I Finally Got the Chimes to Work That’s Kind of a Big Deal. 

img_3539So in Boston the subway is called the “T,” short for the MBTA (which is short for Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority). Many of the stations have public art. The Kendall station has a set of chimes. In order to ring the chimes, you have to move a handle back-and-forth (trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds). There’s a rhythmic way the handle must be moved–you can’t just force it by going faster, you have to be patient.

Recently I had some friends from across the country come and spend the day with us. I took them back to their hotel in the evening from Kendall Square. As I got back to the Kendall station there was a seven-minute wait for the next train. It was a Sunday (I try to refrain from social media on Sundays) so I was bored for the next seven minutes. I decided I would try to make the chimes ring. I had seen them before but I’ve never heard them ring even though I’ve been in the station hundreds of times (often twice or more a day) but the station is usually filled with people and you look a little silly pumping that handle trying to get the rhythm just right.

So, trying to use my seven minutes and with only one or two people in the station I was enticed to see if I could make it work. Guess what? I couldn’t! I tried going fast, I tried going slow, nothing was quite right. By this point there were half a dozen people in the station all pretending like they were not watching me: looking at their phones, looking at me, looking at their phones, looking at me–I could read their minds, “There’s no way this big dope is going to get this” and “How hard can this be? He’s been trying for like three minutes.”

I decided I didn’t care what anyone thought. I was gonna make those chimes ring no matter what it took. I could feel the tension in the handle at a certain point–if I timed my moving the handle with that tension, I could see the mallet swing in between the chimes. I knew if I got the rhythm right long enough the mallet would have enough momentum to strike the chimes. Finally, one mallet hit one chime. Everybody looked at the chimes then back at me. Two minutes until the train came. I read their minds again, “Dude he’s close. Super dork might get these chimes to ring.”

Then the mallets started to move in unison, multiple mallets striking multiple chimes. One minute until the train. Here’s the important thing: you can’t get anxious and over pump the handle. You have to keep the rhythm and you have to be patient. The announcer came over PA. The train was approaching. Now the dozen people in the train station we’re completely looking at the chimes, no one was looking at their phone. And then it happened: all mallets, all chimes, striking in rhythmic beauty. Such a contrast to the loud boisterous trains that roll through. In my mind the dozen or so people in the train station all applauded (of course, they didn’t.) But I could tell they were thinking it, “He did it! I’ve waited in this train station a billion times and never heard those ring. Thanks random dude for making the chimes ring!”

Honestly, it felt kind of magical. I felt like a victor. As I rode the train home, I couldn’t help but think how many experiences I’ve missed in life because I was too embarrassed to try in front of spectators. How many experiences I’ve missed because I default to looking at my phone. I really think we are all cheering for each other. I also think we all feel like fools and imposters just waiting to be exposed. Waiting for the village child to laugh at us and say that we are naked, our worst fears confirmed. That which we valued as regal cloth was sold to us by a humbug.

I want to suppress the voices in my head that tell me not to try. I want to take more chances, sing more songs, read more poetry, live more life. The chimes were magical. Their brief song moved me to try more, to be more, to live more. Thanks subway public art! You did good.

I Never Want To Go Back, But I Would Like To Visit Again

img_2360

For years when our kids were little people would see us at church or around town loading, unloading, looking for shoes, picking up dropped keys, dropped bottles, dropped toys, whatever, and they would say: “I remember those days. They were the happiest times of my life! They grow up too fast! You’ll miss it, trust me”.

And I would think: The happiest times of your life?  Wow.  You must have a horrible life! Surely you have forgotten what it’s like. What about jam?

I am convinced for a period of at least ten years my children didn’t actually consume sticky foods—they just spread them on other surfaces.  I can’t count times I touched something sticky: counter tops, doorknobs, drawer handles; JAM EVERYWHERE. And besides jam, how about trying to leave the house! We carried around a diaper bag for thirteen years. Thirteen YEARS. Every time went anywhere it was like packing for a weekend getaway. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but hearing: “This is the best time of you life” was a little discouraging . . . So no money, no time, no nice things (see jam rant) is as good as it gets. Again, I say: Wow. After the diaper, earache, consta-snot, sticky years, it’s all down hill. Well, at least we have something to look forward to, like death.

