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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  172                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 157

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1144

As I climb on the bike today my thoughts are with my family, friends, students and fellow pilgrims who have shared words of encouragement with me as I experienced the mixed emotions associated with sending my eldest son off to his active duty station and most likely war.

Yin-Yang: Symbol for the Chinese concepts of harmony and complementary opposites. Acceptance of apparent contradictions as each phenomena is seen as containing some element of it’s opposite.  The universe is seen as moving in cycles that contain underlying harmony, this understanding is essential to understanding life and change.

I realize that any discussion about the military and armed conflict always draws mixed and sometime strongly held reactions from people.  This is even more the case when I consider that I am part of a very liberal and pluralistic faith and have reached out to a wide circle of open caring people who value compassionate relationships.  I realize that questions of the use and existence of the military raise deep concerns for many people.   

I find within myself an ongoing struggle between my positive memories of the military and my knowledge of the destructiveness that military service can visit on soldiers (I have worked with many PTSD survivors from WW2, Korea and Vietnam), and the innocent civilians who get caught up in the conflict (I heard horror stories of collateral damage from Vets).  I have received several strongly negative comments about my recent Facebook and Blog postings.  Many of them expressed the belief that the world would all be better off without a military and conflict/war. 

I whole heartedly agree that humankind and our planet would be better off if we could extinguish this incessant drum beat that has appeared throughout human history, leading our young men (and now young women) off to war.  Ideally I dream of a world where there is no anger, no bullying, no hatred, no racism, no killing, no conflict.  However, I am a realist and while I sometimes let myself dream of idyllic times, where we all coexist in peace, I realize that there are reasons why we need a social institution called the military. 

I believe we sometimes need to grab our shield and spears and man the ramparts in defense of our ideals and of higher good.  I recognize the danger that arm conflict can get wrapped up in ideology, the whole argument about a “just war” troubles me when it is tied to religious principles.  Far too many people have died in the name of God, as each side hurls the label of “heretic” at the other. 

As a Psychologist I ask myself what motivates this apparent “need” for a military.  I believe the military can serve two different but valid functions, one within the individual members (intrapersonal needs) and the other within a culture or society (interpersonal needs).  There  is a great deal of variations in how these needs manifest themselves, also they may differ across time (as evidenced by the fact that the US attack on Iraq represented the first time our nation attacked someone who had not first provoked us… now what was that all about?)

Some of the Intrapersonal needs comes about because of inner conflict, between parts of ourselves, or because we find our “world” under apparent attack (our idea of right and wrong challenged by gay marriage, abortion, growing numbers of minorities).  These frustrations can lead to a “lashing out” at others who are different from ourselves.  I tell my students that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what a “jihad” represents.  It is my understanding that we are to undertake a jihad against those forces within ourselves that block us from achieving a connection with the divine.  As often happens in religious and political undertakings (crusades, liberation movements, cults) the enlightened purpose behind a movement is lost when egotistical and self-serving motives take over. 

We all struggle with conflicting inner forces, we all have a dark side! I believe the critical thing is to find a balance between our inner forces.  Until we can find this balance inside ourselves we will not find it in our exterior world and our relationship with others.  My son struggles, as I have struggled, in a constant yin and yang balance between desires and ideals.  The military with its multitude if new experiences and new views helped me find my balance, I hope that it might do the same for my son.

Another dynamic that comes into play are Interpersonal needs.  I have repeatedly lamented the dichotomous thinking that we see so prevalent in our society.  This form of thinking manifests itself in the “win – lose” and “us versus them” arguments spewed forth by “hot heads” on both sides of the political and religious spectrum.  What is particularly problematic about this form of thinking is that when one group (political party, race, culture or church) chooses to take this perspective, seeing everything as warfare or a win or lose game, it puts great pressure on other groups to assume the same stance.

 Peace and harmony between people only works if both sides decide that this is the overriding goal.  True peace and harmony is not imposed on vanquished by a victor it is a choice made by both sides to compromise and find common ground.  When one side amasses an arsenal the other side has to respond in like.  I do not believe that the response must always be in the direction of a stronger force, if you have leaders with foresight and a greater understanding, the response can be one of compassion and a measured strike at those directly responsible (the actual terrorist or the individual despot leader) you do not have to destroy a whole country.  If you mean to counter a radical ideology you do not need to demonize a whole religion or ethnic group.

