Posts Tagged ‘humanity

27
Sep
19

The Love Loophole

Jesus-facepalmI love you.

At least I know I am supposed to love you. It is one of the central commands of the Christian faith I profess. (See John 13:34, John 15:12, Romans 12:10, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Peter 1:22, etc., etc.)

And yet I have to admit; I am not always sure what I mean by that.

But you don’t even know me!” you are no doubt saying. “How could you possibly say you love me?”

Good point.

And then there is this question to consider too: how do I distinguish my love for you– a (mostly) complete stranger – from my love for Joan, the woman with whom I held hands, stood before God and a room full of people nearly 20 years ago and exchanged solemn vows?

And while you’re tussling with that one, here is another mind-bender: Is there – should there be – any discernible difference between my love for those of you readers who are warm and wonderful human beings and my love for the monstrously bad eggs of the world?

I know what the answer is supposed to be. I know I am called to emulate Christ and ladle out heaping helpings of unconditional love to every one of you with no consideration given to the life you’ve led, the people you’ve harmed, the Nobel Prizes you’ve won, or the cancer you’ve cured.

Would it shock you to hear me say I fall woefully short of that benchmark EVERY SINGLE DAY?

Didn’t think so.

It almost sounds like a humanly impossible job description to fulfill, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is.

And yet, there it remains; front and center in the preaching of the One I follow.

Easy for you to say,” I grumble under my breath. “You’ve got all that God-dust flowing through your veins. You weren’t ever susceptible to rage, or jealousy, or lust, or envy, or greed like the rest of us.”

And yet even before the words are out of my mouth I know I have never been more off base.

Maybe,” I think, “I can use my thimbleful of Greek language skill and fulfill Christ’s command by philia-ing some folks and storge-ing others while I agape the really super-worthy ones.”

Even as I say it, I can see Jesus facepalming and shaking his head, charitably pitying the depth of my intransigence.

Look, Russell… if my words aren’t clear enough for you,” He says, “why not take a listen to Saint Thomas Aquinas. My buddy Tom once said that authentic love means to ‘selflessly will the good of another.’ Does that help at all?”

Hmmmm. Intriguing.

“So, Jesus,” I ask. “Are you suggesting it might be possible to ‘selflessly will the good’ of a stranger, or a psychopath without feeling all warm and fuzzy toward them? Seriously?”

“When did you ever hear me say that love has anything to do with your feelings?” he says, mercifully declining to add the word “knucklehead” to the end of his sentence. “Love is a VERB. It is much more about what you DO and much less about how you FEEL.”

So go… get out there and do some love. And stop trying to find a legalistic loophole to squeeze yourself through.”

Thanks, Jesus. I’m glad we had this little talk.

 

Now comes the hard part…

25
Aug
19

For me?

Puerto Rican tree frogJoan and I (and Joan’s daughter Jessica) are in Puerto Rico for a few days, enjoying our first-ever trip to this island.

What an amazing place! If you have never been, I highly recommend it.

For Jessica, this is a vacation. That’s because Jessica is a working person.

Joan and I, however, are only allowed to call it a “trip” because we are both retired. That means we are legally prohibited from using the word “vacation.”

We are staying in a little seaside spot near Punta Santiago on the east coast of the island. It is far outside the city of San Juan and therefore very peaceful and serene.

The remoteness of our location has allowed us to meet the little tree frog that is known as “the symbol of Puerto Rico,” the coqui. The coqui has a distinctive and piercing call that begins right around sunset and continues until the wee hours of the morning.

Wikipedia tells me that the coqui’s call is made up of two parts… the “co” which is designed to scare away other male frogs, and the “qui” (pron. “key”), which is his come-on to any female frogs in the area.

I am glad I looked this up because when I first heard the call of the coqui, it struck me as the call of the most self-centered little amphibian in the world.

The call I thought I heard him making was, “For me?” repeated over and over and over again.

It made me think about how often I have employed that mating call in my own life.

I had to stop and ask myself if I am only able to appreciate the joy and wonder of life when it is especially designed “for me.”

Am I only able to weep and feel the true depth of sorrow when a tragedy is uniquely “for me”?

I sincerely hope that is not the case. Because if it were, I would truly be a person worth pitying.

