Category Archives: Tolerance

Newtown, Connecticut Shooting Puts the Year Behind, and the Year Ahead, in a New Perspective

It’s usually at this time of year when I write my yearly round-up.  I mean, not that anyone gives a lick, but I like to write it.  It makes me feel better about things, and it always helps to get some perspective going into a fresh 365 days.

There’s nothing wrong with that, right?

And, after all, the Mayans are telling us the end is near (it’s not–it’s actually a new beginning) this December 21, 2012, so…I felt like it was time to do it.

But I held off for the last few days.  I didn’t write it until today.

Why?

Well, the December 14 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  26 killed.  I realized that the year behind, and the year ahead, were already squarely in perspective.

I read an article about the global outpouring of support for the victims’ families and the Newtown community and it really got me thinking, again, about the line we walk in our world between global animosity and global togetherness.  We are so close to being a world community.  The reason we seem so far apart is likely not due to your average person’s difference of opinion, but more to do with unfortunate leadership around the world.

People on their own are generally good.  At least, that’s what I choose to believe.  If you need help in a parking lot or at the side of the road, most good Samaritans won’t ask your political affiliation or your view on the Second Amendment, abortion, or the last election.  They’ll just assist.  If you drop a dollar, many people will pick it up and yell, “Hey!  Wait!”

Most people.  Not all.

We don’t generally have litmus tests for basic assistance or casual acquaintance.  Some do, yes.  Many don’t.  If you’re American and dining in Canada, the service will be like it is for any Canadian.  At a resort in Mexico, it’s okay to speak Russian.  Indian curries are fine to cook in Italy, and I had darn good roast beef in Kenya many years ago even though I’ve experienced it in an NYC deli as well.  We share religions across borders, appreciate or take on foreign customs, and see movies about events that take place many miles, or countries, away.

Not everyone is on board with this.  Some are.  That’s fine.

So, when I think about Newtown in what Paul Simon might call this “deep and dark December,” I prefer to think about the outpouring of support from around the globe.  Of the prayers that go out to those we don’t know.  Nobody I know really cares if the victims were Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or whatever.  We all turned on the TV to see the shock of lives lost.  Not Christian lives lost, but lives.  Not Buddhist children lost, but children.  Tragically.  And worthy of memory.

As I sit here now and reflect back on this year, I see it was full of ridiculous stars full of themselves saying ridiculous things.  There were new launches of more TV shows about people famous for being famous.  I encountered darkness in the least likely of places, but then again, also saw light in unexpected corners of my days.  There was work in places I never thought I’d return, but then there was another job waiting right where I’d left it last January 1.  There was a third job that came from nowhere.  All around there was a bad economy, racism, hatred, bigotry, a hotly contested election, people living lives with bold attachment to lies when the truth was just a simple channel click, book, or class away.  There were those that screamed, and still insist, we should never help others, even in circumstances beyond their control, but there was also a policeman that put shoes right where they belonged and people pulling together in the aftermath of a terrible storm.  Some came down from the ledges of hard life.  Some jumped into a new adventure.  Some moved on for new adventures and some stayed firmly entrenched in their old prisons while the keys to freedom were dangling just outside their self-imposed cells.  I learned some new things, let go of some old, read new books from friends and discarded old book ideas of my own.  Blood, tears, death, and taxes all made their appearances, but so did new nieces and fresh ideas.  I wasn’t always happy.  I wasn’t always sad.  I helped.  I sat idle.  I received help.  I prayed.  I sent prayers.  I knew I was on a good road even when others thought I had somehow missed a really important turnoff.  Thank goodness I kept driving.

But then, there is Newtown, Connecticut.  And it all snaps into place again.  All possibilities collapse into one moment in December when fame, fortune, freedom, and fallacy don’t matter.  It’s all about a different energy.  I can’t describe it yet, but it was clear while watching the news last Friday.

I’m going to move into the new year the same way I always (try to) do.  With a sense of optimism, confidence in my decisions, and a desire to do a little better.  No, not how someone else with an agenda of their own thinks I need to do better, but how my gut tells me I need to do better.  Usually, people who tell you how you’re mistaken or screwed up are only trying to sell you their own version of events or brand of regret and…well…no thanks.  You can put that advice in your pocket!