Examples of the “Yin and Yang” of life abound all about us.  You see it in nature, in the lives of animals, in our inner self, in our community and our nations. Let us never cease striving for balance for a healthy perspective, for a lessening of conflict and an acceptance of differences.  Let us never cease the struggle to be loving caring compassionate beings!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  171                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 156

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1139

National Day of Prayer in United States: National Day of Prayer is held on the first Thursday of May each year, inviting Americans of all faiths to pray for the country and its leaders.

Is that a sacred scripture or a weapon?

Greetings fellow pilgrims!  I am reminded today why one of my favorite statements about technology and electronics is” “just when you think it is your friend it turns on you!”  I rode the bike this afternoon and dictated my posting concerning today as the National Day of Prayer.  Then when I sat down to transcribe it I found that the tape was blank!  For some reason it did not record so I will have to try and recreate it from memory.  Here goes…

I hope that everyone has taken a moment during the day to offer a prayer in whatever way is appropriate according to your belief system.  I feel the need to add this qualifier (“in whatever way”) because sadly the events of the day have been marred by controversy.  I say sadly because our community, nation and world can use all the help we can muster to set aside our differences and come together to face our growing shared problems (terrorism, global climate change, dwindling resources, conflict and war).  However, even something as promising as a call for all people to turn toward the divine for help and guidance has become a derisive issue.

Two issues seem to provide fuel for this controversy.  One centers on the issue of whether it is appropriate to have an “official” day of prayer; the second is a question of what constitutes an appropriate prayer.

Private Prayer... Freedom of Expression

A recent court decision, which is being appealed, sided with the argument of those individuals who believe it is inappropriate to have an officially sanctioned day of prayer as this represents the government sanctioning religion in general. Whether this religion is practiced by a majority of the people does not matter as the backers of this legal challenge believe it breaches the separation of church and state.  These individuals will often point out that existing laws that are written in inclusionary manners are often ignored or actively flaunted by elected officials who use their proclamations of faith for political gain.

Not just for Christians!

Personally, I do not see a problem with the government sanctioning a day of prayer as long as there is no official prayer and individuals of differing faiths or no faith at all are not subjected to exclusionary prayers.  An exclusionary prayer is one that proclaims or insinuates that there is only one valid path, valid name, valid experience associated with the divine.  Such prayers may outright condemn as false or heretical any and all other paths and names for the divine or divine experiences.

Recently at a local county council meeting atheists, secular humanists, and two groups of Buddhist were made (they were given no warning and/or before the fact choice) to sit through an “in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior” opening prayer that specifically targeted with condemnation abortion providers and gays.  The council member who delivered the meetings opening prayer offered no apology when a person in attendance complained. How do you think the Buddhists in attendance (community members, taxpaying citizens, who were there to request the county’s recognition of Buddha’s birthday) felt?  Were they made to feel uncomfortable and excluded simply because a “devout Christian” did not want to miss an opportunity to preach his message, which happened to be one of hate and exclusion in this case.

 Just this last week I sat through a graduation ceremony for a local state supported university.  While most of the individuals in attendance were likely Christians, the opening and closing invocations, which were given by a member of the school’s board of trustees, ended with proclamations about Jesus Christ.  In addition, the US Senator who was the commencement speaker also worked into his talk mention of Jesus Christ. Curiously, he finished his talk by sending off the graduates into the world with the advice to “make lots of money!”  No call to rise up and transcend our needs and desires for the greater good of the people and nation.  No challenge to aim for Mars, cure cancer, help clean up politics, just a call to produce and consume!

