Category: Faith & Doubt


Blameless

The decision from federal judge T.S. Ellis in Virginia comes less than a week before Manafort’s second sentencing hearing in another case in Washington, D.C., district court. Both cases were brought on charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller in his ongoing probe of Russia’s election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Manafort is expected to serve only 38 more months of the 47-month sentence because of time he has already spent incarcerated. In addition to the sentence, Ellis ordered Manafort to pay a $50,000 fine, the lowest fine provided for by guidelines that recommended a fine between $50,000 and $24 million.

Before delivering his sentence, Ellis said Manafort had “been a good friend to others, a generous person” and added, “He has lived an otherwise blameless life.”

A “… blameless life?” Franklin Foer of The Atlantic documented Manafort’s blameless life. Here’s a sample:

  • In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees. In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.
  • In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.
  • In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.

So, what is a blameless life? I can only think of a few, two: Christ and Enoch. We’re all pretty familiar with Christ, but Enoch? Enoch who?

Enoch’s life was formally introducted while attending an ethic’s seminar some 30 years ago. His life is not widely discussed, and the Bible does not devote a lot of space to him. About the only biblical information we have on Enoch’s life is found in four sentences from Genesis, 5:21-24.

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him away.

My spin is that Enoch walked a blameless – meaning he consistently lived in the present moment, completely aware of God’s presence and that his fellowship with God and others was built through faith and love. For Enoch, blameless living was the business of a lifetime, not the performance of an hour. In other words, walking with God is not going to church every Sunday from 10:30 AM to Noon. Faith exercised once a week for an hour or so, and it is not a good walk!

Biblically speaking, the term “walk” is used when dealing with ordinary, day-to-day life. In the Old Testament, we read of one’s “rising and sitting down,” two of the most natural things people do every day. As Buddhist, I might ask, “Can two people walk together going in opposite directions?” Instead, there’s a sense of common direction, common purpose, and common interests. When I rise in the morning, do I walk in love? When I lay in the evening, do I sleep in love?

As Chuck Swindoll once said, “Faith is not a leap in the dark; it is a walk in the light.”

An author noted great works did not mark Enoch’s life; he merely lived in God’s presence. And apparently, God enjoyed the relationship so much that He took Enoch, uninterrupted, into eternal fellowship. Sadly, our lives resemble roller coaster rides than walks. We rise and plunge as emotions vacillate, we collapse from physical, spiritual, and mental exhaustion, only to rise and go back into the fray. We can, like Enoch, learn to walk with Him.

The life that pleases God is one of faith walking—not running faster than a speeding bullet or leaping tall buildings with a single bound. We don’t need to have great faith; we need to have faith in a great God.

Manafort never lived a blameless life. He lived in pride. Contempt. Arrogance. Self-exaltation. It’s a version of life we must learn to never live.

While not personally seeing the news clip, I read about Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen testimony to Congress. Ms. Nielsen was unable to answer about the number of children detained at the southern U.S. border nor was she able to explain how many “special-interest aliens” are detained at the northern vs. the southern border. Nielsen was able to argue that children separated from parents are not held in “cages” – they’re detention spaces.

Nielsen: “Sir, we don’t use cages for children. In the border facilities that you’ve been to, they were not made to detain children. As the children are processed through, they are in some parts of those facilities. I’m being as clear as I can, sir.”

Thompson: “Yes or no, are we still putting children in cages?”

Nielsen: “To my knowledge, CBP never purposely put a child in a cage.”

Thompson: “Purposefully or whatever, are we putting children in cages? As of today?

Nielsen: “Children are processed at the border facility stations that you’ve been at –“

Thompson: “And I’ve seen the cages. I just want you to admit that the cages exist.”

————————————————————–

Bonnie: “Is it [cages] different from what you put dogs in?”

Nielsen: “Yes.”

Bonnie: “In what sense?”

Nielsen: “It’s larger.”

