Archive for September, 2012


Replacement Officials: Thank You

“If you can see the pitcher throw the ball, see the rotation of the ball and decide how to hit the ball and do it all in .412 seconds, then you’re destined to be a major leaguer. If you can’t do that, you better find another job.”

~ Former MLB Umpire Ron Luciano ~

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In the world of Major League Baseball, just to make into the league is simply a mathematical miracle. Nearly everything has to align correctly: your high school years, college years, your health, your upbringing, your family, current coaches, past coaches, religion, girlfriends and dog’s name. Well, ok … maybe not your dog’s name.

For the National Football League, on any given year, over 9,500 new potential players are entering the NFL job market (one quarter of 37,680). In addition to those players vying for jobs in the NFL there are still the current NFL players and other walk-on players. In reality only about 250 NCAA players are drafted into the NFL each year. Thus, there is only 1 in 40 odds of a college player making it to the NFL, with most being retired after three (3) years.

So with all the conundrum and consternation of the replacement referees, I give each of them a healthy dose of respect.  Being able to play at the top level of any game, let alone the National Football League, is extreme humbling. For better or for worse, each replacement referee can walk away with stories for a lifetime.  They lived and breathed the game at the highest pinnacle of life.

Sure they blew calls. But let me remind everyone that the average game has 125 plays, 22 players per play and each lasting an average of 5 to 7 seconds or less. In truth, the replacement players got many calls right. But like most in America, we really damn good at analyzing and assessing blame. Few even dare to say what’s right.

Remember, each referee was chosen; each accepted an unenviable task. The worked, they studied, the learned and called the game as they saw it. No other way of saying it: they called the game as they saw it. That’s no different than any other couch potato in America being called as an emergency umpire at the child’s game. You call it as best as you can see it. That’s all anyone can ask.

And in truth, could any of us have done better? Could any of us, as Ron Luciano might say, “…do it all in mere seconds?” If not, then we better give them a break.

Thank you replacement referees for willing to accept a challenge so few could.

Salvation From Within

Admittedly, participating in the Christian 12 step program has been difficult.  But completing steps eight (8) and nine (9) can seem overpowering. Basically, steps eight (8) and nine (9) are listed accordingly:

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

As I’ve noted before,completing steps eight and nine offer tremendous challenges. One recipient noted that he was called by his offender almost fifteen years past to the date.  When asked why the offender contacted him now after so many years, he replied, “I just had a heart attack and found I needed to try and settle personal issues.”

Isn’t it amazing that when people are taken outside of their comfort zone, outside-the-box of their everyday grievances, opinions and prejudices that somehow the world looks different? There is certainly nothing like a term called mortality to wake us up from out petty, half-hearted ways.

Christian steps eight and nine are all about waking us up, to return to the very affirmation of love that brought us forth, that cared for us and grieved for us.

When we, the sinners who prostate ourselves in front of those whom we’ve sinned, we understand the pain, but hope the beauty of reconciliation can come forth to reunite and unify our hearts. Remember, that all us must weed out the poisons that clog our spiritual arteries and slowly cut our faith, killing love’s passion.

All who have sinned has at some point cut off God’s love from the heart of our soul. We need to take stock of where all this pain led us, what little it accomplish and how long has it divided. And it’s now about where love will lead us.  How can we become new men and women of Love? How can reach past the autumn leaves of our body, to once again stand affirmed by nature’s indelible gift of soul?

To all whom we caused great pain, the 12 Steps offer us (the sinners) to undergo a spiritual operation. It’s not only about your healing, but its about giving ourselves over to something so powerful, we can only meditate and pray upon its grace.

It’s about love: a love so powerful that neither God not man could break. It’s about restoration and soul; a process begun by simple words, “I forgive.”

For those who are lost, I suggest simply that one simply stop at the “Gas Station of Life” and get a map. The books, the letters, the doctrines of Buddha and Christ are well known.

