We are in an era of tabloid journalism where sensationalized news sells advertising. We, the public, are left with merchants brokering facts slanted to titillate their audiences with no thought to how we are left with a divided citizenry that has no clear understanding as to what is truly happening. What do we do? What is our recourse when those we trust to inform us confuse editorializing with objective journalism? 

Don’t fool yourself, it doesn’t matter if you are left or right, your chosen media is pandering to your desires, giving you the flavor of the news you want them to give you. Which quickly brings us to the question: do we care? Do we really want to know the truth or do we just want our personal views to be upheld?

If we, as a nation (yes, I think it is actually that serious), are to survive this era intact and still be America we are going to have to dig deep and figure out what is important to us. 

In the eyes of the world the U.S. lost its moral center long ago. What we are seeing in our leadership both now and in recent history is a political reflection of a loss of moral values and responsibility within us, the citizens of America. It has become too easy to cast our eyes on ‘the bigger picture’ of expediency. We embrace ‘the end justifies the means’ all the while being blind to the fact that the things we allow, the things we enable, the things we sometimes even cheer on would be unconscionable if it were up to us to do them. If what we see in our nation’s actions abroad were our personal doings we would be shamed and riddled with guilt or overcome with horror. Perhaps that reality is reflected in that since 2006 there have been over 4000 combat deaths in the military and in that same period over 90,000 suicides among veterans. 

If what we allow in the actions and behavior of our elected officials were our own actions we would be unable to show our faces to our loved ones. 

I believe it is time to decide what is best for our country along moral and ethical guidelines that we ourselves could live with. We can no longer allow ourselves to be puppets in the media circus tossed about by biased, slanted and agenda-serving ‘journalism’. ‘Nationalism’ is meaningless if we do not hold our nation to a standard we can take pride in. 

Our nation’s ideals were once the light of the world. We have never truly lived up to them but we did honor them. We once used our ideals to guide our path as we tried to overcome the past and create a brighter future. Now they mock us as we wallow in petty politics while turning our backs on the less fortunate and withholding hope from the downtrodden of the world. Individually we are better than this. We need our nation to be a reflection of us at our best, not our self-centered worst.

So, what do we do? Look at results. Are the policies and the individuals responsible for them honorable? Trustworthy? Compassionate? Are people treated with respect and dignity? Are the results of our nation’s actions something to be proud of? Or are they merely political. Are they serving the few at the expense of others or are they drawing upon the strengths and virtues of our nation to the betterment of those who cannot help themselves? 

For myself I could not be a supporter of anything that endangered children. I could not support anything that endangered the earth. I could not support anything that failed to respect the value and dignity of other humans regardless of any perceived differences. I have my values and I have to start there. I cannot begin with broad strokes and work backwards. I have to begin with my heart. The broad strokes are painted by people and corporations with agendas that do not reflect my personal concerns. For me it boils down to selfless compassion and redemptive purpose. It’s a good place to start.

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I have come to the place in my journey that I am comfortable when faced with Mystery. Things happen and understanding is not a necessary element for me to come to grips on how I should react. A tragedy or trauma will elicit compassion whether I can see a reason for it all or not. And some things just work whether I understand it or not. I cannot repair a modern car let alone make one but I will drive it none the less. Mystery is not an inhibiting factor. Indeed, mystery can be life’s most significant connection to God and the Eternal. It is wrapped up in faith, and perfect seeing is not needed for faith.

Even so when elements come together and suddenly something seems to make sense it is a beautiful occasion. Very nice. I had one of those moments of confluence when different elements of what I believe to be true came together, and the pieces fit and I am left wondering why I didn’t see it all along. That happened this morning in Church. The sermon was centred around the Nativity and the advent of Jesus. The effects of babies on bystanders were mentioned and in the context of Jesus, something clicked. Let me explain.

baby-girl-6I believe babies are windows to our basic goodness. That is the term Buddhists use. Christians would say it is the image of God that is stamped upon our heart. Effectively the same. When we fix our stare with a baby’s all the trappings of self and our foggy cloaks of delusion fall away and we are left with the joy of innocence. That joy reminds us of how we once were and speaks of the hope of what is good within us, even if it is dormant.

