Improved Perspective From Fog

The visibility when out on the ocean varies from more than 10 miles to almost zero feet depending on the moisture content and dew point of the area. Sometimes, the fog condition can be dense on the water level and clear ten feet above or, visa versa. Fog can be wispy like smoke, or dense like pea soup. It can be sunny in town but gray and damp on the shore a few hundred yards away. Fog can lift in minutes, and come back in seconds. There are fog banks that sit out at sea – you can see their walls and ceilings from 10 miles away and watch them “come in.” From an airplane, usually in the morning, fog can be seen covering rivers, lakes and ponds adjacent to land that is fog free. As the day warms, those unique patterns can be moved by a gentle breeze, sliding sideways over the land and  exposing the water bodies from which they were created.  Low-lying fog is patchy; in front of a car windshield it can kill you if you fail to slow down.

Visibility and fog are in conflict, but perspective is another thing. While piloting a ship or small boat at sea, fog conditions fullsizeoutput_162dslow you down. But oddly, things look different when surrounded by fog. In the cove near my home a straight row of wooden pilings remains from an old earthen dam. But in the fog, in calm water, a short piling appears to be further away than a tall one since their reflections skew the data. Furthermore, the detail of objects that can be seen floating on, or protruding from underneath the surface in front of the foggy whitewashed backdrop,  is enhanced significantly. These illusions can be deceiving to even an experienced sailor when using them for navigation and piloting. However, the related perspective changes something else: perception.

Perhaps it’s the absence of so much more to look at, but that colorless, enormous fog background blanks out clouds, trees, rocks, mooring buoys, islands, birds, etc. Local objects that remain close enough to be seen in the fog, get more attention. Their details stand out, and the slower pace induced by fog provides more time for observing them. Perception changes under these conditions; the mind expands its attention to perception, observing in ways that otherwise might be overlooked. In a kayak on a bright sunny day, it’s tempting  to zip through that row of pilings, forging ahead to see an eagles’ nest or come upon a deer on the opposite shore. But restricted to nothing to view but the pilings in heavy fog, I find them the focus, easy to ponder. I wonder how, since being placed there in 1906, they survived over 70,000 tides, hundreds of collisions with tons of ice, and the bored in  attachments of millions of barnacles, muscles and periwinkles.  I admire the graceful sculpture of their lines, produced by nature’s weather and erosion. They even become icons of life’s larger barriers and beauty. Some pilings are submerged now, and are visible as you pass over them. Like subconscious realities they have an eerie attraction of their own. Colonies of microscopic creatures live there, requiring just the right ratio of water and air every 6 hours or so; how do they know to come here? Installed on a north-south axis, this row provides reliable direction and guidance, most especially in the fog.

IMG_0168.jpgCould larger life follow a similar,  archetypical pattern? We prefer sunshine and predictability as we go about life, but it’s the mental funks that guide us. None of us seeks depression or anguish, but we realize that growth always comes through suffering and, grow we must. Unfortunately we need a few setbacks in life to slow us down, to rethink priorities. During those times when our efforts to be in control fail us, we can choose to view them as an opportunity to slow down, observe what would otherwise be ignored, and then actually celebrate the presence of fog.

Portable fog horn pictured above, useful for announcing the presence of a kayak to ships approaching in the fog

 

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When the Student is ready . . .

As if somehow predestined, the required teacher shows up. That’s the message from this ancient Chinese proverb: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” While working in a public high school for a few years, I often noticed (and related to) students sitting with their hands pressed against their cheeks and jaw, elbows on the desk,  with eyelids half closed, staring at the teacher, checking the clock frequently, with body language that clearly said “When will this misery end ? If the Chinese proverb put forth all these years is to be trusted, I think it would be safe to say that students in that painful position were simply not ready for those particular subjects at that particular time.

My own high school history class experiences were equally boring. I remember trying to memorize unfamiliar dates and names for no apparent reason other than to attain acceptable test scores. Yet years later my appetite for historical facts soared, taking me to distant cities on long excursions to hear a gifted speaker, see a unique monument, or get the feel of a significant battlefield graveyard.

