Pain and Suffering:   Can We Still Be Happy?  

(The Suffering Song by the Willard Grant Conspiracy)  A great song to listen to while you read my blog today.

pain-logoI want to talk about pain and suffering.  These are subjects that are not addressed in most Western schools or colleges.  In fact, they are hardly even addressed in Western theology.  No one gives you the real scoop on pain and suffering.  They seem to be taboo subjects in Western Culture.  In “On Death and Dying,” Elizabeth Kubler Ross talked about the stages of grief that we confront when faced with the loss of a loved one.  This was a revolutionary book.  The subject of death seems to go along with pain and suffering.  However, while we now have grief counselors and bereavement counselors who are sectarian as well as secular in orientation, the medical profession seems to leave pain and suffering to the religious realm.  Most pronouncements about suffering from the theological domain seem to reflect such thoughts as follows:

“Suffering is no longer viewed as God’s divine lightning bolt intended to punish or curse the afflicted, but is understood as a divine context that is intended to radiate the glory of His love and mercy. As this reality crystallizes in the heart, people’s view of God changes. Where their Gospel-void interpretation once influenced their conclusion of God as the arbiter of pain as a means to justice, they now understand their pain as a means to understand His infinite grace resulting in the freedom to genuinely conclude He is truly a God that is good. They realize His mercy flourishing through suffering in that they were desperate in their weakness for the imputed righteousness of Christ, and that God was eager to offer it as a means to magnify His infinite love for them as they endure life in a fallen world.”  — How the Mercy of God Flourishes in Suffering

Perhaps such sentiments help the true believers, but they do little or nothing to slake my pain.  Maybe that is why Oxycodone and Percocet are more widely reached for these days than the Bible.  Pious sentiments notwithstanding, when I am in pain, I want relief.

Let’s back up a minute or a mile though.  If you are under thirty, you are probably asking “What is he talking about.”   I understand the sentiment.  Before I started to deal with pain more frequently in my life, I ignored these subjects just as I ignored the subject of aging or getting old.  When you are young and healthy, why think about pain and suffering?

Here is my answer.

There are several good reasons to address these issues but the primary one concerns your ability to keep joy and happiness in your life along with the inevitable pain and suffering you are going to experience.  The only question about the issue of pain is whether it will be over in a microsecond (as in a sudden heart attack or a car accident) or whether you will experience pain and suffering for many years of your life.

When I talk about pain and suffering there are three types or categories that you can experience.  You can experience any of these at any time in your life but you will most likely experience them as you get older.  The three areas in which we all experience pain and suffering are:

  • Cognitive or mental suffering
  • Emotional suffering
  • Physical suffering

Mental suffering concerns the thoughts, expectations and ideas that you have about life.  Pessimists suffer more in this area than optimists.  People with great faith may find their faith misplaced and suffer real anguish over their doubts.   The suffering and pain in this area is caused by our belief systems and how we define the world and reality.  You can change your belief system but you will always have some system that is subject to challenge and disconfirmation.

[As an aside here, I hate those snake oil sales people that ask you to “Defy your age.”  Check into their pitches and they will tell you that you can defy the aging process but of course it will cost you about $3000 dollars for their initial evaluation and about $1500 dollars per month thereafter in supplements.   My experience is that you can accomplish the same thing with a $30 dollar per month gym membership, an annual physical and depending on your needs maybe $100 dollars a month in supplements.]

Nevertheless, hormones, weight training, body building, aerobics and boot camps are not going to prevent pain and suffering.  They are not going to prevent physical or mental or emotional suffering.  This is THE simple fact that needs to be repeated and understood.

The second type of pain and suffering is emotional.  The death of a loved one.  Unrequited love.  Failure to accomplish our goals.  Disappointment with your favorite football team.  There are hundreds of sources out there that instill emotional pain in our lives. This was one reason that Buddhism is absolutely on the mark and addresses a subject that is seldom taught in Western culture.  This is the centrality of suffering and pain in our lives from the time we are born until the time we die.

Alone among the world’s religions, Buddhism locates suffering at the heart of the world. Indeed according to Buddhism, existence is suffering (dukkha). The main question that Guatama (c.566 BC – c.480 BC), the traditional founder of Buddhism, sought to answer was: “Why do pain and suffering exist?” Buddhism

figure skating fallThe third type of pain and suffering is physical.  We know as we get older that we get more aches and pains.  Athletes start at an early age experiencing the pain of broken bones, sprained muscles, torn ligaments and sometimes worse.  Many people work in dangerous professions where the risk of physical injury is a daily part of their lives.  Several diseases which cause great pain do not differentiate between old age and youth.  Nevertheless, the specter of pain and suffering is much more evident for those of us who have passed sixty.  Whether it is a relative who has died or a friend who has died in a car accident, it hardly seems that a week goes by without someone either Karen or I knows who is now in the hospital or morgue.

