Posts Tagged ‘how to thrive’

When we consider other’s pain, their particular form of suffering, we often don’t know what to say or do, so we do or say nothing.

Recently my dad told me that his vision has deteriorated so much he can’t read. What to say?

It’s hard. I’ve been in that linguistic vacuum of not knowing. It’s awkward.

But lately, suffering my own significant degree of pain and loss, I better see what can be said or done.

After hearing about my dad‘s loss of vision, I asked him what he’s been doing with his time. I was interested. He had some things to say. He’s been sitting in beautiful spaces taking in the scenery. It was good. I didn’t really say anything, just listened.

Sometimes It’s OK to be silent if it is attend by interest and questions. Silence is fine —- as long as we are still present. Just sitting with someone in a waiting room at the hospital, just listening on the phone and not giving any advice, this can be so respectful and honoring.

But there are things to say. Wisdom has words. Wisdom communicates.



We can ask questions. We can draw out the person’s experiences, thoughts and feelings. Recently, upon hearing that one of my daughters was struggling with her emotions, I encouraged her to write her feelings in a journal and then to send them to me. She now does that regularly, and I respond with “Good job,” and “A+” drawing from my experience as a teacher. Sometimes we discuss what she has written.

Feelings — they are best approached as being normal, human, not right or wrong. I love the line — upon hearing of someone’s fear or embarrassment or shame or anxiety — “Considering what you are going through, anyone would feel that way.” It is so salutary to normalize people’s feelings.

Next we can relate to and acknowledge the whole person. We are more than our suffering, even when it seems to dominate. Recently I received a text from a friend asking me if I would like to speak to his congregation. He was honoring what I used to do. We had some fun with it. I often used a barstool while speaking. I did so to give a relaxed, human, cool, down-to-earth vibe to my presentations. I told him now that I’m suffering chronic pain, I’d have to speak laying down on the stage, and I would invite people to sit around me. It would be a new take on on casualness. The sermon on the ground! My friend saw me as more than my pain. We could laugh about it. Humor helps.

Another approach is to speak of good memories. Recently we heard of a friend who doesn’t have much longer to live. Despite some years of separation, even some alienation, we wrote notes to her remembering all the good things we experienced together earlier in life. Remembering the good, when you’re faced with the bad, it’s helpful.

Finally, instead of focusing on dysfunction, disability or pain, we can focus a person on what is good in them. Someone told me recently, “You are so strong, you’re brave.” He spoke of my previous accomplishments in reinventing organizations. I needed that. I was feeling weak, afraid and unaccomplished. It was good to be reminded that strength is still there within.

As I hung up with my dad the other day, he said he felt so guilty for not calling me. I told him that was OK. I had no judgment of him. He thanked me for this. This is something my pain has done for me. It’s knocked the criticalness out of me. It is powerful to relate to others without judgment.

Pain and hardship, it’s rough, but we can still talk during it, and at the very least we can go through it together.

Lemurs, living only in the island of Madagascar, are unique, endangered and fascinating. I love their bright, wild, colorful eyes.

26 million people also live on Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island. They are amazing and unique. Many are poor. Some we might say are endangered.

They live with many types of lemurs. Sclater’s lemurs have bright blue eyes. Other lemurs have red eyes. Sounds familiar.

Indris lemurs sing. The adults sing together, the younger lemurs sing out of sync. Same with us. Some in sync, some not. Across the planet, among the nations not in sync enough.

Ring-tail lemurs have stink fights, flicking their stinky tails at each other. Yup, our fights stink too. And worse. We savage each other.

Sifaka lemurs use signals and pitch intonations, and they laugh. Hmmm. Humanesque.

Lemur females rule their social groups. Maybe since we have so much in common with Lemurs, we should try that too.

On the other hands the ruling female lemurs snatch food out of the male’s grasps. Makes you wonder — matriarchy, just another form of dominance.

What if we tried an approach uncommon in the world of Lemurs or humans, a new arrangement, no dominance, no food snatching, male and female in sync, no one endangered, everyone with bright eyes.

