The Little Boy Who Believed in God

The following story was inspired by a Charles Dickens story called “A Child’s Dream of a Star.”

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Once upon a time there was a little boy who believed in God.  Every morning when he woke up, he would look out the window and thank God for his blessings.  He thanked God for the sun, the beautiful day, the flowers, the trees, the water, the birds and most of all for his mother, father, sister, brother and grandparents.  Every night when the little boy would go to bed, he would look out the window and again thank God for his blessings.  He thanked God for the moon, the stars, the planets and most of all for his mother, father, sister, brother and grandparents.

Now the circumstance of a little boy believing in God might not seem strange but in this case, it was very strange.  You see, the little boy’s mother and father and older sister and older brother and even his grandparents were all confirmed Atheists.  Not a one of them went to church or professed a belief in any type of a higher entity.  In fact, his father and mother were very worried about the little boy.

Father:  “Honey, I am very worried about our little boy.  We have told him that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and God are all myths.  He accepted the reality for these fictions except for the greatest fiction of all, a higher power called God who supposedly created the universe.  Where do you think he got this idea of God from?

Mother:  “I don’t know. It is very strange.  The schools do not teach God.  His brother and sister do not believe in God.  His grandparents do not believe in God.  None of our friends believe in God.  Most religions do not really practice what they preach.  Most people who say they believe in God are really hypocrites or liars.  I am as mystified as you are.

Believing in God might not have been a problem for the little boy as he had very accepting parents.  However, the little boy found out that whenever he tried to talk to any of his friends or schoolmates or even teachers about God, they did not want to discuss the issue.  The little boy would ask questions like “Do you think God is having a good day today?”  “Do you think God worries about the evil deeds in the world?”  “How can we help God to bring more joy and happiness in the world?”  His teachers and friends would puzzle at such questions and try to ignore him.  They would shake their heads and hope that he would stop asking about God.  His wanting to discuss God made most people very uncomfortable.  God was not a subject for polite conversation.

God-is-good-Article-TemplateAs the little boy grew up, he became an even more devout believer in God.  Everywhere he went, he saw the hand of God.  In the clouds, in nature, in the weather, in the oceans, in good times and in bad times he believed that God was present.  The little boy thought how hard God must have to work to try to keep life sustained.  Each night he would pray to God that when he grew up, he would be able to help ease God’s work somewhat and do his share to help make the world a better place.

The little boy became a social worker and devoted his life to helping other people.  He met many other social workers who became cynical and skeptical.  One told him what a fool he was for believing that a God existed who cared about the human race.  Another told him that if a God really existed he would not have allowed people to be so greedy and corrupt.  Most of the social workers he knew eventually quit to become investment bankers or insurance salespeople.

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Time passed.  Aging became more salient in the little boy’s life.  His grandparents died.  His mother and father died.  His sister and brother died.  All his friends passed away.  Every time one of them died, the little boy would thank God for the time he had been able to spend with his loved ones.  He would ask God to take good care of them until he could see them again.

Many years went by and eventually the little boy stood at death’s door.  It was his last hour on earth.  He had few breaths left.  A nurse and a doctor waited at his bedside.  They heard him say before he passed “Thank you God for the life you gave me.  Thank you for the trees and the sun and the moon and the stars and the oceans and the forests and the sky.  But most of all, thank you for all the wonderful people that you put in my life and who I will now meet again.”

Time for Questions:

What do you believe in?  Why?  What role does faith have in your beliefs?  Do you think that there is a God?  Does he/she watch over and take care of humanity?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable.  Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” — Gilbert K. Chesterton
 

 

 

Dear Friends and Family:  Happy Holidays and a Wonderful New Year to Everyone in 2017 in the Whole World

20161201_2055481Karen says that I should start our annual holiday letter off because I write better than she does.  Well, since it is the holiday season, I will let her slide.  For my part, (Karen will add hers in a short while), I promise not to talk about politics, religion or philosophy.  We are all sick of politics and you are probably only marginally interested in the latter two topics.  What’s left then?  Well, I was thinking that I just turned 70 in September.  I never believed that I would see 30 years of age.  Now here I am 4 decades later pondering the same mysteries of life that I pondered forty years ago.  Feeling a little nostalgic, I got to thinking about the “firsts in my life.”  For instance, my first kiss and my first job.  So how about participating in a little nostalgia here and fire up your memories as well.  I have posted a list of “my firsts” with my responses to each item.  List is on the left with my responses to each one on the right.  Can you remember your answers to my list?   I would love to hear your list of firsts.  Please post your FIRSTS in the comments section if you can remember what they are and don’t mind sharing.

