December 31, 2005
I don't think this has happened to me until now. Yesterday I 'forgot' to blog. I've been faced with too little time or no connection before, but I have never forgot to post a blog entry. Yesterday I did. I was preoccupied with other things and thought nothing of it. Of course I have been in Narnia and in Narnia animals speak and girls can choose who they will marry. It's all quite enchanting. Right now I am about one third of the way through the 'Chronicles of Narnia' book. I find it quite refreshing to read a series of children's books. The Author, C.S. Lewis has a unique way of explaining things that is not quite the way I think. It's refreshing because I wouldn't think of some things from the point of view of a child. Yet it is this thought process that is so refreshing. In these books I have been to Narnia. It's very cool.
And in being to Narnia, I've forgotten a little bit about my past life. It's almost a memory, like blogging somehow seems familiar, but I'm not quite sure why. In truth, I completely forgot to write. I was preoccupied trying to finish up some end-of-the-year business and reading this book, but should I forget something like daily blogging after so long? This is definately a first for forgetting.
It means this is a good book in my opinion. Now I can't wait to see the movie. This is what I anticipated when I first was drawn to this plan to read the book, then see the movie. And as I read the book, I find I am reminded frequently of how we as human beings treat each other. This is one of the central themes running through all of the stories. Attitudes and intentions. We can be beautiful parts of a greater creation or something less than what we were designed to be. So it comes down to our choices, based on our attitudes.
Today, to wrap up an old year, I was cleaning and organizing my things. I came across a little piece of paper with an artist friends' phone number on it. I called him and he invited me on a bike ride. I was reluctant at first but then did it. It was great. Today I went on an adventure, just like in Narnia. Now on the eve of the new year, I have a tale to tell. So I'm blogging and not forgetting to blog.
Now of course this is very unstructured as many planned events are, and totally not like an adult thing to do, so very much like an adventure in Narnia, but I said ok and met my friend at 2:00pm today. We rode at a slow pace, purposefullly trying to find all of the slick and icy spots to try to spin out on our bikes. It was fun. We rode downtown, stopped at the Black Dog Cafe and had a couple cups of coffee and met some other friends, then checked out my art studio, then rode home. I did not place any judgements on this ride, just enjoyed the last day of 2005 in a way that I might not have normally proceeded. Happy new year!
December 29, 2005
The Art Crawl and my Crawling Art
Today I went to my pocket studio and was working on my wood sculpture, "After Midnight," the Norwegian Butter Knife and started carving the spoon I sketched out. None of this is Ukrainian Easter Eggs which I want to start soon, but I have to finish these three projects first so I have enough woodcarvings to display. Which leads me to another thing. I am meeting with someone tomorrow to show my art in a local coffee shop for a month. I'll announce it once I have the dates. Also I received the official St. Paul Art Crawl entry form today in the mail. Now I have an official studio and can get my name in the book (If I register and pay the 30 dollar entry fee). But I will. It will good publicity. So the Art Crawl is coming again in May. If you have been to it, it's a great FREE activity to do and it's fun. Most of the Artists in Downtown St. Paul open up their studios and show their art. You get to meet the artists and talk and look at their art. Some places even have snacks and music. It's fun. But as the Art Crawl creeps up, I feel like my artwork is creeping along at a snails pace. That's just a feeling though, because in truth, I've produced more artwork since September than I have in the past two years! So it's all relative. My art crawls while the Art Crawl creeps up.
The evil that has entered Narnia when it was only 7 minutes old was all due to a lack of wisdom and awareness by a young boy doing something without knowing the consequences. Then his fixes for the problem led to more disasters. He unwittingly unleashed a monster on a new, fledgling world as it was being created. So now the boy and girl have to be part of the solution. I wonder when I take action, what am I unwittingly causing. For every action there is a reaction. I am thinking more and more about what it is I'm really creating in life. I said before that we all create something. It may not be what we think though. In my artwork I'm trying to create beautiful things. In life too I'm trying to create beautiful things. It's all very artful. Life can be artful instead of destructive. And if we make a mistake, we must be part of the solution.
December 28, 2005
To Narnia and back
Today after work I went to my pocket studio and locked myself in for a couple of hours working on three projects: A Norwegian Butter Knife I'm carving out of some really hard, dark wood that feels like I'm cutting stone. I'm also still working on my wood sculpture that in my head I'm calling, "After Midnight" made from pine. The grain looks so cool on this one and gives nice flowing, dream-like lines running through it. Then I started sketching another spoon-carving project. It should be pretty interesting, fun and unique.
I felt like I had gone through a magical door. I was listening to some good peaceful music by an angel, and no distractions. It was pure creation. It reminded me of the founding of Narnia chapter in the book I'm reading where the Lion's thoughts were coming to life through his singing. As I sculpted wood, smoothed and shaped it and smoothed it and shaped it more, I became more pleased with what I was creating and it was fun! Then my second CD ended and I decided it was time to go. This is probably what it felt like going back home for the boy and girl in the story. It all seems a little mundane and drab to crawl through a dusty old attic when you've just been travelling to other dimensions. Home is good too, but it also felt good to be totally focused on creating my artwork. Except I did not drag a malicious evil queen home with me when I returned from the netherworlds. Just me. Now I'm off to read more in the Chronicles before going to sleep. I know I'll start dreaming about this book soon. It's a good story though and I'm having fun with it.
December 27, 2005
The Chronicles of Narnia
As a gift of time for myself, I bought the Chronicles of Narnia compiled in one book at the Bookstore yesterday. Actually it's not a gift of time, but a gift of the use of time for pleasure reading. There are so many choices in life and activities have to be given priorities. We can't do it all. I've discovered it is one of my missions in life to learn to make better priority choices. I don't have time to read this huge book, but it will be a good read and I've decided to dedicate a little time every night right before bed to read. This will help me wind down and relax before going to sleep also.
So to myself I give the gift of allowing myself read for pleasure. Then I'm going to see the movie. It should be really engaging, especially knowing the story and characters, like old friends. Now I'm off to Narnia. Sleep well. Sweet dreams.
December 26, 2005
Tools for the Future
Many people define a good investment as something that provides a good return after some period of time. It implies that we have to put something into it and we get something more valuable in return. The problem with investments are this: We cannot control the future. It happens. We happen. We can make plans and there are some predictable results if all things go according to plan. For instance, we can invest money in the bank and earn interest on that money. It's a predictable, published amount that we can count on to give us a return on our investment after a specific amount of time. That is if we are alive to collect the return on investment or that we don't have to spend the money to pay our bills. Savings have a habit of disappearing when we are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and that's the way life is sometimes. Emergencies happen and life is unpredictable sometimes. But we can predict logically what the most likely outcomes will be given our current thoghts and actions.
