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Heirarchial Thinking and The Myth of Redemptive Violence

Where did we get the idea that some people have more worth than others? The “we” in that sentence means you and me. For some reasons, you and I seem to believe that some people deserve more than others while others, conversely, deserve less.

Living in America, we acan’t excape the power of of capitalism over our thinking. Those who work harder and are more creative and innovative deserve rewards for their efforts beyond the medioachre. So we have “self-made men” who have “picked themselves up by their bootstraps and made something of themselves.” The assumption, here, is that those who haven’t received rewards for their efforts are medioachre, lazzy and less productive. “People who have made bad choices” in the words of one political executive in our region.

A close companion (and perhaps lover) to this simplistic, self-satisfied, judgmental and completely compassionless outlook on life of the mythic “American Dream” is Soocial Darwinism. This philosohy was brought to us in the mid 20th centry by Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Darwin’s insight in biological evolution through adaptation of species who were judged as more fit for their changing environment came to be applied to sociological points of view. The poor and the disadvantaged came to be judged as mal-adapters, unmotivated, lazy. The rich and prosperious came to be judged as better adapters, more evolved in society. Better.

So in various societies, particularly in the US, there are those who believe that there isn’t enough to go around and that it is up to the more evolved to preserve what they have, protecting their things from those who haven’t adapted and propered as well as they have. The other group of people seem to be those who believe that there are enough goods and services in the planet for all to not only survive but thrive. Karl Marx knew of this dicatomy in societies and warned that if the few affluent dictators with power and wealth oppressed the masses, there would be revolutions.

Unfortunately, accompanying this class warfare, there is the myth of redemptive violence. I quote a large section of Walter Wink, The Powers That Be because I believe you find it to be profound.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

The story that the rulers of domination societies told each other and their subordinates is what we today might call the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.

“The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience unto-death.

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. I myself first became aware of it, oddly enough, by watching children’s cartoon shows. When my children were small, we let them log an unconscionable amount of television, and I became fascinated with the mythic structure of cartoons. This was in the 1960s, when the “death of God” theologians were being feted on talk shows, and secular humanity’s tolerance for religious myth and mystery were touted as having been exhausted. I distinctly remember hearing God’s death being announced on the morning news, and then seeing, in a cartoon show moments later, Hercules descending from heaven to earth, an incarnate god doing good to mortals. I began to examine the structure of other cartoons, and found the same pattern repeated endlessly: an indestructi­ble hero is doggedly opposed to an irreformable and. equally indestructible villain. Nothing can kill the hero, though for the first three-quarters of the comic strip or TV show he (rarely she) suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until, miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his or her reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.

Thankfully, not all children’s programs feature explicit violence. But the vast majority perpetuate the mythic pattern of redemptive violence in all its brutality. Examples would include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the X-Men, Transformers, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Ice Man, the Superman family, Captain America, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, and Tom and Jerry (plus the Power Rangers, where real people act out cartoon characters). A variation on the classic theme is provided by hu­morous antiheroes, whose bumbling incompetence guarantees their victory despite themselves (Underdog, Super Chicken). Then there is a more recent twist, where an evil or failed indi­vidual is transformed by a technological accident into a mon­strous creature who—amazingly—does good (Spider-Man, The Hulk and She-Hulk, Ghost Rider). It is almost as if people no longer believe that heroes of sterling character can be produced by our society, and that goodness can transpire only by a freak of technology (such as electrocution or radioactive poisoning). In all these shows, however, the mythic structure is rigidly ad­hered to, no matter how cleverly or originally it is re-presented.

Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a scream­ing and kicking Olive Oil, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oil, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oil’s humanity and repeated pummelings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

Something about this mythic structure rang familiar. Suddenly I remembered: this cartoon pattern mirrored one of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world, the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 B.C.E. The merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god. We are the outcome of deicide.

Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. Nor are we created to subdue the earth and have dominion over it as God’s regents; we exist but to serve as slaves of the gods and of their earthly regents. The tasks of humanity are to till the soil, to produce foods for sacrifice to the gods (represented by the king and the priestly caste), to build the sacred city Babylon, and to fight and, if necessary, die in the king’s wars.

Later, Marduk was fused with Tammuz, a god of vegetation whose death and resuscitation was enacted in the humiliation and revival of Marduk, an element that is preserved in cartoon shows by the initial defeat of the “good guy” and his eventual victory over evil, as it were, out of the very jaws of death. The only detail in our modern rendition that is different is that the enemy has generally ceased to be female.

As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquility that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer them­selves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about.

Walter Wink, The Powers That Be. A Theology for a New Millennium, ISBN: 0-385-48752-5 (Galilee/Doubleday; New York; 1998) Pages 44-48.

That said, the folks who influence us from the Buddhist outlook on things, suggest that the first place of discerning mindfulness happens in our heads. Here are a few questions:

  1. What groups of people do we judge to be of less worth than us?
  2. What gives us (you and me) our worth?
  3. If our circumstances (yours or mine) changed because of war, disease, natural disasters or our own ineptitude, would our worth change in any way?
  4. Isn’t the worth we attribute to ourselves or others actually a value we have in our head?
  5. Who taught us that value system?
  6. What is the value system of your faith expression?
  7. What is the value system of the people who have and do nurture your life, somehow impacting on your current lifestyle, beliefs and activity?

Only you have answers for those seven questions. But here’s one last question for your consideration.

  1. Life is pretty short. When you come to the end of your gig in, as Ira Glass terms it, “This American Life,” what affect will your existence had on people where you’ve been?

Try wrestling with these questions. We’d benefit from hearing from you because we are all in this together for what seems to be a very short time. We are open to learning.

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Pivotal Moments

In retrospect, we’ve all had pivotal moments. Like the time you proposed or graduated or it dawned upon you that circumstances have changed so thoroughly that your life has taken a new course.

For me, there was one of these moments at the end of a Baltimore, Maryland 9th grade after school junior varsity lacrosse team practice. An older, bigger, Norwegian-looking team captain run up to me and said, “Do you want to run a few extra laps around the field to keep in shape?”

I looked at him and wondered what planet from which he had arrived and said, “No” and began to walk into the locker room to change. I saw he had gathered about three others and his group began to jog around the perimeter of the lacrosse field as they slowly were rocking the hard rubber balls in the cradle of their sticks as they ran.

I could do this running while cradling the ball but was catching my breath from the practice that had just ended. I had gone out for the team pretty much because I thought lacrosse was cool but I was no athlete. Without motivation or any sense of wanting to develop my skill and meld that into a team contribution, I wouldn’t have made much of a team player. I would need to grow grew up considerably and come “dressed to play” or be willing to “give it 110%.” Which is why the coach came up to me on my way out and told me that he had to cut me from the team.

In that moment, when I did not have the gumption to stop and recognize that this was a pivotal moment, I simply said, “Oh.” After the coach gracefully rattled off a few apologetic sentences about only being allowed to have a certain number of players on the team, I walked off to the bus to home where I would put my lacrosse stick in the basement until it met its fate in a future garage sale. I somehow knew that the coach had asked this team captain to give me one last chance to show some potential for sportsmanship by seeing if I would take a few extra laps.

Had I recognized the pivotal moment and come of age, I would have said, “Coach, you know, I want to play on the team and if you give me one more chance, I’ll show you that I’m here to play – to give all of myself for the team and become your highest scoring forward on the team.”

So it was manifest destiny and I never entered into years of successful lacrosse playing, becoming MVP of my high school team. (The high school in Lancaster Pennsylvania, my family moved me to a year later, barely had a football team and definitely had never heard of lacrosse.) That moment in time didn’t morph into full scholarships for college lacrosse, All-American sports titles nor a lifetime of fame on professional lacrosse sports team. The Seattle Slashers. The Detroit Dominators. How my life would have been different.