So, let me leave you with this: A happy holiday season.  A happy Hanukkah to my Jewish readers.  A blessed Christmas season for my Christian readers.  A happy Kwanzaa for my readers who celebrate.  And a happy travel down your chosen paths, whatever they are.

Let’s remember the most recent tragedy in America so we can figure out how we might move into 2013 with a different energy.  Let’s take a look at an event that matters, so that we know what we need to be in a different mindset this coming 365…a mindset of support, regardless of personal characteristics that, quite frankly, pale in comparison to what we have that we can share.

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All Candidates, Including President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, Can Encourage New Thinking on Civility…and Incivility

As election season approaches, think of the history of these United States.  Think of the proud American spirit.  Think about living in a country that takes the time to have debates before an election, and encourages its great citizens to vote, and take part in the democratic process.

Then, think about how it must feel to live in Ohio right now.

Imagine watching TV in Cleveland and then seeing every attack ad ever made.  Imagine trying to live in that key election state.  Now, where I live, it is still pretty bad, due to hotly contested local elections.  But the presidential candidates have pretty much give up here, so I’m insulated from the presidential ads.

But Ohio?!?  I can’t even imagine.  Of course, I’m a Browns fan, so I’m trying to picture watching a Browns game (argh!) with attack ads throw in (double argh!).  Do the ads work?  Who knows?  The latest CNN.com poll shows President Obama up by 4%, but you know how that can go.

The only tally that matters is the one on election night.

But this Nobody’s thoughts today are not with the Browns or percentage points.  They’re with the question of civility.  If you’ve seen the debates between President Obama and Governor Romney, you’ve seen a strange mix of incivility and civility.

There is fire and brimstone flying at debate time, then, at the end, the families gather on stage for some hand shaking and pleasantries.  One could almost get the idea they were all going to leave the studio and go for ice cream afterwards.  Can you see that?  The Romneys and the Obamas ordering hot fudge sundaes at a local Dairy Queen and talking about…well…who the heck knows?

Now, as amusing as that image is to ponder, it gets me thinking about the frontiers of civility in our country, and around the world.  Nobody’s view is for the rest of us.  Not the candidates, but the voters.  Not the prime ministers, but their people.

This isn’t just about politics.  It’s about societies.  We tend to vilify people from other places, or candidates from other political persuasions, but have you ever really thought about that?  I mean, really thought about it?  Think of your friends from different cultures or the guy at the side of the road you helped when his tire was flat.  Did you check their politics?  Their backgrounds?  Or did you just help?  People are, generally, people.  And we usually believe that as regular citizens.

The problem is that, quite often, bullies and despots rise to power.  Then, in acts of “leadership,” these rulers create often hateful or vengeful policies, kill their own people, and do all sorts of horrid things, and we lay blame at the feet of their subjects…subjects whom we would gladly help if they crossed our paths in the everyday.

I’m not wise in the ways of politics, but something does not seem right about this.  Yes, we see people marching angrily in the streets supporting some horrific action, but don’t forget–in the great bell curve of humanity, there will always be those who agree with hate and rage.

But what about the rest?  What about the mother clutching her child in a bombed-out apartment, praying that the violence will end, or that her child can grow up someplace safe.  What about the masses who work their fingers to the bone for almost no pay under regimes that don’t care whether they live or die?  What about the student who has to look over her shoulder every day walking to school, lest a would-be policymaker will do more than simply discourage education for her gender?

Civility is courtesy.  Civility is tolerance.  Civility is respect.  Unfortunately, so many times, those who lead do not lead with a civil mindset, but with anger, hate, and rage…with selective agendas and desperation.  The grab for power is ultimate, all else, subordinate.

Now, in America?  We’re lucky.  For all the horribleness of election-season ads, we generally vote in peace and the sun rises in peace the next day.  However, I mention the seriousness of incivility because as the election season comes to a close, I am saddened to see how quickly civil words are replaced by bile.  How easily candidates are able to destroy others’ reputations, families, and good names.  How, without so much as a care, people insult sitting statesmen and stateswomen in an effort to unseat incumbents so they can move into their offices, readjust the chair, and get about the business of reversing the other person’s policies.

As you watch the elections come to a close in our country, remember, this is not an “American” issue.  This has nothing to do with one country or another or one candidate over another.  It’s simply about all of us.

