Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Just One Gift....

The years roll by. Sometimes it's all a blur and then there are memories etched in our mind.
Christmas is full of memories. To the young I say - treasure them - build them.
Once I asked Aunt Dorothy about her childhood memories of Christmas. One that stood out was at her Grandma Flemming's large Victorian home in Pittsburgh. It was 1933/4 - several years before my mother was born. She would have been about 9 years old and my Uncle John was just a few years older.  Despite the difficulties of the depression, the family was doing ok. They lived on the Southside of Oil City where my Grandparents had a little neighborhood grocery store. She and Uncle John walked to the Saturday afternoon show at the Latonia every week. They loved the cartoons and movies!
She described a very formal Christmas gathering at Grandma Flemming's house. While my grandparents were modestly successful, the Flemmings were part of the Steel Dynasty of Pittsburgh at that time. They had a huge Christmas tree, she said, that was nearly 2 stories tall. The children were gathered and each received one gift. Her gift was a Mickey Mouse watch. It was probably one of the first Mickey Mouse watches made.
Somewhere in my readings or watching historic programs I recall a statement that FDR may have influenced the kind of Christmas we now know. He was cited as having encouraged people to purchase one gift for loved ones during the depression as an economic stimulus. Prior to this, the tradition was to give home made Christmas gifts.  When I learned this, Aunt Dorothy's story came to mind. They received just one gift and the time was about right for having been inspired by FDR.
Above that, what is striking is that one gift - just one gift - can have meaning that transcends years and years. More than 60 years had passed when Aunt Dorothy told me that story. I believe, at the time, she was the last soul alive from that day in 1933 or 1934. She loved the cartoons and movies of the time. Now, years later, I hear a story about President Roosevelt and remember the story Aunt Dorothy told me about a Mickey Mouse watch she got for Christmas. So many stories of life are interconnected. A day - a memory - can bring us closer.
Let this day be one memory - one gift. It only takes one gift to transcend decades.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Joy of Furry Friends

Pets are so wonderful! They each have their own special little personalities. Each time one enters my life I think there will never be another to top this one. And then the next is just as wonderful in their own unique way.
Molly Mutt Paws is the one with the biggest heart and is the most sensitive. Together we worked through her fears and I didn't learn the likely source of them for years. When she started limping, an x-ray revealed she had pellets in her legs. She had been terribly afraid of children. Perhaps some youngsters.... With lots of love, she has shed her fears. She likes to have responsibilities and assumes them easily. She loves having lessons - sit, stay, up, down, walk slowly, one step.... She is the welcome wagon and the reliable signal of things out of sort like a broken water pipe in the night. The one thing she has never overcome from her young days as a stray is want of food. If it is in her range, she will eat it - whether it's good for her on not. Oddly, however, she often stands back if the cat, Mr. Jeepers, jumps ahead of her at her dish and steals a few bites. She's also respectful of Timid Tobey Sheltie's dish - even draining her own water bowl first, shying away from his unless hers remains empty too long. Her favorite toy is a deflated basketball but she loves stuffed animals too.
Little Timid Tobey is a happy little guy when the situation is familiar and routine. He was about a year old when he came to me and nothing seemed familiar or routine to him. Last summer he discovered his favorite place in the world - Pennwood! When we camp there, he is exuberant and confident - even chasing a bear about 20 times his size! He can guard a tree for hours making sure the squirrel stays in it. In a house full of people, he hides. In the woods, he wants to explore and is very reluctant to leave at the end of the weekend. He's grown into a willingness to learn and learns best by watching his hero Molly. He too has a big heart with a playful spirit. True to his breed, he tends to like to keep track of me. It took time but he learned to trust me and if he's on a leash he willingly follows, even into a room full of people that he'd never venture into alone. Tobey loves his cat friend, Mr. Jeepers. He prefers live friends over toys.
When Jeepers adopted the front porch as home, Tobey was first to actually touch him - nose to nose. It took weeks before I could get close to Jeepers but he kept showing up. He seemed only half tame and yet seemed just as determined to become part of the family. His first night in the house was most remarkable as he and Tobey acted like they were long lost friends - playing and teasing each other  with a gentle trust. Jeepers likes to escape sometimes and Tobey is quick to greet him upon return - knocking him down as if to say "Where have you been!" Jeepers just rolls over - "ok, ok." I still marvel that a cat I thought only half tame adapted so well inside. He will find one of the chairs and lay in a kingly half sleep and sometimes jump on the bed wanting a little attention but otherwise he is very respectful and independent. He seems mostly content with life. Sometimes he snuggles up next to Molly or Tobey. Once in a while he wants to be picked up and fussed with a bit but he's let me know he is NOT a lap kitty. Now I know if he talks to me, it's one of two reasons - he's hungry or he wants some attention. If he talks to me and I ignore him, he'll get under foot to make his point known.  He likes short hugs and fussing - and belly rubs when he lets you know by rolling over when you walk by.
I'm thankful for these furry friends and the joy in learning to understand them.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Your Dream....