When Jesus commanded us to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39), I believe he was commanding us to do away with the notion that there is a distinction between the two.

When I see no distinction between my neighbor’s well being and my own well being, self-care and compassion merge to become the same thing.

Your joy is indeed “for me.” Your sorrow is also, “for me.”

So maybe instead of being annoyed as the little coqui sings me to sleep tonight, I will instead choose to be grateful for his sermon on authentic human compassion.

 

But maybe he could try preaching it a little more quietly though, eh?

03
Dec
18

Storm Shield

One of my favorite apps to pull up on my phone is an app called “Storm Shield.”

It is a weather radar app that allows me to see CURRENT weather radar as well as a view of what the weather radar will look like in the FUTURE.

I enjoy opening this app periodically so I can look at what is going on in the world, meteorologically. I feel like a genuine weatherman as I peer at my phone and make uneducated guesses about where that big ol’ patch of thunderstorms will be heading next.

And let’s face it… who doesn’t love getting a little peek into the future? Even if it is just the next few hours of weather?

But as fond as I am of this app, I must take its developers to task here a little: despite its reassuring name, not ONCE has this app ever actually shielded me from a storm. Winds have tousled my hair and rain has fallen on me JUST LIKE IT DID before I bought it!

Besides being a fan of the FUTURE feature of the app, I also love having the ability to shrink or widen the perspective. I can look either at this view:

Storm shield 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or THIS one: Storm shield 1

… or even wider if I so desire.

I’m not going to lie; all this power – including the ability to peer into the future – makes me feel a bit like The Great and Powerful Oz!

I think the urge to “look beyond” ourselves and see an enlarged picture of our world is a fairly basic human tendency.

I mean, who knows? Maybe it is exactly this “looking beyond” urge that supplies the energy for space exploration, and undersea voyages, and archeological digs.

It is certainly the reason we will likely never face a shortage of movies on the subject of time travel.

Yes… we all want to “see beyond” our present moment and setting, but it seems we really only want that vision if it fits in with the way we see the world right now.

 

In this age of relativism and inflated self-importance, we really don’t want to be bothered to consider a cosmic point of view that might dare to challenge our seat on the Throne of Power of our lives.

I make this statement because of the research that shows an ever-accelerating rise in the number of people who reject any notion of God or Ultimate Reality or a Higher Power, preferring instead to operate by the seat of their own, omnipotent pants.

They do have a point. This is, after all, the God who said (through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah):

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
–       Isaiah 55:8-9, NRSV

This is probably not the God from whom you would ever hear a phrase like, “Yeah, OK… whatever you think. That’s cool.”

This Advent season we have just embarked on is a time to be reminded of our utter subordinacy as humans. It is a time when God said, “I know you are impatient for a solution to the web of ills that surround you, but rest assured; I’ve got this.”

And then – at Christmas – we saw that God did INDEED have it!

So thanks anyway, but I think I will just be content to rely on my Storm Shield app for my “far and wide” glimpses of reality.

And I’ll try to be a little more prepared the next time that green blob starts moving in my direction.

 

Abundant blessings;

30
Jul
18

Stories and Suitcases

Couple with suitcasesI’ve always said, if there’s a suitcase, there’s a story.

Rosie and I were out on our afternoon walk through the neighborhood today. I tried to coax her onto a little longer route than we normally take, but she wasn’t having ANY of it. We had gone scarcely 20 yards into Route B and already she began turning back and tugging the leash in the opposite direction.

I complied (as I usually do) and turned up Grandview Street instead of trying to coerce her further west toward Kessler.

We had gone about a block along Grandview when I looked to the left and noticed a mini-flurry of activity there on the side street.

There I saw a young man and a young woman opening the trunk of a small Toyota sedan. The young man was wearing a gray backpack and pulling a black, rolling-bag suitcase out of the trunk.

The young woman had a small carry on-type bag in her left hand and was already walking ahead, pulling a navy blue suitcase behind her.

The young man closed the trunk of the car and together they began walking toward the front door of one of the houses on the street.

Immediately, a hundred possible explanations for the little vignette I had just witnessed began swirling through my brain; I thought, “This is a young newlywed couple just arriving home from their honeymoon; no… the young woman was returning from a month of study abroad in Italy and her brother – the young man – had driven to the airport to pick her up. All the suitcases, of course, belonged to her.”

