Month: February 2017

The Way of Wisdom

13 Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,

Proverbs 3:13

wayofwisdom

ˈwizdəm/

noun

  • the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
  • the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
  • the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period.

 

We are living in a time of high volatility.  Every click on the computer and swipe on the phone, causes a reaction, a feeling of threat, or defense, anger, or fear, frustration, or confusion.  People are on high alert and they take their reactivity with them into every day life,  at checkout counters, the doctor’s office, parent-teacher conferences, and on the highway. Events that would have been looked over, now cause a reaction.  People feel free to say unfair, unkind, and untrue statements that create a toxic fume that permeates the atmosphere.  All someone needs to do is a light a match.

This season of unpredictability makes us jumpy and we often find ourselves in a state of reactivity.  It would behoove the world, to move away from being right and into a place of being wise.

Think for a second:  When was the last time you sought wisdom?

Wisdom is different from knowledge. One can be intelligent and not wise.  Wisdom is not seeking answers, it is seeking understanding.  Wisdom comes from experience. It comes from suffering.  It comes from observing. It comes from a place of humility. Wisdom begins by being more connected to God and less connected to the world. – Not that we forget about the world, but rather, we spend less time being driven by it.

We seek wisdom, by finding solitude.  Henri Nouwen wrote:

 “Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace. There he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (‘turn stones into loaves’), to be spectacular (‘throw yourself down’), and to be powerful (‘I will give you all these kingdoms’). There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone’). Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”

― Henri J.M. NouwenThe Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

The season of Lent is here. The wild month of February has ended, and the liturgical calendar beckons us to come into the wilderness, into a season of solitude.

Solitude is not found at the spa or on the beach,  it’s found within yourself.  It’s found when you quiet your mind, go deeper into yourself, so that you may come out wiser, more self-aware, less reactive, more compassionate. Solitude is found when we fast from that which keeps us from God, and when we feast on that which draws us to Him.

Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love

What does solitude look like?

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” 

― Albert CamusThe Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

If you want to understand the world, step away from it.

  • Turn off Facebook for 40 Days.
  • Limit your access towhatever your news choice is and allow yourself only the headlines. If you watch one news station that is more to your ilk, read another news choice that is not of your liking. Read enough to understand, but not so much as to be consumed.
  • Take a screen Sabbath.
  • Spend more time creating, get a bird feeder,  bake,  give, read, and be kind to strangers.
  • Take all of the time that you spend worrying, annoyed, frustrated, angry, or sad and turn your energy to your soul and connecting with God and thinking about God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness.
  • Be in a more intimate relationship with God than you are with your phone.
  • Every time your mind is triggered with worry or frustration, stop, say a word, and reconnect with the God of all human history.
  • Spend more time thinking about what you for, than what you are against. Spend more energy on love than on hate.  Think on these things.

Once we have spent time in solitude, finding ourselves closer to God, then we are to the world – then and only then, can  we respond to the world.

Take that time in solitude to pray.  Pray for your enemies.  Pray for the liberal. Pray for the conservative. Pray for the immigrant.  Pray for the teacher. Pray for the leader. Pray for your neighbor. Pray for the employer. Pray for the picker. Pray for the reporter. Pray for the parent. Pray for the child. Pray for the water. Pray for the air. Pray for the trees. Pray for the wealthy. Pray for the poor.  Pray for the greedy.  Pray for the generous.  Pray for the church. Pray for the mosque. Pray for the temple.  Pray for the Native American. Pray for the Latino. Pray for the African-American. Pray for the Asian. Pray for the White. Pray for the Gay. Pray for the Straight.  Pray for the married. Pray for the single.  Pray for the lonely. Pray for the homeless. Pray for the hungry. Pray for your enemies.  Pray for those you love.  Pray for people you do not understand. Pray to be understood.

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory

If we can find a way to solitude, we will gain wisdom. If we can gain wisdom, we will know God. If we know God, we will speak the truth not be afraid.  There is a time to be brave. Bravery will come when wisdom is discerned.

You are wiser than you give yourself credit.  After all, God abides in you and you in him.  Seek God and you will know peace.

Next week I will write about finding wisdom in the hardest moments.

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How do I explain this to my children?

