I have begun a new position working with a refugee resettlement agency. My duties will include my speaking with groups and churches about the refugee crisis and the need for volunteers to help in the resettlement process. There will be great compassion in these crowds. There will also be great fear and confusion as to the realities of the world surrounding refugees.

20150805-LESBOS-slide-ZG91-articleLargeThe worldwide refugee crisis did not begin with Syrians fleeing certain death in small boats trying to find a safe shore. It did not begin with the pictures of children found dead on foreign beaches. There have been vast movements of endangered people around the world for a long time.

Mae La OonThey are fleeing persecution and fearing for their lives often for no better reason than the language they speak, the faith they hold in their heart, location where their parents were born or the shade of their skin.

This has been going on for generations. Perhaps as long as mankind has visited cruelty and intolerance upon itself.

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The current dilemma is the difficulty we have dividing the needs of our fear of terrorists with the needs of others fleeing from fears of their own. We fear what may happen again. They fear what will happen, and continue to happen unless they somehow escape. “But what if there are terrorists hiding among them?” we cry out in our fear. To help answer that and hopefully quell that fear long enough for compassion to rise up I put this here.

FYI.

I hope it helps clear the smoke and dust from your eyes.

Refugee Entry Process into the United States

The process for determining if any risk is involved in allowing a refugee or refugee family into the U.S. is broad and deeply layered. Many agencies, both foreign and domestic, are involved. With layers of redundancies as well as ongoing review and updates to more current intelligence, a process is enacted that is the most stringent and comprehensive of any applied to anyone entering this country. If at any time any element of risk is discovered the case is halted and entry denied. If at the end of any stage there is any doubt at all the case is halted and entry denied. Of all the refugees around the world (at least 16 million by conservative counts) only those who have a strong case for refugee status make the move to another country for resettlement. The number represents less than 1% of the total world refugee population.

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May 24, 2012 – Mae Sot, Tak Province, Thailand – Moms stand with their new born babies to register them at the Birth Registration Office of UNHCR inside the Mae La refugee camp in Mae Sot near the Thai-Myanmar border on May 24, 2012. More than 140,000 refugees have been living in nine refugee camps scattered along the border in Thailand after the minority ethnic group fled their country in 1995 following a major offensive by the Myanmar government army against the Karen National Union. Photo Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

The U.N. Refugee agency, UNHCR, begins the vetting process with the reception of applications from the refugees. The UNHRC will collect identifying documents and perform initial assessments by collecting names, addresses of origin, birth day, place of birth, etc. They also begin the collection process of ‘biometrics’ which may include iris scans. Initial interviews are conducted by the UNHCR to confirm refugee status and the need for resettlement after which the information initially collected is rechecked. It is from this point that only strong applicants move forward. The number at this point is already less than 1% of the global refugee population.

The application is transmitted to the next layer of vetting: The Resettlement Support Center (RSC) which is a federally funded program. The RSC collects the identifying documents and create an applicant file. The compiled information is used to conduct the biographical security checks.

U.S. security agencies begin their involvement at this point. The applicant is screened by agencies that include The National Counter-terrorism Center/Intelligence Community, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department. They inspect the applicant’s information and background for any indication that the individual is a security risk, any connections with known elements that are determined to be risks as well as any outstanding warrants or immigration/criminal violations.

DSC02254The DHS will conduct enhanced reviews of Syrian cases which may be referred to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Fraud Detection and the National Security Directorate for review. This is done to confirm the applicant’s eligibility and credibility.

The DHS and USCIS will conduct interviews using Officers specially trained to conduct this part of the process. Fingerprints are collected and submitted for comparison to the FBI’s biometric database, The DHS’s biometric database (which contains watch list information and previous immigration encounters in the U.S. and overseas) and the U.S. Department of Defense biometric database (which includes fingerprint records captured in Iraq and other locations). Should the fingerprint results or any new information raise any questions the applicant will be re-interviewed. Should any new biographic information result additional security checks on the information are conducted. A hold may be placed on the case while further investigation and research are conducted.

If any security concerns arise the application ends at this point. Otherwise the process continues.

