Take nothing for granted

When I arrived for bible study at our local church, I was greeted by a SILENCE sign. Ours is a free-spirited church unconstrained by formalities. The sign betrayed an abnormality. 

I arrived 20 minutes early, five minutes earlier than the time our bible study leader asked me. The previous night, at 9:30, Paul left a message on my voice mail asking that I meet with him 15 minutes before start time “to touch base and chat a little about bible study”. 

That too was an abnormality, I promised him I’d arrive five minutes earlier than the time he set because I was curious about whatever mischief he was up to. So, there I was. 

Silence was requested because a group was using a part of our church space for a two-day silent meditation. We spent some of our bible study time to meditate (audibly) about silent meditation; actually, just SILENCE. 

Our opening prayer (# 59 In the Book of Common Prayer) invited us to seek to be lifted to God’s presence, “in quietness and in confidence…where we may be still and know that God is God”. 

We reflected on this idea of presence and being still in quietness. That, of course is a very difficult call for many of us. Being present? Our brains will never let us enjoy the present. 

What about all the planning for the future, all the aspirations and dreams? Is life even meaningful without the dreams and aspirations? 

We may agree that it is exercising in futility to be absorbed into the past. After all, the past is really the past, gone, never to be lived again. Actually, there are more things I rejoice that they are gone than those I would still cherish (and dream about) in the present.

Realistically though, there is a past that refuses to be designated “the past”. It is not the past for other people. A career can bring the past roaring like a hungry lion ready to devour everything present. Robert Taibbi posted an article in Psychology Today (yes, Psychology Today) titled, “The past is always about today”. 

It is easier to see the future as non-existent in the present, except as a dream. In fact, it does not exist even in the future because when we get there it will be the present. The future is always the present and a dream. That is the strongest argument for being in the present. 

I am probably not the only one who sometimes glides through the present, like a ghost. I notice with increasing alarm, how each new week and month and year just flies by. As we advance in age, we attribute the flying time to the process of aging, just like achy joints or slowing speech.

Being present is a discipline. It does not come naturally or automatically. Grace, in our group (I am using fictitious names in this true story) reads poetry to stay focused in the present.

Poetry, unfortunately, is not my cup of tea. Classical music seems to work for me. But it is not a done deal. Something always seems to be lurking out there, ready to sneak into mind,

Yoga works for some. The group using our church space was using silent meditation. We, in our bible study, concentrate on being fully engaged, aware and acknowledging everyone present. At least, once a week, we help one another experience the present that way.

At the end of the day, the only time there is, is the present. Neither the past nor the future exists. How sad that so many of us miss the present.

One way to begin mustering the discipline is to not take anything for granted. Experience every emotion. Be aware of what is happening, without judgment. That is also the path to gratitude and happiness.

One place two experiences one lesson

In a single split second multiple realities speaking

I made the 45 degree turn from the street, onto the curb to dock the bike on the racks in front of the busy store. It was almost 3 in the afternoon, grocery shoppers milling in and out of the usually extra-busy establishment. The racks were full, not surprising at this particular location. The curbside was streaming with people with shopping bags full of groceries and merchandize, taxicabs and Uber drivers pulling up to pick up shoppers. I was lucky, there was one empty spot on the bike rack, I dashed for it lest someone should beat me to it. I docked the bike, rounded the corner to the store entrance in double steps.

I needed hard candy. Being diabetic on insulin, my doctor recommended that I carry with me hard candy at all times in the event I experience hypoglycemia.

The short escalator ride up the single story took the normal 10 seconds or so and I was on the main floor heading to the sweet candy aisle. I was almost at the aisle when I instinctively reached for my pants rear pocket.

I could not feel my wallet. I stopped to allow my brain process what my fingers were transmitting. The wallet was not where it was supposed to be, and it is the same spot every day.

Panic. Search the other pockets, especially jacket pockets. The confirmation was unmistakable and clear. The wallet was missing, the end of the trip to the candy aisle. Apart from the cash, what else did I have in the wallet? At that moment I could not think of the other contents of my wallet. It was gone.