However, we can teach our children differently.  We can use election season not as a time to hit the mute button on ads that most people find annoying.  We can take this opportunity to set a new example.  A civil example.  An “if-you-don’t-have-something-nice-to-say…” example.

Call this Nobody an optimist, but I am hopeful that within a few generations, we can reduce the acidity in the world and promote a more tolerant and civil atmosphere. I believe it starts with us.  It starts with hearing candidates on the issues and ignoring them on the incivility.

It begins with common sense.

But I will say this: if this optimist is wrong, he will certainly be thankful for the mute button.

Jason Segel’s Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Has a Message for Us That Goes Beyond the Four Walls of His Mother’s Basement

I had occasion to see an interesting movie the other day.  It came highly recommended by some folks I know, so I took them at their word and went to see it.  Oddly enough, I had to take time out of a very busy day to squeeze it in…a fact that will fit in in a moment.

It was called Jeff, Who Lives at Home.

Strange title, right?

Well, great movie.

The premise – (MINOR SPOILERS) – Jeff (Jason Segel), is a stoner who lives at home.  His mother (Susan Sarandon) calls from the office and asks him to do one thing for him that day.  Just one thing.  But on his way out the door, a mysterious phone call puts a name in his head that starts him on a quest that leads him (and, eventually his whole family, including his brother Pat (Ed Helms)), on a collision course with destiny.

Now, the interesting thing about the movie is that this premise has been done before.  Many times before.  In fact, movies have been named after the central thread of serendipity that runs through the screenply.  However, there’s nothing cliché about Jeff, Who Lives at Home.  As the movie progresses, we fall in love with the seemingly ne’er-do-well Jeff and come to really support his unique way of looking at the world.  In the end, we come to believe that the destiny that finds him is really something that was suited for him – especially tailored by the universe to his situation.  Something he deserves.  Something he earned through earnest worldview.

Jeff’s lifestyle isn’t what many would call “responsible” or “popular.”  In fact, his brother Pat, appears to have it all – Porsche, job, wife – but appearances can be deceiving.  In fact, without Jeff’s intervention (the last person on earth Pat would want advice from), Pat could lose it all.

The movie is a dramedy heavy on small laughs.  But as I watched, I became less interested in the jokes and more interested in the message.  What is it?  Well, to my untrained eye it seems to be the idea that we may not know why something is happening or why someone is acting in a certain way.  But there’s quite possibly a reason.  Quite possibly a plan.  And, here’s the most important part: we may not like it and we may not understand it, but perhaps…just perhaps…there is an order to the madness.  A meaning.  A point of view that we didn’t consider, but that is essential to the one who holds it.  In other words, it may not make sense to us, but it makes sense to them.

That’s important.

Much of the drama of life isn’t created by how people act, but by how we react.  We think people ought to be doing this or that for us or that they owe us this or that, but in fact, it’s our own insecurities or fears that create the discomfort.  Jeff has his own journey.  He has to do what he has to do.  And all the critics, haters, and non-believers are just blips on a radar screen leading him to what he knows is right.

Jeff is a solitary, lonely person.  He has a worldview that he has created to deal, cope, and adjust.  He screams at one point that no one understands him.  But, that’s just the cry of frustration.  They do understand, but sometimes it just takes a bit longer for real understanding to surface.  Sometimes people need to go on their own journey of self-discovery first before they’re ready to accept another’s journey.

Lucky for Jeff, he took his own path anyway.

This isn’t a movie that will be around for long.  Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass have written and directed a gem that will soon be seen only by the lucky few who get a DVD word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend.  Jason Segel and Ed Helms will soon be on to other projects that will gross much higher in the box office.

But if you get a chance, go see it.  Don’t take your judgments.  Don’t take your hard edge.  Soften to Jeff.  Be sympathetic to his personal plight, whether you think it’s laziness or something else.  Give in to the message.

And, above all else, remember this – just because you don’t understand another’s path doesn’t mean it isn’t valid to them.  If you start the day in that light, you might just find that many of your daily frustrations, fears, and judgments melt away.

And if not?  Well, let’s hope others continue to pursue their paths anyway.  The stakes might not be as high as they are for Jeff, but hey…in the end, our lives all need to mean something to us, whether or not anyone else understands.

