Category: About Love


img_0009Author J. Gresham Machen once wrote “The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God.” In fact, grace is the most important concept in Christianity and the world. It is most clearly expressed by God’s promises, as revealed in Scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ. Grace is the love shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God. It is this type of grace we are called, by God, to provide others, just as God provides to us.

This form of grace – this form of love – is the first thought crossing my mind after hearing of Chelsea Manning’s commutation. As you may recall, Ms. Manning is in the seventh year of a thirty-five year prison sentence for leaking classified military data to Wikileaks. In this essay I will neither review nor comment on either the nature of the crime nor the prison sentence. Rather, I simply choose to focus upon the President’s act of grace.

In truth, I have no idea why President Obama commuted Ms. Manning. Suffice it to say, there are probably many who are equally deserving. And I respect and honor all the effort and love for those who fight on their behalf.

There are many who claim the disclosure of documents was brutal, that many were impacted by the breach. And therefore, Manning is unworthy of such grace. Others will claim American taxpayers should not pay for Manning’s gender identity and counseling. I sympathize with such thoughts. Then again, as a taxpayer, I did not want to pay for the Iraq war and I certainly did not want to pay for the military effort in Afghanistan as well. As such, every taxpayer in America sucked it up and paid the price. I also did not enjoy reading, seeing and hearing of American soldiers committing horrendous acts of brutality either. Yet many remain at large, free from prosecution.

Strictly speaking, the blessings of everyday grace does not appear to descend from a Supreme Being or deity. Rather, grace comes from the normal interaction of people meeting people, by enlightened travelers who go forth, interact, forgive and love daily.

At the core of our humanity, all of us want to believe and embrace grace. At the same time, at our most human level, none of us will never emit the powers of Christ. Yet Christ and left humanity with two of Christ’s most powerful weapons – love and grace. These weapons transcend every day smugness, anger and hatred and provides real grounds for human hope. Transcendent grace reaches beyond our limitations of human understanding and provides relief to those who suffer.

I believe this is the same form of grace Manning received.

We don’t have to assess evidence for worthiness. We don’t have to condemn the fallen. We don’t have to impose our own limited bias to a woman most have predetermined forever unworthy.

What’s honorable is that somewhere, somehow the President of The United States reached down to a very wounded soul and provided grace. It should be our hope that all of us receive this level of love.

loveOver the weekend, a New York Times opinion piece written by Todd May titled, The Stories We Tell Ourselves struck home.

We tell stories that make us seem adventurous, or funny, or strong. We tell stories that make our lives seem interesting. And we tell these stories not only to others, but also to ourselves. The audience for these stories, of course, affect the stories we tell. If we’re trying to impress a date, we might tell a story that makes us seem interesting or witty or caring, whereas if we’re trying to justify a dubious act to someone who is judging us (or perhaps ourselves), we might tell a story that makes us out to be without other recourse in the situation. In the latter case, what we are doing is dissociating ourselves from a value we might be associated with and thus implicitly associated ourselves with a different one.

As a seasoned traveler, now expanding over 30 countries, I relate. For a person with little family and social friends common to others, my stories have migrated from benign to adventurous, from “eh” to bold, from snoozer to engaging. I didn’t change facts, but I changed the narrative. I embolden keywords, added rain when there was mist, added lush green forests when droughts had strangled most vegetation.  I wanted a value greater than the reality.

I am not unlike most. I presume most of the bar stories heard over the years are extracted from mundane life moments interspersed with misplaced dreams. Where upon returning to the actual mountain, the real city, that one country, we’re exasperated, It’s ’s so different from when I was here.”

Let’s face it, we all want love. We all want to be normal. We want to experience the life created in our dreams, but are deathly afraid of facing the very dream dreamed. As my father would say while star gazing in late autumn, “be careful of what you ask.”