Since I did not see the whole hearing, I will not disparage Secretary Nielsen. However, George Orwell once said, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell’s statement seems to reflect the sign of the times. Through March 4, 2019, Trump has lied 9,014 through 773 days in office. Trump’s averaging nearly 22 false or misleading claims per day.

Society has gotten so accustomed to lying that they do so even when there’s no apparent purpose. And when their lies are easily disproven, they leave everyone scratching their heads. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of such individuals. When I read of Secretary Nielsen’s testimony to Congress, I remembered one such lie during my days on Guam.

In 1979, our team was stationed on Anderson Air Force Base Guam. One Saturday, we were performing maintenance on our helicopter and required some basic screws. We went to base supply and found they were out of stock. On a whim, we went to the hardware store and found the same bolt and same packaging.

“Sold,” I said.

I was just about ready to install the bolt when a Jeep rolls to a stop. A supply contractor exits the vehicle, waving his hands over his head.

“Stop,” he yells.

“Why,” we asked.

“You have the wrong bolt.”

“What?”

“You,” pointing to the bolt in my hand, “have the wrong bolt.”

“What are you talking about? It’s the same bolt and same packaging.”

“Well,” he said rather factually. “What you have is a bolt. What the helicopter requires is a ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Unit.'”

“A What?” I gruffed.

“You need a ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Unit.’ You can’t use that.”

“Oh,” I said. “And would I be correct in presuming that these ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Units’ come from your company?”

“Yes.”

“And how much are they?”

“Oh, well …” he fumbled. “$250.00 apiece.”

In my years of living, I’ve had my share of lies, untruths and crimes of the heart. Seems like a long time ago, but as Bagger Vance might, “It was just a moment ago.” In finding the truth, I had to go through my own dirty dishes. There’s no dishwasher in the mind. No one was there to wash the dish piles of consciousness. There’s no reality-based TV show mental makeover that will re-veneer guilt. In the process, I became more accepting of myself and learned to be more open and flexible.

Unfortunately, many members of our current legislature have not found the legitimate way in truth. Kristen Nielsen’s lack of candor is a broader reflection of America. She will have to live with that. Unfortunately, we will as well.

CPACI didn’t want to ruin any mega-karma flowing my way. So, I wasn’t going to write about it. Then a Twitter writer wrote, “Can the flag sue for harassment?

When I heard of Trump’s speech at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), I went to Youtube. “God Bless the USA” blasted over the speakers Trump stood next to an American flag and hugged it. Grinning and rocking the flag back and forth as idiots gave him a standing ovation.

It was a big hug to the American people. God bless president Trump,” a Twitter user gushed.

Then angel opined. Angel (@fun4u909) March 2, 2019, “Can the flag sue for harassment?

The two-hour speech rivaled some dictators.

This wasn’t the first time Trump embraced the American flag. In June 2018, Trump gave a speech before the National Federation of Independent Business, during which he discussed immigration at length, including his “zero tolerance” policy that separates families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump concluded his speech by praising small business hugged the flag as he walked off stage.

CNN Anchor Brooke Baldwin noted all the February headlines. Here’s the list.

Cohen Testifies; Roger Stone Gag Order; Summit Sequel; Klobuchar Enters Race; Sanders Enters; O’Rourke’s Road Trip; Green New Deal; State of The Union; Trade War; Venezuela Power Crisis; India and Pakistan; New UN Pick; Believing another Dictator; Whitaker Hearing; Barr Confirmed; R. Kelly Charged; Robert Kraft Charged; Jussie Mollet Charged; Massacre Plot; Presidential Emergency; States Sue Trump (Over Presidential Emergency Declaration); North Carolina New Election; McCabe Book Tour; RGB Returns; El Chapo Sentenced; Amazon Bolts from NY; Bezos Pictures; Virginia State Government Crisis; Trump vs California; ISIS Bride Returns; Pope’s Advisor Convicted; Congress Rebukes Trump; Omar Apology; Tax Cuts Cause US Debt to Skyrocket; and Lady Gaga and Cooper’s Academy Award Duet.