  • First day at school? — I remember just walking to school by myself 
  • First job? — I was a newspaper boy in Woonsocket, Rhode Island
  • First promotion? — Got my first stripe in the USAF after basic training          
  • First car? —  1947 4 door Plymouth, cost 50 dollars in 1960
  • First apartment or house? —  Osceola, Wisconsin in 1967
  • First child or grandchild? —  Christina born in 1968 in University of Minnesota
  • First day you left home? — I joined the USAF in October of 1964 
  • First date? — High school with a friend of mines girlfriend’s cousin                     

20161008_1133251Hi all.  I think I’ll stick with my firsts for the past year.  My first Dulcimer Jamboree in April, 2016 in Mountain View AR where I met the dulcimer 9 years ago.  A fateful meeting it was.  My first chromatic travel dulcimer which I took with me to New York in Nov.  My first raised bed garden this past summer made from old discarded stock tanks.  It produced more food than we could eat and it was so easy to weed and harvest.  My first grandson, Garrick, getting married to Kat this coming spring.  My first viewing of an opera at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC.  My first concert in Carnegie Hall.  My first trip up the Statue of Liberty and out to Ellis Island to look for ancestors.

20161124_1108581It’s been a full, fun and sometimes exhausting year.  We still work part time to support our “snow birds” lifestyle.  I’m working with start-up home care agencies, teaching and consulting, and ICD 10 coding.  John has taught both on-line and residence classes.  We escaped our part time work with trips down to Kentucky for Kentucky Music Week, trips to the ocean in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, and a fall anniversary trip to Bayfield, WI.  And, of course, the trips back and forth from WI to AZ where John tries to find new unspoiled routes each time we go.

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Juli and Rob remain in Hastings with daughter Logan as a H.S junior this year and son Garrick and fiancé Kat are fixing up a home and planning their wedding.  Susan bought a home in Bloomington and accumulates mileage on her car with Sam (also a junior) in Northfield.  Her eldest son Zach is a college junior at Augsburg.  My son Kevin is still with LinkedIn and living in Silicon Valley, CA with his 3D printer and other tech stuff I don’t understand.  Megan works with AZ Multiple Listing Services and trains realtors on their software.  She writes the company blog and is about half way through her first novel.  She has discovered writing and loves it.

John volunteered this past year with Interfaith Caregivers in WI and spends time with the “Cucumber Guys”—the group who daily solve the world’s problems at the Frederic Library.  My “spare time” is generally spent practicing and playing with my dulcimer friends in both places.

Our good friend, Dar, frequently wears “Life is Good” t-shirts.  It’s a nice saying.  I’m thankful for our many blessings, friends, family and activities.  We wish you a very Happy 2017 and hope to see you all in 2017.

Love, John and Karen

Joy to the World

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Tis the season to be jolly, but for many people there might seem little to be jolly about.  In one of the most famous holiday stories of all time, the central character Ebenezer Scrooge gave what has become an iconic line about the holiday season.  Scrooge said:

“What’s Christmas but a time for finding yourself a year older and not a day richer?  There’s nothing merry in that.  If I could work my will, nephew, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Not exactly a fan of Christmas, Scrooge may have echoed sentiments that lie dormant in many of us.  Over the years, it seems the holiday season starts earlier and earlier.  There is more pressure than ever to buy the right gifts and to spend increased amounts of hard earned money on presents for friends and loved ones.  The airwaves and pulpits bemoan the crass commercialism that accompanies so much of the holiday season while at the same time making sure that all commercial breaks are properly inserted between the “holiday messages.”

