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CATASTROPHE

Turn on the news at any time and there are catastrophes everywhere. Of course, they’re worse at this time in those areas where there is armed conflict; but there are areas in the world where starvation and abuse of women and children don’t often come to the attention of journalists and the public.

The real catastrophe is individual; the individual child, woman, or man who suffers from deprivation, abuse, loss of home, possessions, educational and productive opportunities, and community. We’re talking about tragedy. Tragedy is an individual thing; but it is also corporate. An entire culture disrupted by conflict is a terrible blow to culture. In the daily news we see pictures of disruption, injuries from conflict to innocents. How do aggressors justify what they do? Corporate aggression is usually driven by greed and ideology. An attempt by a stronger aggressor to impose its mandates on a weaker society.

We see in the Middle East, in Ukraine, in multiple areas in Africa how ideology and greed are fueling conflict. In the West and in the Americas, we are certainly not free from the same tendencies to press our ideology on others, and if you look at the past actions of our beloved United States, we must acknowledge our errors of the past: the extermination of native American Indians and their cultures, slavery, the Jim Crow era consequent to the “Emancipation” of African-Americans, which lasted 100 years!

We hear lots of bellicose talk from nations leaders, presently primarily from Putin, Netanyahu, The Supreme Leader of Iran. There is a secondary level of bellicose talk from people who want to be leaders, like from some of our Presidential hopefuls.

The solution is something we homo sapiens have been working on for thousands of years, but that we haven’t got quite right – although there are places where we’re doing a pretty good job. The solution is negotiation and compromise. Which means, of course, that people have to give up somewhat, often what they think are their most cherished ideas or possessions, reflecting a change from near-delusional understanding of what’s best for them and right for them.

We’re learning; but it’s a very slow process; and a lot of us in our own country (the United States) don’t get it.

Those atomic weapons are still poised to go off; it’s not just atomic bombs, but hydrogen warheads. Do you know how lethal they are?
That’s crazy!

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The Meaning of Life – It Seems to Me – Right Now!

If I had any readers in the past who might still be around, they may be saying, “Where have you been?” The answer: I’ve been here but perhaps not creating anything special. This new posting was prompted by a classmate of mine who sent all of us in the class of ’54 a letter suggesting that we write what we have learned about the meaning of life. He offered his contribution, and I thought I would offer mine – on this blog – in a form that may seem somewhat elliptical, but that’s about all I can offer, for now. It seems so presumptuous for one unschooled in philosophy to talk about the meaning of life. It must be a topic well explored by minds greater than ours. But I’ll write a little on The Meaning of Life – It Seems to Me – Right Now!

We come into this world with very powerful needs to survive. These needs are taken care of by family and the community initially. But we’re still Paleo-Indian in our basic orientation; the Paleo-Indians had to take care of themselves at an early age, and narcissism was born in this need to survive (long before the Paleo-Indians, by the way). If we were only narcissistic, however, we humans would have never survived. We needed community and mutual support. The basic difference between men and women is crucial here, because women (most of them, anyway) are far more community-support oriented than men. So we have families, and nurturing, and community – all thanks to woman’s genes (again driven by Darwinian pressures – the survival, given environment pressures, of the fittest). Basically men are driven to compete and excel (with some allowances for group action and support; note our exuberance around teams and sports) and women are driven to nurture and protect each other and their children.

Sometime past middle age, if they are fortunate, men begin to see that there’s more to it than trying to compete and excel. Maybe it comes when they can’t really do it any more – the younger ones are quicker, faster, seem smarter; competition is really hopeless, although some older men can hold onto dominance based on the power they have obtained and their verbal magic, not on their physical abilities. We – the men – begin to have our eyes open to the need to nurture, protect, defend, and help prosper, not just our own families, but others in the community, and hopefully in the broader community of the world. Men also are finally beginning to see the need to protect and nurture the environment that we, over the centuries, have savaged. Women have been doing the nurturing all along, but it has generally been restricted to family and community (I suspect problems here if any women read this). Wisdom for both men and women may come when they see the needs of people everywhere and of the environment everywhere and actively do what they can to nurture and preserve this extraordinary world we live in.  The meaning of life may be incorporated in the wisdom that sometimes comes with aging.

Parenthetically, Wikipedia notes that at least 8 countries possess nuclear weapons. Some of these are armed and I assume can be directed to almost anywhere in the world. Isn’t this insanity? This is not part of our acquired wisdom. It might be seen as a residual curse of narcissism. May God help us!

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The Parables of Jesus

Posted by David

I’ve started blogging about the parables of Jesus.

Ambiguity in Design


Old and young women

In recent months, Pope Francis has been accused of making ambiguous statements. The media will take his words and say, “Look how liberal Pope Francis is.” But if you read further into it, he will have said another thing that seemed to contradict what he said previously. But are his statements truly contradictory? Our reactions are truly in the “eye of the beholder,” are they not?

The Rich Man and Lazarus


The Bad Rich Man in Hell - James Tissot

For various reasons I am being increasingly convinced that really and truly the only real direction for the Church to take is to become poor. When I say poor, I don’t mean only poor in spirit, I also mean poor financially and poor materially. In doing so, a number of interesting things will happen to us and to our churches.

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager


The Pharisees Question Jesus - James Tissot

It never ceases to amaze me how parables are twisted to fit our desires. The Parable of the Shrewd Manager is at the top of the most-twisted list. What do we expect, it’s about the love of money. How often is it preached that we should be shrewd like the shrewd manager because the master commended him? But does Jesus want us to be shrewd? Shrewdness implies a level of trickery. And who is the manager’s master anyway?

The Parable of the Sower


The Sower - James Tissot

The Parable of the Sower may be the most important parable, not only because it is here that Jesus teaches us how interpret all the parables, but more so because Jesus lays out a map for building a good and noble heart. Even though Jesus explains this parable literally, we still cannot understand it without the encryption key. And even with the key, which he does clearly give us in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, you still may not understand, because it is the shape of the hole in your heart that is needed for the key to fit.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep


The Good Shepherd - James Tissot

How much time do you spend primping your life so you’ll fit in with the crowd? We all spend time trying to fit in with our social groups. It’s natural for the human species. Nevertheless, Jesus explains when we do this we live in very dangerous territory. We focus on belonging rather than being loved by Christ. Being loved by God should be our highest aspiration. But how can we make ourselves good enough to be loved by God? We can’t.Who do you think Jesus loves most? You may be surprised at the answer.

The Parable of the Unworthy Servant


The Exhortation to the Apostles - James Tissot

The more we learn about Jesus the more we realize how unworthy we really are. We hear about how “faith” saved and healed the people who flocked to Jesus. Our response can be like that of the disciples, “Why don’t I have that level of faith.” In the Parable of the Unworthy Servant, Jesus explains to his disciples exactly how to increase their faith.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan


The Good Samaritan -  James Tissot

The Parable of the Good Samaritan might be the most well known of Jesus’ parables, partly because it is so simple to understand and also because churchgoers learn it in Sunday School at an early age. But how well do we really know it? In order to really understand it we must put on our sinner’s ears and our repentant heart and look deeply inside.

The Parable of the Ten Minas


The Tribute Money - James Tissot

Once again, with the Parable of the Ten Minas (or the Parable of the Talents from Matthew), we find a parable that has deep layers of ambiguity where sinners will hear one thing and the false-righteous will hear another. This parable has been cited to support usurious lifestyles and to justify the rich’s oppression of the poor. It has also been used to explain how some in heaven will shine brighter than others. But what did Jesus really mean by it?

The Parables of the Cloth and Wineskins


Meal in the House of Matthew - James Tissot

We sinners must drink deeply of the new wine that Jesus offers us. But you’ll find the Pharisees of today still trying to keep the new wine from the lips of Jesus’ disciples. In the Gospel of Luke, the Pharisees once again try to trap him when they ask why his disciples drink and eat with Jesus rather than fasting like John’s disciples. Jesus responds to the Pharisees saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The Pharisees are implying that association with sinners is desecrating. But the opposite is true. When Jesus associates himself with sinners he consecrates them.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet


Woe unto You Scribes and Pharisees - James Tissot

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is the last in a series of parables which indict the chief priests and elders in their efforts of keeping the kingdom of heaven from the people. In Matthew 23 Jesus exclaims, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” This series of parables directly accuses the leaders of spiritual fraud.

Salt and Light


Jesus Teaching by the Seashore - James Tissot

Each autumn we usually make a bucket of sauerkraut for the winter. To prepare it, my wife buys an enormous cabbage from our local market. I shred the cabbage, put it in a sterilized bucket with salt and spices, and beat it with a 2×4. After I put a weight on top, I seal it up with a one-way air valve, so oxygen can’t spoil the lactose fermentation process.Salt-curing was the main way of food preservation for ages. When Jesus talked about salt to his listeners. They knew it was all about preservation. They knew they were learning how to be preserved and preserve others for the kingdom of heaven.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins


The Wise Virgins - James Tissot

“Keep watch,” Jesus says. But keep watch for what? When we are vigilant for Christ should we be watching for just the right guy to rise to power? I doubt it. Just the other day, I was driving down the highway by myself and missed a chance to pick up a hitchhiker. I chose not to stop for him because I was in a school district vehicle. But was Jesus in that man? Could my relationship with Christ have grown deeper by helping him down the road? I was off in my own head, rather than being ready to help someone out in the name of Christ. Vigilance was key, but I missed the opportunity.

The Parable of the Rich Fool


The Tithe Barn - Walter Tyndale

Autumn has settled in and slowed us down here on the Olympic Peninsula. The big-leaf maples are turning yellow. The rains have begun. It’s the time of year that we gather our winter supplies and we cozy up together. We glean apples with friends from the unused orchards for cider pressing. We spend a good deal of time canning fruits and storing up the other beautiful vegetables from our garden. I enjoy taking the kids out to the state lands to cut wood for our firewood stack for the following winter. Both my wife and I just love this time of year. We drink a lot of tea and spend the darkening evenings warming up next to our wood stove. What a life, right? But doesn’t Jesus call that sort of activity folly in the Parable of the Rich Fool?

The Parable of the Persistent Widow


Parable of the Unjust Judge - John Everett Millais

How often have you prayed and prayed about something and God did not respond with what you considered a just and right response? This is a common experience in the life of all Christians. Why? Doesn’t Jesus tell us, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” How do we reconcile our prayer life with God’s words? Does he really give us what we ask for?

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Just Don’t Scratch the Furniture

Posted by Mike

Does it happen to everyone. Do you just fall into things – like acquiring cats? I suspect in some matters, yes, and in others, no. It’s really irrelevant to my discussion. When something has happened, one can philosophize all you want, but once an event occurs – or events in most cases – we can’t turn back time and do a redo. In life, daily, we have to deal with what is, not what we would like it to be, or what we might have done or chosen had we been better informed, or thought more wisely, or….This brings up another issue that is very important for us Americans: We tend to believe that we must make most personal decisions by ourselves, that seeking advice and wisdom from others is somehow lessening to our independence and self-worth. Women, of course, are better at seeking advice from others than men. Perhaps it’s mainly us males who have the problem. It’s nonsense, of course. Why didn’t we let others talk us out of it?

The cats, as you might have surmised, are the problem. You feel sorry for the feral cat and her kittens. One day you see her with three kittens following her; the next day, only two; and a little later, only one, virtually a carbon copy of the mother, who herself looked like little more than a kitten. We have really big owls where we live; I suspect that the owls made away with the other two kittens. So you let the poor mother and child in, give them a home. Oh! And it’s necessary to buy a litter box, and litter, and cat food. And to be responsible, they must be neutered. And the injections for various feline diseases come next. And a tower so they can scratch it rather than the blankets, and bedspreads, and furniture. And lots of other accoutrements.

Soon one has (one in this case is Linda and myself) a cat-oriented household. It becomes like having children again: When “Big Cat” doesn’t come in before dark I begin to get panicky, like maybe my daughter missing her 11 p.m. deadline twenty-odd years ago. EEEEAAAAGGAADDDDH!

I’m getting use to it. Night before last I didn’t fully close the hall door. At 4 a.m. there was heavy breathing, purring, and licking on my ear, and little feet walking down my torso and legs. I even discovered a cat mole crawling through the dark area between sheet and blanket. The last cat we befriended was expert at destroying blankets with a few well-placed rips from her front claws. Remarkably, these cats are being reasonably considerate; they haven’t destroyed anything yet. I’m waiting!

All of this is to say that I thought I was over the period in life when you are raising things, like mainly children, but also cats and dogs and other various animals. I’m sure that cat lovers, if they have gotten through this tirade will say, “They are so lovable. They’ll be wonderful companions and you’ll love having them.” I’m waiting; I’m waiting!

Let’s not kid ourselves, cats are wild animals; other appearances are just that. Maybe it’s time for a dog?

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Ship of Fools?

Posted by Mike

It was Sarah Palin, then Donald Trump, Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain. How could any reasonably intelligent person actually think any of these people

Childe Hassam Flags on the Waldorf detail Amon Carter Museum.jpgwould make (or would have made) a satisfactory President? Is this country filled with ignorant people who are unable to discriminate competence? The remaining candidates, thank goodness, all have some credibility, and hopefully some might make adequate Presidents. I have no complaints about people who might be supporting Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, or Mitt Romney, though I wouldn’t agree with any of them regarding their choice of candidate.

The answer to my question above is two-fold. First, I don’t think this country is filled with ignorant people. The people I interact with every day, at work, at the grocery, at home, seem very bright and competent. And I think that people in general, in this country, are very bright and competent, at least in the areas of their expertise. But secondly, I think the problem is that in some areas – and I think politics and religion are the two prime suspects – we just don’t learn to discriminate very well, to put on our “thinking caps” and apply reason and logic, seek information, and perhaps more than anything else, be willing to challenge accepted notions. I fault religion with having the most influence in this area. Religious beliefs and doctrines are handed down from one generation to another and there is a generally unexpressed assumption that these basic beliefs are not to be challenged, that somehow, just because a belief, doctrine, or institution has survived essentially the same for 200 or 500 or a thousand or two thousand years it is sacrosanct and not to be challenged. I’ll just bore you with one issue I have with our religious beliefs. One denomination on its website reports that, “Our beliefs all stem from a full commitment to the authority of the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God.” If you think like these folks, no challenge is possible. I wonder what they say to the occasional questioning teenager who wonders, “What makes it inerrant and infallible?” In my opinion there is no satisfactory answer to that question. My guess is that such questioning if it ever occurs is squelched, but I really don’t know as I don’t run in those circles.

We haven’t really learned, in this country, to question authority, to challenge accepted notions and the status quo. It’s been to our disadvantage continually, since the formation of our nation, and it’s remarkable that we have preserved to the extent that we have , our democratic processes given this lack. I’ll grant that there have been and are countervailing forces that have encouraged independent thinking and challenges to the status quo, from Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers to Occupy Wall Street, but they have tended to be a “weak force.” The “strong force” has always been the maintenance of the status quo. One example: It took almost 100 years for the full effect of Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves to be effectively brought into being. Equality for African-Americans was delayed in the American South for years by supposedly “well meaning” whites who were unwilling to grant equality for all Americans. Oh – and did the churches speak out against this travesty?

It’s threatening and scary for our cherished assumptions and beliefs to be challenged, but adaptation to a changing world requires openness to that process. And it’s even more important now with the extraordinary effects of the internet and global interconnectedness as well as the increasing rapidity of innovation in technology and its effects throughout the world. Oh – we’re not a Ship of Fools or we would not have survived as well as we have. We do need to assess our foolishnesses from time to time, and this is one of those times.

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After Fukushima – Like John or like Legion

Posted by David
Nuclear power plants around the world, 1999.

Nuclear power plants around the world, 1999.

It seems obvious to me, but clearly not to some, that nuclear power is probably the most irresponsible forms of technologies produced by man. Now that we have another public nuclear accident at Fukushima, I’ve been thinking about why it is so. For the most part, I don’t worry myself about environmental issues. I figure that Homo technicus will only last so long, after which man and creation will heal after being abused so profoundly. It is the nature of God’s creation to heal. Jesus made that abundantly clear while he walked among us. Paul helped to clarify:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Romans 8:18-22

As I’ve stated before, I believe technology is the pride and glory of man. Technology is not an instrument of faith, but an instrument of pride and vanity. Was it not the technology of agriculture that caused God to be displeased with Cain’s offering? It was the shepard, Abel, whose offering was pleasing to God. It is acts of faith that please God.

Nuclear energy is an attempt to circumvent faith through postponing the price. But someone always pays the price. Jjustice exists in full in this univere of ours. Someone will pay the price of nuclear energy through suffering in unknowable ways.

Whether or not they are actually able to clean up the mess at Fukushima, one day power will not be restored to one of the 400+ power plants in the world. We cannot count on stability in any particular country, however Western, however peaceable they seem to be, because all civilizations eventually fall. Civilization is just a societal technology and eventually it stops working, just like your laptop. No matter how many days or thousands of years it takes for our present system to fall, we will be leaving melting cores for someone, some animal or some part of God’s creation. Why do we place our faith in technological structures rather than in the One who provides all that we need?

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 1:27

Some argue that because we are called to subdue the whole earth it means we should use whatever technology have at our finger tips to do so. Some would even go as far as to argue that the world we’re growing into is the future creation. This technologically advanced civilization is what God has set forth. It is the beginning of the new kingdom of earth? Poppycock.

Man is indeed in a phylum of his own. We are set aside and we are special. We are given a will and are intended to use it. Unlike the animals, our will can be used to do good or evil. Animals don’t have that privilege. With that privilege comes extraordinary joy and responsibility—a responsibility only possible through Jesus. Done with him it is with an ease far greater than that of the soaring flight of an eagle in the golden autumnal light, or no greater work than the play of a child by a stream in summertime.

But we will continue to do these sort of faithless acts, until we are shocked into submission. And then we will either be like John and lean into the breast of our beloved Jesus or like Legion and cast ourselves into the pigs.

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Weekly Report: The Dope…the Dupe

Posted by Mike

Leon hot air balloon festival 2010.jpgMarch 3: The headline on Time’s frontpage today is “Yes, America is in Decline/No America is Still No. 1.” I never hear anyone ask “Why?”  so I’m asking it; and suggesting that we’d be a lot better off if we weren’t. It might get us off our grandiose high horse of believing that we are the savior of the world. It’s interesting that we’ve been proved so wrong so many times before, but that doesn’t stop belief. Changing firmly held beliefs may require some kind of full frontal confrontation to get people to wake up. Unfortunately, that kind of confrontation generally brings with it a lot of pain.

I find some decision-making rather mysterious. I know, we weigh the pros and cons, look at the possible/probable outcomes, and then make the best, the most rational decision we can make. But what about the emotional factors? And doesn’t the process get quite muddied up with multiple factors, especially when the decision is important and the tipping point can’t easily be got at? Of course we do the best we can with what (brain power, good sense, advice from others) we’ve got. I made a big decision recently regarding major surgery that is not absolutely indicated. As far as I’m concerned the decision is made and I’m going ahead with it; but I need to be aware that there’s a part of me that’s going to be questioning the decision at least to some extent even when they wheel me into the operating room. There are people who are so obsessive that they are unable to make decisions; the bigger the decision is, the harder it is for them. We’re not perfect; we’re fallible. If we need help in sorting out the issues, we need to ask for it. I have a hard time doing that: related to childhood isolation and inability to ask for anything back then. In the work I do I daily make decisions that affect the lives of individuals and families. I do the best I can with the evidence I have available. The evidence isn’t perfect and in some cases there is a degree of subjectivity that must be allowed in or a decision can’t be made. An obsessive-compulsive would never be able to do that job. I’ve learned to make a decision and then forget about it. Fortunately, there are avenues of appeal available if the recipient disagrees. So in general, make the decision, and then let it go; subject to revision if significant new evidence arises and presses for a hearing; but don’t obsessively review afterwards. Life is too demanding, challenging, wonderful and present to be overly tied up by the past like that.

March 4: I woke up unable to sleep last night and happened upon Gus Van Sant’s first full length film, Mala Noche. It’s about events in a brief period of a young male convenience store clerk’s life, in the skid row district of Portland. It’s filmed like the cinema noir pictures of the late ‘30’s in black and white, and the lives of the people it follows is just as bleak. What comes to me as the important overall message for me from the film is that as secure, comfortable middle class Americans, most of us don’t have a clue as to what it’s like to lead the kind of hand-to-mouth kind of existence lots of people experience in this country. That awareness should lead us to a kind of humility, nonjudgmentalness, and a generosity not only of funds but of spirit to those less fortunate. I often make it to the first level , the awareness part, but never seem to make it to the second level of thinking/feeling/acting described above.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and write pungent essays in my head. Most of the time I’ve forgotten them by the time I awaken in the morning. Seldom do I later write anything down. When I do try to, it seems that maybe what I thought was so clever and insightful at 2 a.m. wasn’t. I do remember thinking last night about following the news of the conflict in the Middle East. Every morning one of the first things I do is bring up the New York Times on my laptop and go to the Lede blog, updating us on the latest events. Currently of course, the Lede is following events in Libya closely. As I’m reading the updates sometimes I feel like I want to will progress on the insurgents’ part. I expect this desire to be able to “will” a change in circumstances or events is not uncommon. We know it’s not possible, but we want something (that we have no control over) to be so so much, that we would like to be able to will it to be so. Fortunately most of us are sufficiently reality-based to know that’s just fantasy. Occasionally people cross the line. We call them delusional, and they don’t do very well in the long run; reality catches up with them.

March 7: What happened to the 5th and the 6th? They must not have happened. I can’t tell you…but why, why can’t I just let go of my beef with organized religion? For example, the other day coming home I passed a fancy dentist’s office near here, and would you believe, they have this massive statue of Jesus in front of the building, on a granite pedestal, engraved with the writing, “He is our Salvation.” Who do they think they are? Why is it necessary for believers to include the rest of us in their scenario. What if I don’t believe that he is my salvation? I guess from their point of view all of society is included under the umbrella or penumbra of the man from Nazarath. It would be impossible, I guess, for a Christian to say something like, “I believe Jesus is my salvation, but that isn’t necessarily the case for you.” I see that that wouldn’t work; it’s got to be inclusive. It does seem to me, however, given that attitude that a measure of self-righteousness, yea even of judgmentalism toward us poor nonbelievers might just be present. The position of knowing, and “knowing” that the others don’t, seems to be rather arrogant. Of course, you could turn it around on me and wonder if I might just be exhibiting some of those very same uncomely attitudes. You might be right. I do think, though, that I am open to saying you believe what you want to and I’ll believe what I want to and we’re both going to be at least somewhat wrong – but we need to be nonjudgmental about each other. I have more about this topic later, and I’ll just give you a preview: There are mainstream Christians out there who believe in Predestination!

The wisdom of the generations is fragile, but that which we preserve and value must be based upon observation and experience, not on myth reflecting out unconscious defensive predilections

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In My Eyes

Posted by Linda

Many people spend a lot of time searching how to be good parents, spouses, neighbors, friends.  The underlying issue seems to me to be “How to Love.”  There must be a thousand books on the subject: extensive religious texts, philosophical treatises, and psychological dissertations have delved the meaning of love.  Almost all great fiction has explored in some way the enigma and complexity of love.

We also have the potato chips of love advice: self-help books.  Loving For Dummies hasn’t come out yet, but may.   Some such are really “helpful.”

Lots of the counsel on how to love requires study, complex acts, lots of time, and even money.  “Isn’t love worth it?”  “Of course it is.”  A lifetime learning to love deeply is well spent–I’d say perfectly spent.  But sometimes loving someone in ways that work feels as frustrating and beyond reach as touching a star with your fingertips.   Other times it happens in the blink of an eye.

I mean that literally.

Years ago I read from the writings of developmental psychologist Rene Piaget.  One of his ideas that impacted me was the importance of eye contact between parents and their babies.  (In my words) he said we drink in who we are through our parents’ eyes.  He was referring to infancy; but I think it is also true for children of any age and moreover for our mates and friends, for strangers, and even for our “enemies.”

When we make eye contact with someone, our eyes send a feeling and message.  That person reads the message and takes it in. It may be a dozen things: “She likes me,”  “He loves me,” “He is afraid of me, or “She is not interested in me.”  The translation becomes a message about who I am.  I am likable, lovable, powerful, worthless.   Very wounded people may block or misread the message.  Very aware people may recognize and evaluate the message.  Most eye contact language is below the radar and builds the concept of “who I am” subterraneanly.   Eye contact is power.  That makes it a responsibility.  That makes it a choice.  And that makes it an opportunity to love: a simple way, always at hand, time-friendly, free.

I like Piaget’s concept because it shows us we can impart love just  by being aware that our eyes will reflect who we think the other is. What if we don’t feel love for the other, but feel indifferent or repelled, or afraid. Regrettably, there are people so disturbed that they may read even eye contact as a challenge.  Healing takes time and patience and presence.  Such exceptions do not describe most encounters.

More at risk are our daily encounters with family and friends.  It becomes awfully easy not to look at each other often, except as almost “business” meetings.  In Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, the character Emily has died and is allowed to return to one day in her life to observe.  She chooses her 16th birthday and finds herself in the kitchen watching herself have breakfast as her mother bustles about doing chores and cautioning her to eat slowly.  Though no one can hear or see her, she cries out, “Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me.”

It’s probably the most quoted line in the play, because we all can relate to it.  We know Piaget is right.  The eyes have it.

How good it is to enjoy the riches of meeting and resting in each other’s eyes.  We can practice every day looking for the beauty in each other and reflecting it back as often as humanly possible. Laughing at a good joke together almost always involves happy glances into each other’s eyes. So does love.  And there, love quickens to beauty, and vulnerability, and tenderness.  Love could become our almost permanent message if we focus, just for a bit, on each other.

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Filed under Love, philosophy, Psychology, Uncategorized, values

Congruence

Posted by Mike

When I was in graduate school, among the most prominent clinical psychologists in the country was Carl Rogers. His focus was humanistic, and he called his approach client-centered therapy. One of his key concepts was congruence. It refers to a person’s presentation in interaction with others. To be congruent, one’s speech and ideas, emotional expression, and physical presentation should reflect the same theme. For example, if you’re thanking someone for a gift, one’s emotional expression and physical manner should express appreciation. I’ve been mulling over this idea of congruence for the past several days as I was in a situation recently in which several people I interacted with seemed to not be  congruent. Maybe people react differently in such a situation. What I tend to do is freeze up. I may not think “What’s going on here?” but that’s what I feel. I also experience a bit of confusion, what I’m experiencing from the other person just doesn’t add up and make sense.

It may be that an individual’s guardedness or insecurity will come across as a lacking of congruence. And of course that’s exactly what is going on. If I’m preoccupied with something that’s interfering with my ability to interact during the process of interaction, I’m not being congruent. One of the Presidential candidates during the debates two years ago was perplexing. His presentation seemed calculated and wooden; the words were right, but his emotional expression and physical presentation were stilted and unnatural. How can you trust a person like that, when it’s clear that there’s something else very important going on beneath the surface. It might only be a sort of perfectionism and ruleboundedness, but such qualities can have serious downsides in the heat of decision-making.

There is one kind of person who can come across as congruent, but is definitely not, and that’s the sociopath. These people are super smooth, and they can present idea, emotion, and manner perfectly congruently, and yet have a massive hidden agenda that the recipient of their attention must avoid at all costs. If anything, the sociopath is too smooth, too perfectly congruent. Given a little time with a sociopath they become unbelievable and the chinks in their defense become apparent. Hopefully this will occur before you discover that your wallet is missing!

Carl Rogers lived from 1902 to 1987

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As the Year Comes to an End

Posted by Mike

I’m an avid reader of the New York Times. I read it on-line; it’s cheaper and easier. The compelling articles and opinion of the past few days have been editorials, especially the one by Nicholas Kristof regarding the incredible amount of money and materials we pour into our military arsenal,  and the article by Michael Kamber about his friend, the photojournalist Joao Silva: the work Silva has done over the years and his terrible injuries in Afganistan, where he recently lost both of his legs to a land mine. The issue of our military goals and expenses and the human costs are just some of the uncomfortable concerns that should make all of us squirm more than a little as the year is ending.

It would be uplifting if we in this country could look back upon the current and near-to-be-past year with satisfaction at worthwhile accomplishments and forward to the next year with anticipation of further successes in the areas most needed, not only in this country, but even more worldwide: available universal health care and increased focus on eradicating endemic diseases in the third world; increased educational opportunities, especially for those who have been underprivileged or denied opportunities in the past; a reduction in armaments and in warfare worldwide, including, but not necessarily especially, reduction in nuclear weaponry; strengthened efforts to negotiate with those who see us as their enemy, rather than to eliminate them by military force;  focus upon reduction in poverty worldwide; increased concern and action to protect the environment from its ongoing degradation, both on land and in the oceans.

Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate to  the “uplifting” ideal suggested above. The countries of the world – and specifically for us, the United States – in general, but not universally, are in a great deal of trouble, having defaulted in most of the areas discussed above. In general, we have become in the United States insensitive to the needs of the impoverished and underpriviliged both here and worldwide; we arrogantly pursue our “national security” and consumer-product oriented goals: “more for myself and my family and my group and to hell with the others”, and avoid awareness of the needs of the manifold others less fortunate. We are the privileged and the correct thinking ones and the “saved” ones.

God help us – when the reckoning comes!

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear Lake, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

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Filed under philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized, values