws its leaders from those in Section B, men and women capable to recognizing, and honoring, others more than self; they are men and women who see “the big picture” – those who can inspire and rally their fellow citizens to do what is courageous, virtuous, sacrificial, best.

To maintain personal peace and tranquility you want to occupy Section B and associate with those found there.  Being governed by those in Section C can bring incalculable chaos, confusion, conflict, disorder and dismay to your life.

To assess your culture and determine with whom you will engage and those with whom you will minimize contact remember that there is not an equal distribution along the line segments identified as Sections A and C.  At some times in culture (as now in the U.S.) clusters may form closer to the end of Section C and nearer to the end portion of Section A. Yes, a culture can cultivate ineptness giving rise to more people in Section C, and it can dis-empower others and consign them intergenerationally, geographically, etc. to Section A.

Listen to St. Augustine: “This is the very perfection of man, to find out his own imperfections.”  One finds these people in Section B.

Grow Section B.  Forget Section C.  Set a good example for those in Section A, free them of their consignment to dependence and hopelessness.  Restore America.

Shalom.

Memorial Day, 2016

Don’t just do something, sit there.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in How to Sit

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Memories are possible when we are not preoccupied.  Today is a day for remembering.  Give yourself the quiet in which to remember.

In sitting quietly, you can recall far better, and things about yesterdays – the people in them, you, what was said, what was felt.

In sitting quietly you can possess again fateful moments.

It is in these moments that insights and wisdom gather.  In these moments, if we receive openly, we can see what might bother us, what we fear, where we need to grow.

So many people live in a defensive mode – behind barriers made of fear.  Sitting quietly can reveal these barriers and the common defenses that make us hard to reach – even for ourselves.

In such quiet, fear can be seen and perhaps dissolved, likewise anxiety, anger, disappointment, hurt.

In quiet, if we are open, we can off-load all that troubles us, keeps us from ease and from joy.

Today is a day for remembering.  Sit quietly and remember.  Meet yourself as you are in that quiet.  Grow.

Shalom.

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