Facts or Story

June 18, 2020

I had been taking classes at the university filled with facts. Calculus, engineering mechanics, chemistry—memorize facts and learn to work the formulas you were given.

Then I took my first Liberal Arts class—American History. At the first mid-term I wrote all the facts. Was graded a D. The graduate assistant told me that I didn’t show that I understood what really happened during the time covered by the test. For the next test, I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. All the facts were in there, but I retold the story of the time covered by that test. Received an A.

I learned a lesson. Facts are nice, but understanding how they fit is better. I built a career on that.

Guy Kawasaki is a legend in Silicon Valley. He has a new podcast where he interviews Remarkable People. Recently Stanford history professor Sam Wineburg told of his son studying for an important test at school. “Did the Korean War occur before World War II or after?” he asked. Wineburg said, “I realized that he didn’t understand the sweep of American history. Without understanding the sweep of history from World War I to World War II to the Korean War, he would not have a context for understanding the Cold War.” He said that you can’t just try to remember a bunch of disjointed facts.

And I thought, “Many of us as Christians or seekers treat the Bible much like my engineering classes or the way Wineburg’s son had been taught history—a bunch of disjointed facts thrown at us to memorize.”

We read the writings of the Apostle Paul as if they were recipes or lists of commandments. We don’t understand the story. Where he came from, what he was trying to do, what the culture and understanding of his audience were, where it fits in the story of our life.

This leads to the type of Christian who gathers with like-minded people and point to the failures and shortcomings of others.

What we should be doing is understanding the story, then living the story, then helping others to join the story.

Giving Thanks

June 17, 2020

The Covid crisis has me down.

I know I’ll never get sick, so why should I social distance?

I’ve been locked up with family for months.

The economy is bad, politicians are worse.

I have no reason for giving thanks.

The American native tribe called Minquass had a proverb, “If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”

The Apostle Paul told us to give thanks in every circumstance.

Even modern psychologists (who often echo ancient wisdom even when they don’t know it) explain the health benefits of an attitude of giving thanks.

If you don’t see a reason to give thanks, you have not looked for it.

Attentive and Respectful of Other’s Needs

June 16, 2020

Toru Sato leads us through dynamics of human interactions as we develop in his little book, The Ever-Transcending Spirit: The Psychology of Human Relationships, Consciousness, and Development.

He looks at this over a time period and concludes, “As evolution progresses, we have become more and more attentive and respectful of each other’s needs and desires.”

Ancient religious leaders saw this as a goal, even a command, about how to live.

Jesus left two commands that were bound intimately together:

The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Later Jesus explained about loving your neighbor by expanding the definition beyond that expected by his listeners. He implied that our neighbor is whomever is in need and we can help.

Sometimes these days we can scan social media and look only for the opposite of attentiveness and respect—of which there is way too much.

On the other hand, there was a large mix of white faces amongst the Black Lives Matter protests. And the protests went global. Maybe, little by little, we are living out maturity through our being attentive and respectful to others.

[Note: I’ve changed my book links to bookshop.org in rebellion against Amazon. Twenty years ago, Amazon was cool and convenient. But it grew in size and power. This is a way to help out the local independent bookshop who will help you out and not be obnoxious with your data. Yet another way to be attentive and respectful.]

Awareness Leads To Freedom Leads to Responsibility

June 15, 2020

I have finished Toru Sato’s small, but potent, The Ever-Transcending Spirit: The Psychology of Human Relationships, Consciousness, and Development. I have read several writers who took 700-800 pages to explain the research that Sato condensed into 100 readable and logical pages. [Note: I used to give book links to Amazon, but I discovered bookshop.org where you can buy books and donate to independent booksellers or find a local independent bookseller from whom to purchase. I’m changing my ways.]

While discussing the findings of a number of researchers, he summarizes:

The more we mature, the more we develop the ability to step out of ourselves and see ourselves more and more from an objective standpoint.

I remember clearly the incident, however I’m not sure if I was 11 or 12 at the time. I was fighting with another boy. The reason doesn’t matter. But I had a moment when I clearly saw us and the guys standing around watching us. And I thought, how stupid to be fighting. And while subjecting my temper is a lifelong project, I never had a fight again.

Therefore, more maturity means more awareness.

Then he shows that awareness leads to freedom.