While I don’t want to belabor the point.  I had surgery to have my prostate removed over a year ago now and then subsequently (perhaps because of the weakened tissue), I had to go in for hernia surgery.  Both of these were very painful but nowhere near as painful as the infection I had from a tooth implant which for some reason my body rejected. Thus, for the past two years, I have had an uncomfortable level of pain and suffering on a daily basis.  I have also watched my lover and best friend get more aches and pains as each day goes by.

There are those who describe “old age” in glowing terms: “Sageing not Aging”, “Growing old like a fine vintage wine” or “Positive Aging.”   There are dozens of books out there touting us to grow older and wiser or older and more graceful or older and more fulfilled.  There are a growing number of books promoting the new theory of “anti-aging.”  If these pundits are trying to put a shine or marketing spin on growing old, they are doing us a grave disservice.

Jan-88-The-Old-Age-of-an-Eagle-is-Better-than-the-Youth-of-a-Sparrow-copyAging is not a positive experience nor is it fun or painless.  Aging is a process of gradually losing both mental and physical capabilities.   At young womansome point in the aging process, you will experience increasing levels of pain and suffering.  You will not become a fine wine but more likely will be like an overripe orange or an overripe banana.  You will become shrunken and shriveled.  Your body will ache more in the mornings and after moderate exercise and just before you go to bed.  Physical infirmities that once took only a day to recover from will now takes weeks, assuming you will ever recover from them.   You will suffer increasing cognitive decline as you become more forgetful and you will eventually experience some degree of dementia or worse Alzheimer’s disease.  You will suffer emotional pain as your friends and loved ones depart the earth before you do.  Karen and I have now set up a funeral budget to cover donations and costs associated with deaths that are becoming a routine part of our lives.

Please accept what I have said as the truth.  The truth will liberate you.  Only the truth here will set you free.  By accepting the truth about aging, you will be free to find the joy and happiness that perhaps you have never found in your life.   By accepting death, you can liberate yourself from fear and worry.   My Aunt Mary Leone will be 101 this coming year.  She had a wonderful 100th birthday party last year.  She was recently asked “How old do you feel?”  She replied:  “I only feel about 85 or so.”

I want to tell you the following story about her. 

One Christmas Eve eight or nine years ago, My Aunt Mary was 92 years old and was having dinner with my sister, myself and some other family members.  After dinner, I was sitting with my aunt, who is also my godmother, and I asked her what she was going to do on Christmas Day.  She replied “I am going to help serve dinner to the elderly people at the Senior Center.”  I thought this was really funny and I replied:  “Aren’t you elderly Aunt Mary?”  She thought about this question for a few seconds and replied “Gee, I never think of myself as elderly.”

My Aunt has lost all of her siblings, her husband, most of her friends from childhood and two children.  Yet, she has more friends now than I do.  When I queried her about how she does this, she simply stated “Well, I like people and just continue to need them in my life.”  Her friends are now “elderly” who are younger than she is but old by many definitions.

One of my favorite magazines is the International Travel News.  This is simply the best news magazine for serious travelers in the world.  I was first told about this magazine by my good friend Dr. Hana Tomasek over 20 years ago.  It has helped me to plan trips to over thirty different countries and each trip was better than the last one.   I still get this magazine and peruse it monthly for ideas on new trips and exciting places and events to visit.  This month’s edition had an article that caught my eye called:  Learning Mandarin at 76.  I quote from the article:

“After attempting to learn Spanish and Portuguese in many countries in Central and South America and taking a crack at Russian in Ukraine; I decided it was time to try Chinese, specifically Mandarin.  I knew that, at age of 76, it would be a challenge, but what the heck?  You are only young once.”  —- Ralph McCuen

Mr. Ralph McCuen went to China where he studied for a month at a Chinese language school.  Costs of transportation, food, lodging, flights and all incidentals were less than $5,000 dollars.  Judging from the article, he had a fantastic vacation, learned to speak some Chinese and acquired a great deal of understanding about Chinese culture.  He sums the article up by stating:

“They (The Chinese) want the same things Americans want:  Peace, plus an opportunity for them and their children to create a better word.” 

Ralph is (in my mind) an older man who is living and not dying.  We die when we stop living.  We stop living when we are too afraid to try new ideas or adventures.  We are already dead when all we want to do is sit on the porch until we expire or become too senile to move.