Our churches are full of giving trees, toy drives and Christmas shoes boxes.  Perhaps giving more at Christmas to some mysteriously perceived needy children in dire need of more toys will make us feel better about ourselves for ignoring the poor and needy for the rest of the year.  Even at church, the message that Jesus meant for us gets diluted with the drive to fill the toy box.  Do we even know any more what message Jesus wanted us to hear?

the-gospelJesus talked about the three classes of good people.  The first class hears his message but has little time to do anything about it.  The second class hears the message and when convenient they try to help others and spread the message of Jesus.  The third class commits their body and soul to sharing Jesus’s message.  The third class of men/women make a commitment to doing this year round and 24/7.  For the third class, it is not a onetime thing or something to be done when they have time or are not busy.  It is a lifetime commitment to share his message with the world.

“The title, Three Classes of Men, stands for three kinds of persons in any walk of life. They might be three classes of religious or priests, husbands or wives, workers or professional men.  However, classified, they represent three levels of volitional disposition to sacrifice whatever is less than God and stands in the way of His more perfect service and love.  Viewed from another aspect, they are three states of spiritual detachment which in ascending degree dispose a man for the reception of divine grace.  Implicit in the meditation is the belief that no matter how entangled in secular pursuits and impeded in the way of perfection, a person can rise above this condition if he takes the trouble to recognize these impediments and is humble enough to pray for help to overcome them.” — Three Classes of Men by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Most of us will watch at least a few moving holiday stories before December 25th.  From Miracle on 34 Street to the story of the Christmas Truce during the fighting of WWI, we will hear many heartwarming tales of kindness and love.  Most of these stories are similar in theme to the Christmas Carol.  An individual who has utter contempt or callousness for the Christmas message somehow finds redemption through the love and compassion of others.

quote-the-life-of-jesus-christ-is-a-message-of-hope-a-message-of-mercy-a-message-of-life-in-max-lucado-90-79-19The Joy of Christmas is a state of fulfillment, contentment and gratitude.  Through the love of others who give selflessly of themselves, we can all be free to experience a Joy that cannot be bought or traded.  It is one of the reasons that giving and not receiving is said to be the true path to happiness.  During the holidays, we are excited about the chance to give to others.  And nowhere is that feeling of giving more delightful than in watching the face of a young child receive something that we know they really wanted.  However, Joy to the World should mean more than just giving toys to tots.  There are physical gifts which we can give but there are also emotional and spiritual gifts as well.

thank-you-fatherI am frequently critical of all the toy drives that I see going on at Christmastime.  Not just because I think most kids in America have more toys than they know what to do with, but because of the message that this sends.  Why not I ask, have a “books for tots” drive?  Why not give books for a present?  Why is it always about toys?  We become so narrowly focused that we lose sight of the larger picture.

Christmas is about Joy.  But Joy does not just come from toys.  Joy comes from learning.  Joy comes from sharing.  Joy comes from helping others.  Joy comes from being present when needed by others.  Joy is not just a physical phenomenon; it is a spiritual and emotional phenomenon.  The Message of Joy that Jesus wanted to bring into the world was a message about peace and love.

I see a lot of talk these days about putting the Ten Commandments up on scrolls and even billboards.  Here in Arizona City, they have erected a billboard with the Ten Commandments printed on it.  To the best of my knowledge, Jesus said

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-20

acts-kindness-inspiremoreThus, Jesus did not come to replace the commandments but he did come to go beyond the commandments.  God brought the commandments to Moses but the message that Jesus brought to us is in addition to the commandments.  Jesus extended the Ten Commandments with a list that has come to be known as the Eight Beatitudes.   A beatitude is something that gives one both happiness and blessedness.  Jesus gave these Eight during his famous Sermon on the Mount:

THE EIGHT BEATITUDES OF JESUS

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

message-to-the-worldI am continually surprised by so-called Christians who seem to revel in the Ten Commandments but treat the Eight Beatitudes as though they were bastard children of Satan.  When was the last time you heard anyone wanting to put up a statue or sculpture or sign with the Eight Beatitudes on it?  The Message of Christmas is the Eight Beatitudes.  The Joy that Jesus wanted to bring to the world can only come by following the Eight Beatitudes.  If you call yourself a Christian but you do not practice these in you daily life, then you are not spreading the Gospel of Jesus.

