Bearing good fruit into the world demands that we get our hands dirty. Creating something from nothing, or building on something to make it better, paving a new road, establishing a novel idea, are never easy or smooth…because life isn’t supposed to be easy or smooth. The dirt under our nails, whether it is metaphorical or actual grime, is a testament to what we are willing to sacrifice to bring something to fruition. When ministry became my chosen profession, God gifted me with many opportunities to get my hands dirty in ways that were humbling and well, sometimes even gross, like unwanted interaction with bodily fluids. Serving Christ demanded I roll up my sleeves and get messy. More than anything, I learned that bearing fruit in a sterile environment is impossible.
I know I’ve said this before in different ways, but you can’t skip the middle of cultivating any dream by bypassing the dirty work. Too much of the final product is predicated on the will, imagination and effort necessary to struggle through mire in order to achieve success. While frustrating, it is perfectly normal for people who are in the middle of any pursuit to wonder if the difficulty will ever end, if it is worth it, if the fruits of labor match the effort and expectation. The road yet traveled can be a daunting proposition. For me, that is why faith is so important to the process. We don’t have to be alone in our pursuits. God is the ultimate safety net, and is ever present even in the muck. And, it is often amidst the muckiest of muck where true revelation lies. Always keeping your hands clean, or the process sterile, kills growth and can mean you miss the best lessons life has to show you. The best fertilizer for the greatest fruit is sometimes noxious. It’s a testament to God’s great sense of humor that shit is one of the greatest ingredients for growth…both literally and figuratively.
So, I say, life is not sterile. Some of the greatest fruits come from mud, even seeing more clearly.
“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”
This Memorial weekend I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sacrifice. To all the veteran’s out there, I thank you and words cannot express the deep gratitude I feel for your service. We are able to continue our great American Experiment due, in large part, to the great sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. I believe most Americans, regardless of which side of the fence they sit on, honor you for that. Regardless of the lowlifes out there who capitalize on this weekend to breed ever more hatred for their opponents, claiming “ownership” of being a real and true American, I believe all Americans shine with pride on this day for our brave men and women of the military. It does a disservice to politicize it…even if you are in uniform, you are not sacrosanct to vilify your fellow citizens either. No one gets a free pass to condemn anyone. It defeats the purpose of the sacrifice, which is to maintain freedom for all. I tread carefully here, because while I will never undervalue those who fought in war, there are also other ways to fight, to lead, to serve, to evolve our country into something even better that demanded the sacrifice of life too. Their sacrifices are no less valuable and I honor them on this weekend too.
While I have not served in the military, I have spent my life in service. The model I have used was the core to my vocation, from the Gospel of John 13:12-15:
So when Jesus washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at the table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master and nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
Throughout all my life though, as my understanding grew, this model Jesus set for us is so much more than humbling oneself to wash another’s feet. It is how we must look at each other…the master equals the servant. In one simple motion, Jesus disassembles one of the most embedded notions of cultural hierarchy, that there are those who deserve privilege and others who don’t…and says that we are all the same, no one is better than the other. No amount of societal consequence, propriety, adulation or even condemnation can make any set of eyes looking into mine any greater or lesser. I can honor their gifts or challenge their flaws without placing them above or below my gaze.
So when I celebrate this day, I do so not only for those who have sacrificed their lives, but to honor that sacrifice by holding myself to the highest standard for what a real American looks like: a beacon to the rest of the world, while acknowledging my power as a citizen of the most powerful country in the world, I embrace the model that Jesus set for me, not lording over, or looking down on, but helping others to rise up to their greatest potential. Our greatness depends on an America committed to building the strengths of its citizens and on leaders who are not kings, but who model the example of humility and service and return our gaze with equality and respect.
I’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed. Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own. The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost. While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.
Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things” God would never give us anything harmful. I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify. So how then, do we know what good is? What follows gives us a clue. Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”. The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.
So what is good fruit? Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power? I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray. Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree). It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit. Pretty much sums it all up.
Yes, I do know that it has almost been a month since my last post. Plagued by a very late starting spring, resulting in compressing all the things that should have been done by now into the very shortest measure of time before the 5 minutes of summer comes, I was in danger of shedding my sparkly Pollyanna skin to something more dark, sinister and leathery…hence the silence. I discovered, that I can handle the major stuff in life with relative ease, that is where my problem-solving, common sense super power kicks in. Those irritations like: lost keys, wallets, glasses, bikes, forms…none of which are mine but somehow fall into my purview of responsibilities; broken things that interrupt the flow of the day, like the computer my son just built that shuts down 10 times a day…of course he’s only finished his freshman year in computer engineering, or the eroding land that may cause our pool to fall into a ravine; and those never-ending tasks of life that you swear you just took care of and like going through a time warp, there they are again demanding attention like running out of toilet paper, kitty food, dish soap, laundry soap, razor blades, etc…; and lastly, all the man things that I live with every day too numerous to list here. All these irritations have worn my sparkly skin down to paper thinness, so I can see the serpent skin underneath. What’s worse are the responses I get from the men in my house: “I didn’t touch it”, “Just dump some dirt on it”, “Just turn it back on”, I’ll do it later (loose translation, NEVER) or my least favorite, “Just buy a new one”. It is just not acceptable…I almost died…of irritation.
So, that explains the silence. I saw my weakness and got help, not the psychological kind, but someone who will clean my house and organize the chaos, so those other irritations don’t kill me. Now, I don’t have to worry that the fire coming out of my mouth will burn everything in it’s wake. My sparkly skin is coming back…even through the gob of flem I just cleaned out of the many used glasses that the men in my house love to spit in…I will survive.
The song “Ordinary Love” by U2 sparked a notion in me that substantiates a belief that I’ve had for a long time. Here is the link:
These particular words strike a chord:
“We cannot fall any further if we can’t feel ordinary love, and we cannot reach any higher if we cannot deal with ordinary love”
It seems all too often, that many Christians bypass mastering the skills of ordinary love to claim expertise in the extraordinary love of God… in reality, if we can’t master the basics, if we bypass the difficult process of learning to love as Jesus taught us, the simple everyday expression of patience, kindness, slowness to anger and judgement, walking in another’s shoes etc., we can NEVER comprehend the extraordinary love of God, and love as God does. In a sense, it is like bypassing all that comes before any high achievement and claiming entitlement to the prize anyway.
Let me be clear, mastering ordinary love is different from sharing in the grace bestowed on us by Christ’s great sacrifice. That gift isn’t earned, it is free to all, but mastering love only comes with often painstaking practice and experience. Grace is the conduit to an endless source, which only is as powerful as our ability to master ordinary love and infuse it into the world. That is what Jesus meant when he said: “they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.” It doesn’t have to be complicated…it’s all laid out in the Gospels. It is putting it to work every single day, as strenuously as we would an exercise program, with no shortcuts, that creates a Master.