Lulu Miller has written a new book called Why Fish Don’t Exist. It was featured recently in a podcast from Radiolab

Miller’s book is about David Starr Jordan, a man who grew up loving stars, flowers and fish and devoted his life to the “hidden and insignificant.”

Jordan eventually became the founding president of Stanford University. And he grew into a fanatic ichthyologist. His “Genera of Fishes,” massed 7,800 fishes names. He claimed 1,200 had been provided by him or his students.

But his life was eventually filled with chaos, difficulty and tragedy. His wife died, his two daughters died. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 turned to chaos 30 years of his work as an ichthyologist.

How did he go on? He was an incorrigible optimist. And he tirelessly pursued knowledge. Ordering the world gave him purpose.

But, Jordan’s is a cautionary tale. Jordan turned to eugenics and came to believe that we would do well to selectively breed the best humans and sterilize those who were inferior. Jordan’s obsession with the survival of Nordic whites was fueled by his deep-seated racism. Yikes! How horrible! He got stuck in a horrific false belief. But how similar to today. What an interesting commentary on our time as people continue in our country to espouse that one race is better than another.

But there are some other lessons Miller finds in Jordan’s life. He was complicated. We all are. He suffered chaos. We all do. He had losses. We all do. He was unreasonably optimistic. That is sometimes smart. He developed and clung to a horrible belief. Sound familiar? Haven’t we all?

Miller is not a person of religious faith, just the opposite, and some of her thinking will surely be deemed heretical to the categorically minded and the faithful, but she has something to teach, even those of us who have faith in God or in science or in a particular view of one of those or in a long-held view of types of humans.

The thought: Re-examine your categories.

Yes, there are categories we all use everyday that make sense out of the world. And some things are horrible and harmful, like David Starr Jordan’s eugenics or the Nazis’s racial views, but what if we ourselves worked on getting unstuck from ridged thinking and tried to think with nuance, especially about each other.

This really seems necessary these days, when in the U.S. we divide the world into rich or poor, educated or not, conservative or liberal, scientific or non-scientific, coastal or mid America, Republican or Democrat, protesters or not protesters, this religion or that, this racial group or that — especially when there is no clear scientific evidence for the concept of race.

Our categories often interfere with our relationships. We develop very narrow classifications. An “us” versus “them” thinking gets us stuck without mutually beneficial solutions. As I read more history and science I am seeing that life is so much messier than I ever thought.

Categories, sure they’ve done a lot of good in science and medicine, in discussions about law and morality, in understanding animals and groups of living things, really in so many areas of life. But they also can hinder us so much in finding new connections and new solutions.

Take fish says Miller. Yes, we can say “fish,” and that makes a categorical kind of sense, but did you know that “the lung fish is more closely related to a cow than a fish.”

Our familiar categories need new thinking.

Perhaps “we are all fish.” Perhaps we are all much more alike than we have previously thought.


Posted: July 10, 2020 in unity
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With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

Ephesians 1:8-10

Sometimes it seems as if we could define world history as one person or one group hating another. The pogroms, colonization, slavery, wars — we have bashed and dominated each other from the beginning. The ancient Dorian invasion, Anglo-Saxon warfare, the brutal Assyrians. The Vikings. It’s endless. The empire building Romans. The life-crushing colonial, mercantile dominance of Spain and then England. Japan and China. India and Pakistan. The horror — every era has its brutalities. Our bloody kin-on-kin, American versus American civil war. The 20th century was the worst with two world wars.

These days it is no different in the United Un-United States. The enemy is defined as a group, the other political party, the right, the left, the immigrants, the Russians, the Chinese, the Muslims.

But hatred, unjust wars — wars of protection differ from those of domination — patriarchy, racism, oppression of the weak and the poor do not in anyway fit with the purpose of Christ. Remember he came for all of us, for the other religious groups — remember Jesus and the Samaritans — for the sinners, the poor, for the disenfranchised, for those who are Jewish, for those who are Gentile. John says, “he did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.” Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors which he defined and modeled as including everyone.