 I am living in the Bible Belt so I recognize the importance of faith and religion in people’s lives. It is an important part of my personal life.   However, it is troubling and unsettling to see individuals who represent all of the people of the county, state, country (elected officials and University board of trustee members) act as if there is no valid diversity of beliefs and faiths.  It seems to me the least they can do is to use a pluralistic inclusionary invocation at public meetings. If someone in attendance wants to mutter the name Jesus Christ under their breath while their neighbor mutters Buddha or Goddess, or just takes a deep breath and relaxes, how does this deny anyone their “right” to their faith?  Does it matter at all that I have the right to sit in a public meeting (this is not a church service or revival) without having to hear someone “proclaiming their faith” in ways that insinuate that I, my children and my fellow church members are somehow misguided, wrong and “going to hell.”  Again, I am not attending their church or revival, I am not speaking about the ten commandment signs they place in their yards, I am speaking about a tax payer funded meeting, conducting “official business” where I have to just sit and bite my tongue, I guess because I am in the minority! 

It is my understanding that the reason we have a constitution is to protect the minorities, as the majority can vote in the leaders who write the laws.  Therefore the courts and the constitution are there to protect the non-dominant races, faiths, sexual orientations, ethnic groups, and political groups.

Back in the Fall I blogged about the importance of great teachers, most being guided by profound deep faith in the divine.  I included Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Billy Graham.  Rev. Graham’s son Franklin Graham has placed himself in the center of the ongoing controversy about today’s day of prayer.  It seems that he was invited to speak at the Pentagon but this invitation was later withdrawn because of some very negative things he said in an interview about the Islamic faith.

While Franklin certainly has every right to free speech he needs to recognize, as I have taught my sons, that the things we say have consequences.  You can’t go saying negative things about a major religious tradition which will be part of an ecumenical Day of Prayer, with the purpose to “bring together” the community, and expect to be welcomed.  To add insult to injury he now claims that this is all part of some systematic affront toward white Evangelical Christians by President Obama.

In a Tuesday USA Today interview he was reported to have said: “Muslims do not worship the same ‘God the Father’ I worship.”  He also took a swipe at Hinduism, saying, “No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me.  None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it’s all going to get better in this world.  It’s not going to get better.” 

Hindu Deity Ganesha

Is it any wonder why the organizers of the Pentagon service uninvited Franklin Graham?  He proclaims to know what Muslins believe and then displays his lack of knowledge about the Hindu deities (Genesha has an elephant head but only four arms; Vishnu is often pictured with multiple sets of arms).  Again I have no problem with Franklin Graham offering whatever form of Christian prayer he chooses at private gatherings or public religious gatherings, but not at officially government sanctioned event that are undertaken to bring together our diverse communities of faith.

One final point; as I stood in the locker room at my gym this morning Franklin came onto CNN, which was playing on the locker room TV and made a timid statement that he can only be expected to pray in the way he was taught to pray and in the way he believes.  He may believe this to be the truth, but if we accept this reasoning and logic then a lot of people who had in the past to change, adapt and adjust might have been “off the hook.”  If a racist Southern sheriff could have just said “that was the way I was raised” as an argument for why he should not be expected to follow the new civil rights laws, or people opposed to women’s new found right to vote refusing to give them a ballot because they still believe in “the old way.”  There are many loving, devout Evangelical Christians who can sit in a meeting and hear a non-denominational prayer without feeling that their faith has be slighted. They might even listen to a prayer by a Hindu or Muslim and see the similarity in all forms of prayer.  If Franklin Graham wants to limit himself to exclusive Christian prayers then I suggest he stick with his church and his revivals.  If he wants to be accepted into the larger faith community than I suggest he learn how to speak to the heart of all faith and religions, free of any denominational or specific faith trappings.

Hindu Deity Vishnu

Just a quick aside, when I served as the Chaplin for my son’s Boy Scout troop I often lead prayers that called on the boys to look within themselves and toward the divine for strength and answers.  It was not a Taoist prayer, or a Unitarian Universalist prayer, it was an inclusive upbeat non-denominational prayer.  I did it! I challenge Rev. Franklin Graham to do the same!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  170                             Cumulative Days Blogging: 155

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1134

35th Engineer Battalion

Greeting to all my fellow pilgrims!  It is good to finally climb back onto the bike and report to you all what has happened in the past weeks.  I had taken to the roadways and drove to Missouri to attend my eldest son’s graduation from US Army training.  I then shared a day and a half drive with him back to South Carolina.  The trip back was the rainiest stretch of travel I have ever undertaken in my life.  It rained steadily from Memphis to Atlanta, my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Mississippi and Alabama impacted by the string of tornados that were figuratively “in our rear view mirror!”