This picture represents a simple idea, we can change a single molecule by our thoughts and words. For more info on the picture check this link: http://www.whatthebleep.com/water-crystals/ But his ideas led me to what I had to say about the growing darkness in this world on a past post:
I remember teaching moral issues long ago, when I tried to impress upon the sophomore class the subtleties in making a moral decision. Right and wrong, good and bad are never really black and white, rather exist in often the subtlest shades of grey. I don’t think they could quite get their heads wrapped around the concept, perhaps it was that the examples I gave weren’t very good, like distinguishing between taking a pen from someone’s desk or locker without asking, or the last piece of pie when you’ve already had your share. Most scoffed at how stupid I was being, and rationalized quite sensibly, that a pencil is only worth a couple of pennies, or the person would never miss it, or justify that the person excluded from the pie really didn’t need it after all and they were just doing them a favor. What I was unable to convey, even after I thought I stated it pretty clearly, is that moral behavior, in large part, is built by developing an ability to distinguish between shades of grey….and the way to do that is one decision at a time, regardless of how simple or inane they might appear. What can I say, I was young…and wanted them to understand that as adults, we are an accumulation of choices just like these. If the first impulse is to justify in your mind why an action is morally ok to serve any “want” at the time then it is a clear indication that your gut is telling you that it may not be. I learned throughout the years from very wise people, to simply take a moment to weigh my options…which in truth most often takes a few seconds. Asking before borrowing something or choosing not to be greedy only increases our souls acuity to recognize shades of grey. Our brains also help us continue on a moral path by creating neuro-pathways, or shortcuts to respond to situations like the ones mentioned automatically after we repeat a certain behavior after a while. I guess that is why bad habits are so hard to break…just ask my family…it’s to the point that whenever I even open my mouth to speak their eyes roll back into their heads, and I guess I can’t blame them. For now it is safer to opine in cyber space.
I fear in this time, we may be losing the ability to distinguish between shades of grey and the world is growing darker. I don’t know if it’s because there is so much corruption, rationalized behavior, and greed that we’ve accepted that the growing darkness is inevitable (or its someone else’s fault), or if it’s because up against such darkness it is easier to look so much better in comparison. We do live in morally dubious times, and I think the place to start cleaning up all the pollution begins with our own choices…not necessarily the ones involving pencils and pie, but the ones that trigger the rationalization response. I know I’ve had a hard time taking my own inventory when there are so many who don’t, but it has to start somewhere. And I know that I am in no position to throw stones, but do hold myself obligated to develop my own moral acumen…because too many of our leaders and movers and shakers in our world don’t…and why the saving of the world may very well be left in the hands of us ordinary folk…one choice at a time.
So it is with Grace. Sometimes I think we believe that real power lies in those who stand in the light of infamy and fame, those names that we are familiar with, who are known by the masses. I think that is the greatest illusion of all, perpetuated by darkness to seduce us from recognizing our own power. How many are looking for a savior on a white horse, fearless and strong with endless power and ability to slay any adversary? There is a reason God chooses great leaders from the simplest and most ordinary people…it is within every heart to do great things. Each of us has the ability to use the subtly of Grace and change even water…even if we aren’t around to see their impact in the future. Never underestimate a single gesture of Grace…the darkness never does and that is how it grows as well. The good news is that even the subtlest of light can cast away the darkness. Be a light. Change the world
Each day when I wake up and while I sit in my bath…(the only quiet time in my day because the testosterone at my house is unconscious…except for the new man kitty who dive bombed the bubbling water and totally freaked himself out and is lingering in the corner of my house somewhere soaking wet and hopefully thinking twice about messing with my zen time again…picture to prove my scars…) and think how I can make this day an improvement over yesterday…especially given that my yesterdays have developed a pattern of , well, let’s just say in terms of GPA, I would totally be dropping out right now. So, I have taken a broader and more realistic view, and will hone my observation skills to view the almost imperceptible. By the end of the year I will totally have x-ray vision…and said man cat will be claw-free and testosterone free. Booyah!
This has been an overwhelming week. Tragedy strikes, the kind that one wonders if its possible to come back from…and then, small miracles happen that renew hope. I have to say what an honor it has been to work together with amazing people in this small little hamlet who have responded with no less love and compassion than heavenly angels. The effortless ease with which we pulled together to help our friends, our neighbors, attend to whatever needs there may be, is indeed inspiring. In the lull of day-to-day, it’s easy to isolate in our own personal dramas and let the negativity of the world overwhelm and discourage us. Then, by no small miracle we are given an opportunity to pull together and bestow the kind of loving embrace that soothes the wounded soul. Broken hearts of a few are augmented by the functioning hearts of the many. We are the body of Christ as we pull together and carry our friends in their need. From a simple desire to sooth and help, to comfort and to heal, to mourn innocence gone too soon, connections happen that strengthen us all. I feel in this moment the magic of my simple yet extraordinary community. Regardless of position or politics, we are a community to be proud of, the best that America has to offer, and proof that in even in the darkest moment our hope will prevail.
Sometimes it is so simple to speak the truth, but dangerous nevertheless. This young girl is my hero, and proof that the Universe has more in store for her. We could all learn a thing or two from her about simple truth and moral courage. Kind of makes our government look foolish…No? When a young woman like this will take a bullet for the right to be educated, and the powers that be don’t even tap into the truth that free education and information can bring it is easy to feel hopeless, but Malala is living proof that perhaps truth and goodness can prevail. Watch this link from The Daily Show:
That is one of my favorite movie lines from all time, and it was what popped into my head when I worried about how to continue my discussion on illusion. I thought of using “breaking bad”, but since the series just ended, I didn’t feel right usurping any searches that way. While I think the first instinct for most people is that they would really like the truth, to see it, know it and live it…I have to be honest and say that I don’t believe that for a minute.
I didn’t sleep much last night, and as I often do, I prayed hard that God may break any illusions that may hold me prisoner, and to bless me with even greater truth. And that is exactly what God did. Except not at first, at first there was just silence…so I turned on the TV, as I often do when I can’t sleep. As I pressed the guide on my remote, there was a movie on called “Desert Flower”, thinking that it might be an opportunity to get an answer to my questions, I watched it. It was about the life of Waris Dirie, a super model who suffered the humility of female genital mutilation, or female circumcision and became the world’s foremost crusader against it. I’m not shifting gears into this heroic struggle, but there was a point in the film, when she flashes back to when she was a three year old girl, playing and kissing her mother and the graphic horror of what happened when held by two woman who mutilated her without anesthesia . I sobbed long and hard, of course as a mother at what pain and horror that baby went through, and because of the horrible subjugation of women that still occurs around the world. Through my tears, though, I still wasn’t ready for sleep, so I kept watching T.V.