Now years later, three of my five are married and out of the nest and the remaining two can find their own shoes (for the most part). I can see why those well intended soon to be or already emptynesters would say what they did.  I miss ‘em. Look, I’ll be the first to admit being able to shop with my wife for an hour without finding, picking up, and trusting a pre-teen baby sitter is awesome! Still I miss them. Now I can talk to my kids about art, music, sports, politics and whatever. I love that! Added bonus: NO JAM.  But I miss the cute things they would say. I miss the jammies and even Dragon Tales (not often).  This morning as I was waking up, I longed for a bed head, bad breath kiddo to crawl in my bed and put her cold feet on my back. That ship has sailed. And the sad thing is, it never comes back. Memories are filtered to remember the good times. I don’t want to go back to stepping on Barbie shoes and pink medicine constantly in the fridge. Not permanently at least, but I would like to go back for a visit.

We’re No Kennedys But That’s Ok

img_2359

The Kennedys famously discussed world politics at the dinner table in preparation and hope of their children’s political future. Our family dinner conversations usually revolve around school, family business, scheduling and a conversation about best and worst parts of the day. However, our family has found an opportunity to have deep discussions about world events, politics, science, and culture. Instead of the dinner table, our conversations happened before dinner, sitting in the minivan on road trips.

 

On our long-haul trips we would drive anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day. We read books, sing, play games and listen to music, but at 4 o’clockI would always like to listen to the news–NPR’s “All Things Considered” (we also listen at home while we make dinner).

 

As we listened to certain stories, the kids would ask questions like: “Why are we going to war in Iraq?” “What is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat?” “What is climate change and how do we fix it?” and dozens of other

questions about the world and it people. Instead of telling them they would understand when they were older, we would always try to explain and answer their questions—causing deep discussions on complicated issues.

 

Jennifer’s first rule of parenting is “kids aren’t dumb”. She thinks kids have the ability to understand complex issues. During drives and dinner prep we had more time to talk—more space to really engage. Over the years we our many conversations about politics, history, art, literature, science, and world events led to greater discussions and in depth knowledge of places and people we encountered at national parks, museums, and in books.

 

As our kids grew older they began to form their own opinions about the world—in the formation of these opinions we thought it was important to challenge their ideas and cause them to try to see the other person’s point of view/ perspective. The last thing we want is for our children to just parrot our opinions. One of the most important things we want is for them to be able to understand both sides of complicated issues. Now our adult children listen to NPR for themselves. They have become nerds just like their parents—but not Kennedys . . . yet.

A letter from Mother Earth to Republicans

Dear Republicans,

I just wanted to take a minute and thank you for all the help over the years. For starters, Mr. Lincoln (your first President) clearly understood the need for the study of science. As you well know he understood that  the public financing of science education was crucial to a prosperous healthy union:

He knew learning about how the earth works was the best way to preserve it for us and our future generations.

Another republican hero of mine was Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy was the best! His commitment to conservation was pioneering! If you really want people to be environmentally responsible (and, of course, I do) there is no better way than to allow people to have responsible access to my greatest creations.

Now, my next shout out may surprise some of you but it’s legit: Richard Nixon. You say, what! I say, you know that’s right! He was flawed (to be sure) yet through him we got the EPA!

Let’s admit it, nobody wants to have polluted air and rivers. Am I right?

You see friends, your party has a philosophical belief in conservation. Conservative, conservation (see what I did there?) Any way, thanks!

Now, not to seem ungrateful, I would like to mention a few recent short comings and offer a political approach for you my long-time friends. To be blunt, I’m dying and you’re killing me. For real! Here’s the problem: climate change. I know what you’re thinking, “Blah blah blah I can’t hear you.” But listen I think I can help you out with this.