4ffbed806The need for medical screening is now determined and should the refugee applicant have medical conditions that disqualify admission into the U.S. the case is denied due to medical reasons. Regardless, should the refugee be in need of medical treatment (such as for tuberculosis) treatment will be provided.

The refugee applicant will at this point attend and complete cultural orientation classes while a assessment by a U.S.-based, non-governmental organization determines the best resettlement location for the candidate(s). Preference may be given to any location where there are family ties or geographic locations that would better suit a candidate due to health conditions (such as asthma).

After a location is chosen the International Organization for Migration will book travel to the U.S.. The travel expense is paid for by the United States with an interest-free loan that the refugee is required to repay within two years. The screening process is still not over though. Prior to entry in the United States the applicants are subject to screening from U.S. Customs and Border Protections’s National Targeting Center-Passenger as well as the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight Program. Even this far along this can be an endpoint for some applicants. Should any flags be raised entry into the U.S. can be denied. Refugee applicants that clear this phase continue the process.

2C0037F300000578-3223222-Celebration_A_German_volunteer_holds-m-28_1441478665244After arrival in the U.S. the applicants are received by a resettlement agency which provides further cultural orientation, ESL training, housing and employment assistance as well as other vital services to help the refugee adjust and prosper in their new home country. The new arrival will be required to apply for  Permanent Resident status (Green Card) within a year of entering the U.S.. This will trigger yet another set of security procedures with the U.S. government.

After a process of screening that involves at least 11 different national and international agencies and which can sometimes take three years to complete the refugee is at last in a country of safe refuge that allows them to begin a new life where hope can replace the pervasive fear and persecution they have endured for so long.  

 

I would have liked to continue year by year, body healthy, mind clear, skin taught and strength undimmed but that is not to be. Time passes, my time passes, and to deny that, even to resist unduly, is to cloud my perception of the gift. The idea of “beginning” and “ending” is fading from my thoughts as “being” is growing. For me it has become the proverbial paradigm shift. I don’t always find everything to my liking or pleasurable but more and more I am finding the wonder of it all.


 

Trauma, pain, tragedy the really deep things of life that hurt us can so fixate our mind and heart that we continue to live in that moment. Over and over we rehearse the event looking for a way out. We think that maybe understanding why will make it all better somehow or at least make enough sense to mitigate the pain. In truth these things only have the life we breathe into them. We hold them and keep them in the present because, paradoxically, we simple don’t want them to be true.


 

Letting go is not instantaneous or magical. It begins with realizing that things are what they are, loss is loss, being able to understand something wont make it go away. We chose to move on. It is not easy and emotional circles are tremendously powerful but we choose to act on truth. One tearing step at a time. What is part of us will always be but it needs to be our memory, not our life.


 

Life is a constant river of change. Don’t be afraid of the current! It is the power to take you where you want to go. Its the little eddies that trap us in circles by the shore that keep us from moving on.


 

Letting go, accepting that we will never know all the answers and moving forward takes a lot of faith. We thrive on certainty and convince ourselves that our only security is in our knowing. Truth is we will never know everything. Life is full of mystery. That is not a bad thing. It’s just how it is. Accepting that and braving the uncertainties of life can be the hardest thing to do. Pain and fear can make it even harder.


 

What is it in your expectations that, being thwarted, causes you pain?


 

I believe it’s true that “we cause our own suffering”. We overlay our desires and expectations on the moment and when it doesn’t play out as we want we respond …negatively. Anger, frustration, pain, offense. Our only legitimate expectations are for our own behavior and decisions. Keep the mission before your eyes and fuel it with compassion. Don’t let self rise up and complain.


Life has a lot of mysteries. As romantic and alluring as mysteries are we still don’t like them much. Even with our infatuations with the idea of mysteries there’s still a great resistance to any of them being in our personal lives. I think it’s the uncertainty of it all. We live most of our life led around by the nose by Self and Self requires feeling secure. It likes things made of stone and deeply carved. A world of mystery tends to be more …ephemeral. Letting go of false security is always a challenge. It requires an openness to change and that, like letting go (very interrelated), is going against the grain of insecure human nature. This openness has to begin within the individual heart. The very paradigm of our worldview must change: realities outside of our own comfortable perceptions must be embraced. Without that basic transformation we are left standing in the dirt thinking it is solid and right, never knowing we are meant to lose our footing in the midst of the vast universe of possibilities.