I enjoyed the opportunity to visit an area of the country I had never had the opportunity to see before, the Ozarks.  The tree covered hills, rushing rivers and streams and pastures populated with cows and horses were idyllic.  In many ways it reminded me of the upstate in South Carolina, for I saw a lot of timber haulers, pickup trucks and trailer homes! 

Standing out from the crowd!

I experienced a great deal of pride watching my son’s graduation as he had distinguished himself in his training and received the US Army Engineers Trailblazer Award,  a distinction granted to only about 5% of the recruits.  The award proclaimed: For meritorious achievement as a combat engineer Pvt.  Edwards distinguished himself by exceeding course standards for all combat engineer occupational skills training levels of motivation, discipline, teamwork, and leadership throughout the training cycle, signifying him as one of Charlie Company’s finest.

He now stands tall and proud and is excited about making his way to Fort Lewis Washington where he will be assigned to a specific unit.  The drive to Missouri afforded me an opportunity to reminisce about the joy and sorrows of parenthood and the time I spent with him as he grew up.  I know that this mixture of ups (joys) and downs (stress and sadness) are part of the process of parenting, and a teenager’s need to find their own identity and path in life.  I am excited about the growth he has shown in the military.  I am excited that he will be seeing new places and meeting new people.  These can be valuable transformative experiences.  But I am also apprehensive as I know he will cross paths with problematic people, and be forced to make problematic choices.  He very likely will go to war and be faced with death!  I will save my thoughts on that prospect for another day.  I look forward, with mixed feelings, to his life unfolding and my watching from the sidelines… but I have no other choice!

Ho'oponopono Prayer

The title for today’s posting came from last Sunday’s sermon by the Rev. Pat Jobe.  It is a Hawaiian prayer!  Prayers come in a number of different forms and this one does not fit easily into the standard categories (e.g., Petition, Confession, Adoration, Intercession, Meditation, Thanksgiving, and Consecration).  Given that it does not make any reference to the divine it functions very much like a therapy or self-help device.  It offers a four step process to deal with feelings of sadness and anger at people or events in our lives.  These many represent current situations or feelings we are carrying from our past.  The first step is to declare “I’m sorry,” the second step is to ask “forgive me,” the third step is to declare “thank you,” and the final step is to proclaim “I love you!”  Listening to Pat talk about the prayer and its usage made me realize that I needed to repeat this prayer with respect to both of my sons and my long deceased father.

Proud warriors at ease!

Years ago as I prepared to become a father I remember thinking about my own father, about the pain and sorrow he visited upon his family.  I cursed him for the scars we (his children) carried forward into our futures.  I knew on some level that he carried his own scars, for he was the product of an emotionally distant alcoholic father.  However, the pain was strong and not easily extinguished.  I swore to myself, as I awaited the arrival of my first son that I would not make the mistakes my father made.  I would be emotionally involved and invested in his life at the same time I would let him become who he needed to be!

I am happy to report that I did not make the mistakes my father made!  However, sadly it seems that I made all new ones!  I’ve come to believe that you cannot be a parent, a partner, a teacher or a friend without making what in hindsight can be called, mistakes.  We cannot be “loving caring involved human beings” without some times disappointing or falling short of the hopes and expectations of those we love.  I realize now that my father was just doing the best he could.  I don’t make excuses for his bad choices, but I do forgive him for them.  I thank him for the many gifts he gave me, including an interest in art and nature and my mechanical abilities.  I am sorry for the frustration and sadness I know I visited on his life, especially as a cocky teenager and I do love him and regret that he never saw my successes and his grandsons.

I apologize to my sons, I am sorry for the things I have done that might have hurt or dismayed them.  I ask for their forgiveness.  Even if I knew of all the mistakes I’ve made I could not go back and change them, none of us can, so please forgive me!   I have received so much joy from having them in my life.  I have gained a youthful sense of awe and wonder as I experienced the world through their eyes.  I have sense the possibilities of a future that extends far beyond my own time on this earth.  I love you both and I pray for your safety.  I pray that you have sons and daughters that bring you as much joy and provide you with as many insights as you have brought into my life.  I will love you whether you succeed or fail, I will love you as much when you leave as when you come home.  I will love you where ever you travel, whether I still walk this earth or whether you are on your own.  My thoughts and prayers will always be with you!

