Last night I stuck a bag of trash on the porch. Living in the country and not placing garbage in a receptacle is like playing Russian Roulette. Sometimes a varmint gets into it and other times they just pass it by. Unfortunately, last night something got into the trash and scattered it all over the driveway. It was the first thing I saw when letting the dog out this morning. I went inside, grabbed a new bag and began recollecting the trash. There’s nothing quite like picking up frost-covered garbage at dawn.
As I was gathering it and stuffing it into the bag I began to recall a Jewish wisdom tale;
A woman repeated a story (gossip) about a neighbor. Within a few days, everyone in the community knew the story. The person she talked about heard what had been said about her and she was very sad. Later, the woman who had spread the story learned that it was not true. She was very sorry and went to a wise rabbi and asked what she could do to repair the damage. After giving this some thought, the rabbi said to her, “Go home, get one of your feather pillows, and bring it back to me.” Surprised by the rabbi’s response, the woman followed his advice and went home to get a feather pillow and brought it to the rabbi. “Now,” said the rabbi, “open the pillow and pull out all the feathers.” Confused, the woman did what she was told to do. After a few minutes, the rabbi said, “Now, I want you to find every one of the feathers and put them back into the pillow.” “That’s impossible,” said the woman, almost in tears. “The window is open and the wind has scattered them all over the room and blown many feathers outside. I can’t possibly find them all.” “Yes,” said the rabbi. “And that is what happens when you gossip or tell a story about someone else. Once you talk about someone, the words fly from one person’s mouth to another, just like these feathers flew in the wind. Once you say them, you can never take them back.”
It was a great reminder that not only every word but every action has consequences that we cannot foresee. Our lives should be lived mindfully aware that our scattered thoughts, words, and actions will impact the world for evil or for good.
Full of Junk –
Today is President’s Day. I wish I would’ve remembered that before this afternoon. The last few weeks have been rough weather wise. Cold, rainy, windy and our trash has piled up in the bin outside. Finally, today, it was dry enough to put the all the trash in the back of the truck and take it to the Refuse and Recycle Center. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do it before meeting with some fathers today so it sat in the back of the truck until afternoon. My truck looked like Sanford and Son. After finishing up my appointments I headed to the dump. I was almost there and thankful to get rid of the trash. Then, to my disbelieving eyes, the gates were closed and it dawned on me; “President’s Day.” It was a holiday and county employees weren’t working today. My truck would stay loaded down until tomorrow. “Grrrr!” and “Sigh.”
“Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.” Easy sentence to write a hard sentence to live. We are surrounded by many negative things which can be like anchors to our spirits. Violence, injustice, racism, sexism, bigotry, and all sorts of evil that threaten to permeate our souls. We must be careful, watchful, mindful to not allow this corruption of creation to become a part of us, absorb us, soak up our existence and make us apart of what we should be fighting against.
To be unselfish is the key to abundance. To not hold on to anything, desire anything, be covetous of anything or anyone. Abundance comes from being content and this comes from acceptance of all life brings our way.
Too often we see the lives of others or review our own lives and wish they would have turned out different brings suffering. These illusions only lead to pain and heartbreak. What we have received is only temporary. As hard as it is to accept this world only gives us transient treasures and trinkets. Whether it be people or things, our inability to control when and how they leave our lives is a lesson we need to learn.
Only eternal gifts last. When we are given them we may hold on to them as tightly as possible but to do this we must let go of what we hold dear that is not eternal. Transience is not evil. To love those who bring wonder, kindness, and love to our life is not wrong. However, it is a bittersweet connection because it is temporary. While this is painful to know and experience it also makes every moment more treasured.
Most of our lives are full of abundance but knowing they are not ours forever is the test of true life, true love, true wisdom.
Earlier this week I watched a powerful documentary on people being released from prison. It was a story of two men who were sentenced under California’s outdated and recently reformed Three Strikes Law. Simply stated the law demanded that any criminal who was arrested and found guilty three times received a harsh prison sentence often 25 years to life. After almost 20 years of being in place, the penal system and the citizens of California realized it wasn’t effective, led to overpopulation in the jails, severely impacted people of color, and left a trail of broken families in its wake.
The documentary follows two of the thousands of men who have been released for petty, non-violent crimes, after serving decades in jail. The transition for both of them was difficult, however, one was able to get back on his feet stay clean and sober, get married and be promoted in his job. The other man, who had a strong family and church structure, struggled mightily. Old demons such as drugs and mental health issues kept him unbalanced and unable to find his groove the way the first man did. At the end of the documentary both men were still out and making their way the best they could.
As I watched the film I couldn’t help but feel for both of these men. I work with men who are incarcerated and addicted. Addiction is a powerful force for evil and destruction. Incarceration can also be a doorway to a life of crime and recidivism but I’ve also seen men who learn how to make different choices so as not to end up in the same predicament.
Men who do three things greatly reduce their chance of going back to jail or getting back into their addiction. The first is having a positive home environment that might not necessarily be with their biological family. The second is a full-time job, a chance to do something and receive. The third might be most important and that is living a life around positive people, folks who will pull you up not drag you down. These three things, which most of us take for granted, will help men stay balanced, sure-footed, and on the path to a new life.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
This week and weekend have been about hate. Hate has only one outcome; death.
Heather Hyer (pictured) was the woman who was killed when a white nationalist drove his car into a group of counter protestors at the Charlottesville, Virginia rally yesterday sponsored by hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Neo Nazi, and other terrorists organizations. Their hatred fueled the rally and the result was death for Heather and two police officers who died in a helicopter accident.