In this present climate of fear, bigotry and uncertainty engendered by the recent US Presidential race and outcome, the message of Jesus needs to be repeated and spread as never before.  If there was no Joy in Muddville when Casey struck out, there certainly will not be any Joy in the World until all of us, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Baha’i  and others start believing in and following the Eight Beatitudes.  I am not saying this to try to convince anyone to be a Christian.  The kindness-quotes1words of the Beatitudes go beyond any one religion.  They speak to a way of being in the world and a way of treating other human beings.  Just as I have found valuable teachings in other religions, I think more Christians should be willing to share the Message of Jesus in the Eight Beatitudes.  Keep in mind though, that sharing this message will never work unless you also live by the message.  You must be the change you want to see in others.  Do you know what the famous Indian Chief Sitting Bull said when asked what he thought of Christianity?  Chief Sitting Bull replied: “I have read your Bible and the religion seems good but I do not see many White people practicing it.”

Time for Questions: 

  • When we denigrate people on welfare and refuse to support the poor and needy what Beatitude are we ignoring?
  • When we want to wage war on other countries to support our lifestyle, what Beatitude are we breaking?
  • When we have no time for immigrants and refuse to shelter those needing respite from tyranny and injustice, what Beatitude speaks to this?
  • When we practice racism and discrimination towards those who are different from us in thoughts, words or deeds, what Beatitude are we not following?
  • When we fail to speak out against bigotry and hatred, what Beatitude would challenge our behavior?
  • When we fail to treat others with honesty and integrity, what Beatitude are we disdaining?
  • When we fail to give compassion and comfort to those in need, what Beatitude should we be thinking more of?
  • When we practice narcissism and think we are better than others, what Beatitude would Jesus tell us to look at more closely?
  • Which “Class” of people do you belong to?

Life is just beginning.

“The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness.  It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.” — Thomas S. Monson
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What are the Myths and Realities of Marriage? — Part 1

Recently Pope Francis said that “The great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say, ‘Yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. . . . They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”  This struck a chord with me because I see a great deal of naiveté, confusion and even hostility surrounding the idea of marriage.  Many people scoffed at and disregarded Pope Francis’s comment.  People want to continue their illusions and hate it when anyone tries to bring some clarity or truth out that might disturb their ongoing fantasies.

I think the Pope is correct though.  People do not really understand what marriage is about.  My blog this week and next week will look at the pros and cons of marriage in terms of the negative and positive constructs that determine what marriage is.  These constructs are much more important in terms of understanding what marriage is than the idea that it is strictly a union between a man and a woman.  This latter point only tells us who has traditionally been allowed to marry but not the reality of “what” marriage will actually involve.  Understanding marriage means understanding much deeper and less evident truths.  It means examining the myths that too many of us have regarding marriage.  These myths create a distorted view of marriage that makes it difficult to find true happiness with a partner.

Let us start with the cons or perhaps the negative realities of marriage.  Next week, I will cover the pros or the positive aspects of marriage.  It is important to recognize that life is always full of both Yin and Yang aspects of existence. The same is true of marriage.  By better understanding both, we can create marriages that are happier, more fulfilling and longer lasting.

Negative Realities of Marriage:

  1. Marriage is an asymmetrical relationship between two people that is most often thought of as a symmetrical relationship. 

Too many people think that marriage is a “union of equals.”  There is little about marriage that is ever equal.  No too people on the face of the earth are equal.  Equality sounds good in theory but falls flat in practice.  Each partner in a marriage brings different strengths and abilities.  Unless each partner is able to appreciate the nuances of these differences in themselves and their spouse, the marriage will be like an orchestra that only plays with a few of its instruments.  It is important that each partner in a marriage be able to honor, respect and cherish the idea of differences in each other and to help their partner manifest these differences.  This leads to growth and development rather than boredom and stagnation of a marriage.