The movie that followed, was called “The Magdalene Sisters.” It told the stories of four young women in 1964 Ireland who labeled”fallen” by their families, were sent to Magdalene Asylums to suffer manual labor doing laundry and other penance as appeasement for their sins. The abuse and humiliation these young woman suffered all under the tutelage of the Roman Catholic Church, was just as painful to watch. Again, I don’t want to talk about that injustice right now either. Here was my uncomfortable truth: In this moment of time, I have it unbelievably easy, I have control over my body, my mind and my voice, and I won’t be punished for it. I am free to choose the life I live and choose what I want to believe, the operative word being “choose.”
While it is not perfect, my country allows me this freedom. I am grateful for it, and proud to live as an American citizen. Of course, that isn’t the greater truth. The greater truth is this; All of our voices matter. We, the people represent different ethnicity’s, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, intelligence and gender. That is why we have a republic, a representative government. Coming up with solutions that will represent all of us is tricky and hard. I think Congress has forgotten that fact. In this crisis I have become biased, and angry that one small group of people thinks that their voice matters more than anybody else’s. So I’m using my voice to declare loudly, “Knock it off! put your dicks back in your pants and pass a CR to reopen the government. Quit pointing the finger at each other and COMPROMISE! and that doesn’t include what has already been made into law and upheld by the court. DO A BETTER JOB. QUIT CLAIMING TO SPEAK FOR ONLY THOSE THAT THINK LIKE YOU DO AND TRY AND WORK FOR US ALL FOR A CHANGE…that is what we elected you to do.
To conclude, let me just say that I had to be reminded of how little power many woman have around the world before I was challenged to exercise my own. I will do better.
Plato, in his allegory of the cave, gives a perfect illustration of how we can become captive by illusions. As a result of believing the shadows on the wall to be true reality, the world becomes a fabrication, like the old tale of the Emperor’s invisible clothes. Like the fundamental assumptions that society believes often without question or in many instances fails to even notice, the world’s illusions seem to have snuck up on us slowly, so much so that it appears that we have lost the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is simply a shadow on the wall. What is most frightening, though, is the level of ferocity (even violence) with which we as individuals and as a society have chosen to hold on to illusions, rather than recognize, grieve, and surrender the deceptions we believed and then move upward and outward into the light.
It may appear to be the greatest of arrogance for me to tell you that you’ve been staring at shadows your whole life. So I won’t say it. Of course if your life is not hunky dory then you’ll have to draw your own conclusions as to the reason why, and let me suggest that the list begins with the primary source…yourself. The only claim of expertise made here will be from what I’ve learned as a fellow observer, one with the added vantage point of standing in the middle. Not only is there an equidistant view from where I stand, if I’ve been lulled into believing in shadows, the chances are pretty good that others have been lulled into believing them too. So if you see room for improvement in your life, then take a chance and read on. I won’t even attempt to tell you what illusions you may be staring at in shadow form. The starting point is to simply admit that you may have them. It will be your job to figure out what those shadows are. And let me tell you that when you do that, the chains dissolve away. There is no trick to escape, no enormous locks; it all centers on personal choice. Those first few steps in relative darkness are the hardest because it demands that you have faith in something that isn’t known yet. It’s after you take those first steps and go outside that you will understand the difference; the light makes it impossible to transfer one shadow for another, they are lost forever. But take heed to this warning: the process of escape usually really sucks. The pain is a necessary part, but like a painkiller I’ll try to dull it a bit. If you were able to accept the challenge and let go of all the rules you live by and live in cosmic anarchy for a while, then you’re already 10 steps ahead of everyone else.
One of the rules that I’ve adopted (post cleaning my own cosmic closet) is that things are not always what they appear to be, so making rigid judgments about any given situation doesn’t even factor into the movie in my head; when I have done so in the past, the result is most often catastrophic. Most people are aware on some level that what they see is often colored by who they are and what has happened to them thus far in life. What trips me up most often is not that things are something other than what they appear to be, but that I hold on to the judgments that I create about them (often rigidly) even in the face of knowing better. A shadow is a shadow, regardless of how articulate or insightful modern commentary is in trying to justify the truth of its existence. Real change happens in the heart. Any person can say they believe in something over and over, but if their heart isn’t willing to follow along, especially in terms of their behavior, then the chains will never be let loose making it impossible to move out of the darkness.
As an observer, besides using my native good judgment in determining at any given time when I’m living in the land of illusion, there is also a process I use taken from the rules of Evidence in the American Judicial System. One of the most basic rules of evidence is that only evidence that is relevant may be permitted, that is only that material which has the tendency to help prove the truth of the issue at hand. The most obvious relevant evidence would be something like a murder weapon or an eye witness to a crime. Even when evidence is relevant, though, it may still be excluded if the value of the evidence is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury. Other forms of evidence like hearsay: a statement made outside of the courtroom but is offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted; or character evidence: using a person’s character to prove that person acted in conformity to that character, may not be allowed because of the risk of unfair prejudice. The bottom line is that the rules of evidence are very restrictive because those who decide the case whether it be the judge or a jury deserve the kind of evidence that best leads to the truth.
Unfortunately, this kind of filtering isn’t necessarily applied when it comes to dispelling many of the illusions our culture lives by today. Look at how most of us receive information, especially from television. It is common to utilize deeply biased and second and third hand information to inform the public about an issue. It is also more and more common to attack someone’s character as a means of uncovering “the truth,” or to diminish the validity of their perspective. It appears that the means by which we prove the truth in our lives would never hold muster in a court room. Is it because the truth by which we live is less important than the truth that will prove us guilty or innocent?
There are three things that I have found helpful in destroying the illusions that pop up in my life: 1) coming to terms with the judgments of my heart, 2) steering away from that kind of evidence that distracts me from the truth and 3) refusing to engage in “king of the hill” behavior, meaning defending with such vigor those judgments/illusions I have that truth is forced to take the back seat to winning the argument. Have you ever had an argument with someone and fought to the death even though you knew full well that you were wrong? Just wanting to be right never got me anywhere, whereas shifting my thinking from a win/lose mentality to an exploration of what new information I may gain, has usually gotten me everywhere. Take a moment to listen to your innate good judgment and see if there is truth in what others are saying. Feeling super defensive is a sure sign that it is a crucial time to listen. Ego thrives on illusion. I’ve also learned, the hard way, that truth never prevails when the impetus to present an idea is rooted in fear (even if the fear is as simple as not wanting to lose the upper hand).
