Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Today I lay quietly on my bed engaged in diaphragmatic breathing, my wife stroking my head, in the moment, soothing, healing — us together, just being, a state being.

Tonight I make dinner, spaghetti squash and turkey meat balls topped with marinara sauce — doing. Delicious – the baked spaghetti squash caramelized and sweet as it plays off the savory meat and tangy tomato sauce. Me doing for myself and my partner. I was in a mode of doing.

Doing and being — these are interesting everyday modes of living with fascinating the similarities and differences! Both being and doing can be delicious, satisfying or frustrating.

Classically, analytically — thinkers have often separated being and doing. There is something to this. Being comes first. You have to be, in order to do. Being is a prerequisite to doing.

Being comes with being born and staying born. Doing follows. Being is preparatory, a kind of becoming, inward and often quiescent. Consider being in the womb. Doing is noisy, productive, outward, driven, active. Consider taking on a career. These crude distinctions make some sense, but reality is a bit more complex.

Take painting a room. We think of it as classic doing. If you want a room to look better, you don’t stand in it just being; you paint it. Painting is quintessential doing. It transforms a space. It makes history. Paint covers a multitude of previous trends, and it hides smudges and dirt around the light switches!

My wife and I worked on repainting the bathroom this morning. The creamy, thick paint rolled on sticky and wet. You could whiff the paint and hear the whir of the spinning roller as we pushed it up the wall.

But painting is the kind of doing where you can stand back when you are done and take a deep breath of satisfaction and suck in some fine, toxic volatile organic compounds, VOCS, that turn doing into a state of being — high!

So painting isn’t pure doing. Not at all. Painting can involve a creative state of being at the beginning of the project when one gets inspired and imagines possibilities, and it can include a reflective and appreciate state of being at the end when one admires the work. Painting isn’t all doing. We stand back, just being, satisfied!

As I left my wife finishing our paint job, we kissed on my way out, a kiss of solidarity. Doing this brought us into a state of mutualistic being. Interesting. Doing has the potential to create a community of being, of creating oneness.

But does being require doing to give it value or keep it in existence? We say things like “move or die,” as we validate the primacy of exercise and action. Even babies, who may not seem to be on a mission, kick and stretch and babble in preparation for walking, handling things, talking. What may appear to simply be existing is in fact very active and very purposive. Perhaps being always has a kind of doing built into it.

Maybe, but on the other hand, we can assert philosophically and spiritually that a baby or a very old person does not have to paint a bathroom or make dinner or even clean themselves or be at all productive to retain value. The new born infant in the arms and the very feeble grandma in the wheelchair are both treasured even when they can do little or nothing for themselves. The paralyzed person is yet of inestimable value. These limited ones are intrinsically valuable as being, not doing.

Indeed it is a horrible drift away from humanity and from civilization to only value human beings who are productive or valuable according to the norms of society. We’ve been there before with the ancients discarding unwanted babies to die of exposure or wild animals.

And as we know even today, in some parts of the world through sex-selective abortion, babies are terminated in pregnancy based upon the predicted sex of the infant. This is massively tragic thinking about being, making male being of more value than female being. And in many countries disabled people, especially in third world countries, are isolated from the experiences, school, work, social life. They remain hidden at home. I’ve seen this myself in Nicaragua. For us to do well as a planet we must retain the intrinsic sacredness and preciousness of all human life. Gender, disability, unattractiveness, low mental acuity must not become inferiority markers that entirely limit opportunities for normal productive life.

Yes, but while this is wonderfully noble, to aim at valuing all of humanity, to value nonproductive being, can we live this fancy talk out, practice it concerning our own beings? After a life of doing, can driven ones be content with less doing, with more just being? With resting? With not needing so much accomplishment? With less or even no painting, so to speak.

Perhaps not entirely. Most retired people are happiest when they have a project or are volunteering, or even working again. We are happiest when thinking of and doing something for someone else, not ourselves. We are happiest helping.

And yet the eventuality is that at some point our bodies run down and our opportunities to help become limited. Eventually age, poor health, weariness, changing mood, accidents — life stuff — interferes with productivity. And when this happens — and this can be very difficult for all of us — here is where we have to wisely shift our understandings of being and doing. Doing and being need new definitions for new seasons of life.

Today my wife and I played cards, talked, ate together, relaxed together, watched TV together. We produced nothing tangible during these moments of togetherness but just being together was special, meaningful, valuable.

Being present for and with someone in nonproductive leisure is an essential and precious element of wise living. There is a softness and quietness in these contented and grateful states of being. Such halcyon seas and safe harbors are sometimes missing from busy projects or social events.

