Two Addicts Try to Talk

“Stop that, Richard! Just stop it!”

Caught completely off guard, I stammered, “What? Stop what?”  Bob had just offered to give me jar of homemade plum preserves.

“When someone offers you something don’t hem-haw around. Don’t play this false humility crap, ‘Oh, I couldn’t…’ or insult me with ‘You shouldn’t…’  When I offer you something, say yes or no. Say, ‘No thank you.’ or ‘Thank you very much.’ Cut the bullsh*t, Richard! Say what you mean for god-sake.”

We had been driving down Lake Street and Bob got us talking about food by recalling what a perfect blueberry pie he’d had the night before — “all blueberries, none of this gelatin sh*t.” We retrieved some mutual ground by agreeing that we shared a special passion for raspberry pie as well as plum preserves.

No sooner had we fed the parking meter and entered Global Market when Bob was back at me.  Bright booths representing crafts from Tibet, Chile, Central America, Scandinavia as well as all sorts of locally produced organic meats, cheeses and fresh fruits and vegetables populated the Market.  An overdose of vibrant colors and distinctive  aromas danced all around.

We shared our delight and personal preferences.  I expressed disappointment that some of the shops were shuttered.

“D*mn it, Richard. Don’t do that!”

“What? Don’t do what?” I blurted defensively.

“Stop looking at the negative! That’s not going to do you any good. Stop commenting about the shops that are closed. Look at all that’s going on, not at what isn’t!  Look at the great stuff inside even if the shops are closed.”

One thing we did not see at Global Market was a good piece of raspberry pie. Here was my opportunity to reclaim some semblance of balance and equanimity after Bob’s piercing — though fair — admonitions!

“I know just the place — Turtle Bread!   We just had raspberry pie there last Sunday. Terrific… the best!” Off we went with nearly two hours left on our prepaid parking meter.

We hadn’t even placed our order when I know I’d scored big time. “Love this place, so much better than the bland, uniform, generically orchestrated Stabucks or Caribou. This place has life, character, personality, distinction.” I relished Bob’s approval.

He continued, “Look around, this is the world! I don’t even feel sorry for those two guys in their white shirts and ties — at least they have the good sense to come to a place like this!”

Though I’ve known Bob for a while now, each time we are together reveals something beguiling and compelling.

I knew about his 70-plus years of struggle with drug addiction. Today’s revelation was his five years in federal prison associated with his drug use.  The transparency of his sharing knocked me off-balance once again.  Of course, I blurted out something totally inept.

“Wow, I’ve never been in prison. So, what was that like?” This time Bob entertained my stupidity and awkwardness but seemed to shift to a wholly different psychic space.

“You learn to mind your own business! You keep your mouth shut. You see trouble, you turn and walk the other direction.”

Ouch! Now, I felt tables turned. Just as he had admonished me about expressing gratitude with a clear yes of no, or had chastened me to celebrate the manifest beauty all around, I wanted to blurt out, “Bob, don’t do that! Stop that!”

I restrained my urge to tell him that is no way to live. This will wait for another time.  However, I returned with a whole new insight into why Bob would be so appreciative of all the Global Market symbolized and for the depth of human connection he savored at Turtle Bread.

We began as two men entering conversation best as we are able. Two men, though with very different addictions, backgrounds, spiritualities and perspectives made an effort to talk — community happens, understanding deepens, appreciation expands.

We discover we are vastly more alike than we had ever presumed or allowed ourselves to imagine.  Still, we each have much to learn that only someone other than ourselves can teach.

Hurry-Up and Slow-Down

“McDonalds ruined us!” No, this isn’t a comment from a Wait Watchers meeting or a cardiac rehab training. It was made by a friend lamenting how we have become people who want what we want, the way we want it, when we want it… now!

Others have certainly copied what McDonalds pioneered. Fast-food has clearly become a more apt symbol of our impatient consumer culture than holiday dinner at Grandma’s house.

