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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Turn It Over

Are you superstitious? Even if you say you aren't, my guess is that you at least halt momentarily when you encounter a ladder across a sidewalk or see a black cat cross a road.

Some of the most notoriously superstitious people I know are baseball fans and players. It's no secret that I am a long time baseball fan so I share many superstitions about the game, things like - don't mention a no-hitter until the possibility is gone or it actually happens.  

This penchant for superstation also bleeds over into the rest of my life. One long held superstition I learned at an early age is picking up a found coin that is lying heads-up leads to good luck while a tails-up coin should be left on the ground to avoid back luck. As a result, I've left a lot of coins lying on the ground.

A year or so ago I came up with a solution to this problem. I still won't pick up a tails-up coin I see on the sidewalk, however, now I simply turn it over and leave some heads-up good luck for the next person who sees it. I know this sounds silly, because it is. But for some strange reason it makes me feel better.

So, what if we were to see our lives from this "turn it over" perspective? What if instead of trying to avoid the problems of our lives, our pain, hurt, sorrow, grief, and conflict we simply turn them over to see their other side?  In doing so we discover a fullness and wholeness in life that holds the things we perceive as negative and positive together in one experience, bringing depth, richness, and even peace to our lives. In a real sense we create our own good luck.

Turning over our problems to discover their wholeness not only brings peace to us, it also makes life better for those around us.  In a real sense we leave some good luck behind for the next person who comes along.

Whatever "problem" you face today or tomorrow, or that you are carrying around from the past, why not turn it over. You will probably be suprised, and relived, to see what's on the other side. There may even a be little good luck in store.       


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dangling Conversations

Lost in the dangling conversation and the superficial sighs in the borders of our lives.~ Paul Simon, The Dangling Conversation, Simon and Garfunkel

The quote above is from a song about a relationship that has gone stale and silent between two people, where conversation has become rare, and when it does occur is banal and empty.  It's a sad song, a song of quiet resign, thinly, yet civilly, hiding deep despair.  The song is about two people, but sometimes I wonder if perhaps we as individuals and as a culture are trapped in too many dangling conversations.

When was the last time you had an actual verbal exchange, much less conversation, with someone, beyond tweets, texts, and email?  Do we even have conversations any more?

I don't want to come across as an old fogie who is against technology and modem means of communication.  Hopefully, those who know me know this is not the case.  However, here recently I do get the feeling that so much is missing in our lives because we don't have conversations by talking, listening, and seeing facial expressions and gestures. I've also noticed more and more that too many people, intelligent, educated people, (and I include myself here) have trouble stringing together words to express thoughts and feelings.

Maybe one aspect of this is that many of us rarely take time to sit with ourselves to know what our thoughts and feelings actually are.  Are we so busy gathering information and not taking time to process it that we simply become conduit for opinions, beliefs, and perspectives that are not really our own?

Another dilemma of dangling conversations is that they can only dangle for so long before something is said that is too often banal or hurtful.  It is true that nature abhors a vacuum.  Words left unsaid and feelings not expressed create vacuums that are usually filled with conjecture, prejudice, pride, misunderstanding, and anxiety, all leading to fear, anger, and violence.

What do we do about the dangling conversations of our lives?  It seems to me there is really only one course of action and that is to have real conversations with each other about "things that really matter" using "words that must be said."

So - Have a conversation with someone today, and then tomorrow another with someone else, and then another, and another, and...        



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"No, but - ?"

There is an old story of unknown origin in which a college student says to the college chaplain, "I'm an atheist."  The chaplain replies, "Tell me about this god you don't believe in."   The student proceeds to describe an autocratic, anthropomorphic, male god of judgement, anger, and vengeance who is out to get people who disobey his rules, and demands punitive penitence in order to be forgiven and saved from eternal damnation.  To this the chaplain replies, "Then I must be an atheist too.  Because I don't believe in that god either."

I don't know about you, but I can look at my life, especially my spiritual journey, and see a lot of negative energy expended toward what I "don't believe."  These negative beliefs were usually first identified in other people as in, "I sure don't want to be like them."   As a teenager I began to reject what I perceived as my strict Southern Baptist upbringing.  Then in college, like our fictional student, I abandoned religion all together.  For a number of years after college theater was my religion of choice.  Even after discovering the Presbyterians it wasn't enough to just be a church member.  I went to seminary to become a minister so I could correct the "wrong beliefs" of others.  Instead, seminary pulled a fast one on me and challenged my whole way of thinking.  As a result, I encountered a new set of stuff I didn't believe in, which just happened to be my own fundamentalism.  During my first years as a minister my new battle was against things like biblical literalism, adherence to orthodoxy, and exclusivity of certain people in the church.

I'm not sure exactly how or when, but somewhere along the way I began to ask, "What do I believe?" Of course the first and obvious answer was that I believe the opposite of everything I don't believe in. Ok, fine.  But how does that sound, feel, and look?    I couldn't just say "no."  I also needed a "but" followed by a "yes."

My guess is that too many of us, like that college student and me, spend a lot of time and energy being "against" something and not enough thought and effort being "for" a positive alternative.

How's this for a New Year commitment?  Every time we hear our self say "No" to something, why not add a "but" followed by a "yes?"

In doing so we may discover what we actually do believe.  Then we can start living it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Day of Atonement

Tonight at midnight people around the world will commemorate the passing of one year and celebrate the beginning of another.  Large crowds will gather in public spaces, friends will come together at parties, many will spend quiet evenings at home while counting down the last few seconds of 2014 and reveling in the first moments of 2015.

Looking back on the past year, some people will see it as the best ever, filled with accomplishment and purpose. Others will see a year of disappointment and regret.  Regardless of our perspective one thing is true for all, it is past.  There is also another truth - the perspective with which we look back is probably the one through which we see the future.   That is unless we change our perspective.

The beauty of setting aside a day for reflection on the past and contemplation of the future is it gives us the opportunity to change.   Most religions have days set aside for rituals of ending and beginning, of cleansing, repentance, and atonement.   The word "repent" means changing perspective, a change of heart.  This is change that goes far deeper than the resolutions and intentions of our diaries and journals.

In its own way New Year's Eve is a global day of clensing and atonement, a day of death and resurrection, a day of darkness and enlightenment.  We stand in a threshold of time and take one last look back, however long or brief, and step into the future.  And then we do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the..."

Every New Year's Eve I remember a bit of widsom from my late father-in-law who at some point during the day or evening of Dec. 31 would say, "If there is anything you want to do this year, you better get it done quickly."  His was a reminder of not only the fleeting nature of time, but also of the importance of acting in the moment, and making the most of each and every Day (of Atonement).

Happy New Year!