Although chances are also great that the other person doesn’t know what they are talking about either and are also just trying to win, when you remove the competitive element either the wind will completely blow out of the conversation (being there is nothing left for the other person to conquer) or you will find out the other person is really trying to make a point. There may even be the not so rare occasion when they weren’t listening to you anyway and just like to hear themselves talk. Even in these situations discovery may happen. The focus should not be on the other person, but on what your heart tells you in response to them. Face it change is hard…in Plato’s allegory, there were plenty of people who wanted to kill the messenger, the one who escaped the chains and wanted to share his expanded frame of reference. We often shoot down new information if it requires us to shift beyond what we believe at any given point. Holding onto shadows may be easier, but then one must accept the kind of darkness that will forever shield one from true illumination. Faith in light beyond the darkness is the only escape.
So how does one apply this immutable force in everyday life? Is there some sort of mechanism or practical application that can aid us in harnessing the power of love? Organized religion, whether or not it seems to be the most obvious choice, is only one place and it doesn’t always do the best job. It appears to have fallen victim to “there is only one true perspective rule.” Let me tell you that admitting that love may not be harnessed through organized religion, gives me a great deal of sadness.
The portrayal of love in literature lifts up and celebrates its bond between sex and desire, but as I learned in Catholic school, this dangerous mix also offers, potentially, a lot of sadness. I understand that love and desire can be a lethal combination, but if King Solomon and Shakespeare are correct, it can also greatly enhance human life. Another wise teacher told me this about love and attraction: “Attraction is like a beautiful coat. We are all brought into the world with a certain beauty, like a beautiful coat that catches a certain person’s eye. But it is, after all, only a coat merely attracting someone to the true essence of a person. Truly, how can a simple coat compare to the beauty that lies underneath?”
Seeing love as an immutable force also dispels another assumption I had about love: for love to be true, reciprocation is necessary. In fact, reciprocation should never enter the equation. In the First Letter of John, in the Christian New Testament I used to ponder this line: “Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God loved us and has sent his Son as an offering for our sins”. We should never choose to love expecting that it will be returned. Loving another should be open ended and fearless, for John continues, “Love has no room for fear; rather, perfect love casts out all fear. And since fear has to do with punishment, love is not perfect in one who is afraid.” 1 John 4: 7-9. When we love without fear, the consequence often inspires reciprocation but it is in no way contingent on it. Love should never be withheld when it isn’t returned because then love’s true power becomes squelched (just ask any parent). It was enduring the experiences of unrequited love where I learned the most about love’s true nature and was transformed as a result. Those experiences may have caused burns but it was also those experiences where I began to discover how to wield love’s energy effectively. Love is often most powerful when it continues to propel us forward even in the face of opposition. When you look at love this way, the phrase “love your enemies” begins to make a lot more sense.
As an individual, the most important insight that I gained through all my trials was that the power to love on my own would always be deficient, leaving me vulnerable to harm. With God, though, who, is love, my heart is augmented with a power that knows no boundaries. I’ve truly found that even with the limited capacity humanity has for a full understanding of its nature, when openly and embracing the love of God, we are transformed. For me, being burned isn’t so much of a concern any more because I have become flame-proof. That is quite a statement to make and I have never been quite as confident to say it as I am now. In consciously praying for God to assist my simple heart, I get results. I can’t explain it any more clearly than that, except to say for those of you who may believe that I’ve just embraced another illusion, that the results I get aren’t anything I could have foreseen. Of course there are always set backs, but the knowledge and experience of its power never goes away. It’s like riding a bike—once you learn how, you never forget.
As a parent, I also have the opportunity to experience love on an even greater level. Throughout the lives of my children, i have engaged in many things that as I single person I never would do, from boy scouts and camping, to endless amounts of time in my car and sitting on my ass while they fulfilled simple dreams. I always talk about life in crazy town, and with three men I have very legitimate reasons for saying so. But love is a little bit cray-cray. When we put personal desire aside for the sake of one we love, amazing things can happen. I was never transformed into a person who enjoyed the activities of the men in my house—in fact I still wouldn’t choose them for myself. Yet some how I am still renewed and transformed. It is hard to put it into words, but like the Grinch I really feel my heart grow 10 times its size, even if it is for just a few moments.
The discovery here may seem to be a simple twist of the language, but it really isn’t. If we are to harness the great power of love, it has to be done in the way love intends, not the way we intend it. This may seem paradoxical, at first. How can one harness something by relinquishing control? We can’t change the nature of love any more than we can change the nature of fire. We, as human beings, place way too much emphasis on what love should look like, rather than simply allowing it to propel us forward. In the face of that, remember, any expression is incidental. Opening my heart to love means forsaking all fear and trusting that some power greater than I, knows what to do. When love is the true conduit there is no mistaking the power that will flow through. It is truly empowering. In order for love to move us, we must place our own will aside, because there is too much risk of being burned if we don’t.
Thinking of the moments in my life where I felt love in its purest form move me forward, usually isn’t a Kodak moment. It usually meant reluctantly letting go of my personal will, and moving through the tightness in my stomach that meant I was moving into uncomfortable territory and watching what unfolded. The result was always amazing, even in a tough love situation. The clarity of those moments can never be questioned it is just so pure. When I allow the force of love, which for me is God, replace my small and imperfect heart, the power of those moments is truly death-defying.
My favorite Gospel is John’s. It is my favorite not so much because of his poetry, but because of the great lengths to which he goes to help us understand love’s true nature. For Christians, the death of Jesus on the cross is clear evidence of a love and devotion that continued even in the face of rejection by almost everyone. It also strikes at the heart of God’s attitude toward human beings. It isn’t the only story of a god so benevolent that he makes a sacrifice, but it surely is the best one (in my humble opinion). It also may feel like the love bar is set too high for us lowly humans. To utilize a power that strong may take some practice.
Here is something that must be said. Simply stated, my faith in God is central to the way in which I observe the world—but that is just me. Although devout, I wouldn’t describe my faith as typical. I know I’ve said this before, but as a theology student I was given an assignment to find a biblical passage to represent my faith…my choice?: King David dancing naked before the Ark of the Covenant—draw your own conclusions. In the rash of religious fundamentalism that has taken hold of many in today’s world, I am almost a bit embarrassed to share my passion and devotion to God for fear of being pigeon-holed as an advocate for some of the idiocy that has come out of some religious fundamentalists. However, this post can be helpful to anyone regardless of where they are in life’s great journey or what philosophy or theology they embrace. My purpose here is to simply help people reflect on, and have a stake in how they choose to observe the ordinary things in this world because it matters more than you may realize. The many Christian and other spiritual images I use serve to illustrate what I have learned, and they just seem to make a lot of sense to me. More than anything, it is faith that God is behind me at all times that gives me the strength of this conviction: All things, are indeed possible.