Let me ask a few questions. How many steel jobs were created in February? How many jobs were talked about during February? How many job bills were generated and passed by Congress during February? Anyone?

How many jobs lost? 25,000 if you count Amazon’s departure from New York. Wisconsin’s Foxconn deal is on shaky ground.

In June 2018, Trump claimed US Steel was going to build six new steel plants.  In 2017, there were only nine US steel plants in total. At the time of Trump’s claim, I believe US Steel owned four of those nine steel plants. Here’s the truth, no U.S. company has announced new steel plants.

Here’s the real news, our president announces the opening of new factories that major U.S. companies have not announced? Likewise, for February. Over 35 different news-breaking stories and all we get from Trump is a collapsed Korean Summit, claims that the Russia investigation is a hoax, and a flag hug. The tariffs and taxes Trump implemented have resulted in little to no benefit and colossal debt.

If I did that in my business, I’d be fired.

Watching Trump hugging the U.S. Flag at CAPC was cringeworthy. The President purposely intermingles faith with politics. However, no political system, no matter how idealistic, can bring about peace, prosperity and happiness as long as the people in the system are dominated by greed, hatred and delusion. But, as Trump said CPAC speech:

This is how I got elected …

Buddhists and other spiritual leaders have long known the inherent problems when intermingleing religion with politics. The basis of religion is morality, purity and faith. For politics? Power. In the course of history, religion has often been used to give legitimacy to those in power and their exercise of that power. Religion has also been used to justify wars and conquests, persecutions, atrocities, rebellions, destruction of works of art and culture.

When religion is used to pander to political whims, it has to forego its high moral ideals and becomes debased by political demands. At trhat point it’s nothing more that a s***show.

But maybe … just maybe … we can hug a flag, and everything will be okeydokey.

The Twitter writer was right, the flag should sue for harassment.

Visions and Visitors

It was nearly 5:36 PM. The sun had set in the western sky, and the temperature dropped almost 20 degrees from its 6:00 AM high. I sat to make a near nightly FaceTime call to my parents. I powered on my iPad, noticed only 38% battery life remaining.

Hi,” answered my mother.

“Hey, mom. How are you?”

“Dad is out walking Skip. But, listen,” she interrupted, “I have to tell you something.”

Having noticed seriousness to her look, “Ok,” I affirmed. Living with an 86-year-old dementia patient has its challenges, with trying to keep your sanity being challenge number 1.

“Last night dad and I decided to go to bed about 8:30 [PM]. After a few minutes, I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to go to my recliner and read. A few minutes later, Dad started talking.”

Wow,” I said, relieved upon hearing nothing major, for 86-year-old’s commonly talk in their sleep.

Wait,” she interrupted. “I heard a woman’s voice talking back.

What?” unsure what to say.

Yeah,” briefly pausing, “I got up, tried to sneak up to the open bedroom door, glanced just past the door. The talking stopped. There was no one there.

Hmm,” I breathed. “Amazing.”

Yes, but,” she interrupted again. “I went back to my recliner, started reading. Moments later, Dad started talking. And then, the woman’s voice returned. After some minutes, Dad said, ‘I love you.’ The woman’s voice replied, ‘I love you too.‘”


While it’s hard to confirm, I wonder if his mother visited my father.

After working in the hospital field for all these years, I know it’s not unusual for the dying to have visions of someone already passed. As David Kessler, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s longtime assistant noted, the dying are often visited by a mother or father. Kessler hypothesized parents die before their children to lead the way when it’s their child’s turn.

Comforting my mother, I noted such stories are common, meaning, a lot of people have such visions. In many ways, these visitors offer tremendous peace, not only for the patient but also for relatives. These helpers affirm another life beyond our earthly borders. In my industry, this stage or phase is called Nearing Death Awareness.