First, I’m actually on your side. Liberals scream about the environment and have some good ideas (like saving my life) but they go about it all the wrong way. They have good intentions but have created a narrative of scarcity that shames progress. Look at how they talk about fossil fuels. “Oil is going to kill us, oil is ruining the planet, stop using fossil fuels or we’ll all die!” Sure, that’s true, but it makes us feel like innovation was the problem when, of course, it wasn’t. It’s the solution. And what brought about that innovation? Market forces, duh.

So, here’s where I need help from you my conservative friends. I need you to change the narrative and save my ice caps at the same time. Try this on for size. What if you said, “Look how amazing we are, we figured out how to use fossil fuels, we’re geniuses! We created more wealth and comfort for the planet than anyone could’ve ever imagined! Everybody give a big warm hug to fossil fuels and capitalism! We are so innovative and smart, good job us!”

Then you go on to say something like this, “Ok team our innovations with fossil fuels was amazing but it’s time for a new idea (that one has run its course). What we need now is new market ideas like green energy, and smart technology that can’t be outsourced to other nations. We need cap and trade so we can make money on being more environmentally responsible. Let’s create tens of millions of new jobs with a new energy economy. Let’s invest in technology and infrastructure like Lincoln and protect the environment like Roosevelt all while growing the economy one solar panel and high-efficiency electrical vehicle at a time!”  See how good that sounds!

I actually think you and my liberal friends could come together on helping to save my life. Of course, you would not agree on everything, that’s cool. But you could agree that innovation, conservation and economic growth are core bipartisan values–that working together we can move responsibly to a new stronger green economy. Plus, we could save Miami and Manhattan form rising tides at the same time. Not too shabby right? This will require bold moves. But I have faith you’re up for it. Thanks for taking the time to read this letter. And thanks in advance for saving my life.

Sincerely,

Mother Earth

My Apologies to the Graduating Class of 2018

pexels-photo-267885

Graduation season is upon us and I love it! I live in an area where I am surrounded by college campuses. I love to walk around them during graduation and see the excited students, friends and families. I can’t help but think of all the hard work, tears, joys and experiences that come with commencement. I am pretty sure I will never be asked to give a commencement address, but I love listening to them. I YouTube many of them this time of year. I find them hopeful, optimistic and inspiring (they are also short which helps, I think).

So here is the address I would have given had I been invited:

Faculty, staff, administration, alumni, family, friends and most importantly, graduates, I’m humbled and honored for the opportunity to speak to you today. It seems like every generation likes to roll their eyes at the generation after them with the tired trope “kids these days.” There’s no short supply of stories denigrating your generation. I think for the most part, they are not only unfounded, untrue and unflattering, they are misguided and harmful. The truth is, I think you’re doing a great job! I think your generation sees the world in new and exciting ways. Crowd-sourcing, the shared economy, the power and limitations of social networks and so many others. My address today will not, however, try to draw a distinction between your generation and mine. Instead, I would like to apologize for what my generation has left you and I’d like to ask your help in fixing it.

First, I’m sorry for the current state of politics. We are in an era of tribalism and hyper partisanship that for good reason has eroded confidence in the government. I’m sympathetic to those view who government institutions as incapable of instituting real change. However, I believe our core democratic principles are solid and worth defending. What we need from your generation is an increase in government participation. I know you’re cynical about bureaucracies and politics. I don’t blame you. We need fresh faces and fresh ideas. Young graduates like you are willing to challenge and change the status quo. Walking away for something never fixes it. This country has done amazing things in the past. We are capable of doing it again. It will require our best efforts. It will require your generation to step up and take its place in this our great American story.

Second, I apologize for global climate change. I realize I am not personally responsible for the melting of the polar ice caps, but my generation and the baby boomers before us have left you quite a mess to clean up. I am confident there are great solutions to even this epic threat. We need you to be less selfish, less lazy, and less underwhelmed than we have been. We need you to be vigilant in helping us stop the effects of climate change before it’s too late. The world is counting on you!