The renowned Jewish author, Saul of Tarsus, was a well-educated Roman citizen raised during Biblical times in an Asia Minor city on today’s Turkish Mediterranean coast. He had a reputation for brashness. His style was to go into a city, request an audience and deliver interactive speeches. Those events challenged the status quo and the theology of the area’s conventional leaders. His gatherings would often incite crowds into anger as they became polarized on issues. From town to town news about his message and its effect spread, yet folks continued to congregate to listen to him. One could rightly question what it was about Saul ( who by that time had become known as Paul ) that appealed to people. Why did they gather to hear his message?

An Anglican teacher named Everett “Terry” Fullam, who grew up in pre-WWII Montpelier,  Vermont, taught music at Barrington College in Rhode Island, appeared on the scene as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal church, Darien, Connecticut in the early 1970’s. Terry found students ready to listen, and stayed on through the ’80’s. He was not brash or at all obnoxious but like Paul his teachings attracted large crowds. However, also like Paul, his message did not always resonate positively with those who heard him. Perhaps more accurately he was sometimes unpopular with people who had heard  of  him. but not heard him first hand. His theology took the Bible seriously, but differed from the typical sermon style that had become traditional across the decades preceding his time, yet his theology was rarely if ever shown to be in error.  Despite resistance from many distractors, his audiences grew to enormous sizes; it was not unusual for the venues where he appeared had to set up ‘overflow rooms’ so people could watch his lectures on a television when the main auditorium filled up.

Just as I related to the bored students who sat in a stuffy classroom waiting for the school day to end, I can also relate to the energizing experiencing of listening to Terry Fullam’s teachings. I understand how he became so popular in the face of sometimes intense opposition. His message was good, but equally significant was the fact that his audiences were hungry – starved in some cases – for the quality of message that led them beyond the mundane, predictable and often ineffective traditional religious sermons.

While his opponents labored to protect the status quo, his audiences grew with people who sought mature connection with the Creator and intuitively knew there was more to the spiritual side of life than just attending church once a week to read a few prayers, sing a few songs, hear a mild sermon and shake a few hands at the coffee hour. These features of traditional church services are not unpleasant. They can be rather comforting from their predictability, but growing people need to stretch, to shift gears to the next level occasionally, and continue to mature.

Apparently, by the time they had heard of Terry Fullam, his audiences had also learned to expect that his teachings would lift their spirit, clarify historical facts, expose hypocrisy and make complex philosophy easy to understand.

For people who were long overdue for a better understanding of genuine spiritual health, benefits like those were attractive and well worth any sacrifice that distractors might imply. For them, like ready students when the teacher appeared, no coercing was required. When a true teacher senses in folks an internally motivated desire to learn, the matchup occurs, the mentor’s message is heard, and unstoppable growth results.

 

Terry Fullam died in March, 2014, but his teachings live on. Readers are encouraged to sample one of his teachings and decide for themselves if it rings true or not.  The website www.lifeonwings.org offers a free sample audio teaching, along with any of the recorded teachings from his library, downloadable at minimal cost. ( Typical  teaching  duration:  40 minutes )
The website www.missionhonestyradio.org streams a radio broadcast of some of Dr. Fullam’s teachings daily.
. (Search the App Store or Google Play to download the free app “Mission Honesty Radio”
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Contentment on the Job

Some “everyday” things in life are sacred.  Time spent breaking bread with other people is one of those, since relationships in general are sacred. At the deepest level we humans are spirit and as such have unconditional respect for other spirit. Having meals together is a shared recognition of the temporal nature of our bodies and their requirement for sustenance. Sharing that need universally guarantees mutual, sacred respect.

Keeping promises is another sacred discipline because agreements are personal contracts. In modern times, we tend to treat many promises more casually, minimize our failure to honor them with excuses. But the person who experiences failure a promise made to them will remember that at the heart level, even if the “broken promise” was a small one. He or she may gracefully forgive the infraction, but its memory is involuntarily attached to the relationship. That’s probably why Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no…”

Work is intrinsically sacred. Work was an important social concept even before money was offered as compensation. It has dignity. Ancient writings declare work as God-ordained before Adam and Eve appeared on the scene. People who have for a time depended on welfare money in place of work often claim that they would prefer earning a living to receiving welfare checks. There is dignity in using the mind and body to create and produce things of value. Today, many of us get so busy doing the work, we lose sight of how valuable it is just to have the work.