 

I have found that life has to be a path, open to any who wish to take the journey but never a conflict, never adversarial. Sometimes being right becomes more important than what we are right about. It is not an easy path to be led by compassion rather than self, simple but not easy.


 

Passion is one of the great beauties of this life! I have seen great things accomplished but I have also seen lives go up in flames of frustration and anger. I think it is important to keep our passion an issue of the heart, flowing outward. When the passion is centered on a situation or an idea it is external. At that point it becomes ‘right’ and something to be defended from change. We choose what is important: to be right or to be. I know that really doesn’t make much sense. A good illustration is from Mother Teresa, one of my heroes. She would tell her sisters when they went into the streets of Calcutta that they were not to talk about Jesus. They were not to evangelize, they were not to preach. When they went out they were to BE Jesus. She understood that no one cares about what you say until they know what is in your heart.

An idea may touch a mind but only a heart’s fire can ignite another heart.


 

When someone pays me a complement the first thing I usually think of is my most prevailing faults. Admittedly, we all enjoy the compliments but if we are honest we know that reality is never that shiny. That’s what grace is for. We have to trust that we don’t have to be shiny, that being human means that we are flawed. Our best hope is to live the best we can in the light that we have and know that the light did not begin with us.


 

I hate it when my emotions get the better of me or I see someone I care for being tossed around by them. Life becomes rough when we lose sight of the difference between the emotions and well, us. They permeate our lives and touch all that we do but they are not who we are. They come and they go. We remain. It was the greatest part of my path to date when I followed my thoughts, felt my emotions, observed the hopes and dreams, fears and darkness and realized I wasn’t them, I was the one looking at them. The wind blows thru the tree and bends the limbs, rustles the leaves, whispers and moans but the wind is not the tree. The wind passes, the tree remains. I know it is hard dealing with feelings that cling tight and assume power and authority that they have no right to. But it is not the truth you are seeing. Nothing that is mortal, nothing that is here today and gone tomorrow is truth. There is peace in the midst of the storm but only if you realize that you are not the storm. When you find that you are the watcher of the storm you can begin to understand that even in the darkness and tumult there is a beauty that can take your breath away.


 

The (partial) scripture verse, “It came to pass…” is always a comfort. Not to stay but to pass. But oh, the riches to be had in the passing! All experiences can bring wisdom and wisdom brings peace.  The wisdom comes from the understanding and acceptance of what is and what is not. Learning this inspires the fearlessness of facing the next moment, knowing it is only a moment …and that we are more than a moment! What we fear is not what is in our moment but rather what we let ourselves imagine will or could be. Let the imaginations slip away because they only live if you give them life. Face each moment knowing it is but a moment bringing greater wisdom into your life!

Watch with gratitude as unexpected grace unfolds!


 

As gratifying as it is to see the surge of empathy and compassion in response to the Paris tragedy I wonder what is really going on. This is not the only attack that has happened in recent days. In the months of October and November of this year alone 14 attacks of various kinds have been perpetrated in 12 different countries killing over 530 of our human family and injuring countless others. The list and numbers stretch back for decades.

grunge flags lebanonPerhaps it has become too commonplace for us to notice unless the event is large enough and happens in a place we personally have emotional attachments to. Paris is certainly a center of romantic ideals. Just guessing here but when such a frenzy of compassion swells up over one horrendous event yet nary a tremble is felt in the news or social media when precious lives are tragically lost just the day before in Beirut, mutilated and tortured Beirut, one has to wonder.

Perhaps it was the ‘last straw on the camel’s back’ and finally we are waking up. I hope so. Maybe it just became trendy. I hope not. Worse case it is a manufactured flash mob smoke screen to make us look away from other things equally important.

This madness and all the incomprehensible suffering that is being exacted on the innocents of this world has to stop and I know there is no simple solution to that. I can only hope that finally we as humans have discovered the means to making acts of terrorism ineffectual. To respond to evil with evil is to be overcome by evil. Evil wins. To hold to our hearts and our humanity, to hold to the good and come together in compassion is the last thing a terrorist wants. It is only by holding to the good that evil can be overcome.