Finally, I’m sorry about religion. I am a person of deep faith and deep religious conviction. Speaking in a broad interfaith way, I can see how sometimes religion has let you down. It has felt closed, unwelcoming, restrictive and maybe even self-interested. I am sympathetic to the idea of being spiritual but not religious. Let me offer a different perspective. One of the challenges of being spiritual but not religious is spirituality can often be practiced as mainly self-help–which is good but we need your spirituality to be outward as well. Organized religion offers institutional structures to do tremendous good. It provides human interaction, solid moral frameworks and interdependent communities. Your own deep spirituality is increased by sharing that experience with others of similar faith. There is a synergism that comes from faith communities. There is also the potential to do greater good than individual meditation can produce. If you want church to be more inclusive, more understanding, more empathetic, come and help us make it that way.

Some parting advice (no commencement address would be complete without it). Here is my meme worthy counsel: Make good friends, work hard, be nice, listen more, speak less, be humble, be brave, treat others like you’d like to be treated, be kind, empathetic and thoughtful, say sorry, eat ice cream, take walks, cry, laugh, love and enjoy the journey.

Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2018!

Thanks Bob the Naturalist For the Yearn To Learn

Several years ago, I was traveling for work and stayed the night at a state park in West Virginia. As I was checking into the hotel room I noticed a sign indicating the next day’s park activities: 7:30 AM nature walk with naturalist Bob. That caught my attention.

I asked the desk clerk, “What is the nature walk, with naturalist Bob?”

“He’s one of our naturalists, I imagine it’ll be mostly be a bird walk,” the clerk replied.

I’ll be honest, at this point in my life I did not even know that a nat·u·ral·ist is “an expert in or student of natural history.” I thought to myself, sure, why wouldn’t I want to go on a walk with a guy named Bob who is a naturalist? Bright and early the next morning I was ready to meet Bob. It was raining a bit so Bob and I were the only two souls brave enough to go on the walk. A few hundred yards into our walk the rain stopped and the awesome began.

As soon as the rain stopped Bob the naturalist walked out into the trees with an earnest look on his face. Then he started pointing as he spoke. “Robin, Robin, 50 yards to the south. Cowbird. Straight ahead, Scarlet Tanager.” He started moving forward deeper into the woods. I wasn’t sure if Bob was crazy, but I was definitely enticed. After only a few yards he stopped and listened again, “Scarlet Tanager for sure.” Then he lifted up his binoculars for a few seconds, “That tree straight ahead 12 o’clock, three quarters of the way up the tree on a little branch. Do you see it?” I, of course, did not see it. I needed quite a bit a help from Bob the naturalist to see the Scarlet Tanager. He was of course happy to help.

An hour later we had seen or heard a Tufted Titmouse, Cardinals, Robins and a half dozen other birds. I was amazed that he could do that. How he could identify different bird calls from so far away? How he trained his eyes and ears to listen and see birds? He was equally adept at identifying trees flowers and other plants and animals. He had mad skills I didn’t even know existed.

Since that time, I have not become an excellent birder. I have been on a few other walks and joined the Audubon Society. One of my new favorite films is “The Big Year” (which I highly recommend). I don’t have the time I would like or expertise to identify birds. But now when I walk in the woods I can hear the different calls even though I cannot identify them. I now take my spy glass and occasionally find a bird or two. More importantly, I’m learning, again, the value of learning, the joy of curiosity.

How is it that I lived for 40 years and didn’t consider how cool the birds were? How could I walk through parks and wooded areas and never care about the trees and plants? I guess I’ve been too busy, too distracted, too underwhelmed by the complexity of everything. I want to know more about the things I don’t know. I want to never stop learning and seeing new things.