I like Idea of investing in people. What does that mean to me? I like teaching people things they can do for themselves. I like giving people skills they can use for their own benefit and that they can use to benefit others. There is a huge multiplying effect of investing in people. For example, the beautiful old Ukranian woman that I took Russian language classes from believed in investing in people. Svetlana taught Russian and Ukranian to hundreds of people in the Twin Cities. One day a long time ago we were sitting in class and she mentioned the traditional Ukranian artform of Pysanki. Ukranian Easter Eggs are made by a wax-resist dye method of applying wax in layers and successive dying in different colors of dyes. Then at the end, the wax is removed to reveal the beautiful image on the egg. We were amazed at the beauty of these eggs and she offered to teach us in her home. She was making an investment in us students, from one artist to many artists. The investment was not lost on me. I have produced hundreds of beautiful eggs over the past 5 or so years of doing it. Though she may not realize the return on her investment, it's happening in me. I am carrying on a 2000 plus year tradition, in the traditional way using traditional tools and methods and designs. And they are beautiful! I am creating beautiful things. She didn't try to hide her skills and techniques from others to make more money for herself, she invested her gifts and talents in other human beings. I am truly thankful for Svetlana. Her investment in me has changed me forever. When we took the class from her we paid her a small amount for the class, which barely even helped pay her living expenses and was affordable for a starving student to take. When we take classes we are investing in ourselves. We hope there is a dividend in the future. We don't know what the future holds but there are some predictable results based on what we do know about education. Education when applied can be wisdom. It can have measurable and amazing return on investment. If I took a class on making Pysanki and never made any after the class was over, I would lose the skill and not produce results. Education builds on itself through experience and makes the education more valuable. In a sense it changes us and therefore changes the world. I like investing in other people. I taught computer classes and art workshops and was a scout leader for 7 years. I loved teaching young boys how to survive in the woods and be self-sufficient, how to climb the tower, shoot, make projects, tie knots, build self-confidence and so on. With almost all of these boys, I will never see the results of my investment. But just as something has been invested in me and I applied it to my life, there will be a return on my investments in them.
Teaching people how to fix bikes for themselves is a natural fit for this kind of philosophy in life. What a better way to use our gifts and talents than teach someone else how to use theirs and be able to do for themselves what they previously had to rely on others for? One artist becomes ten! Ten pieces of art become hundreds!
Today I went to the Ukrainian Gift Shop and invested in another kind of tool. I bought an electric Kistka with interchangeable tips to draw wax onto the eggs. This should save me considerable time and reduce the risk of 'blobbing' of the wax on the egg. I'm excited to use it. The tool is locally produced by an experienced egg decorator and gives me a wider range of tip sizes than I currently have (5 instead of 3). This kind of investment is a tool for the future also. It is a tool to create with. Just as a carpenter needs a hammer to build, an egg decorator needs a tool to draw the wax onto the egg. For wood carving I have knives and gouges and a special jig for the table-top. Today I invested in a tool to create eggs faster and more detailed and beautiful. Now I have to apply that tool to create something beautiful or it's a wasted investment. I am expected to use these tools or lose the investment in myself by Svetlana and by my own practice. It is up to us to find a use for the investments made in us that return a positive result. We definately cannot control what others do with their gifts, talents and resources, but we can choose what we create. I am excited to use my new tools. I am working on displaying these beautiful eggs in a local coffee shop downtown in February or March, so I have to get busy now!
Today on a related topic, It dawned on me that my language learning is the same. Teachers have made an investment for the future of their own language in me. There will be a return on their investment though they do not know what it will be and they may never see it. I have made a considerable investment in the future by applying myself to learning. It would be a shame to waste that investment and not use it. Use of those language skills is a high form of compliment. There are other human investments that we cannot measure with tangible results. If I even read one story that was written in German, Russian or Korean, in the author's native thoughts and language, and understood it, then I have already provided a return on the investment. How do you measure that? It's beautiful though. Today I ran into Doug at the coffee shop, who is in his 40's and studying Japanese. He inspired me to pick up my learning tools and start again. Today we excitedly talked about all the similarities between the Japanese and Korean languages. It was totally motivating and engaging. Spending time together talking about learning languages was also an investment in each other and a forming relationship. His enthusiasm for studying Japanese and encouraging me to pick up my studies again is an investment. This is investing in people. There are predictable results based on current actions and attitudes and I like the results I see. We all can make a difference in this world. Every one of us can make a difference by investing in others and ourselves as human beings.
New Music to Enjoy
First of all, my trumpet practice over the past month has paid off. I performed Christmas songs on my trumpet for my family on Christmas Eve. Not saying my playing was up to professional standards, but it sure was fun practicing toward that goal and I could definately see an improvement in both quality of my playing and my endurance. Practice makes us stronger.
Then, we have new music to enjoy: Josh Groban is fantastic! Michael Buble' is also good. Hayley Westenra is still an Angel beyond this mortal realm. And to contrast all of that passionate music, not new but still a classic is Pink Floyd the Wall, on CD. I have an original old LP record album but now have the CD's, best heard by cranking up the volume when home alone!
This weekend has been highlighted by some great new music and a passion to play some myself. Music and Life. Music is an integral part of my life. It's role is equally as spiritual and life-changing as other experiences if not more. I cannot think of a time, during my entire life that music has not had some kind of influence on me. We are changed by music.
December 25, 2005
It's OK. Time for a rest.
It's OK. All of our family gatherings are over for this holiday season. I'm a little tired from last minute work on the wood projects and staying up late, getting up early routine, but now I have one more day off work and I am going to relax and watch a movie now and do a Sudoku puzzle.
Tomorrow I'm going shopping to make an investment in my future activities if they should transpire. I'll write about it if I can make it happen. I'm already looking forward to the new year.
Anyone want to spend New-Years Eve with me? No plans yet.
December 24, 2005
Running into Mr. L.
Tonight it was so strange I saw Mr. L. at my church for the Christmas Eve service. I haven't seen him in probably a year! I met Mr. L. in a coffee shop downtown and that was the circle I knew him from. That's the only place I've seen him. And now here he was at my church. It turns out he has a neice that goes to our church and they were having a special function afterward, so they went to church together. It was cool. I went over to him and talked to him and told him how happy I was to see him after so long. I don't think he was expecting to know anyone else at our church but I made sure to give him a warm welcome and hello. It really was good to see him.
Good night to all, and to all a good night. Merry Christmas. God bless.
Forgive me Father for I have sinned.
Going into confession a person says, "Forgive me Father for I have sinned." God answers back, "No." Sitting silently for a moment, the person then stammers, "But, but, this isn't how it's supposed to work!" There was silence. The person waited and still there was no reply, so once more the person asked for forgiveness. Then God said, "No. you do not deserve forgiveness."
The person was really shocked and beginning to become scared. This is not how confession is supposed to work for sure! In confession a person admits wrongdoing, confesses the transgression and is pardoned. But this is unwavering and unforgiving. After another long pause, the person began to cry. "But Father, please forgive me, I will never do that again!" God answered, "No, you will not do what is necessary to redeem yourself, so you will die." "Wha...wha...what did you say?" the person said, shaking vigorously now. "I am to die? Please, I will do anything you ask."
And to that God replied, "Then Give me back my Dodo Bird."
As human beings we have really messed up a lot. And it's all because of greed and selfishness. Self-centered, short-term thinking. We have destroyed countless species of God's creation and still do. We are a contentious lot and yet we ask forgiveness. Dead as a Dodo we are.
Don't Give Up!
If you haven't seen this yet, check it out. It's a very good Peter Gabrial song sung by Alicia Keys and Bono. The photos are very good and moving. "Don't Give Up!" You have friends.
December 23, 2005
You Don't Know the Power of the Dark Side!
Well, it happened. I caved to the power of the Dark Side tonight. haha. We had ordered a gift for our new step-nephew-in-law and tonight we checked to see where it was. The shipping statement still said it was going to arrive by the 21st. hmmm. That's already long gone. We checked with UPS and they said it's right on time to arrive by the 28th. Right on Time? I am laughing though, because I was so happy I would not have to go out shopping at the last minute like all those other people who were at Target tonight right up until 11:00pm when they closed. But the Dark Side had it's moment with me. I was there shopping at the last minute for a special gift that Target had sold out of long ago. But I found something really fun and cool. A Darth Vader mask with real sounds and a voice box that turns your own voice into something that sounds like Darth Vader. And I also bought him a black cape to complete the costume. Hmmm. One would think this is Halloween. Maybe the Nightmare before Christmas. The store was crowded and the streets were crowded.
