Thursday, June 16, 2016

29. Character and the Christian: Responsibility (revised April 2017)

Dear ones in Jesus,

Responsibility has many sides.  It’s an adult concern that needs to be taught to children as they grow. But it requires a working example. It is best taught and learned by having a real life example in front of you that demonstrates just how and what the teaching requires in any one situation. And it’s a duty. It can be a joy, but it can also be a burden. Depends on how you see it. Further, we must always be responsible for clearing up any mess that we create, so that someone else won’t have to deal with it!

Examples on responsibility?  They’re all around you. Think of the joy of bringing your children up – they bring such happiness to your life. Then think of how much energy you must expend and how much effort you must make in order to ensure that they grow up healthy, safe, wise, and strong. Responsibility is demanding. It cannot be shirked -  because that creates sad results. Every juvenile delinquent we see on the streets is a testimony to failed parenthood. It happens. Folk who are not ready for parental responsibility should not have children. Children don’t grow up by themselves. It might seem that way to some, but that is just not true. All the time they are watching, observing, learning, emulating. 

Then look at the other end. Think of your parents. Assuming they were good and caring parents, they would have worked as hard as they could to give you the best that they could. What happens when they age and start to get sick? In humanity’s current mode, this is how we die. Not very rewarding after a life of hard work. You deteriorate bit by bit, you get weaker, sicker, and then, slowly, you die. No fun in it at all. We human beings do not know how to die well, and our religions have taught us nothing about the business of leaving this earth. So your parents will need your supportive presence. It has now come full circle. You need to be there for them, just as they were there for you. Effective Christians must work to build strong families that stay connected and supportive of each member if they are truly to be the salt of the earth.  Always.

One of the best ways of defining responsibility and demonstrating it is by showing what happens when responsibility fails. You know of your own experiences of course, so I shall just point to one of the early examples in the Bible, in Exodus 32:1-8. Context? The ten commandments. Remember, when Moses encountered God in the burning bush (which did not burn but was nevertheless on fire) one of his excuses to God to avoid his mission was that he really didn’t have good talking skills. Exodus 4:10-17. For a guy with no talking skills, Moses is doing a pretty good job trying to get out of the mission God tells him to take up. So God appoints Aaron to share in the mission. Aaron is now a partner in it. He knows what it is about, in all that follows. Aaron has God given responsibility. And yet, when Moses has been up on the mountain for quite a while, what happens? The people want an idol, and suddenly Aaron is absolutely democratic! He bows to the people’s wishes. And the golden calf is built, and wild parties are held…and what happens in the end? Death and destruction! Did God plan it that way in order to flush out the “weeds”? Absolutely not. God’s will always allows for the free will of humankind. It is what we intend and execute that creates cause and effect. So it becomes a matter of deciding NOT to be irresponsible. Or of deciding to be responsible. That’s it.

Let’s look at some narratives that demonstrate different types of responsibility….

Dracula, Bram Stoker

Van Helsing and I were shown up to Lucy’s room. If I was shocked when I saw her yesterday, I was horrified when I saw her today. She was ghastly, chalky pale; the red seemed to have gone even from her lips and her gums, the bones of her face stood out prominently; her breathing was painful to see or hear…
My God, he said; this is dreadful. There is no time to be lost. She will die from sheer want of blood to keep the heart’s action as it should be. There must be a transfusion of blood at once. It is you or me.
I am younger and stronger, professor. It must be me.
Then get ready at once. I will bring you my bag. I am prepared.

It is crucial for someone to take responsibility for what is needed in order for a sick person to survive. There is no point in simply being a sympathetic shadow when circumstances call for a dedicated companion and comrade. Responsibility is a state of mind that enables a readiness to step forward as needed, a capacity to make sound preparations for certain and uncertain prospects.

What is faith worth if it is not translated into action? – Gandhi

The weeds that suffocate our capacity for responsible action grow in any soil, and whenever we are in situations for which we can reasonably be expected to bear some responsibility, we have to be responsible. As the following fable shows, responsibility is about understanding how much of what demands responsibility can actually be handled and should be handled by our own hands…..

A Fable, Anon

There was once a wise old man who could answer any question, no matter how difficult. One day, two young people decided they were going to fool the old man. They planned to catch a bird and take it to the old man, saying, Is what we have in our hands alive or dead? If he says ‘dead’, we will turn it loose, and it will fly away; if he says ‘alive’, we will crush it.
So they caught a bird and went with it to the old man. They said, is what we have in our hands alive or dead? The wise old man considered them and smiled. Then he said, It’s in YOUR hands….

Responsibility can only be refused - Just Above My Head, James Baldwin

And when the dream was slaughtered, and all that love and labor seemed to have come to nothing, we scattered: it was not a time to compare notes. We had no notes to compare. We knew where we had been, what we had tried to do, who had cracked, gone mad, died, or been murdered around us. We scattered, each into his or her own silence. It was in the astounded eyes of the children that we realized, had to face, how immensely we had been feared, despised, and betrayed. Each had, with speed, to put himself together again as best he could, and begin again. Everything was gone, but the children: children allow no time for tears. Many of us who were on that road then, may now be lost forever, that is true, but not everything is lost: responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again. The dream was repudiated: so be it.

My father said to me, a long time ago, Son, whatever really gets started never gets stopped. Now, after years watching my children grow, old enough to have some sense of where I’ve been, having suffered enough to be no longer terrified of suffering, and knowing something of joy, too, I know that we must attempt to be responsible for what we know. Only this action moves us, without fear, into what we do not know…and what we do not know is limitless.
But we had no trouble at all on the road the next day, and it was a very bright, beautiful day. The leaves on the trees were turning, like the changing colors in the sky, and, as the miles increased behind us, our apprehensions dropped, and we were very comfortable with each other. We were comfortable with each other, among other reasons, because, whatever was coming now, we were in it together, and we could not turn back: this sense of having crossed a river brings one a certain peace.