In a couple of hours I have to wake my children for the day and tell them that the world changed over night.  I have to tell them who our next President is going to be.  He’s the type of individual whose values are not personally shared by our family.  He is not the kind of person I would want my children to grow up to be.  When they hear the outcome of the election, I know they will be afraid.

I wonder, is it I who am afraid?  Am I projecting my fears for them, and their future and the ideals of democracy on to them?  Is it easier for me to be address their fears than to face my own?   – Maybe so.

How do we respond when we feel the earth move beneath us and we find ourselves in uncertain territory?  As I thought about my children, sleeping peacefully upstairs, I thought about how the values  and ideals that we talk about and believe, have not changed, and are more important now than ever before.  These are the values that we need to hold on to. These are the values that we have to see lived out.

We now have to practice more than ever what it is we believe.

Hold to the good
Stand for justice
Love your neighbor
Pray for your enemy
Consider the lilies
Defend liberty
Persevere
Be not afraid

This is what I will tell my children when they wake up in the morning.

 

A Love Story

I have been thinking about my Grandparents a lot lately, more than usual.  They are both gone now, and with them an era, that I wonder will soon be forgotten.  An era of saving bread bags, napkins from Dairy Queen and fat from skillets.  An era of tools in the shed and strawberries in the garden, and fresh, ironed sheets and vinegar and water cleaned, windows.  An era of fresh-squeezed lemonade on the patio and plastic on the davenport.

My grandparents were characters.  Visiting them was like stepping into a book, where it was normal behavior to go dumpster diving for things that could be brought home and made  “good as new,” and meals were as sacred and as approachable as the Communion Table.  Where neighbors were known, and people came to visit through the back door.  Where hard work was valued above anything else.

I miss them.  I wish they were here to provide a historical perspective on things.  I wish I could ask them one more time about what they endured and what they overcame.

In my grandmother’s house, among her  Swedish horses and Hummel figurines, between the two chairs always sat a little, velvet dog with shaggy ears and shaggy feet.  He was really the only thing I was allowed to touch in the living room, and so I did.  He was soft and real looking, with a black nose and inquisitive eyes.  Grandma always said that he was her dog.  For some reason, they could never bring themselves to get an inside dog.  Maybe because it would be too expensive, or bring about too great of a mess, or be too much trouble, or chew up the couch, for whatever reason, an inside dog was replaced with the pretend dog that always behaved and never moved.

My grandmother died suddenly one day, leaving my grandpa with a house full of memories and tools and baking dishes.   Gradually, they sold everything, including the house, and eventually his car.  He moved into an assisted living facility.

The thing you need to understand about my Grandpa is that he never met a stranger.  To a point of irritation, you could not take him anywhere without him talking to the the waiter, the cook,  the mechanic, the teller and if there was a child in the room – forget it.  He could not pass by a child without a smile, or a game, or a gesture of compassion. The other thing you need to know is that he was completely deaf.

What do you with a deaf, widower, who loves people but cannot engage in conversations?   You get him a dog.

My mom found a little, white, shih tzu and brought him to his new home.  He named her Mitzi, for that’s what Grandma would have wanted.  From that day on, Mitzi and Grandpa were inseparable, and suddenly Grandpa became the most popular person  in the senior living center.   They would go for long walks, or she would ride proudly on  the seat of his walker.  She would crawl up on his lap and take long naps, and she was always willing to greet a stranger or engage with a child.  She was his greatest gift.

Years passed, grandpa aged, and aged, and aged until he looked like Old Man Time.  Eventually he slept more than he was awake, and Mitzi moved in with my parents and would come and pay him visits.  Mitzi would jump on the quilt, right next to him and they would sleep from lunch until dinner, as the warm sun streamed in and the trees watched over.

Grandpa died at 99.

Mitzi died yesterday.  She was 107.

I don’t know if two beings could have loved each other more than my Grandpa and Mitzi.  Love stories that are real, are the stories that sometimes occur between humans, and sometimes occur between animals and sometime  occur in communities.  They are stories that always have an arc of trial and persistence. They are the stories that aren’t very exciting, but are rather, mundane, constant, and sustaining.

Alan de Bottom wrote on Love: “Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.”