What's your dream?
Often we become mired in the muck of life. There are realities and obligations. At moments we are lucky enough to live out a dream. Few of us live our dreams for long. Often we are waiting for the dream opportunity to land in front of us.
All of my life I have been a dreamer. I recall very early days when someone would say "I'm bored", and I would be stunned. I would respond, "we could do xx" or "let's do xx" and they would be "bored". Life is full of options and opportunities. How can we be bored?
As a dreamer, I tend to think a lot. If this happens, I can do that. If that happens, I can do this. Looking back I realize I've actually lived a lot of dreams. Some dreams lived out the way I thought they would or better than I thought they would. Some dreams didn't. But I lived them out. I lived them.
Still I dream. There are so many things I could be doing. So many things I would love to do. I dream. I even dream about how my end days might be. If this, then how could it be? If that, then how could it be? I dream.
Our possibilities are endless. As long as we live - as long as we dream - there is something.
For me, the dream is to touch a life somehow. If in all my days, I can touch a life and offer something that will pay forward, I will be living a dream.  To touch the life right in front of me, this moment, in this place, in this time and forever more - that is a dream.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Which Side are You?

What has become of the people who were assigned to perform our "enhanced interrogations'?
Can we really expect people to torture another human being for weeks - months - shoot food up their rectums, march them around naked with a hood, tie them up in "uncomfortable" positions, water board them, allow one to die of hyperthermia - and then go home and tuck the kids in and live a normal life? Do we really think that hardening someone enough to do these sorts of things has no effect on THEM? And shouldn't we question the psychological stability of people who approved this?
What has happened to our American psyche? Who have we become? Do we want to be known as being just as barbaric as those who attack us? Are we as blood thirsty as our enemies?
We know that mass murderers first learned to harden themselves to any empathy with their victims. Often they learned to torture helpless animals before escalating to torturing and killing humans. Now we tasked our own CIA people to torture humans. How is that going to turn out? Would you like to be alone with one of these agents? Would you like your son or daughter to marry one of them? Who wouldn't they be willing to torture if someone told them it was "necessary" or if they just decided on their own that it was "necessary"?
In war after war we see our soldiers return with terrible post traumatic stress. Their lives and the lives of those who love them are forever changed. And we keep sending them off expecting them to return and resume a normal life unaffected.
What has happened to our American psyche? Who have we become? War has become a normal state of affairs. And now we justify torture?
The same people who justify war and torture want us to be known as a "Christian" nation. Whoa! There is something very wrong here!!! We have a whole bunch of things backassward. Where is our basic intelligence? Where are our basic morals?
If we become hardened to war, hardened to torture as our cultural norm, we are doomed as a society. It won't matter what name we give it. America is turning about as anti-Christ as can be imagined. 
I remember well the feelings on the day and post 911. I am a veteran and served at the Survival School Headquarters where we trained people to survive being a POW. I heard many first hand stories of those held in captivity and treated brutally. This is not something I want sanctioned as an American way of doing things. It's not the country I proudly served.
It's deeply disturbing that many Anti-Christ activities are being promoted under a Christian banner. Millions of Americans are falling for it. Could you - would you - perpetrate torture on another human being? If you find yourself saying yes, please seek help. Our world needs you to be well. We won't get well until we have a world of people who understand why this is not the right thing to do.
We cannot kill one another off to get to that place of healing. We cannot torture one another to get to that place of healing. We have to heal one another. That is what Jesus taught.
If it is not about healing - if it is not about compassion - if it is not based in love - it is Anti-Christ.
Which side are you?