But he likes Star Wars and he has an active imagination so he should have fun with this. I would have fun with it. hehe. But I didn't pick this present. My daughter did. I trust her youthful viewpoint better than my own. I was going to buy him a lego set. Then I found a whole bunch of cheap stocking stuffers.
I was weak. The Force was not strong in this one. I was a last minute shopper. But the good news is I'm home and tomorrow will be a nice family day. We are having my family over for lunch and then going to church, then going to my Father-in-laws where we will get to give and receive some gifts and have a great dinner. Then on Christmas Day we get to sleep in, get up and open the stockings and have a nice liesurely breakfast with coffee. No place to go until 2pm when we have another family gathering.
What a great weekend so far. In spite of the Dark Side of the holidays, I'm really loving all the great food and good company. Semper Gumby!
December 22, 2005
Wine and Cheese
We went to a 'wine and cheese' party. There were about 15 bottles of various wines on the buffet and a table full of good food and cheeses. It was kind of interesting being the designated driver at an event like this. I could definatetly tell the difference in behaviour between those who drank in moderation and those who imbibed a ltttle too much wine. But it was family and lifetime friends and connections sharing good food, wine and conversation. The event was kind of fun, in that it was a 'dress-up' event where all the guests were supposed to wear their finest. Two of the men wore tuxes. As one of them put it, "Because I have one, and there are not many opportunities to wear one." I found a wool jacket in my closet and wore black pants, black mock turtle, a thin black leather belt with small brass wire buckle, black mocasin-toed dress shoes and for the occasion, I cut my hair again. My wife wore a new, elegent black dress with a new soft, pink-fuzzy sweater over it. All of it was a fancy excuse to spend some time with each other. This whole wine and cheese party idea actually is a monthly event for the women in this family, except for this holiday party, they chose to invite all the men. This got me thinking about gatherings with friends and family and what these gatherings mean. I think we bring ourselves together with other people to feel that connection, or human/spiritual bond between each other. And we will use any excuse to do so. No-one wants to be alone really. Yeah sure, we need peace and solitude also, but it's the overall connection and love and acceptance we want with each other. Basically, everyone wants, needs, to be loved. Any excuse to group ourselves together accomplishes at least part of that.
But often we dread these holiday gatherings instead of looking forward to them. Why is that? With some of these parties there can also be a lot of pressure, when we feel like we have to live up to other's expectations, or our own expectations. Our own expectations of ourselves can be brutal sometimes. And our own view of other's expectations can be brutal. They can be brutal and stressful and defeat the purpose of coming together in the first place. For example, my wife fretted over the hors d'oeuvres she was bringing. She feels like because she is a 'personal chef' that she has to bring something noteworthy and spectacular. And then this expectation is kind of reinforced when people start looking for her hors d'oeuvres and make comments like, "She must have brought this one, she always brings something really amazing." That person I overheard by the table was right of course, and my wife did a fantastically beautiful hor d'oeuvre that tasted great. But she went through considerable stress worrying and searching through recipes to decide what to bring. We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves. It may be worth it because art is sometimes worth a lot of effort. And we do want to be accepted and loved, so this is another way for us to feel esteemed in other people's eyes. Another example, my sister-in-law is a beautiful, vibrant, outgoing woman who never lacks in something to say. It's a natural that she works in sales. When she was getting ready for the party, she accidently burnt her neck with the curling iron and it left a mark. She worried about it a lot before coming to the party and even during the beginning of the party. The truth is, the mark wasn't that big and when she smiles and talks to people she really engages them and no-one notices her neck anyway. I didn't notice until she pointed it out embarrassingly. But she didn't want people to stare at it so she worried about it. Then when she discovered that people didn't really concern themselves with the burn mark, she relaxed and forgot about it. She was beautiful and charming as usual. And then there were the expectations and worries surrounding our jobs, social position and standings. There is the question that always comes up, "John, what do you do for a living?" I answer, we talk about it, I ask what they do, etc. It's a stressful topic for many people because it's tied to our own sense of self-worth and what we see as 'successful.' There are many variations of this discussion too, like "What is your major?" But it all boils down to the same thing, sometimes there is a lot of pressure on us to present ourselves in a certain way we feel we will be accepted and loved.
At first I didn't really see the point of a 'wine and cheese' party, since I'm not really fanatical about either. Sure I like them, but a special themed party where we have to dress in our 'finest' is a little out of my norm. I don't even own a full suit, let alone a tux. But I was missing the point. Totally. It's not about the wine and cheese at all. It's another excuse to come together. Then I was happy to go and get to know people better and 'connect' with friends and family. It was very nice. And my wife was happy I was there. I got to hold her arm on the slippery driveway and street and talk about her cooking. Though I did not talk about my activities much, I really loved helping other's feel accepted and loved. These really are wonderful people, and seeing that is part of the family gathering. Letting go of our expectations and stress is important to connection with others. As I was cutting my own hair before the party, I had to let go of my fear of doing a crappy job and having someone notice the bad haircut. But at the party no-one noticed my little mistakes with the clippers. It was fine. I didn't tell anyone that I have been cutting my own hair for a while now. Anyway, remembering the purpose of coming together is not for appearances, but to connect with other people and feel accepted and loved and help them do the same, it gives us a new attitude to prep our minds for a party. It's a viewpoint that allows us to be who we are and to be genuinely interested in who others are. Then there will be no worries or fear that can compare with the results of this attitude. It was a great party. Oh yeah, and there was wine and cheese there.
December 21, 2005
A Positive Word goes a long way and it doesn't hurt to throw in a pen
Today I was talking to a friend who told me a story about a pen. She was working as a cashier at a busy store and there was this old man who came through her line. He was a little crabby and short with her. She tried to make pleasant talk, but he wasn't very helpful. When the transaction was rung up, he was going to write a check but couldn't find his pen so asked to use one. She handed him a pen and said, 'sure.' As he was writing the check and signing his name she noticed how nice his handwriting was. After he signed the check he mentioned how nice her pen was and asked where she got it. She said she got it at Target and then she complimented him on his nice handwriting. The ice was broken. Then as he was handing the pen back, she told him to keep the pen. She said she thought handwriting like that deserves a good pen. He was astounded, thanked her over and over and smiled from ear to ear. He walked out with a pen and smile. Here is a person who can see the beauty in other people. It's a good thing for everyone. It turned a person having a rough day into a smiling, happy one and there is great beauty in that. My friend is an "Everyday Hero" for whom there is seldom praise. So here is some appreciation. Thank you for being you.
December 20, 2005
The Gift of an Experience
A little while ago I was talking with a friend and she told me that she never gives 'things' for presents. She always gives 'experiences' to people. For example, for Christmas one year she took her grandson to see a musical and he loved the experience and the time with his grandmother. It's another way to make a gift personal and does not seem so commercialized and material. It could even be a gift that keeps giving, like a cooking class or art class, where the experience creates the ability to do more of it. I think this is such a great idea.
What a kind act will do for morale
Today one of my coworkers brought in a pair of old ski goggles that he's not using for me to use while biking in the winter. He remembered a conversation we had about someone I knew who was using ski goggles and thought I'd like to try them. I was excited and I did wear them home tonight and yes, they do work as long as I can keep my breath going out of my ski mask instead of getting trapped inside. But the ventilated goggles clear up pretty fast with the ventilation on the sides and my eyes don't water up from the wind.
We all know how good it feels to have someone think of us and do something special for us. It feels great and it lifts our mood up doesn't it? It's a good way to treat others. Most of the time it doesn't cost us anything at all except giving someone the time of day.