We are dealing with madmen and perhaps they wont notice, perhaps it will make no difference in their actions. It will make a difference to us. Military actions to disrupt their leadership and weaken their forces may in all likelyhood go on to twart the danger they represent but if we as a people refuse to be like them in spirit they will lose their only real power: the power to change the world into their image. It is their stated desire to foment rage, hatred and madness and thereby bring about the end of the world. Seriously, they to do all this to hasten Armageddon.

Be angry, hold them in contempt, indeed, pity them for the lost souls they are, but do not return their madness in kind. Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that. Let us love one another and come together ever stronger. In the face of madness let us be a people of sanity, compassion and justice.

1The sigh that escaped my chest was felt rather than heard. My borrowed half-helmet was allowing the pipes and the wind roaring past my head to drown out all other sounds. Even the voice of my GPS navigation app that was supposed to be telling me how to get back home. Duct taping both ear buds into my left ear hadn’t helped either. I still missed a turn somewhere. Looking around at the two-lane country road somewhere in rural North Carolina I knew I was not where I had planned to be.

Recalculating…” said the suddenly clear voice in my ear. Yes, no doubt.

As I looked at the fields off the sides of the road (holy cow! Is that a COTTON field?) and the weathered farm houses dotting the wide valley I felt a chuckle follow the sigh. “I’m not the only one lost out here. They just decided to make it their home.”

“Where’s home?”

There it was again. The teaching voice. Sometimes it’s the voice of insight, sometimes it is a reminder of lessons learned but not retained. Usually, a gentle nudge into the light. Always a voice of comfort because it is me, loving me.

Deciding that cliche’s would not be appropriate in the context of internal dialog I settled into the moment. Home. Lost. The Journey.

8ac711011f149978f1d96cd4e46eb6d4I knew I was already home but had let my grip slip on that truth in the panic of navigational frustration. It was a truth hard won but sometimes equally hard to hold onto. I have cut loose nearly all the familiar trappings of ‘home’ in recent months. Single again with no real property to my name and living (with relatives) in a rented room, I didn’t even have a means of independent travel until this week. I just purchased this motorcycle from my son. If I were going to identify ‘home’ with any constant person, place or thing then I was most certainly homeless. But I wasn’t.

The first reminder of my true home came in the image of Jesus teaching his hard-headed disciples. I saw him repeatedly trying to drive ‘home’ the truth to these political zealots, a-religious public ‘servants’ and fishermen, with little more diversity from the common culture than that of a mirror, that the kingdom of heaven was WITHIN them. Hearing it was a constant experience for them. Hearing it, understanding what it meant to them, took a little longer. Jesus’ patience would eventually bear fruit: (Paul on Mars Hill) “…for it is in HIM that we live and move and have our being!” Home. We are always home.

“And what does it mean to be at home?” Indeed.

A sense of belonging, a sense of place, being accepted, being loved, all the warm and comforting aspects desired by the human heart are part of being home. We can try to establish a sense of ‘home’ tied to a specific local, a unique relationship, a definitive situation but tying our heart to anything so temporary and transient is only setting ourselves up for the pain of eventual loss. You might just as well make your bed in a burning house. It’s comforting familiarity will matter not at all.

“If not ‘there’, then where?” 

It cannot be a matter of striving and arriving. If the image of God is the core us (and it is), if the Kingdom of Heaven is within us (and it is), if we are an integral, natural part of this amazing Universe (and we are) then perhaps all we really need is to wake up to what is already true. Stop cursing the darkness and open our eyes. I believe it was Confucius who said, “No matter where you go, there you are.”  Locale and circumstances are irrelevant. We are right where we are and where we are is right, even if it’s not where we thought we were going. We are still home.

Stop and look around, take a breath, accept what is. Welcome home. (OMG! It IS a cotton field!)

cotton-field

cropped-forest_light_mountain_path_rocks_trees.jpgGoing from point A to point B is pretty straight forward. At least it seems like it should be. When you divide a line and divide it again, and again, and again, you begin to get the idea that my math teacher tried to get across: There are an infinite number of points between any two. Any two. Infinite. Sometimes one of them will look like “B” and then you get sidetracked.