My original conjecture was “Can we grow older and still have joy and happiness along with our inevitable pain and suffering?”  I have offered two examples of individuals who are enjoying life along with their pain and suffering as evidence that this is possible.  I am sure that both my Aunt Mary and Mr. McCuen have had their share of pain.  However, it has not stopped them from enjoying life and continuing to face its challenges.

examine-quotes-5I ask you to think of others who exemplify the principles I am promoting here and post them in the comments section.  I know that there must be thousands of people out there like my Aunt Mary and Ralph who are not letting the pain of aging take away their joy of living.  I think such stories are very inspirational and in the long run they will go further than hormone therapy to help us stay happy.  I can only hope that I will be able to emulate such role models as I get older.  I already think it is very funny that I get a senior discount at the movies and some other venues when I am only 68.  How many more perks await as I get older?

I will conclude this blog with some advice from Osho on the nature of pain in our lives and how to deal with it.

“It is very simple — pain is there because pleasure is there.  Pleasure cannot exist without pain.  If you want a life that is absolutely painless, then you will have to live a life that is absolutely pleasureless; they come together in one package…..Pain makes you very alert and pain makes you compassionate, sensitive to others’ pains too.  Pain makes you immense, huge, big.  The heart grows because of pain.  It is beautiful, it has its own beauty.  I am not saying seek pain; I am only saying that whenever it is there, enjoy that too.” —-Fear by Osho

One final story to end on.  Two years ago while with Karen at Kentucky Music week, I stopped by a local Wal-Mart to pick up some snacks from their deli department.  I particularly like the Southern Wal-Marts because some of them will carry fried chicken livers and gizzards in their deli departments.  I know these are not heathy but I have no desire to live forever and will occasionally indulge in such delicacies.  Longevity be damned.

main-qimg-772143a82f19373444e6cbb23a98a544Anyway, there was a young man who came to the deli counter and asked me what I wanted.  I told him a ½ lb. of the fried gizzards and a ½ lb. of the fried chicken livers.  I asked him how he was doing and he said “great.”   I replied “Yep, it’s always a great day if you can put two feet on the side of the bed when you get up and not have any pain.”   His response surprised me.  He replied “It’s a good day anyway.”  I went away thinking what a positive attitude to life this young man had.  Much more wisdom then I had at his age.  He was absolutely right.  Life is good anyway, regardless of all the pain and suffering. 

Time for Questions:

How do you cope with the pain and suffering in your life?  How have you prepared your children to deal with the pain and suffering that they will experience?  Do you agree that we can still experience joy and happiness regardless of our pain and suffering?  Do we have to deny reality to accomplish this?

Life is just beginning.

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.” ― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross





Love Is All You Need or Is It?

portrait-of-jesus-logoIn this third of my series on the three theological virtues we will discuss the subject of Love and the role it plays in our lives.   For this purpose, I thought we should go right to the source. Perhaps no one in history has done more to promote the virtue of Love than Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Jesus brought about a revolution in thinking and an entire faith founded on the single fundamental commandment to “Love thy neighbor as you Love yourself.”   Jesus called this the greatest of all commandments.  (Peace, I Give You Peace — Jason Upton) A great song to listen to as you read this blog today.

“Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” —- Mark 12:31

I asked Jesus if he would visit with us to see where his teachings have gone and what his views are now concerning the state of Love in the world. Jesus agreed and for old time sake, we decided to meet in the Garden of Gethsemane. We found comfortable seats on a couple of stone benches and proceeded to talk.

John: Thank you Jesus for joining me here today. I was hoping we could get your perspective on a number of issues that I am sure you would consider important. Primary among these issues is the state of Love in the world and where your followers have taken your views on Love.

Jesus: Well, thanks John. It is a pleasure to be here with you. This spot brings back many old memories. I still remember my 12 apostles who could not stay awake even one hour to pray with me. But they meant well and were good people. Without them, my ideas would not have spread as far and wide as they have.

religious icebergJohn:   I am going to start off with a loaded question. You know I don’t believe you are a god but I do believe you are a great prophet. I remain skeptical of Christians though as I don’t see that they really have much Love in their hearts. Could you comment on the movement that bears your name and their adoption of Love as a guiding principle?

Jesus: No offense taken. I never said I was a god. I always said I was a “Son of Man.” Nevertheless, I preached Love. My concept of Love was much different than the Greek definitions which encompassed four distinct words for Love: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē.  I think you could say that I was speaking of a more transcendental type of Love. Man’s Love has been more of the Greek varieties. The Love of which I speak is not only unconditional but universal and all inclusive.

John: You were noted to have said: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you.” — Matthew 5:44

Jesus: Yes, I preached this often, but alas it seems to little avail.

John: Yes, I can’t say that I see too many Christians loving their enemies. I don’t even see too many Christians loving other Christians. Baptists dislike Catholics. Catholics dislike Lutherans. Lutherans dislike Episcopalians and they all dislike Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses.

black jesusJesus: Would that it were not so but why pick on Christians? Muslims dislike Jews. Sunni’s dislike Shiites. Hindus dislike Buddhists. Few if any religions in the world embrace anyone with Love unless they are from their own tribe.