If we have awareness and freedom, we realize the more freedom we have, the more we feel responsible for what we do.

But, researchers also show that we don’t like that responsibility, so we blame others for many things in our lives.

We can refuse to develop our awareness in order to escape from responsibility.

And thus describes much of the country, and indeed the world, today.

That is why practicing awareness is so important to begin with. Then accepting that maturity is good and freedom carries with it responsibility.

Stop, pause, breathe, exhale slowly. Become aware of ourselves, see ourself in action, see how we need to change.

(From an English translation of Burns’ To a Louse:

Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!

Watch Your Language, Change Your Heart

June 11, 2020

You become what you do repeatedly—Ancient Wisdom, modern psychology.

We, the referees, had begun relaxing enforcement of language in adult soccer games. Dropping F-bombs became common. Keeping adult (18-35) males from fighting during matches was always a problem. If I finished an adult male game as referee and could shake hands and just walk to my car (rather than running), I felt as if I’d accomplished 75% of the goal.

Authorities noticed that among other things, this language problem was not good for the families with young children watching the game on an otherwise pleasant Sunday afternoon. So they instructed us to clean up the language.

It helped clean up the game! Duh!

People seemed to automatically know that around me, don’t drop the N-bomb or any similar other ethnic slurs. If only for a short time that made people stop and think, it was an accomplishment.

If we all whether forced or a decision we made cleaned up our language about other peoples, eventually our thinking and attitude will show a change.

NASCAR just made a momentous decision to ban the Confederate flag. The flag partly shows rebelliousness. Especially certain groups of guy take pride in being a rebel. But the flag also stands for forming your own country broken apart from the US in order to keep slaves. Therefore, it lasted as a symbol of racism.

Maybe if all the followers wore US flags instead of Confederate flags some attitudes would begin to change? I don’t know. But I know that if we consciously change what we do, say, proclaim through symbols, then we can change our hearts. It takes time. Months, even years.

It’s a good time to look in the mirror and especially put all of our words up for reflection. Does what we say and write on social media reflect Jesus’ command to love one another? Or is it tinged with bias, hate, anger?

This is a good time to change the way we talk and write. People are people, God’s children, not objects. Let our language reflect that. Make that one of our spiritual disciplines for the summer.

We Are All Connected

June 10, 2020

[We interrupt this blog about being connected to acknowledge that 50 years ago Bev saved me from the life of a destitute poet/philosopher by marrying me–and then putting up with me for all those years. Happy Anniversary, Love, Gary]

I receive a little bite of philosophy delivered to my inbox daily–The Daily Stoic. Here is a recent and relevant message:

The Stoics believed that we were all one. Marcus Aurelius referred repeatedly to the hive. He spoke of being part of one large community. Dozens of times he talks of the common good, and how to wrong one is to wrong all, and to do good for one is to do good for all—that to do good for others is to do good for yourself. Seneca spoke of sympatheia, the interconnectedness of all people. He spoke of the need for kindness, for compassion, for understanding.

You might not think that a death in the streets of Georgia or a police killing in Minnesota or immigrant children in cages along America’s southern border has much impact on your safety. You might think that these situations are complicated. You might even question the other side’s political motivations and point to the media’s tendency to inflame things. And that all may be true, but it doesn’t change the facts: This is your problem. It’s everyone’s problem.

Martin Luther King, Jr. perfectly expressed those Stoic concepts of interconnectivity and interdependence when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

And I was reminded of the words of Micah in the Hebrew Scriptures, “The LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Which seems to fit with Jesus command (and which St. Augustine instructed us to interpret the New Testament by) to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself.

I’m seeing all manner of inane posts passing around on social media twisting meanings and inflaming emotions. The First Principle of life with-God is love–love one another and love God. Don’t think I saw strife anywhere in that simple command.

We Earn Respect, It Is Not Owed Us

June 10, 2020

A white guy on a video clip I chanced upon angrily lashed out at [people] demanding respect. People should respect me for the position I hold seemed to be his plea.

I have run into this situation before. I remember hearing that from a leader in an organization. My response was that respect is earned. You will become respected in the measure that you earn it. Respect comes from who you are not from your title.

And that person grew and matured and retired respected by the entire community.

It is almost like a physics equation. To the extent that our actions and attitudes toward others are respectful so shall respect from others return to us.