The word work can have a cultural connotation of drudgery; we might hear someone say, “Wow, cleaning up after those kids is such work.” It is not unusual to hear folks bemoan Monday morning, “Oh Monday; back to work again; I can’t wait until Friday gets here!” When work isn’t challenging and energizing, workers suffer from a poor match between the job task and a worker’s aptitude. We humans were not designed to constantly perform boring, repetitive functions. Our mind, spirit and body parts deserve more challenging work, requiring at least an occasional use of our intuition and creativity to be satisfying. The human psyche is wired for creativity and completion. When careers or hobbies are wholesome enough to also allow creative activity while working toward goals, we are likely to find the process enjoyable and fulfilling, bringing contentment.

A book from the 17th century, now entitled, “The Practice of the Presence of God” highlights the work attitude of a man called Brother Lawrence . The book documents that fulfilling contentment from, among other things, Lawrence’s decision to perceive his job in a diet kitchen in France as sacred work. He saw it as a job that deserved a wholehearted quality effort. He described it as performing the work with the same effort and quality as one would perform work for God himself. He worked “heartily” as the Apostle Paul had encouraged followers in Colossae, in modern day Turkey. Lawrence’s character and reputation for living with mature peacefulness attracted folks to seek him out asa mentor. They apparently wanted whatever it was that he seemed to have. If the rest of us folks, perhaps working with skills beyond those required of a kitchen assistant, would adopt an attitude of practicing God’s presence in our work details, we too might experience a highly desirable increase of satisfaction and contentment from our work.

Another benefit of such a not-so-radical attitude towards work is would be that we are less likely to regret events from the past or worry about what might happen in  the job’s future because we would know we’ve given it our best. When we trust work to be sacred, and routinely redirected troublesome energies toward improving the work at hand, political manipulations or intimidations that plague the work environment diminish. Office bullies, fearing quality, know better than to coerce its source or criticize it falsely. Quality is sacred. Teams know that when quality is practiced by generating creative new alternatives and keeping motives altruistic, they help to attain the group’s mission. This cultivates security even in the presence of  unhelpful tactics. What’s more, assigning higher value to the many details of work helps coworkers and managers see how to perform their own assignments better. They in turn might choose to model that process for even further improvement all-around.

This same methodology – honoring the work activity – brings imagination, creativity and mindfulness when responding to unwanted stress, busyness or disappointment in general. Results improve and the process itself, viewing work as sacred, yields new levels of satisfaction and fecundity.

When we keep sacred those parts of life that are ordained as sacred, even if they seem small, and even when  they are not valued by others in our culture today, we discover an effective way to reduce stress and sense enjoyable, lasting contentment. Good bye boredom, regret and worry; hello confidence, satisfaction and peacefulness – all thanks to the sacred nature of work.

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My Hands

Hands

I like my hands. While meditating I feel warmth and comfort from being aware of them holding each other lightly. My hands are friendly, and they are my friends.

My body has been through a lot of strain and stress in recent months: surgery, unfriendly toxic chemical infusions, temperature swings, lack of sleep, blood draws, more blood draws, endless blood draws. The forearms inside my elbows wear tattoos from the bruises of botched draw attempts. My right hand recently offered its healthy vein to the phlebotomist to get the process over with, with ease. Thank you, hand. Then my left hand caressed the wounds. Thank you too, hand.

Weight loss from chemotherapy now requires me to make extra preparations, coaxing clothing to fit, arranging organic meals and snacks, opening small containers, counting tablets, counting capsules, counting drops and moving them from hand to mouth. In those roles my hands work as well as they can. 

My hands warn me of anxiety as they wring each other before I am aware. Then they smack each other hand-in-fist when I decide, That’s enough! They join each other with fingers aligned vertically, right before my eyes, in relief each time the ‘funk’ lifts. Sometimes they clap spontaneously when they realize how privileged is a life with a view into the stunning beauty of nature.