The bicycle ride took me about 30 minutes from the hospital. I visited a friend there and I was sure I did not drop the wallet at the hospital. Before I left I spent a few moments chatting final words while still standing in his room. Had I dropped it there I would have noticed it before I left. I was disheartened to accept that the wallet fell from my pocket anywhere along the five-mile route. I realized that there was only one reality now. The wallet and its contents were a lost cause.

I started walking out of the store. I was just going to the bike rack, if for no other reason, but to simply satisfy myself that I did not drop the wallet when I docked the bike and that it was not still lying there. The line of shoppers to the escalator down was crowded, so I almost ran down the short stairway. I was still running when I got to the bike rack. It was still full. I could not identify the only slot that was open when I docked.

Quick! Check every bike, I urged myself without much conviction. But the wallet was not anywhere on that line of red bicycles. I was now at the end of the line where a little over five minutes earlier I had made the turn from the street onto the curb. Traffic in and out of the sore’s underground parking was still heavy as was foot traffic on the curbside.

Nothing more to do, I realized. As I started turning to walk away from what had become a place and moment of sadness, I spotted a man on my left with a bag of groceries in one hand, stooping to pick up a black object with his other hand.

“That’s my wallet”. I reached my hand forward and grabbed the wallet before he could pick it up. “Is it really yours?” he asked with a sympathetic look on his face. Yes, it was, without a shadow of a doubt.

“I’m glad I found it” he said, “you speak like Nelson Mandela”. I don’t know where that came from but I was clearly flattered and a miracle had indeed happened.

As it turned out that was not my first experience with that turn on the curb. A couple of months ago when the ground was wet from a light drizzle I fell from my bike and landed on my knees when I made that 45 degrees turn from the street. A different kind of miracle at that time was that I got no scratch from the fall.

It took a second nudge for me to grasp that miracles happen every time and everywhere.

For all resolutions seek harmony between the 3 selves

Pain and pleasure are at hair’s breadth. And so is anxiety and excitement.       

Have you asked yourself, why we make new year resolutions? (assuming you’re one of the millions who make resolutions)  

May-be it’s just a habit, or is it? 

Imagine a resolution to spend more time with kids, or family.  

That is me, plus more time writing, and, still more time riding a bike. 

I know what experts will say about these resolutions. I have been hearing them on the morning TV shows. 

Yet, I know the push for my resolutions is a sense of inadequate time devoted last year, and a desire for more results this year. 

Not enough time last year can be reason for sadness, disappointment, discouragement and ultimately, depression. 

Similarly, last year’s lack of projected measurable results can be reason for self- blame or chastisement, irritability, anxiety, guilt and shame. 

All these are wrong drivers for this year’s resolutions particularly if we fail to pay special attention to the three selves and the self-discrepancy theory. 

What are the 3 selves? 

  • Actual Self/Actual me: The person I believe I am and the qualities I possess. 
  • Ideal Self/Ideal me: The person I want to be; the qualities I want to possess. 
  • Ought Self/Ought me: The person I feel I ought to be and the qualities I ought to have; a lot of times because it is expected of me, it is a moral compass, or it is the human norm.. 

Contradictions between the Real Self and the Ideal Self inevitably lead to the three d’s: dejection, disappointment, discouragement 

On the other hand, contradictions between the Real Self and the Ought Self produce anxiety, irritability guilt and shame. 

None of these will help in happiness or well-being this year or any year. 

Any ideas?  

Let’s hear them. 

What is your story?

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One thing that distinguishes humans from other species is the capacity to share stories. One generation passes on its significance to the next generation through storytelling. I remember clearly, growing up in a village on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, the evenings we sat around the fire in our hut, listening to elders relate stories from our past. Some were fables , others historic accounts of a famous ancestor, others stories of tribal conflicts, and still others about mysteries and yet to be resolved questions.

Storytelling is a human experience, and the question I pose is, what is your story this holiday season?

On Christmas Eve, we’ll have, in our church, a Christmas Pageant. We are not alone. There will be many parishes and congregations  staging Christmas pageants as part of a family celebration  of the holiday season. Yes, family celebration, not only  in terms of family as the nucleus unit but as a community that shares a common story.