I don’t understand the hate. I grew up in the south, had a few black friends, but do not recall overt acts of racism. However, I did hear jokes, phrases, insulting words pointed at those who were not white. I didn’t understand what I do now that this is where hatred starts. Words are powerful. They have a way of lodging themselves in our minds and shaping us from the inside out. No one is born hating another. It takes family, friends, co-workers, and others speaking vile, evil, and vicious judgments it poisons our spirits, contaminates our brains and spews out of us like projectile vomit infecting everything we touch.
Hate makes me and others uncomfortable. It’s easier not to engage, to turn our backs, hope it goes away. Unfortunately, this isn’t what happens. Hate grows and spreads. Like minded people come together and depend on most folks looking the other way. Ignorance is a weapon used by people of ill will to gain power. If we aren’t careful, if we don’t call hate what it is it will win and we will be forced to choose hatred or death.
The last several days have been tense! Words of threats, warnings, retaliations, and war are being thrown back and forth between leaders of nations who are acting like petulant children. It worries me but angers me more. Both men seem to think it’s a game and forget the millions of lives which would be impacted, endangered, and ended if this fiasco goes further.
I wonder how leaders can become so distant from the people they represent? It isn’t just dictators and presidents but people in businesses, families, churches, and organizations in all shapes and sizes. The penetration of power into our spirits seem to corrupt whoever tries to yield it. It is why all wisdom leaders flee from power over people. They understand the grip and the destruction which can be wrought by good men turned and twisted by power and its propensity for evil.
I hope one of the two “leaders” will take a step back and take a deep breath. I pray they think of the people and not their egos. I want to see humility, not hubris. I’d like to be surprised by one of these men showing wisdom.
A friend of mine had surgery not too long ago and is still recovering. As a result, he is unable to do yard work or any other outdoor project. One of the projects on his list for the summer was to remove several Red Tip bushes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photinia). Red Tips are great for privacy but can quickly grow out of control. Before his recent bout with the illness, he had started the removal but couldn’t finish the job. However, while he was in the hospital a group of neighbors got together and completed the project for him. They didn’t expect to get paid or rewarded in another way they did it because it was a way to help.
As I listened to the story being told to me yesterday my heart was warmed at the generosity we can show each other. A person told me recently; “The news is too depressing. I just don’t watch it.” I tried explaining that ignoring the news doesn’t make the world better but it does eliminate our ability to confront, counter the evil and darkness with good and light.
What You See, Hear, Say –
“When brethren return from a journey, at the end of each canonical Hour of the Work of God on the day they return, let them lie prostrate on the floor of the oratory and beg the prayers of all on account of any faults that may have surprised them on the road, through the seeing or hearing of something evil, or through idle talk. And let no one presume to tell another whatever he may have seen or heard outside of the monastery because this causes very great harm.” #RuleofSaintBenedict
As a Benedictine Oblate (http://www.osb.org/obl/intro.html), one of the disciplines we are asked to employ is reading the “Rule of Saint Benedict” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_Saint_Benedict) each day and apply it’s principles to our twenty-first-century lives. The sections which deal with simplicity, humility, poverty of spirit and servanthood are ready-made for our loud, brash, celebrity and money/possessions obsessed culture. The other sections which deal with life inside of a monastery can be more difficult to figure out how to envelop into the life of a middle-aged man living in Columbia, Tennessee.
The section of the “Rule” above is from Chapter 67. I have reflected upon it much of the day, especially the part of laying on the floor during prayer times at the monastery and “begging” the brothers to pray for them after their journeys outside of the cloistered community. It says the reason for this is; in case the monk “sees or hears something evil” or participates in “idle talk.”
Most days I go throughout my day and don’t recognize evil. I see a lot of hurting people struggling to get by, battling for a better life but my focus is on them, not the evil that might beset them. I wonder if we miss, have become used to, been contaminated by, the workings of evil in our world. We are blinded by the trees to the forest.
I also was intrigued by the admonition of the returning brothers not to tell others about life outside of the monastery and that this could cause; “great harm.” When people take trips, vacations they come back with lots of pictures and stories. For Saint Benedict, would this be acceptable? Doesn’t seem like it. However, I believe the Rule is going deeper.
In our twenty-first-century world, “idle talk” is everywhere! Social media, television, radio, internet, are all filled with gossip, insults, hear-say. Everything everyone sees is posted online usually with a snarky or judgemental comment. I am in full agreement with Saint Benedict that this environment does cause great harm.
Anyway, that’s what’s been on my heart today as I’ve traveled. At the risk of violating the “Rule,” I won’t tell you where I went or what I did. 🙂
I have a few mottos for my life. One of them is; “It doesn’t take a lot of gas to drive me crazy.” Usually I find myself saying that after something, or someone, is on the verge of driving me crazy! The older I get the more convinced I am that it takes a special kind of insanity to stay sane.
I believe we can make a difference during our short time on this planet. With our limited power, finances, influence, gifts, abilities, convictions and purpose. We can change lives and when you change lives you change everything.
This is crazy thinking. It’s lunacy to believe our brief light on this dingy blue rock called; “Earth” can beat back darkness, pain, and hopelessness. It doesn’t make much sense to imagine a world, made better, by what and who we are, what we do and say, when we are so weak and frail.
Corruption, crime, wrongdoing, immorality and evil are just too much, too big, too powerful. Look around and see this is factual, true, without question. However, foolish ones never trust only their eyes or their minds. They listen to their spirits, they dare to believe that the perceived power of the villainous systems and structures is an illusion. We hold fast to the belief that a slightly “off kilter” person, doing all they can, when they can, could change their small part of the world and if enough nonsensical, impractical saints believe this; no power on Earth can stand against them.