My hands work well. They are obedient, giving more than 100% to my mind’s commands. They raise up in open surrender. They wave to friends, even strangers when I ask them to. They support my head when sleeping irritates my neck. They willingly get dirty when working outdoors, then willingly submit to being scrubbed or held still to trim nails. Both hands like being gloved when they’re cold, and respond well to skin creams, fragrant or not. They both relax when loved by my wife’s caresses, yet are always ready to serve again.

Without hands, life would be a constant itch-you-can’t-scratch. Yes, I like my hands. I applaud them.

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You Are Not Your Ego

 

Think about egotistical people you know. You probably have a certain amount of tolerance for them, especially if you have a reason to stay engaged in some common activity. But, assuming that you view the word egotistic to be synonymous with arrogant, self-serving, haughty, etc., then it’s likely you will find yourself looking for ways to at least minimize the time you spend with such folks.

Now, on the other hand, consider someone whom you respect, admire, enjoy being with. These folks have egos too,  but not the inflated kind. Oh, they probably err here and there occasionally; they might be guilty of manipulating a conversation to bring out a particular strength of theirs. Perhaps they boast once in a while. The point is, friends and co-workers who learn to keep the ego in check are usually much easier to be with.

The difference implied in the two personalities above reveals duality inside the mind. In other words, if a person decides to be considerate to others, to refrain from bragging too much, to avoid being egotistical, then there must be a part of that person’s mind that stands outside of that ego in order to make such decisions. That part of the mind uses experience, maturity and wisdom to hold the ego in its place. This higher part of “you” is not your ego. Hence, it follows, “You” are not your ego.1

The ego itself, if it had its own way, would boast to everyone and shamelessly consume all the shrimp set out at cocktail parties. If unchecked it is an unattractive partner for sure, but the ego is an important part of our make-up. It protects us, to our advantage, because without a balance of genuine ego energy we would lack assertiveness, be terribly shy and eventually end up with personalities resembling doormats. Children go through the “terrible two” years, graduate into the rebellious teen years, and thankfully become maturing adults for at least a few decades. Along the way, the child’s ego is shaped by patterns of ebb and flow. When the ‘flow’ portion of that cycle lets the ego get too big, some embarrassing (or worse) event will likely cause it to pop. But like an over-inflated balloon the ego doesn’t disappear when it pops. Rather, it falls back into a more solid core and starts a new, more learned cycle from which to appropriately serve its owner.

Thinking about the ego in such a dualistic way may be simplistic, but doing so can help us with mental conflict and improved decision-making. We can weigh important and complex choices by asking ourselves, “What does my ego want here?” and “What does my higher self see as the best option?” The answers won’t be the same.

Differences between views can be more satisfactorily 160315_Capture picnegotiated to a goal of “win/win” when the parties involved see them as being affected by the differences between people and their egos.

1 Our language obviously agrees: the singular pronoun you is plural. (To say, “You is a nice guy”  would be poor grammar!)

 

 

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Prison

It doesn’t matter where they put the bars, a person’s most critical freedom is determined from within. There are prison inmates enduring long periods of incarceration who discover the value of deep freedom despite their obvious physical and financial limitations. Conversely, there are people who are in easy life situations ensnared in a prison of depression and despair. The one is content, accomplishing purposeful goals and free to be creative; the other is frustrated, restrained and deprived of a more abundant life. The former is comfortable with ‘who they are’ allocating personal energy well. The latter, seeking elusive comfort and trying to act, to be somebody else, frequently finds the personal energy tank on ‘empty.’ People who are mature in their faith got that way in part by coming to terms with, and facing the causes of, their pain from the past. Encumbered people on the other hand often ‘maintain’ those deep problems, taking them from one life chapter to the next, all the time wondering, “Why doesn’t God answer prayers?”

People with personality disorders affect everyone around them. That’s especially obvious when their actions victimize someone. But more subtly, the condition of our relationships can serve to help us see the affects and alert us to do something about them. We may not be aware that the way we relate to God, to other people and even to ourselves can be like the canary in a coal mine. In other words, personal trouble and difficult feelings that surface and resurface around certain relationships can be valuable sensors like those that detect a suffocating gas in a closed space. They alert us to engage in important heart-wound work, or else! Admitting such work can be especially difficult for folks who feel pressure to appear that they have already arrived at some standard of maturity set by an audience of peers.

