Four For The Road

October 25, 2021

Here are four pieces of wisdom for living.

Experiment. Life is an experiment. You try something. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, then you try something else. Always.

Invent. Look for new ways to do something. Invent a tool, a pattern, a lifestyle. Go on a new path beyond the same old experiences.

New Ideas. One way to train your brain to come up with new ideas is the 20 things method. Sit with a page of paper and a pen. Write a question at the top of the page that you are trying to solve or figure out. Write an idea. Write another, maybe just playing around with the words. After about 15 answers, you’ll notice the ideas are becoming more creative. By 20, you will have the solution you are seeking.

If you missed writing class in school, that will be much to your detriment. This is a variation of the list method (a thought which just occurred to me). You begin with an idea and begin to write an essay. By the time you have finished the essay, you will have ideas that you never imagined when you began. It happens with me almost every day that I sit down to write this blog.

Practice these daily.

Ask better questions. This got me into trouble as a student. Some people just seemed to have an ability to take things on faith. I still remember chemistry class in high school, but the same held through in almost every class I took even throughout university. Some people accepted whatever the teacher said, remembered it, wrote it on tests. They were the A students. I always asked, how do they know that? I puzzled things out. I didn’t care about the test. It was superfluous. I was a B student.

I feel I lack on asking better questions many times. That is my personal challenge. What is yours?

We Assume Wrongly

October 22, 2021

I believe something about someone or something without thinking it through. In other words, I assume something as true that quite probably is not.

There is a humorous parsing of the word assume — “it makes a ass out of u and me”.

The current British crime drama my wife dug up for us to watch the series straight through is set in and around Newcastle in north of England. Inspector George Gently wound up with a cocky young sergeant who has something negative to say about almost everyone. “Is there any human that you don’t have an opinion about?” Gently asks him after another flip dismissal of someone of a particular ethnicity.

I am guessing that the writers are drawing a caricature of a north England young man. TV often requires a couple of caricatures to play off the deeper, conflicting emotions of the lead actor.

But he also represents us all. I bet you don’t have to dive very deeply into memory before you recall the last time you made some flip remark about poor people, or black people, or white people, or homosexual people, or people from some other ethnicity.

Note my use of the word “people.” I try to remind myself of the humanity of all people. How we all struggle to live a good life. How we all struggle with our weaknesses. But we are all children of God, loved by the Father.

When we feel ourselves assuming, we would do well to remember the First Principles of the faith—we are to love God with all of our hearts, strength, soul, and mind; and we are to love our neighbor. And then banish those assumptions.

Give It Time

October 21, 2021

I learned something this morning. When I learn something before 7 AM, then I’m good for the day, right?

We have been taught Benjamin Franklin’s decision making method. Draw a vertical line down the middle of a sheet of paper. Write all the reasons for the decision on one side; write all the reasons against the decision on the other. Total, and there you have it.

Except, you don’t. There’s more. Franklin continued…after making the lists, let it sit over night. Revisit the list the next day and look at your thoughts again. You will see more things one way or the other.

Give it time to percolate in your subconscious. More ideas will come to you.

Company CEOs, marketing directors, and product managers brief me on their new developments. Then they’ll ask for my feedback. Do I agree that this is really a revolutionary advancement? I give an initial impression, but I tell them that I must digest the information and let ideas fester for a time.

This is often what happens when we study. For example, we may read a sentence in one of Paul’s writings. We think, wow, what a great command. I think he is completely correct.

Except…perhaps we continue reading and see that Paul expands on that thought. Perhaps what Paul meant in total is quite different from what we thought from the one sentence. Then we leave the passage for a time and revisit it the next day. And now we have more ideas, more understanding, more questions.

Many times in many conversations and things we read it is optimal if we give it time. This will save us much misunderstanding and embarrassment.

What Do You Do With Your Time?

October 20, 2021

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’

Into the future

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’

Into the future

Steve Miller Band

I was listening to Seth Godin this morning while I was doing my wind sprints and walking around the ponds here in northern Illinois. He reminded me of something I’ve often thought about.

Technology was supposed to make us productive. Why? So that we wouldn’t have to work so many hours to make sufficient income. Why? So that we’d have more “free” time.

It did make us more productive. So, what do we do with our time?