December 19, 2005
I'm very close to being ready to write an article about bicycles as winter transportation. I planned on doing it before, but it just wasn't winter yet and frankly, I had only ridden through one winter before. So I didn't really think that was enough real experience. I had to feel my toes getting cold and the windchill factor on my exposed skin to remember what it was like last winter. Now I remember. Ah yes, tonight was cold riding home. I was fine, but my toes got a little too cold and I experienced a little pain. My face was cold and I kept trying to cover my nose and keep my glasses from fogging up. I was sweating because I was working so hard riding up the hill to my house, but still freezing in other areas. The sides of the roads are covered in one-to-two inches of half-frozen slush so it makes riding adventurous. With my mountain bike it's fine, and I realized I'm gaining a lot of off-road bike handling skills riding there! I really wish they'd plow all the way to the curb!
Well, that's my rant about winter biking for the day. It was fine. It's times like tonight though that really define the rules of winter commuting by bicycle. It shows what is needed and how to handle it. My hands were toasty warm by the way in my leather choppers. I wish I could find my good ski mask though. But all-in-all, the verdict is in...The bicycle is a viable mode of transportation in the winter. I'm doing it. I'll most likely keep doing it.
December 18, 2005
One great thing, and I mean awesome thing about life is that we cannot control time. We think we can, but we cannot give ourselves any more time than time allows and we can cannot speed it up or slow it down. We cannot go back in time or forward in time. This is the stuff of science fiction so far. In the grand scheme of things all time is right now, past, present and future, but the closer we get to our physical experience of life, time goes on and we have our moment in it. Or we could say that time stands still and we move through it over and over. What if time is not 2-dimensional, linear, from beginning to end, but multidemensional? Regardless, though we sometimes wish, we cannot control it.
We talk about lives being frantic around the holidays because we have so many parties to go to, Christmas presents to buy, maybe birthdays thrown in, Church choir practice, a childrens play to help with, cookies to bake, and on and on... What we wouldn't give for a little more time!
What would we give for a little more time? Let's say we can buy more time. I'll buy 6 more hours per day so I can get everything done. It's a deal. Now I can fix more bikes, build that sculpture I started but never finished, do some wood carving, paint, work on my house, go out for bike rides, read more, learn to weld, start teaching a night class, add swimming into my workout for the upcoming triathlon season, do more with my family, and on and on. I could add a lot of activities into my day and get a lot more done! But I've felt the feeling of working really hard and being exhausted and still feeling like I've accomplished nothing. I think we would always fill up our time with things to do and maybe overfill our time. So Is it time we need more of or is it less things to do? We cannot slow down time, but we can slow ourselves down. I'm quoting Mahatma Ghandi again, because I've been thinking about it all week. He said, "There is more to life than increasing it's speed." Or rephrased, there is more to life than increasing the speed and volume of our activities. There is a lot more to life and I cannot control time any more than I can control how much life I'm allotted. But I can do everything In my power to not destroy either before their time.
Relax, it's supposed to be a peaceful, reflective time of year. If there were more time, we'd just use it up and ask for more. Take your time and see the beauty in it. It's ok to slow down.
December 17, 2005
What is Good for you.
What is really important in life? In today's New York Times there was an article about two people who developed a serious-life-threatening illness, one was a VP of sales for a company and one was a school teacher. The VP of sales received a lot of support from his company and the school teacher was basically screwed. The article talked about how health insurance in our country is mainly tied to our jobs and when we become seriously ill, we need our health insurance the most, yet many people lose their jobs and their insurance. Something has to be done about this. We can see all over our country how the decision makers in companies are pushing more of the healthcare costs onto their employees. The author of the article in today's paper, Lisa Belkin quoted Robin Bond, who runs an employment law firm in Wayne, Pa., and represents individuals with claims against employees. Robin Bond brought up a significant point about the nature and purpose of a business: To make money. She said, "But no law changes the basic fact that employers want to do what's good for business. Their job is not necessarily to do what is good for you."
Yet, how can we say we love our neighbors if we are only looking at the bottom line. Most American Companies are driven by profits. A new wave of Co-ops are cropping up because some people do get it. It's more important to benefit the employees than just to make money. But my guess is that even co-ops have to do what is good for the co-ops eventually or the co-op goes out of business, at the expense of a member who can no-longer function as a member. But I think it's a better idea than what many businesses offer it's employees.
And then we think deeper about this...
She said, "Their job is not necessarily to do what is good for you." Who is they she refers to? Every company is run by people. I contend that a company isn't real at all. It's and illusion that we create and only has life if there are members of the company. In other words, people have to make the decisions at a company. Human beings have to animate it and make it's decisions. Every person's job is to do what is good for others. If we are in charge of a company, we are torn between making money for ourselves and taking care of our employees needs. People making decisions in a company are still human beings and should do what is good for other human beings. It's a tough road to walk. We can't blame companies, because they are inanimate. WE are responsible for how we treat others in work and outside of work.
People run companies. People do jobs in companies. People make decisions in companies. People are responsible for making the company comply with our spirits verses making our spirits comply with the company. What is really important in life?
December 16, 2005
Tonight three of us painted bikes. I got to try powder-coating and I thought it was a really interesting process! No fumes, hardly no mess. AND, it was fast! It was a great experience and now I understand this process. Here it is for all those who are interested in learning about this technology:
1. prep the bikes:
Remove all decals and grease and sand any rough spots
Tape with high-temp tape, put corks in holes
Hang the bikes on a rack so they don't touch each other
Powerwash with water and steam
Dry the bikes
Preheat the bikes so the paint goes on thicker
2. Powder Coat the bikes:
Put the paint rods in the colored paint powder and tie the bag around them.
Hook up an electric jumper to the rack that the bikes are hanging on
Start the sprayer and 'spray' the bikes. The paint powder magically flows around the frames using static electricity.
Bake the bikes for 20 minutes at 415 degrees or so
let them cool
3. take them home
cool huh? Very interesting painting process. Now I have to find out how this process was discovered and came into use. It produces a beautiful and very tough finish.
December 15, 2005
A Pocket Studio and a Spoon
A little while ago, shortly before the Art Crawl, I decided I was going to move myself in the direction of doing more art. I practice the trumpet off and on, I write, I paint, I draw, I do woodcarving, I dye Ukranian Easter Eggs, I sculpt, among other things. I have had a pretty artistic life so far, but over the past couple of years I have felt like I need to do more artwork. It's part of who I am and I think it's a good use of my time here to create beautiful things. The lesson I learned from dying Ukrainian Easter Eggs is a lesson of love. Each egg takes appoximately 3-4 hours to create so it doesn't make a whole lot of economical sense to try to make a living creating and selling these eggs, especially since each egg can really only sell for about $25 dollars. But they are beautiful and it's fun to make them and melt the wax off, revealing just how beautiful they are. I am really creating beautiful things just because they are beautiful and it's creative. I would call that a labor of love. The same is true for many of my woodcarvings. It takes a while to make something that I think is beautiful, but really it's the process of getting to the end result that I love. I appreciate the end result and am constantly amazed at how creative human beings really are. That's beautiful. I wish a creative life on everyone. Well, let me rephrase that. We are all creating something in our lives, but I wish for everyone the ability and desire to create beautiful things. Not just visually but emotionally and spiritually also.
So right after the Art Crawl, I found a nice little, actually very little, isolated, quiet, and peaceful art studio that I could afford. I set it all up with someone elses discarded or donated stuff. The work table, the adjustable lamp, the soft cushioned chair for sitting and reading, the carpeting, the floor lamp and an extension cord. To relieve some stress I've been working in there and it's absolutely peaceful and meditative. My first project in my 'pocket studio' is a spoon I'm carving for my mom for Christmas. She already has a small collection of spoons I've carved for her and it's time for another one. The spoon shape and design are getting closer to being done. I'm carving this one out of pine, which is tricky because of the splintering, but when it's pulled off correctly, it provides a beautiful natural pattern in the light and dark layers. I'll have it done by Christmas and I can't wait to give something beautiful away again. Isn't this also a benefit of creating beautiful things in life? Creating beautiful things allows others to enjoy beautiful things.
