Tag Archive: Living Christ


Five years ago, just before Thanksgiving, I had a colonoscopy.

For those unfamiliar with the procedure, a colonoscopy is a medical test that examines your colon for abnormalities and disease, mainly cancer. For new patients, a physician might show a color diagram of the colon. Such visuals are like AAA roadmaps that appear to go everywhere. Mine looks like the Louisville Kennedy Interchange, an intersection of Interstates 64, 65 and 71. Anything passing out of that whizzes past Lexington and jams up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The physician will state that a long flexible tube (colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum and the video camera allows clinicians to view the inside of the entire colon. Often, digital photographs are taken, none of which should be shared at family get-togethers.

I was amazed at the precision by which this procedure gets completed. Like flights landing and taking off from your local airport, patients are moved through the various stages: pre-op, operation, post-op, recovery, doctor’s summary, exit.

What most hate is preparation. It begins during the previous night and involves chugging a gallon size concoction that tastes similar to a dishrag and cat saliva. If you’re lucky, one might get a hint of strawberry. Most times, one is not so fortunate. Instructions forewarn said participant that ‘loose, watery bowel movements may result.’ May result? For me, ‘loose watery bowel movement‘ resembled ‘Old Faithful,’ with timely eruptions occurring every 20 minutes.

I overheard two clinicians saying they know of patients putting a shot or two of alcohol in the prep.

Damn,” I thought. “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?

Recovery resembles ‘America’s Got Talent.’ A group of clinicians gather around their scoreboard (x-rays and pictures), point, “Hmm” in unison and shake their heads. Awaiting my ‘Golden Buzzer’ or dreaded rejection, I overheard one patient-doctor conversation. The woman was given the sad news of a stage 3 tumor.

Hard to imagine: In less than a minute, someone went from Thanksgiving festivities to cancer patient.

In 2011, Vietnamese Buddhist monk William Tran went to the dentist for inflammation in his gums. Antibiotics did not help, and when the dentist saw him again, he was so concerned that he took Tran to the emergency room. There, Tran was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and told his disease might not be cured. Tran went from monk to a cancer patient.

Writing previously, my diagnosis never came via a patient-doctor visit. I read about it from the online patient portal.

“. . . tumor in neck measuring 4.1 x 2.3 in transaxial dimensions and 3.7 cm in height (1.6 inches x .9 inches x 1.4 inches), surrounding the spinal cord and C5-C6. Preliminary indication benign. Requires biopsy. Metastatic or secondary tumors may spread from another site. Delicate neural structures will complicate treatment, resulting in nerve compression, spinal deformation and compromised bone strength.

I remember these stories as I learned of a friend who, in a matter of minutes, went from vibrant mother, wife, and business owner to cancer patient.

I am lucky. Years of work in the healthcare industry provided some tools to meet the requirements of my illness, its treatment, and when I could, the compassion to be patient with myself and others. In many ways, I revealed how I applied spirituality and or humor in many difficult situations. I always hope my experience would be of use to someone walking the same hallway.  As noted, I am not a spiritually mature person. As noted in my blog, I fail often but succeed as well.

My years in the healthcare industry has provided a general understanding of life and the body’s capability.

One such lesson: Spirituality, whether Buddhist, Christian or other, will neither prevent anything nor will it shield us from anything. Faith can soften the blow and open us to meet everything coming forth. A patient could spend the rest of their life thinking about treatment, without looking at the nature of their mortality and meaning in their life. Therefore, it is essential to have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect. When people realize their life is almost over and look back, it is easy to see how many dreams go unfulfilled. Most have never honored even a quarter of their goals.

Remember to honor some dreams along the way. If not, from the very moment you lose that thing defined as ‘health,’ it’s too late. Health is a freedom seldom appreciated until no longer available.

Plowshares

When asked about my disease, my comparison is root rot. Yeah, true. Webster’s Dictionary will define root rot as a condition in which the roots of a plant begin to decay, but that’s where I’m at. My days are composed of overcoming various problems: stiffness, numb hands, dropping things, sporadic tremors, and so on. The latest issue is extreme neck numbness accompanied by full neck lock.

Several nights ago, while sitting in a comfortable chair watching the Cubs lose, I suddenly became unable to turn my neck. I quickly downed some essential medication. After an hour, little relief was achieved and grabbed my one form of ‘use at last resort’ medicine, a muscle relaxer, and pain blocker. By night’s close, I drifted off to beautiful sleep.

At dawn’s early light, I stumbled from the bed, showered, drank a cup of coffee, downed a batch of morning medications, dressed and reached for my Smith and Wesson 351PD.

