Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Second Speed Bump Questions - Chapter 7 - The Longing Way Home

Inevitably, the Chapter Six subject of "Says Who?" or what/who constitutes authority in our lives raises again the danger of idolatry. I trust I've spent enough time for now on that issue except to remind you of Martin Luther’s succinct definition of an idol, a false god: “That from which you get your sense of worth, and to which you give your loyalty, is properly your god.” All of us need to hit the Pause button frequently and think about how easy it is to attribute more authority to finite entities than they warrant and how hard it is to wrestle our way out the consequences of that. We have a constant challenge to sort out our answers to "Says Who?” Sooner or later, if we’re at all discerning, we discover how disillusioning or inadequate our little gods, our chorus of “authorities” turn out to be. It isn’t a matter of denigrating or discarding them. Rather it’s about determining what good, necessary and rightful place they have for us.

So we come to the second speed bump question, namely, "What's at stake?" This is a particularly thorny question because it has several responsible, yet contingent, answers depending on the circumstances of our lives at various times and stages.
The question, “What’s at stake?” implies there are moral, spiritual qualities by which we evaluate what our day to day choices and personal investments mean to us and about us in honestly shaping our answers.

So let me begin with a sort of preamble. As the pace of life constantly quickens, as the “rat race” accelerates, it’s crucial not to avoid the question or take our answers for granted. the invention and escalation of technology - computers, the Internet, cell phones, iphones,ipads - have taken our lives to near warp speed. But it’s not those technological advances that control us and accelerate our lives; it’s our choices to use them as though they did. That’s what makes our “What’s at stake?" question so crucial.

Technology enables us to do amazing things, expanding our options while also limiting our face to face and reflection time if we let it. For example, pediatricians warn against using television for baby sitting, having TV’s in the bedrooms of 2 year olds, computers for 4 year olds and reducing the interaction between kids and adults that is essential to their growth in language, imagination, problem solving. And there’s our “What’s at stake question?” When the tsunami hit Japan with its terrible nuclear reactor damage leading to radioactive contamination spread around that nation, and to some extent the rest of the world, we once again hit the speed bump question, “What’s at stake here?” There are a plethora of more personal examples of how over-investment in careers, or acquiring money wreaks damage to individuals and family life when the question of “What’s at stake here?” doesn’t get asked or honestly answered.

Sooner or later we usually realize that many of our fevered disagreements and arguments as well as our hurried actions really have little at stake beyond our pride or ambition. On the other hand, many of the things we value and to which we give allegiance are good and necessary things. Our work, family, friendships, country, causes, political parties, institutions of education, art, music, medicine, human rights have just that kind of importance in our lives, and should have.

Investing our care, thought, active interest, time, support in those good and right things is not only a key to personal integrity but equally important, it is the way to project our personal values and concerns into the public arena in accordance with Jesus' parable of the Samaritan.The critical condition of such investing is to make every effort to have it be rooted in our longing for the quality of life which is eternal.

Please understand: I do not mean “eternal life" in the sense of getting to heaven, which is about God’s grace, not our achievements. Rather, I take "eternal life” to mean living in the finite present a life grounded in that revealed in Jesus. Such grounding empowers us to do everything we can to do justly, to make peace, to love neighbor and enemy, to care for the poor and be stewards of the earth while leaving the outcomes of our labors to God. It gives us the energy to persist in the struggle and not to despair or give up because such grounding in God’s grace delivers us from taking the good and valuable things we invest in as sufficient in themselves. Good, Yes; sufficient, No.

In my view, many of our problems come when we claim OUR good to be THE best. After all, that's what the pharisee and the scribe did in Jesus parable, and in a different way, so did the lawyer. It wasn't that they weren't committed to doing good things, it was their claim that the way they were, what they stood for and how they practiced it was absolutely the best. Therein lies their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Therein lies our own constant temptation and common trespass.

Certainly, it is always possible, helpful, even necessary that our good become better. We can always see, or be shown, ways to become better persons and find ways to make conditions for ourselves and for others better because those two efforts are inevitably linked. We can, and should grow in discernment, empathy, compassion, courage, hopefulness, faith (as in the epileptic boy's father's response to Jesus' healing his son, 'I believe, help my unbelief).

Better is always within our reach, best is always beyond it. A lot of grief, ours and others, could be avoided if we keep that in mind. Or better, if we keep praying about what matters most to us. Prayer goes deep, is a kind of a parentheses or time out, (or maybe a time in) in which we weigh who we are or are trying to be. It’s a reach for integrity or wholeness to life. Henri Nowen is on target here: “The real question is not ‘What can we offer each other?’ but ‘What can we be for each other?’ Prayer is about the ... greater gift of our own life that shines through all we do.” More often than we might realize, "What’s at stake?” is the integrity and the core meaning of our lives, and therefore, of life itself as we discern it. What’s at stake is what we can be for each other.

As I write this chapter, the pedophile scandal of Penn State University’s football coaches and program is swamping the entire university, the alumni, the state of Pennsylvania and the country’s college athletic programs, along with some degree of corollary damage to the wider public. What’s most obviously at stake is the legal issue of why the acts of the offender weren’t reported to the police at the time. Indisputably, serious mistakes were made by those in authority leading to tragic consequences for the abused boys.

But the issue goes beyond the legal, even moral, ramifications to the deeper one of misjudging what was really at stake in the matter. That misjudgment prompted the iconic coach Joe Paterno and school administrative leaders to put protecting the reputation of the university and its football program above their ethical responsibility to protect children from a predator who also needed help for a serious psychological illness. For one thing, all of us who are fans of collegiate and professional sports have contributed to establishing the closed, self-serving, institutional aggrandizing, nearly sacred culture of athletics in this country. Surely that culture and our collusion in it, needs our thoughtful examination and confession

For another thing, the nature of the response to the tragedy by the media and general public, which includes most of us, is also at stake. The response has been nearly universally self-righteous and arrogance in the assumption that we would have certainly handled things differently and ethically. Yet, there are dozens of incidents of crimes and serious offenses committed in which people neither intervened or reported. More over, who doesn’t know, remember and regret making bad mistakes we wish we hadn’t and though not criminal still hurt others, even our own kids.? What honest person won’t admit how easily losing our way can happen and how alert we need to be to our own frailties and to misdirecting our deepest loyalty and longing toward objects or purposes that are deficient and damaging for us and those around us. That is not in any way to excuse the offenders who caused the PSU tragedy. It is only to confess our own flawed humanity, our sin, and be more gentle and compassionate in our judgment of others. A part of the summons of our longing is to keep asking ourselves, every day, with every choice, “What’s at stake? What can I/we be for each other ... and for God?