Seven Billion People and Counting. Change Can Start With Seven (Or One!)…

Just saw that we reached 7 billion people on the planet.

That’s right.  Seven billion bodies bumbling about on this rock, flying around the sun.  Seven billion adventures.  Seven billion stories.  Seven billion pieces of potential.

One of my favorite sites, worldometers.info, confirms it.  In fact, according to the folks at worldometers.info, at the time of this writing we’re at 7,000,078,000.  Amazing, huh?  The ol’ humanity count just keeps going and going and going.  As long as people are people, then we’ll have babies.  I wonder who the actual 7 billionth kid was.  That’d be interesting karma, huh?

While we’re on the subject, think about the people you know — the family you have, the friends you see, the co-workers with whom you spend so much time.  Out of 7 billion people, your network is probably composed of somewhere between 50-100 people.  If you’re good at Facebooking (I’m not), then you may have thousands of connections.  And those connections link you to connections.  But still, no matter how masterful your social networking skills, it’s hard to believe you can connect to all 7 billion folks currently on the planet.

Then again, maybe we all connect in other ways.  Maybe there is something to that whole web-of-energy thing, or maybe our thoughts connect us.  I’m no quantum physicist, but maybe there’s a clue in that somewhere (a clue that’s safe from discovery from the likes of me).

I don’t know.  I’m just waxing philosophic here.  The point is, even if you don’t know everyone on the planet, you can still make a pretty big impact in your own little circle.  Share a smile.  Give a dollar to charity.  Break for humans.  Spare a moment.  You don’t have to help seven billion people.  Start with seven!  Heck, start with one!  You’re unique because you’re you.  You have an impact because you choose to.

As for that seven billionth kid?  Well, by the time he or she is 18, s/he’ll have the opportunity to write a blog about that eight billionth kid.  Imagine that!

Don’t Just Walk in Circles — Sally Quinn’s Encounter in the Labyrinth is a Clue to Better Dialogue

I was taking an early morning cruise around the Internet and decided to check the latest headlines.  I surfed over to CNN.com and found an article entitled, “My Faith: How walking the labyrinth changed my life.”

The author, Sally Quinn, is a Washington Post journalist and EIC of an online religion conversation called “On Faith.”  I was happy to find that conversation, because it’s something to which we here at Nobody’s View aspire!

In her article, Quinn discusses an experience she had walking a labyrinth — a maze-like structure around which one can walk to calm the mind, concentrate, and, as Quinn says, “be found.”  The experience can mean different things to different people, and labyrinths are apparently constructed in all sorts of places — churches, parks, and spas for example.

Out of curiosity, I Googled the phrase “where are labyrinths” and happened upon a very interesting site called labyrinthlocator.com.  This site, sponsored by two groups — Veriditas and The Labyrinth Society, features a search tool called the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator.  I typed in some information about my city and voila!  Up popped a list of local labyrinths.  One was located at a retreat center not far from my home (run by a group of monks) and another was located at a mainstream Christian church.  There were a few others, both public and private.  The information section for each labyrinth features date of creation, size, and construction material.  The pictures were quite beautiful, and they looked quite serene.

For Sally Quinn, the experience of walking the labyrinth helped her come to terms with her son’s struggle with leaning issues.  In fact, when she shared the experience with her son, his life transformed.  He has since written a book about learning issues, started a website, and is now, apparently, doing quite well.  Quinn says she can’t necessarily attribute all of her son’s success to her labyrinth walks, but she believes that whatever the experience was, it has helped her.  To this day she continues to walk labyrinths, enjoying their positive effects in her life.

After reading through Quinn’s article, I scrolled down to the “comments” section.  As a teacher of religion (when budgets allow and the phone rings!) and having produced some manuscripts and articles on the subject of religion, I have an interest in these discussion strings.  What I got was an eyeful of some stark opinions (no surprise!).  Apparently, the broader social dialogue concerning faith vs. reason (or, according to some, religion vs. science) is alive and well in the comment section of blog posts.  There was the obligatory “hateful” comment calling Ms. Quinn all sorts of names.  But then, right on cue, other readers jumped to her defense, and to the defense of spiritual practices in general.  As of my reading, there were 11 pages of back-and-forth, all leading to some flavor of these conclusions:  labyrinths are nonsensical, people who walk them are nonsensical, Ms. Quinn is being duped by “magic,” spiritual people are being duped by spirituality, religion is duping us all, religion is good, spirituality is good, scientists are short-sighted, religion is a con job…and on and on and on.