Perhaps we have missed this, but he has “made known his will.” It may be a mystery as to who and perhaps even how but there is no mystery as to what. His will is unity. And His will is to be our will. Unity.

The fulfillment? When? Note Paul wrote about “times” of fulfillment, plural. Fulfillment began when Jesus came, and continued through all of history since then and continues now. God is on it. He is saving and unifying now. Love, the kingdom, this was never meant to be only future tense. There will be a completion to the process, a final fulfillment of unity, but the process began in Christ’s sacrifice for us that forgives and undoes disunity.

I love it that we see many young people in American culture with inclusive attitudes. Many churches are also moving in this direction and reaching out to their whole communities. Many older people now say they want the political parties to work together more.

We can get back to the purpose of Christ, especially we Christians. We can work to unify the earth as much as we can. “On earth as it is in heaven,” remember. The Christ-taught prayer is that heaven’s look is to begin here.

We are to love and bring unifying love now. But we are not loving our neighbor when we condemn and vilify our neighbor. We are not loving our neighbor when we divide the world into racial groups and stigmatize and leave out people because of the color of their skin. We are not loving our neighbor when we entrenched in a political group and refused to work out a compromise with those who think differently, especially when we both want to do good but have different approaches to implement that good. We are not loving our neighbor nations when we don’t care about their welfare. We are not loving our neighbor when we do not care about their health, and we do not want everyone to have healthcare. We are not unifying all things in Christ when we abuse people or abuse the planet, when we trash the beautiful earth that God gave to all of us. We are not loving future generation that will live in the pollution we have created. We are certainly not loving when we do violence to each other. The Christian crusades? They were not the way of the turn-the-other-cheek, love-your-neighbor, go-into-all-the world-with-the-gospel Christ.

Some might object and say Christ is a sword, even dividing families. Yes, divisions will occur over him, he said so, he knew so, in families, even in churches and among Christians, but that isn’t something we are called to initiate or facilitate. Blessed are the peacemakers.

And when divisions do happen we still are called to pray for and forgive others. We were told to love everyone, even our enemies; that’s what Jesus commanded us to do. When we don’t we miss the main purpose of Christ. His purpose, his goal, what he will do, is to unify. That’s what Paul taught in Ephesians 1. We don’t know how he will do that, we don’t know what or who will be left out or included in that — we know evil will not be included in that — but it is our job to join Christ in that, to work in Christ and his leading to “bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth.”

That’s certainly the way he acted when he was here with us. We can think of reasons why some people are not one with us, and never will be, but no matter what anyone else is doing we can make Christ’s goals of love and salvation and redemption and unity our goals too, the best we can.

This will be messy. Look around, live and take note, we live a kind of glorious mess. Most of us will blow it at some point or more and bring some disunity in our family, in our world. Even with those we love. Be honest. You too. Me too. Them too. Us too. Whole groups of people. But we can also have so many wins as we work through our issues and learn to love more. And the good thing is that we now know what the end will look like in Christ — oneness.

The volcanoes of the earth teach us lessons in reality. They ravage the earth, but they also bring it life. The same forces that destroy, build. After devastating a region, the rich volcanic soils that remain become fertile ground for new things.

Volcanism is perhaps a good metaphor for some of our own life experiences. Great human losses may be followed by great gains. In 2000 I suffered some volcanic-like health issues. This was followed by 20 years of great productivity.

Simon Winchester, in his book Krakatoa, ruminating on the destructive aspect of earth’s tectonic plates in causing earthquakes and volcanoes, notes the creative force of volcanism.

Winchester writes, “The water, carbon dioxide, carbon, and sulfur that are so central to the making and maintenance of organic life are all being constantly recycled by the world’s volcanoes—which were also the probable origins of the earth’s atmosphere in the very first place. It is not merely that volcanoes bring fertile volcanic soils or useful minerals to the surface; what is more crucial is their role in the process of bringing from the secret storehouses of the inner earth the elements that allow the outer earth, the biosphere and the lithosphere, to be so vibrantly alive.”