The truth is that we don't have to insist that our good is the best in order to be effective activists for what we believe. In fact, if or when we claim the best for ourselves or our “good,” we betray our selves and, more importantly, we actually mock what we value most and what we truly long for, namely, a deeper love of self, neighbor and God. In truth, the “Best” always stands as a kind of corrective judgement and course correction as well as the liberating assurance of the truth that our lives, thoughts and actions are, good, can be better, but never best. That is the rock bottom of what's at stake for us. That's the core integrity undergirding our commitment to the good we chose, and the better towards which we reach in ourselves and through the actions and involvements that reflect what we value and believe.

The outcomes are beyond our control and ultimately up to God. Dag Hammarskjold, the second secretary general of the United Nations and a deeply religious person, put his view of his work this way: "The United Nations was not created to bring us to heaven, but to save us from hell.”(1)

Hammarskjold’s analysis compelling and accurate. Our challenge, the challenge of faith, lies not in making heaven on earth but in saving ourselves, our neighbors, humanity, the earth, from hell. Since my mother frowned on swearing, when I was a kid, often when asked how they were doing, men would say, “I’m working to beat hell.” I loved that. It seemed a legitimate to use the cuss word that way. Now I believe working to beat hell is what we are all called to do what we are called to do. Hammarskjol’s perspective has it memorably right. Attend to the summons of your longing and remember: insisting that our views, ways and works are “the best” often escorts us to “hell” while “the good” saves us from it. That’s what's at stake for us and something of what the mystery of our deep longing is about.

I’m a grateful citizen of the United States, and yet, I find it disturbing that we habitual proclaim our country as "the best in the world," the most exceptional, most important and exemplary, indeed, God’s chosen people. That is one of the most dangerous idolatries of all. It is in itself, a betrayal of the very foundation of our country. It distorts our relationship with other nations as well as our personal perspective and values. It also betrays the longing for a love, a grace not to fulfill us temporally, or temporarily, but to sustain us in our life journey in this world and time.

The notion of “the chosen people” stretches way back in human history. It is a factor in the establishment of the Hebrew people and the nation of Israel as "God’s chosen people”. The claim of being God’s chosen people extended to Jesus followers, then to the the church which was defined as the body of Christ. In that process, being called “God’s chosen people” came to mean being a special, privileged, superior, “the best,”people, certainly in their own sight and, they assumed, in God’s sight, too. Everyone else who did not convert to their view and creed were deemed the unacceptable, the enemies of truth and goodness, the damned to hell which, incidentally, is another version of hell we need to save ourselves and others from. More often than not, the claim of being chosen got extended to people not only of a single religion, but of a single race, or gender, or class, or nation, which is to say, - i.e. us and ours, perhaps most notably, our country.

But when God first chose Abraham and made a covenant with him, it was to make him and his family “ ... a great nation ... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (2) That means a chosen people are chosen for responsibility for others, not for separation from them. Chosen people are not chosen for privilege, or preference or elevated status but to be humble, generous, compassionate, merciful. We are chosen to love God with all our hearts ... and our neighbors, even our enemies, as ourselves. That is what’s at stake in life. It is not easy or simple; it’s complicated and hard. But there is some nurturing sense of okay-ness or rightness about it and about the direction in which it takes us. Yes, our “good” and even our “better” falls short. We are finite, limited creatures. None of it satisfies our longing, but it does clarify it little by little. Accompanied by God’s grace, it’s the longing way home.

I want to share something Toni Morrison said as 2011 Commencement Speaker at Rutgers University. "I have long wished that Jefferson had not used the phrase 'the pursuit of happiness" as the third right -- although I understand in the first draft it was 'life, liberty and the pursuit of property" ... so I suppose happiness is an ethical improvement over a life devoted to the acquisition of land, acquisition of resources, acquisition of slaves. Still, I would rather he had written 'life, liberty and the pursuit of meaningfulness' or 'integrity' or 'truth.’ ...Personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life; it's a trivial one. It's looking good instead of doing good.”

Morrison’s challenge to those graduates, and to us, underscores the relevance of the speed bump, What’s at stake?” It’s about us working to beat hell. And, Yes, those are a huge and complicated questions played out on a larger stage than is our personal venue. But the challenge also pertains to our every day choices and involvements, from the arguments we have with each other over trivial matters to the way we treat our families, do our jobs, relate to neighbors and the community, use our money, pick the causes we support, attend to our spiritual life, chose the groups we join, spend our time. It’s about everything we think, feel and do in our daily round. “What’s at stake in all this?” It’s about what we can be for each other, about who we are, who we want to be, what we really believe and care about.

No one of us can save the world from hell or change things much by ourself beyond what the Good Samaritan did. But together, we can change a lot. AS has been said, Good Samaritans need to get organized and become active in the public arena. A few weeks ago, dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial was dedicated in our nation’s capital, a just and earned tribute to him as another Father of this country. King was the preeminent leader of the Civil Rights movement that changed the racial discrimination laws of this country.

But the key word is, “movement.” I march many times for civil rights. I was one of thousands to be march the last stage of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. It was one of the most privileged and memorable moments of my life to be part of that historic occasion. I carried the coat and bag of a black woman as I tried to keep up with her as tears rolled down her cheeks and jubilation rolled off her tongue. We marched through streets crowded with people cursing at us, threatening to kill us, calling us ugly. obscene names. The march never faltered. The people in it never turned tail or backed off. It essential ways, it was the church, certainly the black church, that was on the march. Together with all who signed on with it.

After the march ended, some of these haters made good on a few of their threats. Viola Liuzzo was killed as she drove home. Others were beaten. But that march and that movement helped change the country. It helped King’s composite “Dream” come closer to fulfillment. It helped bend the long arc of history toward justice, as King so graphically put it. It wasn’t a safe time or an easy time. One way or another, most times are not. So Dr. King’s words are as relevant to us in our time as it was that day: “The ultimate measure of a man (or woman) is not where he (she) stands in movements of comfort and convenience, but where he (she) stands at times of challenge and controversy.” The key is to stand together, to go public with our personal beliefs, to be brave and wise putting them in action TOGETHER.

Sister Mary Scullion is the Mother Teresa of Philadelphia. I am blessed to know her as a friend. Years ago, she began a ministry to homeless people, street people in this city. starting in an abandoned building. She called it Project H.O.M.E. which meant Housing, Opportunities, Medical Care, Education and Employment. She’s enlisted hundreds, even thousands to her project as volunteers and supporters. Now there are projects in ten additional urban locations with a myriad of services.

Sister Mary, and her co-founding friend, Joan Dawson, received from Notre Dame University the 2011 Laetare Medal, the most prestigious honor given to American Catholics. They received the award at the Commencement ceremony at which they gave the speech. In it they identified what’s at stake for us and our society. Here are some excerpts.