What exactly is going on here?  Is this all really about Sally Quinn’s labyrinth?  I don’t think so.  Is this really a discussion of science and religion, or is something else at work?  I don’t know where I come out on the whole issue of labyrinths, but what I do know is that any time dialogue can begin around such an issue, it can only be for the good.  Now, I can hear you asking, “How is this good?  Isn’t it just a lot of Internet partisanship masquerading as dialogue?”  Not necessarily.  The discussion is valuable because it thrusts the issues of religion, spirituality, tolerance, and civility into the spotlight.  It forces people to confront their views on something that is central to humans as individuals, life in general, and politics in particular.  Whatever your view on these subjects, you must come to understand that there is someone across from you on the train who may have a diametrically opposed viewpoint.  You think the labyrinth is bunk and he walks one daily on his lunch break at some big corporate campus.  This group finds religion in general distasteful, but that group uses it as an impetus to feed and clothe the hungry.  You meditate and pray to find your heart of relaxation, while that other person looks down on your whole enterprise, insisting what you are experiencing subjectively is objectively not possible.

Now, you might read that and say, “I’m not convinced!  You say dialogue around this is good?”  Well, yes!  Whatever your views on these things, they are your views.  And, like any good views, they must be able to stand up to criticism and opposition.  If you think religion and spirituality are bunk, yet your friend’s life was transformed in an instant at a Christian or Buddhist retreat, then you need to think more about the purpose of religious or spiritual practices, instead of the mere trappings.  If you had a bad go of it in your house of worship years ago, perhaps you need to challenge the enterprise of judging a whole category by one experience.  Is it a distaste for religion you have or a distaste for your unique, one-time involvement?  I don’t know!  I don’t have the answers.  Have that talk with your friend.  If you are a spiritual person, and you meet a psychologist who believes spiritual experiences are the delusive play of the mind, then perhaps you need to sit down to coffee and get into that conversation.  Does it matter whether or not the phenomena can be defined?  Perhaps their value lies in their effects and not their descriptions.  Again, I don’t know.  I’m not an expert in these things.  You are.  They are your experiences and they are yours to examine.

These discussions don’t have to take place, of course, but how are we to know the sturdiness of our convictions, whatever they are, unless we occasionally erect them in the winds of debate?

I seriously doubt anyone is going to read Sally Quinn’s article with one lens, then change views because of the comments section.  Instead, what seems to happen is that people strengthen their views in response to others’ comments.  People get their dander up.  They go on the defensive.  Many of the non-believers insist that because they can’t kick Sally Quinn’s experience, it doesn’t exist.  Others say her experience is genuine because it takes place away from the prying eyes of five-sense scrutiny.  There is some anger.  Some hate.  Some intolerance.  But at least there’s dialogue.

And that’s a start!

Let me say this to you, Nobody Nation: you have a point-of-view.  In fact, we all have points of view.  A viewpoint is what gives us depth and contour.  It’s what makes us more than a bunch of human straight-line stick figures.

Come to think of it, points-of-view are what make us labyrinths.  When we get done walking the mazes of our minds, we must emerge and engage.  In that way, we don’t just walk in circles, but instead, forge more tolerant paths toward the future.

Rosh Hashanah 5772 — The 2011 Jewish New Year Brings a New Start Where Every Day Can Be the Head of the New Year!…

First, I want to wish all my Jewish readers a happy Rosh Hashanah.  I know this post comes a little early.  Please forgive me.

It’s another New Year — 5772.  That’s right.  Rosh Hashanah 2011 is actually Rosh Hashanah 5772 for our Jewish friends.

This holiday is, literally, the “head” of the year.

Jews around the world will begin 5772 in a time of reflection…looking back on days past, examining them, learning from them, and then thinking about forgiveness and a new start.  The celebrations we’re likely to see won’t be like the January 1 celebrations of the secular world — no crystal Stars of David dropping to a celebrity-studded countdown…and no Dick Clark.

None of that.

These days of awe (the days from Rosh Hashanah to another Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur) are meant as a time of intense reflection, but also  a time of renewal — renewing body, mind, and spirit.