I have taken many a road trip in my life. Just about every time I would find an interesting spot that would catch my fancy and decide to spend time there that wasn’t allotted to it in my itinerary. Not a bad thing, really, we need to keep spontaneous and enjoy life when we find it. But what if your surgeon, working his way to a pancreatic tumor got fascinated by your lower intestines and decided to work there for a while until he forgot what his goal was? Silly, I know, but it illustrates that sometimes a path requires focus.

Lao Tzu said the Way was easily discerned but people liked the sidetracks (my paraphrase but the idea is the same). In a spiritual path there is only one goal really: getting to know the Truth. There are lots of sidetracks on that path. Spiritual insights, exciting practices, intriguing mystical revelations, lots of fireworks and rainbows to tickle one’s fancy. But they are not the goal. Some are not even close, but rather dead ends taken by others without the focus to finish the journey. They set out signs saying, “Welcome to Point B” when really they are just one of the many points along the way.

Though not circumscribing my core beliefs I think I must be ‘Zen’ at heart. I have seen many sidetracks already in the short time I have been on this path I’m on. Many of those I have found intriguing and captivating and I have wanted to spend time bathed in the glitter and wonder. But the Zen in me says, “Simplicity”. Holding to a heart of simplicity I look as deeply as I can at the sidetrack, take into myself that which I think will help me on the way, and then return to the main road, my Path. I doubt if it’s ever as easy as I just made it sound. It does get easier though.

You have to keep your eye on the prize. That is good advice that still holds true. Only one prize is worth the journey and in the light of that Prize all the other byways will be seen for what they are: stepping stones, not camping grounds. The journey is good and the end point is, I know, only the beginning.

I’m sure this seems a very linear teaching as I have presented it. I make it seem as though the goal of knowing Truth is only found at the end of the journey. It is better when we realize that the journey is also the end for each step is a step into the light. Every outstretched hand is taken. There is always more for we are so small and can hold only a small portion of Truth after all. As long as we can keep from being satisfied with the sidetrack of what we have we can keep going “from glory to glory”, touching the untouchable, knowing the unknowable and holding to that which will forever hold us.

WP_20150925_17_34_49_Proaghosts in the rigging
whispering their windy songs
yearning for the sea

LN’15

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Айвазовский_И.К._ВолнаLarge expanses of water have always held a terror for me. Yet, in spite of that, or perhaps because of it, when I’m confronted by great waters they captivate me. Looking out over the water it is lively and ever-changing yet deceptive. Deceptive because the glimmering beauty of the surface says nothing about the waters themselves. Hidden below are the unimaginable depths where darkness and cold are filling abysmal chasms. Mystery stretches from the fine sand gently tossed by rolling surf to hidden cliffs and sea mounts rising from the crushing depths. It is all beyond knowing, beyond human experience except on the most simplistic level. It’s denizens are there too, below the glinting waves. Small, exquisite creatures drifting forever in the dark to gargantuan, monstrous beings that graze or prowl or lurk ever only giving hints of their presence. In them especially the mystery swims past, unannounced and unknown.

You_Shall_Not_Pass__The_Lord_of_the_Rings_The_Fellowship_of_the_Ring_78_Movie_CLIP_2001_HD__115613It’s more than just the Mystery that inspires my terror. Knowing that it is free …that is the frightening part! We frail humans are continually setting boundaries; seawalls, dikes, dams, jetties or harbors as though we were true Gandalfs crying out, “YOU …SHALL …NOT …PASS!” And it seems for all the world that we have exerted effective authority when really all we are observing is coincidence. We stand in our assurance that our will prevails until one day, without so much as a how-do-you-do the waves are marching on our walkways, rolling up our streets, exploring the recesses of our basements and knocking on our doors. Regardless of our intentions and conventions the waters are free.

WP_20150925_17_39_16_ProAnd such is life. I think you can see the parallel. Life presents itself with the readily available glittering surface that captures the eye but within it is the terror, the mystery, the uncertainty. We do all we can to control it. We set out rules, our societies, our cultures, our laws and our firm expectations. We cry out all the more loudly in defense of our necessary boundaries telling life, as though we actually had the authority, “YOU …SHALL …NOT …PASS!” We find peace in the respite of coincidence as life seems to obey, until it doesn’t. It is then, when the truth of things become plain, that we tremble in terror for life …is free!