John: You mention the word “tribe.” In our day, a “tribe” is very different than it was in your time. Today a gang, cult, cabal or cartel might be considered a “tribe” by sociologists. Some people insist today that “race” is the highest or most important affiliation that anyone can have.

Jesus: Nevertheless, it was the same thing in my time. Canaanites killing Philistines.   Assyrians killing Babylonians. Levites killing Samaritans. Throughout history, tribal affiliations have undone everything I tried to teach about Love and compassion.

religion worth killing forJohn: Then of course, we have the rise of Nations and Nation states and perhaps more now than at any time in history, everyone is affiliated with a family, a group or tribe, an ethnic identity, a state, a nation and then finally a purpose whether it is Communism, Capitalism or Socialism. There is little Love lost or shed on anyone not in your particular identity group. And of course, even within groups there is no getting along. Are you aware of how many different groups use your name and call themselves Christian? They cannot even get along with each other never mind getting along with their enemies.

Jesus: What you say is true. I was a simple carpenter’s son but I saw the hatred and killing and I wanted to change the way people treated each other. People embraced the “idea” of my ideology but they could never really assimilate it in their hearts. But better they at least start with a correct vision and continue to strive towards it.

John: Do you really think so? Are you aware of the Rwandan massacres wherein Christians from the Hutu tribe massacred their Christian neighbors and friends from the Tutsi tribe? Of course, I think you know of the brutality and murders that have been inflicted upon Jews also by their neighbors who were professing a belief in you. Millions and millions of Jews have been murdered by their Christian neighbors.

Jesus: Yes, I know. They profess that I died on a cross for their sins, but they have little understanding or empathy to sacrifice even for people who believe as they do never mind their enemies. I am appalled by the excuses they make in my name for these atrocities. Paul had it right when he wrote:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not Love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not Love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not Love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; Love does not envy; Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” —  1 Corinthians 13

John: Yes, many people have this quote on their bedroom walls and it is a popular recitation at weddings.   But you have said that words alone with not get you into heaven. I quote:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.” —- Matthew 7:21

eliminate hungreJesus: Yes, I meant that good intentions, prayers, and admonitions are not enough. Without deeds and actions, you will never see the Kingdom of Heaven.   The pious Christian going to church on Sunday, saying prayers, tithing and reading the bible will not get into heaven if he or she trespasses on his neighbor.

John: And who is a Christian’s neighbor.

The Good SamaritanJesus: You might remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I answered a similar question about “who is thy neighbor?”   I replied to my disciples:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” — Luke 10: 25-37

All of those who forgive others are thy neighbors. Those who show Love for others are thy neighbors. Those who sow compassion and not hate are thy neighbors. Those who sow discord and hate are not your neighbors. Those who kill and maim cannot do so in my name. That is an abomination to me. No true Christian can kill or hurt another intentionally in my name. That is what Love is, doing good for others and not evil. The devil wants man to do evil. I want and have always wanted humans to Love one another.

“If you Love those who Love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ Love those who Love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” — Luke 6: 27-36

jesus-love-your-enemies-lgJohn: How do you account for all these Christian ministers spewing their hatred against our so called enemies, these war chaplains sanctifying battle readiness and priests and pastors blessing those who are going into combat?

Jesus: Clearly they are false prophets and do not understand my words. I have said:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” —Mark 9:42

John: What do you think about the killings and wars that have been done in the name of Christianity? Are these evil?

Jesus: I can understand why so many people are waiting for me to return. However, I have never left and they do not understand that fact. Those who choose to Love and do good will be saved. They have to make this choice. Their Father and I have never taken this choice away from anyone. You cannot come to the Kingdom of God except through making this choice. I have said that I am the way and I still point the way. Mankind has to make the choice. The devil instills fear and fear drives man to make evil choices. Evil thrives on fear. Fear drives man to choose hate over Love.   Love is still the way and the only choice to salvation.

John: Are you saying that people who kill or hate others will suffer eternal damnation?

homeless manJesus: Our Father is infinitely compassionate. There is no retribution in heaven. People make their hell on earth with their choices. Choose Love and you can have heaven where ever people gather in my name. Choose hate and you choose Hell. Choose hate and you choose Evil. Choose hate and you choose eternal damnation.

John: Jesus, thank you very much for visiting with us today. I have one final question. What do you think about the other world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism?

Jesus: I think we are all teaching the power of Love over hate. But fear gets in the way of hearing our message. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims are all people who have been shown the way. They lose the way because of their own self-hatred and fear of others. Any of these paths can take you to salvation. There are many other paths as well that can lead anyone to salvation. There are no pagans, atheists or agnostics who cannot be saved. They all have the same choice as I gave my disciples.   The way has many paths but the same gate. That gate is Love.