Let me say this: the connections I’ve made based on how I observe the world have led me to new ideas which have resulted in becoming an effective force for change (or a force to be reckoned with depending on the day). Simply put, I found that most of the materials necessary to live out the movie in my head and the answers to my life’s questions came wrapped in ordinary brown paper, free for the taking. As much fun as it is to believe that a secret society, centuries ago, has buried the secret to happiness in countless riddles all over the globe, the truth is that it has been right in front of us all along.
The key lies in how to observe the ordinary: using ones own cosmic imagination to see everyday raw materials as essential ingredients in creating something greater, to achieve ones dream. I may just be stating the obvious, but I’m amazed at how many people don’t even begin to use the simple things that are right in front of them. They look, but do not really see. The growing sense of fear and despair in the world is all the proof that I need to bring a message of hope. Observing the world as one that is evolving into greatness shapes the very way one moves and creates in it. This is not just another take on “attitude is everything.” When I use the word “observation,” I’m not speaking about a passive action, rather, one that is the root of all creation and growth. I, in my ordinary-ness, am as essential a factor in the world’s equation for success as any president or king, because my observations are unique to me alone. And because they are unique to me alone, they can be the exact ingredient necessary for my greatness somewhere else.
Another observation I’ve made is that too many people want to bypass the middle of any process. We live in a day and age where the easiest route is always the best route, regardless of the cost. Having status is far more important than the process by which one attains it. What happens when one is given something too easily, without the opportunity to earn it? In an age where technology has made all our lives so much easier, perhaps we have lost the motivation to work hard…for anything. That may be a hard bit to swallow, but there is evidence out there to prove my point. I find the amount of money that goes into gambling and lottery pots around the world staggering. It is certainly more than the GNP of many third world countries in the world. What really is the end result for bypassing the middle where all the hard work is and jumping to the end? I think part of the reason that we want to bypass the middle is that there is a subtle underlying message today that tempts us into believing that life shouldn’t be hard, that there are ways to bypass any difficulty and that if you can’t fix it within a moment’s time, throw it away and buy something better. Sadly enough, there are more than enough individuals out there who have, to put it bluntly, just stopped moving period, forcing the rest of us to find our way around them.
I would also venture to say that most people out there have, at times, considered themselves to be inconsequential when it comes to making an impact on the world. They don’t see themselves as an essential element in something much greater. It is this belief that has created the grey cloud that is obstructing clear sight. I am here to say this: the roots of colossal change lie in the smallest and simplest things which often go unnoticed by the naked eye. When you bypass the middle of any process, you miss all the important stuff. It is the mustard seed approach that Jesus spoke about: taking something small and seemingly insignificant and learning to have faith in its potential, to put forth the effort to nurture it and see its place in the distant future, far after it has left my circle of influence. Like the beauty of our DNA’s double helix, every single element is essential in creating the blueprint that becomes a human being. It is the compilation of many different elements that expresses our potential. Why not look at our human family the same way?
Being in the middle of a process can also be, at times, tedious, hard work, full of uncertainty, and time-consuming. It also demands a great deal of humility and faith in the work being done and the process as a whole. It is my hope to give credit and encouragement to anyone in that middle place, where the effort is not glamorous, but is no less essential than finishing the job. All of us, at one time or another has had the tedious job of passing a bucket. Columbus may have been credited for discovering America, but when it came to the discovery of chocolate he was just a middle man
From my unrecognizable place in the world, I’ve seen a lot. Being in the middle has had its advantages. I’ve learned a lot from being a middle child, living in the Midwest, graduating several times in the middle of my class, having a middle-income, juggling the challenges of the middle class etc. Far from being mediocre, though, being in the middle has offered me an equidistant view to the world. From the thick of it, I see an increasing sense of discontentment, anxiety, stress and a loss of hope. It seems that my penchant for average has kept me, sometimes against my will in a position of observation. There seems to be a ubiquitous grey cloud that hangs over society today, even a midst the plethora of groups who have laid claim to the key to happiness or in the alternative try to isolate the exact source of our discontent and eradicate it. In all honesty, most of those groups on high who offer solutions to any and all problems if I would just surrender my control and give into “the right way of thinking” are never all that hopeful or happy, which truly doesn’t inspire much credibility on their part.
And yet, I’m not offering any magical solution either. However, it doesn’t mean that a solution isn’t there, just waiting to be recognized. After years of honing my observation skills, I think I understand why we aren’t necessarily in a better place. It all lies in our perception and our ability to see the solution. No solution to any problem is helpful if you can’t see it. So let me use another sense to focus on the problem. Focus on your hearing for a moment: I cannot sing. I’m not being modest. I really can’t sing. But, just because I’m aware of my own limitations vocally doesn’t mean that I also forgo the ability to make a decision about whether someone else can sing or not. Pretend you’re on a variation of the show American Idol. Now, instead of it being your job to listen to potential singers, focus on the contestant’s perception of their singing. The truth, or proof of talent, is what comes out of their mouths, not from voicing the opinion that they are the one you are looking for. Very often, you respond with incredulity, because it is painfully obvious that many of the contestants are delusional. Then, just when it feels like there is no hope, and you’re ready to accept anybody that may have only a glimmer of talent, a pure tone and melody presents itself often from the least likely contestant. It is keeping alive the hope, like a beautiful song, that an answer to a prayer exists out there for each one of us. All of us ordinary folk have been inundated with really bad singers for too long now. The negativity of the information we receive from almost every angle, like nails on a blackboard, is making my head hurt. Like those terrible singers on American Idol, some people are just plain off-key and should be told so. When truth becomes buried so deeply under the screeching of the tone-deaf, it does have an effect on the rest of the world, making it harder for the rest of us to hear the clear tones of truth.
Bad things happen, to be sure. The cure, though, is much more basic and a lot more boring, which may, to many people, make it far less interesting than being delusional. Truth is often the bitterest of pills and it is indeed a challenge to encourage consumption in a way that is palatable…but I do feel obligated to try. The answer lies in not what one sees, but how one sees it: the process of observation. For example, take something simple like the cacao bean, cane sugar, and cow’s milk. Looking at these raw materials singularly one may not see anything remarkable, but who could have guessed that, as an addendum to a long and adventurous journey of discovering a new world, these ordinary elements would work in concert together to become one of the great culinary discoveries of all time: chocolate.
The fact that chocolate has been a delicacy and has delighted our taste buds for centuries isn’t at all surprising. What may be surprising, though, are recent scientific studies that have also shown the impact that the properties of the cocoa bean has on our health. Many of you are probably aware that consuming chocolate releases endorphins : a natural morphine like substance that your body produces that inspires well-being. Were you aware that chocolate may also improve cognitive function and make your heart healthier also? Had the cocoa bean been left in its natural and bitter state, perhaps we wouldn’t have been so willing to include it as practically its own food group. Again, so there is a great food that is good for you, not such a big deal. The biggest miracle of chocolate though, doesn’t lie in our taste buds or sense of well-being, but how it came about in the first place.