Instead, I’m in the basement, scooping out three trays of kitty litter, using disposable latex gloves and my handy slotted stainless steel spoon that I got from a Dansk Factory Outlet in Niagara on the Lake, Canada. But there’s a connection to lacrosse that always comes to my mind during this task.

There are a few nanoseconds when you are digging through the mounds of litter, scooping and then slightly rocking the spoon to allow the litter to seep out the spoon’s holes until you drop the chunks into the garbage bag. There’s an art, if you will, to efficiently cleaning the litter box.

When you stop and think about it, how much is your life is diminished because you don’t play lacrosse? In contrast, how many of us in our culture scoop out cat litter? Have a group of respected business associates invited you to go out for a friendly game of lacrosse lately? Have relatives given you trash cans for your birthday with lacrosse sticks and helmets on the side? At your last family reunion, did you bring your lacrosse stick and one of those frightfully hard and heavy steel balls encased in hard rubber and a helmet with a metal wire cage to protect your face from a certain broken nose or a gouged eye socket in case one of your cousins wants to toss around a ball?

Because I got cut from the lacrosse team in 9th grade, I can now teach my patented technique of lacrosse-style-litter-cleaning in seminars at my new Alliteration Training Center. “ATC, Inc.” it would say on the natural wood sign, in a waspy-looking manicured artificial garden around it, out front of the spacious cul-de-sac of the training and retreat training center in the suburbs. It would actually be a franchise, duplicated all over the country.

Pivotal moments can happen by the litter box or anywhere because it is all connected. It’s a matter of being fully present in the moment – in the now. And in THIS moment, if you complete the enclosed application, you can transform our special low franchise fee of $500 into a multi-million dollar ATC training center of your own in your home town.Imagine coming into a trendy restaurant in your town and people turning and saying about you, “Here comes the ‘Scoopster.’ Who would have ever guessed that almost overnight, they’ve developed this fool-proof system for cleaning out the litter that everyone in town is using. I only wish I would have thought of it myself.”

So however the new year unfolds for you, know that the future awaits you with fabulous promise. Even the private act of scratching in unseemly places on your body can evolve into an enormously popular technique that will yield franchise fees and best-selling books. Runway models and TV talk show hosts will be doing it and paying you royalty fees for the privilege. It’s only a matter of being present in the moment and realizing that every moment is a pivotal moment because it is all connected.Pleasantries for your new year.

Layoffs

I can’t help but get philosophical about hearing of potential layoffs. I have lost jobs and have been in that emotional wasteland of worry about economics. It’s draining to be living a lifestyle where there is this constantly open faucet of “what if” turned on and draining out your psychic energy.

I’ve even been living in worse states where I’ve experienced something so saddening that I believed that it would truly kill me because of the severity of its sadness. But it didn’t. And I couldn’t explain why so all I was left with is that it didn’t and there I was anyway, still alive.

States like these, while I hope you will never experience them, can actually turn out to be amazing times of personal growth. That’s because when we feel that we have lost everything (and maybe we have), we’re still left standing. And here we are, . . . simply alive.

It is states like these when we can slowly and subtly discover at least two things.

We can come to discover (and it really has to be discovered) who we truly are. That’s because the way we ordinarily conduct our lifestyles is so ridiculously absorbed in DOING instead of BEING that we lose all moorings from the safe harbors of our innate worth. We find ourselves lost in the turbulent sea of crass and shallow American materialism and the relentless suffocating waves of worth-defined-by-power. We can become awash in the power of temporary prestige and relationships.

But when we lose, or think we have lost all, we can become wealthy.

We can find that in our state of being merely alive, we are blessed in being in relationship with others who are brilliant, compassionate and truly noble beings.