My experiences are real. I have visited over 30 countries. Yet retelling tales of travel have alienated many who could have been a friend. I damaged so many lovers, so many women and so many family members. Everything I thought they wanted to hear wasn’t actually what they wanted to hear. What each of those wanted was to be acknowledged and simply told they were loved – that I thought of them as I careened the globe. I never did. There was nary a thought.

The one insight learned would be this – live your life but never forget those who’ve loved from afar. I am sure my grandmother loved me deeply, but it would have been terrific if I once sat and wrote her. I’m positive my relatives still love me, but finding the time to attend a family reunion would be priceless. Stories of walking the old ruins in Columbia are beautiful, but watching my niece grow older meant more than seeing the Great Wall of China.

In the end, my stories meant little. I missed all the life that really counted. My love involved clinging, lust, confusion, neediness, fear, or grasping to self expressions that are nothing than bondage and limitation.

Time is short and memories fade. Travels mean little. Truth is the cascade of moments missed. I loved only myself. In doing so, I neglected all of you.

Don’t be like me.

trump-mlkAn interesting thought piqued via a national commenter this week – the Obama administration had no scandals. If you include Clinton’s email server thingy … one.  And maybe that’s not entirely fair that the email server should be laid upon President Obama’s shoulders, but at the end of the day, he’s in charge. Choosing Clinton as Secretary of State made Clinton his mess.

Even then, I think Clinton is a very strong woman as well as a very capable leader. As have all, she made a mistake. She paid the price. Having said that, it is hard not realizing something seemingly so benign in the moment would lead to so much pain for so many people.

Still a quick Google search indicates conservative claims that there are more scandals – IRS Targeting, VA Waiting List, GSA Spending, Benghazi, Gun program by the ATF and Solar Panels. Still, wow. Even the most hardcore conservative have to be impressed.

By comparison, Trump has had a rough start. First, GOP leaders gutted ethic office capabilities only to reverse their decision. Then came word several cabinet members opposing Trump campaign positions. Trump’s week ended horribly when Congressional members announced a Russia investigation. However, that was far from bottom, via Twitter, penned that John Lewis was “… all talk, no action.”

An Op-Ed in The Guardian eloquently noted,  “The (Trump’s) criticism of US congressman John Lewis came on the day of a civil rights march in Washington aimed at Trump’s incoming presidency, two days before America observes the annual Martin Luther King Jr Day and six days before the country’s first black president leaves office.

Maybe America understands Lewis’ contribution to life more than Trump.

According to Amazon, sales of John Lewis’s graphic novel spiked 106,700% after Trump attacked him. Sales of his memoir spiked 56,750%.

Howard Wolfson, a former deputy mayor of New York, commented: “John Lewis did more to make America great in one day on the Edmund Pettus Bridge than Donald Trump ever will.”

On Martin Luther King day, reject the bigotry of hatred by celebrating the lives and personal contributions of King and Lewis.

img_0006At a rally in Wisconsin, Donald J. Trump stood in front of a line of Christmas trees and repeated a campaign-trail staple.

When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” Trump said. “Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”

Mr. Bill O’Reilly returned to the War on Christmas this year, but with a triumphant tone.

That culture war issue ignited and we won,” he recently said. “Donald Trump is on the case.”

Question please. “What war?

There is no evidence on any type of organized war on Christmas, it’s simply personal ignorance used as a “device” to ensure bias and innuendo remain artfully sculpted by equally bias. Christmas war allies noted the 2016 naughty list included Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and Victoria’s Secret. Starbucks came under fire for seasonal cup designs that emphasized social harmony over Christmas greetings.

Bah humbug Trump would metaphorically say, “Maybe we should boycott Starbucks.”

Thank God for Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly claimed “The Donald” is on the case. So much so that he declared the war on Christmas officially over. ”We won,” O’Reilly claimed. After hearing that, I hurriedly rushed to the streets. Each corner brought a sense of excitement. “Celebrations Everyone.” “Celebrations,” I yelled. “The War on Christmas is over.”

