Archive for November, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

thanksgiv-daySitting upon the porch of my rented home, I look back at a room filled with handmade quilts. I grab a medium size quilt and warm myself under the sun during this brisk autumn day! Looking upon Lake Champlain, I reverence its solitude, broken only by the flurry of several birds darting to and fro upon the shoreline.

Lake Champlain is filled with color this cold day. Reminiscing, I remember the coats of colors found upon my journey throughout the world. Lakes and rivers taken on many different colors. Living in Albany one year, I noticed New York map lists White Lake, Green Lake, Silver Lake, Black Lake, and Lake Clear.

On this Thanksgiving, we must remember how the colors of life impact us. What makes us blessed is that each of us have many lakes. We are full of colors and our hues burn through the outer shell and fall upon all to see. It is important to remember who we are and our heritage, remembering always to be thankful.

Surely, there is a tremendous amount of tragedy to our life. But as we gather together around tables filled with food and share with our loved ones, it’s appropriate to remember the many things all have to be thankful — as individuals, families, a community and a nation. Some souls reside upon this earth for a long time while others experience shorter. We can bring joy and love wherever you go. We can spread sunlight and kindness. We can be souls of strength and kindness. We can be thankful for the opportunities won and lost.

I recently met the owner of Queen Donuts in Tucson, Arizona. In her youth, she and her family escaped the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia with nothing but their clothes, made their to Seattle and then onward to Tucson, Arizona where Queen Donuts came to fruition. Losing a son to gun violence, she still finds the ability to be joyful for each holiday season, for the life they’ve had, friends made and love offered. They know each customer by name and bring so much joy and peace to all who grace their shop.

I also met the unofficial mayor of Copper Crest retirement community. Each morning, this 20 pound pralines and cream colored Terrier visits each and every resident, while sipping a spoonful of water and nibbling treats. Aging residents are thankful for Skip’s daily visits. In his own unnoticed way, he forms and bonds a sense of community, gathering of time and experiences and lifetime of life and love.

These simple moments remind me to be thankful of our time together.

Personally, I am thankful for the time I had with Ms. K. I am thankful for the morning greetings we exchanged. I am thankful to have experienced the blooming flowers of spring, to hold her hand while walking, to touch her skin in the cool night, her laughter, to feel her breath upon my skin and a connection so deep one thought God was present.  I am proud of her continued journey to save those in need. K., even though we far apart, you remain very near, your smile starts and end my day.

I am grateful to all, even for those who irritated me, since they reveal to me the inner core of my own truth. I might believe I’m an all-encompassing exquisite person, but all nurse grudges, attachments, pride, jealousy, ego-clinging, and all the rest of that mucky stuff. Without such educators, I would remain aloof even to my own soul.

But just like the lakes of Vermont and New York, we are a single coat, a family of many colors. We must remember to reach out give love all the days of the year, not just Thanksgiving. Remember to breathe life into one another, forge a unity of family or friends, the solidarity of community, the bond of closer ties. Use this time to develop an attitude of gratitude: to all in our lives who’ve contributed towards our fortune and success.

As for me, I thank you Ms. K and offer my blessings … wherever you are.


Be The Church

FaithInActionLogoThis past week, a Christian friend stated all must have faith; that God brings meaning and order to everything.  Reflecting upon my friend’s quote, I think of Faisal bin Ali Jaber.  Mr. Ali Jaber looked in horror as drone-fired missiles incinerated his nephew and brother-in-law. And in searching for answers, he traveled from afar to our house of congress. However, no congressman has been able to explain why his relatives were killed, or why the administration is not willing to acknowledge its mistake.

The strike occurred in of August 2012. The deaths drew widespread indignation in Yemen and was documented by The New York Times, along with a number of other strikes that accidentally killed innocent people. I am sure Faisal bin Ali Jaber looked lost in Washington, with members of Congress and staffers darting from one meeting to another. It’s not every day a victim of American drone strikes travels 7,000 miles to Washington to look for answers but received none. And more than likely, as he fell to his knees in August 2012, his prayer of faith remained unanswered.