John: Thank you Jesus.

Time for Questions:

Are you a Christian? What makes you a Christian? Does believing that Jesus was a God make you a Christian or is it how you behave that makes you a Christian? What can we do to help bring about more love in the world? What are you doing to accomplish this goal? Is it enough to just love your family? What role does forgiveness play in your life?

Life is just beginning.

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”  ― Robert A. HeinleinStranger in a Strange Land

O Ye of Little Faith – What is the Role of Faith in our Lives?

Please listen to Pete Seeger’s rendition of: “You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley” for a musical version of what Faith is really about. Read the comments about Pete Seeger. He was a prime example of a man that had Faith.

faith_hope_loveWe now come to the first of the three major theological virtues.  For some reason, I decided to start with the second and end with Love.  As I thought about preparing this blog on Faith, I asked myself the question, “what is the difference between Faith and trust?” Perhaps there is not a difference.  I thought about how we use the words in common language. For instance we might use trust in English as follows:

  • Trust me!
  • Do you trust yourself?
  • Have a little trust in me.

Now if you try substituting the word “Faith” for trust, it is obvious that in the first two instances, it just does not fit:

  • Faith me!
  • Do you Faith yourself?
  • Have a little Faith in me.

You will notice that in the third instance, you can substitute the word Faith for the word trust. A grammarian would quickly note that the word Trust can be used either as a noun or a verb whereas the word Faith is primarily a noun and cannot usually be used as a verb.

It might be interesting to compare dictionary definitions of Faith and trust.


  • Strong belief or trust in someone or something
  • Belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs
  • A system of religious beliefs


  • Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
  • Dependence on something future or contingent :  hope
  • Reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : credit <bought furniture on trust

childs trustI think you can readily see that there is a certain degree of overlap between the two concepts. However, Faith generally seems to convey a more sectarian or theological concept of belief whereas Trust is generally used in more secular terms. Thus, we don’t “trust” God but we have Faith in her. Faith seems to be a term that is not contingent upon any kind of physical or logical proof. We might not trust a person with our money without proof that they are “bonded” or trustworthy, but we would not expect such displays of material evidence when it comes to having Faith in God. So what is the relevance to this in our lives? What good is Faith if we can substitute trust for Faith and have more security in the long run?

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matthew 17:20

faith mlk quoteThe answer seems to be (IMHO) that sometimes we can trust without evidence but generally we are better off trusting with some element of surety that can mitigate the risk of our Trust being unfounded or mistaken. Whereas, there is little or no evidence that can prove your need or desire to have Faith. You must have Faith like a parent has love for a child. It is unconditional. You have Faith simply because you want to believe. You have Faith because you accept something without conditions. You need no proof or evidence to support your Faith. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?   Should you have Faith without proof? What would a life without Faith be like? Would we be safer or happier with less Faith?

“On a long journey of human life, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.” — Buddha

faith and flyingBuddha thought that Faith is a companion that we cannot ignore on our journey through life.   There is a story about Mother Teresa that when she was visiting Iowa many years ago and was being interviewed by a somewhat cynical journalist; she was asked if she really thought she was making a difference to the poor in India. Her reported reply was “I am not called upon to make a difference. I am called upon to have Faith.” If that sounds somewhat evasive, consider the following professionals who toil diligently and with great dedication:

  • Teachers
  • Doctors
  • Psychologists
  • Writers
  • Philanthropists
  • Artists

There are no doubt dozens of other professionals who toil in areas that are not readily amenable to evidence that they are “making a difference.” As an educator and consultant, I can readily attest to the fact that seldom if ever is there “evidence” or concrete proof that my actions and thoughts have made a difference on my students or clients. Most of us work on day after day, motivated by one force and one force only. That force is the power of Faith.

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” — Mahatma Gandhi

awesomepoweroffaith2_tEach time I write a blog, I write with the hope that something I say will help someone have a better day or lead a better life. I have now written over 700 blogs and I have received about two dozen or so letters or emails telling me how much they appreciate my writing or how much it has helped them. The percentage of letters received is about 3.4 percent of the blogs I have written and whose readers have been moved to write to me or drop me a comment. And that is fine. People are busy and many times the thought of writing to a writer is something that readers never think of.

Fortunately, the 3.4 percent of respondents have been more than enough to help me keep my Faith. (Should I really need such sustenance if I have Faith?) Yes, I have Faith that my writing is making a difference to the world but alas, I have no proof for the empiricists, the materialists or the skeptics. I have to ask you as well as myself to believe that I am. It is Faith that keeps me motivated. Without Faith, life would appear to be a futile waste of time. Faith helps us to carry on when everything and everyone is saying to quit. The woman in the life raft, the athlete with a severe injury, the parents with a disabled child, the poor fighting hunger, the righteous fighting injustice are all sustained by the power of Faith.