What am I creating in life? At work I am defending myself and my coworkers against a bully. I'm learning how to stand up for myself. Is that beautiful and artful? Or am I just creating more hostility and pain? My boss is lying to protect himself and to make me look bad. Is that artful? But carving wood is beautiful and artful and that brings up another benefit of creating art; it's a stress reliever. After spending a couple hours in my pocket studio tonight carving a spoon I feel much better. And in a week I get to give this special carving to my mom. I sent another special gift to my brother in New Mexico also. I hope it made it safely through the mail! ;-)
Life can be beautiful.
December 14, 2005
Today was a strange day.
Today I went to a meeting with my boss for my performance evaluation. Can't believe he reiterated the same points that I've filed a grievance against in almost every performance item! His reprimands failed to produce the results he intended so now he has tried to put it in my performance evaluation. This man is making things up and doesn't even see how his behavior is the cause of all of the problems in our department. The truth behind all of this is how he treats other people.
I didn't sleep well last night because I was having nightmares about my performance review. I knew I felt uneasy and he was too self-assured when going into it. But I don't think he expected me to stand up for myself. He feels justified in his treatment of me. I just happen to be the current target of his power struggle. A bully uses tactics of intimidation and doesn't speak in specific truths, just generalizations and lies to achieve power over another person.
It seems like my life is involved with a few of these people lately and there is a reason I'm sure.
I had a good talk with one of my coworkers, who told me a good story (she was also verbally abused by our manager. She was his target before me.) She said that through all of this, she has learned to stand up for herself. She relayed how this has changed her life over the past years and in defending herself against our bosses abusive behavior she learned to respect herself and realize that she is not the fault here. She also spent countless hours not sleeping and getting stressed out about work. Our boss just doesn't get it. He feels justified in how he treats other people. And it's all about personal power over other people. It has nothing to do with our job performance. She is constantly going above and beyond her duties, but yet has to defend herself against her supervisor's patronizing and abusive behaviors. It's too bad.
I stayed until 6:47pm at work writing responses to every negative comment he wrote in my performance evaluation with specific examples of how I was communicating with him and accomplishing my tasks at work. I know and most of the people around me know that I'm doing a good job and work well with others. I really am a team player and I get along great with the other team players. But my boss isn't a team player, he's a bully. So what can I do also. Like several others in our department, we have to document and defend ourselves. He isn't changing. He's abusive and non-communicative with us and isolates himself in his cubicle. If anyone contradicts him he goes on the offensive and attacks that person's character. I feel better now that the review is over. I submitted my comments and have a meeting tomorrow with his supervisor to hopefully resolve the issue of the grievance finally. I don't know what to expect in this meeting but given my bosses presentation of my performance review, he must think that my grievance against the reprimand for the same issues will stand. It's so strange. My wife said that, of course, no-one believes they are wrong, and that we all somehow justify our attitudes, beliefs and actions. Yes, somehow he feels like he is right. I think there is a problem too, but not with my performance or willingness to work with him. The problem is with how he manages and treats other people.
I see great beauty in having all of this thrown at me at once, including the abusive and unprofessional behavior in the non-profit organization I'm working with. I am learning a great lesson about work and ethics and behavior and learning how to stand up for myself. I just didn't think I would have to stand up for myself when I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. But I've had to learn to calm myself and talk rationally and with specifics. This can only help me in the future (and the present) Good communication is a two-way street and to improve communications, generalizations and accusations have to be broken down into specific actions and desired outcomes. My boss refuses to do this. So communications break down. So I have had to be specific and ask for specifics from him. He still doesn't get it, but I will not lose sleep over it tonight. Today I gave my fortune cookie message that I've been saving, taped to my computer monitor, to my coworker who told me about her experiences with my boss and how it has helped her. The message was, "See the beauty in everything." I am starting to, but man is it hard sometimes while we are in the middle of the storm. (not the eye of the storm, but IN it)
I had a good reafirming night at the bike shop with some of our regular volunteers. It put things in perspective and showed me that I was on the right track. It's amazing what can be done when everyone cooperates and has the best interests of other people in mind. What a great group of people I'm working with there.
December 13, 2005
Absurdity and Audacity
Frankly, some people will not 'get it' until they are put in a position of being ridiculed and driven down. Bullies are bullies and always justify their position by attacking others. Make others look bad to make themselves look better. Tonight at the board meeting two members showed their true colors. While one sat their and ridiculed what's been going on in the shop and what's been done, the other one sat there saying, "Just pay me and I'll fix it." The first one said that our shop drives people away because of the 'clutter' and mess. But he's so oblivious to his own attitudes to realize that the whole organization is in crisis because he drove away all of the board members and volunteers. His personality is so abrasive and controlling that he can't see the problems are his not the shop. Rot starts at the top. And he has the audacity to blame others, while taking credit for saving the organization, when he really drove it to the brink of extinction over the past few years. I've talked to three former board members now who say they left because of the current president. Is this insanity or what? I'm not trying to tear people down, I'm just expressing my frustration over what I stepped into. I've only been actively involved since early summer, and more so in the fall. What I look forward to in January is a cooperative, team-oriented, rational board that is not in it for their own egos, and don't throw temper tantrums. I still see a lot of potential in this organization, but not the way it's been run in the past. Again, it's not the shop's fault, because the shop kept the organization alive. The Shop Manager and all the volunteers kept it alive. Without it, there would be no organization!
Tonight's board meeting was a huge energy drain. The real meeting happened after the two bullies left. A lot was planned and accomplished with rational discussion and actually looking at the shop and making some informed decisions. Let's not drive people away with our bully attitudes. There are always better ways to handle things. Being a jerk is not the way to love your neighbor.
December 12, 2005
Sudoku and all that spare time I have
Hehe, yesterday I discovered Sudoku, the number puzzle. It eats up a lot of time, but I can solve these puzzles now! Well, at least on the difficult level. I haven't tried the super-secret, ultra-indecipherable, ultimate-brain-twisting sudoku with one number given in each square. But that would just be evil.
Yeah, with all that spare time I have, I here there are over a million combinations. I could do them until I die, which could be tomorrow when I'm 98. I would never run out of challenging puzzles to do.
With the rest of my spare time, I have started working on some woodcarving again. Tomorrow I'm carving spoons. After those, I'm back to the eggs, then I plan on painting. And I'm practicing my trumpet again, almost daily. Fun huh? My lips are weak still but getting stronger, making the notes more clear and allowing me to play longer. That's cool. With trumpet, frequent practice is necessary to keep the muscles in shape, just to be able to play. And here it is almost midnight and I'm blogging. I have to get up for work tomorrow. haha.
December 11, 2005
Nobody Cares About Me So Why Should I?
One of the strangest things in this world is the idea that we are ever alone. We can be surrounded by people, insects and animals, have God in and all around us, and still feel like we are alone. Isn't this wierd? One thing that God has been trying to tell us since the beginning of our existence, is that we are not alone. We all want to be loved yet we are afraid to share our love with others. We isolate ourselves from others and God. When we are a baby we begin the process of separation from others. As we strive for our independence we go overboard and lose sight of the fact that we are all co-dependent in life. We cannot do anything without effecting someone else. We cannot exist without God and each other. With God and all of these billions of people around, isn't it strange that we feel alone? Isn't it strange that we don't feel loved?
