Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Name Them One By One

By ronniemcbrayer August 21, 2017


Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, asked participants in a months-long experiment to write down a few sentences each week. A third of the group was told to write about things for which they were grateful. A third of the group wrote about daily irritations, the things that made them mad. The last one-third wrote about general events with no emphasis on the negative or positive. 
After a few months, those who catalogued their gratitude were more optimistic and generally felt better about their lives and the world than the other participants. And the “thankful” group exercised more, had fewer visits to physicians, and experienced less anxiety. Active gratitude, the researchers learned, is good for people: Spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically.

There’s an old hymn we sang in the churches of my youth that could serve as supplemental material to the above research. It is entitled, “Count Your Blessings,” and a stanza of it goes: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost. Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

You have so much for which to be thankful, and while naming these blessings “one by one” might prove to be a list impossibly long, it would do you good to make a start of it. Consider your restful night of sleep and a good mattress; the roof over your head; for strong coffee in the early morning – and even the easy access to cream and sugar – to make that coffee the way you want it.

If you have clean clothes and transportation; for safe travels along the way when so much could go wrong; for a welcoming house of worship; for close friends with whom you share life; for the people who serve you at restaurants, change the oil in your car, teach your children, keep your lights on, and who look after your safety on so many levels.

There is the technology to easily communicate with your loved ones; for air conditioning, bug repellant, and cold beer; for home-cooked meals, music that moves your soul and speaks to your heart; for the beauty of art, the sustaining rain, and the glorious sunsets.

And I haven’t even gotten to “the biggies” yet! Your spouse; children and grandchildren; your health; your ability to make a living; for the unconditional love of a child or a dog; for the senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch; for having this chance – this one marvelous chance – to be fearfully and wonderfully made.

Meister Eckhart, a German mystic from seven centuries ago, said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough.” I think that is right, for gratitude is the truest act of worship. That, and it is good for you in almost every other way conceivable, as well.

--Joe

Monday, November 7, 2016

Voting as "a Citizen of the Kingdom of God"

The value of being a real citizen is not your worthless vote. How many time have I been down this road in my lifetime?


I Can’t Vote For Him And Won’t Vote For Her


voteI have never made a political endorsement, not in the conventional sense. This is because Christendom has committed a great many sins in its insatiable thirst for power over the centuries. In fact, the quest for power is the church’s most heinous sin. So officially aligning a congregation with any political party – left, right, or populist – only perpetuates this transgression. However, as this unprecedented election season comes to a merciful close, I am making my first endorsement: I can’t vote for “him,” and I won’t vote for “her.” Neither will I vote for any of the half-dozen candidates on the presidential ballot.

My faith, shaped as it is by Quakerism, the Anabaptists, and what historians call the “Radical Reformation,” leads me to live life based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This “manifesto,” found in Matthew 5-7, describes how Jesus’ followers are to live as citizens in what he called, “The Kingdom of God.” Per the Sermon, those in this Kingdom value humility, meekness, mercy, justice-seeking, and peace-making. Jesus’ followers are to be wary of lust, dishonesty, and anger. He instructs us to love our enemies, to do good to those who don’t deserve it, to resist violence and its escalation, and “to turn the other cheek.”

He warns us of unbridled greed and how chasing after more wealth only leads to greater anxiety. Then he sums it all up with what could be called an Oath of Citizenship: “Treat everybody the way you would want to be treated, love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s not inaccurate to conclude that our political candidates and national leaders have intentionally modeled and organized themselves in the opposite fashion of Jesus’ instructions. Our entire political-societal complex is constructed on dishonesty, arrogance, violence, indignity, rage, vengeance, and getting ahead at someone else’s expense. I can’t achieve the cognitive dissonance required to reconcile these inconsistencies.

“Believe me,” I know the objections: “You have to choose the lesser of the evils!” But what if I consider the whole nationalistic system as evil? “People died to give you the privilege to vote!” Did Jesus not die for the principles he taught and lived? “It’s irresponsible not to participate!” Can faithfulness to conscious ever be considered irresponsible? “If you don’t love it, leave it!” Do you now see why the language of exile, wandering, and being “strangers in a strange land,” was so common among Jesus’ earliest followers? “But if you aren’t involved nothing will ever change for the better!” Why can’t I be involved on the margins, as Jesus and the prophets of old were, pointing to how life could be if only we would have it?

Simply put, the American Way and the Jesus Way are not always compatible. And when they are not, I must aspire – failing as I often will – to show my primary allegiance to Christ. For I am an expatriate: A resident of the United States, but a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Ronnie McBrayer

--Joe

Monday, October 10, 2016

An Old Zen Story - An Apt Lesson For Donald Trump

Unwanted Gifts


gift
There is a Zen story about a young, impetuous warrior who sought to defeat a great Master in battle. The young man was certain he could dispatch the old sensei with great fanfare and boost his reputation. The Master’s students begged the old man not to accept the challenge, but he resolutely agreed to the fight. The entire village gathered as the young warrior began the contest by striking at the Master with a staff. Skillfully, the Master deflected every blow, and every kick or punch that followed. Yet, the Master never made an offensive move. Frustrated by this, the young warrior resorted to nasty tactics.

Throwing rocks, spitting in the Master’s face, shrieking insults, and defaming the great teacher’s ancestors: After hours of such provocation, the young warrior finally gave up and left. The Master’s students hurried to him, confused. “How could you not retaliate?” they asked, and “Why did you allow him to insult your honor without consequence?”

The old Master answered, “If someone offers you a gift but you refuse its acceptance, then to whom does that gift belong?” One of the students answered, “To the one who tried to offer it.” The Master smiled. “Yes,” he said. “And the same goes for anger, misery, and insults. If you refuse to accept these, they will be carried away by the one who tried to burden you with them.”