We can also come to find, but usually only in hindsight, the Presence of Someone Who has been with us all along and Who has amazingly brought others into our life  who are bearers of light and healing – just at the right moment. Just when we were convinced that there was no hope or meaning to our existence.

It is in those moments when we discover (and it has be to discovered) that there is meaning in life and it hasn’t been brought to us by the last advertiser.

There is a lot of sadness around us. As Buddhists would point out, that’s because of the almost constant attempts to control, predict, grasp or fearfully run away from (or avoid) it all. They also teach that everything is temporary but not to the point of existential meaningless where nothing seems to be connected or to have meaning. It is to teach that whatever is, will ultimately change. “Where moth and rust corrupt” in the tradition of your early years of teaching.

To say that compassion is the only thing that is ‘permanent’ is probably better understood if it is said that when all things and people are gone, what seems to endure is compassion. We remember a person’s character of caring and self-sacrificial love for others. That seems to stay with us when they are gone. It won’t be their temporary ownership of a Heisman trophy in the trophy shelf of the back room of the mansion (that the next mansion owner will likely try to sell to the highest bidder on E-Bay). Neither will it be the amount of political or financial power one accumulates during this relatively short lifespan.

Instead, what will endure will be the extent we are able to be truly present in the moment with others in such a way that we can fully accept and take them in a loving and unconditional way. It is in those moments we find avenues of reaching out and truly connecting, as kindred spirits, so that we can be agents of compassion and healing. As we form a community (which knows no boundaries), we join in something that is greater than ourselves and become more fully mindful that we are truly connected with all others and all living things.

We gain a keener sense of this in the practice of meditation. That’s because in this sedentary activity, we first learn to be fully present with ourselves. (How many people in your life are really there with you – who aren’t frantically eying their Blackberry or looking at their watch while they speak at you with no eye contact?) Learning to be fully present in the moment with ourselves yields learning to be fully present with others. We need then learn to be open and present with the Spirit Who created us.

Now all of that sounds like a Hallmark card on steroids but a lifestyle of being truly present in the moment, . . . being at home with yourself, others and your Source . . . brings you to compassion. I believe this life of compassionate mindfulness is at the core of all world religions that seem authentic.

These core teachings are present in all religions but are more, in my opinion, intentionally taught in Buddhism. If you’re interested in reading some more on this, take a look at Jack Cornfield’s The Wise Heart. ISBN: 978-0-553-80347-1 (0-553-80347-6)

Grey’s Anatomy May 14th season ending, the  two parts entitled “Here’s to the Future” and “Now Or Never,” contained award winning writing. One overarching theme of the writing was about one’s sense of belonging.

The setup for the topic was the Iraq Veteran who insisted on having his damaged leg amputated so that he could return be with his comrades in war. Despite the dismay of the medical staff and even his knowing the limitations he’d have in limping around with a prosthetic limb, the soldier clearly articulated his reasoning. Upon his return to our society, it had not offered the sense of belonging he felt when he was in Iraq with his platoon. He would rather lose his leg than be away from those whom had given him a sense of belonging.

Then there was terminal ill Izzie who had to decide whether she really belonged in an existence where she may lose her mental faculties along with all of her relationships in her life.

George’s character wanted a sense of belonging that he apparently wasn’t achieving with his fellow surgeons and opted to join the Army himself.

Then there was Bailey who jettisoned her long-sought fellowship in pediatrics, not because her husband demanded it. She sadly set it aside because she had decided that a relationship that presented ultimatums was not a marriage. She choose a less demanding route, in sacrifice, to save her resources in order to care for her child as a soon-to-be single head of household parent. That marriage relationship was not fostering a sense of belonging for her.

Then there was Meredith and Derek. So confident in their mutuality and belonging that they put off the big dream wedding and realized they already belonged without it – solemnizing their vows on sticky notes before rushing off to more hope and heartbreak in the surgical suites.