Yet, not one corner yielded singing in the streets. There were no pictures of home bound sailors kissing women in New York’s Times Square. There were no pictures of Christmas War soldiers raising the U.S. flag, like that of Imo Jima. Did the Christmas war even have a flag? Sorry, I digress.

I FaceTime’d a friend in Finland. Surely, Finland will be celebrating? Surely? Right? “What the f…?” He said. “What? What war? Call me when you’re sober” Then I reached out to another friend in Norway. Christmas War? Nope. Nada. No celebrations. Nothing. Finally, I called the big man at the North Pole. Yes! As in the North Pole, Alaska (actually south of Fairbanks, AL). No war there either.

I perused the BBC, Yahoo, MSN, MSNBC and Associated Press (AP). No war. No war memorials to the lost and fallen, no one to lay an annual Christmas reef on the Tomb of The Unknown Christmas War Soldier Memorial and no evidence of any Christmas War veterans waiting in line at the Veterans Administration hoping to get aid for Christmas War PTSD.

Once Again, all of this begs the question, “What war?

Seriously, the only war won was where sensible men and women allowed ignorance an upper hand. As a Buddhist, I’ll take the harmony Starbucks offers. We need more of that.

imageLife offers a first-time and last-time for almost everything. Today I accomplished two: telling a friend my body was giving up. Telling someone I was dying was a first. And it’s the last first chance I will have to accomplish that. She was the first.

After running the conversation sequence through my mind, playing out all scenarios imagined, it is hard to predict how people will actually react. Generally, the people who love you will feel shocked and overwhelmed. Some people may try to be cheerful while pretending nothing is wrong. So while I hoped for a more realistic moment and opportunity to express my feelings, that did not happen.

I started the conversation by saying what a good friend she was. Having been through all the shit I gave these past ten years, I acknowledged her love and friendship. But my body was at a point where it had to let go of any lengthy time expectations.

Being a psychotherapist, she picked up on the hidden meaning and went straight into Kubler-Ross’ first stage of death, denial. “Nope not happening,” she said. “Miracles happen every day.

She’s right, miracles happen every day. Unfortunately, it’s going to be someone else’s miracle, not mine. I’ve lived nearly 36 years with a major diagnosis – longer than anyone expected – but miracle or not, my body is tired. It’s wearing out.

Having worked in hospitals these past 12 years, I’ve see death intimately. Most people die in hospitals and nursing homes, where they receive the extensive nursing and medical care. Their loved ones have less opportunity to be with them and often miss sharing their last moments. We’ve isolated the living from the dying; consequently, death has taken on added mystery and fear.

For me, I am at peace. As such, I believe it’s important to cultivate some form of positive, happy virtuous state of mind and abandon the non-virtuous, harmful, suffering states of mind. My death is definite, but its time remains a shadow. According, I will aspire to be ready by being mindful of the preciousness of life and the uncertainness of length. I will spend time with those who’ve loved me.

Regardless of my time, I don’t want to only love only those who’ve loved me.

I am stunned after writing that last sentence. Allow me to digress for a moment. Years ago, in some over-the-top self-improvement class, each participant was asked to write their mission statement on index card. Here’s what I wrote:

Paint each person met with beautiful brushstrokes of love.

While I did some of that, much of my life has been lived as a self-centered asshole. And inspite of being an asshole, I believe I know, with certainty, my after-life destination – albeit I have no clue what happens once there or how long I’ll be there (stage or phase). It’s neither perfectly bad nor perfectly beautiful. Its perfect for me.

I cannot possibly achieve the mission statement from years ago. But I do want everyone that I’ve angered, in any form, to let go and have the chance to live a happy and beautiful life. It’s miserable to wallow in life’s misery. Everyone has to find peace and move onward. I want everyone to become to special to another. Hopefully, each person can pay back my lack of love with love to one another.

To all I meet over the next few months, I will try and peacefully assist with the process of letting go. To help them move onward. Maybe, I can help a few that I’ve pissed off to live and move on As well.