Forever the cry has been something like facta non verba – action/deeds not words! Whether or not we act responsibly determines how we are seen – since what we do will determine whether we are worthy of self-respect and the respect of other people. Responsibility is not good intentions, but real time supportive action….let’s look at taking responsibility …

To All My Wars, Yehuda Amichai
….to all my wars, it’s I who have to go!

Isabel, Ogden Nash (adapted)

Isabel once was asleep in a bed, when a horrible dream crawled into her head; it was worse than a dinosaur, worse than a shark, worse than an octopus, oozing in the dark; Boo! said the dream, with a dreadful grin, I am gonna scare you….right out of your skin! But Isabel, Isabel, she did not worry; Isabel, she didn’t scream, nor scurry; for Isabel had a cleverer scheme – she just woke up!...and she fooled that dream….

 On the responsibility of helping in time - Not Coming Too Late, Abraham Joshua Heschel

Heschel feared, like many of us, that people of conscience would neither speak nor act in relation to Vietnam until it was too late, and in his speech at the first Clergy and Laity Concerned mobilization in Washington in January 1967, he indicated how this fear of coming too late replicated his boyhood fears when studying Torah at age seven with a Rabbi in Poland. Together they confronted the Akeda, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. Heschel reconstructs the scene:

Isaac was on the way to Mount Moriah with his father; then he lay on the altar, bound, waiting to be sacrificed. My heart began to beat even faster; it actually sobbed with pity for Isaac. Behold, Abraham now lifted the knife. And now my heart froze within me with fright. Suddenly the voice of the angel was heard: Abraham, lay not thine hand upon the lad, for now, I know that thou fearest God. And here I broke into tears and wept aloud. Why are you crying, asked the Rabbi. You know Isaac was not killed. And I said to him, still weeping, but Rabbi, supposing the angel had come a second too late? The Rabbi comforted me, and calmed me by telling me that an angel was never late – could not be late.
And then Heschel, lifting his eyes from his manuscript and looking directly into our eyes, concluded:

An angel cannot come late, my friends, but we, made of flesh and blood, we may come late.
I have never forgotten that it is possible to come too late – when all the responsibility in the world, even if it is present, can no longer make a difference.

On the responsibility of leadership - Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela

Because of the universal respect the regent enjoyed – from both black and white – and the seemingly untempered power that he wielded, I saw the chieftaincy as being the very center around which life revolved. The power and influence of chieftaincy pervaded every aspect of our lives in Mqhekezweni and was the pre-eminent means through which one could achieve influence and status.

My later notions of leadership were profoundly influenced by observing the Regent and his court. I watched and learned from the tribal meetings that were regularly held at the Great Place…on these occasions, the Regent was surrounded by his amaphakathi, a group of councilors of high rank who functioned as the Regent’s parliament and judiciary. They were wise men who retained the knowledge of tribal history and custom in their heads and whose opinion carried great weight. Guests would gather in the courtyard in front of the Regent’s house, and he would open the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and explaining why he had summoned them. From that point on, he would not utter another word until the meeting was nearing its end.

Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. Everyone was heard, people spoke without interruption, and the meetings lasted for many hours. All men were free to voice their opinions and equal in their value as citizens. A great banquet was served during the day and I often gave myself a bellyache by eating too much while listening to speaker after speaker. I noticed how some speakers rambled and never seemed to get to the point. I grasped how others came to the matter at hand directly, and who made a set of arguments succinctly and cogently. I observed how some speakers used emotion and dramatic language and tried to move the audience with such techniques, while other speakers were sober and even, and shunned emotion.
At first, I was astonished by the vehemence – and candor – with which people criticized the Regent. He was not above criticism – in fact, he was often the principal target of it. But not matter how flagrant the charge, the regent simply listened, not defending himself, showing no emotion at all.

The meetings would continue until some mind of consensus was reached. They ended in unanimity or not at all. Unanimity, however, might be an agreement to disagree, to wait for a more propitious time to propose a solution. Democracy meant all men were to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was foreign.
Only at the end of the meeting, as the sun was setting, would the Regent speak. His purpose was to sum up what had been said and form some consensus among the diverse opinions. But no conclusion was forced on people who disagreed.

As a leader, I have always followed the principles I saw first demonstrated by the Regent at the Great Place. I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my opinion will simply express a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the Regent’s axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.   

And let’s close with another Bible story – but this one on responsibility. It’s interesting because in this story responsibility is refused, and then, by intentional cause and effect, is thrown in the face of the one who has refused it! 
We are looking at Genesis 38:8ff. Judah and his daughter in law Tamar. Judah has a responsibility to fulfill for her, and he abdicates! Read what Tamar does to force his hand, and how he realizes that he cannot run away from his responsibility the 2nd time around!

What is significant about the Christian idea of responsibility is that it has everything to do with one’s personal spiritual growth and cannot be separated from it. The Christian faith is NOT about words and faith – it is about responsible actions. The actions demonstrate integrity. Of what it means to be Christian. You cannot be irresponsible and still claim to be Christian.  Of course, folk will say, well, we all make mistakes. But how come? 