Ten years ago, I went skiing with my oldest daughter. As we were riding on the lift she had her head leaned back looking into the clouds. She pointed at a cloud and said “cumulonimbus.” She pointed at another and said “cumulus.” I asked (teasing) if she wanted to be a meteorologist as a profession. She said no. I asked her why she cared about the clouds. She shrugged “I don’t know. We learned about them at school.” There on the chair lift I learned a life lesson and shared it with her. “You don’t have to want to be a meteorologist to like clouds,” I said. “Learning stuff is cool. It enhances your life. Here we are skiing and enjoying the day. Knowing about the clouds makes it more enjoyable. Thinking about the physics of the lift, knowing about the trees and mountains all adds to the experience of the day.” There is value and joy from learning things that goes beyond occupational or financial rewards. The older I get, the more I want to learn.

The more I know the more I know how much I don’t know. I was recently with the same daughter and her husband in Paris. Spending time in some of the world’s great museums. I found myself frustrated by my lack of art understanding. Knowing I liked this more than that but not knowing why. So here I am wanting to know more about birds, art, clouds, architecture and everything else. For no other reason than to enhance my life–to give more meaning to my experiences, to live more abundantly and deliberately.

I live close to Walden Pond. I go often, especially when people come to visit. When there I always read this quote by Thoreau:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise  resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” (Walden, 1854).

So, thanks Bob the naturalist and everybody else for helping me see, learn and understand how much there is to see learn and understand.

I’m Pretty Sure Teddy Roosevelt Would Want You to Audition for The Voice

img_1161

November 1998, Election Day: I got up at 5 o’clock in the morning to make sure our yard signs had their “Vote Today” stickers on them. I stood at the intersection during the morning commute with a sign that said, “Will work for vote.” And another that said, “Honk if you voted.” I knocked doors all day and worked the phones in the evening. I remember sitting at a phone bank phoning people until the minute the polls closed. We had not just worked that hard that day but nearly every day for the six months prior to Election Day. I knocked on over 5,000 doors. I don’t remember how many forums I spoke at or events I attended. It was a full-time job. Even our three small children wore matching shirts that said, “Send Dad to Boise.” It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done–and one of the most rewarding.

 On election night, as results started to come in, I sat down on the bed in our hotel suite that was doubling as our camping headquarters for the night and fell asleep even as my amazing campaign crew were talking and laughing. I simply passed out from exhaustion. Thirty minutes later my wife woke me up and told me to watch the news. Turns out, we lost. I walked out of our hotel room and into the ballroom where the media was, thanked my opponent and conceded the race. Just like that, it was over–nothing left to do but thank my team and remove my yards signs. I remember saying to my wife that night, “Well I guess this is what defeat feels like.” A few weeks later I received a thank you note from a member of my state party with the following quote:

 The Man in the Arena 

 “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 Theodore Roosevelt April 23, 1910

 It was just what I needed. I felt bad for everyone who believed in me, donated to the campaign, volunteered, etc. I felt bad that I wouldn’t have a chance to represent them. The wise words from Theodore Roosevelt were a comforting balm. I was glad I had at least tried; that I had at least dreamed. I was glad for the experience even though disappointed by the outcome. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve failed and certainly not the last time. I’m grateful for what I have learned in both victory and defeat. I’m grateful for those with the courage to try something. The audacity to dream and the daring to achieve.

 So, if you’re wondering if you should start a business, do it! Think you might want to run for city council go for it! That book is not going to write itself, set aside some time and get to the keyboard. Worried your audition may not be good enough? Audition any way. Take a chance, take a risk, live! If you fail, learn from it, be humble enough and determined enough to keep at it! Tenacity is a greater producer of wonder than skill. Determination is more impactful than ability. I’m sure of it! You don’t want to be numbered with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. You want to be remembered among the dreamers and the doers. One of my favorite passages of scripture is second Timothy chapter 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” I’m sure he meant it! Tomorrow is a lie. Today is the day to start living you dreams.