What story are you hearing and telling, this  holiday season?

The New Testament gives two different accounts of the birth of Jesus, around which our Christmas pageant will revolve on Christmas eve. It is important to note that the stories are different.

The earliest documents of the New Testament, Paul’s letters, don’t say anything about Jesus’ birth. Neither does the earliest gospel to be written, Mark. The gospel according to Matthew, written about 85 A.D begins with Jesus’ genealogy, which, like in my childhood stories by the fire, seek to establish Jesus’ place in history. We can see how this narrative is composed more from the Jesus they have come to know than from his infancy. You would have to wonder, if they knew from his birth everything the story tells, how come, throughout the subsequent gospel accounts, even his closest followers were clueless about him?

In the genealogy, Matthew even includes Tamar, a woman,  Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute of Jericho and yet another woman, Ruth and of course Mary.

The other writer of Jesus’ nativity, Luke,  does not include details of genealogy.  Instead he weaves in the miraculous birth stories of John the Baptizer as Jesus’ precursor who baptizes him in preparation for ministry. Luke’s community find parallels between Mary’s favor before God and Hanna in the Hebrew bible who too received God’s favor in the birth of Samuel, who later anointed David to royalty.

Both Matthew and Luke have stories of angels. In Matthew they appear to Joseph in dreams, and in Luke, they appear to Mary and later, shepherds, in person. Matthew has the Holy Family temporarily settle in Egypt in order to settle in Nazareth – and even erroneously quotes a prophecy, “he shall be called a Nazarene”, not found in the Scriptures.

Luke’s story seeks to establish a Davidic and Bethlehemite connection through a census though the historical details are incorrect, as Matthew’s account of an Egyptian exile for the Holy Family is not a historical fact but a means of establishing a Nazareth domicile.

Those were the stories of Matthew’s community in Galilee between 80 – 85 A.D and Luke’s community of a Hellenistic background, perhaps centered around Antioch, in the 90s of the first century.

But what is your Christmas story today in the 21st century? I would like to hear it and we can share it as a community.

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5 Christmas fables that will shake your comfort zone

Are you familiar with the advice, “don’t believe everything you hear”? During the Christmas season, there will be stories – yes, that is part of the Christmas tradition. Think of some of those stories as fables, defined as “a legendary story of supernatural happenings” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). 

A long time ago during the Christmas season, a friend invited me to lead a bible study on Jesus’ nativity as Luke narrates it. I suspected he wanted me to address some of the things we read in Luke 2 which are not supported by the historical narrative of the period. He was avoiding having to address some contradictions between what people believed and hard facts. During my parish ministry, I too had avoided disturbing anyone’s comfort. 

I knew too, that even after a discussion of contradictions, on Christmas night, we would still have a cantor chant The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ: The Roman Martyrology.  

 

  1. In the 5199th year of the creation of the world, from the time when God in the beginning made out of nothing the heavens and the earth; the 2957th year after the flood; the 2015th year from the birth of Abraham; the 1510th year from Moses and going-out of the people of Israel from Egypt; the 1032nd year after the anointing of David king; in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the 194th Olympiad; the 752nd year from the foundation of the city of Rome; the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, all the earth being at peace, in the sixth age of the world; Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, willing to consecrate the world by His most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Ghost, and nine months having passed since His conception, was born in Bethlehem of Juda of the Virgin Mary, being made man. 

THE BIRTHDAY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO THE FLESH. 

 

This solemn proclamation, probably the most revered of the church’s proclamations goes back to the 16th century. Granted, that it is acknowledged that the dates cited are certainly not correct, we, nevertheless still chant it on Christmas night. Why? Keep an open mind, especially if you’re saying, ‘well, in my church we scoff at these medieval superstitions’. 

2.   Luke’s census: In chapter two of his gospel, Luke writes about Joseph and Mary leaving Nazareth to Bethlehem because an empire-wide census required everyone to go to their ancestral town for the census. Thus, Joseph being a descendant of David, went with his bride to Bethlehem, and there, Jesus was born.   