Patience — or my lack thereof — recurred throughout the past weekend. Planting a 10′ Heritage Oak tree yesterday I grieved that I would not live long enough to see this tree in its maturity. Why do some things have to take so long?

Yet, I tried to envision those yet unknown who would someday relax under the shade of a mighty oak. I mustered some satisfaction that tree planting is a blessing we can confer on generations yet unborn. Still, I want the tree to hurry-up and grow!

Patience also surfaced as an important theme at a reunion on Saturday. I had been privileged to assist with a retreat in April for eight men who were in various stages of recovery and had experienced homelessness as part of their experience with addiction. No one, absolutely no one, understands the demands of patience like these men.

Those who struggle with chronic relapse — and isn’t that all of us honest enough to admit we are not perfect — know in our bones how desperately difficult being patient can be.  If we cannot dispense with them quickly, our well engrained cultural habit is just to ignore our faults or deny we have a problem.  More honest than most of us, these men wrestle with excruciating demands of patience every day.

Coincidentally — providentially? — one of the other reunion planners had selected the following by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for our opening meditation. Don’t be put off by the length, its worth the read:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

One of the men on retreat said it better and much more simply. Noting what technology has popularized far beyond what McDonalds pioneered, he said in only 15 words what the renown Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin needed 164 words to say:

We’re the microwave generation. But we all know food tastes much better from the slow cooker!

Despite our dependence on fast-food and the latest kitchen technology, I am consoled to believe that most of us would still prefer Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house.  Now, there’s hope for recovery!

Self-Degradation, Self-Inflicted

We have demeaned and degraded ourselves once again. I feel ashamed, dirty. Why we perpetuate this violence and further poison ourselves remains a sickening question. Who do we think we are, God Almighty?

Yesterday, by sheer coincidence, Richard Rohr’s popular blog posted the following suggestion:

Perhaps upon reading passages such as Matthew 25 or the vengeful Psalms calling for God’s wrath, we might do well to follow the Eastern Orthodox Saint Silouan’s advice:

“I remember a conversation between [Staretz Silouan] and a certain hermit, who declared with evident satisfaction, ‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’ “Obviously upset, the Staretz said, ‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire–would you feel happy?’ “‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit. “The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance: “‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all.'”

Yesterday, a jury in Boston swiftly sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death under the guise of justice.  Many — if not most — Americans feel vindicated, grateful, safer. We are no better than those self-righteous fanatics who would stone a woman for infidelity or a man for being gay.

Yes, these news stories have also been reported recently in the news. We mask our own vengeful impulses with the self-serving explanation that these religious extremists know nothing of God, of God’s love or of “true” religious faith! We smugly sit within our own self-righteousness, our own presumption to distribute ultimate justice, our own arrogant propensity to play God.

The deliberate taking of another person’s life is immoral. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is guilty of a heinous crime — even his attorneys do not contest that fact. But, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is securely within our custody — restrained and incapable of further killing and violence. Yet, we as a society are not! Instead, we perpetuate the violence, inflicting further brutality upon ourselves.

God forbid! If we but knew the love of God! We must pray for all.

___________________

Richard Rohr’s blog post for Friday, May 14 — the very day Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death — gave the source of Saint Silouan’s quote as: Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom, Vol. 1 of the Collected Works (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2004), 48.

Living An Extraordinary Life

Sometimes we see something and it cuts right to the core.  Sometimes we hear something so clearly expressed we wonder how we could ever have missed it.  Sometimes we read something and know it expresses eternal truth.

More and more, I am coming to the conclusion that all such wisdom is either understandable to children or it is suspect and perhaps counterfeit.

A dear freind shared something with me yesterday that moved me in this way:

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

My hunch is this is precisely what Jesus was trying to teach us when he told us that unless we become like little children we will never enter the Kingdom of God.

Sometimes we confound ourselves with convoluted statements that simply obfuscate the truth.  Sometimes children have it hands down over adults.  Most of the time, the extraordiary is right before us!

