Monthly Archives: May 2010

Regrets

Posted by Mike

I was out riding my bike this morning andArtisticbike.jpg began thinking about regrets. It seems to me that as we grow older we – some of us, at least – accumulate more and more regrets. They consist of two kinds. The first is the sort that begin with, “Why didn’t I….” “I could have….” If only I had….” I’ll bet I could have….” They relate to missed opportunities, decisions which could have been improved upon, roads not taken. The second category of regrets is those that are, I suspect, far too often neglected and pushed into the deep recesses of our minds. These are the instances or periods in our lives marked by either acts of commission or of omission, in which we injured or caused harm to another or others. It’s easy to ignore the acts of commission and far easier to ignore the instances in which we could have acted but didn’t.

It takes courage to even recognize when and how we have injured others. And it requires another big dose of courage to acknowledge it and make an effort to make up for it to others. Regrettably, human nature seems to enable us humans often to go through life using others to our advantage and then leaving them by the wayside as we move on. Definitely not the quid pro quo that I wrote about in a previous posting.

I like Alcoholics Anonymous’s manner of dealing with injuries to others. In the 12 steps Step 8 is “Make a list of all persons we have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step 9 is “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”  It’s my understanding that if amends are not possible, then comparable amending acts to deserving others would be suitable. I wonder how many of us not in 12-Step programs consider such acts of penitence and carry them out?

The first category of regrets, the “Why didn’t I….If only I had…” kind can occupy a lot of attention in middle age and later. They take up attention and energy and siphon it away from anything that could be productive. The only way in which such ruminations could be useful is that they could prompt us to act in the present to capture and utilize the previously lost opportunity. It is likely, however, that in most cases we are merely spinning our wheels.

The better approach to deal with the “Why didn’t I…” self-accusations is to have the courage to live as fully in the present as we possibly can, given whatever limitations of body, mind, or circumstance we might find ourselves faced with. Forget what didn’t happen in the past. For almost all of us, our present circumstances offer a myriad of opportunities to express ourselves, to relate to others, to be productive, to participate in community, to love. Let’s just throw the “If only I had”s  out the window! Getting older and not be burdened by the past takes ability to discriminate between what to act upon and what to throw away forever – and it takes courage.

“Oh Courage, could you not as well select a second place to dwell, Not only in that golden tree, but in the frightened heart of me?”    – Tennessee Williams, “The Night of the Iguana”

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Uninformed:What do you think about…?

Posted by Linda

Every day the news is full of catastrophic “breaking news.”  The stock market is plunging, oil is pulsing into the Gulf, high ups in the White House are offering job bribes, illegal aliens are streaming across our border.  It leaves you breathless. “Do something!” our panic genes shout.  Sell stock, head for Louisiana and mop up sludge, write the President, do a night shift along the Arizona border.

Breaking news, every day.  Trauma TV creates a constant crisis mentality.  Maybe we should step out of the line of fire of the breaking news barrage once in awhile and assess.  Turn off the TV, leave the house, stroll down to a park, smell the roses (don’t worry, there won’t be any bees — oops breaking news).  Sit down on a park bench by a sweet old lady and drift into harmony with the universe.

Now isn’t that better?

Then the little lady turns to you and says, “Is the President a numb chuck or what!?  Can’t put a stopper in a oil hole or a pie hole…in bed with BP, ya know.  Talking Spanish yet? Ya better step on it. By the time they get the border closed, nobody’ll know what English sounds like. Bought your gold?”

It is hard to escape the breaking news cycle, and bench warmers aren’t the only sages with ready advice.  Almost everyone seems to have a firm opinion on everything from macro-economics to underwater drilling strategies.  How’s that possible? Does anybody else sniff Oscar Meyer when people wax eloquent on everything?

Why do we do that?  Maybe there’s an assumption, driven in part by our innate desire to fix what’s broken and restore order, that we should and could actually know about everything that matters.  Friends ask you, “Where to do stand on cap and trade?”  Few of us have the nerve to say, “What’s that?” Those of us who instantly visualized a hat swap, sure don’t say that.

We do need solutions to complex dilemmas that face us.  Some actions are needed urgently, but we do not need to hear 100 voices, 90% of them uniformed, on each issue.

Becoming informed is not easy, but we want to understand, so we read, watch, and listen to our leaning-preferred media; but 2-minute commentaries, even heard 60 times a day, are still only 2 minutes of content. And even experts can’t lay out much of value about complex issues in 2 or 10 minutes, certainly not enough to create an informed opinion.

If we seriously want to know what to think about  important economic, political, and social dilemmas, we have to study, as best we can without paying matriculation fees.  We need to read and listen widely to thoughtful commentary from knowledgeable people, preferably in dialog. We need to recognize the difference between statements of fact and opinion no matter the volume.  We need to check facts.  After that, we may be prepared to hold a tentative opinion.  We will also be equipped to act by sharing our information and sources with others, and also sharing our opinions, and naming them that. Finally, we can contact those who can effect solutions and press them to do so.