The truly amazing part about the interactions between the Mayans, Aztecs, Columbus, Cortez, and some Spanish monks, is that individually they never intended to discover a new food. The creation of chocolate is only one example of what can happen when simple elements of different worlds unwittingly merge and then emerge into something entirely new and different. Like children do, the key is to observe the world in a way that is teeming full of potential. Perhaps it is God’s intent to present us the necessary raw materials and let our hearts be the source of seeing what ordinary elements mixed together can do to transform the bitter into the delightful. It also took time, some failures and a host of different players to find the perfect recipe. The creation of chocolate is the perfect metaphor for the plot of the movie in my head: there is always something great that can come out of any journey, even if it is unintentional. The challenge is to believe that any road can lead to chocolate by learning to see the infinite potential in ourselves, and the ordinary things and people one sees along the way. My entire life thus far is a living testimony to this truth.
In a general sense, the purpose of these post’s on observation is to create a cosmic sort of chocolate, so to speak: to create a process by which one can see the world in a way that looks as good as chocolate tastes…and is still healthy for you. It just doesn’t make sense that from this world of amazing raw materials God would give any of us great visuals without also setting us in the right direction and providing means necessary to be a part of bringing them to fruition. It’s simply a question of being able to see and then bring together the right ingredients. I’ve also learned not to be too rigid about what the final result will look like, to limit the number of roads necessary to get there or even stay around long enough to actually see the fruits of my labor. And I can say with confidence that I have never been disappointed. Confused at times, perhaps, but never disappointed.
That being said, because each of our lives are different I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone else to fully understand or appreciate the movie in my head, like I probably wouldn’t fully appreciate what is going on in anybody else’s either. It’s important to preserve subjectivity. Not only are we all predisposed genetically to certain traits, we all have accumulated millions of different experiences, resulting in millions of unique personal dioramas. So really, no one individual will ever see the world in the same way any other does. This also means that no one else can give you an instruction book on how to live out the movie in your own head. What I’ve observed is that too many people rely on others to tell them how they must see the world to find success which is one of the causes of the world’s deluded thinking.
The whole point here is not to have you embrace the movie in my head, but to embrace the movie in your own head and learn to observe the world in such a way so that it can happen. Figuring out what ones uniqueness is and putting it out there in the world to mix with others is the first step. This is not without challenges, especially in this day and age, because being a totally different and unique individual often runs contrary to societies’ push to be defined by and live within specific cultural rules created by bigger and seemingly more powerful people than us ordinary folk. It is easy to succumb to the pressure to allow an external standard to tell you what to think and define who you are and your place of importance in this world. If we all saw the world the same way, there would never be growth, which depends on a myriad of different perspectives, from the grandest to the simplest. As an ingredient, my addition to the mix might be the most basic, but essential nonetheless. Like chocolate, it’s the different ingredients coming together that can bring a dream to life.
Because each of us is different, the need to have outside acceptance or approval can be fatal when striving to live one’s dream. Understanding what goes on in one’s head is central to the individual only. Don’t get me wrong, acceptance and approval is nice, but it isn’t a requirement. When I think of some of human histories greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Galileo, Shakespeare, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Susan B. Anthony, Einstein, to a personal favorite of mine, Teilhard De Chardin, they were far more familiar with condemnation than acceptance. Where would we be if they hadn’t persisted in the face of societies’ disapproval? The simple reality is that no one else can live my life or fulfill my dreams, but me. Most of the things that I’ve accomplished in my life never would have happened had I waited for permission, approval, or enough of an understanding by other people of what goes on in my head for anyone to give me support in the first place.
While approval isn’t essential, it is also impossible to achieve one’s dream in a vacuum. We are all dependent on ordinary elements to make the movie in our heads a reality, whether it comes in the form of a person, an idea, or a simple experience. And it is being able to see the importance of those simple things and have faith in their potential in whatever guise they are presented to us that will determine one’s failure or success. Expecting that someone else can give you all the answers will almost guarantee failure, and rarely are they packaged with a bow and flashy wrapping. Although acceptance by others is never necessary in bringing a dream to life, the knowledge that each individual out there may be essentially the exact ingredient necessary for a dream is reason enough to encourage everyone to “be all that they can be.” The more I actualize my own dreams, the better chance, even if unwittingly, I can help actualize someone else’s. How often does that thought come into your heads? How often to do you start your day with this thought: I may be the exact ingredient necessary to help someone’s dream come true? Even if it is in the subtlest way, that thought should change everything about how you observe the world…when was the last time anyone told you that you were essential to success of the world…to the success of building the Kingdom of God? I thought so. So, let it start now. Be cosmic chocolate to someone. They don’t even need to be aware of it…only you do.
So how does one go about judging perspective? Is it even appropriate, especially given that we all walk in our own pair of shoes, is there any kind of measurement that we can use to create some kind of standard? Empathy for our fellow humans can only take us so far. Is there a human blueprint or archetype that we can use as a starting point? When I observe the men in my house, a great deal of the time I truly believe that I’m the only sane person in crazy town. Therein lies the rub…is it possible to truly understand perspective when all you have is your own…is there any substantive to point to judge what is truly illusory and crazy? I know there are a million self-help books out there, and I’ve actually read a few…but I’m looking for something more subtle. Is there an underlying beat, deeply embedded in our DNA, that we humans march too? Let’s talk about the Golden Mean.
The Golden Mean, or Golden Proportion is a particular construct I’ve used to help me give shape and form to a concept that is usually so illusive. Some of you who read this may be already familiar with this concept and for those of you who aren’t, I’ll explain it to the best of my ability (or you can always look it up in Wikipedia).
The Golden proportion is a special proportion deeply rooted in nature, art, math and philosophy that represents harmony and balance. According to ancient history, the Greek mathematician and astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidus (c.370 B.C.), noted that when he asked his associates to find the most pleasing placement of a crossbar, they naturally did so according to this proportion, 1 to .618. Here is a diagram (great thing, the internet).
The golden mean is also called PHI (pronounced “fee”, not to be confused with PI) in the language of mathematics. PHI was derived from a sequence of numbers created by a thirteenth century mathematician named Leonardo Fibonacci. The sequence is a progression in which each term is equal to the sum of the two preceding numbers: 1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21, and the quotients of the adjacent terms possessed the property of achieving the number 1.618, which is PHI, or the golden proportion. PHI is found throughout some of the best architecture in history, including the Great Pyramid and the Parthenon. You’ll see it in art, (a classic Greek urn, da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man) nature, (the spiral of a sea shell) biology, (the proportion of male to female bees in a honeybee community) and music (organizational structures in music or the shape of a violin).