“You know it’s never fifty-fifty in a marriage. It’s always seventy-thirty, or sixty-forty. Someone falls in love first. Someone puts someone else up on a pedestal. Someone works very hard to keep things rolling smoothly; someone else sails along for the ride.”   — Jodi Picoult,

  1. Marriage is a union of opposites designed to keep the human race viable.

Despite the Bible story of the Garden of Eden, if humans had not been able to procreate, there would be no human race.  Fundamental biological principles point to the inescapable and inevitable fact of procreation.  Evolution or God (take your choice) created humans able to reproduce themselves.  Normally, this takes an egg and a sperm that are donated by each parent.  The resulting zygote will with proper care and nurturing grow into a facsimile of both parents.  The baby has the genotype of both parents in their DNA and at some point in their future can also reproduce and thereby continue the development of the species.

The above process sounds very clinical but it is also accompanied by a great deal of fun and pleasure which no doubt helps to insure that humans find sex enjoyable and desirable irrespective of the goal of perpetuating the species.  This latter fact has not been overlooked by both governments and religions which have often tried to yoke this sexual desire and passion to their own goals.  Thus, Hitler for instance gave medals to women having babies that would help grow the Third Reich.  The Chinese instituted a one baby per couple policy to control population growth.  The Catholic Church denigrates the idea of sex without the goal of procreation and masturbation is still considered a sin.  The Church’s goal is to channel sexual energy into creating more Catholics and thus ensuring that the religion as well as the race will continue.

You may well ask: “Well, what is the negative here with this issue.  Do not most humans look forward to the idea of sexual reproduction? Are not children one of the great joys for humanity?”  The answer to both questions is yes and will be discussed later.  Nevertheless, the negative issues are twofold.  First, the one I already mentioned in respect to the manipulation by both church and state of the function for their own purposes.  The second issue is more widespread and more problematic.  Many couples and individuals often do not put the well-being of their offspring as their first priority.  Too often, children are born to people who have no desire or ability to give proper care to them.  It has been said that you need to have a license to have a dog but any idiot can have a child without the means, motives or ability to take proper care of them.

Children deepen, complicate, and test the “I do’s” of marriage. — Dr. David Stoop and Dr. Jan Stoop

  1. Marriage appears as a mirage of love, joy and harmony to outsiders.

How often have you known a couple who went through a divorce and your reactions were “I thought they were so happily married.  They seemed like the perfect couple.”  As we get older, you would think that most of us would have learned the truth.  There are no perfect marriages and there are no perfect couples.  The fantasy stage of marriage lasts for about six months and then the reality sets in.

The problem is that most people want to hide the authenticity of their marriage from their friends, relatives and even from each other.  “Everything is perfect.  We never fight.  We have no problems.  We agree on everything.”  Such seems to be the truth to those who are looking in from the outside.  The real truth should be obvious.  Any marriage without discord is doomed to failure.  Those who would protect themselves from disagreements and dissension will sooner or later be in divorce court shouting and screaming obscenities at each other.  The pent up frustrations of years of obsequience and servitude now become a torrent of disgust and animosity.

“All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest – never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership.”  — Ann Landers

  1. Once we are married, we will live happily ever after.

No you will not.  Only in a fairy tale do people live happily ever after.  In a marriage, you will go through, suffering, heartache, jealousy, vindictiveness, lust, shame, anger and more sadness than you have ever thought possible.  You will (if you are married long enough) watch your spouse die and perhaps even some of your children.  My Godmother (my Aunt Mary) turned 102 on July 26th of this year.  She has seen her parents, grandparents, husband, three children and all of her six siblings die.  She is not a sad woman but instead rejoices at the long and mostly happy life that her god has granted her.  Many of us would wonder how she can be so positive for someone who has been through so much sorrow.

She once told me that she simply went on each day with a positive attitude to appreciate all that life would bring.  This meant being a good person, helping others and reaching out to make new friends and experience new things.  At 90+ years she was still volunteering at a senior center to serve meals and help in the kitchen.  If you want to live happily ever after, be prepared to accept the ups and downs of life and never quit.  Marriage is not a sprint but a marathon.

“Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.”  — Abraham Lincoln

  1. Marriage is a legal contract that binds us until death do us part.

Pope Francis was right on the money here.  The marriage contract only binds most marriages until one or the other is sick and tired of the marriage.  Then, in less time than it takes to get a wedding certificate, you can get a divorce certificate.  You do not even need to specify hardships or malignant conditions in most States.  It is simply a matter of saying “I don’t” instead of “I do.”  The tired and clichéd vow spoken at most wedding ceremonies has become a thing of the past.  Like the dinosaurs, the idea of “until death do us part” is both obsolete and irrelevant.  The “in sickness and in health” part also falls flat.  Few in their early years have any real understanding of what taking care of a senior citizen will entail, particularly doing so when they become a senior citizen themselves.

People have always been able to opt out of a marriage through divorce.  Divorce was known in the time of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans prior to 800 BCE without written contracts.  In 800 BCE, written marriage contracts first appeared.  The reasons for divorce were probably very similar in ancient times to the reasons for most divorces today.  One study showed the following as the most common reasons for divorce in modern times:

The following chart shows divorce trends in the USA from 1860 through 2000.  As you can see, the frequency of divorces increased dramatically from a low of less than 2 divorces per thousand marriages to a high of 22 divorces per one thousand marriages.  My guess would be that the major difference in divorce statistics from ancient to modern times would probably be in the frequency of divorces rather than in the reason for divorces.

divorce rates

Today if you are tired or bored or annoyed with someone, you just go and get a divorce.  The idea of a vow is now considered quaint.  Love and honor have been replaced by narcissism and enlightened self-interest.  “What can I do for you” has been replaced by “what can you do for me.”  Loyalty and faithfulness are replaced by “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” and “It was just a little fling.”  When you can get a divorce in a Cracker Jack box, why work on things.  It is easier to play musical divorce and find a new partner and start over again from scratch.

The cycle is very clear:  “infatuation, passion, ecstasy, marriage, disagreement, disillusionment, hostility and divorce.  This cycle plays itself out over and over again in at least fifty percent of the marriages in the USA.  In these marriages, neither partner has ever learned the meaning of responsibility, commitment and hard work.  Until these concepts are grasped, the partners have no hope of finding a long term relationship.  Instead, these individuals fall into what has been called serial monogamy and hookup relationships.

“The remedy for most marital stress is not in divorce. It is in repentance and forgiveness, in sincere expressions of charity and service. It is not in separation. It is in simple integrity that leads a man and a woman [Or two people who love each other] to square up their shoulders and meet their obligations. It is found in the Golden Rule, a time-honored principle that should first and foremost find expression in marriage.”   — Gordon B. Hinckley

  1. Marriage is a cause of more anger, pain, misery, jealousy and unhappiness than perhaps any other institution on the face of the earth.

Did you know that when a spouse goes missing or is found murdered, the number one suspect is the other partner.  This is not profiling on the part of law enforcement.  It is a simple fact worked out from experience because the evidence shows that at least one third of all female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by male intimate partners — husbands and ex-husbands, boyfriends and estranged lovers. While both men and women experience domestic violence, women are far more likely to be murdered than men.  — http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/09/men-killing-women-domesti_n_5927140.html

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These murder statistics do not even begin to describe the vast amounts of domestic violence that take place under the umbrella of so-called love and marriage.  Given the amount of abuse that women suffer, it is unbelievable that any of them would trust something as flimsy as a marriage contract or want to even take part in the ritual.  For many women, love, honor and obey means that they will have their brains beaten out if they fail to respect the macho image of their spouse.  I find it amazing that any woman in her right mind would want to enter into a marriage that has a high probability of resulting in her being battered and even murdered.  I suppose the old adage is very true that “hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” — Katharine Hepburn

Time for Questions:

Have you ever been married?  How many times?  What do you think makes a good marriage?  What have been the major problems in your marriage?  What did it take to overcome these problems?  If you have never been married, why not?

Life is just beginning.