The breaking crisis may well have crested by then, and ebbed whether or not resolved, and another wave of news will be breaking, with the media beating feet to catch and ride it.  What about the unresolved crises?  Are they no longer a crisis because something new has arisen?  Waves seem to rise and disappear on the beach, but in fact they do not disappear.  They are drawn under the surface and out, sometimes with a vengeance, as any of you who have ever been caught in undertow know.

Some of us need to resist the allure of breaking news and remain focused on the deeper problems roiling under the surface.  The engorging national debt comes to mind.  Who will be accountable?  Who will demand accountability?  It is exciting to ride a challenging wave; not so a tsunami.

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Ballynoe Circle

Posted by Mike

He said, “Just start writing. It will come to you.” Optimistic fellow, he is.

Something has happened recently, however: I’ve been watching episodes of an Irish television program, Ballykissangel. As of today I’ve probably watched 20 or more episodes. It’s especially interesting because we’ve just returned from Ireland. I won’t say that I fell in love with the country, but it certainly has its appeal , despite the harrowing narrow roads – and the freezing mornings in late March required a little getting used to.

The thing about this television series – it’s about the people and the situations they get themselves into, in the little town of Ballykissangel – is that I have become involved with the people, their tangled relationships and convoluted situations, their crises; they’re like real people to me. When we watch an episode I periodically tell myself and Linda, “It’s not real. They’re not real people. It’s fiction. It’s not really happening!” My protestations don’t help much. For example, when the pub owner, the young lady Asumpta, died, having been electrocuted accidentally in her own basement storeroom, I was devastated. The young priest who was in love with her was devastated too, as were all her friends who frequented the pub. This is just one example of how I’ve gotten caught up in a story. The last time this happened to me was when I read the extraordinary coming-of-age story by Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage. When the young protagonist there was in trouble, recently in medical school but homeless and potentially suicidal and sleeping at night on park benches next to the Thames, I was ready to hop on the next plane to see if I could help him work things out. The novel was first published in 1915; too late to help!

I’m exaggerating, of course. My point is that we do have a suspension of disbelief at times when watching a movie or reading a novel; and we get caught up in the action. Most of the time we don’t get too emotional about it; we maintain some distance – separate ourselves from the events. Occasionally, however, the talents of the writer, actors  or production move us emotionally either into or as close observers of the action – and we are caught up, spellbound; emotionally involved with the characters.

While in Northern Ireland, we visited a Neolithic site, the Ballynoe Circle. Bally by the way means town. The stones were placed there about five thousand years ago. We can’t get caught up in the lives of the people who created the stone circle, but they had relationships and lives full of what it takes to be human, far more than the fantasies of Ballykissangel or Of Human Bondage.

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The Lion and the Horse

Posted by David
Lion Ishtar Gate (575 BC)
Lion Ishtar Gate (575 BC)

Last night, I had another series of startling dreams of the Sehnsucht type that I’ve had in recent years. As usual, my dreams are strung together like cloud-pictures waxing and waning across a blue summer sky. But one segment of this particular dream wasn’t so summery.

I was walking along in an ancient place. The kind of scene you might happen upon when reading an Aesop’s Fable or when reading about the life of Noah. There were rolling prairies, a ravine, and in the distance, right in front of our path, was a lion, an archetypal beast of horror. The roaring, the barring of his teeth, his angry pose reared on hind legs terrified us all. His head did not have the typical mane you’d see on a lion. His head and neck looked more like a lioness, with massive muscles flexing beneath his thin vellum of skin.

He was ahead of us, but there was no turning back. We pressed on shivering in fear. My dad was nearby across the ravine. Oddly enough, he was a horse, dark brown with a long mane. He didn’t notice the lion. I tried to yell to warn him, but he didn’t hear us over the ambient noise of the wind and the creek.

Soon, we were upon the lion, close enough to touch him. I then realized that the lion’s master was there also, a human figure, who in a word could tell the lion to devour us. Immediately, I grabbed his hand and prayed, “Lord Jesus…Lord Jesus.” I prayed for the man and for us. I just babbled to Jesus in fear. I knew that I must hold that man’s hand and pray until my father was safely beyond the lion.

My dad passed safely as did we. I ended the prayer and we continued on, looking back only briefly. The intensity of the moment was such that I awoke quickly with the feeling still lingering in my flesh.

Infrequently, I find myself praying to Jesus in my dreams. It’s a remarkable experience and has changed my dreamworld significantly. I recommend it to anyone, but there’s a catch, in order for it to take hold in dreamworld, it must be done first in reality. At least that’s been the case for me. If you live anywhere near a city, or where people suffer, each day you’ll find someone on the street with which to pray. Every time I go to Seattle, I find those people. They find me. God brings us together. If you keep your eyes open you’ll see them also. They’ll find you. And if you pray with them, there may be nothing more important that you ever do.

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