Before this weapon, the only gun I ever owned was a Lone Ranger toy gun received from my Uncle at years for Christmas. Of course, I grew into a trained sniper and handled many weapons during my time in the military, yet I hadn’t owned a gun until 2017. Ownership came after being robbed while coming from a department store. And Smith and Wesson became my choice for personal protection. The 351 PD I carried provided me with a sense of security. With it, merely flashing the weapon to another would-be robber was all required to dispel an attack,

From there, I somehow acquired 8.

Strangely, in spite of everything, I could still shoot. My military instructors would be damn proud. I put in countless hours at the range, and in spite of my root rot, I could shoot nearly as good as some competitors.

Still groggy from the previous night’s medication, I flipped the cylinder open to ensure proper loading, spun the cylinder for the hell of it, handle in right-hand, barrel resting in my left, while and carefully checked the trigger.

The trigger slipped — a rookie mistake made by a professional.

Surprisingly, the. 22 caliber bullet provided little recoil. Amazingly, the bullet travel between my index finger and middle finger touched neither. Best I can tell, the shot angled through the drywall, wedging in a wall stud.

The explosion still resonates in my ear today. Suffice to say; it was huge. It was the first time I heard a weapon discharge so close to my ear. My ear still rings. That sound is forever etched in my mind. I’ll never forget it.

For the first time in my life, I understood the fear of gun violence; it’s sound and the fear of being shot. I could have been seriously wounded. Under different circumstances, I could have seriously injured a loved one or bystander.

The hundreds of hours spent in training is futile when one is slightly groggy. At that moment, I became a threat.

I was blinded to the real possibilities of killing someone. The idea to purchase the weapon was to feel safer. In a split second, I realized just how idyllic and self-delusional. I wasn’t warped by NRA, by some fancy salesman, by the notion of the second amendment. I had distorted by a belief that a weapon would make me safer.

I broke my honor, and the Buddhist precept of Ahimsa, do not harm. The real villain in this story is not the man who robbed me years ago. It’s was neither media nor gun rights advocates. The real villain was ignorance — my ignorance. I projected my fear unto a dreamlike state of peace that could never be created. Personal peace via a weapon cannot be attained.

Late afternoon, I gathered my weapons and handed them over for destruction.

I ended the fantasy.

————————

. . . and they shall beat their swords into plowshares . . .

Isaiah 2:4

~ In a time of domestic crisis, men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. ~

John F. Kennedy

The president wants four young U.S. congresswomen of color to go back to the countries from which they came. It doesn’t matter if they were born in the U.S. or whether they’re United States citizens. Just shut up. Sit down. Or go. Get out.

The love-it-or-leave-it sentiment is xenophobia at its worst. Such vulgarity originated as far back as the 1600s. Still yet, in 1798, our country allowed for the deportation of noncitizens who were considered dangerous, from hostile nations or dared to criticize the federal government.

Unfortunately, such xenophobia remains alive and well. Trump wants anyone different to shut up and be thankful they’re allowed to stay, even if constituents elected them. He communicated this message by relentlessly and culminated with a despicable attack on Ilhan Omar. In defending Trump, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway claimed that the “Squad” represented a “dark underbelly in this country” and that “We are tired of some of these women palling around with terrorists.”

As of this post, no evidence clarifies what the ‘dark underbelly‘ is or that any congressional member palled around with terrorists. But my guess? Conway conjured it up on the fly (i.e., at the moment).

Esquire writer Jack Holmes notes that Trump’s essential message is that America is the government of white people, by white people, for white people. Everyone else? Be happy you’re here.

REPORTER: Does it concern you that many people saw that tweet as racist and that white nationalist groups are finding common cause with you on that point?

TRUMP: It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.

CBS’ Ed O’Keefe spoke to several Trump supporters on Monday who agree.

  • “I know some people don’t like his tweets and they think he’s crass. I — that’s why I voted for him,” said retired businesswoman Mary Lou Kohlhofer.
  • Nancy Schneider even went so far as to echo the sentiment in President Trump’s tweets, saying, “If you think you have it better in your — where you came from or how they did things there, go back where you came from.”
  • Doug Thomas, said, “It’s unfortunate he had to do it the way he had to do it . . . It’s really the only way he can to get this country back.”

My first response to Mr. Thomas? Get the country back? From what and who took it? What exactly did Trump reclaim? Steel jobs? No. Companies returning to the U.S.? Nada. Foxconn’s building the ‘. . . the 8th wonder of the world?’ Hmm, nope.