Those mistakes merely point to an abdication of responsibility. There is some truth that some mistakes are genuine accidents, but even these could have been prevented by proper preparation, forethought, and attention to detail...and ignorance is no excuse. So responsible Christians can always be counted on to do the responsible thing, simply because it is part and parcel of their spiritual makeup. When this does not happen, it is because true spiritual growth is lacking. It is too often excused as one’s being on the road to perfection but not yet there; or of the inherent sinfulness that we have to work to overcome. But the bottom line is that the power of the Holy Spirit in your life is available power. When you are consistent in your walk the Holy Spirit will actually go before you and warn you when a make a wrong turn! It will give you the insight you need when you need it! But you must be listening! When it fails to manifest it is only because we have chosen otherwise. Go carefully. And may every good blessing of the Lord go with you. Dr. Eli.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

28. Character & The Christian : Compassion (revised Feb 1st 2017)


Brothers & sisters:

The final third section that pulls empathy and forgiveness together. 

Compassion is a sense of identifying with all of life. It arises out of a sense of reverence for life ie that all life is precious -  and encourages us to engage the reality of our interactive and interdependent existence. Compassion is a core value for human society and enables us to reach out to help others, but also to feel comfortable enough to accept help and assistance when we ourselves are in need. Without compassion, we can easily turn away from other people’s pain, even with impunity, and ignore things that do not directly affect us. We can also become hard within, and forget that our compassionate embrace of the world includes us in it as well, and is a central source of mutual care and respect.

It continues to be important that young people see and experience the power of compassionate caring - and how it can change lives. They need to feel free enough to be able to show such compassion for the lives of others, and to receive it as and when needed in their own lives. Sometimes it almost comes down to being able to accept help when you need it…and being willing to take that extra step to go out of your way to help someone who is in need…

Alright, let’s start with mini indicators…each one a little gem that provides food for thought!

Russell Hoban, A Bargain For Frances
Well, said Thelma, from now on, I will have to be careful when I am with you. Being careful is not as much fun as being friends, said Frances. Do you want to be careful or do you want to be friends?

Psalm 133, as translated by Stephen Mitchell
How wonderful it is to live in harmony with all people,
Like stepping out of the bath, your whole body fresh and vibrant
Like the morning dew, glistening on the tiniest blade of grass
It is God’s infinite blessing, a taste of eternal life.

Yehuda Amichai, The Courage Of Plants, A Life of Poetry
…I lay on my back and thought about the courage of plants to climb…

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness; my feet are tired but my soul is rested.

Lao Tzu, A Sound Man’s Heart, from The Way of Life, adapted by Witter Bynner
A sound man’s heart is not closed upon himself, but open to other people’s hearts…

Compassion involves recognizing the humanity in others. It often consists of reaching out to people rather than waiting for them to come to you. Expanding the circle of one’s acquaintances is a way of becoming larger than oneself and contributing to the cohesion of our common social life. So, on to more lengthier selections…

Mary Kay Boyd, Among The Tribes…
Among the tribes of Northern Natal in South Africa, the most common greeting, equivalent to ‘hello’ in English is the expression ‘Sawu B…’ which means ‘I see you.’ If you are a member of the Tribe, you might reply by saying ‘Sikhona’ which means ‘I am here.’ The order of the exchange is important: until you see me, I do not exist. It’s as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence. Better still, you could say, when you acknowledge me in greeting, you acknowledge the reality of my existence for the both of us.
The word ubuntu stems from the folk saying 'Umuntu ngumentu magabantu', which, in Zulu, literally translates as ‘a person is a person because of other people.’ Your identity is based on the fact that you are seen – that the people around you respect and acknowledge you as a person, according to the spirit of ubuntu.

Traditional Japanese, Book Of Songs, trans by Arthur Waley
Tall stands that pear tree, its leaves are fresh and fair; but alone I walk in utter solitude; true indeed there are other men, but they are not like children of one’s own father;

Compassion implies solidarity, which consists of standing with others who are in pain or are less fortunate than you are. It means accepting their struggles as part of your struggles and implies making conscious sacrifices in their service. From such a perspective, it becomes important to reflect on how much of your life is given over to serving yourself and how much to serving others.

Francesco X Alarcon, The Promised Land
Let us carry our roots with us all the time; let us roll them up and use them as our pillow; let us be the dream of our elders, the promise of their ribs, the answer to their prayers; let us fill up all gaps, tear down all barriers, let us find godliness in every face, every tree; may our ears hear what nobody wants to hear, may our eyes see what everyone wants to hide; may our mouths speak up the truth of our hearts, may our arms be branches that give shade to the needy…

Compassion for others can lead to a commitment to healing. Medicine is a healing profession. In their own way, so are teaching and psychology. But in actuality, a healing component may be found in any vocation of work. How so? Because all true work supports the frailty of the human condition.

 Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin In The Sun
Beneatha: Me?...Me? Me, I’m nothing. When I was very small…we used to take our sleds out in the wintertime and the only hills we had were the ice covered stone steps of some houses down the street. And we used to fill them in with snow and make them smooth and slide down them all day…and it was very dangerous you know…far too steep…and sure enough one day a kid named Rufus came down too fast and hit the sidewalk…and we saw his face just split open right there in front of us…and I remember standing there looking at his bloody open face thinking that was the end of Rufus. But the ambulance came and they took him to the hospital and they fixed the broken bones and they sewed it all up…and the next time I saw Rufus he just had a little line down the middle of his face…I never got over that.
Asagai: What?
Beneatha: That was -  what one person could do for another, fix him up – sew up the problem, make him right again. That was the most marvelous thing in the world…

Ojibway Prayer
Grandfather, look at our brokenness; we know that in all creation only the human family has strayed from the sacred way; we know that we are the ones who are divided, and we are the ones who must come back together to walk the sacred way; Grandfather, Sacred One, teach us love, compassion, and honor, that we may heal the earth and heal each other.

Sometimes people act cruelly and hurt others. Occasionally, one can fix it, and through acts of compassion and love, bring things together again. At other times, it is too late, and the best you can do is to remember that your actions can have serious consequences in other people’s lives. A Lack of compassion can lead to horrible behavior. Compassion checks the worst in us; without it, people become a menace to themselves and to others…and when compassion is lacking, it is easy to divide the world into those with you and those against you, the former being good and the latter being bad.