I like this. You see the vast water holds a terror for me in the depths of its mystery but that is why I love it so. It is vast, powerful, beautiful beyond comprehension, terrifying in its wild majesty and it holds my heart and mind and spirit enthralled. And such is life.

And such is God. Have you ever noticed that the larger the part of creation we observe the more distinctly we can perceive the presence of God? I can at least, you too probably if you look for it. And how like the sea! Or the forest, or deserts or the starry fields of space! Vast, deep and with infinite complexity held in awesome simplicity. Mysterious and terrifying.

And how do we deal with great and overwhelmingly powerful things? We try to build a wall around it, control it, set acceptable boundaries. Post signs. With God we create theologies, doctrines, religions, temples and say to the infinite, “This is as big as you get, as far as you go. This is my comfort zone and the area of my control. Beyond this point, ‘YOU …SHALL …NOT …PASS!'” Coincidence will always prevail for a while. We hold our selves secure in the knowledge that we have it all figured out. We find our peace. The wards hold, until they don’t. The sea will be the sea, life will be life, God will be God. The mystery and majesty and uncontrollable nature of it all will overwhelm us and suddenly we know the terror of being small, helpless and facing forces forever beyond our control. And ain’t it grand!

Everything as it is, all things as they truly are. Truth. Reality. Staring into the abyss and being enthralled by the wild majesty; at home in the midst of the Wild. Failing to contain the uncontrollable we find two paths. We can either scramble under blind terror to rebuild the walls of fancy and recreate the illusion of control or we can find ourselves falling helplessly into the arms of what is and was and will always be.

Choose to trust. There is no other sane choice for us. Let the unknowable mystery take you, overwhelm your defenses and fill your heart with the exquisite terror of uncertainty. Isn’t that what falling in love is all about?.

We are an opinionated people. Just going to put that out there. In that vein I will quote Dirty Harry: “Opinions are like a**holes. Everybody has one.” There are other parallels between the two but I will leave that to your imagination.

Most responsible, intelligent people would probably insist that if you are going to have an opinion then back it up. What’s your data? Where is your evidence? Almost to the point of “Prove your opinion is Truth or go and don’t come back until you can!” Not really a reasonable approach when dealing with an opinion but understandable given our usual approach to most opinionated things:”You have a differing opinion? The fight is ON!”300

It’s not reasonable to take the idea of ‘back-up’ data too far because hey, it’s an opinion, not a fact. Yet we confront differences as though all who would disagree with us are obviously denying the facts. Opinions are everywhere, especially in politics. Some are based on a lot of data, some are reflective of emotional involvement. Most are a mixture of both. Yet it remains opinion, none the less.

I watched the Republican Debates last night with my daughter and son-in-law. Wow! Lot’s of opinions! Both on the screen and in the room. Bear in mind that I have voted Republican in every election I have ever voted in. With few exceptions I voted straight ticket. At those times the R-Platform was closely reflecting my own opinions about how things should be governed in our country so I had no problems voting this way. My involvement and my interests in issues has changed my opinions  in several areas. Immigration is one. A lot of my family and friends are entangled in the immigration quagmire that we have in place of rational and efficient immigration policy and implementation.   I know enough to know that there are no simplistic answers to such a complex human problem fraught with such deep needs. My stand on this issue has distanced me from most Republican candidates.

My opinions on how this country should be interacting with nations internationally and responding to current threats has also changed. This has distanced me from both parties. Oddly, even though my stance on international affairs is predominantly non-violent my position on gun laws is firmly in favor of keeping the populace armed. I know, weird. In a country of highly polarized politics I find my feet on both sides of the aisle.

phototake_photo_of_12_week_fetusOne area that hasn’t changed, and will in all likelihood remain intact, is the linchpin for me. This opinion remains as it is not because of facts or data or any conclusive evidence whatsoever. It hangs strongly in my heart as an immutable force even though I stand in full awareness that it can never be an arguable fact. This pivotal area that cannot change is the unborn’s right to life. It remains so strong and unassailable not because of what I know … but because of what I do not know.