“We live in a complex and deeply challenging times. Our society, we believe, is one most often measures the value of a person by his or her productivity alone and discards the unproductive along the way.

"We live in a society so mesmerized by its view of success that it considers only that real which can be touched and weighed, measured and counted, a culture in which human and spiritual values have almost vanished from consciousness

“We must refuse to be blinded by the false values of excessive individualism and phony materialism. We must instead reignite the quest for the common good … "Strive to live a life you admire, rather than one you envy.” (3)

Far too often, our values, our faith, seem to be primarily a personal matter. And yet, to consider it as that is a cop out. Of course, the "What’s at stake?” question has to be asked first of all of each person, each of us. But we can’t stop there. Each of us are a neighbor, have neighbors so Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan is a call to take faith into the public area.

Please, do not take that as in any way advocating for a theocracy in our country. Such advocacy would violate a faith in God’s grace and our own humility and love. We do not have to claim to be the best in order to be good. Our country’s constitutional separation of church and state not only protects the church from dominance by the state but equally important, and I would add, Christian, it protects the state from dominance of the church or other religious institutions.

That only emphasizes the relevance of the “What’s at stake?” to involvement in and our potential influence for justice and compassion on our society, our political process and economy, even to our global economy and diplomatic relations with other nations. My point here is that to ask the question of ourselves personally has implications for the larger human. By asking it of ourselves, we are, or should be, asking it in some form to our society as a whole. The attitude of assuming we are helpless to make a difference in the larger community is immoral, and unChristian.

I hold that to be true because I am tired of hearing about Christ as our Savior, and to insist that our enemies are God’s enemies, is to dismiss Jesus as an example, a leader who cared passionately about poverty, sickness, children, the oppressed, the exploited, the least of these in the human family, who lived that out publicly and calls us to live likewise.

The issue isn’t that we are helpless, it’s that we are frightened. Jesus risked confronting the entrenched religious and political power. He held them accountable for their indifference, their hypocrisy, their deceit, their pretentiousness and and self-righteousness. And it cost him a price he was willing to pay, a sacrifice we well know. That frightened his disciples as it does us.

But the mystery is that Jesus did that because he loved the persons he confronted. He wanted something different from them and for them. That changes our easy, sentimental version of love, of grace. God grace includes God’s justice, holiness and righteousness as well as God’s mercy and reconciliation. Someone once put it this way: “The Gospel is bad news before it is good news.” It takes courage to accept and apply that truth, to keep asking ourselves, and our community, our country, “What’s at stake?” as we live and labor and love God and our neighbors as ourselves, That takes courage and courage is the partner of faith without which faith is pap.

So, how do you answer the essential but often muted longing in the question, “What’s at stake?" in the choices and actions of our every day living?

(1) Quoted by Brain Urquhart - New York Times column - September 17, 2011
(2) The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 1971 Edition, Thomas Nelson Inc. - Genesis 12:3
(3) Project Home’s DWELLING PLACE - July 2011 - all quotes page 1 & 2

Monday, February 13, 2012

Memoir Supplement - Chapter Six - The Longing Way Home Draft


Since reading it, I’ve been mulling over a line in The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver’s creative novel in which one character says to another: "The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don’t know.”(1) One obvious application of that statement would be the distortions and limitations of memoirs and autobiographies which leaves important things about the person unknown because our spoken as well as our written versions of ourselves are inevitably selective and skewed.

But why that’s the case with us is the the deeper question Kingsolver is raising here. Her assertion implies that the important thing we don’t know about someone is probably the same thing we don’t know about anyone, even ourselves. So, what could be "the most important thing about a person" we don’t know? Of several possible answers the one I find most basic at this point is this: The most important thing we don’t know about anyone, as well as ourselves, is what compels us to do or say, or not do or say, the things that cobble together our identity and shape our lives. ambiguous

Yes, I know that’s neither a clear nor concise answer to Kingsolver’s provocative observation as it involves the vast, complicated maze of genes, infant impressions, family influences, personal motives, emotions, objectives, thoughts, needs, learnings, limitations, vulnerabilities, beliefs, flaws, injuries, illusions, values that make us human. So, No, we can’t ever completely sort all that out and come up with a just one reason for what we do or don’t do.

And yet, we are not determined or controlled by any one, or a constellation, of those factors. Within our mortal limitations, we still have choices. We still make crucial decisions. We still have a significant degree of self-determination. We are given the capacity to share in our own creation. So the challenge isn’t the complexity of things; it’s the will, effort, courage, honesty to continuously examine what it means to most fully realize our humanity and to make decisions and choices accordingly.

Recently, I read Karl Stevens’ review of Robert Jay Lifton’s new book, Witness to and Extreme Century: A Memoir. (2) As you may know, Lifton is a psychologist, a self-described “spiritually committed nonbeliever" who has spent a lifetime studying all kinds of holocausts from Auschwitz to My Lai in Vietnam, and instances of human resistance to evil or what he calls “totalism.” He defines totalism as "attempts by political or religious groups to exert complete control over peoples minds ... taking what is good in a society or religion and amplifying it to the exclusion of everything else until it ceases to be good and becomes monstrous.”(3)

We could certainly elaborate and give examples of such totalism with which we’re familiar these days but instead, let’s get to the relevant point here. Stevens condenses Lifton’s work as discerning “a link between the capacity to be self-critical and the capacity to resist evil.”(4)

I believe the the process of faith involves the capacity to be self-critical as the way to wrestle with our tendency to totalism which is really idolatry, the allegiance to false gods. We have that self-critical capacity as it’s integral to our humanity however adept we can become to ignoring it, denying it, perverting it into judging and blaming others. To pray, to honestly examine what fuels what we do and say, or don’t do or say, is how we exercise self-criticism. That’s how we move toward integrating what we believe and value into what we do and say. That integration is what it means for our lives to have as much daily “integrity” as we can bring to them.

Of course, that is a process never completed. Acknowledging and accepting our limits is what humility is. However, humility is also to acknowledge our gifts, ideas, views, talents, wisdom and to courageously risk employing them in trying to love our neighbors as ourselves. In his review Stevens says that the antinuclear weapons witness of a Japanese man who once supported Japanese imperial efforts helped Lifton to “... articulate one of his alternatives to totalism: radically expanding one’s sense of community to that it includes not just the group you belong to or the comment you serve but all of the people you are able to encompass in your moral imagination.”(5) I hold that such expansion of our view of neighborhood and neighbors is at the heart of what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

With that prelude, I return to the continuation of this section six of my memoirs. I do so with Kingsolver’s own slightly altered but deeper assertion: “The most important part of a story is the piece of it you don’t know.”(6) That expands the mystery inherent in the life of every person to the mystery of life itself. In my view, it incorporates the mystery of God’s ways in our human story, ways we not only don’t but can’t know for certain, and yet are invited to trust none-the-less. That’s the implicit start to finish assumption of each supplement of my memoir.