It’s important to note God remains just as elusive for the Philippine typhoon victims as the holocaust victims, the tsunami victims in Japan and Asia. Christians are not exclusive record holders for unanswered prayer. God remained so elusive for September 11th victims that some joined hands and leaped from the highest floors. Ask any mother who’s lost a child to gun violence and see if God provided answers. Also, ask all Middle East families who’ve been touched by violence if Allah has come forward. In all cases probably not.

Some however ignorantly claim they have an answer. Huckabee and Geraldo Rivera advised the world God was absent in both the perpetrator and the Connecticut school where so many children passed away. Rivera went further, claiming a faith-based man wouldn’t have performed such an evil act. Still, faith-based is not singular, as the perpetrators of September 11th were largely propelled by faith.

Conservative Christians also claim God allow us to have exactly what we want; that we suffer the consequences of independence; that society turned its back on God’s truths. Thus, the resulting pain manifests itself in murder, suicide, drug use, tsunamis,’ earthquakes and a host of other calamities.

Point-to counterpoint, I would love to have any conservative Christian eloquently explain to an eight-year old child staring at the end of a semi-automatic rifle that society’s independence is responsible for their untimely death. Point-to-counterpoint, I would simply request same said Christian explain to a Philippine mother whose two children and husband perished in a massive tidal wave to have faith; God will make all things right.

Regardless of faith, in times of great peril, God remains elusive. I presume neither Faisal bin Ali Jaber nor the Typhoon Haiyan victims haven’t directly heard from God. Yet, perceiving the brevity of pain surrounding us, we continue to close our doors and hope for some form of spiritual control. We pray for it; we believe it and live it.

This Thanksgiving, if we want to help the hurting, we must remember faith is not about believing the world to be other than it is. It’s not about ignoring the evil, the darkness and the pain. It is about courage, endurance and helping those impacted to hold fast to ideals even as they are ignored by others. It is the courage of people to carry on their lives after tragedy. It’s about the resilience of those whose lives have been destroyed, families swept away, homes lost, but determined to rebuild. It’s the goodness and generosity of people all over the world to reach out and help strangers who live far from them, to contribute aid and to pray for them.

Since God remains elusive, anyone of us can become the fulcrum for love. And it is the collective responsibility to mobilize our compassion and ease the pain of the people who have suffered. This is not mere faith, but faith in action.

The real God is within each and every one of us. Be the Church.

john-f-kennedy-portrait-photo-1Sitting in a small tea shop in northern Vermont, the late autumn rain drizzles across the window.  The warm fireplace buffers the cool air radiating across the small table.  For such a day, there appears little reflection of the events from 50 years ago.  On November 22, 1963, a good man was assassinated. Mind you, John F. Kennedy was not a perfect man, but in many ways, his life was a terrarium of living that often mirrors who we are today.

Far from the great technology we live and breathe, Kennedy stressed education and inspired many people, especially youths, during his tenure as president; to help shape our country’s strength (in unity); to strive for the least of those able to protect themselves; to reach for those segregated from normal society and the forgotten. He was a knight who ultimately set for himself a quest. A quest I believe that reaches across the bounds of death today and grasps at our heart.

Tragedies loom large in our world. Yet if Kennedy were here today, we know and understand that Camelot never existed. But the people in it were always what we wanted — and needed. In truth, many of us play the great warrior. Yet, cutting back the onion of our lives, we are all physical wrecks. We have cancer, multiple sclerosis, we suffer from the loss of love and life. We drink too much, we live too little and we lost the faith in ourselves and of a nation.

If Ms. K. (the love of my life) were here with me today, I would simply paraphrase Edward Kennedy, “I recognize my own shortcomings, the faults and the conduct of my private life. I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them. But I owe you more than an explanation, I owe you the recognition that I understand what you have meant in my life … and what you mean to me today.”

This is the involvement we all need, that personal point of connection where love transcends across the miles, through time, past and present. We are at a moment when leadership and intellect are desperately needed and how little vision for the future Americans have. We live in a generation of instant information and instant gratification where the challenges of living in unison are too often dismissed and lost by blind entitlement and “give-it-to-me-now” mentality.

What Kennedy would remind is that a whole host of Philippine people lost their families and livelihood a little over a week ago; several communities in the Midwest were destroyed by sudden and violent tornados; over 300 people dies alone this year; cancer still kills, people and families remain homeless; and children are abused daily.

Most of us will never be like Kennedy, Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa. But we can perform many small things with great acts of love. When we do this, Kennedy remains alive and we honor his life and love.