I recently posted and old poem I had written about the sadness and regret I felt that my father and I had not talked and shared our thoughts and feelings as adults.  The following represents a follow up to that poem:

Trip Partners

young man

crisp uniform

ribbons and medals

a stoic face

hum of the highway

engine sounds

then he speaks

stories of intelligent actions

in a passionate voice

old man

casusal cloths

joyful smile

pride filled heart

a wish has been granted

a poem fulfilled

father and a son

two men – two voices

on a cross country trip

past troubles and sadness

in the rear view mirror

pushing through the driving rain

ahead of dangerous storms

racing forward

toward blue sky

toward sunlight

toward the future

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Newly minted soldier!

Greetings fellow pilgrims!  I had stepped away from my stationary bike for several days in preparation for a cross country trip that starts this morning.  I will be driving to Fort Leonard Wood Missouri to witness my son Max’s graduation from US Army engineer training.  He will then drive back with me on Friday and Saturday. 

I look forward to seeing him and I am proud of the seriousness with which he has training.  My apprehension is about the likelihood that he will be travelling to Afganistan some time soon.  I will spend my drive today sorting out my thoughts and feelings on the topic.  In the mean time I have reposted my Jan 5th blog which was the day Max left for bootcamp.  I am especially looking forward to my drive home with him, as the second poem notes (below) I never had such an opportunity with my own father.  I will have more to say about the graduation and the trip in the days to come.  Hold us in your prayers!

Jan 5, 2010

 We watched at noon today as my son Max walked to a waiting van. Along with six other young men, they started a journey into manhood as warriors for our nation in a time of war.  He carries on a tradition, from father to son.  My grandfather an Army veteran of WWI sent his oldest son to the Army in WW2. He sent his youngest son, my father, into the Navy to fight in Korea. My father sent his oldest son, yours truly, into the Navy during the Vietnam War.  Now I send my son Max into the Army to likely fight in our latest war. All of the “Edwards boys” came back in one piece; I pray that Max will continue with that tradition! 

  Remembering all who serve!

I searched the internet for a Soldier’s Prayer and found many.  But none that was satisfactory for the feelings of relief, excitement and pride that I feel at this moment.  They use names for God I do not use, and ask for things I would not ask.  So I send my son off with two poems.  Both were written in the past, one a product of my pride at his earlier warrior efforts.  The second written with memories of my father in mind, longing for a dialogue that could never be, a dialogue I hope to someday have with my son. 

  War Games 

  

Warrior on the line!
Waves of geese 

    Pass overhead 

      Squawking in support 

As the ground forces 

   Surge forward 

      Tanks on the line 

   Fleet fast infantry 

      On the corners 

   HQ in the rear 

 The defense 

    Meets them head on 

       With a crash of pads  

          And helmets 

 Generals  

   Shout orders  

       From the sidelines 

JV football practice 

   My eldest son 

      Mans the right side 

         Of the attacking line 

  Handshake and a handoff to the Army!

What I Knew Could Never Be 

 Its taken a quarter 

 Of a lifetime 

 For me to learn  

 How to speak. 

 I was not raised 

To have opinions, 

 I was raised  

 To mouth my father’s words. 

I was raised to act proper 

 To be seen and not heard. 

 Don’t follow the crowd 

Follow me was the message. 

 He prefered to have me 

Be different from my peers? 

 Not to challenge him 

 With my questions of youth? 

 My spirit left home 

 Before my body. 

 It journeyed to the sea, 

 Driven away 

 In search of acceptance 

 And the wonders I knew to be. 

 I saw my father 

Only a few times in adulthood. 

 Superior I was, but sad I felt 

 At what I knew could never be, 

 A dialogue between father and son, 

 Two men, two voices 

Be safe son and know that you are loved! 

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  169                             Cumulative Days Blogging: 154

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 1129

In my most recent blog I spoke about my strong disagreement with a historian’s statement about the future as an “apathetic void of no interest to anyone.”  I highlighted what I believe is the importance of the “here-and-now” and the “possibilities” of the future.  I’ve had a discussion with several people about this point and I wanted to clarify my views a bit further.

