Relating, Creating, Transforming

Archive for January, 2018

Progress and Purpose

Mark 1:14-20

Free-yourselfSometimes we see ourselves as only what others tell us, or what the world tells us. Are we just our jobs? Are we just defined by appearance? Are we meant to fit into other people’s boxes?

Or, are we invited to be ourselves in a free-flowing, surprising way? Are we invited to follow the movement of a freeing, creative Spirit that moves us to love and to be loved?

At times, we can feel like we are stumbling around in the dark, and discovering ourselves is difficult. We can feel like Jean Valjean in the story of Les Miserables, asking Who am I and starting out by defining self as the numbers [24601] that society gives us, or the names we are called.

Image result for who am i jean valjean
And so, life can seem monotonous and also heavy, particularly if we feel bombarded/overwhelmed by society’s expectations for us. I think most of us want to believe that we are on a journey, but it can be hard sometimes to sense progress or even know where that journey starts. As kids, adults often tell us to “chase our dreams” and “use our imaginations” but that quickly changes in adolescence and in adulthood, sadly we are told to “stop dreaming” and to “be realistic” or to “settle down.” Fantine, another character in Les Mis, expresses this in the song “I Dreamed a Dream.”

So the idea of waking up to a new reality and way of being, at any age or season of life—can often be looked upon as silly or impossible.

But I don’t think we’re wired that way—to stay the same or to fit into categories.

I think we’re made to be in a state of constant change or evolution or transformation or whatever word you wish to use. Yes, we are made to keep changing, discovering ourselves, and even changing paths, just as the characters in Les Miserables change perspective about their identities, because eventually, Jean Valjean leaves the prisoner number behind and embraces his new identity, and in doing so, discovers light and realizes that to love another person is in fact to see the face of God.

It is this pursuit of identity and light within that identity that dominates the Gospels. In the Gospel stories about Jesus of Nazareth calling people to follow him, it isn’t as we often paint it in Western culture. It’s not like Jesus was going around converting people to a new religion or recruiting people for some type of church. Instead, Jesus was calling people to be alive, and that meant something different for each person. For those fishing in lakes and rivers and oceans for a living, controlled by a Roman tax system and seeing no other options, Jesus offered them a new perspective about life. Perhaps fishing was not all they were capable of doing. Perhaps there was more to their personal narrative and if they were willing to try a new path, rediscover themselves, well, that new existence could be filled with adventure, gratitude, and love.

See, Jesus said that the time was now, that God’s presence was near, and so people could turn their lives around, and experience good news. So what IS good news?

It’s the news that you’re not done.

Image result for im a work in progress
It’s the news that your life is a creative, changing, beautiful chaos of connections, mistakes, joys, sorrows, friendships, epiphanies, and wonder. Many, many people keep looking for their purpose in life. They look in their careers or in their families or in a religion or in other places. None of those pursuits are good or bad as long as “purpose” isn’t limited to those things. The journey and the seasons of life are meant to be fluid, creative, and unpredictable. I know some of us need some control and get anxious when things are not set. But I invite you to be open to the possibility of your life not being set in stone, that your identity can change and so can your perspectives.

You are not just what you do in a job or career. You are not just a mom or dad or a student or a grandparent or a single person. Neither are you limited to just one gender expression or identification, or type of love. You are not boxed in by religion or a church or what some weird pastor says. You’re not the mistakes you’ve made, nor any of the things that caused you pain; not the pieces of the dream left behind; you are light. You are not the color of your eyes nor your skin on the outside, not your age or your bank account. Inside you are all light.

Image result for you are light india arie

You are purposefully on a journey of self-discovery. And along the way you will be invited to turn around and experience new perspectives and new people. This is the breath of the Great Spirit, in each and every one of us, moving us and calling us to keep on beginning and failing, to keep on just doing you, going with the flow, gravitating towards love wherever we encounter it. Whatever season of life you are experiencing now, whatever people or society have told you, You are inherently gifted with uniqueness and ability to change, to evolve, to grow. It will look different for each and every one of us. Embrace that. Embrace that change in others.

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Noticing and Being Seen

John 1:43-51

umbrellas
What things do you notice in everyday life?

Which things do you often miss, go unnoticeable?

When you notice something you didn’t before, how does that change things for you?

I think there is a difference between being noticed and being seen,
would you agree? For example, you go to a social gathering: do you sometimes wish to go unnoticed? At times, when you to the grocery store, are you in a hurry or just not wanting to interact much with people, and so, do you hope that you won’t be noticed?

Some of you reading this often don’t want to be noticed because you always are. That could be because of your appearance, your gender identification or expression, the clothes you wear, or the language you speak. So it makes sense that you sometimes just want to blend in. Being noticed isn’t always that great.

Being seen, though, as you are, and accepted, that is another story. Yes, it’s about vulnerability and that can be scary for some [particularly if you’ve been rejected or shamed]. But I’m referring to the type of seeing that people do when they truly accept you and don’t judge you.

Those moments when you cease to become a minority, a label, or a stereotype. You are known as you are.