I know I have white male privilege the problem is I don’t know how to use it. 

img_0657

You only need to read the news to see the plague of racism and sexism that still exists in the United States.  So, what’s a middle aged, middle income, white, heterosexual male like me supposed to do? Clearly awareness is a crucial first step. Empathy and understanding are essential. But that’s hard to do when you have different lived experience than those who are marginalized, neglected, ignored and abused. I wrote about this with my own experience with race (So, should we even talk about race any more). I am now, and have tried diligently in the past to understand where others are coming from, but that doesn’t help me know how to use the advantages I have to help others.

Two quick anecdotes to illustrate: A couple of years ago I was in D.C. for work walking down a street near the capital with two white colleagues. We were all professionally dressed and engaged in conversation. I notice up the street from us a middle aged black man, casually dressed, hailing a cab. The first cab passed him, then a second, then a third cab was close to him at the same time my group was near him. I had the thought: I could simply step out hail the cab then give it to this man. As I was about to hail the cab, a second thought came to mind, If you hail a cab for this man, you may cause him embarrassment and shame: “Thanks white guy for using your white powers to help me overcome systemic racism today so I can get to work on time.” I hesitated, the third cab went by and my group walked on. My colleagues were unaware of the entire situation (which is how I have lived most of life). Yet here I was, aware of the inequity, yet still unable to make a difference–not knowing if my efforts would have been helpful or hurtful.

Sometime later I discussed this story with a friend of mine. I asked her what she thought I should have done. She was kind with my inquiry (as if her blackness would have been a qualifier to direct the use of my whiteness). Her response surprised me, “Dude it’s cool that you even noticed or cared to think about it.” Of course, she didn’t know any more than I did how that man would have reacted. However, the fact that I thought about it let her know at least there are people outside of her lived experience that are trying to understand her experience.

The second story happened as I was walking down a crowded street when two men asking for money called out to a young woman in front of me: “Hey beautiful, help a homeless vet? Why don’t you let me come to your place and keep you warm? Spent a little time making an old vet happy.” The woman smiled and said, “No thanks.” She did not seem overly affronted by the solicitation. I was thinking: should I call this guy out? Tell him to shut up? Was her smile a defense mechanism? Was she just trying to deescalate an unwanted advance? Or did she find the guy harmless? I like to think if he had moved closer to her I would have intervened. But would that be too little too late? Should I have said something? Or would that have made it worse? As I related this to my wife and my adult daughters, they gave me no direction on what I should have done either, but acknowledged the awkwardness of the whole matter.

So here I am left with the blessings of white male privilege. I never worry if I’ll be followed around in a department store, or if I will be able to hail a cab, or if my Airbnb profile pic might cause me trouble when booking. I can jog, go to Starbucks, wear a hoodie and carry Skittles with no fear.  I never feel unsafe in an elevator with a man or wonder how closely I am being followed in a parking lot. I want to do more than try to understand. I want to help right wrongs, change culture, raise awareness and fight inequality. So, I march I read, I listen, I write, I vote and I am trying to make a difference. Yet here I am day to day still wondering: what’s next? What more? What now? How can I use my privilege, my influence, in a way that won’t just bless me but those around me? I don’t have all the answers. Good grief, I’m pretty sure I’m not even asking the right questions, but I’m committed, I’m determined and I’m trying.

Of Resolutions and Regrets #Kindess2018

I believe in goals and resolutions. This year my resolution is simple. I want to be kinder. Volumes have been written about the need and practice, I doubt I can add much to the idea. I know I like me better when I am kinder. I know I like how I think and interact with the world when I chose to be kind. My outlook expands and my optimism grows when I try a little harder to be a little kinder. I love this thought from Mormon Church leader Thomas S. Monson

I have wept in the night

For the shortness of sight

That to somebody’s need made me blind;

But I never have yet

Felt a tinge of regret

For being a little too kind.

I don’t want to live with regret, I want to live with purpose.