Life is a balancing act!

I recognize that our attention can easily be drawn to the past like an intriguing movie or play.  We often know some of the characters by name (i.e.., Generals and Presidents, siblings and parents), we know some of the locations by experience (i.e., battlefields and Capitals, childhood homes) and we often know how the story ends (i.e., who wins the battles and the war, where people are now).  By delving deeper into the story (our shared or individual past) we often discover new scenes, intriguing relationships and hidden plot twists that had escaped our earlier awareness. While the past can offer insights as to how we got to where we are today and at times offer possible solutions to current problems, our decisions have to be imbedded in the present and take into account the forces at play in the here-and-now.

I am always suspicious when people like the Tea Party activists, frame our present problems as identical or closely related to that which occurred hundreds of years ago.  I remember seeing where a local church was advertising that it was “First Century Christianity in the Twenty First Century!”  This appeared to be based on the fact that their “church” had no physical building, but met on a rotating basis in members homes. I see that statement as being nonsensical or at least historically inaccurate.  Who knows for sure what first century Christianity looked like!   It was a product of a time and place that no longer exists.  It represented a new movement (not an established faith or societal institution) pitted against an established institutional religion (paganism) and was being persecuted (not embraced by the society’s leaders) and forced to operate under a cloak of secrecy (the fish symbol and hidden meetings). Whereas now Christianity is an established religion and social institution, it operates in the open, it controls many media mouthpieces and counts a majority of the nation’s leaders among its members.  What this church was offering was a variation of twenty first century Christianity! I also suspect that once their membership grows large enough they too will purchase a church building!  At that time I guess they will need to market themselves as “third century Christianity” or just join the rest of us in the present!

Dwelling on the Past

Small islands of pink granite

Stretch like a chain of pearls

The strand lies broken

Large gaps separate them

Filled with swirling waters

Brown, green and murky

Even the lone goose   

     navigates the eddies with caution

Only a giant or NBA center

     could transverse these stepping stones

Small rock outcroppings

     In the center of the river

Human free sanctuaries

     Sporting clumps of trees and scrubs

Is it wrong to wish

     for the droughts return?

When the main channel was a slow moving stream

     And bridges of stepping stones

     Offered walkways to green islands

     Far from the noisy picnickers

     And their second hand smoke

****

Several month ago I blogged on one aspect of the challenge we face on our spiritual journey.  I quoted an Ani DeFranco’s song: “When I look down I miss the good stuff (scenes about us and on the horizon) and when I look up I just trip over things (obstacles at our feet)”.   I noted that one of the challenges on our journey is find a rhythm and balance between stopping to look up (checking out the road ahead) and then moving a distance while glancing down to watch your footing.  I would like to add our current discussion of the importance of the past to this analogy. 

Some times there are warning signs!

The  challenge is to find a rhythm and balance on your journey through life among three components: First, we must at times stop and look up toward our future path, see our goals, look for forks (decision points) in the road ahead, note if there is a blind turn in the road or signs of adverse weather. If you fail to do this with sufficient frequency or adequate attention to detail you will be “surprised” and “blind sided” by forks in the road, washed out bridges or dangerous and threatening situations that seemingly “just happen.”  Secondly, at times we need to stop and glance over our shoulders into the past, to see if the surrounding scenery looks familiar and ask how our past choices have shaped our current situation, look for reoccurring patterns (like what happened the last time when the fuel light lit up on our dashboard and we ignored it).  While we cannot backtrack and redo an earlier choice we often can make future choices that steer us back toward our stated goals, or we can reevaluate our future goals to match future possibilities. Lastly, we always have to remember to move forward while focusing on life’s moment-to-moment demands on the path about our feet.  Be attentive to the moment-to-moment changes in our relationships, the unexpected delays and detours, the multitude of small seemingly simple choices that occur.  It is not the past or the future that trips us up, it is life unfolding and playing out at our feet, which includes repeating patterns and predictable events and choices!

Some events just feel familiar!