“Bloom” from “Doom”

Haiyan DestructionThroughout the Typhoon Haiyan coverage we have seen both crushing death and formidable hope.  In truth, my life, like most, has been sucked away by my own personal world and I have not been totally tuned as normal. Fleeting moments of CNN while sipping a beer at an airport lounge, momentary news quips from the CNN/MSNBC App and snippets from the New York Times are all most of us ever receive.

For the victims, hunger and thirst remain daily trials.  Men, women, husbands and wives, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons will continue to suffer for the foreseeable future. Their enemy is not so much need as it is our lack of follow-through toward fellow mankind, those brothers and sisters we know but refuse to see.

All human beings know they will perish, but we don’t expect our cities to be as fleeting as a human life.  Yet we build cathedrals to our God, throw coins in on Sunday and go our merry way. As the unbridled events of Typhoon Haiyan have proved, we should never remain under such illusion. Too much of our earth is prone to instant destruction.

Nature’s terror might help to make Buddhist fatalism congenial to many societies. For others, weekly rituals with gods and ceremonies offer comfort. Then there is Confucianism, a Chinese philosophy of ethics and morals. Still the faith most closely related to decay and loss is Buddhism, with its notion of endless cycles of death and rebirth. As Ian Buruma wrote, “There is nothing you can do to stop an earthquake, or a tsunami, so you might as well accept the idea of imminent destruction as an unavoidable feature of life.

All of us, at one time or another, will have to “bloom” from the “doom.” Thus, we have a collective responsibility to love and support, even from afar. The difference I have seen is the willpower of people not adhering to basic instinct: looting, killing, murder, robbing. On face value, in spite of all the pain, Philippine people are essentially orderly.

Still, just as calamity will strike us, we must ensure to provide assistance for others. While we are not mandated to help anyone, the true path love we live isn’t a path of obligations and imposed burdens. It’s that helping those in need should be a natural outcome of even the smallest form of love. It is the expression and the expansion of friendship to the point where we become a beacon of hope, not just for ourselves and who we know, but for those who have lost everything on the road of life.

In your daily life, forget not the need of others.

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 7.03.23 PMIn the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I assisted several hospitals in restoring their information technology resources.  In the midst of all the mental stress, anguish and pain inflicted, I look at those who passed and ponder the most basic, yet futile, question: “Why?

In October 2012, a New York Times story detailed about 39 people who died in the storm. The following is an excerpt:

  • A Manhattan woman whose only sin appeared to walking her dog and was killed by a falling tree.
  • There was the woman whose iniquity was to take a picture of a downed power line. She did not see the puddle in front of her. Her body remained engulfed in fire for half an hour before rescue workers could salvage what was left.
  • A young Jewish couple killed walking a dog in Brooklyn.
  • Two boys killed when they walked just outside their house to briefly peer at the storm.

In true form, all of us have seen we have seen God’s people serving as God’s hands and feet in the aftermath of many natural disasters. The true image of one’s faith can be seen in all who have selflessly reach out, assisting the poor and downtrodden. All of this may be true, but still I query, “Where was God when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines?

Hurricane Katrina survivor and retired pastor William Mackintosh stated “God doesn’t send suffering, he allows it and God enters into suffering and shows us how to use it.”  Mackintosh believes suffering and disaster allow believers to learn and practice trust in God, as well as provide a chance for people to be heroic and to help others.  From my perspective, while it may be true that evil (e.g. the death, misery) gives us the opportunity to express kindness, concern and generosity, but could not God think of a less cruel way? Is it fair to inflict suffering just so society has the opportunity to serve?

These are nice thoughts, but personally, it’s bullshit. Ask anyone from the Haiti earthquake, the December 26, 2004 Asian Tsunami, the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku or the 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province about God entering their suffering and seeing if they found a positive way to use it?  Is this what we are to say to the Philippine mother, “God will positively show you how to use the death of your daughter, son and father?

Maybe it’s time to concede to the fact that God is busy. Or as the Philosopher Sam Harris so eloquently quoted after the Tōhoku earthquake, “Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.”