My family was en route to a fourth of July reading of the Declaration of Independence in Boston when I noticed a woman’s “Make America Kind Again” button. I commented on how much I liked it and she gave me her last one. I love it! I keep it on my bag to remind me and everyone who sees it that we can be kind. I get comments on it all the time. I am convinced the vast majority of humanity are good and want basically the same thing: to live in a world where we look out for each other.

I was revisiting some of my social media posts from last year and found this Instagram post from the summer:

Recently I saw a business man stop what he was doing and help a homeless man get breakfast, watched a hurried commuter stop and give directions to an immigrant not familiar with the train, saw a young black man help an older white woman cross a busy street, watched as a stranger helped a blind man get on the bus and made sure the bus driver knew the man’s stop. People are good. The world is not so scary. I need to stop thinking about myself so much and start helping others more. #selfpeptalk #lifeisgood #peoplearegood

I am sure if I stop to notice, I’ll see much more of that around me all the time.

What if I just tried each day to be a little kinder? Pay attention to those around me a bit more? Serve more? What if we all did? What impact would it have on us and those around us? I don’t know exactly but I’m excited to try it! #kindness2018

If you don’t want to go to Church that’s one thing, but blaming religion is weak.

We recognize this year the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Disputation on the Power of Indulgences. His efforts became the match that lit the fire of the reformation of the Christian Church. Today we see those who, like Luther, want to see reform in the way we practice faith; others are more hostile to faith in general. Some see any organized religion as a yoke of bondage and a myth that has outlived its time. As a person of deep faith, I have often been confronted by those who do not believe and treat my belief with skepticism and at times derision. Some have been very animated in their disdain of faith, others are dismissive of organized religion yet sympathetic to the idea of faith, some go so far as to broadly label religion as one of the greatest harms done to mankind.

 

Their argument goes like this: “Think of all the wars in the name of religion, all the despot leaders who claim their rise to power and tyranny as God’s will.  Not to mention all the corruption, the abuse of power and the perversion of doctrine designed to justify their own malicious deeds.” They go on to point out examples of shameful hypocrisy, abuse and neglect, from the evils of the crusades and sexual abuse to children, all the way down to the prudish hypocrite they knew as a child–lumped together as one great oppressive mass bearing down on humanity. Faith and religion spirituality and transcendence are complicated to be sure. However, the broad accusation that faith and religion have had a net negative effect on humanity is intellectually lean and logically flawed.

 

First, let’s look at the argument that if those who profess to believe in God do harmful things than it’s the belief in God that motivates the harmful act. Mankind is flawed, greedy, petulant, base, and at times malevolent. God teaches us in all the major faith traditions to be kind, selfless, pleasant, forgiving and charitable. God is no more responsible when the ambitious and malicious use religion as a means to justify their own ends, than I am responsible when someone else steals my credit card for their own purchase. All that is done in God’s name is not done with God’s blessing. If we use science and technology to do harm to others, do we blame technology for the harm?  If a despot is elected democratically, do we blame democracy, or the voters? 

 

Second, no one has the right to solely quantify harm and benefit. To say that there has never been harm done in the name of God or religion is either dishonest or woefully ignorant, but so is pointing out the harm without acknowledging the benefit. For every drop of blood shed by the Crusades how many orphans were taken in? How many of the hungry were fed, the naked clothed? How many schools built? How many hospitals? How many were taught to read, taught to build, taught to love and show kindness? How many hearts softened to the plight of their fellowman? How many prayers offered in sleepless nights brought comfort to the weak and weary? How many wounds bound up? History does a better job of calling out the sinner than the humble saint. How could we ever hope to quantify all the good that has been done in the name of God or by those who are religious.  

 

I am sympathetic to those who have been hurt by people of faith or find themselves disillusioned by different religious doctrines. I am grateful to live in a pluralistic society, one that allows for belief or no belief. For me faith and religion help answer the big questions. Or as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “What the secularists forgot is that Homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal. If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but on principle refuses to guide us as to how to choose.”  (Saks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, June 2015).   

 

Like Luther, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m grateful for the faith and belief that helps me answer some of life’s great questions.