I read in the paper recently that when the european astronauts first went into space they were thinking very much about their identities such as German or British or French, but as soon as they saw the globe they thought, wow, we are all on that spaceship called earth. When Earth is seen from a distance with a backdrop of infinite space, we realize just how much we are all in this together. Hey, if we destroy that planet, then it will effect everyone! If we deplete the natural resources, it will effect everyone! If we pollute the planet so we can't breathe it will effect everyone! If we treat each other poorly everyone on the planet suffers. It's because we are all in this together and we are not alone.
When we feel alone and unloved, we are missing something we crave and need. We are missing it. We wish we had it. As strange as it sounds to feel unloved and alone surrounded by billions of people, isn't it stranger yet when we attack ourselves and sabotage ourselves because of it? When we don't feel loved by others we often don't love ourselves. Let's see, it goes something like this, "No-one cares anyways, so I might as well get messed up!" or "My parents don't care if I'm home anyways, so why should I?" or "Nobody likes me, I'm stupid and ugly! It's not even worth living." Stange isn't it? Not only do we feel unloved by others, but we turn against ourself. The logic is illogical: I feel alone and unloved by others so I'm going to isolate and not love myself! That'll show them! That'll fix them! But it doesn't fix anything, it just makes my condition worse. I not only still feel alone and unloved, but I also hurt myself.
When we are feeling unloved and alone, doesn't it make better sense to love ourselves? If we are all alone and we are all we've got, then wouldn't at least loving ourselves be something? Why should I care when nobody else does? Because it's healthy. Because it's good for me. Because it helps instead of destroying me. That's why I should care.
Now the flip side of this is when we can see or feel the need of another soul to be loved and connected, given that we are all in this life together and what effects one person effects everyone, isn't it in our best interest to love and connect with that person? That can be as simple as saying hello and aknowledging their presence. Of course it could also mean we have to go way beyond our current comfort level. I cannot even count how many times I have went beyond my own comfort level with other human beings! Hearing a soul's need is like walking by a car wreck; we have to stop and make sure everyone is ok and offer our assistence. That may mean getting the proper person, like a paramedic involved as soon as possible. When giving CPR the very first step is to always call for help! While the ambulence is on the way we start pumping the chest and listening for breaths until we are relieved of that duty. Yes it's our duty to help souls in need! If there is someone reaching out for love and acceptance, there is a reason. That person is missing something. Therefore we are missing something.
Love yourself like you want others to love you. Then love others like you love yourself. Love others like you want others to love you. Love yourself like you want others to love theirselves.
December 10, 2005
A Glass Dome
Today I found a small glass dome on a wood base at the Goodwill store for a couple of dollars. It had two butterflies in it on a stick with some other decorations. I have been looking for ways to display my Ukrainian Easter Eggs and have bought these before for about 9 dollars new. I removed the butterfly scene, covered the base with some black velvet from and old leotard my daughter used to use, put an egg on a brass stand and ta-da! A very nice display for one egg.
My plans for the other eggs? I'm building my own display case with thin black-gloss shelves, mirror back and lights. It'll take me a while to get going on that though. I have the frame and the mirror back, but need to make shelves and put the lighting in. And I need to paint the frame and shelves. So it's a big project but the results should be very nice and hold about 20 eggs on the wall. It will also be a unique and display the eggs very well.
December 9, 2005
Are you ashamed of Jesus?
"Are you 'ashamed' of Jesus? Then why don't you 'tell' people how they can be saved?" For anyone who has this mentality toward others, I tell you this, "Don't sell the bearskin before you've killed the bear."
December 8, 2005
One drop of water in a still pond sends ripples out in all directions. One act of kindness effects things we do not yet know. With one act of kindness there is a ripple created, flowing out in all directions. Something will be touched by that ripple. I certainly had no idea that I would be blessed also by what happened.
A little while ago I saw a friend I've known for a few years. He was evicted from the building and was trying to dump some of his possessions. He's been down on cash and doesn't have a home. But in that moment he offered to give me some of his stuff. He had a collector's set of 1990 baseball cards. I looked in the box and saw that he had sorted all of the cards by teams. I was touched that he was willing to give it to me. Then I asked him how much he paid for that box of cards and he told me. I offered to pay him for it and he said ok. I handed him some cash, which he was really appreciative of. I knew it meant he would have money for dinner.
If any of you know me, I'm ok with sports, but not really a fanatic about them. So I was wondering what to do with these cards. I thought about selling them on ebay, but then remembered that we were going to my Father-in-law's house for Thanksgiving the next day. My father-in-law just remarried and his new wife has a daughter with two young children. So I brought the baseball cards in with me and gave them to the older boy. I remembered he was into sports and loved baseball. So it all worked out perfectly. My friend got a meal, I got to give a gift to our new nephew and he got to receive it. It's neet how things work out isn't it? One thing led to another and many people were touched.
Then this boy took his cards to school and shared them with his friends. They all had fun with the old baseball cards. Now today...
I received a card from our nephew and he said,
"Thank you John for the BaseBall cards. I shared them with my class mates and they said that they were so cool. For the second time I meat you are pretty cool. Oh, I almost forgot your job is pretty cool!!!!!
From Johnny, Thank you."
Ripples, ripples, ripples. ;-)
Seriously though, what a touching card and great reward for me! One act of kindness can have different results than we know. And we never know who will be effected by it.
December 7, 2005
Chasing the bus on a bike
Today as I was going home, I was riding my bike through downtown and I saw the bus I would take to get home if I were riding the bus. I decided to see if I could beat it home. So I chased the bus. I caught up with it at a red light downtown, then the light turned green and it zoomed off and turned the corner. I caught up with it again just as the left-turn arrow turned green and the bus took off again. This time there was a long straight run and the bus didn't have to make any stops so it got way ahead of me. I decided to take a shortcut up the Ohio hill and see if I could reach the top before the bus got there going it's route. I reached the top of the hill and the bus turned right in front of me. I was over halfway home then and the bus took off down the road. So I pedalled furiously and took another shortcut. I am pretty sure I beat the bus in time getting home. If I was on the bus I'd still have to travel the 3 blocks from the bus stop to my house. That was fun! I should chase my bus more often!
December 6, 2005
Chasing down a winter-bicycle-commuter
I don't know. Normally people would think this is crazy. Even crazier than riding in the winter when it's so cold. I saw another bicyclist tonight in downtown, a block ahead of me as I was leaving work to go home. I tried to catch up to him in downtown, but he kept running red lights and I sat there and waited for each one. But then he headed over the Robert Street bridge and I caught up to him on the hill past Plato. I don't know why I followed him, it's not my normal route. For some reason I felt like it was important. When I caught up to him I started to talk to him and he told me he works about two blocks from my office and that last winter he missed only 7 days of commuting by bicycle. I commend this person for his winter commuting tenacity. In Saint Paul, it's a rare sight I think. But there are a few. The other advantage of it was I got to try a different route home. Robert Street is a BAD bicycle route. This man rode on the sidewalk, while tried (risked my life) on the street where we are supposed to ride. Robert street was designed as a highway made for cars. There is no shoulder or bike lane, just two automobile lanes. But get this...with two lanes and not a lot of traffic, when I pulled up alongside this other bicyclist and was chatting while riding, in the right lane, someone had the audacity to honk at us while passing rapidly in the left lane. It's tough to have to switch lanes while driving, I know, I used to be arrogant too, until I tried riding a bike and get the finger, honked at and almost run down. Changing lanes is a burden I think. A car driver is much too important to slow down and yield part of the road to a bicyclist. There were two lanes and hardly no traffic!!! Why do people have to be such jerks? Can we even blame the cars? No, we have to blame their attitudes toward other people. In any case, I'm glad he didn't decide to run us down to make a point instead of just honking at us!