Robert Cormier, I Have Words To Spend (Or, a game of Us and Them…)
The world is made up of two kinds of people – Us and them. Oh, I’m not talking about friends versus enemies or the Western nations against the rest of the world or of the North against the South. Nothing like that. I mean those of us who share common things, who are loyal to each other, and those who aren’t.  And with people who are with US, we have special rules and very special ways of looking at THEM versus US.

For instance:
We are always Cautious, but They are always Chicken.
When We lose a football game by a 7 to 6 score, We achieve a Moral Victory. But when They lose a football game to Us by a 7 to 6 score, We say it’s the score that counts.
When We don’t dress up, we go Casual. But when They don’t dress, They’re slobs.
Our house has Character. Their house is rundown. Or, Our house has a lived-in look. Theirs looks worn out.
A friend of Ours is colorful, but that same friend of Theirs is nutty.
Our friend has an even disposition and never loses his cool, while Their friend is dull, dull, dull.
Our friend is the life of the party. Their friend always makes a fool of himself after a few drinks.
See how it works?
We are slender, but they are skinny; we have been putting on a little weight lately, but they are getting fat; we are contemplative, they are lazy; we are daredevils – they are reckless!
Sad thing is- we are all in it together, and so us versus them don’t get any of us nowhere!

Raymond R. Patterson, Birmingham 1963
Sunday morning and her mother’s hands, weaving the two thick braids of her springing hair, pulling her sharply by one bell-rope when she would not sit still, setting her ringing;
The radio church choir prophesied the hour with theme and commercials, while the whole house tingled; there was some pull which hurried her out of Sunday school toward the lesson and the parable’s good news…
But now we see  - we see through the glass of her mother’s wide screaming eyes into the room where the homemade bomb blew the room down where her daughter had gone;
Under the leaves of hymnals, the plaster and stone, the blue dress, all undone – the day undone to the bone – her still dull face, her quiet hair; alone amid the rubble, amid the people who perish, being innocent.

Jesus: The parable of the Good Samaritan – you all know this one! But it does exemplify the Us vs Them point well, doesn’t it? The world is still the same…but YOU can make a difference! True,  compassion can be costly, but God is watching…..God will enable you to carry out your good intentions so that they will not pave the road to hell, but the path to heaven. You must be strong…..take care now…every day is a blessing with new opportunity! Dr.Eli

Saturday, March 26, 2016

27. Character & The Christian : Adaptability

27. Character & The Christian: Adaptability

Dear friends,

With these posts on character, I am also trying to show that the question of behavior is not so much a Christian question as much as it is a human question. I have no desire to choke anyone with Christian notions of what character should be and why. The Bible is not exactly a great book of what Character is and how to go about getting it. So, what do we identify ourselves as….. and with? To begin, we are human. Then we are nationals. Then we are ethnic. And finally we are religious. In other words, that which pertains to religion is secondary at best. 

Not having taken this approach, we now live in a world that continues to be sadly divided, violent, and steadily going downhill.  This should tell you just how dangerous philosophy and ideology can be. Technology is always neutral. It is our use of it that demonstrates who we are and leans towards exploitive profit motives….So, in such difficult times, the trait of adaptability is of supreme importance. It is the key survival trait that we all must have. And it is actually something inherent to all human beings!

A young family once got lost in a blizzard while out camping in wintertime. It was days before they got rescued. The parents described how they foraged for food and protected themselves as best they could. And they also talked about how they had found strength in themselves to keep going, to believe they could make it, especially when things looked grim. That strength, the mother of the family said, will always be with us from now on in all we do. We never imagined we had it in us...

Indeed, possibilities open to us from what we learn about ourselves when we have successfully adapted to difficult circumstances. Sometimes the perils are not physical, but emotional. They are just as dangerous! When we fear that we are not being sufficiently respected, when we think we have disappointed or hurt someone important to us, when we ourselves have been disappointed or hurt by promises not kept. Then it becomes easy for who we are to get wrapped up in how we want to be seen and what we want to own. When we lose ourselves in any of these ways, our best hope is to relocate the person deep inside, distinct and apart from the external trappings of position and reward.

Lao Tzu asked key questions on these issues:

What means more to you?

You, or how important you are?

What would you miss more?

You, or the things you own?

If you're stingy, it will cost you in the long run.

If you hoard, you will lose in the long run.

But if you're humble enough to be generous,

You can be generous to yourself.

You'll know how to start over when the path you are on is blocked

You'll know you can start again.    

Changing to deal with hardship is one thing. Making simple or large changes to have a grand time is another - and not to be underestimated. City kids in the country or at the seaside have to learn new ways, and tired parents eager for their children to have a good time will, now and then, have to find one last ounce of energy so that it can happen. And when it does, some new elements of one's persona come to light, as they do for Mama in

Sidney Taylor's All-Of-A-Kind family, Bantam Doubleday Dell, NY, 2004…

Suddenly Henry looked up and said Ma, are we going to Playland today? Oh, are we, ma? Are we? The others echoed eagerly. Mama hesitated before answering. The section where the colorful booths and sideshows were located was a good distance away. She was already tired, and it would be quite a job to lead five young ones through the crowds along the Boardwalk. But the children's faces were so pleading. They seldom had such treats. She was always so busy at home and there was very little extra money. But she couldn't say no. After all they just wanted to see the sights, and that wouldn't cost any money. All right, she said finally, and the children squealed with delight.