It’s a very important time of the year.  Your Jewish friends may not be at work for a few days, or there may be an empty desk next to you in school.

These days in Judaism are just one example from one religion of time given special importance.  In a sense, there is a velvety rope encircling these days on the calendar, much like a Christian may have for Christmas or a Muslim for Ramadan.  Special days.  Days of wonder.  Days of awe.

But spare a moment for this thought: Why only special days at certain times of year?

I know there are historical and spiritual reasons for having certain holidays at certain times.  And, I don’t mean that we should spend every day in intense repentance or unbridled emotional zeal.  I’m referring to something else here.  Something that goes to the core of living a life more in peace than pain.  More in joy than sorrows.

What if we considered each new day on the calendar the very start of a fresh, new year?  I’m serious.  Think about that.  If we started off each morning with a pause to reflect on the deeds of the previous day, considering where improvements might take place, and vowing to do better today, wouldn’t that really be something?  Each day is actually just one point on an infinite line that provides infinite points for improvement!  No, we’re not spiraling toward an inevitable endpoint.  In fact, we are polishing and polishing and getting better and better.  To what end?  Who knows.  That’s the adventure.

It’s worth a look.  Every day, then, could have the ring of the new.  The zest of the fresh.  The start of the spirit.

I don’t think one has to be Jewish to make something like this work.  I’m going to try this at this time of year with my Jewish friends and see what happens.  I’m going to take this Rosh Hashanah 2011 / Rosh Hashanah 5772 as an opportunity to start treating each day like the head of the year.

Will you join me?  After all, a brand new tomorrow is just around the corner.

Make 9/11/11 a Day To Reflect, Remember, and Banish Terror Forever

I woke up this morning to write a post about 9/11.  September 11, 2001, is a date that I suppose will always have bloggers waking up and thinking about what to write.

But what is there to actually say?

I think the better part of the day is what we don’t say.  Why?  Well, in all honesty, days like this are often too crowded with political talk or “advertisement.”  What happened all those years ago is beyond such things.  It’s not a day to peddle politics or rhetoric, but a time to perhaps gather with friends and remember in peace, sit quietly and reflect, or just get on with daily business in a personal commitment to not allow such terror to stop one from going out into the world with the courage to face another day and to do a little good in the world.  (There’s a tremendous value in that, too!)

If words are exchanged, may they be words of encouragement, support, and friendship.

A takeaway lesson of 9/11, then, is that we quietly rise above fear.  Then, on 9/12/11 (and beyond), we try our best to greet ourselves, and each other, in this same spirit.  In other words, we spend time in quiet reflection, contemplation, and peace, and when we do speak, we do so in a way that is friendly and kind.  Then we repeat the process over and over, day after day.  Impossible?  Maybe…but it depends on your point of view and the standard to which you hold yourself.

See, in the wake of 9/11, I believe the perpetrators’ hopes were that we would become a country paralyzed with fear and incivility.  I believe they wanted us to feel strife between neighbors so that we would prey on each other in violent and hostile ways.  What they forgot were the natural tendencies of the human spirit, which I believe are this: as people, we often fall short, hurting and criticizing each other.  That’s our wild animal nature.  It’s just part of who we are sometimes.  However, we are also prone to assist, support, care, befriend, and gather peacefully.  That’s our better, superlative nature.

So, when the planes crashed in fields and hit the buildings on 9/11, we made a choice as a society to go against the wishes of the perpetrators — we didn’t cower in fear, but we stood tall, stood together, and stood in courage.  And, even though politics has gotten ugly (very ugly) since that day, one thing has shone brilliant: the triumph of a country and her spirit.

I don’t agree with everything that goes on in the corners of this country.  I don’t agree with everything that goes on around this spinning globe. Heck, I don’t agree with everything that goes on in this universe!  That’s natural, I suppose.  And I believe it’s healthy — for, disagreement is the ongoing march of progress and change.  But at the end of the day, I’m happy to be in a place where I can disagree, argue, support, and criticize without fear and amidst the oft-good nature of neighbors.  And that, my friends, is a lasting legacy of 9/11 — it’s not terror and cowardice, but the recognition that we live in a place where we can pull together in tough times, have a bit of good, old fashioned disagreement, and come out better (and closer?) for it.

I think many political regimes and angry movements around the world are jealous of that.

