To Dream The Possible Dream

August 22, 2019

A pastor was sharing that he worked in the business world before becoming a church leader. His favorite part was the annual planning meeting. The older people would come to the meeting rolling their eyes talking about here was another waste of many hours only to compile a notebook that would sit on the shelf alongside its predecessors, unopened.

But the pastor, being a young guy, was enthralled with the possibilities of a new future that they discussed in the meeting.

Typical, right? We have a corporate mission statement or a personal mission statement. It’s written somewhere to remind us. But in the chaos of the moment each day, we work on the short term problem and forget about the long term direction.

That is a subset of the Don Quixote de La Mancha problem–To Dream the Impossible Dream.

In our personal life as well as corporate we need to remind ourselves daily of where we are going. Why we are doing what we’re doing. Ask, will this activity move me toward my vision or just suck up valuable time and energy?

We were created to do. Not only to do but to pursue activities that we were created for.

Meditation and prayer are excellent activities.

However, like the Zen master said, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

When A Habit Becomes A Way of Life

August 21, 2019

The headline of the opinion piece in this morning’s local newspaper said, “What We Need Is Good Old Fashioned Decency.”

That is a good sentiment.

But, how?

My thoughts reflected back to yesterday’s podcast wherein three computer nerds discussed Repetitive Strain Injuries–and how to prevent and/or deal with them.

Bear with me a moment.

A quick search on the Web will turn up numbers of quick-fix remedies for RSI. Products. Opinions.

As one of the guys said, I hate to say this, but it’s just like health and fitness. You make a habit of eating nutritious food and getting some exercise daily. Toss out sodas, both regular and diet. Toss out processed foods with the wrong type of calories. Get up and start walking.

With RSI, begin with proper ergonomics, for example, when typing the angle of your arms at the elbow should be greater than or equal to 90 degrees. Take breaks (the Pomodoro technique, for example, 25 minutes of intense work and 5 minute break). Find a trainer and work out to strengthen the appropriate muscles. There are a couple of Yoga poses that help alleviate the situation.

Back to decency. Remember that? It’s where we started.

We can’t wave a magic wand or pass a law and instantaneously create a culture of decency.

We get into the habit of appropriate language. Not necessarily completely “politically correct”, but still we can watch what we say.

We get into the habit of doing little things for others–opening doors, lifting bags, buying a coffee.

We vent our opinions and emotions typing a social media post–and then delete it before we hit “send”.

Notice, decency begins with us.

It can be contagious.

Maybe, like Arlo Guthrie sang about Alice’s Restaurant, Yes, it can become a movement, the Alice’s Restaurant Massacree Movement. Just imagine it…

Root Cause Analysis

August 20, 2019

Prominent in my news feeds lately are reports about the attacks on capitalism, or maybe corporations, or democratic capitalism (reporters search for new phrases in a feeble attempt to keep the story fresh).

Reporters whose memories are as long lasting as the last story neglect to inform people that these attacks and criticisms in the US date back at least to the 1870s.

Many times in my career I’ve been the “numbers guy” who tracks costs and rolls up to sales price in the hope that we’ll make a profit–not so we could gouge people, but so we could stay in business for another year and all of us have jobs.

It’s not necessarily profits and corporations that are evil.

Digging deeper into what in engineering we call root cause analysis, we will find the root cause. Humans knew this cause more than 3,000 years ago. We know because we can read text at least that old.

It’s the people running those corporations “maximizing” profits due to:

Greed

Pride

Selfishness

Quest for power

These people reflect the values of the Roman Empire that Jesus overturned. Therefore Jesus’ favorite saying, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you…”

You have heard it said it’s all about “survival of the fittest”, but I say unto you “love one another.”

We just keep missing the point. And the mark.

Opinions

August 19, 2019

Sitting at the coffee house, working, minding my own business, when a guy I know comes in. He introduces me to his friend. Then he asks if I’ve heard of an organization writing a book that reconciles science and the Bible.

So I quipped that that project would be interesting because they talk about two different things. I probably quipped something like, “That would be like comparing apples and aardvarks.”

The guy’s friend says, “That’s all worthless. Science is all opinions. I don’t trust any man’s opinions.”

Whoa! As one trained in the scientific method, I caught myself starting to teach a remedial science class to a guy who obviously slept through his original one. Shifting gears, I said that there are many opinions of people in and about the Bible. He started to object. I brought up the book called the Revelation of John. There are many opinions about that writing. Start with the premillennialists, postmillennialists, amillennialists. And then add other interpretations and opinions.

He said, you have it all wrong. It’s not the Revelation of John. It’s the Revelation of Jesus.

Sheesh–opinions…

It’s like when I was thinking about what critter was eating my green tomatoes. I had seen a groundhog (woodchuck) in the yard. I consulted with Dr. Google (well, actually Professor Bing, and yes, I know I should use DuckDuckGo). One Website was full of opinions of I think this and I think that. Then there was a video on YouTube that showed a groundhog eating green tomatoes on the vine.

The guy was partly correct. Experience trumps opinion. I have experienced the spirit revealed in the Bible. I’ve experienced the knowledge based on the scientific knowledge.

Few things are either/or. Sometimes both/and is a better approach. Except when it’s neither–search for the Third Way.