But, mama continued, we will have to hurry. We must get back to the cars early in order to avoid the crowds. So just go into the water once, wash the sand off your bodies and bathing suits, and we'll get dressed as quickly as we can. It is amazing, thought mama, how quickly the girls can do things when they have something to look forward to. In no time at all they were proceeding towards what seemed to the children to be fairyland.

And so, whether it's fairyland or the tough realities of personal change and physical survival, resources for new possibilities are to be found in us and between us. One of the most challenging demands on us is how to deal with the inevitable blows we experience, especially blows to our self-esteem. Getting up when we've been laid low emotionally is often a touchy project. We can experience this kind of emotional toll when we feel humiliated - when some piece of ourselves has been injured and also when another person (or animal) we love and depend on gets hurt or dies.

Ishmael Reed : Sky Diving, Atheneum  NY 1989.

It’s a good way to live and a good way to die, from a Frankenheimer video about sky diving, the hero telling why he liked to…

The following noon he leaped, but his parachute wasn't with him…he spread out on the field like scrambled eggs…

Life is not always hi-lifting inside Archibald Motley's Chicken in your derby, your honey in her beret, styling before a small vintage car..

Like too many of us, I am a man who never had much use for a real father, and so when I'm heading for a crash no one will catch me but me..

The year is only five days old and already a comet has glittered out, it's glow sandbagged by the jealous sun..

Happens to the best of us….our brilliance falling off like hair from Berkeley's rolling dogs…

Even on Rose Bowl Day, an otherwise joyous occasion, a float veered into the crowd….somebody got bruised over the incident, like a love affair on second avenue….

It's a good lesson to us all in these downhill days of a hard hearted decade, jetting through the world, our tails on fire…You can't always count on things opening up for you; know when to let go…know when to fall…

Catherine, in Katherine Cushman's Catherine, called Birdy, Harper Trophy NY 2004, shows us how even the youngest amongst us can summon up strong personal resources to withstand unusual risk and threat….

The stars and my family align to make my life black and miserable. My mother seeks to make me a fine lady - dumb, docile, and accomplished - so I must take lady lessons and keep my mouth closed. My brother Edward thinks even girls should not be ignorant, so he taught me to read holy books and to write, even though I would rather sit in an apple tree and wonder. Now my father, the toad, conspires to sell me like a cheese to some lack-wit seeking a wife.

What makes this clodpole suitor anxious to have me? I am no beauty, being sun-browned and grey eyed, with poor eyesight and a stubborn disposition. My family holds but two small manors. We have plenty of cheese and apples but no silver or jewels or boundless acres to attract a suitor.  Corpus bones! He comes to dine with us in two days' time. I plan to cross my eyes and drool in my meat…

I rubbed my nose until it shone red, blacked out my front teeth with soot, and dressed my hair with the mouse bones I found under the rushes in the hall. All through dinner, while he talked of his warehouses stuffed with greasy wool and the pleasures of the annual Yarmouth herring fair, I smiled my gaptooth smile at him and wiggled my ears. My father's crack still rings my head but Master Lack-Wit left without a bethrothal!

Then she told a story about this man who was so stupid that he forgot how to get dressed in the morning. Where was his shirt? Did it go on his legs or his arms? And how did it fasten? Such trouble it was every morning. Finally he decided to hire the boy next door to come in each day and tell him, "Your shoes are there and your cloak is here and your hat goes on your head." The first day the boy comes in. 'First.', he says to the old man, 'wash yourself.' 'that’s all very well,' says the stupid man, 'but where is myself?' Where in the world am I? Am I here? Am I here? Or am I here? And he looked under the bed and behind the chair and in the street, but it was all in vain for he never did find himself.

As she spoke, the children stopped their snuffling and chanted with her, 'Am I here? Or am I here?' and then shyly they began to shove each other and giggle, wiping their runny noses on their sleeves and skirts. 'Listen to me, my children.' said the old woman then. 'Do not be like the stupid man. Know where you yourself are. How? By knowing who you are and where you come from. Just as a river by night shines with the reflected light of the moon, so too do you shine with the light of your family, your people, and your God. So you are never far from home and never alone, wherever you go.

Finding personal strength means encountering one of the big surprises in life: that we are so much more than we are likely to let ourselves know most of the time. The Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow make this discovery in L. Frank Baum's The Wizard Of Oz, Rand McNally, NY, 1977…

This funny Tin Man, she answered, killed the Wildcat and saved my life. So hereafter you must all serve him, and obey his slightest wish.  We will, cried all the mice, in a shrill chorus. And then they scampered in all directions, for Toto had awakened from his sleep, and seeing all of these mice around him he gave a bark of delight and jumped right into the middle of the group. Toto had always loved to chase mice when he lived in Kansas, and he saw no harm in it.

But the Tin Man caught the dog in his arms and held him tight, while he called to the mice: come back, come back…Toto shall not hurt you. At this the Queen of the Mice stuck her head out from underneath a clump of grass and asked in a timid voice, are you sure he will not bite us? I will not let him, said the Tin Man, so do not be afraid. One by one the mice came creeping back, and Toto did not bark again, although he tried to get out of the Woodsman's arms, and would have bitten him had he not known very well that he was made of tin. Finally, one of the biggest mice spoke: Is there anything we can do, it asked, to repay you for saving the life of our Queen?

Nothing that I know of, answered the Woodsman; but the Scarecrow, who had been trying to think, but could not because his head was stuffed with straw, said quickly, Oh yes! You can save our friend, the Cowardly Lion, who is asleep in the poppy bed. A Lion, cried the little Queen. Why, he would eat us all up. Oh no, declared the Scarecrow; this Lion is a coward. Really?, asked the mouse. He says so himself, answered the Scarecrow, and he would never hurt anyone who is our friend. If you will help us to save him I promise that he will treat you all with kindness.

