Author Archive

Why Do We Want That?

June 1, 2023

Seth Godin recently asked on his blog a question I used to pose to my daughter when she was in high school, “How much of what we want, really want, is due to the ideas that culture has given us, and how much is truly what we need?”

It was easy for me to observe her and ask if she, for example, hated cafeteria food at school because the food was bland or tasted bad or if she was just saying what “everyone” was saying.

It is less easy for us to observe ourselves and ask if we believe something because we’ve thought it through or because “everyone” is saying it on social media.

There is probably a reason that even the most ancient wisdom literature teaches that unsubstantiated opinion is the lowest form of thought. Forming an opinion from a combination of learning and experience reflected on is a much higher form. Even better when we are open to someone pointing out the possibility of misinterpreting a source or a thought we may have overlooked. 

You Have The Power to Change–Sometimes

May 31, 2023

A part of my first “real” job following marriage and grad school was production scheduling in a small manufacturing division. One day I received an order from one of our customers necessitating a change in the production schedule for one of the departments. 

I rewrote the schedule and took it to the foreman. He said, “I can’t change the schedule. I have it here in black and white.” 

“I wrote the schedule, so I can change it,” I retorted.

After a bit of arguing, he, of course, changed the schedule. (In reality, part of his job was to teach the “college kid” the real world of interpersonal relationships in a manufacturing operation.)

Do you ever notice that sometimes you adjust something, say a window blind or a chair. Or, you put something around the house in an inconvenient place. And you catch yourself muttering about it. But, you put it there; you can change it.

There are so many things about our routines, our diet (not a diet, what we eat), our exercise, that we chose and we can choose again. Yes, changing habits is hard. You can read Charles Duhigg (Power of Habit) or James Clear (Atomic Habits) for tips.

One key to a better life is to recognize those things you can change and then takes steps to make the change if they aren’t working out. Constructing a routine is good. Changing it when it doesn’t serve you is also good.

Metaphor in Search of a Story

May 30, 2023

We bought a house where the back yard meets the brush along a creek. The good news is that no one can build adjacent to us. We’ll always have a buffer. The bad news is that an invasive species of bush/tree appeared in our development. Over the past three years it has spread along the outer edge of the creek.

This plant propagates two ways. It sends root runners out where new plants pop up seemingly at random. I watched the progression of these toward my patio and house. The landscaping guy told me to use a week killer on the sprouts to kill them off. That sort of works and sort of not. 

The HOA employed the landscaping guy to spray the bushes. Perhaps that takes care of the, ahem, root cause.

These Sandbar Willows spread a second way—seeds. They grow seed pods and then release the seeds into the air. They are fuzzy like cottonwood or dandelion seeds. They release into the air and are carried by wind currents to new places.

Here is the potential metaphor—the seed pods were green. Then, as the bushes began dying, the seed pods matured and began sending out millions of seeds to begin a new generation.

Back in the 60s/70s of the early Jesus movement songs (much more meaning than the so-called praise choruses that swept Christian music later and still predominates), there was a song that included the refrain, “and in dying we are born to eternal life.”

Not only in Christianity, but also other religions as well as psychology there are observations and teaching about the necessity of dying to self in order to grow beyond. The excessive parts of the ego must die so that we can experience life in fulness. I think one of my first published poems carried that theme. It’s long been on my mind.

Don’t cling so much to the old that you miss out on new growth.


May 29, 2023

Today, Monday, is a US national holiday called Memorial Day. When I was quite young, my great-grandmother called it Decoration Day. One of the many changes of terminology that confused me as a youth.

For her, it was a day set aside to visit the family cemeteries and “decorate”, that is place flowers by the grave markers and remember those who lived before us.

The village where I grew up always had a small parade from the water tower where someone spoke to the local cemetery on the outskirts of town (about a mile probably). Those of us in the Boy Scout program would lay flowers on the graves of military veterans (that must have come from the change of Decoration Day to Memorial Day?). I was in the school band later and participated in the event for six years in that role.

I think I’ve not been to a Memorial Day service since I graduated.

But it is probably a good thing to remember and reflect on those who went before—especially those who had a guiding impact on your life. (I’d just as soon forget those who had what we might call a negative impact.) I could take these thoughts from psychology to religious referring to the Biblical Letter to the Hebrews where the writer remembers those who went before forging the path that led to his (her?) life of faith.

And more challenging yet, we could reflect upon the impact we are leaving behind as we journey the path.

(There are many international readers of these thoughts. I suspect you all have special days of remembrance. Use them well.)

Forgive Anyone Who Offends Us

May 26, 2023

On Wednesday I considered how the word forgiveness stood out when I glanced at the transcribed copy of Dallas Willard’s paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer.

This morning I looked more deeply at Willard’s paraphrase, “as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.” This phrase hits me harder than “those who trespass against us.” This is more personal.

Pondering those things that others do that annoy, indeed offend, us reveals much about ourselves.

For example,  I do not follow rules religiously. You could say (and some in the family do say) that I am not a rule follower. However, our Homeowners Association (HOA) told us that the driveways in our neighborhood will be seal coated. The driveways will not be useable for 24-48 hours afterward to allow the seal coat to dry and harden. We had to move our vehicles from the garage and were granted temporary leave to park on the street.