St. Paul needs more bicyclists if nothing else than to change automobile driver's concepts of road sharing and treating others with respect and kindness. What is our true theology? It is what we live while passing bicyclists, and pedestrians walking across the street for that matter. How we treat others is important.
But on a lighter note, I am happy that I followed this man home. I got to experience riding up the Robert Street hill, the one that leads up to George Street. That was nice! I ran up this hill once last year with Dan and thought I was going to die. But tonight on my bike I wasn't suffering. It felt GOOD! Then, there was the freedom and sense of exploration I felt at having ridden a new route. I loved doing this in the summer, but lately my commutes have become less than adventurous the colder it's become, mainly to minimize the chance of becoming too cold. But it was fun and envigorating! I also met someone new and checked out his bike. He thought I was riding an expensive bike. It's a 50 dollar solid steel huffy that was repainted a nice brown color. It has cheap brakes, steel wheels and a really heavy steel frame. But it has extreme knobby tires, very good traction without studs. And it's a 10-speed, not a modern bike. So, it's a great winter commuter that can handle anything! This is one tough bike! I will ride this all winter now and it willl be the perfect commuter bike. It's funny how we think we need 'expensive' in order to have fun or even to be practical. By the way, a 10-speed mountain bike is plenty good enough to handle that Robert Street bridge. No Granny gear necessary. ;-) Keep on riding! It's good for the soul. Kind of like Dog-Sledding I imagine.
December 5, 2005
Riding a bike in the cold and snow
I must write about this again. With temperatures down in the single digits (Farenheit), people are beginning to ask me a lot of questions about riding my bike in this kind of weather. They either look at me like I'm crazy or like I came from another planet altogether. Then almost without fail, I hear something like, "I could never do that." and sometimes I hear, "You are very brave to bike in these conditions." I don't think it's bravery or any special power that I have that allows me to do things that other people cannot do. Do you think I do? I don't. I am really enjoying riding my bike in the winter. It is a different experience for sure. Meditative is a good word.
But, my views are a little more practical than some lofty ideal I'm trying to uphold. I'm also not trying to 'prove' anything. I'm just transporting myself from one location to another. Just like today I walked four blocks in this same cold to get to a destination. Did I ever once consider that extraordinary? No. And if I rode my bike that same distance would it be any different than walking outside? Technically I still have to bundle up even if I'm walking. Nobody wants frostbite so preparation is a good thing no matter what form of transportation we use.
Yes, I'm still biking in the winter. Today I switched to my large leather choppers to keep my hands warm and used my ski mask. It was a great day to ride my bike!
Doing our Passion
Tonight Andy was talking about a previous job where he liked what he was doing, but then transferred to another job in the same company and learned that he hated it. They wouldn't let him transfer again so he quit and moved on to another company. So what happens if we can't find a job that we are passionate about? Many people ask this question. It has a great deal to do with how we feel about our purpose in life. What does it take to know our purpose in life and know if we are doing God's will in our lives? That is a good question. It is a question that has good answers. The answers effect how we view life and every occupation of our time while we are alive. There are a lot of crappy jobs out there. Someone has to do them. But there is something to be said about doing something you care about and love doing. When we are passionate about something we are generally more productive and could do it for hours without breaks or even realizing where the time went. In one way, life is too short to do things that have no meaning or purpose to us. So sometimes moving on to something that we feel good about is what we need to do. And we do have the freedom of choice and that's a good thing. But sometimes our jobs are not night and day, where we hate the job, the people, the place, etc. We may be involved in a project that is a nightmare or have one coworker or a boss that we don't like, but we love our job and overall love why we are there doing it. Part of walking awareness, is that our beliefs and attitudes go everywhere with us. When our passion is 'doing a good job' then no matter what challenge we are facing, scrubbing a floor or editing a book, we will go to great lengths to do a good job. This is a dawning awareness for me. I realize that I have not been this way for most of my life. Off and on I have, but really did not understand what it meant.
In Buddism there is the story of the monk who was happy to be cleaning the stairs with a toothbrush. People kept asking him why he was using the toothbrush, a very inefficient tool for such a huge job, when there were better ways of getting that job done. But he replied that he was doing a really good, thorough job and was sure to not miss anything. That is doing the will of God. There is great beauty and hope in the process we are going through in the present moment. That monk did not see it as a crappy job or beneath him. His attitude was much different. His passion was doing a good job no matter what he was doing.
December 4, 2005
The President cannot be 'Christ-like' and consider torture acceptable treatment of human beings. In the name of power and control, I bow down my soul to the power that controls. This is who I am, this is Christlike? More like those who nailed Christ to the cross.
At the Expense of our Soul
There is a verse in the bible that says, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" It's a verse that many christians use to try to scare other people into becoming 'saved.' Yeah, nobody likes the idea of losing their own soul. Just like we don't like the idea of death. It's a sinking, horrible thought. We especially find it repulsive when other people tell us we are dead, as if they know our soul and our relationship to God.
The idea of losing our soul is also expressed as 'going against what we know as the right thing to do, or going against who we are inside. If we compromise who we are to please others, for a job or some other gain, then we are said to 'lose our soul,' or lose sight of who we are. Someone once expressed , "You don't do your best work for others. You do it for yourself." Don't compromise who you are.
Sometimes we lose our soul by gaining at the expense of others. In situations of Power and Control we lose some of our humanity when we try to control others. A bully controls others through intimidation and fear. "What does it profit a man to gain power over another person and lose his own soul?" When we mistreat others, we do lose something. When we seek the thrill of power over others, which is sometiems very subtle and not so concious, we are losing part of humanity. We are really 'using' people for our own gain. Using is losing.
I was reading a book called, "The will of God as a way of life," by Jerry Sittser and he expressed another interpretation of this verse... "Is it worth it to become master of the world at the expense of the soul?" We often make work or other activities an idol. We value business and fragmentation. In his book, Sittser quotes Thomas Merton, "blinded by our desire for ceaseless motion, for a constant sense of achievement, famished with a crude hunger for results, for visible and tangible success..." This destroys our capacity for living contented and contemplative lives. He says we don't even get close to contemplation! We can lose our own soul by making our lives so busy we drown it out.
When we learn to live with others, let's say with your roomate at college or with a significant other, there are certain comprises that are inevitable. Today when I was in church the pastor talked about his experiences of moving off campus with his buddies. It was a great idea that would save them money and gain them more 'freedom.' So they found an apartment and the three of them moved in. At first it was ok, but then they discovered that they had very different upbringings and they really didn't know each other's daily habits. Our first inclination is to blame others for our discomfort or problems in our relationships. They are 'slobs' or they are 'neat freaks' or they are 'republicans' or 'democrats.' Other people's religious beliefs are equally blamable if they conflict with our own. When we are learning to live with others, we often don't look at our part in it. What part do we have in the relationship? In our relationship with God, God is asking us to be forgiving and loving, but it's not the part we want. We want the part of expectations of others. When people do as I expect then it's easy to get along.
Bob Marley sang, "Don't gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver and gold." Yeah Bob! Wisdom is the application of knowledge and applying the knowledge of "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" means we have learned to forgive others, love others more than ourselves, don't use other people for our own gain, and are not so self-absorbed that we don't bury ourselves in our work or other activities to the point where we miss life. Life is how we treat others. When we treat other people with love, dignity and respect we are alive and it shows. We don't have to worry about losing our soul. We have a part in losing our own soul. We have the responsibility of our own soul. Nobody can live it for us.