American writer and theologian, Fredrick Buechner wrote,

When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each others’ presence.

Forgive and forgive often. As Buddhist, I quote Václav Havel:

The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.

Dear Ira:

As a loyal listener of This American Life, I found episodes 454 and 460 quite intriguing.

Still, as Apple sold its 5 millionth iPhone during the past weekend, I was stunned to read the NY Times article indicating Foxconn Technology, a major supplier to some of the world’s electronics giants, including Apple, closed one of its plants Monday after the police were required to break up a fight among factory employees.

The NY Times reported unconfirmed photographs and video, purporting to be from the factory, showing smashed windows, riot police officers and large groups of workers milling around. Chinese state-run news media said 5,000 police officers had been called in to quell the riot.

Think about that: 5,000 police officers were needed to quell the riot. An entire U.S. Military ‘Brigade’ equals approximately 3,000 to 5,000 troops. The Chinese needed an equivalent of a U.S. Brigade to put down the unrest.

So in light of the fact that episodes 454 and 460 dealt with some fabrications and in light of the recent news coming from Foxconn, I have one question: “Are you sure we didn’t miss something significant?”

Sincerely,

S. G.

In a “Fighting for Life” article, a recent blogger penned:

Whether you’ve been “fighting for life” for 4 days or nearly 40 years, you’re never alone!  You never have been and you never will be. God’s got your back. Period. Protecting and defending life is like running a long marathon, not a short sprint.  Along the journey, the evil one will use weapons of fear, abandonment, disappointment and exhaustion to discourage you and distract you from the finish line. The secret to not feeling abandoned during the “race for life” is to finally realize, once-and-for-all, it’s not about you or me or any of us. It’s all about God and fulfilling His plan according to His will in His time.

None of the language, such as the ‘evil one,’ etc., really grabbed my attention. What struck me was the blogger’s use of the picture “Footprints in the Sand.” The meaning of which has been extracted accordingly, “When you see two sets of footprints you and Christ are walking side by side. When you only see one set, Christ is carrying.”

I regularly walk the beach at night. It’s quiet and somewhat comforting. But on most days, what do I see? I see sand so hot one cannot possibly walk it. By night, it dampens cold chills through to the bone.

I see annoying. Damn, the very sand which produced the footprints stings during  heavy winds. It’s dry; has little taste; no water. It’s drab, ordinary and dull. Furthermore, you can’t build anything of value, for it’s hard to shape and non-cohesive. It refuses connection. It’s quiet and one can barely hear anything but an ocean wave or distant bird.

Shying away from all the “enemy and God carries you” theme, I found sand to be a wonderful teacher. If you will, like the portrait of Christ walking with us, sand is a lot like life: cold one moment, hot the next.

Life and love can become significantly dry. Similarly, we can provide complete dispossession to all who look upon us. We become ordinary, drab and dull. In spite of our best efforts, so many things come against us that love sifts through our soul. In the end, while Christ walks with us, we are dust. Our impact is limited beyond our very days. And regardless of who walks with us, at the end of day our footprints wash away. New covers old … and the old dissolves.

The real lesson taught is of love. The beach itself has nothing we can cling to. There is no staying power beyond you, me, heaven or earth other than love. Love is the unifying knot. We must recognize that real footprints of lasting change, the real opportunities for building kingdoms are created by the power of grace and forgiveness.  In love’s footprints you’ll find God, Buddha and Christ. And within the steps of mutual recognition and admiration, we hope God will find and walk with us.  Like Christ, love is the only miracle we can give.

I walk the beach hoping to renew love. Usually, all I find is famine, loss, grief and the sifting tide of constant change. But in the moment, I find footprints of love and love’s truth. The truth is on the other side of anguish: it’s called grace.

Driving through town, I heard the Bee Gee’s song, “How deep is your love?” Listening to the rhythm and reflecting, I blurted, “Show me your scars and I will show you the depth of your love.”