What was insightful to me was not that we conceptually understand all the implications of the golden proportion, or mean, but that we, somehow by nature, abide by its rhythm. Somehow we intuitively know this balance point. Up there out in the world, there is a consistent melody that life moves to. There is supposed to be a connection to something larger and I think that we stopped listening to that melody a long time ago. In the human scale, our hearts lie right at the golden proportion point, so it isn’t surprising to me that the heart, not the head is the archetype where true wisdom and love is found.
The lack of reliance on intuition, that internal melody evidenced historically by how dominant pure reason became. Reason, historically a male characteristic, has been considered superior to intuition. Think of it, it’s common to tell someone to be reasonable but have you ever heard someone ask you to be intuitive? The general tenor of history has taught that intuition, because it is vague and illusive, is also something that can’t be relied on and is something that should be evolved from, replaced by science and reason, again, probably rooted in that whole “sinful human nature” thing. There is also plenty of examples in history when it was even vilified—note, burning “witches” at the stake. In working to regain a better sense of balance in this world, hence a better perspective, there is nothing to lose by looking at the possibility that “reason” may have shown us just one side of the coin. Visiting the other side of the coin, via my intuition, certainly added clarity and a new dimension to my world. And adding that dimension was as pivotal as learning the world was no longer flat.
Although intuition is intensely personal, outside resources were helpful in learning to tap into it, understanding the golden mean only being one of them. We all receive plenty of guidance from outside sources, mine happened to be from scripture, scholars, educational programs and all sorts of other mediums and everyday people like my parents. Most often I listened to these sources not because of a command but as the result of a conscious choice, they hit a harmonious chord deep within. Like the story of the Garden of Eden, there is a point when we all have to learn to rely on ourselves when making choices. Ultimately, I am the direct beneficiary of all my personal choices, even if the choice is only limited to whom or what I’m seeking direction. The greatest challenge is to have the courage to let go of the control of the rational world and allow ones self to move according to the rhythm of the universe. In this age of rigid rules and control it feels overwhelming to trust what’s “out there.” It has, for me, been the only way that I have stumbled across the answers to many of my life’s questions. That isn’t to say reason wasn’t essential as a check when something sounded too good to be true. It has always been the balance of both my innate sense and rational mind that has kept me pretty balanced (unless you ask the men in my house…)
As a result of remaining fairly ignorant about the power of intuition, I wonder how often we second guess ourselves. The sense of knowing what choice is the right one comes to me by gut instinct far more often than I may realize or accept. The result of weakening the credibility of our inner voice is that it becomes a whole lot easier for the world outside to dictate how we live. As you already may realize, the outside world perpetuates a lot of illusions guaranteed to obstruct clear sight. Without a strong inner voice, it’s easy to succumb to those illusions. Perhaps living from the outside-in is less effective than to root how we live in the world from the inside-out. So, from this point onward, try letting your intuition be your guide in what is presented as only one woman’s take on what lies on the other side of the coin.
How we observe the world is essential, but let me go into detail about that later. It was my intuition that added a whole different dimension to the power and accuracy of my observations. But it isn’t always easy listening to my inner voice. First, because it means shutting off my own babble long enough to listen and second, by its very nature it tends to be elusive. In this day and age, it is even more difficult to listen to the voice within sometimes because of the noise of everyday life, from everything we’re wired into, to the noise of modern life outside. We are all bombarded by sounds from practically the moment we wake up in the morning, and it takes a conscious effort to turn them off. It is possible, however, to learn how to tune them out. When things get really crazy and loud in my life, I remember a line from one of the Psalms that says “Be still and know that I am God.”
Because of the mysterious and intangible quality of intuition, it is the perfect place from which God can speak most clearly. There is a great story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah. As a result of being a zealous advocate for God, Elijah is a hunted man. He hides in a cave and the Lord speaks to him and tells him to go outside the cave and to wait for him to pass. Elijah witnesses strong enough storms to shake the mountains and cause rocks to fall, yet the Lord was not in the storm. Afterwards there was an earthquake and then fire and the Lord was not present in these powerful acts of nature either. Then Elijah heard a tiny whispering sound in the wind, and it was in the whispering where God was present, and it was from the whispering where he received direction. Please don’t think I’m representing myself as a prophet: I’m not. I have, however, taken the MMPI , busted my hump academically, read thousands of books and danced under the full moon naked—okay scratch that last example. But like Elijah, I do believe God exists in the whispering, from deep down within me. I am confident in this statement because I’ve learned to get out of my comfort zone and test the wisdom I receive from within and then watch the results. At least at this point in my life I choose to listen to the presence and direction of God in the whispering—when I shut up long enough to listen
All crap aside, I have tried in the last couple of days to 1) figure out what exactly drives me as an observer and 2) figure out how to improve and change what drives me as an observer. Truthfully, I am stuck. I’m stuck because there is a part of me, perhaps the part that is rooted in common sense, that absolutely can’t change how I view that portion of the world that is so rooted in illusion that they are convinced it is the rest of the world that is completely insane….I KNOW! THAT VERY EXAMPLE FITS ME BOTH AS AN OBSERVER AND THOSE THAT I OBSERVE!!! It is a bit of a conundrum. So, I have begun to disassemble the illusory elements in my life…which also stands as proof that my willingness to accept that I may just be as crazy as those I’ve been judging, is a sign that I am in fact, not the crazy on in this observer/observed relationship. Also, the fact that I would never go out in public with my boobs tucked into my pants because I misplaced my bra and shirt is a point on my side as well.
As far as what drives me as an observer, I would say first and foremost it is my faith as a Christian….I KNOW! MOST OF THE CRAZY PEOPLE I’VE OBSERVED ALSO INCLUDE CHRISTIANITY AS THEIR BIGGEST DRIVING FORCE! That includes, and is not limited to those horrible spirited people who protest funerals, those that think that a woman’s body has special powers to keep from being impregnated when she is “legitimately” raped, and any or all of the “Real Housewives of Orange County.” So, what happened? Did we get it wrong? I, personally, think we did. This then, is where I will start. Read this verse John 13: 34 & 35 and answer this question…is this how you understand your faith? Actually read the whole chapter, it is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. A wonderful portrayal of what is expected of authority.
I know that Jesus didn’t just grab a random person off the streets and command them to love like he did and wash their feet. He loved these disciples. He had journeyed with them, spent three years with them…he had tamed them. Because he had tamed them, he knew that they would understand his command. The ties that bound them on earth were so important when it came to building and continuing his church, and he was no longer physically with him. They were responsible to each other, just like the Little Prince taught (see post on Taming). I think is the most important part…I asked myself the same question: How am I responsible to Him?. I didn’t get tamed by Jesus personally…only spiritually, and it was through a disciple that I came to understand what he was all about. It is what made me different from any of the others that have made the same claim. It has put me on a path of not focusing on being better than or being right…but one of being better and responsible to this phrase: “They will know you are my disciple by how you love one another.” The break down of illusion starts there.