It is remarkable and noteworthy that simply being who we are and where we are retains our meaningful place in the world. And there, in a quiet place, simply being kind, grateful and patient with ourselves and others sponsors being’s native sphere of influence. To be in a positive state of mind is to weld powerful influence. Being that is rooted in the nourishing energy of love emanates a power similar to doing. It changes the color of rooms.

Yet such elevated states of being don’t always come to us passively or easily. Sometimes we do great and terrible battle (note the “do” here) to achieve the quieter, more peaceful nodes of being. Often we must cast off bitterness, despair, negativity, jealousy, pride and more to win peace of mind.

My father at 91, lives in a small room with a few books a TV and a small bed. The other day he enthused, “I’m richer than Bill Gates!” The shock waves of that statement are still basing against the doors of the universe. My dad is very godly and quiet man and spends much time alone. And yet his gratitude emanates past the stars and provides a model of being for our whole family and all who encounter him.

To be, to do; to do, to be — life is a sequential, repeating, overlapping, alternating process But people like my father make it implicitly clear that noble states of being are possible in circumstances where there is little opportunity for the kind of doing and having that Fenelon says brings “courage to the senses.”

To help us all navigate the tidal nature of doing and being, perhaps a helpful question presents itself:

What is this season of life asking from you?

Perhaps it is more doing, perhaps it is more being. Perhaps it is practicing and increasing in a more contented and graceful form of being. Upping the value of the value of being may be challenging in western culture as there is some bias against giving being a commensurate value with doing. Among many go-getters simply being present, reflection, rest, meditation — even forms of robust tranquility such as prayer — are dispreferred. Perhaps it is a different mix or ratio of these that we need, different from what we have lived before.

Whatever the answer, stay realistic. Change is a process. Navigating the high seas and strong currents of being and doing is paint and brush work. Living out our doing and living out our being is like painting. Expect drips, runs and blotches and redos, and at least two coats of paint on every surface.

And expect success. Expect a kiss at the end. Expect to be kissed by reality. I see the universe as being on the side of the good. I see God as the guide to productive action and to precious, sweet, peaceful, grateful states of being. I see one of the great purposes of life as arriving at a more enlightened state of being characterized by love and kindness and gratitude and the celebration of all kinds of beauty. 

For me, God has provided the quintessential model for us. You work (do) and then you sit down and you rest (be) and you look at your work and out of a sweet, peaceful, calm satisfied state of being you say, “It’s good!”

This week I’ve been hanging around at home with a few grad students as they stay at my house.

It’s interesting! They’re fascinating as representatives of new perspectives on lots of things, coffee, float spas, Confucianism, pedagogy (the art of teaching), gender sensitivity, racism, children’s literature, body shaming, academic culture, LGBTQ issues, Christianity.

There’s been a cultural shift that they represent. Many of our young adults are disillusioned with institutions, hard-and-fast rules, black-and-white thinking, moralistic traditionalism, judgmentalism. Of course, I am friends with other young people who remain quite conservative, comfortable with the conceptual categories and ethics they’ve been taught, but I to gravitate toward these more open thinkers. I have made the journey with them.

Why? Why do I like the questioning, the openness, the desire to move beyond our past understanding.

Because I think they treck a wiser path, and I think Christians in particular should listen to them.

One of my young moderns told me recently she was doing yoga and that her Catholic friend told her it was from the devil. Of course that’s not true, and of course she found that offensive and ignorant. She also told me that she had been raised Catholic but she decided she didn’t want to hate gay people and so she left the church. Of course, not all Catholics hate gay people, nor does the pope, but she was describing a kind of intolerance that didn’t seem loving or wise to her.

Another of my young progressive friends told me recently that he was reading Confucianism. I’ve read Confucius. I like him. Some Christians categorically oppose all eastern religions and philosophies. But there is another way to look at this. There is an ethos in Confucius that aligns with the ethos of Jesus. Confucius emphasized respect in relationships, filial piety, righteousness, human heartedness, goodness, benevolence. These are good things, Jesus things; these create good relationships. Christians can honor these teachings without turning them into religion, without abandoning what Jesus taught.

And one other of my young friends can’t seem to find a church where women are equally respected with men in pastoral and leadership roles. She wants that. She won’t compromise. I respect her for that. There is good Biblical support for that, if you want to see it. But in her community, that’s not to be found. I suspect many modern young women feel the same.

It’s good to remember that Jesus is simple. He taught us to love our neighbor. He taught us to love God. He taught us to be friends to strangers, to include the alien. When Jesus told us to go into all the world to represent him, he didn’t mean to go out and beat people up with morals, systematic theology’s or our preferred culture. I can imagine Jesus, even Paul, having a respectful conversation and debate with friendships with people of our worlds many different traditions. Jesus was motivated by love, not hate and he wanted to have dialogues not just preach sermons.