There could hardly be a more truthful lesson than this; and there could hardly be a more timely lesson for our own day. We are so eager to blame the words, actions, and emotions of others for our own behaviors. We readily accept the “gifts” of anger, insult, and disrespect that are dished out, and are then forced to unload their heavy burden. We are made miserable, and thus, mete out misery. We take the hatefulness spewed in our direction, internalize and personalize it, and in turn become hateful. We accept, rather than deflect, hurt and conversely become hurtful people. Paraphrasing Father Richard Rohr, he  believes more pain is inflicted in this world by those who TAKE offense rather than those who GIVE offense. We are enthusiastic acceptors, taking whatever is directed at us.

As old as this Zen story is the Hebrew proverb, a proverb with the same lesson: “Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me;’ no, wait for the Lord.” This is picked up multiple times in the New Testament: “Repay no one evil for evil, but so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” the Apostles said. And no less than Jesus told his disciples, “Do not try to get even with a person who has done something to you.”

A bumpersticker may sum up this lesson best: “No one can drive you crazy unless you give them the keys.” Amen. You – and only you – are the one responsible for your own feelings, actions, and reactions. Otherwise, you are bearing the weight of an unwanted gift.

[Unwanted Gifts] -

--Joe

An Old Zen Story - An Apt Lesson For Donald Trump

Unwanted Gifts


gift
There is a Zen story about a young, impetuous warrior who sought to defeat a great Master in battle. The young man was certain he could dispatch the old sensei with great fanfare and boost his reputation. The Master’s students begged the old man not to accept the challenge, but he resolutely agreed to the fight. The entire village gathered as the young warrior began the contest by striking at the Master with a staff. Skillfully, the Master deflected every blow, and every kick or punch that followed. Yet, the Master never made an offensive move. Frustrated by this, the young warrior resorted to nasty tactics.

Throwing rocks, spitting in the Master’s face, shrieking insults, and defaming the great teacher’s ancestors: After hours of such provocation, the young warrior finally gave up and left. The Master’s students hurried to him, confused. “How could you not retaliate?” they asked, and “Why did you allow him to insult your honor without consequence?”

The old Master answered, “If someone offers you a gift but you refuse its acceptance, then to whom does that gift belong?” One of the students answered, “To the one who tried to offer it.” The Master smiled. “Yes,” he said. “And the same goes for anger, misery, and insults. If you refuse to accept these, they will be carried away by the one who tried to burden you with them.”

There could hardly be a more truthful lesson than this; and there could hardly be a more timely lesson for our own day. We are so eager to blame the words, actions, and emotions of others for our own behaviors. We readily accept the “gifts” of anger, insult, and disrespect that are dished out, and are then forced to unload their heavy burden. We are made miserable, and thus, mete out misery. We take the hatefulness spewed in our direction, internalize and personalize it, and in turn become hateful. We accept, rather than deflect, hurt and conversely become hurtful people. Paraphrasing Father Richard Rohr, he  believes more pain is inflicted in this world by those who TAKE offense rather than those who GIVE offense. We are enthusiastic acceptors, taking whatever is directed at us.

As old as this Zen story is the Hebrew proverb, a proverb with the same lesson: “Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me;’ no, wait for the Lord.” This is picked up multiple times in the New Testament: “Repay no one evil for evil, but so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” the Apostles said. And no less than Jesus told his disciples, “Do not try to get even with a person who has done something to you.”

A bumpersticker may sum up this lesson best: “No one can drive you crazy unless you give them the keys.” Amen. You – and only you – are the one responsible for your own feelings, actions, and reactions. Otherwise, you are bearing the weight of an unwanted gift.

[Unwanted Gifts]

--Joe

Thursday, August 18, 2016

IF

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you.
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:


If you can dream - and not make your dreams your master
If you can think - and not make your thoughts your aim
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:


If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)



Not many of these kind of people around.

-Joe

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Settle Down. Lighten Up. Carry On

By Ronnie McBrayer



July 28, 2016

I shared part of an excerpt this past Sunday entitled, “A Farmer’s Advice.” It is printed below. For a variation of the full quotation, see the “Appleseeds” website at: http://www.appleseeds.org. Enjoy!

“Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight, and bull-strong…

Life is simpler when you plow around some stumps…

Hornets are considerably faster than a John Deere tractor…

Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled…

Meanness don’t just happen overnight…

Forgive your enemies not just because Jesus said so, but because it messes up their heads… 
Never corner something that you know is meaner than you are…

A dog can whip a pig most every time, but in the end, both will be dirty and the pig likes it that way…

Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna happen…

Don’t judge folks by their relatives…

Sometimes silence is the best answer…

Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time… 
Don’t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t botherin’ you none…

Always drink upstream from herd…

Good judgment comes from experience, and a whole lot of experience comes from bad judgment…

Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.”

Ronnie McBrayer had a weekly column in the Times-Standard Newspaper.
--Joe

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Take A Deep Breath Eureka

... the air is sweet.

Justice Sotomayor in [a] Powerful Dissent on Police Powers
The Supreme Court has ruled evidence of a crime can still be used in some cases even if police obtained it illegally. While the 5-3 ruling deals a blow to civil rights in favor of police powers, it is likely to be remembered largely for the powerful dissent penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina justice on the court. In a ruling that cited Michelle Alexander, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sotomayor wrote that "it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims" of police searches. She concluded her argument: "By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged. We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are 'isolated.' They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but. I dissent." The words of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. [Emphasis mine.]

As do I.
--JB