Through God’s grace, there is no stage one for me. Rather I’ve learned death is not a be-all or end-all. I want people to embrace the fact that I have a deep sense of love for them and I want each of them to embrace the world beyond. The idea of just living as a physical presence is nonsense. That fell by the wayside when I realized that physically embodying one’s form is not the way to live.

I simply wish for each of you that correcting any of the wrongs brought unto to others is more important than being physically planted on earth.

entrepreneur-livingLet’s be honest. The last ten days sucked. The unexpected deaths of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana were absurdly connected to the deaths of five Dallas police officers. Combine those tragedies with deaths in Nice, France, everyone should acknowledge the internal wake up call that we know, but rarely acknowledge, our demise can occur at a moment’s notice.

It’s strange how life’s last moments seem unremarkable. The New York Times reported Philando Castile of Minnesota finished getting his hair styled, called his sister Allysza, and offered to deliver dinner to the suburban house she shares with their mother. Over a meal of Taco Bell takeout, the two alternated between laughter and serious discussions, including about the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by the police in Louisiana. He never returned home.

The five murdered Dallas officers were spouses and parents. They volunteered in schools and church and swore to serve and protect. One officer gave a homeless man a meal the night prior to his death. Officer Patrick Zamarripa served several tours of duty in Iraq only to be felled by a fellow vet.

As French revelers celebrated, a 19-ton refrigeration truck was driven nearly 70 miles per hour over a 1.1 mile stretch of road. The driver directly aimed for and struck celebrants before being stopped by French officers. The aftermath left trails of family ruin and death. One moment, a great celebration. The next moment, despair.

This post is not about the value of a life, whether it be Castile or Sterling, Dallas police officers or French victims. Each have been duly honored for giving more than I ever will. This post is not about the merits of concealed carry, the right to bear arms, Black Lives Matter or the fight against terrorism. This is about “understanding,” as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross noted perfectly:

“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”

What I thought about were those brief moments when loved ones said goodbye and were never heard from again.

I am curious how life interacts, becomes separated from the interconnectedness and reconnects by some seemingly unrelated event. Any of us can be connected to family and friends one moment only to be connected to some tragic event later. We forget the number of lives we have touched today is like counting waves in the ocean, because each wave follows another until it vanishes from us. Through the lives of one another, everyone has already lived so many lives, so many forms, so and participated in so many stories.

In a noncritical way, as I look upon life’s ocean waves, I cannot but wonder what could have been – if Castile never purchased a handgun or achieved a concealed carry permit; if Castile’s officer had taken a more conciliatory approach; if a veteran sought help rather than a weapon; if the damn truck in Nice, France didn’t start or if someone offered its driver an open hand. Would all that were lost be alive?

I doubt if each victim imagined their life would end so abruptly. You and I share similar backgrounds, faiths, experiences, thoughts and love. Rarely does one think that before day’s end, one would move onward. Yet that very fact is all too common.

Readers, like those whom love and share our journey are the characters of our story. Most never want the story to end. Like you, we’ve invested significant effort into the knowing, molding and loving, the highs, lows and middle. We find it extremely difficult to near the final chapter.

Rarely do we have the ability to control our goodbye, there’s never enough time. We human ants are too busy with workouts, meetings, plane flights, doctor appointments, family and social functions. We replace brief moments of sharing with football, baseball, working late, burning the midnight oil and fixated upon this or that. Meanwhile, the readers of our lives wonder of the story within, the writer’s composition and homily. Oh how the writer becomes a stranger, even to himself.

Unlike many, I haven’t chosen a one and true path. I’ve traveled far. But have I lived richly? My soul’s youth yearned to changed the world. I didn’t. I only changed myself. I know many would have loved my spontaneity, my energy, my ability to make people laugh. Yet I hid and cloistered my soul, even from those whom I loved. I forgot the last time I made love, lightly caressed or kissed.