I’m not at all suggesting that there isn’t ignorance and falsehood and misinterpretation and oppression in the many philosophies and religions of the world. We all error in our thinking and believing. Christianity itself has often been mistaught, warped beyond recognition. And I’m not suggesting we l don’t contend for what is valid, true, wisest the best we know.

But consider Paul. When Paul went to Athens he identified with some of the things the Athenians believed. He started out with the truth that in God we all live and move and have our being. He honored their thinking.

In approaching our faith communities, other lifestyles, in approaching people on the other side of a political line, Christians need to remember that the people in all other groups are created in the image of God, God sends his sunshine and rain and blessings on them too, they too live and move in God, aware of that or not. They too have truth.

Let’s not turn Christianity into a bunch of rules, a raft of intolerance, a bunch of propositions or judgements we write on slate and present as a systematic theology that all others must accept to be loved by God or to be spiritual. That’s not working. Many modern people are abandoning the church because of that very kind of thinking. Intolerance isn’t attractive. It isn’t the mission Jesus started. He himself said he didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it.

Humility would suggest we go out into our world to learn, to listen more, to realize that truth is often a balance between two extremes, to realize we are the not the only ones who know stuff. How fascinating to explore, to better understand. How wise not to be threatened, to be willing to accept new interpretations, new perspectives, a different way of looking at the same old thing. How fascinating to be like Jesus. to love people.

Here is what we were taught to do.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7-8

Our country is divided and not simply by the Mississippi.

Racism, political perspectives, gender, immigration, our President, religion, foreign policy, climate control  — we are even divided on how to fight about all this.

It’s a fight. So how do we fight?

Do we call each other out? Publicly, online, in social media? Or do we call each other “in,” privately, “Let’s have a talk,” then hug.

Loretta Ross wrote an article in August published in the New York Times,”I’m a Black Feminist. I Think Call-Out Culture Is Toxic.”

She wrote the following, “Call-outs make people fearful of being targeted. People avoid meaningful conversations when hypervigilant perfectionists point out apparent mistakes, feeding the cannibalistic maw of the cancel culture. Shaming people for when they “woke up” presupposes rigid political standards for acceptable discourse and enlists others to pile on. Sometimes it’s just ruthless hazing.”

“We can change this culture. Calling-in is simply a call-out done with love. Some corrections can be made privately.”

Karla Thomas writing  for Medium in an article called, ‘Mad About Call-out Culture?: Stop Centering White Cultural Norms & Feelings” disagreed. She says there is a clear need to publicly call out wrong, loud and clear, in order to reform our culture and move toward fairness.

Interrupting racially offensive behavior, (or any other –ism,) in the same forum or elevated forum and at the same volume as the aggression was made, is paramount to ensuring that anyone from the oppressed group in ear or eye shot knows that those transgressions were seen and will not go unaddressed.”

“It is critical here to realize, that when an aggressor makes a transgression then is called out, and the rebuttal is, “well you could have told me in a nicer manner” or “it’s rude to call someone racist,” there is a clear and purposeful choice to avoid the message that points out their racism and to focus on the messenger.” 

Both make good points. The articles would be worth your time. They were published in August and are easy to find.

How do we heal our divide, particularly over what divides us the most.

Call people “in” and work together, that is for sure needed. Call out abuse, lies, hate, racism, gender inequality — that’s needed too. We must never silence oppressed, harmed voices.

Let’s talk about racism. The articles focused on that. For you who are white and think racism is not a big deal for you, I’d encourage you to read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. Her books are worth your time. School yourself! Open your minds.

What do you think?

I think racism is a huge problem in the United States and we need get to talking more and better about this soon. This is important. We better take some action to bring about change. This matters now!

What would Jesus have to say to us about all this. He sure did some publicly calling out of wrong. He was ruthless on the people who thought they were the best class, better than others, but then he defended the women called out for adultery. Jesus always defended the oppressed. He always confronted the powerful, privileged elite. What does that tell you?

Wisdom knows when to say what! And wisdom chooses the most powerful and effective way to say it.

Feel free to post a comment. Just click the talk bubble at the top of this post and comment there.

Thanks!

Lately I’ve had to let go of some things, things in the past, and I’ve been thinking about how we do this.

My mom passed away a few years ago so I had to let go of my mom. My oldest daughter recently moved out of the house to a perfect place for her, so I needed to let go of her. My youngest daughter got married a year ago and so there was a new letting go of her and also an including of my new son-in-law.

It’s not that I’m not still connected to the girls anymore, or even my mom, but that I’m okay with these relationships being different. I think what helps me is to realize that everything changes over time, nothing stays the same, relationships morph with the different stages of life and that the best thing to do is to accept that, and to flow with that.

I find the need for this in other areas of my life too. This year I let go of my career; I let go of the bigger house — we sold it — I let go of being a public figure. I’ve even let go of having a normal routine because of some chronic pain.