 

There is no record, in Roman sources, or historians of the time, of such a census. Luke places it in the time when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  This is useful information. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed legate governor of Syria in 6 A.D. Herod Archelaus, ethnarch of Judea was deposed by the Romans because he was unpopular with the Jews, and banished to exile in Gaul. Judea became part of the province of Syria under Quirinius. Because of this reorganization of the province, a local census was taken for purposes of taxation. It is the only census we know of at this time, and it was in 6 A.D 

How do we know there was no empire-wide census? From what Luke tells us. Imagine for a moment everyone in the Roman empire relocating to their ancestral town. How far back would one have to go on their lineage? Luke says Joseph went as far back as David – 1000 years back Even today, with modern technology, how many people can trace their ancestors ten centuries back? Can you? Obviously, Luke has an interest in David. 

Imagine also the empire-wide chaos such a census would cause, with massive civilian movement all over the empire. The Romans were known for orderliness. They distasted chaos. Why would they create such chaos throughout the empire? You may think, like some preachers do, that, ‘well, that is the nature of imperialism. Emperors can do whatever they want, regardless of how their subjects are impacted’. 

That may be true, but the chaos such a census would have created, would not have gone unnoticed by historians. Yet, no historian of the period mentions any massive movement of populations. We ca conclude that there was no empire-wide census and that Luke had the local provincial census of the beginning of Quirinius’ governorship in mind. And that was in 6 A.D. 

Raymond Brown, in his book, An Adult Christ at Christmas:  Essays on the Three Biblical Christmas Stories, makes this observation: “There are formidable historical difficulties about every facet of Luke’s description and dating of the Quirinius census, and most critical scholars acknowledge a confusion and misdating on Luke’s part. Such confusion would offer no difficulty to Catholics (and I would add my note- and literalists) since Vatican II made it clear that what the Scriptures teach without error is the truth intended by God for the sake of our salvation, and that scarcely includes the exact date of a Roman census”. 

In another nativity narrative (Luke 1: 5) Luke traces Jesus’ birth to “the time of Herod king of Juda”, Assuming that Luke is referring to Herod the Great, then the problem with history is compounded because Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, ten years before the beginning of Quirinius’ governorship and the census. 

3. The Shepherds in Shepherds’ Field and Matthew’s Magi: Luke writes about shepherds in a field taking care of their flock when first, an angel, then a company of heavenly hosts appeared to them to announce Jesus’ birth (Luke 2: 1-13). Matthew’s nativity story (Matthew 1: 18-25) does not mention shepherds but magi instead, following a star to the house where Jesus was born. 

 

So, who were the first witnesses of Jesus’ birth, shepherds, or magi? 

 

Many churches and homes have nativity scenes during Christmas. Images depicted include the Holy Family, three wise men (magi) from the east, shepherds, sheep a donkey and a camel. Even though Luke mentions shepherds in the field, we don’t know if they took their flock with them to the manger. As for the three magi, Matthew does not give a number and tradition has named the Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar. We don’t know what animals they rode, camels or donkeys. 

Then there is a star, in Matthew’s account, which led the wise men to Jesus. Even if the magi followed a supernova that night, can you tell above what house a star is standing? Try the sun, one day, and find out the house above which it is standing. 

 

For Matthew too, Joseph and Mary did not need to travel to Bethlehem for Jesus to be born; they were there. But how does Jesus end up growing up in Nazareth? 

4. Matthew tells the story of Herod the Great (reigned 37-4 BCE) and his panic at the news of the birth of a king. So, we get the horror inscribed in every Christian’s mind, the massacre of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two.  

Herod the Great is known for his paranoia and brutal reaction against any perceived threat to his reign. He had one of his favorite wives and three sons executed for suspicion of plotting against him. Even the emperor Augustus is said to have observed, “it is better to be Herod’s dog than one of his children” He was completely capable of the massacre of the innocents. 