An example of this would be Rakata, an Indonesian island that was burned lifeless by the eruption of the nearby Krakatoa volcano of 1883. Forty years later Rakata was overgrown with grasses and ferns and plants. In short order it was full of birds. It eventually proved to be home to 621 species of animals. It’s a jungle; it isn’t a civilized paradise, but it’s alive.

Life from death. God made the earth to work like this. He fashioned us this way too.

It is no stretch to say that we are ourselves volcanic. Our bodies, while beautiful, strong and capable of great growth, over time eventually unravel. Underlying forces — conflicts, diseases, senescence — eventually come into dramatic, tectonic-like, magma-like play and we are undone. We all experience this.

But all is not lost. Out of us, out of the rich soil of our undoings, may yet spring to life new life, life more abundant.

“Enrosadira is the term given to the phenomenon by which most of the peaks in the Dolomites at dawn and dusk, take on a pink/reddish color, which gradually turns into violet.”

“The reason behind the changing colors is due to the calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate of the dolomite, the mineral found in large quantities in the walls … At sunrise and sunset, the rocky cliffs take on hues that vary from light yellow to bright red, to different shades of pink and violet, until the mountains disappear in the dark of night.”

Italy Magazine

“Alpenglow” is a similar term, the “optical phenomenon that appears as a horizontal reddish glow near the horizon opposite to the Sun when the solar disk is just below the horizon. This effect is easily visible when mountains are illuminated, but can also be seen when clouds are lit through backscatter.”


Some of the best colors of the sky occur in the transition zone between light and dark.

The same phenomenon can be observed in our interior lives. In transition between one stage of life and another, between one age of life and another, between one experience and another we can often detect new shades and hues of emotional and mental color.

At such times our focus and our values may change. Sometimes we experience this is loss. We may have lost some of the precious colors of life. But there’s also a gain as light changes. With such change, perhaps we find the ability to see what is most of value. New colors appear, shades of rosy remembrances, of softening judgments, of future hopes.

Darkness comes but the dawn is always attendant. We wait, anticipating new light.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk and well-known speaker on gratefulness as spiritual practice, teaches that there is a direct link between joy and gratefulness.

He has written that “the root of joy is gratefulness … It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

And David goes on to add, “We are never more than one grateful thought away from peace of heart.”

To practice gratitude or appreciative discernment, call to mind your appreciation for someone you know, a family member or a friend. Or think of a trip you took, a time when you had the privilege of being generous, a place in nature.

Today I’m grateful for you, my friends, my connected ones who follow my blog and take heart from my posts. It is my delight that we are connected in this way. My goal is to serve you tasty word meals. I enjoy knowing that you, like me feast on truth.

Today’s post is your amuse bouche, your bite-sized hors d’œuvre served gratis and according to me, your truth chef.

Eat up, chomp down on your appreciation for the good in your life.

Then breathe in and out your gratefulness to God.

We’ve been watching a bit of TV during social isolation, and more than a bit.

We’ve seen some fun stuff, but in our shows we have also happened on a lot of rough, dark stuff. Many shows are based on or include abuse, violence and suffering. Murder fuels a lot of TV.

Last night the last show we watched was a murder mystery. As the show unfolded we found a coach sexually abusing his players. The plot included an extended boxing match where two young men pounded each other’s heads. We fast forwarded through the fight. I personally don’t like watching people hitting other people in the face until one of them is knocked out.

Is this soft? I think it’s sane. Watch what you want, but keep real life in mind. What makes good TV ruins real people’s lives. Concussions cause brain damage.

In 2020, the world suffers — and at this same time as I suffer my own chronic pain — perhaps I and we have an opportunity to change. Perhaps we might find our capacity for tolerating suffering diminished.

My growing awareness of how much some people or groups of people are harmed challenges me to want to stop such damage in our world. I want to protect and secure people’s safety.