Why God allows so much suffering is beyond me. Frankly, I don’t really care. I’ve seen too much misery in life, of natural disasters, the inhumanity of mankind and that within myself.  As a Buddhist I do not need evil to be good, to understand what goodness is or to strive to be good. Disasters and God’s strange approach towards His creation can prod me to do good but more often it is the beauty and joy of goodness itself that moves us. It is the Buddha, Christ, God or our faith in humanity and of each other that should inspire us to a higher virtue.

In short, to my friends of faith, if you knew that the above mentioned disasters were going to happen and you had the power to stop it, would you have done so? Undoubtedly most would answer ‘Yes.’ The obvious question that follows from this is, ‘Then why didn’t God?’ How one answers this question will depend on what one’s religion is or whether one has a religion.

As Sam Harris would say, “Take your pick, and choose wisely.”

Night-and-Day-Vadim-RizovWhile watching the Korean film Night and Day, my life unfolded as a rosebud in the autumn sun.  At age 53, the petals are easier to pull apart and the heart opens for reflection. Those who travel like Night and Day’s central character (Sung-nam Kim) do not purposely seek the soul’s appeasement simply by experience. Rather, we are trying to find something. We drift from day to day, hanging out and meeting others, pretending to know each other—but really don’t, only to become part of a larger story.

Unquestionably, Night and Day searches for love. In practice, I have more things than most will ever have.  Yet, when I look upon a poor man walking through door of his home after a hard day’s work, I realize I have nothing.  Like me, the movie’s characters lack the inherent ability to plug into a greater source of love that others who surround them seemingly tap each and every day.  Feeling limited, unfulfilled, and unable to move beyond the measure of soft covers during a cool night.

Unlike that poor man rich in love, the burning question in mind was not that they didn’t love; they just aren’t sure what real love is. Thus, there’s an eerie feeling in Night and Day similar to that of my own life—that after the trip, many whom I’ve just encountered become amazingly disposable and replaceable – lost in-between fleeting moments of time. Like so many, we too continually struggle to find real meaning in everyday life.

Looking closely at the movie’s theme, all of us will experience ‘drifting at sea.’ During times of great loneliness, I felt an inexplicable heaviness inside my chest and long for the love of my life. While short, I longed for something greater, something more important than just me. To feel purpose, to feel heart and the warmth of agape love. Reflecting upon those days, the work of my hands was somehow intrinsically connected to another’s heart. Just like film’s protagonist, Sung-nam Kim, I fondly empathize with Scarlett Johansson’s character in Lost in Translation, where I too have gazed out the hotel window, contemplating, adding this, subtracting that, figuring it out, and questioning all.

The message of movies like Night and Day and Lost in Translation is that when we find our true passion, it comes from within. Where God or Buddha is for you; both are likely to be found only through the doorway to the inner soul. For me the true path and illumination came through a two-month love, which remains forever impossible to replicate. I felt alive, free; full of the life and love that God so wanted humans to experience.

Some will find Night and Day a comedic film, more of life’s deception and people running from responsibility. And that may be true. Still on a deeper level, watching characters personally struggle for connection and love in a foreign land only reinforces my own belief in the positive aspect of Buddhism’s compassion – that we must always be involved the moral care for others, just as the positive aspect of love does in Christianity.

So for all of us, find that which I cannot. Transcend life. Taste that which redefines the senses and dominates the mind and heart.

True Leadership is Round’ the Clock

LeanHealthcare_LeadershipIn theater and television, the hero gets even and walks away in peace. For us in the “real world, never happens. As the fictional character Duncan McLeod of The Highlander quipped, “Revenge does not bring redemption.”

What lessons can we learn from the Miami Dolphins, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, former Best Buy CEO Brian Dun and many, many others?

Frist, true leadership is a full time job. Your always on the clock. The news cycle never ceases. In today’s world, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Reddit, MSN, CNN, blogs, and other outlets are just a click away. And if it’s 11:30 AM in New York, it’s 1:30 AM in Beijing. So if you decide to be stupid today, I guarantee someone’s reading about it Beijing 10 minutes from now.

Secondly, leadership means you must understand what is happening within the organization. Leaders can no longer imply the “I didn’t know” absolution theory. It’s your job to know. If you pick someone to lead a department or organization, pick wisely. Those leaders are your organizational torch bearers. Figuratively speaking, should that person burn down a city block, the public is coming for answers. Or in the Dolphins’ case, ordering a player to toughen up another player seems … ah … insane.