Or maybe it was the son and daughter-in-law (or daughter and son-in-law) of the residents of the home, just arriving from Texas for a summer vacation in Overland Park, Kansas! (Because seriously… who wouldn’t?)

Or maybe they were a bright, young coed team of door-to-door suitcase salespeople, just beginning to canvass this block with samples of their wares in tow?

Like I said… show me a suitcase, and I’ll show you a story.

Actually, show me a PERSON and I’ll show you a story.

Seeing that young couple and finding myself speculating on who they were and why they were carrying suitcases made me stop and realize several essential truths about the world:

  • Suitcases in hand or not, each of us is on a journey.
  • And each of us has a story.
  • And each of those stories is richer, more complex, more textured and more filled with meaning and depth than the rest of us (those not living that particular story) can possibly imagine.

Sadly, in these times when social media channels have become our default mechanism of communication, STORY often becomes one of the first casualties.

You see, I can relate to you more quickly and easily if I can pigeonhole you. And I can pigeonhole you more easily if I can turn you into a two-dimensional, cardboard cutout image of yourself.

  • “You’re a liberal!”
  • “You’re a conservative!”
  • “You’re a millennial!”
  • “You’re a women’s libber!” (As if anyone actually uses that phrase anymore!)
  • “You’re gay!”
  • “You’re a religious fanatic!”

The truth is: we are each made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). And being made in God’s image means that we are each COMPLEX, multi-faceted, impenetrable, inscrutable entities… more full of mystery and meaning than anyone might readily like to admit.

And each of us – just like the God who made us – is pretty darned awesome and worthy of a little reverence.

So here is my “thought starter” for you today: if mine is suitcases, what is the thing that makes YOU stop and think about the breadth of another person’s story?

And this: how can each of us resist the temptation to pigeonhole one another?

 

Abundant blessings;

18
Sep
17

Try to Remember…

remember-clip-art“Sorry. I forgot.”

Boy… If I had a dollar for every time those words have come out of my mouth, I would have a LOT of money.

But then after I got that money, the challenge for me would be remembering where I put it!

It is a rather annoying part of my make-up I’ll admit. Forgetting can certainly increase friction on the home front – “Oh, sorry, honey… I forgot to ask her! Sorry, sweetheart! I forgot to bring that inside!” etc., etc.

Forgetting also increases gasoline expenditures… with all of that turning around and driving back to the store for those three things I forgot to buy.

And let’s not even start on the conversation about someone forgetting to renew his or her (actually, his) passport until TWO DAYS before a recent trip out of the country.

In my defense, I can say that I don’t discriminate in my forgetfulness. I forget big things, I forget small things; I forget things about people who are close to me, I forget things about casual acquaintances. I forget the names of black people, white people, gay people, straight people, American-born and non-American born people, Republicans and Democrats alike.

And this forgetting thing somehow doesn’t seem to DECREASE with the accumulation of birthday candles on my cake either… hard as that might be to believe.

It does trouble me, yes. It troubled me enough, in fact, to have some neurological tests done recently. (Weirdly, they came back saying my brain is perfectly OK.)

 But as troubling as MY forgetfulness is, I find myself significantly more worried about OUR forgetfulness. And by OUR, I mean humanity’s.

In the past thirty days we have experienced more than our fair share of calamitous events in this part of the world; two monster hurricanes that wreaked havoc and devastation… wildfires scorching thousands of acres of forest and destroying homes in the American west… and a giant earthquake just to our south in Mexico.

In every one of these situations, we saw incredible outpourings of heroic compassion. People who were complete strangers reached out to help their neighbors. I remember sitting in spellbound awe listening to a radio story about a man in Texas going from house to house to house in his bass boat helping people get to shelters, saving their pets, and delivering aid.

Money has been pouring into the American Red Cross and other assistance groups since even before the first hurricane hit. People in little churches and towns all around the country have been reaching out as if to say, “I may have never met them, but those are my brothers and sisters there in Texas and Florida and Oregon and Washington and Arizona whose lives are being torn apart by these disasters. I need to HELP!”

But then… Even before the waters have begun to recede… we forget.