So today, put words second.  Let actions be what they may.  First and foremost on this 9/11/11,  let your thoughts and good feelings guide the way.  Walk away quietly from the gut-wrenching conflicts in your life, put on a smile, and engage your community in a friendly way, with a friendly energy.  In that manner, you not only silently and masterfully defy terror, but you relegate it to outsider status in this country.  And, you take one more small step to banishing it forever from our midst.  Then, tomorrow, you do it all over again.  And again.  And again.  Come what may.

In the end, isn’t that the greatest victory of all?

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Ramadan 2011 Begins, Consider Discipline in Your Life, No Matter Your Religion

Ramadan 2011 has begun.  The sighting of the moon has signaled the start.

Are you Muslim?  Do you fast during this holy Islamic month?

Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, a commandment that fasting from dawn until dusk be part of a Muslim’s day for this one month of Ramadan.  Less time thinking about food, and more time thinking about God.  There is prayer and ritual, as well as an idea that something is greater than indulging in daily satisfaction of our human instincts, no matter how important they are.  This is also a month for enhancing one’s obligation of zakat, charity (another Pillar). Providing food for evening meals to those in need and supporting the local mosque are quite important.

Millions fast together during this month, aligning their wills into a goal of discipline.  There’s something powerful in the idea that if one fasts alone, it can be a trial (though a trial of love).  If one fasts as part of a world community, there is a social will that creates strong bonds.

Other traditions have discipline.  In Judaism, Jews have their day of fasting (Yom Kippur) and for Christians, the time of Lent might be a period of reflection as something is sacrificed for a time in order to focus the mind on something higher.

But outside of the religious processes of denial, is there a discipline you have that gives you strength?  See, true discipline is not really about whether or not you believe in a higher power.  It’s about whether you can subdue your urges and cravings for the purpose of reducing your stresses and anxieties.  Now, fasting is certainly a mainstay of world religion in terms of showing submission and gratitude.  But what about ordinary life in the secular world?

Well, in everyday life, discipline (yoga, meditation, holding one’s tongue, journaling, taking a regular walk) is about subverting your cravings and desires so that mentally, you are less agitated.  If we have the power to focus and do what we must, then we are less apt to become scattered and less prone to pining away for things we miss or can’t have.  When we realize that it is our constant wanderings and wantings that create a sense of unease, then we can get about solving those problems with a little attunement (atonement?).

This month is Ramadan 2011.  It’s a time when Muslims the world over will practice a discipline of fasting in order to serve and remember God.  No matter your religious persuasion, why not try to make this a month of new discipline?Walk for 20 minutes a day (with your doctor’s permission) or keep a dream journal by your bed.  Eat one more serving of veggies at dinner or sit for five minutes and listen to your breath as it enters and leaves your body.

Oh, and if you can drag a friend along for the ride, more’s the better.  After all, the will of two can often conquer what the will of one might not.  I hope you find that a little discipline goes a long way to a lot of peace of mind.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Proponent of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, is Dead at 83. Will the Living be Civil?

I woke up this morning to discover that Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a.k.a. “Dr. Death” had died in Michigan at age 83, apparently due to complications stemming from pneumonia and kidney issues.

Where are you with that information?  What feelings does it evoke in you?

Kevorkian, best known for bringing the cause of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide to the spotlight through his use of a suicide machine, was always a controversial figure in his life.  He was polarizing.  People seemed to either support his cause or vilify him, with very little room for middle ground.

His first, and highly publicized, encounter was with Janet Adkins of Portland, Ore.  She and Kevorkian met in Detroit, where Kevorkian hooked Adkins up to his machine and allowed her to turn on the device, which delivered the drugs that ultimately led to her death.

Dr. Kevorkian’s death will, I’m sure, be a time for people to once again discuss euthanasia and assisted suicide in all sorts of venues — classrooms, dinner tables, and around the water cooler.  People will, most likely, passionately defend one side or the other of the controversial assisted death issue.  And, as so often happens, many on one side will paint folks on the other side as either “murderers” or “closed-minded.”

So, let’s think about this in a broader context.  When we discuss tolerance as a society, what are we discussing?  Are we having a surface conversation about simply “putting up with” thing with which we disagree?  Are we just saying, “Well, I’m not a tattoo person myself, but live and let live,” or “You know?  I really disagree with X or Y religion, but I guess as long as they don’t try to convert me….”  Or, are we having a deeper conversation about allowing beliefs and practices to flourish, even though we may have a visceral reaction to them?