I've talked about our extreme free will and about how our purpose in life is to love God and love each other. When we start to put other things first, we lose sight of God and our soul. They are connected like life is connected to breath. So close they cannot be seperated or life dies. We do have free choice over everything. I know some of you want to be told what to do. It's amazing that God is so clear on how to live in the present moment but so vague on the future. I can be sure that the only time I have to do God's will is right now. God's will is to love you and my boss and every other person I come into contact with. It's not to lose sight of that and think that my work is more important or that building an empire is more emportant. Those things decay and vanish, are stolen or lost. The love of God is eternal. Life is full of choices and we can do God's will in everything by remembering our part in being a good roomate, our part in our relationships with others and our part in the world as we take and give. Why are we here? It's not to build a fortune, have fun and then die. It's not to build a kingdom, have power and control and then die. It's not to forget God's grace and forgiveness for our mistakes and turn around and condemn others for theirs. "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
December 3, 2005
When Tragedy Strikes a Family
I don't know what to say. I just heard that a very good friend of mine had a terrible tragedy in their family. She had her Mother-and-Father-in-law visiting for the holidays. Yesterday they were driving on the highway and were in a terrible accident and both of them died. Evidently the killer was filled with road rage and ran them off the road. I'm praying for my friend, her husband who lost his mom and dad, for their children who are now missing one set of grandparents and for all of the relatives who now have to deal with such a tragedy during the holidays when everyone's spirits are high and full of thoughts of giving. Instead they are feeling a great loss. It's tough at any time of year. There is no replacement mom and dad. But when the family sits down and opens gifts this Christmas there will be some presents there that will make them cry when they open them. The receivers won't have a chance to say thank you.
When will people get their priorities straight and slow down, have a little patience and control their rage? Life is way too short to be so ignorant and unloving toward other people. Road rage is so unneccessary and in this case, deadly.
I can not say anything to my friend that will help their family through this tough time. All I can say is "I love you and hope you make it through this. It'll be rough for a while so hang in there! I'll keep praying for all of you." When tragedy of this scale strikes we can just be there for each other.
December 2, 2005
Can we control the future?
Or does the future gradually unfold for us? Over the centuries we have been focused on controlling our futures, maybe in the hopes of being self-controlling. What if we learned about some excruciatingly horrible suffering we were going to face in the future. Would we be so overwhelmed that we retreat and try to avoid it or even kill ourselves? If I learned that my fiance would develop cancer and die within three years of our marriage, would I change my mind and not get married to avoid the suffering and pain of it? The very thing we fear, loss could be in our future. Can we control or prevent loss?
Or we discover that we will gain a large sum of money and never have to work again. Would that change how we act now and how we treat others and what we do with our time? Would we not work out that problem with our spouse and just leave? Would we not bother finishing school because we know we won't need it anyway? Would we tell off our boss and quit because we won't ever need to work again? Knowing the future is so rosy, would it change our lives now? Would it change us to be complacent and lazy and treat others differently?
What is it we are really looking for when we try to divine the future? Are we desperately seeking Hope? Or some peace inside, knowing everything is going to be ok, or reassurance that what we are doing is the right thing to do? I think all of these are true. We want to relieve our fears. We try to control our future, to know what's coming down the road so we are not surprised and not afraid. We seem to be afraid of our futures. That makes sense, because overall in our modern society we have become afraid of our own death and the beyond. Much of our technology is developed to relieve that fear and sustain our lives and lifestyles as long as possible, to control our future and know what is coming down the road.
This doesn't mean that it's bad or wrong to know the future. Sometimes it is revealed to us or told to us as it would play out if we continued down the same path or if someone else did. Sometimes it is revealed to us for some greater purpose. Sometimes we know the future to call us into action. Sometimes we know it to change our lives now or to relieve our fears when we become too overwhelmed with the present. The present is the only time we truly are alive. Our past is what has happened and no longer is our life as it is in the present. Our future has not happened yet. So all we are left with is right now, this moment. I'm here typing on a computer and thinking about all of this. If I knew right now that someone would read this and feel hatred toward me and begin an argument for the sake of arguing, I might change my mind out of fear and not write this. And this is the fear of many people that join online forums. The fear of being told we are wrong or 'stupid' prevents many people from posting what they feel and know. We want to feel safe in the present. We want to have friends that support us and make us feel safe in the present. We want to know that right now we will be ok. Do we need to know the future to know that? Do we even want to know the future and have it effect our present state of being?
Also, what is the purpose of knowing our past? Is it for bragging rights? Or to show how important we are? Sure we can learn from our mistakes but is that to change our future or who we are right now. For instance, once it was revealed to me that a long time ago, possibly a past life, I had a terrible accident and left my wife widowed. She was abandoned and alone on a pioneer homestead. I felt so helpless. In reality, in my present life at that moment I was feeling helpless in my relationship, and realized that it was my fear of not being able to provide for my family that was causing my current problems. I was able to release that fear and work together with my family to live better right now. And that did in a way effect my future, but not directly. It effected my attitude and made me realize the source of my fear so I could let it go in the present. This is exactly the information I needed to know at the moment to change my present condition.
Often when we look to the future, we are told something we already know. Something that effects our present condition. No matter what, we only have right now, this moment, and this is really the only moment we have control over, just as our current state of being is the only thing that can be changed. I can't change something I cannot grasp. I cannot change something that I do not possess, past or future. It's a great relief to know that actually.
Wisdom is not just a vast knowledge of things past and future. Wisdom is the application of knowledge in a beneficial way right now, in the present. Sometimes I forget this too. Like in my situation with my boss at work. I became afraid of not being able to support and care for my family again so that fear rose up in me and I forgot to live in the present. This is not living wisdom, it's living in fear of what 'might' happen. Isn't it better for me to stand up for what I know is right and good in the present and know that doing so will be good for my soul right now? I let these things get out of control in the present because I was afraid of the future. What would love do right now? That is my question that I can only answer in the present. Remembering my fears of the past and knowing my fears of the future and letting them go allows me to change myself now. I'm grateful for everyone who helped me to gain this wisdom. I'm thankful I can apply it now. I feel much better no matter how crappy my situation is. I love other people and that is who I am, so I should be applying that in my current situation. That is who I am, and I am not afraid of that. I am not afraid of who I am.
December 1, 2005
Who You Are
We find our purpose in what we already know. It is not found in another person or anything external to us nor is it hidden from us. It is not found in our future or our past, but in the present. You may agonize over your choices, and choices are important, but you will find that your purpose in life will be found no matter what choice you make. Don't second guess yourself, or spend your life regretting your life. Your purpose is found inside of you no matter what task you are doing. For example: You may decide one day that you will be an engineer. You spend years studying and preparing and you know in your heart you will be an excellent engineer. You have great troubleshooting skills and know how to make things work. You know this is your calling in life and feel really fulfilled as you get closer and closer to graduation. But during your fourth year of college a drunk driver ploughs through your lane and sends you to the hospital. You barely recover. You can't walk anymore and you have trouble speaking. But during rehab you hook up with a drunk driver who got in an accident and is in physical therepy due to his injuries. He's very sad about what he did. You get to know him and discover that he's intending to go out and speak to people about drunk driving. Your heart is changed forever and you know that you could help a lot of people by joining forces with this drunk driver and saving the lives of dozens or even hundreds of people. Think of it, a drunk driver teamed up with a victim of drunk driving to bring a message of living a better way. You know in your heart that this is what you have to do now. Was it wrong before to think that your purpose was to be an engineer? No. What you do and think right now in your current life and situation has everything to do with your purpose in life. How you treat others no matter what circumstances you find yourself in has everything to do with your purpose in life. This idea is very hopeful though, because...
In some traditions this is called, "right living." It's hopeful because we all don't have to be engineers or make the same choices or even be correct to live a fulfilled and purposeful life. We just have to live, right now. And this is the you that you already know. It's at your core. It's who you are.