Research into people’s behavior shows that we—watch more Netflix, spend more time with the TV, spend hours on social media. In other words, our time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’…

Between moving to a new state and the pandemic, I have lost all the old services I used to do—teaching Bible, teaching Yoga, serving on nonprofit boards. It’s been hard picking up. I tried with a new church, but there was no place for someone like me.

On the other hand, I’ve read more deeply into some good books. I’m currently 327 pages into a 981-page novel by David Foster Wallace called Infinite Jest. Supposedly the book “everyone” says they have read, but few actually have. I view that as a challenge. This guy is incredibly observant of people and culture. That helps sharpen my own observational skills.

I am still writing two blogs and keeping up with technology. But I have time to workout. Read. See more of the family up here.

What about you? What are you doing with your free time? How many hours do you spend with a screen? What could you do that would be more healthful and of service? Take a walk in nature? Read a good book? Maybe read a great book again? Set aside a little more time for meditation and prayer? Call a friend?

The Steve Miller Band in the next verse said “I want to fly like an eagle.” Just soaring on the air currents. Watching. Observing. Getting an occasional meal. Enjoying the freedom. Reminds me of Isaiah, “Those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.⁣ They will soar high on wings like eagles.” Just taking pleasure in being.

A Fool’s Life

October 19, 2021

A fool’s life is empty of gratitude and full of fear.

Ancient Greek Proverb

Some of us develop mind tricks or habits in order to cultivate a daily focus on gratitude. Sometimes we get busy and forget that for which we should be grateful.

If our life is filled with gratitude, there is no room for fear to creep in.

This reminds me of my typical New Year’s reminder. Don’t do resolutions or goals. Decide what kind of person I will be in the new year.

Meeting a person whose life is filled with gratitude is a joy. It makes that day so much better.

Meeting a person whose life is void of gratitude can ruin our attitude for the day. Or longer.

I choose gratitude. And quickly refocus when I slip.

Compassion

October 18, 2021

The word of the day came to me while scanning email newsletters to which I subscribe. Compassion. I thought, when is the last time, if ever, that I have contemplated compassion?

I’m not even positive that I know what it means.

One definition began with pity. But I didn’t think that captured the idea. So, I had to go deeper.

It begins with sensitivity. I think it must begin with us, ourselves. We must have some level of self-awareness as human beings. Then an awareness of other human beings. The breakdown of the word surely contains thoughts of a shared emotional experience.

Thoughts cannot contain the entire concept. Not only must we be aware of others and understand ourselves, but we must show that somehow. We cannot just be in our room wallowing in our feelings. We must do something.

If we are near the other, perhaps we can go and sit with them. If we are far (however defined), we can send expressions of understanding and sympathy. As much as I emphasize the excessive fear, anxiety, and hate spread through social media, I must recognize the times when that is the quickest way to express compassion.

My “newsfeed” within Facebook, for example, regularly has responses containing the emoji of praying hands to someone in distress. Knowing that others express understanding and support at tough times is a help in these times.

I like this, from Wikipedia, Compassion motivates people to put forth a selfless effort in helping the physical, mental , or emotional pains of another and themselves. Compassion is often regarded as having sensitivity, which is an emotional aspect to suffering.

This may be one of the most underused of the spiritual practices. Praying hands sent on social media once in a while is good. But we must ask ourselves, is this enough?

What have I done this morning to show compassion to myself? How can I be watchful for opportunities to show a little compassion to others? It doesn’t have to be a huge action.

I sit on the outside patio at the local coffee house. There is no handicapped access button on their door (Hint to Mr. Starbucks, it would be great if you added that!). I sometimes see a woman in a wheel chair who can just barely move her arms enough to use the joystick to maneuver her vehicle. Oh, and to hold her coffee, of course. She drives up to the door but can’t get in. I’ll pop up and go open the door. Just a small act, but significant for her. And I’m not the only person. Some people sit and ignore her, but many young and old have helped.

Opportunities to open our souls a little and show even a small act of compassion occur continually. We become sensitive to others and their needs. We act. We are thereby compassionate.

A Love Potion Without Drugs

October 15, 2021

The ancient Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote to his young friend that they believed that a wise person is self sufficient, yet knows the value of friends, neighbors, associates. He asks, how then does one get a new friend when the current one is lost? He quotes another philosopher, Hecato of Rhodes:

I can show you a love potion compounded without drugs, herbs, or any witch’s incantation: ‘If you would be loved, love.”