Euthanasia and assisted suicide often fall into that latter category.  It’s an issue that finds passionate support among a sizeable portion of the population.  There are groups that want the right to end their lives as they see fit, and there are folks who want to assist with no legal repercussions.  It’s at this point where a society has to check itself to see just where it comes out on the “tolerance” spectrum.  It’s when we violently adhere to, or disagree with, a certain point of view that we have to decide as individuals just how tolerant and civil we are willing to be.

Nothing can stop a wave that is high enough.  It will crash to shore one way or another.  In other words, movements that grow strong can have tremendous influence, whether we are talking about new religious movements or the push to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia.  The question we face as a society is how we will deal with that wave when it crashes.  Will we join hands with those with whom we disagree and foster a community of safe standards, dialogue, and unity, or will we continue to argue in the face of the inevitable until we go too far down the road to be civil.

When you remember Dr. Jack Kevorian today, and whatever reaction you have to the important causes of his life and the reality of his death, just remember, you are likely to encounter a conversation with folks who are likely as passionate as you on the other side.  It’s not your relationship to Kevorkian that matters in that moment — it’s your relationship to a living human being.

For Harold Camping, May 21, 2011 is Doomsday. For the Rest of Us, It’s a Day to Celebrate What We Can Leave Behind…

Are you ready for May 21, 2011?

I know it’s Saturday.  I know you probably have some big plans to go out and have fun.  Some of you may have to work.

Others will take their kids to soccer or pick up a relative or friend for lunch someplace special.

Some will celebrate birthdays, some will sign divorce papers.  Some will play golf and others will sit on their ranch’s front porch and watch the cattle and the clouds roll by.

But others, such as doomsday predictor Harold Camping, will be awaiting the end of the world.  Eighty-nine year-old retired civil engineer Harold Camping will be expecting the rapture, expecting true believers to be taken into heaven while the rest are simply left behind.

Camping, who works for Family Radio, has apparently used the Bible to construct a timeline for doomsday that predicts this Saturday, May 21, as the date it will all come to an end…judgment day.  It will happen with a massive earthquake.

I’ve known about Harold Camping’s prediction for a while, first seeing a news report on it months back.  I remember thinking how far away May 21 seemed, and I wondered if it would garner much support.

But here we are on May 20, 2011 and Camping and many followers are still gearing up for doomsday.  But it’s interesting — I have an acquaintance who is getting married, a family member who is leaving that morning for a trip, and friends who are making plans for the day.  I read one story that says a group of atheists are planning a party, awaiting Camping’s announcements at the end of the day when, they believe, nothing will have happened and Camping will be forced to explain.

With December 21, 2012 looming in a little over a year, Camping’s May 21, 2011 predictions gives us some things to think about.  What do we do when we think it will all end?  How are we supposed to feel?  Are believers supposed to be happy when everyone else is “left behind,” or should they be busy preparing their defenses of humanity to save the rest of the world?  Isn’t that what Jesus would do?  Would he celebrate the end, or bustle about doing what he could to intercede on behalf of the world out of compassion instead of celebration?

I’m no expert in doomsday.  I read the stories with interest just like everyone else.  But what I do know is that very truly, in spite of religious beliefs, any day could be our last day.  Any day could be the day the debts are called in and the store is shuttered.

I guess the question for me at the end of the day (the end of days?) isn’t really about who is “worthy” but who has done the best they can, whatever their beliefs.  It’s not about which conception of god will carry the day and its certainly not about who is left behind.

It’s about what we have done on this earth to make it better.  It’s about our civility, our humanity, how we tolerated and embraced each other and our differences.  Its about a love for others that doesn’t cause us to celebrate being part of a select few who will have bliss, but how we were good with our neighbors of different religions who are “saved” right along with us.  It’s about what we have left behind as a legacy, and not simply about where we are going.

Good luck, Harold Camping.  If your prediction does come true and the world does end on May 21, 2011, don’t be surprised if those folks at soccer practice, the Jews who were at synagogue, the Hindus who were having a family outing, and all those atheists at the party are standing at the gates beside you.