I took a step away from deep thoughts for a moment and thought I would step outside my small circle and check out the state of my view on ordinary people out there. It’s not altogether pretty. I’m usually an optimist, but man there is some weird stuff out there, and I found myself spiraling into a deep sense of pessimism that truly is foreign to me. Just perusing through social network sites, (you would be amazed at how many are totally public) was shallow proof that the end of the world is nigh. Seriously, if the observer does has an impact on the state of the world (check the last post), I can understand why we are all slipping into hell in a dirty hand basket. I can’t get over the fact that there actually is a website dedicated to Wal-Mart people…moreover I can’t get over the fact that people on that website actually went out in public like that. I am amazed at the stupid, stupid, STUPID things that ordinary folk take to heart as fact, such as Obama is really a foreign Muslim, or the world is 6000 years old, and Climate change is really Armageddon, so there is nothing we can so do to stop it. This is not good. I am a bit ashamed and feeling a bit self-righteous as an observer and I will ponder on this a bit. Granted there is a lot of strange and stupid things out there, but it is how I, as an observer respond to it that makes on the difference in the world. At this point, I admit I don’t know how to respond…so I won’t. I will, believe me. I just wanted you to understand the silence.
A priest once told me that the movie in my head was much better than real life and I was just setting myself up for disappointment. I actually felt sorry for him…and, hopefully, now that he is not restricted by human limitations any longer, he sees things differently. I don’t know if it a blessing or a curse, but I do believe the movie in my head is fantastic…because it’s inspired by God and God has an even better imagination than I do. I do admit, though, that priest’s words have challenged me throughout my life to understand the importance that perspective ( the movie in our heads) has on shaping reality. While the theological essence of perspective has been my choice of study…I wanted to enlarge my focus to include a scientific perspective as well. As a non scientist, though, it’s been an exciting challenge to understand the process of observation within the context of quantum physics. but I do so because it opened my eyes (pun intended) to the important position of being an observer, and my personal impact on the world. The first part may seem unbearably dry, but bear with me, it’s essential in understanding how important observation is in bringing the movie in our heads to fruition. Just as important, in a time where fame and infamy give credibility and notoriety to a select and often undeserving few, I think a pitch for the ordinary Joe or Josephine is crucial.
It is tragic that in my study of theology, we never looked at science to broaden our understanding of God. Reflecting back on my own experience with science, it always made me uncomfortable. There was always an unspoken understanding that science was diametrically opposed to religion (just look at the controversy between evolution and creationism, or “divine intelligence” as its now called). Somehow, since God transcended the material world and couldn’t be proved by extrinsic evidence, science existed in some subterranean dimension. Many scientists and theologians appear to lie in wait to challenge, as fallible, the fundamental suppositions of either discipline (although there are plenty of religious leaders who believe there is plenty of extrinsic evidence that proves the existence of God, the majority of scientists I’ve met generally, keep faith and science separate).
During my early studies, the discovery that religion hadn’t necessarily represented my role as a woman in the world fair or accurately, led logically to understanding that perhaps that the conclusions they made about other things were flawed as well. History has many sad moments when the church harshly closed a door on a scientific discovery. It didn’t seem like an in-congruent step, then, as a result of all the historical animosity that scientists were not giving religious truth a fair shot either. It appears to me, anyway, that many on both sides would be perfectly happy to cancel the other out. Nothing like throwing out the baby with the bath water, don’t you think? Let us hope that cooler heads prevail and we learn to utilize the language of the empirical and language of the spiritual to create a broader understanding of reality: where theology can nurture the observer, and science the observed.
In my own experience, I recall a conversation with a scientist about my belief that science and religion, like light, are the same thing, just observed differently. By his reaction, not only was he offended that I would reduce quantum physics in such cheap layperson’s terms, as a theology teacher, I obviously didn’t have the level of intelligence necessary to further the discussion. Unfortunately, his snub left me speechless. While hiding in a bathroom stall to hide my watering eyes and embarrassment, I began to wonder if, in terms of science anyway, his observations would always be superior to mine. My embarrassment turned out to be a good thing, however, because it also made me angry enough to begin yet another search for truth (OK, it also included the desire to prove him wrong—regardless of my motivation though, I did learn a thing or two).
It is sad that most people, like my conversation with the scientist, never get to fully understand how someone arrives at a certain perspective. Not everyone just pulls things out of thin air. I had spent countless hours studying and preparing for a class with the physics teacher at the high school where I taught: an investigation of theology from a scientific perspective and science from a theological perspective. What happened was something I could have predicted. From the onset it appeared as if the idea had its own agenda. When my colleague and I entered into the world of quantum physics (I still get a tingle up my spine thinking of that moment), I knew my life would never appear the same again.
In the world of quantum the observer, or the means by which “something” is observed, means everything. Its form depends on how it’s observed. For example, light can exist both as a particle or a wave, depending on how it is observed, which, until quantum physics, was considered impossible. Physicist Werner Heisenberg, gave even more importance to the observer via the uncertainty principle, which states that the exact position and velocity of a particle cannot both be known at the same time—the more precisely one value is known, the greater the range of possibilities that exist for the other. Even the act of observing something changes the reality of what is being observed. In the classical view of the universe, science taught that by eliminating subjective influences nature could be revealed as she really was. Quantum physics changed that classical viewpoint by exposing a dichotomy between experienced and un-experienced reality. The idea that the mechanism of observation could actually affect what form matter took forced science into a new paradigm, besides giving great weight to the observer.
The discovery of the wave/particle duality has taken us beyond the limitations of Newtonian physics. There are two levels of reality which can be said to exist: reality as experienced, or as it exists in relation to the observer; and reality that is un-experienced, or as it exists in the absence of an observer (sort of like the old question does a tree falling in a forest make a sound when no one is there to hear it?). Un-experienced reality, then, is reality as it exists before or beyond human experience (perhaps in a dimension beyond height, width, weight, depth and time). Un-experienced reality relates to experiential reality in that it forms the basis or context of experienced reality like an archetype or prototype. The issue that is of central importance to me is the relationship between what is experienced and what is not. Naturally, since human beings, as observers, are confined by certain dimensional and subjective limitations, it would seem obvious that the un-experienced dimension has the greater control over what we perceive. I’m not so sure of that anymore; from my theological background I know the power human beings have to be co-creators of the universe, and therefore color every experience with personal meaning. What I have begun to worry about in this age of information overload, is the effect that all the negativity and violence has on the observer. On a microscopic scale, are we turning into that priest that I talked about in the beginning? Are we killing the movie in our heads and living a life of fear and disappointment? Stay tuned.