It was on my 14th birthday in 1944, during World War II, that we left Aberdeen, South Dakota for Milwaukie, Oregon, a town that touched the city limits of Portland. The curious gift of that particular move was that it expanded my exposure to a variety of neighborhoods and neighbors. The culture of the Midwest of our country was quite homogeneous racially, primarily protestant and church going, politically conservative but open, generous, friendly, culturally centered in high school athletic teams, concerts, dramas, essentially an agricultural economy, and hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Dust Bowl which tended to draw people together. People shared their hardships, struggles, views and personal life styles.

That Oregon was different was evident in its natural, physical appearance as in mid-July we drove the last leg of our trip down the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon-Washington state border and into Portland which was situated at the convergence of the Willamette River, which flowed North through the state, and the Columbia River, which ran West, on its way to the Pacific about 100 miles away. Oregon was green! It had hills and mountains, big rivers, an all kinds of flowers blooming everywhere.

As we drove along the Willamette through Portland and on south about 8 miles to Milwaukie, we saw two or three huge shipyards along the river run byKaiser Corp. Dad, who had gone to Oregon early in January to start working before returning to Aberdeen to assist in our move, told us the shipyards had shifts around the clock to build Liberty Ships which were huge vessels used to carry troops and materials to war zones in the Pacific as well as Europe. The shipyards accounted for the large influx of people from around the county to work in them. Near the edge of Milwaukie was an area called Kellogg Park, named for a creek that emptied into the nearby Willamette River. It was one of the several clusters of standardize, barrack-like units built to house the shipyard workers. Supposedly temporary, Kellogg Park lasted long after the war ended and blue collar families live in them. Later I discovered later that several of my high school friends lived there.

Since we didn’t have much money and housing was hard to find, my family lived for over a year in a rooming house in a residential neighborhood on one of the hills surrounding Milwaukie’s small business section located down on the river. My Grandfather had lived in a rooming house since he’d come to Oregon in the late “30s so he had a major role in getting us in.

Our “new home’ was on the second floor of a large house and consisted of former bedrooms, one larger one converted to a combined small dining-living room with just enough space on one end for a small table, four chairs, with a "kitchen” with a hot plate tucked in a side closet, and on the other end was old convertible couch and a couple of well worn stuffed chairs. Two halls intersected outside that room, a short one which served as a landing for the stairs as well as the entrance to a small bathroom with a tub that we shared with two other families. Down the other longer, narrow hallway, was my Grandfather’s bedroom which he liked because he could sit on the edge of the bed and reach everything in the room. Across the hall were three equally small bedrooms for my parents, my sister and me. It would be an understatement to say it was a tight fit. So our life in Oregon began. We felt like strangers in a strange land.

The first months were a something of a blur. It didn’t take long for me and the rest of the family to discover that Oregon was not only green but gray, It would be more accurate to say it was green because it was gray. There were long days of gray skies, gray haze, gray rain and the gray moods which are now labeled SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Obviously, the gray was the price of the green: the evergreens, the lawns, roses (Portland was called the Rose City), azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and dozens of other flowers. Oregonians considered it worth the price but it did take some getting used to. Of course, there were many bright, sunny days as well, especially from April through most of October, though never got as hot in South Dakota.

For us the Oregon wetness was starkly different from the familiar dryness of South Dakota. The l annual rainfall in Oregon may not have been much more than fell in the hard, driving rain, hail, lightning and thunder storms of the Midwest but it took a lot longer to come down. Dust was replaced with mist but Oregonians didn’t seem to mind much. After all, mist didn’t ruin crops and there were always roses around even if you couldn’t eat them.

I remember once when my Mom touched a camellia blossom and said to me, with the obvious amazement of someone who’d lived all her prior life through the droughts and dust storms of the plains, “Teddy, can you believe this? In Oregon, I think you could put a stick in the ground and it would grow. In Nebraska and South Dakota everything we put in the ground seemed to turn into sticks.” She had graphically summed up the radically different environment of our new home. It did take getting used to, and I’m not sure I ever really did.

Another difference was the diversity of the population. My Dad and Grandfather’s office was next to an Italian family tailor and dry cleaners shop. Around the corner was a pharmacy owned and run by Italians. There were several Italian family cultivating so called Truck Farms along one of the major roads near town and there was a large Catholic Church and high school about a block from the public high school, both serving a significant population in the area. Plus, there were people from many different states squeezed together in the metro area working in war related industries and patronizing stores in Portland and environs.

Yet there was a war related shortage of workers for some type of jobs, so even though I was only 14, a week or so after we arrived, I got a job in the Milwaukie Safeway stocking shelves, bagging and carrying out groceries as I had done earlier in Aberdeen. In the process, I met all kinds of different people with unusual habits and attitudes different from those I’d encountered before. Even the war seemed more threatening in Oregon if only because of the shipyards, the blackout rehearsals and the fighting in the Pacific area being geographically closer, as well as families of Japanese people in the area being sent to interment camps for being possible enemy supporters.

To complicate our transition even more, my Dad had been suffering stomach problems for a year or so and that summer they intensified. Finally, an old, widower doctor with a reputation for drinking too much, diagnosed Dad’s problem as an infected gall bladder and sent him to a hospital in Portland. Apparently, it saved Dad’s life since the surgeon told us his gall bladder was on he verge of rupturing which would have spread the infection all through his body. Our visits to a hospital in a strange city, in a location to which we hardly knew the way, ending up in a hospital room with a groggy Dad with tubes running out of his body was very scary. His obvious vulnerability was totally unfamiliar and disorienting. I’d never experienced him that way before. I prayed without being at all sure how, or for what, only that I wanted someone to do something beyond my power or knowledge to name or do. I think it was a longing for a Dad, or home, or family free of fear or threat or loss even though I knew that was beyond reaching for me, for anyone.

When he came out of the hospital, I had trouble processing the fact that my tough Dad was sick, weak, incapacitated. One day in his convalescence, I was with him when we met the guy who owned the rooming house and been abusive to my Mother. The guy started berating Dad and Dad challenged him about Mom and told him he’d beat the hell out of him if that ever happened again. By then I was pretty big physically and though the guy knew Dad was recovering from surgery, I think the guy thought the odds were against him and he backed off. It occurred to me that Dad had counted on that and it made me feel closer to him, as if I was somehow important to him. It was a happy revelation for me because Dad was very important to me and try as I did, I never seemed able to please him until I became a prominent athlete in high school and college.