__________________

― “Make the Ordinary Come Alive” is by William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, #35.

You Decide… You Really Do!

YOU be the judge. I could too easily come across as cynical. Who wants to put up with my cynicism?

Here are two news stories that greeted me this morning. They came totally independent of one another. Yet, they collided big time in my morning waking to consciousness.  I’d be curious to know if you see any connection and whether you see any reason for concern.

The first story came from my hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Hearld. Though I moved from Omaha in 1978, it will always be home and I enjoy staying connected with what’s going on there. Today the paper reports that the buy-out for fired University of Nebraska football coach, Bo Pelini will be $128,009 for the next 46 months.

I guess the sum seems smaller if reported in monthly increments rather than a lump sum ($5,888,414.00). The positive spin on the story is that this is less than it might have been — I guess that’s good news!

Because Pelini got a job coaching at Youngstown State in Ohio, Nebraska will “save” $21,991 each month on what the Huskers would have had to pay if he’d not landed another coaching job. Whew! Saving nearly $22,000 each month is a really good thing, right?

Yes, Coach Bo got fired last year even though he again led the Cornhuskers to a 9 and 3 season! If my memory is correct, the team won at least nine games in each of the seven seasons that Pelini coached the team.

Nebraskans take their college football serious! Nine wins for a team in the Big Ten Conference which can boast of the #1 national championship team just wasn’t good enough! Sadly, Nebraska fans are neither unique nor exceptional!

Then comes a seemingly unrelated story, not from the World-Herald but from completely different source. New statistics from the Pew Research Center show that between 2007 and 2014, the number of Americans who identify as Christian dropped by nearly eight percentage points, from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. Yes, an 8% drop in seven years!

At the same time, Pew’s 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study [link] found the number of people who are religiously unaffiliated — either atheist, agnostic or simply “nothing in particular” — has grown by more than six percentage points, from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent in 2014. Yes, fast approaching one-fourth of the population.

You be the judge! Do you see any connection between these two stories? I don’t mean to suggest that football causes one to loose one’s faith — though on football Saturdays in Lincoln you might very well get that idea! I remain curious, however, whether these two seemingly unrelated reports might be pointing at the same social phenomenon! Are they two sides of the same coin?

Again, no one wants to read a cynical rant! So, I leave the ball in your court (mixing my metaphors!) with a final observation. We are currently building a new football stadium in Minneapolis for the Minnesota Vikings at a cost of more than $1,000,000,000.00 — yes, more than a billion dollars!

It’s hyped as a catalyst for economic development. In fact, a new urban park in the heart of the city — dubbed The Yard — will provide a grand approach and view of the imposing architectural monument. The park is being praised for providing a terrific venue for the many pre- and post-game rituals associated with NFL football.

Time was when Cathedrals were built on the town square! Omaha’s St. Cecilia Cathedral — my family’s church and where I went to grade school — sits atop the highest geographical ridge in the city and is visible from as far as thirty miles away. The Cathedral of St. Paul is similarly perched above the Minnesota State capitol.

You judge! What are our core values? What’s important to Americans? Honestly speaking, where do we choose to worship on weekends? Who is our god?

 

Gert

She was about 85 and had just taken the leap into assisted living. This momentous transition required quite an attitude adjustment for me as well. I resented the notion that my mother needed assistance with anything!

One day Claudia was talking with Mom a couple states away. Our matriarch — whose parents saw no need for her to attend high school despite the fact she registered the highest score in the county on her 8th grade standardized exam — casually mentioned she was taking a computer class. These half-day sessions scheduled monthly were just one of many conveniences she enjoyed at her new residence.

Incredulous, Claudia objected, “But, Mom, you don’t even know the keyboard.”

With maternal self-deprecation mixed with characteristic self-determination she retorted, “I know … it’s not like I’m going to go out and get a job. I just want to know what my grandchildren are talking about!”