 

It is nevertheless, strange that no historian of the period mentions the atrocity. The sheer numbers of the victims would not have gone unnoticed. Yet, no record exists outside Matthew’s gospel. 

5. Matthew then has the Holy Family flee to Egypt and only return after Herod the Great’s death in 4 BCE. At that time, Herod Archelaus was on the throne in Judea, which included Bethlehem. The family settled in Nazareth, in Galilee for fear of Archelaus, and “so was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23). Which prophet uttered the prophecy, we don’t know. 

 

For Matthew, the massacre of the innocents and the fleeing to Egypt make sense in the context of settling in Nazareth. Even then there is a lot of confusion with history and the dating. Let’s remember Raymond Brown’s remarks above. Secondly, Matthew and Luke being the only two gospelers who try to give an account of Jesus’ nativity, they don’t tell the same story. It appears each one had their specific message they wanted to convey. The question is: What message are they relaying? 

How I’m learning to overcome fear and hatred with the help of some creativity

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American political seasons, like the current run-up to the midterm elections, most likely contribute to depressions, migraine headaches and, quite frankly, psychosis. It is one compelling reason, for many people, to turn off the TV and avoid following the news. One very common expression you hear about political rallies is, “it’s insane”. That is as close to psychosis as you’d get.

For some, nostalgia provides comfort and escape. But then, you don’t want to bury your head in the sand and ignore, or just be oblivious to the happenings outside. It is impossible to completely shield yourself from the scathing wrangling of the day.
That is where creativity comes in, and The People’s Supper sets the trend.

It is about finding a space. Not space to escape but to engage, to be brave, to create. Finding space for love instead of fear. When there is fear of the stranger, or the alien in American politics, engage with one in conversation. When you are bombarded with fear of, perhaps politically invented, unknowns, find space for boldness.

I experienced the dynamic of The People’s Supper at the Midterm Five in DC, one of five suppers nationwide, hosted by different individuals and collaborating community groups, for the sole purpose of helping “friends, neighbors, members of different communities and sometimes strangers to come together to hear and to be heard”. There is something powerful and energizing when a Christian, an Orthodox rabbi, a German Muslim sit at a table and share a meal.

That is the spirit of The People’s Supper: Sharing a meal is humanity’s oldest ice-breaker. It provides the space to know another person and to be known and heard from the perspective of common humanity. There is a lot beyond tribal, ethnic, racial, gender, political, occupational and age identities. All these are minimalist and therefore limiting.

Experiencing beyond these boundaries is truly liberating.

As Tennessee Williams aptly expressed it, “hate is a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding”, or Orson Scott, “When you really know somebody you can’t hate them. Or maybe it’s just that you can’t really know them until you stop hating them”.

What have we learned?

I chanced to see just a few episodes of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing of the accusations made by Dr. Christine Ford against Judge Kavanaugh. I had promised myself not to  follow the hearing as I was certain the two parties had already made their minds who to support and who to oppose.

At the end, I am at least happy I saw the exchange between Sen. Klobuchar and Judge Kavanaugh, which the Washington Post later described as “the most telling moment.”

The exchange reminded me of an episode from the popular British TV drama, Doc Martin. In the Doc Martin episode,  Dr. Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes) and Caroline Bosman (Felicity Montagu) have a confrontation. This is their exchange ( verbatim):

Caroline Bosman: I don’t drink any more than anybody else.

Dr. Martin: Do you ever find yourself drinking first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get over a hangover?

Caroline: No! Certainly not!

Dr. Martin: Do you often find yourself get annoyed with people who observe or criticize your drinking?

Caroline: That’s it! I’ve had enough! Who the hell do you think you are, asking inappropriate questions about something I have not even consulted you about?

Dr. Martin: So that’s a ‘yes’, then, is it?

Something else I learned, and this has to do with the culture wars depicted by a crying woman and a furious male raging because his reputation in the eyes of society is attacked. How dare you question my integrity! Instead of listening to understand, we choose to talk because we already know. But, knowing and understanding are not the same thing.