Ajahn Chah, a Thai Buddhist teacher I respect, made a statement once that I have never forgotten. He said in effect that what you know gives you knowledge but you will not have wisdom until you accept what you do not know. You see, not only are we opinionated as a people, we are arrogant as well. Even though we do NOT know everything we hold opinions like we do. Unless we factor in our ignorance any stand we take will be out of balance. Lacking conclusive facts we have ignorance, or perhaps, non-knowledge: what we do not know. If we keep in mind what we do not know, what we cannot know, we have a chance of wisdom.

Opinions, like beliefs, take what we know and then take a leap. But we cannot leap too far. We have to keep in mind, “what if I’m wrong?”

nilsson_rm_photo_of_20_week_fetus
Here’s how it goes with me. While a mother’s rights are a valid issue as well as the freedom of choice, for me it cannot be the critical issue. When I look at an babe in arms I have to ask, “When did the ‘fetus’ become this awesome, miraculous human being?” I know there are lots of opinions in the matter. Since 100% of the genetic make up of the human individual is present at conception there is the entire gestation period to work with in trying to decide at what point are we dealing with a person. Truth is …we don’t know. I don’t think it is something we can know. Facing that towering question mark I am left with the real question, “What if we are wrong?”

We may play God every day in many ways, consciously and unconsciously, but that doesn’t mean we have the right to. If we don’t know, and we know we don’t know, then how can we take the chance on being wrong? What if we are murdering a child?

That is not a popular question today. Contemporary culture has gone to great lengths to dehumanize the unborn. It’s not a baby, it’s a fetus. It’s not a body, it’s just tissue. It’s not a person, it’s at best an inconvenience and at the worst a problem. History is replete with examples of the use of dehumanization to validate abuse, persecution and killing of sectors of the human family. Slavery in this country, the holocaust in Europe, women still in some parts of the world, and to some extent even the ‘War on Terror’ we are currently waging. I have never trusted any action that is predicated on dehumanization, especially if it is an area where the judgments are made based on prevailing opinion.

So, where does that leave me? Well, knowing what I don’t know now I have to choose to err on the side of life. Both “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice” are based on an opinion formed from inconclusive data. Either could be wrong.

But what if we are killing children?

January 22nd was the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Since that time, there have been nearly 56,000,000 abortions.

What if we are killing children?

Peek-a-boo

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed
by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are
Life, Liberty and
the pursuit of Happiness.”
Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence

I got up early this morning and seeing a lay of fog around the house I hurried to get dressed to get to the waterfront before the sun rose. My son-in-law was already up and instead of a misty sunrise I was treated to a pleasant exchange over coffee dealing with the separation of church and state, original intentions of the founding of our nation, the differing beliefs concerning a ‘living constitution’ and a “fixed constitution”, a few applicable current events as well as an exposition (by me) on Christ, the place of faith in the government and Christ’s teaching methods. Yeah, we are that kind of family. I still got out of the house in time to see the sun low on the river and a gentle mist rising from the surface, dancing lightly in sunlight on calm waters. No cause for complaint on either the homefront or the waterfront.

Normally, I try to avoid discussions of religion and politics. Yes, I write about spiritual matters and the occasional patriotic thought but that is rarely a discussion. More of a teaching at best, confession at worst. I avoid discussions in these matters for the most part because in both it seems that the tendency to confuse belief with truth is endemic and such discussions rarely result in any good outcomes.  The discussion with my son this morning was lacking in that frustrating element but served to highlight by contrast how much of the discussions in the media and over kitchen tables these days are tainted by it.

pilate (3)“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

The nature of “Truth” has been a question people have struggled with since times immemorial. Lacking authority to proclaim absolute accuracy I have a adopted a working definition that has held me in good stead for some time now. It is gleaned from Buddhist teachings but I think that it fits without compromise the teachings and person of Jesus as well as the thoughts of the Founding Fathers. Simply put Truth is the way things are; each thing as it actually is.
When we look at any thing (ANY thing!) we look upon the truth of it but our perception, our understanding, is altered by our filters. Likes, dislikes; fears, desires; memories, expectations and a quadrillion other duelistic positions that force our eyes to judgement and in so doing we color the truth. The scene_at_the_signing_of_the_constitution_of_the_united_statesFounding Fathers (with whom I agree in this) believed in self-evident Truth. Truth so profound, so common, so obvious, so repetitiously dependable that it stands apart, impervious to our filters. In the context of the formation of our nation they were ‘certain unalienable rights.’ They were absolutely convinced that the God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was just the way it was and because of that fact they could not but act against the powers they saw as acting against this truth.