What can I do in that direction? What can all of us do?

We can grieve. Once in a board meeting, as we dealt with a issue involving hurt and loss, one of the board members began to cry. Then she said, “I’m sorry to cry.”

I turned to her and said, “Yours is the most appropriate response.”

What but tears? Tears are the highest form of empathy and the highest form of judgment. As we mature we have the potential to grieve the world’s losses.

What else? We can get angry. Anger toward wrong doing is the appropriate reaction. Anger is motivating. Anger under control, that takes action, is the fuel of reform. I just read a biography of Frederick Douglass. When he got angry he got eloquent and he went to work to abolish slavery. We can use our anger to motivate us to fund and volunteer for organizations working for social change and justice.

We can take political action. We can elect those who are peacemakers and protectors and those who unite people rather than dividing them. We can not elect those who create an “us” and “them” culture. That sets the stage for violence.

And we can elect the oppressed. That’s hugely necessary. They are the ones who have authentic voices that need to be heard for systems that traffic in sanctioned violence to be reformed. Violence and oppression is often systemic. It is built into the very machine of society and of government. To end it will take a willingness to give the very people who are harmed and oppressed power, women, racial minorities, the disabled, people of different religious orientations or sexual orientations.

The majority, the privileged, must empower the minority for the safety and well being of all. In John Steinbeck’s novel The Moon Is Down, he asserts that an oppressed people will resist. And rightly so. How do we deal with that? Oppress them more? No, we wisely deal with that by ceasing to oppress them, by empowering them. That safeties all of us.

Lastly, we ourselves must not engage in violence. In our homes we must refuse to dominate and oppress our families. It would be easy to think that we don’t do that. But criticalness and judgment is often at the very core of family relationships. I know my own criticalness has caused harm in my own family, and I myself need to turn away from any behaviors or verbal expressions that don’t honor the other members.

TV has had our attention. What do we do now as society opens back up? Perhaps we go to work creating a world that inspires some better TV.

Jenny Odell in her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy makes a case for re-examine our lives and considering seeing the “usefulness of uselessness. “

That rings a bell these days as we reflect on the last few months of social isolation. What have we learned? Perhaps we have learned how to do a nothing that is a something. Perhaps we have simply learned to tolerate being quiet. Perhaps we have been taught how to do less but love ourselves the same or more. Perhaps we have learned we have value even when we don’t appear in public.

Did we just lose two months? No, we lived those. And we connected with family. And we connected with others by texting and video chatting and sending pictures and anyway we could. Maybe we learned how to reach out with sincere concern for others more. Perhaps we learned not to wait for others to make contact.

What kind of life might we return to as society opens back up?

We might jump back into rushing around from place to place. Hopefully we don’t just renter the ratty-rat-a-tat-tat race. Let’s not fail to have learned that aloneness, repose, quiet, even fear have something to teach us. What have you learned in this time?

Perhaps we have learned that we are stronger than we thought. I learned I was both weaker and stronger. Perhaps we could see that society and work and school and even church and particularly social media drives us to keep trying to project public worth or success. But we have value because we exist. Gods love for us and our love for us isn’t based on starring. When we haven’t much to brag about on Facebook, we still have value.

Odell writes, “It is the invasive logic of commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction. It is furthermore the cult of individuality and personal branding that grow out of such platforms and affect the way we think about our offline selves and the places where we actually live.”

Do we have to appear on social media to feel alive, valuable, present? Nope. Do we have to post pictures that make us look happy to be happy? No, research shows us that online “likes” — the social validation and feedback loop — actually just makes us more anxious and insecure.

What if, as we re-enter being social or working again, we carry a new sense of a resilient self forward, a new appreciation for the family we live with, a fresh value for silence, a treasuring of the value of being alone, and the sweetness of a self-affirming interiority? What if we don’t go back to trying to prove we have value. We just do.

We are not first a brand or an image to keep up by showing up. We are not a personage appearing but a person always, not an it but a thou, not alone no matter how alone we were or are.