In John’s Gospel, people are being seen and also seeing. People are finding Jesus and finding themselves. is an aha moment, unexpected, and also when you find yourself and who you are called to be.

God has chosen to be found, to be known, in the most intimate way possible. God is more than aware of our fears and doubts. In the season of aha/epiphany, Jesus is revealed as a manifestation of the Divine and yet in the most humanly way possible. This is to remind us that we are not just noticed but truly seen and accepted and loved as we are. People, in the Gospel stories, are invited to come and see. We, during this season of aha moments, are invited to see ourselves through the lens of love and fullness. There will be days when you don’t expect to feel full and whole, but then this epiphany comes. The shines on you and in you, and you see—you are loved. You are seen.

In this John story, Jesus notices and sees and calls Philip. Philip finds Nathaniel and tells him the good news, who he has found. Nathaniel, though, steeped in surface-level judgment, sees nothing in Jesus but a Nazarene. What good can come out of such a place? Sound familiar

Anyone from a so-called sh&thole country?

Nathaniel [and I wish the current WH administration] is invited to leave the shadow of the fig tree, stop judging people, and to come and see with new eyes.

Wherever you are in this moment, see people as they are. Accept them. This does not go unnoticed. Much love.

Aha!

Isaiah 60:1-3; 5-6   Matthew 2:1,2   

Image result for epiphanyHave you ever had a moment when things seemed to click for you, when a seemingly unsolvable problem or issue became solvable? Did the hair stand up on your arm? Did you jump up and shout Eureka! or did an imaginary light bulb suddenly appear over your head?

Yes, I’m referring to what are often called Aha Moments. Scientifically, they are known as the eureka effect, “the common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept.”[1] Some researchers also describe this effect as an insight or an epiphany. In 2012, the Merriam-Webster dictionary added “aha moment” to their dictionary, based on Oprah Winfrey’s definition—a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension. Oprah, in her magazine and television show, hosted various guests who shared their aha moments. She said:

Image result for oprah aha moment
“I always love those moments when I sit down to talk to somebody and they say something that makes me look at life or a situation in a completely different way. And I say, ‘Aha! I get it!’ Light bulb . . . and the little hairs on your arm stand up. That is an aha moment.”

Oprah isn’t the only one to note that aha moments come in all shapes and sizes. Throughout history, there have been many. And they are all unique:

Bill Gates, found of Microsoft, realized that he would never be able to make the computer operating system he wanted unless he sold it first. No one was doing this at the time. So basically, he sold and idea. Aha!

Brian Chesky, Air BnB founder, rented out his air mattress and make money. Aha!

Jan Koum, founder of Whatsapp, could not afford to call his father in the Ukraine. Aha!

Melitta Bentz, in Germany, was tired of bitter, bad-tasting coffee that was brewed in a bag. Coffee filtration was born. Aha!

Caresse Crosby, In NYC, was tired of corsets. So she designed a bra. Aha!

And Doc Brown, the somewhat-mad scientist of the Back to the Future movies, had his aha moment in the bathroom.

Image result for doc brownHe slipped while hanging a clock and hit his head on the sink. This accident led to his idea for the flux capacitor, the thing that would eventually power the DeLorean time machine that would lead Marty McFly to many adventures.

Image result for flux capacitor

Can you think of any aha moments in history, or even your own? Where did they happen? What were you doing? What did it lead you to?

January 6th, for Christians around the world, marks the beginning of the Epiphany season—a season that is supposed to stretch all the way until Lent. It is an Aha season for sure, as the word Epiphany, from Greek, means ‘manifestation’ or ‘appearance.’ For Christians, the obvious connection is to Jesus of Nazareth being a manifestation of God. In the Gospel story of Matthew, magi/astrologers from the East seek out Jesus as a small child and bring him gifts. They follow a star to discover Jesus. They consider the light of the star and the light of Jesus to be divine appearances, aha moments. That story of the magi is based on the prophet Isaiah’s writings so long ago—a prophecy about light coming into the world, and of “woke” people honoring that light and bringing gifts.

So in this season of epiphany, how can you and I be more open to aha moments?

There is science behind it. For example, most people would say that they make their best decisions when they are not actively trying to make a choice or solve a problem, right? Usually, it happens when they are taking a shower, driving in a car or riding a train, working out, walking. Aha moments tend to come when we quiet our minds and our consciousness gets a break. Complex problems that are way too big are often only solved by aha moments within a quieted mind and experience. Many, many religious traditions agree with science on this one. Meditation, prayer, fasting, service to others—these are all behavioral practices that can quiet the mind and perhaps lead to aha moments.

But here are some practical ways you can create environments for your own epiphanies and aha moments and manifestations, as per Harvard Business Review:[2]

  1. Quiet yourself [see above]. Step away, find a space, unplug.
  2. Focus on inner thoughts. What are you thinking right now? What’s going on inside you?
  3. Positively approach the problem [mood]. If you feel stuck, do something fun. Laugh. Revisit.
  4. Use less effort/path of least resistance. Animals are great at this.

And now, one fun example, which I’m sure many of you have seen. The problem of nine dots. I’ll use ladybugs, courtesy of the good people at Archimedes-lab.org because ladybugs are more fun.