The way the old couch in our main boarding house room converted into a small bed involved lifting up the seat section to lower the vertical back section to a horizontal position against the wall of the room and the seat section to a vertical position away from but parallel to the wall. That created a kind of cave with the wall on one side and the elevated couch seat out in the room. To complete the conversation, you pushed the couch seat section toward the wall which released a catch and lowered the two sections into a level area to comprise a bed. But my trick was to stop the conversion at the “cave” stage of the process, crawl in, sniffle and day dream while feeling hidden from the world.

I think now that strange practice of mine was a way of expressing the deep sense of loneliness that shadowed me over the years. It wasn’t that I didn’t make and have friends, or was anti-social or reclusive. It was a loneliness that prevailed in spite of that. I interpret it as a form of the longing I’m trying to point toward as being the pilgrim’s urge and God’s beaconing.

When our first Autumn came my vivacious, gutsy, lovely, enormously talented, pianist sister, Rosemary, went off to the University of Oregon in Eugene, 90 miles south, and I went off to Milwaukie Union High School, three blocks away. Emotionally, it was a huge step for both of us. I’d learned to be talkative, humorous, gregarious as a way to cover my sense of inadequacy, insecurity and anxiety. That was my strategy in high school and it became a lifelong disposition. I didn’t, and don’t, consider it deceitful because both dispositions are true of me. I always have known that and struggled with it.

The struggle is that while covering one disposition with the other disguised my loneliness, it didn’t eliminate it. I keenly felt the sting of criticisms people leveled at me for whatever reasons and yet was unable to share my weakness and vulnerability. That’s a predicament I’ve lived with all my life and shared only with a few people I trust. However, it was also one of the factors that led to my later emotional breakdown and therapeutic reconstruction because the anxiety and insecurity I tried to cover were attributable in large part to my long held assumption that I had to be perfect (and tried in anguish to be) or I would never get the acceptance or love I longed for so deeply. That’s an obvious bind, or dead end, that many of us experience in one way or another. It took a long time after high school and a terrifying breakdown for me to seek help and begin addressing the bind that nearly strangled me. High school only helped tighten the bind, not because of school but because of my own disposition. For me, and I suspect for most of us, memories of high school years are less a linear narrative than a collage of experiences and events. Here are some of my most notable ones:
  • Late in my freshman year, my parents bought a house on a hill between the Willamette River and the major north-south highway from Seattle to L.A. and near the southern outskirts of Milwaukie It was a modest house set up on a crawl space but with no basement with three bedrooms, two on the second floor for me and Rosemary when she was home, one bedroom and bath on the first floor, a dinning rom with a big glass picture window. The house was on a sizable lot surrounded by a low rock enclosure and filled with tall pine trees. It was to be the home they’d longed for and moving in eliminated the any sense of the impermanence or transient nature of our move to Oregon. We were now officially Oregonians. Somehow that ended my lingering dream of playing ball for my revered Aberdeen Eagles and seriously but sadly focused my attitude entering Milwaukie Union High School.
  • Sports were a major part of my high school experience. As a freshman, I played Junior Varsity football and basketball and got a big taste of Milwaukie’s athletic tradition which I felt was not as impressive as Aberdeen’s. But a small of friends decided to enter the State Golden Ball Basketball Tournament on our own which meant riding an hour on public transportation to a gym in Northeast Portland. With no sponsor or coach and only 5 players. we won two games and barely lost a third. What as amazing is that at the end of the tournament, I was selected as an All Star and went by myself to the Award Ceremony which included other guys from around the state. I was totally stunned. What followed was playing Varsity football and basketball as a Sophomore, Junior and Senior and being an All State selection in both sports. My Dad, who attended all home games, was proud of me while my Mom worried that I’d get hurt. Strangely, the recognition and accolades added significantly to my anxiety so I was often sleepless the night before games worried about not playing well enough in the next game, the next game, the next game through the very last games of my high school career. It was a constant test that diluted the fun of playing. Even though I was recruited to play basketball in several big time university programs, I chose a small university one, believing I wouldn't be good enough. It turned out I was wrong as my college team beat some of those big time teams but my decision was right for educational reasons.
  • I was President of the Junior Class but I lost when I ran for Student Body President. That was an emotional blow and cruel disappointment. When I told my parents about it and how much it hurt, my Dad said, “The man worthwhile is the man who can smile when things go dead wrong.” Apparently he didn’t know I was already good at that strategy and and had honed it over the years. In fact I’d been doing that all day at school after the distressing news came out but it didn’t change how I felt, the ache of disappointment, the sense of failure, the question of why the student body didn’t like me, the increasing worry that something was wrong with me or missing in me that lead to that result. That became an abiding worry in my life. Only years later I did I realize that my Dad, and probably my Mom as well, had been smiling when things went wrong all their lives, too. I think it contributed to Mom’s constant worry and insecurity and Dad’s constant stress, anxiety and outbursts of anger at me when I messed up. Taken together it made it difficult if not impossible for us to share our true thoughts, feelings and experiences until very late in their lives. I regret that, but even more, I regret that as a Father, for far too long, I mindlessly inflicted the same damaging mistake on my own kids. I’m trying as hard as I can to rectify that, God help me.
  • I did well academically but I’m not sure how. Maybe high school wasn’t as difficult then as it is now or maybe I studied harder than I remember. I really don’t know. I did have some wonderful teachers including, among others: Miss Reed in English under whom we carefully read Tale of Two Cities and I learned how to understand and appreciate literature and composition; the young, vibrant, pretty Ms. Obertoffer who made algebra intelligible, interesting and almost as appealing as she was; Mr. Sutherland who was another story as was geometry which seemed as staid, stuffy and boring as he was as a very proper Scotsman who must have forgotten how to laugh or relate to students years earlier; Ms. Winter who taught Latin was an enigma, a middle-aged bleach blond who always seemed to be doing something out of sight at her desk while running the class through the conjugation of Latin verbs, impressing us with the origins, complexity and power of words, and sending me to the Principal's Office for talking and cutting up in class; Ms. Grace Oliver, speech teacher who helped us develop some continuity of thought and expression in dealing with weighty subjects and who, in my Senior year, coached me in preparation for a district speech contest. My speech was on Paul Robeson, an All- American football player at Rutgers, a superb singer and Shakespearian actor who was an African American who fought for civil rights and was accused of being a Communist. This was in 1948! I was shocked not to win the speech contest. That’s how naive I was and when I realized the odds against my winning with speech on such a subject, I was proud of what I’d done. In any case, it turned out I was the Salutatorian (at the time I didn’t know what that was but was told it meant I was second in my graduating class of maybe 175 or so) which meant I was to deliver the student address at the Commencement Exercise. I didn’t mention Paul Robeson in that speech. I guess some burrs of lessons learned do stick to anyone who trudges through the tangled stretches of high school.
  • Finally, the social issues of those Oregon High School years from 1944-48. Primarily, that meant discovering, learning about and experimenting with the wonders, power and confusion of girls and sex. I liked and made friends with a lot of girls in high school even though in many ways I was awkward about dating. I those days, it was common to “go steady” with one girl, or at least one at a time. For me, there was a certain security in that though I’m not sure why. I think it was the fear of being rejected if I had to keep asking different girls for dates even though I can only remember one such request being turned down. There were lots of school dances, and during every lunch period, there was dancing in the school auditorium, almost exclusively involving girls dancing with each other. And there were movies to attend, rare parties to go to and most relationships involved double dates in order to have a car to travel wherever we were going and to share the challenge of asking parents to let you use the family car on a Friday or Saturday night. Usually dates involved progression from holding hands to kissing, to clumsy petting or touching breasts through blouses and sweaters to putting hands as high on a thigh as you could get without being shoved away. Heave petting meant touching and caressing private parts directly and exploring how they felt and worked. Actual intercourse was rare and fear of pregnancy was a huge deterrent for both parties. My personal experience was a whirl of powerful attraction mixed with frightening guilt and that covered both any sexual contact with a girl or the fantasies involved in masturbation, the latter bearing the supposed consequence of damaging the brain. My parents were very puritanical about sex so I was terribly conflicted about it, strongly attracted to it and then acutely ashamed, anxious and terribly guilty about it. Judging from brief conversations about sex with friends,In those years, I think in those years my experience was common though probably less intense and debilitating than mine. I remember with strong regret one experience of heavy and serious petting with a girl friend followed by my lecturing her about how bad we were and pressuring her never to do that again with anyone. Some date I was, right?My early sexual experiences were a mess and my development painful and confusing.  I was a good socializer with a good sense of humor and a wide ranging capacity to discuss any subject, some trivial, others personal, others serious and substantial. By the time I graduated, I had a lot of friends but unfortunately, none who were very close. I remain a lonely loner in many ways but who knew about my struggles, anxieties, guilt, or even my beliefs and longings, except me? No one and it wasn’t because of them.
How was it for you and how is it now? On to college years next time.