A lot is made in Christian teachings of our depraved and fallen state to the point of calling it our nature. Regardless of how dramatically you wish to paint the picture, it all boils down to self. From our innocent beginnings, we develop our connections to life in this world and we learn to fear for self, protect self, serve self, glorify self and empower self. As these layers of self-centeredness thicken the innocent image of basic goodness is clouded, smothered, and often hidden even from our own awareness. It’s echo, it’s sleeping presence, becomes the tinge of conscience, the nagging discontent, the hollow knowing that all that we do is built on a sandy foundation for it is not an expression of our first, our true nature.

The innocent reminder in a baby’s eyes can cut through that. In that moment we can know hope. For some it is a forlorn hope and babies are avoided as false prophets promising something that can never be. Some of us are so buried in the thick fabric of a self-centred life that to experience such a glimpse and to believe that image of God could in any way be revived would take a miracle indeed.

Being once convinced of the fallen, sinful nature of all humanity I would have resisted this idea too. Even though theologians throughout history have agreed that mankind retains the image of God little was made of it. Contemporary Christian teachings so emphasise our lost state that to imply a persistent Godly image at our core would be at best inconvenient and at worst heresy.

So intense, historically, is the picture of humanity as lost and depraved that the very idea that Jesus had a human nature created such a paradox in Christian thinking that the idea was debated and argued over for centuries. For most Christians the divine/human nature of Christ was relegated to mystery and held with averted eyes. It was explained as necessary but the actual reality did little to inspire hope. That was left to other dynamics of Jesus’s life and ministry.

I think we missed it.

We are stepping here into the realm of ‘belief’ rather than ‘truth’. This is me telling the story of how two things in my personal belief system have come together and helped me believe all the more that ‘truth’ is more closely represented here than I saw before.  At the very least this has given me a picture of Jesus in my own heart that when I see him I better understand the hope that is within me.

You see, in spite of the understanding that humanity retains the image of God, basic goodness, the nature of God, we are taught that for Jesus to have both human and divine nature is unique. I no longer believe that, not exactly. I believe he was in every way like we are. But there is indeed a difference, a uniqueness, a power that Jesus utilized that we do not. Unlike us, He never clouded the divine with his human selfishness. His divine seed sanctified his human nature and he retained his innocence intact.

Tiberiade-1Ever wonder what it was that would inspire men to just drop their nets and follow Jesus? His disciples left jobs, homes, families, every aspect of the lives they had built and followed him. Did you know that history records that every disciple died a painful death rather than deny Christ? What did they see in him that so touched them at their core that their lives changed forever in an instant? Perhaps, looking into the eyes of innocence, not just the passive innocence of a child but the dynamic innocence of a man filled with divine compassion, they knew for the first time that hope, unalloyed: the hope of God within themselves became undeniable.

 

 

 

 

 

This one is for my Christian brothers and sisters.

First this: the Common Ground

Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

gravestone-grass-16086320If I hear a Christian say, “I have a right to my opinion.” I must respond, “No, you don’t. The dead have no rights.”

If I hear a Christian say, “I am a (insert political party name here).” I must respond, “No, not possible. The dead don’t have political parties.”

If I hear a Christian say, “I am a patriot.” or “I am a proud American.” I must respond, “Sorry. You are confused. The dead have no country.”

You see, that is the entire point of this “Born Again” pivot point in a persons life. New Creation. Old gone. All things new. I no longer live but Christ lives in me. Dead and buried and raised to newness of life. Not after the flesh but after the spirit. Changed. A new paradigm. New ears to hear, new eyes to see. No longer of the Earth but a subject of the kingdom of Heaven, a kingdom that lies within us.