Mom died peacefully just weeks shy of her 98th birthday. Claudia and I were at her bedside along with other family members. She never lost her eagerness to learn. Her admonition to us kids grousing about one thing or another echoes long after her death, “[Fill-in any one of our names], life is pretty much what you make of it!”

Never settled or content with what she knew, Mom was ever curious about what she didn’t know. We learned to expect a well-considered zinger whenever she began with her characteristic, “Y’know, life is strange…” Generally, she nailed it!

Never having the privilege of a formal education, Mom let nothing inhibit her curiosity. Secure in her love for learning — as well as in herself — Mom’s wisdom far exceeded most of the better “educated.” She remains our first and best teacher.

We would all be blessed to finally learn what she knew — remaining ever-curious, always attentive to what we don’t know!

Guilty as Charged

“Has anyone called you arrogant?” My brother and I were driving south on I-35 south between Minneapolis and the Iowa border when he shot that zinger at me. From anyone else I’d probably be incensed. Coming from him, I’ve had to admit that arrogance is a deeply ingrained trait, especially in the male lineage of my family.

Now we laugh about our shared propensity to such exaggerated self-regard. We still goad one another with the arrogance charge as brothers are wont to do. It’s become sort of a stand-in for expressing our affection — if you haven’t noticed, men are good at code language! It’s guaranteed to make us laugh. As with all good humor, we know that our fraternal jousting is grounded in a good deal of truth.

This all comes rushing back because I just spent eight terrific days with my brother in Florida. Incriminating evidence in something I read yesterday also brought it back with a vengeance. Though I’m no thunder-thinker, I have had the good fortune of a pretty good education, especially in matters theological. Yesterday I was brought face-to-face with my arrogance by being reminded of my gross ignorance.

Inter-religious dialogue — especially among Jews, Muslims and Christians — is a special interest for me. I gravitate to articles on the topic and participate more than most in inter-faith discussions and shared prayer events. While quick to admit my ignorance about Islam, I have blindly presumed I knew something about Judaism.

After all, I have Jewish neighbors and friends. I’ve attended numerous Seders over the years and have been moved by the spiritual richness of Jewish weddings and funerals. I studied the Hebrew scriptures in graduate school. But here is the most dangerous of my assertions — Jesus was Jewish and I know a whole lot about Jesus!

Yesterday I was casually reading, as I am wont to do, an esoteric journal by a Dutch Benedictine monk (that should be indictment enough, right?). Then, here came this zinger: “For many Christians Jewish history ends with the death of Jesus on Golgotha in the year 30 or 33. They know absolutely nothing of the growth and spiritual development of the Jewish people after that.” My ignorance exposed, I stand guilty as charged!

God, like a special big brother, knows how to not-so-subtly lay bare my faults. So it was with even greater intentional ribbing that God seemed to place this bit of wisdom from a 3rd century Desert Father before me this morning:

One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, “Abba Arsenius, how is it that you, with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?” He replied, “I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.”

Ouch!!! In my arrogance lies my greatest ignorance. Like my brother’s taunt, God followed with a not-so-subtle poke in the ribs. Do I use my intelligence as a weapon to defend my superiority as well as insulate my pious “convictions”? I shudder to see how easily I presume to be the repository of all truth, especially around matters spiritual.

Yes, I confess my need to be recognized for having “a way with words.” Perhaps the world might be better off if I shut-up more and learned to listen better.

I am also coming to question whether my “male lineage” is the primary source of my fault.  Arrogance seems to be a deeply engrained trait within the whole human family.

We need to get over it.

___________________

The esoteric journal cited is: Sharing Sacred Space: Interreligious Dialogue as Spiritual Encounter by Benoit Standaert, translated by William Skudlarek. Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN, 2003., p 15.

The quote of Abba Arserius is from: Benedicta Ward, trans., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian Publications: 1975), p 6. and was brought to my attention by Richard Rohr’s Daily Mediation for May 8, 2015 sponsored by the Center for Action and Contemplation. PO Box 12464. Albuquerque, NM 87195.