“To say that one waits a lifetime for his soulmate to come around is a paradox. People eventually get sick of waiting; take a chance on someone, and by the art of commitment become soulmates, which takes a lifetime to perfect.”  — Criss Jami

 

 

Happy Days Are Here Again?

happy-days-logo-1I like to think that my writing falls in the category of political and social satire.  I suppose I am giving myself more credit than I deserve since it is not easy to be a good satirist.  My spouse is always saying that my satire often misses the mark.  Nevertheless, I aspire that at least someday my writing can be compared to Mark Twain or perhaps Kurt Vonnegut.  I will have to leave it to my readers or at least posterity to find out if I ever achieve this lofty aspiration.  Who can judge the quality of their own writing without a large degree of prejudice?  (To hear the “Happy Days Are Here Again” song, click here.)

One element that seems typical of good satire (be it Mark Twain or Jon Stewart) is the ability to evoke humor in ones writings and ideas.  To make people laugh at the same time that you are getting them to see the absurdity of their viewpoints or society’s viewpoints.  You can have “dark” satire or “light” satire and in my opinion they form a continuum.  I think of Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut as falling on the darker side of this continuum and Mark Twain and Jon Stewart as falling on the lighter side.

pollyanna-glad-game-quote One of my goals is to keep a balance on my perspectives that helps me to fall more in the middle of this continuum.  I see being repeatedly on the light side as too comical or humorous.  I do not want to be thought of as a comic or entertainer.  I concede that these people can make a difference in the world as one of my early heroes was Lenny Bruce.  I think Lenny was a great comic and a great social satirist.  However, I do not see my nature as capable of embracing a very high degree of humor in some of the evil and stupidity I see in the world.  I have never been very Pollyannish.  I want to stay away from embracing a view of the world that resembles the “Happy Days” syndrome.  All is good, nothing is wrong, everything will be all right.  Just sit back and watch TV.  This attitude can lead to the pitfalls of complacency and neutrality.

6836-do-you-look-at-life-through-rose-coloured-glasses-i-crushedGetting repeatedly too close to the position of “dark” humor on this continuum also has its pitfalls. I think I have lost many friends along the path of life because I have sometimes become too critical and carping on the evils and stupidity of the world.  You start condemning evil and stupidity and before you know it, you are attacking people.  It is easy to start associating individuals with policies, ideas and positions that you loath.  Soon, you are surrounded by former friends who are all stupid and evil.  The final stage in this process is to see nothing but a world that is evil and stupid populated by evil stupid people.  Everyone in the world becomes your enemy.  The exact opposite of Pollyanna becomes your gestalt.

happiness in moderationI do not choose to follow either extreme.  I want to follow the Greek “Golden Mean.”  In ancient Greece the Golden Mean meant to pursue moderation in all things.  I don’t really want to hate all Republicans despite the fact that today I can see little good in the Republican Party.  Nor do I want to love all things associated with the Democratic Party.  In some ways, the Democrats have helped to create the Tea Party and Right-Wing extremists in the Republican Party. Though I doubt many Democrats would either see or confess to their culpability in this matter.  There has always been and there always will be excesses and vices in both parties.  Politicians of either stripe have more in common with each other than they do with the average middle class worker in this country or any country.

death of socrates bookI was really too honest a man to be a politician and live.” —  Socrates (Ancient Greek Philosopher, 470 BC-399 BC)

Things do not seem to have changed much in respect to politics since Socrates was executed for his anti-political beliefs.  Socrates openly expected the youth of Athens to challenge and question authority.  This stance was no more valued in ancient Greece then it is in 21st Century America.

Apocalypse revelationsThe title of my blog this week was meant to be somewhat humorous and somewhat satirical.  Hence the question mark on the end of the title is not an accident.  I know many people who think that the world has never been in a worse state.  One of my ex-friends kept reading Revelations to me and telling me that the world was going to end about a year or so ago.  Our friendship ended but the world did not.  I have other friends who say “Obama has ruined this country.”  Many Americans say that the USA is in decline and that the end days are near.  I don’t understand this negativity.  I understand that much of the world economy is coming out of a bad recession.  I truly see that the world has more problems than anyone can count on two hands.  We have poverty, war, famine, drought, global warming, disease, inequality, injustice, tyranny, evil of all sorts and a great deal of stupidity and ignorance.  Is there a silver lining in this maelstrom of disasters?