Your challenge is to draw four straight lines which go through the middle of all of the ladybugs without taking your writing utensil or finger off the screen/paper. Go!

ladybug1How’s it going? Right. It’s hard. So now, try this. Don’t draw straight lines; use curvy lines. Now can you do it?

ladybug2Now, applying that same idea, try to think outside the box. For real. Outside the box. There is no box here. Your lines aren’t limited to a box. Does that help? Did you arrive at this solution?

ladybug3

You see, sometimes we do get stuck in patterns or reoccurring themes that keep us in a box. We feel limited; we can’t find clarity. Obstacles appear all around. Oftentimes we need an epiphany to wake us up to new opportunities and possibilities.

So friends, may it be so. Find quiet within. Take a step back. Be open to epiphanies.

Who knows what you might discover!

 

 

[1] Auble, P.; Franks, J.; Soraci, S. (1979). “Effort toward comprehension: Elaboration or aha!?”. Memory & Cognition. 7: 426–434.

[2] 4 Steps to Having More “Aha” Moments, David Rock, Josh Davis, Harvard Business Review, October 12, 2016.

What Time Is It?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 2 Corinthians 5:17

Many of you are probably familiar with the musical Rent, a rock musical with music, lyrics, and book by Jonathan Larson, loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème. Rent follows the story of a group friends who are mostly young artists struggling to survive in New York City’s East Village in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The setting is a place called Bohemian Alphabet City, and the devastating disease haunting the community is HIV/AIDS.

The opening number of Rent is called Seasons of Love.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life

How about love?
Remember the love
Measure in love
Measure, measure your life in love

This time of the “year” we spend a of time reflecting on the past “year” of five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. What were those 525,600 moments like for you in 2017? The thing is, have you ever wondered why we say 365 days and 525,600 minutes make a year and why we have to mark each year as something significant?

Some of you may be history buffs, and if you are, you’ll know that calendars have been around for a long, long time.

But it is important to know that the original calendars created by humans were based solely on the position of the sun and the moon; in other words, they were lunisolar calendars. No Google syncing involved with that calendar.

Image result for calendar funny memes

Much later, the Roman calendar, based on many of these ancient observations of the sun and the moon, was reformed by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE. The main difference was that now the calendar was not based on natural observations of the sun and moon but instead an algorithm of including a leap year every four years. But don’t thank the Romans just yet.

How about the Persians?

In the 11th century, a mathematician, astronomer and poet, Omar Khayyam, in Nishapur [NE Iran], measured the length of a year to be just a few decimal points more than 365 days. His calculation was incredible, considering that it was more accurate than the calendar proposed by Pope Gregory XIII five centuries later! And that’s pretty important to know, because the calendar that the Pope introduced was called the the Gregorian calendar [a refinement of the Julian calendar], and is today in worldwide use as the de facto calendar for secular purposes.

Image result for gregorian calendar funny memes

Meanwhile, in Iran, they continue to follow an observation-based calendar, unlike the Gregorian, which is rule-based. Finally, consider that today seasonal calendars rely on changes in the environment rather than lunar or solar observations. The Islamic and some Buddhist calendars are still lunar, while most modern calendars are solar, based on either the Julian or the Gregorian calendars.

Why does this matter?

Because we’re convinced, in this day and age, that every December 31st a year ends and a new one begins. We go to parties, pay money for champagne or lavish trips; we cry, mourn, regret, kiss, celebrate, and make new year’s resolutions. We seem convinced that we must measure these 525,600 minutes. And it’s often difficult and triggering for many of us.

So what I’d like to do, if just for a moment, is to challenge all of us to ask this question:

Is a year, 365 days, 525,600 minutes, really important?

Must we measure our lives by those moments, already mathematically defined for us?

Or is there something more to this life, to this existence?

Spoiler alert: I think there is more.

Image result for spoiler alert memes
I’m not criticizing anyone who celebrates New Year’s Eve, toasts with champagne, makes, resolutions, etc. Hey, if it’s an excuse to party and have fun, why not? I’m just questioning whether this idea of a “year” and measuring it is healthy and honest. Instead, I’m lifting up another, also ancient idea—that we as creatures of this earth are experiencing seasons.

This is nothing new of course. Ancient writings, including the wisdom literature of the Hebrews, said that everything had a season. There was a time for everything, and it wasn’t based on some calendar approved by some Pope. There was a season for everything.

Being born, dying, planting, harvesting, killing, healing, breaking down, building up, weeping, laughing, mourning, dancing, throwing away stones, gathering stones, embracing, not embracing, seeking, losing, keeping, throwing away, tearing, sewing, keeping silent, speaking, loving, hating, warring, and making peace.

So during this time, when you’re told to mark the beginning of a new year, here’s a better question: what season are you in now? What time is it for you?

And I wonder, what would happen if you measured each season of your life in love?

It’s always a good time to do that, right?

For future reflection/enjoyment: The Rubaiyat-Poem by Omar Khayyam
Translated into English in 1859 by Edward FitzGerald

III.
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted – ‘Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.’

  1. Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
    The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
    Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
    Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

VII.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

 

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