“Faith can believe everything that we say.  Belief can increase the strength Of Faith.  Belief is pure, Faith is sure.  Belief looks around To see the truth.  Faith looks within not only to feel the truth But also to become the truth.” —- Sri Chinmoy

Time for Questions:

What do you have Faith in? What helps you to maintain your Faith? Where would you like to have more Faith? Do you think we have too much or too little Faith in the world?

Life is just beginning.

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” —- Saint Augustine




“And Now Abides Faith, Hope and Love”  — Does Anyone Really Give a Damn!

Faith-Hope-LoveI like to think my major theme as a blogger is “Social and Political Commentary and Satire.”  However, I often talk about justice, equality, respect, diversity, values and a whole range of subjects that can come across as religious, theological or at least speaking of morals from a high bully pulpit.  Many times, my writing of these subjects has helped to clarify in my own mind what they mean to me and what relevance they have or could have in my life.  (Listen to the Song “Lullaby” by SIA as you read my blog this week. The lyrics are wonderful as is her voice).

If you attend some church or temple or synagogue or mosque, you have probably been told more times than you can count how important virtues, morals, grace, ethics, and values really are.  If so, my blogs may seem repetitious and like preaching to the choir.  You know everything I have to say.  Why is he telling me these things? Who does he think he is?  My answer is simply this:

“I am a former atheist, now agnostic, taking a look at some presumptions given by others on how best to live our lives.”  Any value or insights I can offer on these subjects comes from looking at them through (I Hope) a different lens.  I reject most orthodoxy and usually identify with the radical elements of theory and reality.  My goal is to bring more mindfulness to the world and I think we can only do that by discussing subjects that we think we understand or in many cases that we are certain we understand.  My subjects for my next three blogs fit this description very well.

For the next three weeks starting today, I would like to look at the three most often described theological virtues in the world.  I suddenly realized that I don’t know what they mean.  It seems they should be more prominent in my life but often I only pay lip service to them.  Probably like many people, I hear the words but do not know the meanings.  Or I read the meanings but do not assimilate the importance in my actions and daily activities.

The three theological virtues I am referring to include:

What do these three virtues mean to an agnostic?  What do they mean to a world that grows less and less religious every day?  What do they mean if you are not religious but view yourself as spiritual?  Are they simply a remnant of Christian thinking or are they important for everyone?  Come along with me as I take a journey to investigate each of these virtues and see what if any relevance they might have for the world today.  By the way, if you think that these are common virtues and that everyone has Faith, Hope and Love, simply look at the newspaper today and see how many of these virtues are implicit or explicit in the actions of our leaders and “role models.”

I want to start with Hope:

Why you may ask start with Hope?  Answer:  I have often thought that Hope was a futile wasted effort.  A fiction placed on us by spiritual leaders and politicians to help keep us docile and obedient.

  • Hope you will win the lottery. Buy lottery tickets!
  • Hope you will get a better job. Vote for me!
  • Hope you will make it big. Go to the casino!
  • Hope your cancer will be cured. Pray to the lord and put your donations in the box!
  • Hope the world will be a safe place for you and your children. Pay your taxes!

Hope, in my mind has been a pacifier.  It keeps you running in the rat race and paying homage to those who want your Hope.  God wants your Hope. Your religion wants your Hope. Your country wants your Hope. Everyone wants a piece of your Hope.

  • “Let’s keep hoping things will be better.”
  • “Let’s vote for Hope.”
  • “Let’s run Hope for office.”
  • “Let’s have the audacity to Hope.”

“Once again Hitler reduced his demand to a formal profession of faith that would be binding upon me: ‘If you could at least Hope that we have not lost!  You must certainly be able to Hope … that would be enough to satisfy me.’   I did not answer.” 

Speer, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer, R. Winston & C. Winston (trans.) (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971), 452–3.

It has been said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”  Perhaps Hope is the tranquilizer that our leaders (both political and spiritual) regularly inject us with to insure our compliance and submissiveness.

What good does Hope do if all around us things are going to hell? 

Do I sound skeptical?  Were you expecting a plethora of exhortations to Hope, Hope, and Hope some more?  We are hemorrhaging and they ask us to have Hope. Keep hoping until you bleed to death.  “Hope for the best” they keep saying.  Did you expect me to give you “Ten GOOD Reasons to Have Hope?”  “Never give us Hope.”

To rephrase Shakespeare:  I have taken here some liberty with his words.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to praise Hope, not to bury her.”

statue of hopeDid you know that the three virtues are usually depicted as women?  Why do you think that is?