The lesson this Buddha learned is that life and living life are completely different. Living life means recognizing our interconnections. This week’s memoriams demonstrate true living, people who embraced life’s highs, lows and middles. Life was about embracing their readers, about being human in the most vulnerable way, reaching out toward interconnectedness and rippling the ocean’s waves.

So, for all who passed, please … please relish, live and connect with the readers of your book (life).

dallasListening to President Obama’s memorial speech in Dallas, I reflected upon Baltimore.

When Freddie Gray died April 19, 2015, and riots erupted, Baltimore and its residents were forced to confront issues that had plagued them for decades. Personally, I was about 1200 miles west when Baltimore protests erupted over the death of Freddie Gray. Like most, we’ve watched too many protests, from Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, Florida, Atlanta, Oakland and many others via the comfort of some easy chair. What had been mostly peaceful protests erupted into rock-throwing, looting and fires.

This past year has seen me working at hospitals in the Baltimore and Washington area, with one hospital a mere four blocks from the original riots.  There is much to praise and much work remains.

A year later, dozens of Baltimore legislative proposals resulted were generated because of the death of a disadvantaged, young, black man from West Baltimore. From policing and criminal justice reform to efforts to Baltimore neighborhoods and lead poisoning referendums, reforms are underway. Other things have remained the same. Officers involved in Gray’s death have not been held accountable. DeRay McKesson (Black Lives Matter leader) was not elected mayor and the makeup of Baltimore legislators has essentially remained the same.

Yet, when I look at protests in Dallas and other cities, I often ask myself, What’s next? What happens after the march? What happens when to burning singe of hatred is cooled? Where does the movement go?

While not completely agreeing with President Obama on every issue, I do believe that if we truly want to improve a community, the police cannot do it alone. Societal effort is required. Police, residents, schools, elected officials, along with those who work in housing, transportation and health must all work together to make difference.

We must also learn to love one another. In his book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver noted:

“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making. Not one of us moved. Not even when the room went dark.”

That is what interdependent love is. It is listening to that beating heart, and when we hear it, it is our job to interpret it to the best of our abilities. We need to find a piece of each other in our daily life.

We have to get past yelling. It is true that the most important things to say are the hardest things to say, but we have to do it.

Anderson Cooper 360 began with the names … Right on Anderson.

PrayIn 1991, Barbara Poma’s older brother John died battling HIV. Twelve years later, Poma and her friend Ron Legler founded Pulse Orlando in memoriam to her brother and as a safe space supporting the LGBT community.

According to police, alleged shooter Omar Mateen opened fire early Sunday morning at Pulse. An officer working at the club initially responded, “engaging in a gun battle” before the suspect went back into the club, Authorities say that at least 50 people have been killed and at least 53 are injured, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote “violence in our streets is the violence in our hearts.” So much so that violence by weapon has weaved so much into daily life we hardly notice. To add support, BradyCampaign.org notes on average, 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 151 are treated for some form of gun assault. Additionally, every day, on average, 55 people kill themselves with a firearm and 46 people are wounded or killed via a gun. In contrast, if 86 people were dying each day from the mosquito bred Zika Virus, there’d be holy hell on the streets of America.

Over the coming days, thousands will pay their respects, reefs laid, memorials held, tears shed and promises to remember will be made. Homage and prayers were offered by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and many celebrities. Donald Trump? Well, Trump congratulated himself. But at the end of the day, even this shooting will have little positive impact for the Washington electorate to implement anything more than a few moments of silence.

The important part of Sunday remembrances came not from celebrities but rather from those who survived the shooting. Brothers, sisters and children were not overly idealized or enlarged in death beyond what they were in life. Each victim was remembered simply as a good and decent person, who saw wrong, tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it.

Pulse Orlando was about was Love.

And what set Pulse Orlando and victims apart from the hate was their depth of love – not only for each other but their community as well. It’s the same love Christ and Buddha offered. And that form of agape love can never be forced, even by a whacked out, mentally deranged idiot. Why? Because power never wins. A true God does not want subservience, but love. Pulse Orlando and all those LGBT rights activists chose the sometimes slow, hard way of agape love. It’s a conquest from within.