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The means to an end

During WW2 the British held some very high level POW's that they knew had significant information. They placed them in a very nice country manor, made them comfortable and allowed them to interact with one another. They provided their prisoners with information about the war. And they monitored them closely.
These Nazi prisoners talked to each other. They talked about things they knew. The British heard it all. That information paid off. That information was significant. There was no torture. There were no interrogations. They made these prisoners comfortable and let them be. They knew they were prisoners. They knew they were watched. It was most natural, over the course of time, that they would talk to each other. And they did.
The end does not justify the means. And the means does not guarantee an end. There are long term consequences for the things we do. There is a path that has a better end. "Do unto others..."
If we adopt a culture of no limits, we will experience a pain of no limits.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Need to put on the little pants...

The spiritual teacher Pema Chödrön recently came to my attention, most likely because there was a lesson I needed to hear. She talked about how certain things hook us - give us an emotional charge - and we have a difficult time letting them go. That emotional charge can be anger, outrage, or just simply that it captures and contains us - hooks us into a thought or action pattern that is not constructive.
What strikes me as I ponder the idea of being hooked by something is the internal process - the feeling of pleasure in "sticking it to" someone. It's the sense that someone's pants are too big and I should show them either that their pants aren't so big or I have big pants too. Hooked.
Once I get the hook out of my mouth, I don't think my pants are so big. And it's not a problem that they think they have big pants. It's their pants. If they want big pants, they will discover some day that the big pants require a big belt. But I better worry about my big pants needing a belt if I don't get a grip.
We all see what we are ready to see. Quite often we need to suffer before our spirits can awaken. OR we can stop - stop - silence - listen. We can awaken our spirit and understand that biting the hook creates something that is not necessary or productive to our growing. And that suffering is an opportunity - a beginning - a launching point. Be at peace, in love and with great anticipation.
Little pants allow greater mobility and less room for hooks to catch.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Only Love can do that...

When asked which of the ten commandments were most important, Jesus answered, "Love God above all else and Love your neighbor as yourself." If we follow these, he said, all others will fall in place.
Everything he taught revolved around our understanding love of God and loving our neighbor. He taught concepts far from Jewish tradition - that God was universal. He taught that God was present and no one was excluded from God. His life was an example of giving hope and healing to all.
Somewhere in the re-counting of his message, exclusion was added back in. Followers found many ways to divide us into God and Godless people. Renewal of the ideal of being "God's chosen people" gave authority to act on God's behalf to punish those not displaying the same beliefs.
The separation causes great barriers to following the two commandments. If God is separate and choosing some over others, the entire mission of Jesus falls apart. How can we love in a way that God does not?
If God chooses some above others, if God saves some and not others, how can we possibly love unconditionally ourselves?
The only possible conclusion is that we have some of it right and some of it wrong. So, which part is it that we have wrong?
It's pretty easy to understand, yet very hard to do, the love your neighbor as yourself part. We are supposed to put ourselves in their shoes. We're supposed to approach our interactions with them with compassion. We're supposed to help each other in all ways imaginable. We need to see that with a long term vision.
But how can we do this if someone is Godless - not right with God? Therein lies the problem. Where is God? Who is God? What is God?
We have to stop viewing God as a separate being with a big beard living somewhere in the sky pulling strings and pointing a finger. God is everywhere. God is everyone. God is everything.
God lives in love - universal love. A love that does no harm - a love that generates more - a love that creates more.
Talk of love as the creator - the creator in us is God.
How can the maker of a bomb, the murderer, the greedy, the criminal be seen in this light? Somewhere in their lives they stopped believing in love. Somewhere in their lives, someone needs to re-awaken it. Only love can do that. Our job is to have faith that it is already there because God is everywhere, in everyone, always and forever.
It does not matter how you name it. It does not matter if you believe it. The power of love is a universal truth.