Nearing Death Awareness often includes visions of loved ones or spiritual beings, although they don’t necessarily signal death’s imminence. It’s a path, a path we cannot lead, but a path we can help them walk.

Between the fragile beauty of fire, water, air, and wind, there is no discord. Between the supple silence of life and death, there is only harmony — no two elements of nature conflict. In every loss, there is gain. And in every gain, there is a loss. When such visitors arrive at our door, we may lose this world yet gain a unity of love and spirit that flows throughout the universe. My father will become part of this beauty — a universe full of love, full of peace.

At the end what remains is not riches, not structures of stone but remembrances of those few people we joined in spirit.

Belonging

Passing a nursing station, I overheard a nurse say, “He has no one.”

Who?” I inquired.

Startled, she turned, “Oh.” Quizzically, she perused up and down. Whatever she thought, I’m positive an old, bald, fat man was not expected. “Oh,” she murmured again. “409,” her shoulders shrugged. “The guy in 409 has no family. His time nears.”

So, he’s alone?

Yes.

No one?

Nada.”

May I sit with him?”

Her eyebrow raised slightly, “Sure.

I sat with him until near dawn, sometimes in silence, sometimes lightly speaking, letting him know he was not alone. He whispered, “Why?

Standing to stretch my back, I glanced out to the street below. Raindrops angled across the window pane. My breath echoed against the glass as colorful hues light refracted through the early morn by drops darting downward.

Know what?” I said. “Earth is old. The sun is old. But do you know what may be even older than both? Water. It’s a mystery how the world became awash in it. Maybe water originated on our planet from cosmic ice specks. Some claim distant meteorites or comets as they bombarded the earth.

A slight momentary silent filled the room.

Kaboom” and “Smash,” I reemphasized.

A slight smile, “Ha,” he whispered.

The most accurate answer is: I don’t know ‘why?‘ My limited theological training offers little in any way to account for the unexplainable. And after all these years of walking with Christ, then Buddha, questions linger. Regardless of belief, the world reminds me death is not the end, that we carry forward in the glow of love.

Turning from the morning rain, I sat near, “Are you close?

Leaning in, he whispered, “I come and go.”

There was nothing I wanted more than to bring out a suitcase full of proof, saying, “See? You can be confident.” But there is no absolute proof. Heck, some days I have trouble even convincing myself. There’s just us. Instead, I stayed.

In the small moments of life, a bridge of faith is lived in-between the “back and forth” by both believer and witness. God’s faith glides in between moments life and for whatever reason, which remains foreign to most, joins our world through others, and through us.

Glancing at the man, I stroked the soft fragile gray hair, mirrored his peaceful rhythmic breath, and saw myself. While there are stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, and sudden cures, more often than not, in the final moment, the God of unconditional love will arrive in human form – just like his Son.

I whispered, “The ‘Kaboom and the ‘Smash’ were for you. In those very moments He created you. He loved you then. He loves you now. That same love is here for you. The same air that Christ breathed, you breathed. His breath is in you. His love encompasses you just as he encompasses me. And as your friend, I am with you always and will remember you always.

His lips quivered lightly. A tear dotted his eye. I cupped his hand to my heart. He never spoke again.


The real beauty of Christian and Buddhist faith is that faith is lived and experienced moments. As such, in a time of need, God comes to us in physical vessels, where love and grace join to feel His spiritual presence.

Through all my years working in healthcare, I could never explain “why.” Even if I could, it wouldn’t have brought anyone back. Still, even in my own days of difficulty, many have reached out to me to let me know that I was not alone. They were the presence of God to me. They held me up to, guided me to return to this world, brought me back and consoled me. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.

Make someone your life know he or she belongs.

I knew it would happen. Eventually, the name of the Covington student noted in the protest march would be revealed. In an updated statement, Nick Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School junior provided his side of the story. I’ll summarize it for you.

“Lord? Lord? Let me tell you about them protesters.”

In all honesty, I watched the entire video of events preceding the viral images. It’s an hour and forty-six minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Like Sandmann, our inability to see our own personal failures is paralleled by our inability to see our church and parental leadership sins as well.

Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We often gave them a bogus version of the Gospel, some fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of “Christian” oriented version of proud, racist, and superiority class conscious.

Here’s why Sandmann and the adults supporting them were wrong.

That Damn Stupid Hat

The MAGA hats are just the most recent and most visible symbol of a racial divide. It’s used to identify oneself as part of this group to the exclusion of others. These high-school kids wear them mostly for fun, without comprehending its divisive nature.  For such a seemingly small accessory, it’s associated with the emotional impact of the president’s entire campaign and term so far: every comment he’s made about Mexicans, women, or immigrants, the Muslim ban, the threats against bodily autonomy and affordable health care. These are broader issues to which the Covington High School students would probably never understand.

There’s a Difference Between Protesting and Knowing Jesus

A student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group,” Sandmann said in his statement. “The chants are commonly used at sporting events. They are all positive in nature and sound like what you would hear at any high school,” he said.

Why? What for?

At the 1:09 mark, one kid (I presume a Covington high schooler) removed his mega hat, his coat and his shirt and led the students in a chant. To which I say, how is that Christian? Where in the Bible did Jesus remove his clothes, strut around bare chested and chant. This leads me to believe that neither the kids nor parents really understand Jesus.

When religion does not move people to the heart of love, it solidifies angers, creates enemies, and is almost always exclusionary. At this level, it is largely incapable of healing, reconciling, forgiving, and peacemaking. When religion does not give people an inner life or a real prayer life, it is missing its primary vocation.

Their religion has never touched them or healed them at the unconscious level where all of the real motivation, hurts, unforgiveness, anger, wounds, and illusions are stored, hiding—and often fully operative.

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it. Covington High School students got played. Parents and students alike let their ego get the best of them. All we saw was grandiose behavior while insisting nothing but a high and legitimate ambition to win a battle for either life or Christ! As Jesus put it, we “see the splinter in our brother’s or sister’s eye and miss the log in our own” (Matthew 7:4–5).

So, congratulations Sandmann, that video will follow you forever. No PR firm will remove that smug smile.

Jesus was nowhere to be found in that mess.

covingtonOn January 18, 2019, Covington Catholic High School faced heavy backlash after a group of predominantly white students was filmed harassing and insulting Native Americans participating in an Indigenous Peoples’ March in Washington, D.C. The students were visiting to participate in the simultaneous anti-abortion March for Life, which attracts many Catholic groups. Many of the students wore “Make America Great Again” hats.

In one of several videos of the incident, a student wearing a Covington Catholic sweatshirt is seen smirking and blocking the path of Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran who was playing a ceremonial drum. The students reportedly chanted “build that wall“, while others stood in a circle nearby and chanted “CovCath is the best.”

There’s several ironies. First, all of this comes days before Dr. Martin Luther King Day. Second, students attending the anti-abortion March for Life seem to subversively claim, “We march for life, but we impugn the life of anyone notwhite.”

Go figure.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

I’m concerned about a better World. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood and sisterhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.

Love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. Unfortunately, love requires effort.

Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~

Flipping through channels late afternoon, I caught the ending scene of Cast Away.

Cast Away tells the story of a FedEx executive who must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a plane crash and being washed upon a deserted island. In the years of survival, he saves one Federal Express package.

The ending sequence finds Chuck delivering that package to Ms. Bettina Peterson (played by the late Lari White).  In the end Chuck stands at an intersection – of his life. With map in hand, Chuck must decide which direction the rest of his life will travel and has no idea where the roads will lead. A woman who stops and gives directions is the addressee of the package just delivered.

Like Chuck at the film’s beginning, My life was mapped. I had places to go, people to see, work to do, limited time to spend on anything. Yeah, I was very good at my job.

Everything crashed in April 2010. The identity I created died. Meaning, I crashed. Lost job. Lost love. Lost home. Lost reputation.