The soldier’s character got my attention. It was a pretty good description of the sense of family, of ‘brotherhood,’ that bonds so many soldiers to their colleagues in the military. It’s a bonding they often didn’t get in their formative years and maybe that’s the draw for so many recruits. It’s no wonder that after finding a sense of belonging with other soldiers while killing or being killed, civilian life back home doesn’t cut it. Returning soldiers are not adjusting to normal life. What is it, . . . some twenty percent or more of returning vets have life-long debilitating trauma and stress. Perhaps the highest suicide rate in our culture? Yet they want to return to the hellish situation of combat because they feel that they belonged.

Change the scene to the teen who has failed to thrive in normal society. Abusive, absent and dysfunctional parents. Inability to succeed in understaffed schools with no hope of anything in school or career life ahead, he or she is shattered by despair. They join a gang which offers a sense of family and belonging, despite the violence and certainty of future despair.

Change the scene again to the highly intelligent guy (in this case) who has lived most of his life hiding his sexual orientation from everyone who has been significant (and unknowingly ignorant and judgmental) in his upbringing. He sees what he believes as the one last fragment in society where a gay man can gain some respect – even though he isn’t bringing his girlfriend home to meet his family and he isn’t, outwardly, a heterosexual couple like what he thinks depicts the rest of society. He joins the priesthood because nobody asks and nobody tells. Here, despite the medieval hierarchical intellectual template of top-down authority which excludes women as equal partners in all parts of life, he can be the respected “Reverend Father” who can actually be sought out by earnest believers for some sort of ‘blessing’ or ‘forgiveness.’ He joins this schizophrenic brotherhood which pretends orientation to their own sex doesn’t exist, staring in a play where their characters are supposed to be some divinely gifted royal eunuchs who crave spirituality and the historic pageantry of the Catholic church and who are miraculously devoid of passion, immune from loneliness and the need for intimacy.

Change the scene one last time to those who have lost their jobs. Those who, for months and years, have relished the joy of belonging to a professional team that accomplishes things. A team that receives recognition for their work. A collection of individuals who, not unlike the college soccer, basketball or football team, was comprised of outstanding and talented individuals who have come to find friendship in their mutual love of accomplishment.

But its the next day after the layoff and you are no longer joining the team at work. The sense of not belonging looms up before you like a freight train heading right at you. Nothing is demanded of you, your thoughts, talents and passions and nobody cares if you feel unneeded.

Our society has been pretty toxic in teaching men (probably also women now) that “you are what you do.” ‘Hello, my name is Bill and I am an engineer / programmer / teacher / priest / lieutenant colonel in the Army.’

Maybe society has been just as toxic in teaching women that “your worth is measured by those with whom you are in relationship.” ‘Hello, my name is Sally and I’m married to Bill and we have three children who are 7, 5 and 3 ½ .’

When we lose our career or a relationship in which we’ve gained a sense of belonging, we tend to feel that we no longer have a place in life. We feel that we don’t belong. Because we derived our sense of worth through our sense of belonging and our “usefulness” we feel without worth.

Yet we do belong and we do have worth. This is fully our life. We are, as it is said, the author of the novel of our own life. What we are and what is –   is what it is and it sometimes it takes years for us to get this. Maybe it takes significant insight from Buddhist teachings and psychotherapy. Often it takes lots of reading and intentional conversation to counterbalance the shallow mediocrity of the laissez-faire social Darwinist capitalism which leaves everyone behind in the dust and debris of our recently discarded ‘latest thing.’ It often takes significant emotional life-transforming experiences and lots of support from highly intelligent and compassionate significant others.

Whatever it takes, if we are fortunate and blessed, the mindfulness of the balance of beauty and connectedness of us all can come to us. And when it does, it tends to make us even more compelled to connect with others to bring them healing and joy and support. In this embracing mindfulness we are all illuminated and, in some serendipitous ways, we are transformed.

Eulogy

Who is the target audience you’re addressing when you stand up and give the eulogy for your father? That was a question I asked myself when I prepared to speak at my dad’s funeral as he died on Father’s Day weekend.