Very well, said the Queen. We trust you. But what shall we do? Are there many of these mice that call you Queen who are willing to obey you? Oh yes, there are thousands, she replied. Then please send for them all to come here as soon as possible, and let each one bring a long piece of string. The Queen turned to the mice that attended her and told them to go at once and get all her people. As soon as they heard her orders they ran away in every direction as fast as possible. Now, said the Scarecrow to the Tin Man, you must go to those trees by the riverside and make a truck that will carry the Lion.

So the Tin Man went at once to the trees and began to work; and he soon made a truck out of the limbs of trees, from which he chopped away all of the leaves and branches. He fastened it together with wooden pegs and made the four wheels out of short pieces of a big tree trunk. So fast and so well did he work that by the time the mice began to arrive the truck was already for them. They came from all directions, and there were thousands of them; big mice and little mice and middle sized mice; and each one brought a piece of string in his mouth. It was about this time that Dorothy woke from her long sleep and opened her eyes. She was greatly astonished to find herself lying upon the grass with thousands of mice standing around and looking at her timidly. But the Scarecrow told her about everything, and turning to the dignified little mouse, he said, permit me to introduce you to her Majesty, the Queen. Dorothy nodded gravely and the Queen made a curtsy, after which she became quite friendly with the little girl.

The scarecrow and the Tin Man now began to fasten the mice to the truck, using the strings they had brought. One end of a string was tied around the neck of each mouse and the other end to the truck. Of course the truck was a thousand times bigger than any of the mice who were to draw it; but when all the mice had been harnessed they were able to pull it quite easily. Even the scarecrow and the Tin Woodman could sit on it, and were drawn swiftly by their queer little horses to the place where the Lion lay asleep.

After a great deal of work, for the Lion was heavy, they managed to get him up on the truck. Then the Queen hurriedly gave her people the order to start, for she feared if the mice stayed among the poppies too long they also would fall asleep. At first the little creatures, many though they were, could hardly stir the heavily loaded truck; but the Tin Man and the Scarecrow both pushed from behind, and they got along better. Soon they had rolled the Lion out of the poppy bed to the green fields, where he could breathe the sweet, fresh air again, instead of the poisonous scent of the flowers.

Dorothy came to meet them and thanked the little mice warmly for saving her companion from death. She had grown so fond of the big Lion she was glad he had been rescued. Then the mice were unharnessed from the truck and scampered away through the grass to their homes. The Queen of the mice was the last to leave. If you ever need us again, she said, come out into the field and call, and we shall hear you and come to your assistance. Goodbye!

Goodbye!, they all answered, and away the Queen ran, while Dorothy held Toto tightly lest he should run after her and frighten her. After this they sat down beside the Lion until he should awaken; and the Scarecrow brought Dorothy some fruit from a tree nearby, which she ate for her dinner.

What we expect of other people changes over time, and what other people are willing and able to do changes as well. Relationships change too, as Aesop reminds us.

Aesop, The Lion and The Boar, Townsend, UK, 1867….        

One hot summer's day a Lion and a Boar came to a small well at the same moment. They were both very thirsty and began at once to argue as to who should be the first to drink. Neither would give in to the other. They were about to come to blows when the Lion looked up and saw some vultures in the sky above them. Look, said the Lion. Those vultures see us fighting and they are hungry. They are waiting to feed upon the loser. Then let us settle our quarrel, said the Boar. It is better for us to make friends than to become the food of vultures. I agree, the Lion said. In the face of common danger, small differences are best forgotten.
Moral: Those who strive are often watched by others who will take advantage of their defeat to benefit themselves!

Think on the following: In the Old Testament, adaptability is well demonstrated in the life of Joseph in Genesis, who goes from beloved child to slave and then prisoner, before he finally gets his head above water! In the New, think of the Apostle Paul and his life from Acts Ch 27 onwards - where he goes from situation to situation - in an incredibly unpredictable life - and not just survives, but thrives!  God bless you and your family this Easter!  Warmly, Dr Eli. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

26. Character And The Christian: Honesty (revised Mar 10th 2017)


 Dear ones,

You will remember that this month we looked at integrity on the Facebook Light Of God page. We carry on with honesty. We noted Mt 5:34-37, where Jesus says “ let your  ‘yes’  be ‘yes’, and your ‘no’ be ‘no'. We also noted that Christians are called to be people who are consistent in word and action. Now to explain a little more - when value correlates with word and deed, then together they behave like spokes of a wheel that connect to its center. The spokes connect to each other and to the center of the wheel. They are integrated. Part of a greater whole. And so the center holds. It has structural integrity. It has strength. This is how spiritual growth moves forward. It is integration that creates integrity. Integrity is not a value in and of itself - It is not a thing in itself!
In The Old Testament book of Proverbs, much is said about honesty. I mention just a few here…
Proverbs 16:28 – a dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends
Proverbs 11: 1 – a false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight
Proverbs 2:22 – lying lips are an abomination to the lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.