Like Chuck, I was limited to few choices. I adapted and survived. My first six weeks comprised of long walks and filing unemployment. I was 50. And the chances for good employment like the one I was fired from would not come again.

May 2010 was filled with day-after-day of job applications. I was completing my customary job application quota when I clicked on a Career Builder ad for a job in Albany, New York. I sent my completed resume, printed the receipt, attached the acknowledgement for unemployment compensation evidence. Then, I moved on.

After working several gigs just to bring in a paycheck, I realized I had so soured my life in the city that it would be unlikely to get any decent job offer. Strangely enough, Albany called. A few interviews later, I landed in Albany, NY with two suit cases and a heart of hope. I found a small apartment in Cohoes, NY, adjacent to the banks of the Hudson River.

Metaphorically speaking, my world was exactly like Chuck Noland as Albany would become my small island. Prior to landing on my island, I painstakingly created an identity, but I didn’t live it. I called myself a chameleon, for I embellished so much I could easily adapt and fit in almost any situation.

That’s a key statement. I lived a created identity and remained unable to fully understand just how lucky I was.

In the end, God’s quest for accountability and the events of prior months broke me from my obdurate foolishness. My overall lack of concern for the threats to my life and to those I loved were disastrous.

As such, when walking along the Hudson River at night, each river tide brought peace and tranquility. Even though I lost Karen (Noland’s Kelly), I remain grateful that she remained in my heart – at every step in New York.

Eight years later, I’m an experienced valuing person. I learned to appreciate life and others. Decreased workload allowed me to think about other people and respect them for who they are. God had to cast away Chuck (to throw) Noland (no land). I, wandered and moved onward, albeit slower and hard.

As a Buddhist, I want to say to everyone experiencing deep anguish, it’s normal to consider quitting. Don’t. When we are in the midst of a season of suffering our decision is either to lay down and quit or to keep breathing and trust God will bring what we need during life’s tide.  For me it has brought real peace to my soul.

My dream job before 2010 was illusion.

Last year, The New York Times (NYT) chose Jada Yuan from 13,000 applicants to travel as a journalist to go to each and every place on the NYT’s 52 Places to Go in 2018. In her January 4th, NYT article 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places, Jada Yuan summarized lessons learned. The key lesson applies to everyone.

“Trust in myself, trust in the fundamental goodness of people, trust that as a traveler, I could watch my back without walling myself off from experiences,“ and that “… the center of my life isn’t there [New York City] for me anymore. It’s with me and it’s mobile.

Same lessons applies for me. Of all my experiences since 2010, I too have learned to trust myself – that the center of my life isn’t in any one particular place. It’s within me and within my ability to love.

Given the fact that on any given day I could die, someone asked how I keep going. I remember Chuck Noland:

“… keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise, and you never know what the tide will bring.”

I awoke to stifling lower back pain. A quick glance of the clock, ‘1:46 AM,’ Christmas Day.

Stumbling to the bathroom, located some Extra Strength Excedrin, swallowed three and nursed myself to a rocker overlooking the valley below. “Christmas Day!” I squinted as my eyes adjusted to the sparkling lights from the valley below.

As a kid, there were many times I sat waiting to surprise Santa. Armed with a Pentax K1000 35mm camera, surely Santa would be doomed by my conniving nature, as I would be the first in a couple hundred years to snap artwork of ol’ Santa. And like those days of yesteryear, I sat shrouded in the mystery, briefly revealed by an occasional flicker from below.

In waning decades, not much has changed from such days. Even today, adorned by all our gadgetry, motion detectors, instant photo cams, city web cams, and Ring doorbell systems, Santa remains elusive. Today, I’m armed with the best of smartphones. But age has dulled reaction time as well as my ability to capture the red guy.

Ah,” I smiled. “Christmas Day.”