  • We forget the humanity we share.
  • We forget the fragile nature of life on this planet.
  • We forget we live in a nation that once said we find “strength in diversity.”
  • We forget we are each made of the spiritual DNA of a loving, compassionate God.
  • We forget the “Love one another” commandment from John 15:5… or else we have edited it and added our own little caveat that says, “… but only in times of dire emergency.”
  • We forget the deep joy that comes from carrying our neighbor’s burden … and then also double forget Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” that is found in the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

diverse gatheringBut some things we remember all too well…

Sadly, we seem to remember to pick up the fears, prejudices, and mistrust of other people that we momentarily laid aside when the storms hit.

  • We “remember” the monumental importance of staking out our positions and platforms and defending them against all manner of heretical critique.
  • We remember who the “insiders” and the “outsiders” are and we rush to reinforce our walls of protection.

It’s funny; hurricanes, floods, fires, and earthquakes seem to remind us who our neighbors are.

But guess what… they’re the same people when the sun is out and the day is calm!

Let’s try to remember that.

Abundant blessings;

25
Jul
17

Artificially Intelligent

The Birth of Artificial IntelligenceBack in the Stone Age when I was young, there was a popular TV commercial for Memorex-brand cassette tapes. For those of you under the age of 40 who have no idea what a cassette tape is, go ask your uncle.

The Memorex people wanted to tell us that the quality of their recording tape was so good the average person couldn’t tell the difference between a real, live sound and sound recorded on Memorex recording tape.

Their catchy ad slogan was: “Is it live… or is it Memorex?”

According to an article I read in today’s paper, we might soon be asking a version of the same question about our next-door neighbors.

That might be stretching the point a little for the sake of argument, but it is not too far off base when it comes to the whole area of A.I., or artificial intelligence. AI is certainly not new, but it seems that the folks who have been toiling away in the AI labs around the world have been making a lot of progress lately.

Enough progress, in fact, to scare tech guru Elon Musk.

You know Elon Musk… he is the guy who can’t stop inventing stuff, from the Tesla battery-powered car to the reusable Space-X rocket to the supertrain known as the HyperLoop. You would think a guy with high tech credentials like these would be chomping at the bit to own a piece of a robot-filled future.

Instead, the Kansas City Star reports that Musk recently warned an audience that if we are not careful with AI, we might end up living in a world where the humans answer to the machines instead of the other way around.

It sounded like the world depicted in the movie I, Robot actually come to pass.

I don’t know if Mr. Musk is accurate or not, but the whole topic made me stop and think… using my genuine, authentic, grey matter human intelligence.

What is intelligence in the first place? And what makes one kind of intelligence natural and another kind artificial?

The dictionary says that anything made by human beings can be defined as artificial. Which, of course, means that this computer I am typing on, the desk that holds it up, the house I am sitting in, and the water bottle I just took a sip out of are all – technically – artificial.

Intelligence is defined as: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Using those definitions, I suppose it is not impossible to see how something made by human beings could acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Pausing for a minute and reading that last sentence again actually gave me a little shudder of dread.

I mean, yes, I would love to have my own domestic robot who could fry a perfectly over-medium egg, mow the lawn, and take the dog for a walk. But I am not at all sure I am comfortable with the idea of him (do robots have genders? Hmmmm.) acquiring his own knowledge and skills and running around applying them, willy-nilly.

I guess what I find fascinating in this whole conversation is the very thinly veiled fear that we might be entering a future filled with knowledge and technological wizardry, but utterly bereft of SOUL… for lack of a better word.

And the people who seem to be the most worried about the consequences of this soul-less future are the folks at the forefront of bringing it to us!

I think this is exactly the kind of situation that the word IRONY was invented to describe.

Intelligence is good. God did not put brains in our heads without expecting we would use them. Our intelligence is right at the forefront of reasons the psalmist says human beings are “… fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14).

But intelligence without soul and without heart is just plain fearful.

YES!… We need knowledge. We need skills. We need solutions to the complex, critical issues that face the world today.

But those skills and solutions have to flow from a renewed, soft, soulful heart… the one so lovingly fashioned by our God.

You and I have a choice about the kind of future we will enjoy; will we choose the hyper-efficient, albeit soul-less one? Or will we pick a slightly wobbly and off-kilter, soulful and thoroughly human future?

I know which one I’m voting for.

But please don’t tell the robots!

Abundant blessings;




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