The First Audience

In that church, of which he was the founding minister, there were scores of familiar looking faces I had seen back in my teens. Genuinely nice people who had aligned themselves and their lives with the conservative Protestant break-away denomination which had exited from a mainline faith expression they judged to be too-liberal. It was, and continues to be, a faith expression which exalts John Calvin’s highly controlled, organized and dogmatic representative church and civic government. It praises a heavenly kingdom defined by a Creator Who was said to remedy the evils of the world with a cosmic courtcase where everyone is condemned to burn on an eternal rotisserie. Only Someone has run up to the Judge and figuratively said, ‘Wait, I’ll take on the horrible torture and death that these torture-worthy individuals really deserve, under one condition: that they believe I did this for them and that they promise never to smoke, drink, gamble, be adulterous, condone same-sex coupling, have abortions, vote for socialistic changes (that would rob hard-working business men from making a profit in order to be good providers for their family) or create social benefits to poor people (whom we all know to be poor, simply because they’re too lazy to work for a living like the rest of us). For that faith, they get a ticket out of the firey eternal torture in Hell and also receive eternal bliss in the presence of the Creator Who has already created heavenly housing tracks just like our current gated communities, filled with people just like us.’

Now in these heavenly mansions, we’ll be living in a large community that is a mirror-image of the 1950’s Ward, June, Wally and the Beaver. Everyone will know, and never question, that Father Knows Best. It will be a celebration of God, mother, apple pie and God bless America. In fact, heaven will be renamed “Americana” and the sign at St. Peter’s gate (and yes, this new paradise will also be a gated community and Peter will not be wearing too fancy a robe anymore because it would look too Catholic) – the sign will read “Americana, Love It or Leave It.” We’re talking control here. No surprises. Everything in its time, Everything and everyone in its place.’ If copper buckets were a penny a bucket and you didn’t need a bucket, it would be no deal.’ (I think that philosophy of life was the cornerstone for my mother’s life’s view.)

Without us knowing it, this divine travel package has long been marketed by a travel bureau going by the name “This World Is Not My Home, I’m Just A ‘Passing Through” – which is really a front for the National Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh and Paul Harvey. Everyone’s tears will be wiped away, along with memories the Communist-inspired social criticisms of rampant white and male privilege and any memory that there were other countries where people wore towels on their heads or worshipped alien pagan gods by kneeling on Persian carpets instead of sitting on austere wooden pews.

But I digress.

The so-called ‘Evangelical Subculture,’ in which my dad was a minister and leader, would be one demographic in that funeral audience.

A second audience was there without the first being aware of it. This group consisted of adults who had outgrown their fundamentalist sub-cultural roots and had refreshingly found that a relationship with their Maker, and fellow sojourners on this orb, is not limited to the supposedly thrilling ‘days of yesteryear’ – where strict adherence to the narrow, male, hierarchical social definitions of worth defines all of existence – walling out those who dare to question their hierarchical and judging schema and labeling them as “unsound.”

Many of the adults, who fell into this second target audience at this funeral, came up to me afterwards and confined in me their secrets. Things like they had actually voted for Barack. That they had become a 4F Conscientious Objector during the Viet Nam war (as I had). These people were invisible because they passed themselves off as just like everyone else – whose greatest concerns might be that the ChemLawn man hasn’t come, as expected, to chemically treat their lawn and that the President hasn’t yet waged war on Iran and is in serious danger of not qualifying for the title “Macho President of the year.”

But the target audience whom I was most concerned addressing was our daughter and two nieces – who actually span both of these audiences. To some extent, these three young adults (as well as their generation and most of mine) have outgrown the dusty and austere punitive militaristic onward-marching “Christian” solders to war, as well as the warehouses of worn out easy answers to life’s pain and perplexities. I knew that they were novices, to some extent, at maneuvering themselves over and around the shifting and trembling tectonic plates of life and death. I knew that their lifestyles had not enabled them to sit at the feet of the Dali Lama to equip them in being present with the vulnerabilities of their own existential existence.