While I cannot go back to those days of pies cooling on the counter and turns in the hammock,  there is a presence that stays with me.  It’s not sexy or particularly earth shattering.  It’s there, like a little dog who will  never leave your side.  It’s a gift that says while the world may be different, and life will surely change again and again and again, one thing  remains constant.

It can only be love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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The Atticus Project

atticus-finch-and-scout

My High School  Freshman is reading Harper Lee’s, To Kill A Mockingbird  in her English class.  The poor thing doesn’t have a chance, with two parents who have their own personal copies between us and own the movie, we are on her every minute, asking her “where she is in the book, what’s happening now, and has she gotten to the trial yet?”

It’s a beautiful book, with rich story telling of childhood, summertime, make-believe and growing up  in a time of political and social unrest.  Remember how Scout has to encounter her classmates and even her relatives say that Atticus is a  word that she is not aloud to say and doesn’t know what it means, or what they mean when they say it?  Remember how Atticus knows he is going to lose the case, but he takes the case anyway?  Remember how he tried to protect her and Jem from comments from a community that just assumed he be quiet? Remember how she curled up next to him on the porch swing, after she got in a fight with a classmate, and he said, “You never can fully understand someone until you consider things from his point of view” and then went on to say that “you need to climb into another person’s skin and walk around in it.”

That strong, protagonist we all admired was Atticus Finch.

Atticus never spoke harshly of his neighbors or of any person who saw the world differently than he did. He treated everyone, regardless of class or race with the same respect and dignity. He never tried to convince them to change their minds or call them names or demeaned their position.  He did try to be a voice of reason in a community that was divided racially and socio-economically.  In essence, he lived a life of integrity. He said, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

I dream of a world where we all find the Atticus living inside us.

We need to launch an Atticus Project in our nation. Imagine a world where we all take the higher ground. A fire has been stoked that is now ablaze and we have become far too comfortable using language that is divisive and obstructive. We need to calm down. That doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth in love, or refrain from standing for the innocent, or abandon our integrity.  We do that and remain in relationship with each other.

My biggest worry, or fear, or anxiety is that some day there will be a crisis. -A storm will come, made by nature or man,  and we will all need each other.  We will need to bring a meal to a neighbor, a hand to a friend, water to a stranger, and it will not matter where we stand on the issues, it will matter that we stand together.

We need to take all of the anger and distrust and frustration we are feeling and turn those feelings into a movement of radical empathy. I got this term from this article in the Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/02/a-third-way-in-the-respectability-politics-debate/514667/

Empathy is a building block of morality—for people to follow the Golden Rule, it helps if they can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. It is also a key ingredient of successful relationships because it helps us understand the perspectives, needs, and intentions of others.

Without empathy, our morality crumbles.   Studies show that empathy is good for your health, it reduces bullying, it’s good for your marriage, and it reduces prejudice and racism.  Without empathy there cannot be a just society.

So I am calling for each and every one of us to participate in the Atticus Project.  A project in which we will try to be less judgmental and more empathetic.  A project in which we look upon our friends and strangers and try to see where they are coming from.

You look across the way and you think, “Man they are really scared.  I don’t really understand why they are scared, and I think they are really stupid for being scared, but they are scared.  I do not share their fear, but I have been afraid before. I know what fear feels like, I’ve been there. I know what I needed to hear when I was scared, maybe I can listen.”

You look across the way and you think, “Man, they are really happy.  They are so enthusiastic about the future and how things are going.  I don’t really share their hope, but I remember when I felt hopeful.  I remember feeling really annoyed with anyone who rained on my parade.  I remember wishing they would come on board and get with the program.   I can’t really do that, but I can respect that they feel hopeful, even though I don’t, maybe I can listen.”

My other daughter is studying India and is sitting across from me at the dining room table as I write this.  She just asked me how Ghandi died. I remember the story of how he brought a divided nation together and I remembered his words, “I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.”

Finally, and personally, I believe this is the work of the church.  The church must express at it’s very foundation the commandment to do unto others as you would have them to do you.  We must show the love of Christ to our neighbors, even the one’s we would rather not have over to dinner.  Peace begins with us.

May the Peace of Christ be with you.

 

Gregory Peck, Mary Badham