We have no view but the viewpoint of Jesus.  We have no loyalty to any man or woman, to any party line, to any separate group, institution or cause. We have no cause but the cause of our King. Our only loyalty is to the Truth. Our only value is that which reflects the Spirit of Christ.

In the strictest sense there can be no Christian activists only Christian action.

Let me ask you this: Does your understanding of the life of Christ lead you to believe that any action that is not compassionate would be His will? Do you believe Jesus values any national interest more than a single child? Can you conscience any action, choice, policy or decision that sets aside the mission of the cross and instead raises up national interest, political interests, personal interests?

Perhaps that last one was too obscure or indistinct. Being a Christian seemingly takes on many shades of meaning these days. The actual mission of the cross, the mission of Jesus, may not be entirely clear to you. Let me drop some buzz words and let you put it together. After all, me telling you any of this is useless unless you take it to heart and your heart embraces it and change happens. Fundamental, cataclysmic, absolute change.

  • Sacrificial 
  • Redemptive
  • Compassionate
  • Selfless
  • Life (abundant, not just existence)

Any of these seem strange? Out of reach? Idealistic? Not really your kind of Christianity? Well, it is only for dead people. But it is the standard whereby we know that we are indeed dead to our selves and alive to God. It is how we are to be. All of us.

1 John 4:17 (NKJV)

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.

I once visited a church that I had never been to. The service was officiated by a friend who was a councilor at the refugee center I volunteered with. She led the time highlighting refugees and their plight and our place in the equation. We were all privileged to share in a moving story told by an amazing lady who, while in her 80’s now, began her life as a refugee in the late 40’s and 50’s. She told of long years of personal struggle and triumph followed by a lifetime of helping other refugees in need. Then came the clinker.

After the presentation the service was opened up for questions and comments from the congregation. The discussion reflected well on a group that generally ‘got it’ and who shared genuine compassion and interest. Then there was ‘that guy’ who was toward the back and prefaced his comment with a disclaimer that he would probably sound like a counterpoint to the general flow of the meeting. He was right. He spoke of how the influx of great numbers of refugees predictably caused instability in the regions they moved into. He reminded us that in many countries it is the intellectual, skilled and strong minded individuals that leave their home country and that that facilitated the continued abusive rule of tyrants by leaving the unskilled, uneducated and weak behind who are relatively less capable of resisting such a tyrant.

I found myself wishing that I had a BS flag with me. I would have so thrown a flag on his play. Or not. It wasn’t really a matter of right or wrong to start a fight over. It was so much more a matter of my hearing someone that just wasn’t seeing the actual problem. Thoughts continued to be shared by others and while not antagonistic they actually did serve to leave his ideas swirling in an eddy far out of the main stream. There was no confrontation, just space for disagreement and allowance for compassion over opinion.

As refreshing as that was to see differences expressed without conflict I still find myself using the moment to help understand my own thoughts. You see I cannot look at the worldwide refugee crisis in terms of data, even if the numbers support my understanding. It isn’t about religious views, political stands, national politics, ethnic groups, races, countries, regional instability, causes or effects.

Not too long after this I helped in a winter coat distribution ’boutique’ at this same church. While I was there I watched the little daughter of a refugee family whose age spoke of the likelihood of having been born in a refugee camp. She was standing there surrounded by adults. Some were her own family and their fellow refugees. Some were the tall, and/or pale Americans who spoke funny. She was wrapped in the finery of her first winter coat. Ever. She was smiling.

It’s about people.

Individuals who have found life intolerable, unsurvivable, caustic and hopeless and did the only thing left for them to do: they fled. With no more than they can carry they cross jungles, deserts or oceans. More often than not losing what little they have along the way. Sometimes more. Sometimes, too often, they lose husbands, wives, parents or children. Or their own life. It’s hard for us to put our heads around that much less our hearts. What would it take to push you and your family out your front door onto the street with just a bag in hand and run, anywhere that is possible to go, knowing it may cost the lives of everyone you hold dear? Knowing not to run would cost even more.