(1) Barbara Kingsolver - The Lacuna - HarperCollins Publishers - pg. 218 & 277
(2) Karl Stevens - The Christian Century - February 22, 2012 - p 49 ff.
(3) Ibid
(4) Ibid
(5) Ibid
(6) Barbara Kingsolver - The Lacuna - HarperCollins Publishers - pg. 494

Monday, January 16, 2012


First, I decided that Chapter 6 of The Longing Way Home was just too long so I’ve divided it into two chapters - i.e. First Speed Bump Question - Chapter 6 and Second Speed Bump Question - Chapter 7. In addition to minor editing, this editorial change means writing two Memoir Supplements, one for each chapter. If you’ve already read the longer version of Chapter 6, the not previously written memoir supplement for that chapter, will be new, as will be the memoir supplement for Chapter 7 which you might already have read since it was originally part of the first version of Chapter 6. In addition, I’m also working on Chapter 8 - Third Speed Bump Question which I alluded to at the end of the original Chapter 6 and is now the end of Chapter 7. I apologize for any confusion this causes readers.

Second. I suspect that anyone who follows my blog book totally agrees with the fact that my blog posts submitted as chapters of a book, are challengingly, even distressingly long, especially for a blog which is typically short. I really do not know how to remedy that problem and still try to write a blog in the form of a serious book. I have experience writing books but not blogs so to try to bring those two enterprises together could be a demanding if not impossible undertaking. vulva

I am saddened by the shrinking of print media accompanied by the difficulty of locating publishers for religious books that are not mainstream oriented which, in my view, is a bit of an indictment of mainstream churches or self-serving or institutional priority forms of Christianity -- or at least a significant number or portion of them. I admit that may be too harsh and unfair a judgement but it does explain something of my view and my dilemma. I do not mean in any way for this explanation to be an expression of self-pity or to single myself out as a victim of changing kinds of communication. It is simply an admission of my limitation in how to address the issue in a reasonably effective way and my discouragement with the process of writing a blog book which takes time that tries readers’ patience as well as my own. I have suggested, and do so again now, that if possible readers of my blog book print out each chapter and read it as if it were a book. I’m not a great technological wizard, or even close, but maybe you are and can easily do that. I do it by copying the computer version of the blog book, opening the Word Perfect of whatever program you have for printing material you write, opening a clear page, hitting the Paste option, then making the copy whatever size or font you chose and printing it. Try it if you want to. Or not.

I have seriously considered ending my effort to write in this form and am still wondering about whether that would really be the best alternative for all concerned. I may be walking alone down a blind alley with this effort, or better, walking with others who have tried to do a blog book and decided to give it up as a waste of everyone’s time. Right now, I am committed to finishing the two pending memoirs and Chapter 8 - Third Speed Bump - The Longing Way Home and its memoir supplement primarily to satisfy myself and fulfilling a promise I made to do that. At that point, I’ll see where I am and what direction to follow from there. I hope your patience will not runout before then. Thank you for going this far with me on The Longing Way Home.

God bless you always, in all ways,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

First Speed Bump Question - Chapter 6 - The Longing Way Home

I’m beginning to come to terms with the truth that as we age, we get slower which means that I’m several times slower than I used to be. I know that’s a lame excuse for length of time between posts of chapters of my blog-book, if in fact you’ve noticed. However, I do hope you haven’t stopped following my blog-book and I do know it’s hard to keep up interest over the intervals. So, once again, as a partial antidote to the problem, I’ve decided to post whatever I write as I write it. My intention is to include you in the process and maybe stimulate you to offer comments or questions or suggestions to consider as I write rather than just afterward.

Also, it’s been suggested to me, and I agree, that since the length of the posts of my blog book are much longer than are typical, the easiest way to read mine is to copy the blog version and then paste the copy on whatever your computer version of Word Perfect might be, make the necessary adjustment of print size and then print the copy to read at your own pace. Try it and let me know if it works. Blessings always, Ted

FIRST SPEED BUMP QUESTION - Chapter Six - The Longing Way Home

I’m not sure how to focus the various thoughts that have been tromping around in my mind in recent weeks (June-November 2011). As probably you have, I’ve trying to sort through and understand what’s going on in our country these days. Most of it is summed up by the nasty hassle of the debt ceiling negotiations of political ideologues butting heads like mountain goat’s over rutting rights. And that narrow-mindedness seems to be a growing trend as the 2012 election begins to heat up.