Show me how tired you are, when put your children to sleep and then remained awake to study. Show me your exhaustion; the backaches, fatigue and mental stress of work and then show me how you still served the poor. Or, maybe you’re bone wearied tired and you still see the church, the broken places, the church scandals, the priests, the shame.

Tell us about the wounded love. You know the one that lasted for several years and didn’t work. Tell me what it’s to ask someone to forgive you, to say you’re sorry, to ask for forgiveness. Tell me what it’s to bury a loved one, to let go, to struggle against personal demons, to tame them temporarily and fight them all your life.

Tell me what it’s like sleep yet long for the one you love. They’re not there, they’re gone. You search your heart and think of that person, hoping in some magical way they think of you. Tell me what it’s like to lose early dawn hours, not to sleep, but awaiting a distant phone call from family, hoping the disaster, the crime, the fire, the crime, the accident, the disease, the devastation did not destroy them.

Tell me what it’s like to disappoint people; that no matter how hard life is, how hard you try, you failed and had to explain some personal weakness. You wish they could understand, but they don’t. Maybe they can’t, and maybe they never will. Tell me what it’s like, when you’re awake at night, you’re dying, and all you see are those you’ve hurt.

Show me those scars and I say I will show you the depth of your love.

Shortly after the death of Christ, St. Thomas probably had given up on love. The responsibility of church leadership was weighing him down. He fought hard for the people he loved, but in the end, the people he tried to help got angry and killed. Like many of us, he put so much hope into something only to be hurt again. Maybe he hurt from disappointment. Maybe he was afraid to give ‘love’ his heart again, especially after giving so many times, again and again.

I have been hurt many times. I myself have hurt many times. In process, scarring so many others. For a while, I put love into a vase, glued it to shelf,  left it for admiration and enjoying only its sight but little of the benefit. It was simply too hard to love.

Love is messy. It’s always messy. They change, we change. They all change. Our needs are up, their needs are up. We keep trying to cross chasms only to fall into the gorge below.  We become vulnerable. We tell someone how crazy we are about them; how much we like them, how much we want to spend more time with them. But they’re not interested. How long does each of continue to do that, before we become like Thomas and throw it up on the shelf?

Christ, Buddha, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and all great religious leaders would easily quote, “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.”  God knows the level of your scars. God knows the honesty, the touch, the pain and agony you feel. He sees you by the very nature and depth of them.

Of all of the relationships we have in this interdependent experience of ours, the most direct, most emotional, and most apt to bring great joy and suffering is a close, intimate relationship with another human being. We give it great, special prominence in our mind, but it helps to remember that it is the same as the apple. It’s about interconnection, interdependence. You cannot experience great love without the possibility immense pain.

What we don’t see is that the scars each person has is part of a greater, more glorious love. When Thomas saw Christ, he saw the scars. That’s how he recognized Christ. Ideally, it’s how we recognize those who love us … and those we love as well. We are all scarred and scabbed. We’ve been beaten, but we’ve been molded.

It may come to pass in the next life that I will not know you by your accomplishments, by your success. I will know you by your scars. In heaven, I will recognize you by what you have suffered for love’s sake. In the beginning, the Apostles asked the master to show them scars. In the end, Christ may do the same.

So here today, Buddhist and Christian alike, we should only ask one question, “Show me your scars?”  If you do, I will then show you the greatness of your love.

There is a desert all of us have to go through.  Sooner or later, we all have to forage through this one particular desert: loneliness. We fear it the most because it’s not out there, it’s here, within. Deep down, most of us are lonely. We will continue to be lonely. And we can’t seem to find our way out of it.

In spite of all the technology of today’s world, there’s no single iPad, iPod, iPhone that replicates the wealth and maturation of another heart.  For those like me, who traveled here there and everywhere, technology kept me connected. But once the gadgets were off, I was left alone in some hotel room, some lonely beach, walking distantly while looking at the nighttime grandeur.