So with a church full of vulnerable folks who have been as influenced, along with the rest of us, by a culture which teaches that happiness is achieved by control and wealth and sameness, I stood up and tried to honor my dad.

Eulogy

It’s difficult to assess how people outside your family think of your parents. This is even true of parents who lead public lives. That’s because as a kid, you are not part of your parents’ social or work circles. We do, though, have verbal or written comments from others. People would say, of my dad, that “He was a genuinely nice guy. Caring. Smart. That he had a subtle sense of humor.

It’s also difficult to get a sense of the nature of your own parents, no matter what they do in their careers or lifestyles. You spend your adolescence focused on yourself – trying to forge a sense of who you are in relation to the world around you. If you move to another part of the country and build a new life, you’re left with images and experiences, letters, tape recordings, pictures and now maybe Facebook communications.

It might be interesting to ask yourself how you will be remembered by people who know you?

But from all of these experiences and images – my brother David’s sense and mine are that dad was a genuinely nice guy. He was a caring individual and spiritually devout. He was smart, or better put, endowed with wisdom. And he had a subtle sense of humor.

He occasionally had wacky sermon illustrations. Once, he said, he was driving behind taxi and saw all 4 of the wheels of the cab fall off at the same time? (I said to myself “What?” when I heard that, wondering if I had heard that right.)

Then there was his story of how he was trying the so-called “fleece test” to determine if God wanted him to marry our mother. The result he got was 7 flat tires on the way to see her before he proposed. (I questioned him on that one, with tongue in cheek, asking if he was correctly reading the sign. Certainly he should have interpreted the monolithic automotive trouble as a bad sign for that relationship.)

He was a “company man” – he lived for the church. He had no involvement in music or sports. He was all church, all the time.

He did love photography. He was a photographer at most events. I think there was an artist in him that found expression through this medium. We found a picture of him wearing his 1940’s fedora hat, intently taking a picture with his camera. We are getting that to Bonnie as she has the gift of his photographic sensiblities.

For his vacation, he did a pulpit and manse (parsonage) exchange for one month with another pastor and family throughout our childhood. We lived in every state, east of the Mississippi river, for one month each summer in our youth. David & I met many new people and we learned that people are good and the same wherever you find yourself – and that exposure was a gift that would open us to others throughout our lives.

He was a voracious reader – He would read Christianity Today magazine cover to cover in one sitting. He was always reading. He was constantly working on his sermon notes. From that, I learned that editing is never done – until you click the send button to send your final, final, (really final) copy.

He was gifted in administration and organization. I recently lead a team through the 6 sigma certification process and I know the origin of those project management skills.

He was gifted in spatial perception. He could go into any city in this country and quickly know exactly where to go on the map – he rarely got lost.

He was a pious and devout man. The first year into our marriage, Linda found an Intervarsity Press book already in her collection which included an essay he wrote on Prayer.

He loved his family, especially his granddaughters. He loved his granddaughters unconditionally and this, I hope, will always be a metaphor of God’s love for you. A love like that of the prodigal son’s father which I’ve experienced from my dad’s response to my younger years.

He loved Reformed Theology and the genius behind the representative government. I learned from him the beauty of how a minister should be a teacher and moderator but not a politician at the top of a controlling, authoritative, top-down, judging unquestionable machine.

His ability to moderate, but not vote, empowered the Elder representatives around church council table to trust themselves and their own decisions and compromise. That teaching has helped me empower many others in my business dealings.

He respected Reformed Theology and John Calvin but he was smart enough to not be so simplistic as to unthinkingly take everything blindly, as if every piece of Calvinism was of equal value or practicality. He never said or acted as if he thought everyone is “totally depraved” as John Calvin wrote as he was stumbling in trying to come up with a controlled theology on human wrong-doing in the presence of an all-powerful God.