There’s no excuse for it, and I have a very hard time believing that no one in the organization of the Miami Dolphins (knew about this),” Steve Beuerlein said on the CBS Sports Network, “whether it be a trainer, whether it is one of the assistant coaches, the head coach, somebody.”

Third, you have to lead while providing good counsel. Disasters places spotlights on glaring weaknesses. Great leaders prepare, bad leaders ride the waves. In the Miami Dolphin’s case, executive management leadership was absent without leave as the Incognito and Martin’s relationship disintegrated. The same leadership question is true for the cities of Detroit and San Diego. Where the hell were the leaders.

Lastly, revenge never brings redemption.  Having dirty laundry publically aired is not an optimal career move. Publically battling the Incognito–Martin relationship is disastrous.  Need examples? Kwame Kilpatrick’s former lover filed for bankruptcy. By all accounts, Monica Lewinski never recovered, Bob Filner pleaded guilty to false imprisonment, and both Martin and Incognito are forever altered.

Every workplace environment has a subculture. Every employee has to learn how to navigate those situations. The truth for Dolphin fans will probably be enlightening. But the truth to you and I can be both right and wrong within the confines of an NFL football locker room. And publically vilifying either Incognito or Martin is a travesty of real justice, often devoid of any positive benefit. In the end, regardless of story, Dolphin executive management, Incognito and Martin all wished they’d done things differently.

As a Buddhist, the solution lies beyond political leadership, beyond the prepared media statement. Everyone must share a view with a larger purpose than simply the “X” or “O;” a win or loss; profit and price. Our employees and family must always be the asset to our soul, not an expense. We must add value to others; to family, friends, employees, customers, community, and society—not just shareholders.  We must always be open to thought provoking conversations, being honest, being clear.

The goal is to stop governing and lead. Be better. Be understanding. Give respect. Be more equitable to all the souls we touch each and every day.

story_pregnancy_capitlTexas pro-life advocates claimed victory after a federal appeals court unanimously reinstated state rules that require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, quoted, “Legislators worked so hard to pass House Bill 2, because they are not only concerned about protecting the unborn, but also about women going to abortion clinics with sub-standard conditions and unsanitary equipment.”

Let’s be honest, Texas legislators could give a spit about women’s healthcare or potentially receiving sub-standard medical conditions. That’s pretty much a ruse for the real issue.  The real issue is to eliminate abortions, to save the unborn. Supporters were simply motivated by the fight against abortion. In the aftermath of battle, many low-income women were left inconvenient or costly healthcare options.

In claiming to be on a mission to save the unborn, at the end of all the hoopla, mothers will shoulder the most responsibility for raising a child.  But a central issue of “right-to-life” remains unchartered.  Specifically, does an unborn fetus have a legal right to life, to be protected from harm? At the 50,000 foot-level, many pro-life conservatives would concur accordingly.

From that notion, how would the court distinguish the mother from the other? At what point must a fetus be assigned legal representation? For instance, in 1946, Federal court recognized a child’s right to sue for injuries occurring while being a fetus.  Can a fetus sue a mother for injuries after birth? Before birth?  Suppose that unborn child didn’t wish to be adopted, yet was forced into adoption after birth? How would we handle children forced into adoption after birth?  Does the unborn fetus have any say into whether they prefer being born to a crack addicted mother, an alcoholic father, an abusive uncle?

Who should bear the costs of fetal rights?

Texas, like many other states, including society itself, tolerates high-levels of child abuse, neglect, hunger and provides little support for women who actually give birth.  If the unborn are living souls with basic intrinsic rights, how does society handle such abusive dilemmas? If you really look around, many of the choices made force unexpected mothers incur costs to freedom, mental security, identity and privacy. Postnatal resources provided to women are negligible. It’s almost as if to say, once a women becomes pregnant, the needs of the fetus outweigh the needs of the child and mother be damned.

By eliminating healthcare services, the Texas legislature has increased the number of women without services to about 500,000.  Let’s say all Texas women were forced to carry children full-term.  What would happen if 5,000 children sued the state for being born at all? What if they sued the state for child care, education and medical support? What a legal nightmare that would be.

A former boss used to say, “Be very careful of getting that which you really, really want.”

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