The urgent question is, “How do we track and respond to what’s going on, here?” To answer, begin with what Bill Moyers said about it: “This is the most dangerous moment in American history. Either we’re going to be a nation of, by and for the people, or of, by and for corporations.” (1)

If that sounds too simplistic, too dire or exaggerated, I would still contend that Moyers is very close to the truth about a complex issue. Add to his warning something James Surowieck wrote about the situation: “You might think that there are benefits to putting negotiators under the gun. But, as the Dutch psychologist Carsten de Dreu has shown, time pressure tends to close minds, not open them. Under time pressure. negotiators tend to rely more on stereotypes and cognitive shortcuts. They don’t consider as wide a range of alternatives, and are more likely to jump to conclusions based on scanty evidence. Time pressure also reduces the chance that an agreement will be what psychologists call ‘integrative’ -- taking everyone’s interests and values into account.” (2)

If de Dreu’s insights applied only to the political negotiators and processes, they’d be interesting but limited. But the truth is de Dreu makes two constructively relevant points about us all: 1- The effects of time pressure on our thinking and deciding; 2- That pressure, among other factors, generates outcomes that are not “integrative." Both points relate to Moyers statement. No one can really hold that what’s going on in our nation takes “everyone’s interests and values into account.”

For the most part, the same holds true for what’s going on in our own lives. Most of us collude in generating none-integrative outcomes by the frenetic pace that whips us into non-integrative lives bouncing to the jig of a thousand enticements or the rap of incessant anxieties which drowned out the soft hum of our deepest longing.

Equally, if not more serious, is that non-integrative outcomes do not address the lives and needs of those in the shadows of our society -- the poor, the sick, the aged, the homeless, poor and middle class children, yea, the middle class as a whole --people who are under stress. Not only are too many of us more economically marginalized but we're spiritually shriveling to "non-integrative” obsessive self-interest parties rather than those having “integrative” consideration of the interests of others as well as their own. Increasingly it seems people are buying into the deceit and intransigence of politicians and corporations without realizing that by doing so, they are going against their own and their neighbors true interests. Add the effects of the non-integrative outcomes of our stereotypes and cognitive (and spiritual) shortcuts on millions of poverty stricken people around the world and where does that leave us?

I contend it leaves us in the company of the lawyer and the man beaten by thieves and left half-dead on the road to Jericho in the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke's Gospel. It goes like this, remember? The lawyer steps out from the crowd and asks Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In turn, Jesus asks him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” The lawyer answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart ... soul ... strength ... and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him, “You have answered right; do this and you will live.” According to Luke, the lawyer, “to justify himself,” then asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds to the question with the parable.*(Luke 10:25-27)

In the parable, Jesus makes it clear that our neighbors definitely include not just our close, comfortable friends but those strange, chancy ones in need, like the beaten person by the road who others passed by in their haste to do whatever things they considered more important. To really emphasize how widely inclusive the circle of neighbors is, Jesus makes a Samaritan the prime example of what is means to love them. Remember, Israelites considered Samaritans to be unclean, outcasts, religious heretics, and enemies of the Jewish people. To use such a one as an example of a merciful, loving neighbor, and a destitute, write-off, beaten man as a neighbor to love, was a radical view.

But I think that in his parable Jesus gives two additional messages. One is that it's possible, even probable, that the lawyer’s first question,“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?,” is not just to set a trap to embarrass or expose Jesus as a heretic, but that his question actually expresses something of the lawyer’s human longing, a longing we all share. If so, that adds a broader more inclusive dimension to the exchange, namely, that Jesus is inviting the lawyer to realize he is also a needy neighbor like the beaten man on the Jericho Road, as well as an unloving neighbor who, like the priest and Levite, ignores and walks past the beaten one.

That indicates that the lawyer's problem isn't just his hypocrisy and indifference; it's also his refusal to identify with the beaten man and thus to recognize the flicker of longing in his first question as a key to his real identity. You see, if Jesus’ parable is taken as a vignette of the human situation at large, then we, like the lawyer, are called not only to love our neighbor as he Samaritan did, but to realize we are a neighbor who has a deep longing for abiding love, and so need other neighbors to love us and help us love them and all other neighbors. That means we should see ourselves as part of the human network of neighbors. And yet, most of us know how hard it is do to that, don't we?

The second message is that the Samaritan is a neighbor, too. He is the neighbor who loves and is an example of what it means to love God, and so, to love another neighbor as himself. So the rest of the message of the parable is not just that by his actions the Samaritan is a neighbor who loves, but is also a neighbor to be loved -- and is, at least by himself in attending to the summons of his longing. Think about that. Isn’t that what it means to love your neighbor as yourself? As a Samaritan man, he knows what it is to be despised and rejected emotionally and spiritual. That is another version of being “beaten” in a way we all experience one way or another. So, the Samaritan also longs to be loved just as he loves the other “beaten man” on the Road to Jericho, and by responding to his longing for that, he is loving himself in the process. That kind of loving reflects the first part of the commandment, or invitation, to love God with all your heart in response to God loving you with all his/her heart. To love your self in that way is what it is to begin trusting the grace of God.

At its depths, the parable is “good news’ but also it is demanding news, not exactly the kind you'd expect if you think Jesus is essentially "gentle, meek and mild." That's makes it sharply relevant to us and the present social, political scene. For the most part, what we heard during the recent national debt crisis haggle, and since, was and is spouted not only by arrogant politicians and self-declared presidential candidates, but also by temper-tantrum voters, probably including many of us. It consists mostly of stereotypes and cognitive shortcuts. Not many, certainly not enough, advocate for the range of alternatives that justice, compassion and innovation require.

Ergo, the “solution” and its fallout puts most of the burden on the 80% of our society who are the shrinking middle-class and the poor, old, sick, leaving the upper 15% doing increasingly well, 5% of them being billionaires many times over. The “debate” seems less about ideas and trying to solve problems in an integrative and just way than it is about ideologies and grabbing power. How many times does the Good Samaritan parable have to be repeated before we all get it?

But the issue cuts an even wider swath we might first suppose. Though there are many Good Samaritans in our society, thank God, (and surely many of us are among them) and though we certainly need as many more as will step up, the critical challenge is to try to prevent as many victims as we can. The challenge is to try to change the unjust, non-integrative choices and conditions that leave so many “beaten” people tossed aside on our contemporary versions of the Jericho Road we’re all racing on.

That is a hard, complicated, long term challenge. But it’s an unavoidable one if - if - we are to be who we claim we are and want to be, and really are, namely neighbors to love and be loved by, others rather than just being individuals hastily pursuing supposedly "more important things.” I believe this public aspect of the parable is also an essential part of what Jesus is conveying when he has the Samaritan not only rescue the beaten man but transport him to an inn and pay for his care. As I see it,by doing that, Jesus expands the context of being a Good Samaritan from just the personal to the public.