 

 

4 reasons why the remaining days of August are special

The month of August easily wins the title of the month with most birthdays. This last week of the month I am one of those blessed to have appeared on the world stage in August, well over half a century ago. Growing up in a village on the slopes of Kilimanjaro our birthdays were different from what I am observing this week. In those days, birthdays were baptism anniversaries grounded in church observations and celebration. Many years later, I still remember with nostalgia that first birthday when I switched from a church-oriented observance to today’s more temporal indulgencies.
It is not my golden birthday. That too was many years ago. Neither am I particularly ready to exit the world stage on my birthday even though that would put me in that special group with William Shakespeare. But there are four things I am looking forward to that will shape my worldview on my birthday and moving forward.

1. Women’s Equality Day

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I regard it a privilege that my birthday is on Women’s Equality Day. It’s been 98 years since the adoption of Women’s Suffrage. 98 years is a long time and women’s equality appears to me as elusive as it was between 1840-1920. My prayer on this day – my birthday – is for change of mindset that will help speed up the time when women, half the human population, assume their rightful position in society. In this part of the world, I am inspired on this birthday, by all the women who have demonstrated, and continue to demonstrate that they are no longer accepting being relegated to subordinate (and sometimes subservient) status.
But, this is humankind’s aspiration. I look forward to join in solidarity with all who are committed to the aspiration. A luta continua.

2. National Safe at Home Week

For my birthday, I am connecting in a more practical way with the spirit of the National Safe at Home Week {August 22 – 26). It’s easy to be negligent or even languid in the belief that home is the safest place – and it is. As special caution, beginning this week, I am resolved to practice daily the recommendations set out in various guides for the National Safe at Home Week. One caution in particular, according to the National Safety Council, falling, mostly at home, is the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths among all age groups, but it is the number one cause of death for people 65 years and older.
During the past six months, a friend from bible study has become an even closer friend because of moments of visitation while she recuperated at a rehab facility after she fell at home. Research shows that aging itself does not cause falls. Furthermore, it is not seniors alone who are prone to injuries and fatal risks at home. Accidental poisoning and drowning in the home swimming pool are among the major risks for children. And it is good to remember everyone faces the risks of house fires and the banana peel.
This is not to say that I’m adopting an attitude of premonition. On the contrary. Seniors who live in fear of falling simultaneously reduce their quality of life. But awareness should not translate into fear. I’m looking forward to encouraging living courageously and in awareness. In particular, the experience with my bible study friend shows that something positive can come out of difficult and even painful experiences. It is a lesson I’ll share with anyone challenged by experiences like my friends, whether they are victims of accidents or family members and friends who will step up to be available for various needs.

3. National Humankind Week (August 25-31)

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So, the week of my birthday challenges me – and I hope, you too- to be kind to humankind. Yes, be kind to humankind, not only family members (even though more so with family) but I’m striving to see all humanity as family. Beginning with being, kindness is also active. If I can project kindness to another human being, who knows, it may cause a ripple effect that spreads to all of humankind. It will be terrific if on this occasion, I fully embrace Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to be the change I wish to see in the world.
I need not be apologetic admitting that, as human beings, we are becoming more and more fragmented. Maybe we belong to groups of people who think like us and share similar ideologies. May be the people we pray with are exactly like us. Yet that is not representative of humanity.
As I observe my birthday I am resolving to adopt a more inclusive worldview that celebrates diversity of humanity. That is possibly the only perspective that embodies kindness to humankind.

4. National Cherry Popsicle Day {August 26}

Now, that is sweet, is it not. Cherry popsicle happens to be my favorite summer treat. I salute the wonderful popsicle lovers who conceived the idea to designate my birthday a special day for the treat. More than that, the cherry popsicle, accidentally invented by an 11 year old, serves to remind me of the many sweet surprises of life. That every day is a potential for something new, something truly amazing, something great and not pre-planned.
Furthermore, we are coming to the end of summer. If you are not running already, you’ll probably be joining the rat race soon. Bu that is no reason not to have fun and be cheerful. Enjoy a popsicle on this special day and keep the summer memories fresh.
What if you are not an August 26er? No problem. You don’t have to be, but the season will change and change of seasons triggers mood changes, including a kind of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I am at risk for depression even without change of seasons. I’m going to face the change of seasons prepared and motivated by a mindset of the four influences.
Regardless, nobody wants the experience of depression in the fall. Not with all the demands awaiting. We need energy and adequate sleep. We don’t want depression to steal that away. We want to be active and being who we are made to be. Enjoy a cherry popsicle for the journey ahead.