Some say loneliness is part of the reality and nuance of being human. Yet every human being has the experience. In fact for some, it is one of the most profound experiences ever known. And we are so afraid to admit it.  We push the acknowledgement away. We fear even to simply acknowledgement our fate, as if there is some weakness within our humanity.

We are so terrified to experience it that we fail to understand life’s countermeasure and gift for it: Love. What makes loneliness dangerous is our universal fear of it.  Sometimes we are afraid of its truth while other times we dare not look.

We become so over-dependent in others, we kill love, possessive and convincing ourselves, “I will not be ok without her.”  “Oh Lord, she’s my Messiah.” “He’s the person I can find love with forever.” Think I am wrong? Well, here’s an entry from my dairy:

I fully grasp what made working there special … It was Her. She allowed me to touch God and experience faith in such uncommon ways. Even now, the more I hold onto her memory, the more active Christ is in my heart and in my life. She was what life can represent and she continues to teach me something about who I am, where I am going and to whom I belong.

As a Buddhist, rather than fear loneliness, when it comes forth greet it, and query “What do you want me to learn?” By doing so, loneliness becomes a teacher; an ally. For on the crucible of loneliness lies a doorway unto God’s love and direction. Be embracing our loneliness we find the true nature of both the divine and humanity. Through it, we discover empathy, we live and understand love, we can grow in community, and we can know God.

I also understand that that my greatest love and God are forever linked. My loneliness actually strengthened the power of love. And now, this reality can never be separated. In truth, a simple man like me could only enjoin a spiritual trinity of blessings while loving both her, her community, her ministry and embracing the loneliness that swam around me.

So as I move forward, I continue for another spiritual partner. I want a faith of accountability and to continue in developing the gifts given. I want the unity of life between spirit and love, yes … the very same gifts I forever lost in former years. I want the power of love, witness and outreach, the attentiveness to the movement and the touch of a lover’s heart.

This journey of love and loneliness belongs together. They cannot be separated. They are the ying-yang of humanity. But it could not have been found until I found my own willingness to embrace loneliness and honor my own vulnerability. And when I did, the gift of recognizing true love poured forth.

Are We There Yet?

Traveling down this road of life, one question continually comes to my mind, “Are we there yet?”

As I walk my life, I’ve tend to notice just how crabby we all have become. We don’t have enough to eat. I need more water? I need a bigger home! I/We want to belong? I need to forge an identity. Simply put, most are never really satisfied.  We complain we want good grades, but then complain about the work necessary to get them. We prayerfully declare to needing mercy or freedom from the pain of an injury and then ‘Bitch’ how hard the physical therapy is, and God, look at all these treatments.

Lord, give me a partner in life, that I may not walk alone. Then the relationship becomes a ton of work and then the heartache and the calls to vulnerability go ignored, finally wishing the relationship away. We work for political parties. We work for church organizations. We work for our careers, family, degrees, homes … and all along the way we suffer so much disappointment and setbacks.

As a Buddhist, the thing I see most is the illusion that a ‘Promised Land’ exists out there somewhere and the journey to said ‘Promised Land’ should be easier than this. That is should be so much, much easier to get there.

We tend to neglect the fact that Buddha, Christ and other leaders repeatedly stated we will suffer and the journey itself will be hard. Still, many look to religion to make the journey easier versus looking for love and satisfaction. There is no quick fix or comfort food. I believe God simplistically states, “I will not make everything easy. I will not fulfill your every need.” He knows there is something about the human life that is forged only via life’s twists and turns. It’s called ‘character’ and ‘values.’ And This forging allows us to become our own best selves.

What religion does promise is that faith will give us daily bread. Deep down, we will get what’s truly needed along the way. We are often promised to have the blessings only that which is required. But we often keep looking for things ‘out there’ and not the life found from within.  It’s not a simple matter. It’s about focus: we can choose to see the blessings. We have to learn to see that the ‘journey’ in itself is the ‘thing.’