To some extent, we all have somewhat of a cafeteria religion where we tend to pick and choose the best of what works for us – discarding irrelevant things that just don’t work in real life or what is out of sync with the core of Jesus’ life and teachings. Not very Calvinistic.

But by now, each of us knows the profound difference between organized Religion (and its Theological Systems) and True Spirituality. We know, by now, what is essential so that we can come to feel at home with ourselves, at home with others and at home with God.

A comedian in the early years of Saturday Night Live, going by the character name of Father Guido Sarducci, reminded us that we have very limited and selective memories about our education. We remember only bullets of most anything – like for Economics Classes, we only remember “Supply and Demand” and “Guns and Butter.”

But what our father taught us is so much more than bullets – such as Calvin’s anagram of TULIP or the shorter catechisms.

What he left us was taught by not only his passion for organization and theology but by how he treated other people. How he treated the occasional drunk or schizophrenic whom he would council in our home or his office. How he opened his house to strangers. What stays with us is his depth of faith and vast knowledge of the history of God’s people and the important essentials of what comprises our faith.

So even though we can sometimes only remember bullets of what is important, it would be a good idea for each of us to be able to tell others – to tell children, (in a way that they could understand it), – what is most important to us. Could you turn to a five to seven year old child and tell them, in a way that they could understand , what is most important to how you are living your life?

What I tell children and adults now has, I believe, a rich depth of a theological foundation and respect for the Scriptures and I think it resonates with the Reformed Theological training in my past. But these things have come down to me from my dad.

He taught us, with his life, that there are at least 4 important truths and here they are:

1. Making God special is the beginning of being smart

2. God loves you – no matter what

3. Always remember other people’s feelings, . . . and

4. Do the best you can at whatever you do.

Thanks Dad.

You already have a fully formed belief system. You already are a whole person with an increasing sense of your connectedness to the core of who you are, to the same of others as well as to the One Who made you. As for the peace we come to feel from something greater than ourselves, . . . you already are part of that. As the risk of sounding something like an high-end Hallmark card at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning, . . . you already are centrally part of the loving, brilliant, noble and compassionate whole in which we all exist. Our shortfall, probably because of striving, fear, clinging or delusion, is that we forget. We are distracted by suffering so we forget our connectedness and mission of compassion. But your very presence, in all that you are and all that you teach to your children and your spouse and friends, is your gift. Your love and wisdom, as it continually evolves and grows to embrace, is the “true spirituality” that contrasts so remarkably with the institutional and organized religion that most people have come to think as their religion.

It’s simple, when we think and read about it for a number of years, but it eludes us for just as long. We’re confused by our own ambitions, fears and longings. We are absolutely hoodwinked (if that word is still in use) by our own delusions of “success” and “security.” It is unfortunate that we have to find ourselves in ‘near death experiences,’ in ‘fox holes’ or washed up on the shore barely alive from excruciatingly significant emotional experiences – before we come to the truths of being present in the moment and in the core of who we are, letting go and embracing all with compassion. It’s somewhat pathetic that we can spend a lifetime of Biblical study (earning us advanced degrees and certifications) and miss that Jesus’ life teachings and personal response to everyone taught these essentials. How organized religion’s leaders have convoluted his life to portray a punitive god who relates to creation with an “are you good enough” check list is cosmically baffling.

There is a never ending list of insight to unfold in our lives but that makes for an infinite number of pigments on the canvas of our lives. The meaning has endless artistic renderings and expressions but a few central embodied themes. Themes such as compassion and connectedness. Like recognition of universal suffering and unconditional love. Themes that when they are practically fleshed out in the way we respond to people, they make life have compelling added dimension, rhythm and brilliance.

When you pause and notice it, you’ll see you are exemplifying those themes, with flair, in the presence of all you meet – especially in the life of your child.