What have we learned by sometimes doing nothing that was something these last few months?

Perhaps, producing or not, being public or not, we have learned to hold ourselves dear, and to hold others dearest.

I ordered flowers for my wife last week. They almost made up for all the demands I have put on her for about — one day, but it was my utmost for the moment considering the limits of the pandemic. While living in extremis, giving what we can is still satisfying.

Almost is often the beautiful and satisfying result of utmost.

I used to workout at the gym. I can’t do that now so I use my stretchy bands at home. It’s an incomplete form of exercise, and yet it still successfully competes with what I did before.

Incomplete can still compete.

I look to God as the foremost beings in the universe, and I pray to him, but I know my prayers aren’t perfect. Too much asking. Not enough gratitude I’d say. I even think sometimes I could even be accused of acedia, spiritual sloth. I can’t seem to pray like I used to, but it’s almost as good.

My almost for His foremost.

I built four stonewalls last year in my gardens. I overdid it. I do that, sometimes, and sometimes the amount of work I do in a day is just right.

Sometimes is more honest than always.

The last couple of months I’ve spent mostly prone. Sick. Yuck. Laid low. Vulnerable. Blinkered. But I did orchestrate new financial arrangements for my family that brought about gains for my wife and I and both of my daughters. I had to work on accepting my limits and find successes where I could.

A partial victory is the satisfying reward given to acceptance.

Yesterday, I almost made the quintessential cup of espresso. I missed because the milk didn’t foam quite right. Great! Shoot!

Almost is a kind of first — and last.

My wife retired from her career as an archivist and a library loan specialist and then the pandemic hit. She had plans to volunteer at the zoo and exercise at the gym, but both of those are put on hold. Loss. Now she shops for groceries in a mask and supports me in the rough patch that I’ve been going through with my body. She makes huge, valiant and heroic efforts to normalize our lives.

Effort is often heroic and exists as a kind of loss steeped in kettle of valiant.

I’ve had careers as a teacher, a writer and a pastor. I was fairly satisfied with those, but careers are always in process and always present new challenges and new decisions to advance new initiatives. The goal never looked like one peak; it was more like making an constinuous approach march to many different high places.

Life is not summiting; it’s trailblazing.

Now I blog. And you my dear reader, you read. Thanks for that. It bonds us. Through this we come to some degree of connected wisdom, but wisdom is always something we practice on the next new challenge, and we often almost get it right. That’s the way it works. It’s kind of like playing a song on the piano and then trying it again, trying to interpret it and put the emotion and meaning it deserves into it. Practicing always invites us to another try.

Almost is a routine part of discipline.

A few weeks ago, before dawn, I took my telescope outside and looked at Jupiter and Saturn. I could see the moons of Jupiter orbiting the great planet, and the gorgeous ring of Saturn almost resolved, but I noted that the telescope was slightly out of alignment and so the mirrors weren’t quite up to the task. I gave it my total effort and so did the scope. I almost saw the fine detail in beautiful things, and as I look back on it I did see something beautiful in the try.

Almost is one of the most beautiful and coveted outcomes of total.

By now you must be getting the point. Almost — it is as common as a potato on a dinner plate. Almost, is good, like strawberries when they are almost but not quite perfectly sweet and not quite deliciously ripe. They are still good, especially if you top them with whipped cream.

Life is full of “almost,” the almost perfect relationship, the almost beautiful garden, the almost but not quite completed persona, and accepting that in one area of the fight can act as a halo effect, giving us contentment in other areas that don’t live up to perfectly perfect. To be satisfied with life — the limits it imposes, the yet unsung song it sings, the way things don’t always work out perfectly, we do well to come to a deep acceptance of an essential and ever-present ingredient of it. We do extremely well to value and love the je ne sais quoi that makes us mature, the hard to accept, the challenge to embrace — the amazing “almost.”


If you like short, pithy, aphoristic expressions of insight, you can find more of my thought-proverbs, aphorisms and epigrams at