I find it ironic that three days ago there were many people around the world who had plans to travel to and from Europe on vacation and/or business.  Then an event that no one had any control over, the eruption of a volcano hundreds of miles away brought much of the world air traffic to a halt.  This acts as a reminder that the “best laid plans” are just that: “plans”!  Some events (often called acts of God or Nature) just appear with little or no warning… welcome to the balancing act we call life!

Why?

Perhaps I was a bit too hasty

In cursing the high water

On an island well out of reach

A dozen large turtles

Bask in the midday sun

Further down the shoreline

A young man

And his three bikini clad companions

Occupy an island

I watch with amusement

And appreciation

Their slow and noisy

Return to shore

It was a slippery journey

But leaves me with a question

Why do young girls

Scream so much?

****

Water + Sun + Friends = A Basking Moment!

I hope you enjoy the two poems I included today.  They were the product of my river walk that took place several days earlier.  Tomorrow we return to our pilgrimage journey across northern Florida.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  168                              Cumulative Days Blogging: 153

Today’s Mileage: 4                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 1124

I dictated this blog earlier in the day, as I walked along a river at a spot I have visited a dozen of times in the past.  I’ve conversed with nature, walked on the rocks, watched the geese and strolled past the other park visitors.  It is a beautiful spring day and I decided to enjoy it.  As a Taoist all I need is natural surroundings, the sounds of nature, open air, waters is always nice, whether its rain, a rushing river, or a calm pool.  This place has often inspired poetic words, and today was no different, but I will save those for a later day.

I had not planned on stopping here as I headed to the University this morning.  We are heading into that last sprint to the end of the semester.  In my Psychology of Religion class I spent too long on the Eastern Faiths so I will have to compress monotheism into a single lecture.  But then I prefer for my students to explore new territories and discover new ideas rather than review that which they already know. 

There is always two sides!

Earlier I had a break from my class and sat in the commons area.  On a rack next to one of the history professors door was a stack of magazines and journals. I opened one to an article entitled “Contested Histories.”  The author spoke of the challenge of understanding historical events that have different meaning for the opposite sides of the event.  Northerners (Yankees) have a very different take on the American Civil War than Southerners (Rebels).  Even in the south there are two “contested histories!”  If your distant relatives were slaves the war can be seen as a war of liberation and freedom, if your distant relatives fought for the confederacy it is often portrayed as a war for state’s rights or a war against northern aggression!  The historian in his article mentioned the date of 1915 and events that took place in eastern Turkey as the Ottoman Empire was engaged in a desperate struggle for its survival during World War 1.  A large proportion of the Armenian population died or was displaced from their homes. The Turkish perspective says this was the result of a civil war in which the Armenians were active participants; the Armenians perspective sees active government sponsored “genocide” to remove their culture and communities from eastern Anatolia.  Who is right and who is wrong?  Does one view win out over another?  Will both sides simply cling to their position, as “the truth” might represent a “blow” to their national identity or necessitate embracing a shared sense of guilt?

Peace after the civil conflict!

Ottoman Empire!

When I listen to talk radio or watch Tea Party activities on TV I wonder if it matters whether their positions hold any historical truth.  Wasn’t the original Tea party about taxations without representation?  Don’t we have representation?   Is the “real issue” the fact that some people just don’t agree with the votes and the laws that follow.  While they like to call themselves “true patriots” some might just call them “sour losers!” 

The author of the article on “Contested Histories” concluded by quoting another historian, Milan Kundera, that: “The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone.  The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy and repaint it.”  I could not disagree more! I believe the old proverb: The past is history, the future a mystery, the present is a gift!

We need to face what is right in front of us at this moment!  We need to face forward into a future of possibilities.  If we focus entirely to the “baggage” which humanity continues to drag along, arguing over “contested histories” our future will slip by and we will likely repeat the same old mistakes. The future will hold only ugly surprises and sadness at missed opportunities!

Compromise is always possible!

As therapists we know of the importance of the past in understanding the forces that shaped us, we know the power of the past when a patient (or community) carries it into the present.  However, the challenge of changing to meet current and present demands must be faced in the “here-and-now.”  It must be faced not by people long dead and gone, who fought old wars, but from those of us who draw breaths and look for meaning in the present.  The challenge is to find common ground and move forward, not to rehash “conflicting histories,” not to find that which divides us but that which brings us together. 