What would it take for you to turn such a person away? Status quo? Your comfort zone? Business as usual? Are we really so attached to what we want and have that we cannot see others in need?

As a Christian by faith it is not unusual for me to try to see a situation as Jesus would see it. It is practicing the mind of Christ as I ‘renew my mind’. Jesus said there were two things that summed up all the law taught from the time of the prophets. “Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” (Allow my paraphrase to open this beyond the thinking of only those who share my teaching heritage) “First become intimately and passionately joined in spirit with the enduring Truth which is and was and will always be. Let the lines of separation and distinction blur and fade until there is only one mind, one heart, one spirit. Then, as this unity is expressed in life, thought, actions and decisions you will find that the lines between you and others will also blur and fade until you love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Loving our neighbor. Immediately I can see hands raised looking for an out, a loophole, a narrow definition that will allow discrimination and isolation of our hearts. Jesus had those hands raised too. His disciples asked, “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus drew a picture in no uncertain terms. Your neighbor is the one who needs you to be their neighbor.

We wake up every day and step into it. It’s that or stay in bed which rarely happens for me because, well, bladder. But it’s still true. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, we still get up, move forward. And while it’s true, forward can seem a difficult direction. 

I think there should be a formula in life somewhere that measures forward progress by the amount of baggage we carry. Apt analogy, I think. If you can imagine someone walking down the street loaded up like pack-yak moving up Everest you can agree it would probably be very slow going. It’s hard: Hard moving forward, hard letting the baggage go.

This is the point where I begin singing, “Let It Go” … Okay, I won’t. I don’t think it would help any more than being told to “let it go” is going to help. I believe if we thought we had a choice, if we knew how, we, all of us, would like to let go of the stuff that is weighing us down and holding us back.

Some baggage has seemingly become a part of us. Our flesh has grown around it and we accept that it is as much a part of us, inseparable, as our arms and legs: as integral as our heart in defining who we are. Sometimes we think it IS our heart. Trauma, failures, fear, disappointments, wrongs done to us, wrongs we have done to others, crimes against our humanity perpetrated by others, or that we facilitated ourselves, these things don’t just go away. They are red ink on the ledger. They are imbalances that are beyond rectifying. They are the shadows on our soul that refuse to dispel in the light. Or so we say, so we believe.

Every day we wake up and step forward. All that is brought forward with us is what we give life to. Something that happened 10 hours ago, 10 days ago, 10 years ago, when-ever, is past. What we feel are the scars, what we hear are the echos, what we see is only what we look back to see. It is no longer here, no longer happening, no longer alive. Yet it is. We make it so.

We make the dead live, the past present, the wounding continual. We do this. Yes, it happened. Yes, it was bad. Yes, it hurt, but it needs to go to the grave. It needs to be sent back to the past and the Now needs to be allowed to happen. What is must be seen as what it is. All things as they are, each thing as it is.

And it’s hard. We are conduits of feelings and emotions and memories and the horrors of life cause us to fixate. Stepping away from that is hard. Facing our demons, calling them by name, speaking the truth to them, “You are the past, today is new,” this is hard. Only the truth can set you free. Each day is new. Each day. Freedom is within reach. Indeed, it is in your grasp.

Part 2. Here is where the enigma of forgiveness enters stage right. We have to forgive. Forgiveness is not validating wrong-doing. It is not justifying evil. Forgiveness is, in essence, letting go. Moving on. We have to forgive ourselves for what we have done. We have to forgive those who have wronged us. “But they should BURN IN HELL!” Yes, and maybe they will, but unless you forgive they become your hell and burning becomes your life.

This is where I see beauty in the teachings about Christ. They lay the process out as a transaction between us and the Eternal. We are to see the past forgiven and accept our becoming a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold! All things have become new! And thus we find our freedom. And perhaps, living a life where we see ourselves as forgiven and live with a spirit of forgiveness we may become the spark for someone else to see.  A light where they can see themselves letting their burdens go. That would be a good thing.

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.

52f97604fba9716016df34ef74ef0848

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 of 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.