The temptation to fake maturity in order to belong, or impress, becomes a barrier to working at the needed process. To purge a man’s soul of old festering sin – both his own and the sins of others that have influenced him – is a kind of ‘baptism’ where a person can trace their feelings and ultimately their relationship sores to their source. That source may be shielded and disguised by lies wrapped around deep and painful memories. (e.g., “I’m not good enough, because …” )

Someone is guilty if they have done a legal, moral or ethical wrong. It is good news that a man’s mistakes are redeemable and forgivable. On the surface a guilty person can confess, repent, make restitution where needed, and naively move on in life. Without self-examination to uncover the source of deeper scars, the growth and healing and resulting freedom can elude us. Our tendency to continue along in life with selfish and immature behaviors has a source. If we hurry past the work of locating that source it will remain rooted somewhere in memory. Demeaning behaviors and recurring moods can then lead to undesirable patterns resulting in psychological handcuffs.

What to do? Take inventory of the major relationship areas of life. If you have peace about your connections to God, to other people, you’re in a good place. If you are practicing the disciplines and satisfied with your calling, seeing fruit, you are in a better place. If you are feeling fullness from loving God and sharing your unique set of gifts with a confused, misguided and needy world, you’re in the best place of joy and creativity satisfaction.

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What Would Life “In Christ” Look Like?

Years ago, when I was about 12 years old, my family was running late, on its way to my brother’s graduation ceremony in NH. My father was driving when a police car pulled us over. My dad set the tone for those of us in the car by asking us not to say anything – to let him do the talking. I knew we had been speeding, and I was pretty sure my dad would try to minimize that fact when the officer asked about it. However, my dad did not. I gained enormous respect for him as he admitted to the officer how fast we had been going, knowing full well that the lower speed limit was clearly posted.

I’m pointing this out, not to boast about an honest father but to say how his unintended lesson stuck with me. He had often exhorted us kids to be honest, and continued to do so in the years to come, but none of those lessons had anywhere near the staying power as did that one on that NH highway.

As Western Christians, we mature in the faith from many different directions. Even salvation itself seems to evolve. It grows from decision to accept Christ to decisions to practice discipline.Worship, study, prayer, meditation, etc., help us become more capable of discerning God’s call on us as we give of ourselves in service, sometimes secret service. Ray Vander Laan, a gifted teacher helps us understand in his very animated and well-informed style that God’s overall mission is to reconcile and restore His creation – all people throughout the world – to Him and to the life for which He created them. Ray’s video series tout convincing Scriptural evidence of God’s plan, starting on Mount Sinai, expected the people of Israel to bring light into a dark world by demonstrating God’s love for the lost. Jesus was similarly introduced (Luke, chapter 1) as bringing light into a dark world. It follows even today that those who follow Jesus and his message will similarly see God’s mission as bringing light into an imperfect and needy world.

We group, we grow, we give, we go.

The “group” step is critical because, like the task of buttoning a shirt, if the top button isn’t in the right button hole, the rest of the buttons don’t have much of a chance to line up well. In community, we learn values like simplicity, patience, sharing, and the more complete meaning of peace (shalom). We catch the higher vision of letting go of the shallow surface, the material and other competitive values of out culture, growing instead into unselfish, unhurried, generous people who trust in God. We need each other. As we learn to forgive, accept and support each other we demonstrate to an anxious world what applied light of Christ looks like. We become skillful at being who we are, as opposed to being who our culture tries to make us. We admit failure when we fail. We give more than we take. We see our roles as stewards more than owners. We slow down and listen to opposing positions to resolve conflict by consensus as opposed to a method of lobbying to gain majority vote. The idea is to give to others unconditionally, unselfishly motivated without a desire for payback or applause. Over time, folks who are watching, and who may be struggling in a darkness from this troubled world, will get an accurate view of what God can do.

This is not work for one or two ‘heroes’. This work is a community call.                  In 151210_Light of Christcommunity, burdens are shared, reducing negative impact and joys are shared and hence multiplied. Community brings the safety, support, collective experience and creativity of all, to all, and is therefore more effective. The complete Body of Christ needs the eye, the hand, the feet and all the types of giftedness given to people to show that the light of Christ really has come into the world.

 

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