I’m half-way through a book recently recommended—The Ever-Transcending Spirit by Toru Sato. (He is Lebanese, not Japanese, by the way, if it matters.) He teaches psychology at a small college in Pennsylvania. This is a small book, only some 105 pages. It is exquisitely logical and easy to follow, yet it delves deeply into us. He states this:

If we live harmoniously with everyone in the world, we are increasing the number of people who are respectful of each other and are able to live in harmony with each other.

Toru Sato

Thanks to women speaking up more forcefully and many men beginning to listen, many formerly respected men due to their positions lost that respect when who they were was made public. Just so these days with racial attitudes. CEOs and other leaders have been forced from their positions of authority when their racist attitudes have seen the light of day.

I pray often for these many people who are suddenly out in the cold. May they find what my acquaintance of years ago found—maturity and a change of attitude that led to a person worthy of respect.

May we all be respectful and deserve respect in return.

Making Things Better

June 9, 2020

Energy and attitude comprise the basic foundation of our personality. Energy is the basic life force that we can either give or take (from others). Attitude implies orientation. A direction we are about to take.

We can have energy to give, but if we don’t know where to take it then it dissipates into nothing. Our attitude can be that of making things better, or we can hoard energy and do nothing with an attitude pointed inward.

Reading Seth Godin recently, he noted, “Making things better isn’t about what you look like or where you work. Making things better is an attitude. The attitude of possibility and the posture of generosity. And then making the decision to own your learning.”

It’s also not about where you are. Wherever you find yourself, you can be the person who makes things better.

Things may not always look good. But take Seth’s advice, “Don’t ever stop speaking up, don’t stop leading, don’t stop learning. Don’t stop seeking justice. We can’t give up.”

Hearts Must Change

June 8, 2020

The marches and folk singers and stories of confrontations with white police affected me deeply when I was young. The civil rights movement.

Which was more than a little strange given that I had never even met a black person. My first black friend (and also first Jewish friend and first Jewish person I ever met) came into my life as a university freshman.

But I was optimistic back in those days. Laws were changed. By the way, a conservative Republican Congressman was key to passing civil rights legislation. People remember Lyndon Johnson, but Bill McCulloch (my Congressman at the time, dad was on his campaign committee) was key to getting enough votes to pass. Would that happen today?

Note to the Christians who today think that changing laws brings forth a Christian society—-it doesn’t work. Laws only did so much in Jesus’s day. They only changed so much in the 60s. They only do so much now.

We changed laws 55 years ago. But we changed only a few hearts. Obviously. Just look at the news at all the angry and hate-filled hearts.

On the other hand, it is heartening that hundreds of thousands came out to show support peacefully all over the world.

We start by acknowledging the other person. Person to person. Listening—something that is an exchange of energy.

And teaching—showing that people who are different are not necessarily threatening. They can be your friend, too. When we are not threatened, then we are not full of fear. We accept a diversity of people, cultures, opinions. Indeed, we rejoice in it.

Changed hearts can change systems. And then we’re on our way to a healthier, mature culture.

Yearning For Freedom

June 5, 2020

Freedom is an emotion-laden word. And concept.

Americans today with little sense of history think the concept originated here. That is not true.

As empires formed and swept through the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean world, conquered tribes yearned for freedom from being servants of the new rulers.

After Jesus’ resurrection and the formation of the church, new followers felt that freedom—still under Roman rule, but also now a citizen of God’s kingdom.

But what did freedom mean? Did it mean that the people could do as they pleased? Follow every desire and whim? Living without caring about others but only to satisfy the temporary pleasures of the flesh? Ability to rip off the face masks of oppression and infect others with a potentially deadly virus? Free to riot in a time of unrest so that blame could be placed on other, peaceful protesters? Oops, those last two aren’t from ancient times. But they fit.

The apostle Paul wrote a letter to one of his little groups of Jesus-followers trying to explain what is hard to explain. What is freedom.

Freedom is not a list. It is not “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign”.

When you live in the spirit, you are free. Yet, you will also find yourself following the laws of moral living—loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and loving your neighbor as yourself.

Sometimes I pause and contemplate the yearning for freedom of peoples throughout the world and think how petty some of the things are that we call freedom.

The founders of the American government knew that with freedom comes responsibility. If the two do not walk hand in hand, then true freedom is lost.