Not all Truth is that easy to act upon. You see Truth is big and even what we can see cannot be completely understood. Sometimes its because we color it and thereby distort it and other times because we just cannot see the whole picture. The apostle Paul spoke about this reality of life when he referred to our now seeing as though through a dirty window and that we see only in part. He gave hope that one day we would see clearly as though face-to-face and that we would know even as we are known but for now we need to keep the humility of our limited humanity about us.

So what do we do then? We do what we always do. We take what we know, our understanding as it stands now and we connect the dots. We see the best we can and make our best guess at the rest and we believe.  Truth is the light that shows us the way, belief is the path we choose to walk within that light.

Whether its politics, religion or just interpersonal communication there will never be peace until we start the conversation realizing that what we see, what we hear, what we believe is colored by our bias’ and perceptions. The proper question is not “Why did you say that?” or “How can you take that stand?” or “How can you live your life that way?”. It has to begin with realizing we don’t see the whole picture and our inquiries need to be purposed to increase our understanding, not establish our belief as Truth. “What I heard hurt me, what did you mean to say?” “I don’t understand what has brought you to this position. Can I ask why it is important to you?” “What I see in your position is contrary to what I have come to believe but before we can come to an understanding know that you don’t have to share my conclusions for me to love you and value you.”

Call me a dreamer but I think we can communicate and share and grow from each difference we encounter. If we each hold a part of the Truth doesn’t it make sense to share?

bb503d4a235d5f792ea21d996dd904dbThese are the smiles that try men’s souls. And women’s. Kids, eh, maybe not so much, they are pretty innocent as a rule and still trying to process their parent’s fears but none the less easy to spark a connection with. But the adults, yeah, you can definitely lay down a trial and know the outcome that reveals the cloudiness and distortions imprisoning their heart. It’s not hard to read and you can definitely get better with practice. Aaaand what am I talking about …

My premise is that when we share a smile we touch our common heart. I do it every day, several times a day and have been blessed over and over again with a cut-through-the-crap no-baggage-allowed honest-to-goodness brief-but-beautiful contact with hearts held by other souls but uniformly the same as mine.  The rub has developed by my encounters with the sullen few that will ignore my smiling greeting or give a cursory nod while retaining the frown that has their face locked in place. Some will smile lightly and then glance away as though I had entered a private setting with secrets that could be revealed. A rare individual will meet my eyes and will turn away almost angry or with at least a wave of sadness like I had thrown them a lifeline but they felt it too late, they had drifted too far from shore and had no hope of returning. The most difficult of all are the professional facade generators. The politicians of life that create a willful response designed to create a personae to hide behind and still give a positive appearance. Yeah, tough nuts those and probably the hearts most deeply buried in the mire of life.

So here is my mission, and your’s, should you choose to accept it. Sharing hearts is always rewarding and a step in the right direction in revealing our innate unity, especially in these days when division and animosity seems to be rolling so forcefully through our species. It is sufficiently fulfilling that I have no fear of the practice being discouraging no matter how many clouded hearts I meet. Therefore I will press toward the shadows and open myself to see the nature of the darkness. My hope is that I can get sufficiently sensitive and insightful that I can let my smile and my eyes and my heart conform to the need and help the clouded heart find the blessing of sharing a moment with a fellow human without judgement, without expectation and with unconditional acceptance.

This may sound a bit silly: militant friendliness. Maybe it is. Or a bit crazy. Don’t care. It may be a small thing but the reality is big things are made up of small things. World events, while overwhelming, are built from moments and relationships and perceptions made person to person, heart to heart. I cannot create universal world peace but I can share my heart with one person at a time and fill that moment with all the peace and love I can muster.

It’s the least and possibly the best I can do.

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