Isn’t life simple? Yet, for some of us, that simple prescription can be most difficult. We must go outside ourselves and recognize other people—their needs, desires, insecurities, qualities.

How often have we dismissed someone as aloof or arrogant only to talk with them and discover they are merely quiet and actually quite lovely people?

In reality, I’ve met many lovely human beings from many parts of the Earth and only a few real jerks. How about you, if you pause to consider?

Maybe try this by just going out and being nice to someone today. Drop the cynical facade and smile. That brightens everyone’s day.

Perfect

October 14, 2021

Ryan Holliday has created a lucrative niche writing about the Stoics. Unlike writers on spiritual disciplines from the Christian tradition who are not mainstream evangelicals. He recently looked a a series of Stoics who, although writing deeply about wisdom, weren’t always all that wise in action. They made mistakes in their daily and business and political lives.

Jesus never invited a perfect person into his group. Never. Check them all out. Flaws. Some glaringly obvious. Peter—need I say more? James and John arguing over political positions in the kingdom that was coming. Mary, the former prostitute.

Yet, our evangelical churches (maybe almost all churches?) act as if you need to be perfect to join and remain perfect for life. Otherwise, the gossiping, avoiding, criticizing begin.

But (and as they like to say, a big but), we are not perfect. Not one of us. Perhaps some of us manage to sail through the calm waters of life thinking we’re perfect, but those people are delusional.

God made an unforgettable impression on me in mediation years ago by showing me all the ways in which I am not perfect. Not that I don’t have small remembrances many times a day of actions where I was less than perfect.

That’s OK. God also showed me that none are perfect, yet all are welcome into his domain. Jesus brought them all into the fold. Perhaps we need to learn a lesson.

This has a name, and its name is grace.

Anger

October 13, 2021

It happens sometimes that someone disappoints me. A low-level anger grows within my gut. Not rage. But my emotions are aroused.

It happens sometimes that I react with an email promptly.

That is always a mistake. I know better. Walk away. Let the new situation digest. Then I can respond from a recognition of the new situation.

Time. Allow for understanding. Readjust thinking. Now response comes more calmly and constructively.

For example, a referee calls and says, “Sorry, but I cannot do that game tomorrow that I promised I would.”

Anger does not help. The new reality is that I must find a replacement. My thinking must quickly move toward accepting the new reality and devising solutions. That requires calm.

Sometimes the anger may be deeper. Politics can stir deep and lasting emotions. Injustice in the world. Someone in the workplace or within the organization beats me out of a position and I lose status and money.

We cannot let the anger grow and control us. What is the situation? What can we do? If we can do nothing (like politics in Washington other than vote every couple of years), then we have to accept our limitations and work where we can provide solutions.

Maybe I can’t solve world hunger (I worked for an organization once that tried that.) But we can feed the hungry family down the street or send money to an orphanage to help feed the kids. I can let the anger provide energy for useful responses.

Once we go that far, then as we rest daily with God in the spirit of meditation in our daily disciplines, we can let the spirit of God guide our responses now that we’ve calmed enough to accept it. When anger is in control, we can’t listen. When we decide to recognize this new situation, we can listen for God’s guidance. This channels our life into more useful responses.

Have a Story?

October 12, 2021

My story today is a 6AM press event originating from France. Interesting story about sustainability, energy efficiency, automation for my other blog. Now, I’m behind for the rest of the day.

This is one of the retention ponds (the developer calls them “lakes”) that I pass several times a week on my morning exercise. We have many Canada geese. But, wait! What’s that? It looks like a domesticated white goose has joined the flock.

Ever wonder what story that goose might have had? How did it wind up with these “wild” geese?

Made me think of all those rural stories about the farmer’s teenage daughter who becomes infatuated with the boy from the traveling shows in the old days. She runs off to join the acting troupe.

Or maybe it’s like the Syro-Phoenician woman who came to Jesus and bantered back and forth with him about healing her daughter. He says, shouldn’t I heal my own people first? She counters, even the dogs get crumbs from the table. When I read this story, I visualize both of them with small smiles on their faces as they banter. I think Jesus appreciated that kind of conversation. I don’t see this conversation in the same manner as some of his conversations with Pharisees, for example.

Are you like the flock of Canada geese? Or, are you more like the outsider who somehow became part of the flock? How do you react as the former? How do you fit in as the latter? What is your story?