  • Faith – cross, pointing upward, staff and chalice, lamp, candle, hands together with fingers extended together
  • Hope – anchor, harp, flaming brand, palm, hands with fingers closed interdigitated
  • Love – flaming heart, with children, gathering fruit, hands crossed over heart

Actually, I tell you the truth.  I have come to praise the role of Hope and not to bury yours.  My caveat however will be evident in this dialogue.  It is simply this:

“Hope without action is futile.  Action without Hope is pointless.”  —- J. Persico

Yes, I quote myself.  Nevertheless, let us examine my quote in more detail.

“Hope without action is futile.”

A comment that I have used a great deal is “pray to the Lord but row for the shore.”  Intent without action is meaningless and hopeless.  The purpose of Hope is to give us something to strive for.  Hoping for success, happiness, wealth, good health or better politicians without being willing to work for these things is the ultimate in laziness, naiveté and stupidity.  Have you noticed that good things come to those who are willing to work for them?  Thomas Jefferson said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” 

laziness_a834e2_1332585The concept of entitlement (much used to describe today’s workers) suggests that somehow our birthright or DNA entitles us to such things as money, good health, happiness and success.  However, the Founding Fathers did not say we were entitled to any of these things nor does Jesus in the New Testament suggest that we are.  The Declaration of Independence says we are “entitled” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It does not say anything about an education, health care, money or success.  It also uses the word “Pursuit” and not something stronger.  If you want happiness, you must pursue it.  This means you can Hope for happiness, but you must work for it.

The apostle James says:  “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”  James 2:14

James might just as well have substituted the word Hope for faith.  Hoping for salvation, nirvana, satori, enlightenment or any other spiritual awakening is useless if you do not take action on your Hopes and dreams.

“Action without Hope is pointless.”

energizer-bunnyHave you ever seen the energizer Bunny?  He or she is an example of action without Hope.  Hope kindles in us a possibility for better things.  It is a dream of something that transcends our daily existence and offers us the possibility of a better tomorrow.  Hopes and dreams are complimentary ideas. Few of us Hope for a worse reality than the one we may currently face.  We Hope for things that we do not have. We Hope for happiness. We Hope for good health for our loved ones.  We Hope for a world where people will be safe and secure.

Many people are busy everyday but they do not know why.  We multitask.  We shop till we drop.  We watch TV nonstop on the weekends.  We fight hours of daily traffic to get to our jobs.  We keep moving at work to insure we will seem busy and productive.  We tell everyone we know how busy we are.  We retire and we become busier than ever.  Once retired we are so busy we cannot figure out how we once had time for work.  We have NO TIME.  We even have had a song that immortalized this problem by the Guess Who:  No Time . One song I particularly like that also describes this problem is by Alabama called:  “I’m in a Hurry.”   The following are the lyrics for the song:

I’m in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I’m in a hurry and I don’t know why.

no timeDon’t know why
I have to drive so fast
My car has nothing to prove
It’s not new
But it’ll do 0 to 60 in 5.2

Can’t be late
I leave plenty of time
Shaking hands with the clock
I can’t stop
I’m on a roll and I’m ready to rock

I hear a voice
That say’s I’m running behind
I better pick up my pace
It’s a race
And there ain’t no room
For someone in second place.

As we rush pointlessly about our lives, the pointlessness of our endeavors suggests that we have really nothing to do of any potential importance but we rush anyway.  What some might say is that we rush to prevent our inevitable appointment with death.

“In Osho’s library, there is a book open at a page where Osho has written, in big letters, ‘The journey itself is the goal’. I used to pass that book every day, always busy with some object to be achieved. Certainly too busy to take the words in. Then one day, the meaning just hit me. Like a sledge hammer. I realized that I had spent my whole life obsessively active, always aiming for a goal, whether completion of some project, or finding a solution to some problem.”Anando

Hope is like the temper to the steel. The blade is no good unless it is tempered. We need Hope in our lives to point us to something more than just rushing around doing things.  Spending energy without focus or purpose is just what the Energizer Bunny is doing until he finally winds down.

My Conclusions:

quote-what-i-would-say-to-the-young-men-and-women-who-are-beset-by-hopelessness-and-doubt-is-that-they-abbe-pierre-145752It should be clear “I Hope” that I am not against Hope. I am for dreams and a better world. I am for looking to things as we would dream they could be and not as they are.  However, I am against idle dreaming without action to help bring about the fruition of our Hopes.  It has been said that you can measure a human by the breath of their dreams.  I think we can also measure someone by the breadth and depth of their Hopes.  Who among us simply wants to accept the reality that is and not have Hope for another world with more peace, justice, equality and happiness for everyone.

Time for Questions:

What are your biggest Hopes and dreams?  What Hopes have you had come true for you or your loved ones?  What do you do about your Hope to help make them a reality?  Do agree that Hopes and action must go together? Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you Hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”   ― Laini TaylorDaughter of Smoke & Bone






What do those Black People Want Anyway?