And in the New Testament, we find Jesus saying in
Luke 6:31 – and as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them
Mark 7:20-22 –  that which comes out of a man is that which defiles him, for it comes from the heart.
Matt 23:27-28 – woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead peoples bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

A question before we go on to narratives about honesty. What exactly is it about lying that’s wrong? There’s a lot said about honesty being the best policy, but why? You cannot just say, because it’s wrong! Or, how could you ask a question like that? It’s a question that everyone should know the answer to. What makes it wrong? Well, the Bible says so. Uh huh. God expects more of us than for us to just repeat things blindly. So, why?
When you lie, what happens? You distort the truth. Perhaps in order to escape the consequences of your actions. Perhaps to try and protect someone from getting needlessly hurt. You might feel your intentions or even your motives are compassionate.  But what have you actually done in a lie? You have attempted to construct an alternate reality. But we are not God, and cannot construct reality. We can only end up with illusion, a pseudo-reality along side of reality, and end up living a ‘double’ life. We deceive ourselves, we deceive others, and we play games. What does this do to us spiritually? It takes away positive spiritual energy.  Ah, we think, but no one knows. But God knows! And we are no longer in synchronization with God’s will for God’s reality.  We become a little like Abraham and Sarah, who tried to make God’s word come true by having a child through Sarah’s maid Hagar. It didn’t work, did it?  This is why Jesus said ‘many are called but few are chosen…’ If you shoot for an alternate reality, you are going to end up in it. Your spiritual well being will be affected.
God is reality. God is God of everything around us. And in God’s ‘this world’ reality, both good and evil are allowed to co-exist, for the one teaches us what the other is. If there were no evil, then how would you recognize good? Beyond this earth, that may be a totally irrelevant question. But we are here, now. Why do you think Jesus said ‘you will always have the poor with you…?”  Some things may never change. In order to avoid the negative, the bad, the evil, the alternate reality, you must seek to establish only the true reality in your life. This is how you find your way into the kingdom.  There is much more to come along these lines as we go along. For instance, why is the 1st Commandment ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God…? God does not need our love. So why is it commanded? Because the giving of our love to God allows God’s love to flow into us and increases our spiritual being, enabling us to be even more loving to others! This is why this command comes first.

One caveat – the need to know basis. You don’t owe anyone the truth, other than your spouse, a court of justice, and God. Beyond these, there is really no need to lie. There is just no need to disclose confidential information too easily and too quickly. Trust is not a game of risk. Life is full of the need to make careful decisions about personal information sharing.  So we continue...

Billy Joel once said in a song,:

If you look for truthfulness you might as well be blind,
It always seems to be so hard to give...
Honesty, is such a lonely word; everyone is so untrue
Honesty, is hardly ever heard, but mostly what I need from you….

 ( you can find this on You Tube) I met him once - when we were both on a one-way mud track on the Vineyard and I didn't recognize him and my friend says "You gotta give way, that's the Piano Man!" So I go over and talk to him; he is very nice and would I please let him pass cos he's in kind of a hurry...

Go back some in time, to an episode of the Honeymooners called "Mind Your Own Business" - you can find this on You tube as well - to a black and white sitcom starring Jackie Gleason et al. story line goes…

Ralph talks Ed into an "promote me or I'll leave" move in demanding a promotion and a raise; Ed tries it - it backfires, and Ed gets fired! Alice hears about it and cannot believe who would lead Ed into such a thing, it's not like Ed. Ralph won't admit it's him so he pretends he don’t know nothing. He lies. Ed comes in and says 'don’t feel bad, Ralphie boy',  - and so Alice learns the truth!
Then Ed tries working as a door to door salesman. He's a flop at it, only manages to sell one iron to his mom, but tells Ralph he made 40 bucks the first day! Ralph gets real excited re 40 bucks a day and wants to sell irons too! Ed doesn’t want to tell the truth so he says 'well, some have it and some don’t.' Ralph thinks Ed is hoarding a good opportunity! And so it goes…truth is calling a spade a spade, whatever the consequence. Problem is, we bend it whenever we don’t like what the consequence entails…

If we are to have reliable relationships in society, honesty is a critical factor. The Commandments talk about  "not bearing false witness." That is a clear reference to social exchange, taking its meaning from the good or harm that can happen between people.  Spinoza believed that truth in friendship was a great blessing, and that friendship was a celebration of and a sanctuary for the search for truth in our lives. For Spinoza, the goal of truth was a foremost goal - an ideal to be striven for, since in daily life certain truths might wax and wane with circumstance and knowledge. The standard of honesty has to reach beyond the facts we can know to every desire to be clear and truthful with one another. Take a moment and think of what "Editing" amounts to, and how often you might have heard the word "expunged" used…

Alice Walker, Fathers.

Alice Walker's father understood the temptation to lie, and the importance of resisting it. As a result, she learned to favor truthfulness, which, as she found, pays off in greater personal strength and deeper ties with other people....

I recall a scene when I was only three or so in which my father questioned me about a fruit jar I had accidentally broken. I felt he knew I had broken it, and at the same time, I couldn't be sure. Apparently, breaking it was, in any event, the wrong thing to have done. I could say, Yes, I broke the jar, and risk a whipping for breaking something valuable, or No, I did not break it, and perhaps bluff my way through.

I've never forgotten my feeling that he really wanted me to tell the truth. And because he seemed to desire it - and the moments during which he waited for my reply seemed quite out of time, so much so I can still feel them, and, as I said, I was only three - I confessed. I broke the jar, I said. I think he hugged me. He probably didn't, but I still feel as if he did, so embraced did I feel by the happy relief I noted on his face and by the fact that he didn't punish me at all, but seemed, instead, pleased with me. I think it was at that moment that I resolved to take my chances with the truth, although as the years rolled on I was to break more serious things in his scheme of things than fruit jars....

Hans Christian Anderson, The Emperor's New Clothes, adapted by Colin Greer.

One day, two swindlers came to a great town. They told everyone they were weavers and said they knew how to weave the most beautiful cloth. Not only were the colors and the patterns gorgeous, but the clothes that were made of this cloth had the quality of becoming invisible to every person who was not fit for the office he held or was impossibly stupid.
Those must be splendid clothes, said the Emperor. By wearing them I should be able to discover who in my kingdom are fit for their posts. I will be able to distinguish the wise from the fools. The Emperor paid the two swindlers cash in advance so they could begin work at once.

Soon, the Emperor grew anxious to know how the work was proceeding. But he felt embarrassed to call on the weavers. Instead, he decided to call upon one of his faithful ministers. He will be able to see how the cloth looks, for he is a clever man and fulfills his duties well.