good_old_days_specials_magazineSome people believe that if we can only go back to the “good old days” that everything will be all right.  I don’t want to say too much about this option since I think it is a fantasy.  Only in the movies, can you go back in time.  Time marches forward and waits for no one.  Either get on the train or they will bury you where you stand.  We are not going to go back to pre-cellphone days, pre-internet days, pre-abortion days, pre-global warming days, pre-nuclear power days or pre-any other days.  We can only go forward.  We can embrace many of the old values that made our countries great but we must pay them forward.  We must embrace new values and blend the old and the new together in a modern version of the Golden Mean.  This is not an easy task.

I published a book about fifteen years ago that I called “The New Business Values for the 21st Century.”  The book did not become a best seller but it had several good chapters which IMHO have stood the test of time.  The basic idea for this book was based on a model that I called the “Five I Model.”  My mentor Dr. Gary N. McLean told me to always work from a model.  I tempered his advice with the advice of Dr. George Box that “All models are wrong but some are useful.”  My Five I’s included the following:

  1. Informationnew business values
  2. Improvement
  3. Innovation
  4. Inclusion
  5. Incentives

The premise of my book was that new organizations must revolve around these five key elements which I had elevated to the status of values.  I think these same five elements or values also pertain to building a great nation or great country.  I do not want to repeat what was in my book; you may still be able to find it on Amazon or E-Bay if you are interested.  However, one element that I think has significant relevance to this blog today is the 4th Value of Inclusion.

Inclusion is a value that embraces diversity and working together in a win-win fashion rather than working in opposition.  Inclusion abhors a culture or position of divisiveness such as we see in politics today.  In fact, many of the conflicts in the world today are caused by the divisiveness that is the enemy of inclusiveness.  Inclusion is a friend of immigration and not an enemy of immigration.  I have a T-shirt that reads “We need a fair immigration policy and not an anti-immigration policy.”  Too many of our politicians today are preaching a divisiveness that borders on hatred and bigotry.  I do not need to mention names here.  All you have to do is read the newspapers or listen to the TV to see the politicians that are preaching exclusion rather than inclusion.

We cannot go backwards into “happy days.”  We can only go forward.  To do so we must practice the old values that made our nations great alongside of the new values that have become critical to success in the new millennium.  My book addresses at least five of these new values.  Do doubt there are others.  I am not certain of what they are, but I am certain of what they are not.  They are not values that foster:

  • Exclusivity
  • Divisiveness
  • Inequality
  • Anti-intellectualism
  • Anti-immigration
  • Bigotry, racism, sexism or discrimination of any kind

There is a major US election coming up in the next fourteen months.  No doubt the news will be full of “trending” stories concerning the pros and cons of various candidates.  It will be easy for many of us to take sides.  He is a Democrat.  She is a Republican.  They are independents.  He belongs to the Tea Party.  She belongs to the Coffee Party.  Such identification can and will only lead to more divisiveness, more intolerance and a greater inability to understand the arguments that are often critical to a comprehensive solution that can result in a win-win.  There is an antidote to this problem.

I suggest we look at all of the candidates running for office and ask ourselves “Will they bring our country together?”  “How do they rank in terms of the new values?”  “How do they compare in terms of the negativity values in my list above?”   I offer that we need to care less about party affiliations and more about the values that we see our candidates espousing.  We are no longer a “New nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  The USA is nearly 250 years old now.  We can remain true to the values of our founding fathers only by realizing that it is now the 21st century and that there are new values that must be added to the old values that made our nation great. This truth applies to every country in the world.  The path forward can be to a future that will be a happier world for all of us to live in.  As Jesus said:

“No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  — Luke 9:62

Time for Questions:

What can we do to help create a better world for everyone, not just those in our country?  Which of the USA candidates for president do you think will most care about people?  Are you picking your candidate out of fear or distrust of the future?  What candidates will do the best to be inclusive, ethical and moral?  Are you supporting these candidates?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life – a kind of destiny. Whoever is in distress can call on me. I will come running wherever they are.”   — Princess Diana

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

 

 

 

 

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