George McDonald captured both Christ and Buddha’s approach, “Instead of the crushing power of force; instead of destroying what we believe to be infidels, these victims encouraged making one another better people. (paraphrased)” Better citizens. They chose to love one another.

Victims in this shooting are voices speaking from heaven. Some will try to dismiss them but each victim is dazzling proof of love’s transfiguration. Each one is beautiful and may their voices roar to the power of love.

After learning of a colleague’s death (You Are Not Alone), I flew from Baltimore, landing midday in a Midwest city I’ve haven’t seen in months. I’ve chosen to name my colleague Daryl. Though not this person’s true identity, Daryl is interchangeable between male and female.

I attended Daryl’s wake late Friday. As the parlor doors opened, some 50 or so of Daryl’s colleagues huddled in the receiving line. Pictures donned poster-like billboards both before and after the viewing and covered Daryl’s life, from childhood. Daryl’s life appeared well documented and many shared storied with uneven tears and bewilderment. By the time I left, mourners reached 250. Awe struck by the deep tenderness and love, I wondered throughout the wake if Daryl knew. Would Daryl have passed if this depth of love had been known?

Landing back in Baltimore late Friday, I sat in an easy chair of the Marriott. I typed a quick Apple iMessage to Amy (not her real name), one of Daryl’s coworker’s who sat two (2) cubicles away.

I was impressed and shocked by the amount reverence Daryl’s family received. By the time I left, there were close to 250 or more well wishers,” I texted.

Several minutes passed before receiving a response.

That’s nice. I didn’t go, as I did not know Daryl.

In the twenty-six hours since starting this post, I remain befuddled. How can someone sit two cubicles away and not know your coworker; not say hello, talk about the weather, a favorite sports team, politics, a good restaurant or show; vacation, children, wife, love, hopes, dreams or sorrows? I don’t get it. The cubicles of life are five by seven, yet for many they are chasms.

Of course disappointment has been with the human race for centuries. Disappointment did not vanish in from the earth in Jesus’ day and hasn’t vanished in the two thousand years since.

More importantly, where was God? In a time of crisis, a time of faith, I can’t believe Daryl needed smoke, fire and a burst of light or heavenly songs. Daryl was a common human being from the middle of nowhere who played in the backyard, celebrated friendship over a drink, watched fireworks on July 4th, celebrated the seasons and volunteered at church. Yet somewhere between this life and the next, Daryl lost faith. Life lost a wonderful soul. A spouse lost a partner. Children lost a parent. Parents lost a child.

I’m often asked if God is unfair. Hadn’t the prophets promised God would wipe tears, heal the sick, raise the dead? Instead, what we receive today is eBay auctions of people selling faith of Christ-like images on toast, in the clouds or some other trivial form. Jesus did heal some people, but many went unhealed. Lazarus was raised from the dead. Yet, Lazarus eventually passed, as does everyone. Obviously, at His word, Jesus could have healed a multitude, but statistically speaking, only few merited such intervention.

Did Daryl experience the same loss faith John the Baptist experienced? He prophesied Christ’s coming. However, a few years later, he smuggled a message, “Are you the one who was expected to come?” Some days, I wonder myself.

I don’t believe Daryl ever wanted a miracle or a visible sign of power or glory. Daryl wanted the touch of a friend, a gentle smile, to share a cup of coffee, to laugh. Daryl wanted faith, love and hope. And when we silently walk past those in our life, we become indifferent and ignorant.

Whether you’re Christian, atheist or Buddhist, say hello to as many people as possible. You never know how that simple conversation will empower someone. So Monday morning, when I get to my client, I will purposefully walk at least two cubes and introduce myself. It is my silent memoriam to Daryl to find someone who thinks they are alone and convince them they’re not.

Don’t let the cubicles of life become chasms.

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