So the old Minister went to the swindlers and watched them working at their empty looms. Good heavens, he said. Is it possible that I am a fool? Am I not fit for my office?  I see no cloth! The swindlers asked the Minister what he thought of the cloth they were pretending to weave. Oh, it's quite beautiful, said the Minister. Such beautiful colors! I will tell the Emperor how well the cloth is coming along.

The Emperor was pleased to hear the good news. But soon he grew anxious again. I know, I'll send another Minister to see how the work is proceeding. The next Minister visited the swindlers working at their empty looms. I know I'm not a fool, he thought, but perhaps I'm not fit for my post. But I must not let it appear so. So he praised the cloth on his return to the Emperor.

Now the Emperor thought he would like to see the weavers at work at their looms. So he, accompanied by a number of courtiers, went to visit the two swindlers. What! Thought the Emperor. I see nothing at all! Am I a fool? Am I not fit to be Emperor? Oh! Said the Emperor to the swindlers. What beautiful work. I cannot wait to wear the clothes made from such cloth. The Courtiers accompanying the Emperor applauded the Emperor's remarks, all calling the clothes magnificent, gorgeous, excellent!
In a matter of weeks, the swindlers decided they were ready to bring the Emperor his new clothes. See, these are the trousers. This is the coat. This is the robe. Yes, I see said the Emperor. Will your majesty be pleased to take off your clothes....said the swindlers. Then we may put the new ones on you.

The Emperor took off his clothes, and the weavers pretended to give him one article of the dress after another. The Emperor's Courtiers then called for the Emperor to walk through the town so all of his subjects could see the beautiful new clothes the Emperor was wearing. Yes, said the Emperor. I am quite ready to show my new clothes to my people. Don't they fit well!

Then the Emperor walked in procession from his palace through the streets of the town. How beautiful the Emperor's clothes are! What a splendid gown! The townspeople called from the streets and windows. Nobody would let it appear that he or she could see nothing, for then they would not be fit for their posts.... until a little boy yelled out, 'The Emperor has no clothes on! The emperor has no clothes on!.....

George Orwell, Shooting An Elephant….

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant - it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery - and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of  "must" was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and go home.

But at that moment I glanced around at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes - faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands, I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all.  The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East.

Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd - seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality, I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives", and so in every crisis, he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing - no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me, and my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me it would be murder to shoot him. At that age, I was not squeamish about shooting animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (somehow it always seems worst to kill a LARGE animal). Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced Burmans who had been there when we arrived and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to, within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steamroller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened.
I often wondered whether any of the other's grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

It would be so easy to tell Miss Tilney that you had just been reminded of a prior engagement, and must only beg to put off the walk till Tuesday.

No, it would not be easy. I could not do it. There has been no prior engagement. But Isabella only became more and more urgent, calling on her in the most affectionate manner, addressing her by the most endearing names. She was sure her dearest sweetest Catherine would not seriously refuse such a trifling request to a friend who loved her dearly. She knew her beloved Catherine to have so feeling a heart, so sweet a temper, to be so easily persuaded by those she loved. But all in vain; Catherine felt herself to be in the right, and though pained by such tender, such flattering supplication, could not allow it to influence her.

Isabella then tried another method. She reproached her with having more affection for Miss Tilney, though she had known her for so little a while, than for her best and oldest friends, with being grown cold and indifferent, in short, towards herself. I cannot help being jealous, Catherine, when I see myself being slighted for strangers, I who love you so excessively! When once my affections are placed, it is not in the power of anything to change them. But I believe my feelings are stronger than anybodys. I am sure they are too strong for my own peace, and to see myself supplanted in your friendship by strangers does cut me to the quick, I own. These Tilneys seem to swallow up everything else.

Catherine thought this approach equally strange and unkind. Was it the part of a friend thus to expose her feelings to the notice of others? Isabella appeared to her ungenerous and selfish, regardless of everything but her own gratification. These painful ideas crossed her mind, though she said nothing. Isabella, in the meanwhile, had applied her handkerchief to her eyes; and Morland, miserable at such a sight, could not help saying, Nay, Catherine, I think you cannot stand out any longer now. The sacrifice is not much, and to oblige such a friend - I shall think you quite unkind, if you still refuse.

This was the first time of her brother's openly siding against her, and, anxious to avoid his displeasure, she proposed a compromise. If they would only put off their scheme till Tuesday, which they might easily do, as it depended only on themselves, she could go with them, and everybody might then be satisfied. But No! NO! NO! was the immediate answer! It could not be, for Thorpe did not know that he might not go into town on Tuesday. Catherine was sorry, but could do no more; and a short silence ensued, which was broken by Isabella, who in a voice of cold resentment said, Very well. There is an end of the party. If Catherine does not go, I cannot. I cannot be the only woman. I would not, upon any account in the world, do so improper a thing. Catherine, you must go, said James. I did not think you had been so obstinate, Catherine, said James. You were not used to be so hard to persuade; you once were the kindest, best-tempered of my sisters. I hope I am not less so now, she replied, very feelingly; but indeed I cannot go. If I am wrong, I am doing what I believe to be right.  

In the end, you remember that Jesus said let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Tell it like it is. Some truth is happy, some truths are not. But they are the truth. Changing stuff only further complicates it. Some have talked about little white lies and the like, but every lie has a motive, and therein lies the evil. The road to hell is still paved with the best of intentions. Stay well. Stay uncomplicated. Speak the simple truth always. And leave the rest in God's hands. As has been said for a long time, Que sera, sera; or, whatever will be, will be. We cannot seek to manipulate the future. Blessings always, Dr.Eli