 

Why it is difficult to mind my own business

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‘Mind your own business’ is a familiar admonition to busybodies who find excitement prying into other people’s concerns and manage to make those concerns their own. But if you have something that keeps you busy, in a positive way, that is what you should mind; right?

It’s been a while since I resolved to write full-time. You probably think of writing as another way of saying unemployment. And that is fine if unemployment means not being employed by another person or entity. I have heard of, and seen the misery many people experience when it is time to go to work. I still remember the words of the preacher who, one Sunday morning, after a sermon about the Hebrews’ bondage in Egypt, closed the service with words of consolation for “those who have to go to Egypt tomorrow morning” .

Experts (psychologists, entrepreneurs) and gurus of different stripes urge us, with all the conviction they can muster, to find that occupation that gives us satisfaction. They reassure us that until that happens, until we incorporate that satisfying quest in life, we will perpetually be in the grip of the Egyptian bondage.

Going to Egypt on Monday morning, and every day until Friday (and for some on Saturdays and Sundays) is also having contacts with a boss and managers. One volunteer manager I worked with a few years ago, did not like the title of volunteer manager. Now, that was at a non-profit spiritual organization. In a regular place of employment, there will be managers, may be two or three or more, managing you. For some in the workplace, right there, is the source of pain. It would be for me too. I wouldn’t enjoy managing others and I don’t like being managed.

That too was reason enough for me to opt out. The motivating factor was the desire to do what is fulfilling then not having a boss and a manager was an added incentive.
So, I made the declaration, first to myself, then to friends. I took steps too, in the right direction, From now on, my priority was going to be writing my blog and completing a book (a spiritual guide to Paul’s epistle to the Romans) that I started writing a few years ago. In the meantime, I published, on Amazon.com, a brief account of my spiritual journey during the past couple of years. Then the impostor phenomenon set in and I embarked on a revised edition which I am still working on.

Jason Hewett wrote the following in Freedom With Writing: “I was 25 years old working full-time and very dissatisfied with an entry level marketing job in New York”. It is obvious that what follows is his path to fulfillment. If you count you’ll most likely read similar statements four or five times a day.

I’m not 25 years old. That was a long time back. But the feeling is the same regardless of age. So is the second sentiment, which brings to mind Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. I decided to take an inventory of myself, as they say in Step Four of AA (Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves). I want freedom, no bosses, no managers breathing down my neck. I also want my occupation to be my passion, similar to a vocation.

In a HuffPost blog 5 Reasons to Become Unemployable Sonia Thompson lists factors like politics, not fit for the “in group” and goes on to advocate ‘become unemployable’ and ‘become an entrepreneur’. In most cases all that is needed is what you already have, and the desire to learn and improve on it.

My passion is writing. From very early on, I have been fascinated by the written word. Don’t ask me why. My guess is I am of the right brain dominance, slightly more than left brain. In secondary school I delighted in reading Charles Dickens and even memorized many portions of his novels. I still remember Miss Havisham and Pip and Joe Gargery. I studied English literature and History in exchange for Physics and Chemistry. Over the years, no matter what occupation I was in, writing deep rooted in my soul. Don’t forget that I am introvertive too, like many writers.

A couple of years ago I resolved that to be my path forward. Like every beginner I created a blog. Then I wrote for various online publications. I still write blogs as well as post content to a couple of digital publications. I wanted to stay focused on that path.
But, as with all charted pathways, distractions lie ahead. Something promising utility of some kind always crops up somewhere along the journey. Most of the distractions are quite enticing too.

My most recent lure came from far away in the UK. I still have a resume on Indeed.com. One day I got an email about a remote writing gig with a fast-paced tight schedule and, after some analysis, sounded like tightly structured. No creativity, it looked like. And the managers are all over, locally and in corporate offices in the UK. A recruiter came upon my resume and the tango began.

There was a financial incentive too promising to be ignored. For a freelancer who may, from time to time, face real fear of starvation, a promise of a generous pay can be alluring. I forgot about bossy managers and tight schedules. What about the rigidity in the execution of tasks? As a matter of fact, that was the term they used: a well-executed summary.

It took ten days of back and forth exchanges of emails and documents, online conferences and interviews in between. Gradually I realized I was drifting away from my goals. Don’t get me wrong. Everything was about writing. But all writing is not the same.

As if waking up from a nightmare, I embarked on a task to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent and from which we get four perspectives.

Important and Urgent                                                        Important but not Urgent
(Manage: Short-term Crises and Problems)                   (Focus: Long-term Strategic Goals)

Urgent but not Important                                                   Not Important and not Urgent
(Avoid: Distractions and Interruptions)                          (Limit: Time-wasting Activities)

I relegated the UK business to the bottom two. I need to focus on the important even though financial considerations may be urgent. And if I can stay focused, I will be managing my own business.

How is a miracle to be explained?

Weeping Virgin Mary

A couple of years ago, at a spiritual retreat, a friend recounted, with extraordinary emotions, how he witnessed a much-publicized sighting of the Virgin Mary, at a prior appointed sight in Northern Kentucky. Those of us at the retreat remembered very well the expectations and accompanying skepticism in the weeks when word spread of the Virgin’s intention to appear at the appointed place and time.

I didn’t go to the appearances, neither did the other retreatants. My reason for not troubling myself even as may be hundreds of people flocked to the place of miracle, was skepticism. I suspect it was the reason for others too. But our friend’s testimony and the tears that flowed down his cheeks as he recounted the sightings, left us wondering about these Virgin Mary appearances.

I grew up in a village on the slopes of Kilimanjaro where the population was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. My family was Protestant and a minority in that particular village. There were many occasions when, as we walked to and from school, the Catholic kids pointed at apparitions of the Virgin Mary on the summit of Kilimanjaro. I don’t recall seeing a vision of the Blessed Virgin; we, Protestants, dismissed the claims off hand. That was our upbringing – visions of the Virgin Mary were a Catholic fantasy.
Here at the retreat, we were all Episcopalians, with some degree of veneration of the Virgin Mary, of course, but my Lutheran background made it hard for me to see eye to eye with our friend who wept his heart out with the joy and awe of what he saw one evening in northern Kentucky.

Now there are reports of a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary weeping in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Hobbs, NM. Tears on the statue were first spotted on Pentecost Sunday, May 20. According to church officials there, they have collected and tested samples of the tears and confirm to be made of olive oil scented with the same perfume for chrism used in baptism, confirmations and ordination.

According to Deacon Jim Winder, the vice chancellor of the Roman Catholic diocese of Las Cruses, something supernatural has been happening. He says, “We do try to take a healthy skepticism to things like this. The church is presented with all kinds of ‘miracles’, so we don’t accept it at face value. We will investigate to rule out any chances of man-made causes or natural causes. We don’t want to jump to any conclusions”.

Their investigation so far has ruled out human causes for the tears. And as far as Bishop Oscar Cantu of the diocese of Las Cruces is concerned, if something supernatural is happening in that church, the decision is to determine whether the source is good or evil. God or Satan, in other words.

The second point, according to Deacon Winder, is that the church need not be too concerned about the fact as to the response of the community. What is significant with the miracle is that may be people have been drawn closer to God. Visitors have flocked to Hobbs, NW from as far as Italy. For many of the believers, there is no need for a church declaration of a miracle. It reminds me of my growing up around the sightings of the Virgin Mary on the summit of Kilimanjaro. As it is said, for those who believe no explanation is necessary, and for those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible.

Often times the church may not intervene and explanations may not be forthcoming. Other times too, miraculous occurrences turn out to be hoaxes. Often too, after some years, miracles may be explained scientifically.