So back to psychologist de Due’s finding that “ … time pressure tends to close minds, not open them. Under time pressure. negotiators tend to rely more on stereotypes and cognitive shortcuts. They don’t consider as wide a range of alternatives … “ Our inclination is to blame others for what’s happening around us, and often to us, but that just doesn’t wash. It disguises both our own accountability for our personal and communal actions as well as our own need and deep longing for true community and meaning.

The truth is many, if not most, of our time pressures are self-imposed and we’re typically inclined to argue they are justifiably necessary, just as the priest and Levite would argue as they hurried past the half-dead man by the side of the Jericho Road. For example, a large majority of us, 87%, are angry at and blame congress and the President for the crises in our country. But only 37% of us voted in the 2010 elections which resulted in the present make-up of that non-integrative congress. How many of us were in the 63 % who didn't vote? How many of us worked for candidates who most closely represented our values? How many of us support organizations who work to change the way big money influences elections?

If this all sounds too politically biased or too concerned with political issues, I do not intend it to be that. What I am trying to lift up is the painful truth that our political hassle and economic squeeze mirrors much of human history as well as our own lives. Isn’t part of that hassle what a large portion of our time pressure is about? Another name for it is the rat race. It’s a dehumanizing race because its first consequence is to misdirect our deepest human longing by promoting lies about what we really long for as well as what really makes us most human.

So, the first speed bump question about the “rat race" is, "Says Who?" Whose voice is our authority? On what basis do we make choices? Amid the din of the day or in quiet times afterward, who guides, challenges, nurtures us, troubles or assures us? To whom or what do we feel or think we’re eventually accountable? It is worth noting, for example, that each gospel records Jesus as having authority. *(Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32 - RSV)

We all have personal beliefs or values we say we try to live by. Yet, those beliefs and values fade under the pressure of time and busy-ness. We make critical choices without realizing that’s what we’re doing. We end up thoughtlessly conforming to society’s hustle and hustlers promoting the market of things to pursue, possess, consume, entertain and the competition for status, money, power. Even as our life styles are already much higher than most of the rest of the world, so are the expectations they engender. We become uncritically loyal to our habitual social/cultural processes, traditions, groups, churches, political parties, institutions, economic systems, our beloved nation, even when they may be functioning in ways contrary to the values and beliefs we profess.

Can these really be the “Says who?” sources to whom/which we feel or think we’re actually, truly accountable? How do they match up to our deepest longing? On second, or third, or thirtieth thought, might there actually be a different authority for our lives? There’s the first rat race speed bump.

A somewhat humorous example of the bind that speed bump puts us in. Once, a friend of mine challenged her beloved mother about her support of the President’s decision to launch our country into a war. My friend pointed out to her mother, a devout Roman Catholic, that the Pope had come out against the war, too. In a snit her mother responded, “Well, the Pope must be wrong.” Anything feel familiar about that scenario?

The point here isn’t whether or not you agree with the Pope or Roman Catholicism. The simple point is to illustrate how easily and often our “values” get lost in the shuffle. More critically, it illustrates how difficult life decisions are often made reflexively and without reflection on the question, “Says who?” Unless we frequently and consistently consider the core question "Says who?," we end up with non-integrative outcomes for our personal lives as well as for our "neighbors" and larger society. Part of our human dilemma is our need for an authority to help us with our finite limitations on one hand, and on the other, to counter our tendencies to give allegiance to those that seem easiest and most self-serving to us, that it, those who reflect the going coin of the realm, and we see our society valuing.

Other compelling dimensions of the "Says who?” question are, "Who am I? What kind of person do I long to be?” Just a consumer? A competitor? Winner? Wealthy? Well known? Or maybe a neighbor, a good Samaritan? Push the question to yet another dimension: "To whom do I ultimately belong? -- ultimately, not just in a time sense but a trust sense, a longing sense. Is it some substitute god like your self? A friend? Spouse? The Company? Employer? Club? Lodge? Cause? Political Party? Country? Mall? Bank? A Christlike God, maybe? Who am I, or Whose? The answer that really matters is the one from our core, our heart, not just our lips? We need to ask ourselves the question very often, probably several times a day. Our answer(s) require struggle, honesty, humility and prayer, lots of prayer.

More crucially, our struggle to come up with a core answer to “Says who?” tests our willingness to learn to live courageously and hopefully, even joyfully, without absolute certainty. Our longing for "eternal life" can only be tentatively met in our finite lives. Living without absolute certainty means stepping out on the promises. That's exactly what faith means and our deepest longing calls us to do. Only finite authorities peddle certainty which is why they are so seductive. But true authority is not authoritarian or dominating or tyrannical or controlling or seductive or scheming. It is open, inviting, teaching, challenging, creative, promising and unfathomably loving.

In their book on science and religion entitled Questions of Truth, mathematician Nicholas Beal and quantum physicist John Polkinghorne. who later became an Anglican priest, put it this way: "The creation of the God whose nature is love will not be a kind of cosmic puppet theater in which the divine Puppet-Master pulls every string. The gift of love is always the gift of some due form of independence granted to the beloved ... The history of the universe is not the performance of a fixed score, written by God in eternity and inexorably performed by creatures, but it is a grand improvisation in which the Creator and creatures cooperate in the unfolding development of the grand fugue of creation." (3) Think hard about that discernment of two distinquished scientists. Let it soak in to your very being as one of “the beloved."

I believe our awareness and participation in the "grand improvisation" is rooted in our primal longing and is not about a "fixed score." Suzanne Guthrie tells of leaving a Greenwich Village jazz club late one night and walking toward her train. Suddenly the sound of a single saxophone broke the lonely night. Guthrie says it was a prayer rising to its god on the solitude of a city street. She was deeply moved and remembered the sound. It changed things for her. She says, "The voice (of that saxophone) cries for me to turn every particle of my being toward the loneliness, to orient my life so that I live in a way that accommodates God's existence." The voice of the sax slowed her down to her loneliness and nudged her to make a course correction.

The authority of our deepest longing is something like that, like a quiver of the soul at the urge of a distant pitch note through the quiet of night, or a phrase of a song heard under the rumble of the day. It comes as a dogged reminder, a haunting promise, an unavoidable challenge, calling us to orient our lives its direction in order to find our longing way home - home to a kingdom, to a "neighborhood," by loving our neighbors as ourselves, our very selves. On the way, perhaps we'll learn, if only bit by bit, how a Christlike God loves us fumbling neighbors.

(1) Thom Hartman - Conversations with Great Minds: Bob Edgar - August 5, 2011
(2) James Surowieck - The New Yorker, August 1, 2001 - The Financial Page
(3) Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief - John Polkinghorne, Nicholas Beale - Westminster John Knox Press - Louisville, Kentucky - Pg. 15