I think that moving forward in a healthy way involves simply being realistic. We have to make friends with new realities. It isn’t like it was. It’s different. And wishing it were back to what it was tends to forget the things that we didn’t like about the way it was. Reality is reality. Not accepting changes increases pain. Flowing with what is real is the only sane and safe way to proceed.

All this relates to old conflicts, old hurts, old broken relationships too. It’s not like we just get over old relational drama, but we find different places to put it. We put it in perspective. We put it in more gentle places of non-judgment. And by doing so we heal, realize that we’re going to be okay, realize how much we have learned from our mistakes — and from the mistakes of others.

Bob Dylan is now passé; he’s part of history, but his good lines and honest truths aren’t. The “times — they are [still] a changin’.” Wise ones change with them.

There is a sense of “moving on“ for all of us, and a healthy perspective of “gettin’ on down the road.” But I’ve certainly realized that I never move on without bringing everything from the past with me. Really, it all comes along, but the thing is how do I pack it to go with us on the ride? I’m thinking I pack it, we pack it, and we repack it gently. I’m thinking that it works best if we are willing to rearrange our views of the past as needed in light of new information and new realities, and that we always need to keep learning from the past because the past is such an excellent teacher, and the past just keeps on giving; its lessons are ever-giving, like a good orange tree.

Finally, there’s so much present and future still to live, to motivate us, to invest in that this best becomes our healthy focus. Really, moving on means embracing the possibilities with in the present and future in an excited, energized, hopeful way. Letting go means engaging the present, trained by the past, but energized by the next great adventure.

I’m currently finishing my third novel. How? Why? Because I quit doing a bunch of stuff that was taking up all my time, and I’ve started doing something that’s taking up all my heart. It is something that’s always been mine to do. But to do it I had it stop doing a bunch of other things.

Moving on means not being stuck, afraid of change, overly atavistic, traditional, all status quo and old school, predictable and safe. Moving on means being adventurous, free, modern, hip, avant-garde, steezy, cool and with it.

So get over it — by getting with it!

One constant in life has been well noted — change. You can count on change; you can build on change; you can take change to the bank.

Everything changes.

Last year my mom died, I moved. My daughter got married. She moved. I initiated a succession plan at work — for my own position. The staff team I have spent years gathering and nurturing  —  they are moving on to new things. A lot has changed.

Change, for me, has worn several faces.

The first face of change — it’s scary. That long, looming, lonely look that Father Change throws my way is lined with fear and with anxiety and with grief.  I grieve. I’m losing something; there it goes. I’ve lost it.  What will life be like now? What will life be like without my mom? Without the house. Without work? Without my team? The water I just jumped into feels a bit cold. Did I jump, or was I thrown — a bit of both.

Life throws us as we jump.

Great.

The second face change wears is the face of curiosity, the less fearful face of “this-is-interesting, maybe-this-will-be-okay, well, fine then!”

During my move into the new zip code, the new change zone, I find that I adjust, I get used to new feelings, new realities, I ask questions, I gather information, I get excited, I make new choices, I form new relationships. I let go, I adapt. I step in.

Lately, I have been mentoring my replacement at work, the new leader, the new nonprofit CEO. I like it. I like empowering new leaders.  I always have always liked that thing where you give someone an opportunity, you bring out the best in them, and you watch them thrive.

I leave a whole string of empowered people in my wake. I like that.

And lately, and lastly, as I approach my own retirement — it’s coming with the spring this year — I find myself more reflective, more calm, quiet, kind to others, kind to myself.. I am content with what has happened, with the then and the now.  I sit in the past; I soak in the present, I grow porous toward the future. I find myself grateful — extremely grateful — for my life.

The third face of change — it has a calm, quiet contented face. Life here doesn’t feel transitional. I’ve arrived somewhere new; it’s good. I have moved from discomfort to acceptance. I am incorporating new realities into my daily life; the surrounding water is warm, the new — it is becoming the  familiar.

Did someone change the ambient temperature of my life?

No, I adjusted.

What to think of all this?

Well, again, change —  it’s certain.

It will happen again, and again and again. Change stutters.

A couple of thoughts.

When I lose — and I will lose more things ahead —  I will sit with my losses, I will feel them, I will know them and I will befriend them.

And as new things enter my life, I will communicate, communicate and then communicate — with my inner circle, with my loves, with my precious ones. I will apply the talking cure — to myself. I will talk out my feelings of discomfort. I will talk out my fears; I will talk about my excitement, and I will talk my way through my lovely changes.

And lastly, I will commit to remaining flexible, plastic, stretchable, open, exploratory, positive, curious —  fascinated!

I will change, within the changes that reside deep within the changing changes, of my constantly changing life.