Who are we, for real?

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Imagine for a moment the three astronauts – actually two, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – that moment – on July 20, 1969 when, for the first time in human history, they set foot on another world. It was, physically, stepping outside of their (and our) environment and looking back at the world that has “forever” been home.

It is the same with self-awareness, except that it is not physical. For self-awareness is our ability or capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, emotions, scripts, motives, history, habits and mindset. If we could do that – and we ought to do that every moment – then we would see who we really are.

Stepping outside of our self is the first step into discovering and becoming who we really are. When that happens, and as St. Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380) said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire”. Is it joy and peace you cherish? Then be who God created you to be.

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What then shall we do?

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Every so often something happens that shocks our comfort zone or just prompts us to reflect. That is part of life and it is healthy because comfort zones are, in reality, probably not actually comfortable, and they keep us stunted. In those moments when we are shaken awake, we inevitably ask ourselves, “what then shall we do?”

The question is ingrained in our humanity. Luke writes about crowds seeking to come to terms with new revelation, using the same expression: “what then shall we do?” (Luke 3: 10). Even tax collectors and solders wondered (3: 12, 14), “what then shall we do?” And in his second book, he gives us a picture of an audience “cut to the heart” (Acts 2: 37), and asking Peter and the other disciples, “what then shall we do?”

Both Leo Tolstoy and Gar Alperovitz chose the question for their book titles to reflect on poverty and exploitation and new realities. It is fitting that we too, as we face new challenges, we constantly and conscientiously ask ourselves, “what then shall we do?”.

I say conscientious, deliberately. Conscientious is defined as “governed by conscience; controlled by or done according to one’s inner sense of what is right, and principled”. Perhaps we have travelled too long on a path lacking in those virtues but we need not stay on that path. If peace and joy are the desire of the human heart, we will only find them internally, not with external power.

 

What kind of humanity do we desire?

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In a sermon recently at a local parish church, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams urged: “Whatever you do, ask yourselves, ‘what kind of humanity do you desire?”

This got me to reflect – at a personal level – on John Macmurray’s observation that “it is in and through my consciousness of other persons alone that I can know myself as a person”. We are,. as a community and as a society, a composite of individuals. The humanity in our community and in society is projected from the individual persons we are.

Think about it as we move forward in life. There is a deep desire in every human heart and we are ever in search of it. C. S. Lewis observed that that deepest desire of the human heart is joy. There are many routes in pursuit of this yearning desire of the human heart: wealth, health, fame, power, and so on.

However, Saint Augustine discovered – and we would do well to learn – that “Our Hearts are Restless Until They Rest in You” (from Confessions).

1 virtue for peace and joy today

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One of the 4 cardinal virtues mentioned by St. Ambrose in his commentary on the gospel of Luke is that of fortitude. Fortitude? What is that? It is certainly not in our everyday vocabulary.

Even before Ambrose, Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, all recognized fortitude as a virtue. But what is it?

The word is derived from the Latin fortitudo, and can mean endurance, strength, forbearance, or the ability to be in control in times of uncertainty, fear or intimidation. Some translate it loosely, as courage but I want to underscore here, the “ability to remain under control”. It is not to control, but to be under control.

Anxiety to control circumstances and the energy we exert in the vain exercise, are the source of much of the frustrations we find in life and in society. It makes it so much more expedient that we constantly remind ourselves and learn to practice this virtue of fortitude.

Peace and joy are incompatible with a mindset of controlling – and this is not to be confused with being under control. The latter involves surrender. So, to truly experience peace and joy, begin each day asking yourself, “what area of my being, my make-up, do I need to surrender today?”

Why you need to change your mindset about life

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In an interview with Chelsea on Netflix, Shannen Doherty shares, from very personal experience, why we all need a change of mindset about life. This is what she says, with reference to her battle with breast cancer – and October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: She says, “I think what is beautiful and bad and interesting about cancer is that it tears you down and builds you, and tears you down and builds you. It remakes you so many different times. The person I thought I was supposed to be or was going to be or who I thought I was six months ago is now somebody completely different. I realize, ‘Wow, I really thought that I was so brave and so gracious this entire time and really I was just hiding”.

I heard a different version of this same truth in a bible study group a few weeks ago from cancer survivors. Their struggle with cancer “forced” them to see life with different lenses on a daily basis. That is why Shannen can see something beautiful and ugly at the same time; something interesting and hard at the same time. And in that cycle one finds life and survival.

It is when we see life as lineal – as from birth to death – that we are burdened and even overcome with its transforming circumstances. Most of our prayers are petitions for removal of circumstances and situations rather than transformation through the circumstances and change of mindset. In other words we adopt resistance instead of acceptance.

Joy and peace comes from being broken and rebuilt; in acceptance and transformation.