Looking back at the kid from years gone by, I was merely caught in gifts. Yet, by the age of 9, I started to keep the traditions of ol’ Saint Nick, having unknowingly moved from the spirit of Santa to a spirit of faith. What I had hoped for the world – more specifically, my world – was something bigger than just our world. I wanted to experience the beauty of love, in celebration and embracing one another. It was a world of faith that both Christ and Buddhist would have been proud.

In essence, all the presents in the world mean nothing without a faith for love and a faith for life. As such, the questions I reflect upon include ‘What difference did my faith and love for life make to me yesterday? What effect did my faith in love have on what I did yesterday?’ Much to the disparagement of some traditionalists, my personal faith is genuinely nourished by more than one religious tradition, by more than my home ‘root’ tradition.

One inquisitor queried, “What then, is your great way?

Love,” I replied. “Many people can follow a ‘great way.’ Only a handful understand and follow the small way.

Just as in years before, I fell asleep shortly after my search began. A welfare check from a friend wakened me early morn. Alas, Santa silently sleighed by in the night. There was no Mercedes-Benz in my driveway, no WeatherTech Floor mats, nor any diamonds from whatever jeweler. Just a new day … and new opportunities for love.

What I’ve realized though, is that Santa is bigger than any one person. His life of love has gone longer than any who’ve lived. What he does is simple, but powerful. He teaches how to have belief in something unseen or touched. As such, all of us remain students of the real Santa, the real Christ and the real Buddhist.

And the lesson?

Love.

Last night a friend texted, “Have you seen the moon? Beautiful, isn’t it.”

At the time, I couldn’t see it.

However, pushing and pulling the bed, just past 1:00 AM Christmas Eve, I was able to maneuver near the window. Wow. It was a beauty. Over the years, the moon has been my true companion. It’s always there. Steadfast. Guiding. Loving. I suppose this year be no different. I’ve never heard its rotational voice, but I’ve always understood its imperceptible power.

Christmas Eve. Made nearly another year. Not sure how, but I did. Gazing at the brilliance, I remember astronaut Bill Anders looking out a window of the Apollo 8 spacecraft on Christmas Eve, 1968 and snapping a photo of earth (titled Earthrise)– to which the poet Archibald MacLeish offered:

To see Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence as it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in that eternal cold.”

I thought of MacLeish’s elegy after reflecting upon my last 12 days – 12 days since my last blog. Many remain unaware how difficult the last 12 days have been. A single cell phone calendar note states it all, “Awoke – unable to move.” Cheating life’s natural wavelength, I’ve out-maneuvered spinal and heart problems for three decades. Until December 13.

As the days wore on, I regained use of my body, I remember my father battling like mad to fight from going mad – he never quite recovered from surgeries a year earlier. The anesthesia seems to have spun his brain like an emcee spinning balls on Catholic Bingo night. He never came out quite ‘right.’ Thus, upon discharge, I caught an American Airline flight to Tucson, AZ to visit my father.

It doesn’t matter who he is, it matters only how I remember him. Doesn’t matter if I die first or should he. We are unified in love. He is my father, but he is my brother. We are riders on the same earth.

Contemplating Anders’ photograph, noted authors and dignitaries attempted to invoke a similar sense of humankind’s spirituality. Not sure we succeeded. Alas, the Christmas Eve message from 1968 and today remain the same – that Christmas is not solely about a child in the manager. Of course, it is. And it isn’t.

Christmas is about the unity my father and I have – about the unity humankind should have. Millions of people saw Anders image, with Gary Lovell saying, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” And what we have is awesome. It’s awesome, because you help make it awesome.

During this Christmas (and any other time), let us adopt a similar attitude. Let us follow after real courage and understanding. Lay aside whatever may be disturbing us today and forevermore and attune ourselves to all that the Christ within represents – we are loved. And we are one.

Reaffirm your faith. Remember MacLeish’s “To see Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence as it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in that eternal cold?” There’s a smidgen more, often omitted “… brothers who now know they are truly brothers.”

This Christmas, be the ‘brothers who now know they are truly brothers.

%d bloggers like this: