I am thinking of adjectives to describe the city of Charleston’s reaction to the tragedy at Emanuel AME–ironic, astonishing, and graceful are words that come to mind.
Not far from where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, a city where many African Americans are descendants of slaves whose labor made their owners prosperous, in a region where the Confederate flag is still prominent, the members of Mother Emanuel showed the world how to walk in God’s grace. They set the tone, the example for us to follow. And Charleston, unlike other cities torn by racially motivated crimes and injustices, did not erupt in violence and protests.
The usual attention-grabbers who waste no time in getting to a microphone and in front of a camera to be seen and heard, to incite protests and promote their own agenda, have not been the faces and voices reflecting a nation’s reaction to the unbelievable horror inflicted upon a group of beautiful individuals gathered in God’s church to further spiritual growth–people who led spiritual, grace-filled lives, who cared for others, who made a difference.
What we have seen is Christian leadership at its best and Christian disciples being true disciples. We have seen what it means to walk in love.
Recently I was asked to share the best advice I’ve received and lessons learned through seven decades of living. I expect to add to this list as I continue to learn and grow.
“Your character should always be stronger than your circumstances.” -Dave Willis
“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” -Timber Hawkeye
“Your hardest times often lead to your life’s greatest moments. Keep the faith. It will all be worth it in the end.” -Zig Ziglar
“Be yourself.” -spiritual counselor
“Be kind.” -Sunday School
“Forgive.” -Sunday School
“Love your neighbor…” -Sunday School (Mark 12:31)
“Judge not…” -Matthew 7:1-3
“He probably just didn’t know how.” -spiritual counselor
(A light-bulb moment that gave clarity to the fact that often we over-analyze and over-complicate understanding each other, when the simple truth is that we are all just doing what we know how to do.)
Lessons learned through living
In every challenge, ask: What is the lesson here?
Modesty and humility are much more attractive than bravado.
Ego gets in the way of God.
Life isn’t fair, but you can be.
Listening with sincere, heartfelt compassion is a beautiful gift.
Prayer changes me.
The past is gone; the future is unknown. Make the most of now, today, this very moment.
The community where I live is in conflict over a day center for the homeless located in the business district. Some of the business owners object to its location, asserting that it has a negative impact on the neighborhood and on their respective businesses.
I try to put myself in the shoes of those whose livelihood depends on their commercial enterprises. I think I know how I would react if my business were in that neighborhood, but I’m not there, so I can only imagine. It’s easy to be a Good Samaritan in thought.
Addressing the needs of the “weakest” and “most vulnerable” is not a new challenge. Quotes abound with variations on the same theme. Ghandi is quoted with this:
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
But eloquent quotes are not solutions.
When I read about the personal missions of individuals to help the homeless in other areas of the country, such as a man who builds small “houses” on wheels, and the tiny-house developments springing up around the nation, and the movement to provide apartments for the homeless while they are trying to change their lives, I am hopeful that we are on a track toward workable solutions.
The more difficult challenge might be in changing the public perception of the homeless, sometimes portrayed in large brushstrokes as takers looking for handouts, not wanting to make the effort or do the work to become self-supporting or to improve their circumstances.
Who are the homeless? What are their stories? I think it’s time we seek to learn and understand.
Some people use the following excuse for not being part of a church community: Church is full of hypocrites.
I prefer to think of it this way: Church is full of imperfect humans.
Churchgoers are sometimes viewed as self-righteous, when the opposite is likely truer. Many of us attend church because we understand that we are flawed, imperfect humans, and we seek inspiration for personal and spiritual growth. We recognize that often our behavior is not very Christ-like. What would Jesus do? Not what I just did.
In Christian churches, we proclaim a desire to follow the examples of Jesus. As with our approach to which of the Ten Commandments we choose to obey, some of us, perhaps most of us, choose which of Jesus’s examples to emulate. We readily feed the poor and show compassion for the homeless, while snubbing a church member we don’t like. We judge others, gossip about things that could be left unsaid, tear others down instead of lifting them up. Love our neighbor as our self? Most of us miss the mark on any given day.
Sometimes our clergy do not set a good example for us, and we judge them to be hypocrites. We hold them to a higher standard because of their ordination as disciples of Christ. Yet, they too are imperfect humans, as are we all. Sometimes we deem that a church leader could benefit from a large dose of humility. Look in the mirror.
Looking in the mirror is what the season of Lent means to me—self-reflection. It is easy to give up a favorite food, activity, some tangible thing. It is more challenging to give up certain attitudes that are not very Christ-like. It is more challenging to be totally honest with myself about missing the mark set for us by Jesus. Therein lies my Lenten focus—giving up flawed attitudes, and taking up a greater awareness of the examples set by Jesus, more mindful of the true meaning of being a Christian.
I consider myself a Christian by a profession of faith. However, my thoughts, attitudes, actions and reactions often miss the mark of the true Christian way of being. It is more honest to say that I am learning to be a Christian, learning to walk in love, learning to practice the examples of Jesus, which is an ongoing and life-long study. When I look in the mirror, I can see that sometimes I look like a hypocrite.
All churchgoers are not exemplary Christians. As the saying goes, “Sitting in a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.” Not the best analogy, but it makes a point.
Yes, there are hypocrites in church, and many of us are there for spiritual growth, trying to be better.
I started a blog as a creative exercise, with a more disciplined approach to writing my thoughts than just jotting down in my journal in incomplete sentences, not mindful of whether anyone else could make sense of it. I had no expectations for feedback, followers, or connecting with others. I simply wanted to write and share. I also wanted to see if I could set up a blog without any help. At a certain age, advancing technology becomes a challenge.
Now I write four blogs, and the experience unfolds to new delights and surprises almost daily.
Last week, a blogger in India liked my post on Morning Reflections. His posts about compassion and kindness remind that we can make a difference in the world through acts of kindness and respect for every individual’s humanity. His blog has thousands of followers. Imagine the impact of thousands of followers advocating kindness and compassion worldwide, sharing with everyone they know! A veritable peace train could take form.
This morning I posted a thought about leaving a legacy in nature for the benefit of future generations. Thus, I “met” an artist/photographer in Europe who shares his stunning photos on his blog site. I was also introduced to a blogger in northwest U.S., an ecologist whose passion for nature is reflected in exquisite photos and rich poetry. A musician and poet in Germany also liked my post. And the hits just keep on comin’.
Connecting with kindred spirits who see and appreciate the beauty in nature is a good feeling. Connecting with crusaders for universal kindness and compassion elevates hope for the progress of humankind. The bell that rings loudest for me signals that blogging can be a powerful tool to plant constructive ideas and seeds of hope for better stewardship of our marvelous planet.
Herd mentality, groupthink, social clique, members-only, club mentality, PLU.
Is social conformity for our own validation?
What makes us resistant to “different”?
Must we label “different” as nerd, geek, or weird?
How about “Love thy neighbor” without judgment or labels?
What makes us uncomfortable with “different”?
Our days are numbered, but most of us don’t know what our number is. Some of us are given an approximate number with the news of a terminal illness. I don’t want to know that experience. Ignorance is, well, maybe not bliss, but better than knowing.
Or is it? If I had the choice, would I rather know that I have one week left before something ends my life here on Earth? What would I do differently, how would I spend my time, if I knew how many days I had left to spend here?
Some years ago, I was given incorrect information from my doctor’s office that frightened me into what-if thoughts. Fortunately, that information was corrected within a week, but in that week’s time, I did some serious soul-searching.
When I learned of the nurse’s mistake, I was both relieved and furious. Relieved to learn of the mistake, and furious at the carelessness that had caused me to feel frightened, barely able to sleep, distracted on the job, unable to concentrate on anything else.
I let the anger go quickly, with gratitude for a new lease on life. I approached every new day with gratitude for life and everyone in it. I adopted the attitude of a man I’d worked with briefly on a special project. Whenever he was greeted with the standard “Hi, how are you?”, he replied, “It’s the best day of my life.” And he lived his words.
My attitude of absolute gratitude didn’t last long enough. Eventually, I let disappointments and aggravations get to me again. Even when I put on a happy face for the public, I felt the weight of things I allowed to trouble me. My attitude of gratitude was not consistent, far from it. I was more aware of what was missing, instead of what I had.
Now, as I turn the page and start a new chapter in the book of life, the chapter that begins with retirement, I strive to approach each new day as if it’s the best day of my life, with profound and sincere gratitude for the gift of another day to make a difference. No excuses.
I cherish being with those exceptional people who always see the best in others. One of my dearest friends is such a person. He truly and sincerely walks in love. I have never heard him criticize or speak ill of anyone, politicians aside. He is kind, compassionate, and looks only at his own flaws and short-comings. He loves his neighbors as himself, even when he disagrees with them. He inspires me.
I try not to share any negative words to influence others’ opinions of others; rather, to let them form their own opinion based on their experience, not mine.
I try not to criticize others. I try to remember to see others as I am–imperfect. Often I fail.
Imagine if we all look first at our own imperfections, before we find fault in others.
It is always a shock to hear of a suicide. The loss feels even greater when the person who took his own life was known for exceptional kindness, extraordinary generosity, and sensitivity to the needs of others. I was especially saddened by the death of Robin Williams because he had been open about his struggle with depression, not afraid to seek professional help, and, from news reports, it appeared he had taken a responsible approach to appropriate treatment.
Now, we ask questions. Did he leave a note? Did he give a reason? Did he describe the torment he chose to escape? Had he been thinking about suicide for a long time, or was this a sudden, impulsive need to end it all? Had his recent, heavy work schedule made it obvious that Parkinson’s had sapped his physical strength and stamina, and he believed he couldn’t continue to do what he loved to do? Was he too exhausted to think rationally? Did he share his desperation with therapists? Is suicide always an impulsive act in a weak, tortured, overwhelmed moment? Or, had he planned to cut out when he thought he could no longer perform at his best? We wonder. We make assumptions. But we don’t know.
We focus on our loss, but what about his pain, or torment, or whatever it was he couldn’t endure? Can we even begin to understand it, if we haven’t been in that dark place? Is it selfish to want him to be here still, when we have no idea what he was experiencing?
I keep hoping that Robin wrote a letter to his fans, something to comfort us, to explain why he needed to “exit stage left” before we thought the show was over. And I’m hopeful for Robin that he is in a place where he feels the joy of divine comedy.