What is your response? If I told you my story you would hear…

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A publisher invited readers – obviously aiming for potential authors – to share how they would complete this phrase: “If I told you my story, you would hear…”

Every person’s life is a unique story. That is why we say, we all have a story to tell. There are different ways our  stories are told.

Writers are introverts; writing is their means of telling their stories. Whether they withdraw to cabins in the Poconos or some mountains in Colorado, or reflect while trekking on some trail, they are indeed searching to understand their story, then share with readers.

When you read the blogs I pen here you get a picture of my journey – in its many and varied facets. Thus when I blog on peace and joy, faith, hope, perseverance, humility and compassion, I am actually sharing my life experience and how I view it in those lenses.

And so, everyone has a story to tell. Are you telling your story? How? What are we hearing?

Write your comment here or send me an e-mail.

 


 

Perseverance translated into grace, peace and joy

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Most dictionaries give a two-point definition of perseverance:

1. A steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

2. The second has a theological input: Continuous in a state of grace to the end.

The French “perseverance” means persistence or endurance, while the Latin origin “perseverantia” means steadfastness or constancy. Since we have these ideas of difficulties, obstacles, discouragement and even endurance we may over-react into thinking of hardship, struggle and even misery. That is why the theological lens is so important.

Yes, patience and persistence is integral to persevering. It is an exercise and a state of being as defined above. And because it is state of being, it has a lot to do with mindset. When the focus is on grace, both in the now and in the outcome, then perseverance becomes joyful not torturous. We can endure because we believe and trust in the graciousness of our expectations.

It is in this mindset that Paul writes in Romans 5: 4 that “perseverance produces character and character produces hope”. Hope is pure grace and in it there is peace and joy.

Being not doing

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In the Kichagga language of the Chagga people of Kilimanjaro the word used in greeting is “kaapho”. Literally it means, “be there”, and in question form it would mean, “are you there?”. This can be compared to the (South African) Zulu greeting, “Sawubona”, meaning, “I see you”, to which the response is, “Ngikhona”, meaning, “I am here”.

Kaapho and Sawubona, and ngikhona – and, indeed many similar expressions among different tribes of the world – carry profound deep meaning. Acknowledging a person, “be there”, or “I see you” signifies the totality of the person – personality, individuality, dignity, well-being, specialness, and so on. It is recognition in its fullest, devoid of negativity, reductionism, or lacking.

Think of it in contrast to the western expression, “how are you doing?” and even the more formal, “how are you?”. For, if we were to take the time to hear the responses that would come from the inquiry “how” we would certainly be overwhelmed! Typically, it is complaints about not feeling well, exhaustion from work, financial inadequacies, health issues and teenager challenges and so on.

What we learn from unpolluted humanity is that life is about being; it is experiential rather than performance. That is where all goodness proceed from.

Situations and circumstances are for transformation

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If you asked me, “what is your favorite bible verse?”, without thinking I would say: 1 Peter 5: 7. It is the verse that comes to mind instantaneously. After some thought, I could, of course, come up with many other verses, but this one simply leaps up in my mind.

This is what it says – according to most translations: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you”. Some versions expand “anxiety” to include worries, concerns, cares, and even fears. And that is true because anxiety can stretch very long.

But the point is: Is there any use actually, being anxious? Anxiety, worry, care, fear and the like are negative emotions. They stir up endless hypothetical questions which further raise the level of the emotion, worry breading more worry and fear, more fear and ultimately paralysis.

Worries and anxiety are borne of unexpected situations. Yet, nothing happens without reason or purpose – even the unexpected. The reason or purpose for the circumstance is what matters. Circumstances and situations are there to inform us; to teach and enlighten. In short, to transform us.

So, instead of praying to have a situation or circumstance removed, pray to be transformed by it.

 

The Good Jew instead of the Good Samaritan

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I have affirmed elsewhere in this blog what the late Prof. Shemaryahu Talmon (1920-2010) suggested: that Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan could actually have been a parable of the Good Jew. My own convictions are prompted by the fact that Jesus’ call to action inevitably shakes and startles those he calls. He challenges us to move from a world of comfort to one of perplexity, from certainty to doubt, from safety to risk and even danger.

Here is a contemporary illustration: Over the past two or three months three or four congregations have been working and planning on receiving and resettling a refugee family from the Middle East. One family, but four interfaith congregations. Obviously there are complex cultural, social, and educational dimensions as well as legal processes. If you pause to think of the magnitude of human suffering anywhere – including at home – what emerges in this picture is a pursuit for efficiency rather than expediency. Certainty and the least – if any – risk!

The temple priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable subordinated human life to ritual expediency and we see Jesus challenging that mindset in his ministry and teaching. Be it Sabbath, dietary rituals or a man writing a “get” to divorce his wife, Jesus’ challenges his followers on a road not yet traveled.

That is the road a Jew would have traveled in the parable.