These days in our lives are such a mixture of disappointments, heartache, healing, laughter, love, simple moments and loss. I mean, this is it. And at times, life simply sucks. No doubt about it.

But life does not start when we get to the ‘Promised Land.’ When you get there, it’s just another journey, another set of choices, disappointments and travels. It can’t be about just getting to the finish line. Think about it, so many have sacrificed for the ‘Promised Land’ and never made. Their journey was cut short by death, bad choices, and twists of fate. In this life, the victory lane and finish line don’t come to us all.

Thus, each of us must find something now. You must learn that your life matters now. And that being in the moment of living, our life does not begin nor end by standing on the victor’s platform.

For some, the dream will keep them going. But for most, it’s about the challenge in our life: the daily struggle, the willingness to be open to love, the commitment to being faithful to our values, our teaching, our loved ones, in being our best selves each and every day.

If we aren’t careful, we’ll get so entangled in the whine of life that we’ll forget the ‘daily bread’ given unto us. Live in the moment. Understand your blessings. Live in Peace.

Jason Asselin: I Am The 47%

After seeing this story about Mitt Romney’s comments concerning the “47%” I felt upset. I don’t think he quite understands what he is saying. I don’t quite agree with him. Does he really understand the facts?

I am part of this 47% Mitt talks about, but it isn’t by MY choice. I want to pay ALL of my taxes but the truth is that at the end of the year the IRS says we don’t make enough. Then they give us back more than we paid in to begin with. We take this money and catch up on bills just as many of the 47% do.

Have you filled your tank lately or gone to the grocery store Mitt? I’d LOVE to wander around my local food store with you in tow. Explain to me WHY so many prices have doubled over the last year. Tell me how all of these costs are rising yet my pay remains the same.

I sometimes skip meals just to make things work out. I want to be sure my kids are taken care of first. Working a minimum wage job because this is the only work I can find. Do you think they offer insurance? The ones that do offer it, want half of your check a week. Can anyone really afford that?

This country needs someone that can bring this country back to where we once were. We need someone to bring back jobs and the “American Made” brand.. We need someone to lead our country back to #1 amongst our own people.

Don’t just “assume” that because I am in the 47% that I am automatically voting the way you THINK I am.. I am a free person and I love my country. You can put me in any class of people you want but in the end … I AM AMERICAN!!!

Jason Asselin – Iron Mountain, Michigan

$39 Dollars a Day

At this writing, I participate in a healthcare clinic in the farmlands of Washington. Due largely to the demands of their jobs and poor living conditions, migrant farmworkers have higher rates of work-related injuries, chronic conditions, acute illnesses and infectious diseases compared with other populations. Complicating matters is the fact that farmworkers often are impoverished, uninsured and foreign-born, which means many face financial, cultural and language barriers to receiving health care. Most migrant farmworkers earn annual incomes below the poverty level and few receive benefits such as Social Security or worker’s compensation.

The transient nature of the work often prevents migrants from establishing any local residency. That simple fact excludes them from benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps. The majority are either U.S. citizens or legal residents of the United States. Some foreign workers enter the United States under guest-worker programs when there are not enough available workers to satisfy the demand.

Still, like the one I currently am at, there are approximately 159 migrant health centers scattered across the country. These clinics and associated healthcare fares are partially funded by federal grants. Unfortunately, many clinics are poorly located. For instance, in Louisiana, there is only one such clinic. It sits in the rural town of Independence, which is tucked in the southeast corner of the state near the Mississippi border.

Although many of the migrant farmworkers seen are relatively young, many have complicating diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and other metabolic conditions. Chronic diseases tend to develop earlier among migrants because many are too poor to buy nutritious food and few receive preventive care. And from our informal poll, only 20% of migrant and seasonal farmworkers reported seeking any health care services during the past several years.

Upon further research, I learned farmer workers have virtually no rights under federal labor laws: no right to days off, no right to overtime and no right to collective bargaining.  On average, migrant field workers earn about $26.00 a day or about $.06 per piece of fruit picked. An onion picker usually nets 60 sacks of onions daily equating to $.65 per sack for a whopping $39.00.