Me? I suggested to the German Shepherd next door that he should be getting the groundhog. He just looked at me. Don’t think he speaks English. Sprechen sie Deutsch? How do you say groundhog in German?

Show Some Kindness To Yourself

August 16, 2019

The most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently. Pema Chodron.

Do you ever have flashbacks to moments when you did or said something completely stupid?

Somebody once told me that a sexual thought pops into our consciousness every so many seconds (I forget her number).

I don’t know about that, but I have those flashbacks of moments of stupidity at least daily.

With mindfulness practice and with kindness, we can pause and observe those thoughts and look into other areas of less-than-acceptable words or actions.

Rather than some Freudian beating on ourselves. We can realize that we aren’t alone in this condition. It is truly a human condition. Except maybe for sociopaths or narcissists, I guess.

Handle with care, the sticker on the box states.

Same with ourselves. Just handle ourselves with care. Apologize where we can. Move on with gentleness and kindness.

Ethics and Working for the Best for Society

August 15, 2019

The last person (well, maybe not totally the last) that I thought I’d listen to on a podcast would have been Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries and famously a supporter of “right-wing” causes.

But, there he was on the Tim Ferriss podcast.

No, I’m not going down the political rabbit hole.

It’s all about working together ethically to do something for the benefit of as many people as possible.

I thought I had noticed a difference in the actions of Koch over the past few years, and I was right. He discovered that there are issues where he shared values with people who had divergent views on other topics. For example working with a number of noted liberals to make progress on prison reform.

Listening to him I’m reminded of all the people–politicians and business and church people alike–who draw a line and refuse to work with people on the other side. There is bitterness, acrimony, division. All the things that interpreters of Jesus’s message like Paul and Peter and John warned us about.

Or even the political Founders of the government of the US who warned us about the need for ethical behavior for the success of the union.

I may not agree with Koch on everything, but I love the optimism still alive in his 80s and his mission to build things that help others and help society.

This mission works in whatever country you live in. I have met people from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Europe, even China with that same passion.

It could be us, too.

Sometimes God Does Not Seem To Be Here

August 14, 2019

Sometimes you enter what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.”

Things are happening, and God just does not seem to be there to help.

When this happens, take solace knowing that this feeling is as old as the human-God relationship.

I’m reading in a 600-year-old letter on spiritual direction which is as contemporary as today. The writer shares ancient advice as useful then as now.

Check out the 3,000 years-old songs of the Hebrew people in the Psalms. How many times do the writers cry out to God asking where he is?

Or even older is the story of Job.

When we inevitably feel this void, there is only one thing to do.

Continue our spiritual practices with the faith that God exists and will show up again in our lives.

That is why we practice disciplines in our good times–spiritual, mental, physical. These see us through the down times.

The More You Know

August 13, 2019

The more you know, if you are honest and self-aware, the more you realize you don’t know.

Beware. I am again sipping from the flowing river of 2,000 years of Christian thought and experience.

Today, no doubt not unlike many eras of Christians before us, there are many Christians who are certain they know exactly what God wants and they are not bashful about telling the rest of us where we’re wrong and how we should live.

Except…so much of what they say fails the consistency test with what their supposed Master taught.

What I think God said versus what Jesus thought God said…Let’s go with me.

But…

St. John of the Cross, and not him alone, remarked that the closer you get to God, the more you realize how incomprehensible he is. He said that even the saints in heaven who are closest to God realize just how incomprehensible is God.

Those of us who choose contemplation hoping for a glimpse of God realize that the more we know, the more we don’t know.

Beware the human who tells you with utmost assurance exactly who God is and what he wants.

The rest of us are just pilgrims and sojourners in a foreign land trying to live with-God and finding that difficult. Let alone take responsibility for telling someone else exactly how to live.

We cultivate a beginner’s mind, just taking a step one day at a time.

Quiet the Monkey Brain

August 12, 2019

Small tree monkeys move and chatter constantly.

Must be why they call the plight “monkey brain.”

Sometimes you sit to contemplate. Or maybe to solve a difficult problem.

But your brain is restless. Chattering. More a source of irritation than a tool for enlightenment.

Your only recourse is to recognize the monkey brain. Then do something.

Take a walk.

Fix breakfast.

Change location.

Brute force will not work. This I know.

How We Like To Anthropomorphize

August 9, 2019

We recently saw the latest version of The Lion King. Before the feature began, they showed a trailer for the remake of Cats.

The Lion King is a classic coming of age story. Only the characters are animals. With human characteristics, emotions, yearnings. And they speak really good English. Thank you to computational advancements and high resolution digital graphics.

Similarly with the presentation of TS Eliot’s classic poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Humans have done that with God for millennia.

Even though God is spirit as defined many times in the Bible and other sources, we like to imagine God as an old white man. (That’s us, I have seen God in the image of whatever ethnicity imagines what God looks like.)

This becomes an audacious attempt to limit God. Even though this being created the entire universe, we attempt to limit “him” to just being one of us.

Then we attempt to limit grace to people like us.

The movement about Grace Turned Outward attempts to bring people to the understanding that it’s not all about our group. It’s about spreading this spirit of God and Grace among everyone no matter the ethnicity or geography or present beliefs or what they eat or how they dress.

Animals talking make for entertaining stories.

Limiting God to being an old white guy in the clouds threatens to reduce God’s power in our lives and inhibit the spread of grace.