I challenge believers of all faiths to look to your sacred scriptures not for words of division and self-righteousness, but for words of healing and compassion.  Focusing on the past (e.g., old wars, old battle flags, old slogans) is more a part of our problem than part of our solution.  I suggest that after you search your sacred scriptures you look into the faces of children whose skin is not the color of your own.  Look into the eyes of the elderly who do not speak your language.  Look to the sky, the earth, and the waters at the tortured landscapes we have created.  In each of these four places look for that which connects us to one another instead of that which divides us. 

Don’t close your fists tightly about your possessions, open your hands and share with others.  Don’t draw some barrier line around your “place,” invite others into your space to stand at your side.  As President Obama has shown us, do not be afraid to make eye contact, to extend a hand, and speak in whispers to friend and foe alike.  For only then will we take the risk and step up to move forward toward the possibilities of the future!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  167                              Cumulative Days Blogging: 152

Today’s Mileage: 4                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 1120

Your choice!

As I ride the bike this evening I am appreciative of the supportive comments made by my fellow pilgrims concerning yesterday’s posting.  It is always nice to find out that you are not alone, especially when faced with the growing chorus of negative voices that surround us.  At times like these it is easy to feel a tinge of hopelessness at the magnitude of the task that we face, in somehow turning back these negative, divisive forces.

I believe it is possible to turn around our nation’s slow decline into hatred and uncivil society, but it is not going to be easy.  I believe that a desire to make this change is part of what has brought so many of us together networking to find “like minded” individuals, as I am fond of saying: Add enough small ripples together and you have a large wave, a wave for positive change!

Many people are familiar with the Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow and his theory about the Hierarchy of Needs.  At the bottom of the pyramid are the deficiency needs: Physical Needs, Safety Needs, Belonging Needs, and Esteem Needs.  These needs are powerful and often demand our attention.  If they are not being filled we feel an emptiness/deficiency until they are met.  Appealing to these needs is often accomplished with emotional messages which may include: calls toward anger and resentment, threatening messages, heightening fears, announcements of scarcity, threats of banishment, questioning an individual’s values and motives, challenging their patriotism.  We have seen some sad examples of these needs playing out in people’s lives like the young Irish girl who was bullied and badgered to the point of committing suicide.  If you study the various signs and angry shouts of the Tea Party activist seen at televised rallies you see many blatant examples of these appeals.

At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy are the Being or Self-Actualized Needs.   These are a diverse set of needs that differ for each person.  They represent things like: Compassion, Beauty, Creativity, and Justice.  These needs have a very subtle voice and are only heard when one quiets the deficiency needs or looks past these lower level needs.  When someone asks: What would Jesus or Buddha do?  When you hear or read the thoughts of the Dali Lama, Gandhi or Mother Theresa you are hearing a call toward an all embracing love and compassion for all people, these are the voices of the Being Needs. 

I know I am not alone when I cringe at the loud emotional voices screaming at us from the papers, the radio, TV and internet.  They call others names (e.g., socialists, baby killers, liars, illegal aliens, Islamofacists, etc.) and are not talking about finding common ground or solving the problems that face us.  They present “Us versus Them” and/or “Win or Lose” scenarios that only divide peoples and communities, along racial, religious and economic lines.

I have included the Peanuts cartoon tonight because I think it points to a sad fact concerning these heightened emotional appeals.  Some, perhaps many, people in fact enjoy being mad and angry.  They do not wish to rise above their egotistical selfish needs.  They may like the sense of immediate energy and power that strong negative emotions infuse them with.  They may find meaning in the causes tied to these emotional statements (e.g., antiabortion, gun rights, anti-immigration).

A challenging Puzzle, but a solution is possible!

How do we turn this situation around?  I think we need to speak up with our opposing views and not let ourselves be shouted down.  We need to challenge our churches to stand up for the positive loving values espoused by all of the faiths (e.g., follow the Golden Rule or better still the Platinum Rule).  We need to engage independent/undecided citizen and educate them to our position.  We need to work at making our lives, our relationships and our social movements shining lights and beacons for the Being Needs!

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