Two White men overheard talking at a coffee shop (Read while listening to Glory from Selma)

Ron:  You know it seems all we hear about are Black problems these days.   What do they want?  Christ’s sake, we abolished slavery over 150 years ago now.

Jack:  Yeah, then they got to join the military in WWI and even fight in WW II.

Black-unemploymentRon:  Yep, then all they did was complain even more.  Selma and Bama marches!

Jack:  Right, so we gave them the Civil Rights amendment.  Thought that would make them happy!

Ron:  Nope, they just complained even more.  Watts riots and all.  So what did we do?

Jack:  Created Martin Luther King Day.

Ron:  Just so.  Did that make them happy?

Jack:  Course not.  They just whined even more.  Especially after that white guy shot MLK.

Ron:  So what next?  Did we quite trying to make them happy?

Jack:  No, you must be thinking about Obama.

Ron:  Right.  We even elected one of them as President of the United States of America.

Jack:  Does this make them happy?

black RacePrisonRon:  Course not.  Then we get the Ferguson riots.  Nothing ever makes them happy.

Jack:  I wonder why they all don’t go back to Africa?

Jack:  They think it’s bad here. I would like to see how they like Africa.

Ron:  Maybe we could get the Republican Tea Party or the NRA to sponsor a bill that would allow them to go back and give them some kind of stipend to leave?

Jack:  Not a bad idea.  I don’ think the NRA or Tea Party likes Obama so much.

Joan:  (A bystander on a nearby coffee seat.)   Are you guys prejudiced?

Ron and Jack altogether:  Course not!  Some of our best friends are Black.

Joan:   You sound like you are pissed off about Black people in this country.

Ron:  Well, they got Affirmative Action, Obama Care, Gun Control, Drugs, but they still are not happy.  Now they got this new movie Selma bringing up all that old crap about prejudice and discrimination in the South.  Why can’t they just move on?

Jack:  I have heard they want financial reparations for their years in slavery.

Ron:  None of them living today were slaves.

discrimination_image_1Jack:  My family did not own any slaves.

Ron:  Neither did mine

Ron:  The problem is they just don’t have the same values as White folks.

Joan:  Like what would those be?

Jack:  Well like Christian Values for one.

Joan:  Did you know that most Black people belong to a Christian Church?

Ron:  Well, they don’t seem to value education.  Look at the dropout rate of Black students.

Joan:  Have you ever looked at the relationship between poverty and educational attainment?  It is hard to concentrate on school when you are hungry or cannot afford housing.

Jack:  Hey, whose fault is that?  They can work hard like the rest of us and get ahead.

Ron:  I don’t see no ball or chain on their legs.

Jack:  They got Affirmative Action and they still can’t finish school.

Ron:  Maybe they should concentrate less on sports and more on education.

Joan:  Funny you should say that, did you know that the Super Bowl this year was the most watched TV event in history.  Lots of White people concentrating on sports as well.  Sports is one area where you can make big money if you stand out.

black educationRon:  What about NASCAR racing.  You don’t see too many Blacks in that.

Jack:  Look lady, this isn’t about prejudice.  It’s about fitting in.

Ron:  Yeah, we would just like them to fit in like the rest of the immigrants did.  My grandparents came over and learned the language, got jobs and eventually fit right in.

Jack:  Mine too.

Joan:  Did your grandparents come over voluntarily or where they chained in a ships hold without adequate food for water for days and then sold to a plantation owner?

Jack:  Very funny.  That’s the past lady.  What’s that got to do with today?

Joan:  Have you ever heard the comment, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Ron:  What does that mean?

Joan:  It means that we must remember our culture and ancestors and learn from the mistakes of the past.

Ron:  Well, what are Black people learning from the past?

unemployement ratesJoan:  You say you have some Black friends.  Do you ever talk to them about their racial history?

Ron:   I don’t bring up such stuff.

Jack:  What’s the point in bringing back the past?  Why can’t we all just live together in peace and harmony?

Ron:  I got nothing against Black people that want to work hard and get ahead.

Jack:  Same for me Lady.

The End:

[This blog was provoked by a conversation I was listening to this morning on Public Radio describing the Selma marches and discrimination.]

I would like to send this blog to a Facebook website I belong to and get reactions to it.  I will post reactions in the section below from African Americans who belong to –  Real TAUK:  African American Issues.

Comments from Black Folks regarding this blog: 

Time for Questions:

Do you think prejudice still exists against Black people in this country?  Do you think White folks have a right to be prejudiced against Black folks?  Why or why not?   What do you think White people’s role should be in helping to overcome prejudice?

Life is just beginning:

Life is too short to hate.  When you hate, you kill your soul.  What good has hate ever done the world?


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