One of our neighbors parked his car on the street in front of the mailboxes. The “rule” expressly said to not block the mailboxes. I walked home from the fitness center and saw the car, I was annoyed. Later, I closed my eyes to meditate before beginning the day’s work and it came to me to relax. Not to worry. The mail delivery person here will get out of his vehicle and deliver to those four boxes. 

Why was I annoyed? Offended? That’s crazy.

I can forgive the neighbor, the annoyance that really wasn’t mine (not my mailbox) and in so doing find a kind of forgiveness for me. I can relax and move on.

That is one of the many benefits of forgiveness.

Throw Out The Bad

May 25, 2023

Do you catch yourself rummaging through drawers looking for your “good” knife? Or, patting your pockets searching for your “good” pen?

That means you have “bad” ones. Throw those out.

[Note: I picked up this idea from a new book from Kevin Kelly, Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier.]

This thought can extended. Do you find yourself sitting thinking bad thoughts about someone or something? Do you catch yourself in a bad habit? Are you associating with people who lead you into bad attitudes?

Throw also those out along with the knives and pens. Clean house of bad tools, thoughts, relationships, habits. Simplify life. Live cleanly.

Forgive Others As We Would Like To Be Forgiven

May 24, 2023

One afternoon this week I chatted with a neighbor. We began discussing some local churches. As we ran through a list, I mentioned one larger (but not mega) church a bit of a drive from us. I told her I would likely avoid that one, because I knew a family that was a big contributor there. A guy in the family had lied and cheated and trashed a business deal. I would just as soon avoid contact.

Every morning as I sit at my desk preparing to meditate for a while, I see two note cards. One has  what NT Wright calls “Paul’s Shema;” the other one Dallas Willard’s paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father). Every morning the word forgive seems to be highlighted for me.

I guess I have confidence in God’s forgiveness. It’s me. Can I forgive all the many injustices I’ve faced? But my experienced injustices are nothing compared to those faced by black people in America, or gay people everywhere, or Muslims in India, or Christians in many countries. If they can forgive, what stops me?

Mostly, I just move on. I process it, forgive completely, then mostly boot it out of my mind. Sometimes something happens that brings recollection. But the emotion is gone. Long since dealt with.

I have learned and evidently practiced the virtue of focusing on the things within my control and pushing aside those that I cannot. That ability has made my life so much better.

To Whom Are You a Slave?

May 23, 2023

Anyone capable of angering you becomes your master.


You open Facebook (or Twitter or email or whatever). You see a post from someone you know. The facts are completely wrong. The words are skewed to achieve maximum emotional impact. Your emotions are triggered. You immediately reach for the keyboard to respond.

You are a slave to that person.

You are in a conversation. The other person says things that seem like a personal attack. You respond personally. You attack. Your personality buckles into angry responding. 

You are a slave to a new master.

I have learned the pause—that moment before my fingers reach for the keyboard. That pause that lets me scroll past the nonsense.

I’ve talked of the pause before. It is one of the hardest things I’ve learned to do. Of course, the best way is to avoid needing the pause at all by simply realizing that I can control most of what I see. I can refuse to spend time in Facebook and Twitter. I can choose those people with whom to meet.

There are things in life that I cannot control But those I can control, those I had better exert effort to control.

Finding A Consistent Time

May 22, 2023

Research into when the best time in your day for strength training popped into my morning reading. Morning? Midday? Evening?

It turns out that it doesn’t matter. The best time of day for your strength training is that time that fits best into your lifestyle. It’s that time of day when you can consistently go to the gym or basement and face your weights.

Some people insist that you must rise from bed early in the morning for your meditation and prayer time. You must have a thick pillow upon which to sit. Perhaps light candles or incense. Play a chime.

The best time is the time that you can consistently find some quiet space in your day. The best place is where you are. If you have a ritual, fine. If not, great. You can sit anywhere not too comfortable. You can lie on your back or side. You can walk (keeping your eyes open, of course).

I have taught on the method of Ignatius of Loyola, a founder of the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits—within the Roman Catholic tradition. His method included morning, midday, and the evening Examen. That’s fine if you live in a monastery. For some of us (most?), that is a difficult discipline within our lives.

Benjamin Franklin, the American philosopher and statesman, also had a routine asking of himself in the morning “what good shall I do today” and in the evening “what good did I do today.” That’s a good discipline.

What time should you meditate, pray, work out, exercise, read? That time during the day when you can consistently devote time mindfully to the practice.

Planting Our Beauty

May 19, 2023

Spring has arrived in northern Illinois. The rains of April have produced the fulness of green in the lush grass and in the leaves of the trees and bushes. The flowering trees showed off their colors.

The women of my neighborhood are digging and buying plants (flowers and herbs) and planting. In those homes where there are men able to get out we see men toting bags of dirt and peat and mulch.

We have almost rapidly experienced Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and now comes the time to live out those experiences. Have we checked our own beauty? Not Hollywood beauty. But that beauty of attitude that begins inside and radiates outward.

Perhaps you can think of someone who may not meet television standards of physical beauty but from whom you part after meeting and you think, “I like that person!” The joy, the empathy, the intelligence, the peace—whatever the quality—that just reaches and changes you.

The time has come to plant that beauty within ourselves.