Children of migrant farm laborers stay at home. There is no education. Many start working in the fields at 8 years old. Within two years they work as hard as as others, but it’s still a lot of work at just 10 years old. When children work, they don’t keep any of all the money. Their parents keep most of the money earned to pay bills or other things.

As I sit and watch the workers move about, it seems very strange. Slavery is one of the things that everyone agrees is unethical. In fact there is such general agreement that most people would probably say that ‘slavery is wrong just because it’s wrong.’ Yet, when we go to the market and complain about the high cost of fruits and vegetables, do we really think about it? We do not find this at all that unethical?

I will continue to think in the moment … and just how damn lucky I have it.

No One True Language

Krista Tippet of “On Being” interviewed the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks in 2010. He’s one of the world’s great thinkers on the promise and perils of religion.

The following is an excerpt:

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Lord Sacks: … the thing that really changed my life, was standing at Ground Zero, you know, a couple of months afterwards. In January — well, it was January 2002 — together with the Archbishop of Canterbury and religious leaders throughout the world. And we were looking at this wreckage, this sheer harm that hate can do and yet, at the same time, here we all were in friendship, fellowship, and shared prayer. And I just saw how clearly that those are the terms of the equation. Do we go that way, or do we go this.”

Ms. Tippett: And I wonder if when you became Chief Rabbi in 1991 if it would have surprised you that, at this point, 10 years into the 21st century, even just a few years into the 21st century, religion had risen so utterly to the surface of global life.

Lord Sacks: No, actually. In 1990, the BBC asked me to give the Reith Lectures. They’re given once a year. There are six lectures on radio, first given by Bertrand Russell in 1948. I was only the second religious leader to give them, and I called them The Persistence of Faith. It was probably the first response to Francis Fukuyama’s vision of the end of the history. You know, the Berlin Wall had fallen, Soviet Union had collapsed, end of Cold War. Everyone was seeing what he foresaw as the, you know, seamless spread of liberal democracy over the world.

And I said no, actually. I think you’re going to see faith return and return in a way that will cause some problems because the most powerful faith in the modern world will be the faith most powerfully opposed to the modern world. So that was in 1990, the year before I became Chief Rabbi. Nothing that’s happened since has surprised me, though it has saddened me. Religion is a great power and anything that powerful can be a force for good or, God forbid, for evil. But it’s certainly fraught and dangerous and needs great wisdom and, you know, great — if I can use this word — gentleness.

Ms. Tippett: So I’d like to talk about the ideas that you brought forward in The Dignity of Difference and I think have continued to develop ever since. You know, I remember a very intelligent, excellent American journalist commentator after September 11, 2001; he made a statement that what those events demonstrated was that, in order for the three monotheistic religions in particular to survive and be constructive members of society in the 21st century, they would have to relinquish their exclusive truth claims. I think that sounded like it made a lot of sense to many people.

The case you make in The Dignity of Difference is also aimed towards the traditions being constructive parts of the 21st century, but you take that in a different direction. So let’s talk about how it is possible in your imagination to retain the essence, the truth claims, of Judaism and also, as you say, honor the dignity of difference, understand one’s self to be enlarged rather than threatened by religious others.

Lord Sacks: Thanks to Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA and the decoding of the human and other genomes, we know that all life, everything, you know, all the 3 million species of life and plant life — all have the same source. We all come from a single source. Everything that lives has its genetic code written in the same alphabet. Unity creates diversity. So don’t think of one God, one truth, one way. Think of one God creating this extraordinary number of ways, the 6,800 languages that are actually spoken. Don’t think there’s only one language within which we can speak to God.

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I believe we are all brothers and sisters, totally interdependent. What hurts one, hurts us all. And how we handle and resolve of difficulties and trials is totally dependent upon whether we become a population of peace or a population of hate.

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