Foxconn is just a tall tale – very tall. If actress Clara Peller were alive, even she might say, “Where’s the beef?” In June 2018, Trump joined Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou in announcing Foxconn’s plan to bring 13,000 new jobs. With the stroke of a shovel, Trump declared manufacturing was back, and that Wisconsin’s Foxconn plant would be the “eighth wonder of the world.” In the year since, Gou resigned to pursue, and lose, the candidacy for President of Taiwan. A Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin neighborhood got demolished. And there’s neither a plant nor jobs. Just destruction.

Conservative commentator George Will eloquently summarized Trump’s reign with a candid and stark assessment.

“I believe that what this president has done to our culture, to our civic discourse … you cannot unring these bells and you cannot unsay what he has said, and you cannot change that he has now in a very short time made it seem normal for schoolboy taunts and obvious lies to be spun out in a constant stream. I think this will do more lasting damage than Richard Nixon’s surreptitious burglaries did.”

” . . . Presidential norms and the idea of “being presidential” is a meaningless construct. And a lot more “lessons” that will be destructive to the way in which people run for president and act once they get elected.”

Regardless of religion, whether Christian, Buddhist, or Atheism, we must respond to suffering from loving-kindness, wisdom, calm minds, and courage. We should hear the cries of those who suffer and of our most vulnerable. The lineage of one’s non-whiteness, privilege, or citizenship must not be the sole determiner of human’ worth.’ Instead, we must unite with those who hear cries from the wilderness and become a collective force for transformation and love.

In the film Thirteen Days, the character Kenny O’Donnell quoted, “If the sun comes up tomorrow, it is only because of men of goodwill. That is all there is between the devil and us.” From all evidence presented, unless we change our mindset, the devil will be around for quite some time.

Alignment

The President sparked an uproar this past weekend by tweeting unnamed progressive congresswomen “. . . who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe,” should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.

Trump did not specify the lawmakers, but the interpretation appears to have been Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). All four are U.S. citizens. Only Omar, who was born in Somalia, came to the U.S. as a refugee.

Why does Trump do this stuff? Well, he knows ‘pretty’ and ‘fun’ doesn’t get headlines like fury and outrage. Trump proclaims that he alone is the conservative protector, and regardless of toxicity, he continually forges an ideological fortress of hatred that disembowels others while remaining unscathed by life’s vicissitudes. Asserting the right to engage in public displays of racism without it being called out for what it is. As Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent noted, “A crucial ingredient here is Trump’s declaration of the ability to flaunt his racism with impunity.”

Trump continually asserts that nonwhites born in America, but has ethnic roots in another country, is in some sense, not a real American. Therefore, they are suspect. What I am ashamed of is how the logic works. It’s not because we are no longer offended by any religious or moral sensibility, but that American’s succumbed to tools birthed in propaganda and a Twitter account. Just like any other rube, we let ourselves be taken in. We chewed on it; bathed in it; and swallowed it whole.

We’ve normalized hatred.

Consider Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. Graham declined to condemn the President over racist tweets.

We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel. They hate our own country. They’re calling the guards along our border — Border Patrol agents — concentration camp guards. They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America.”

On Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures, Graham normalized dehumanization, saying:

I don’t care if they (asylum seekers) have to stay in these facilities for 400 days. We’re not going to let those men go that I saw.”

A broader question is, who will ultimately become more powerful? The current GOP administration? Independents? Progressives? As a country, are we to be ruled by the dogma of the ultra-wealthy privileged few or will we toward systemic reform thinkers?

Those in Trump’s orbit would note I lack neither the ruthless business savvy nor charismatic leadership style to overturn anything but the book on my table. For the most part, I remain anonymous, devoid of collaborators, and free from interference as possible. I command my own time; have a regular job; don’t have a vast retirement plan; live alone, and my credit rating is above average. I’ve abandoned any notion of family, having a family or children. And, I accept the fact I will die sometime within the next several years. Alone. Good. I’m OK with it.

The more substantial threat to the establishment lay in future leaders. Like AOC, Omar, Tlaib, and Pressley, these young leaders want to create their own platform and their voice. I don’t believe there’s any internal notion of being movie stars. However, they use the same Social Media platforms that propel hate to drive voices of compassion. As such, these voices will neither accept complacency nor complicity, and the current rule of “ruin everything” will not unify future generations.

I may not necessarily believe entirely in the political theology brought forth by AOC, Omar, Tlaib, and Pressley. But I admire their willingness to tackle far deeper problems: the fundamental evasion of heart that permeates much of life. The world needs these leaders. The world needs your leadership too.

A person could easily say that like Christ, Buddha was one of the most influential and prominent leaders in history. He created one of the most significant, most well-known religions in the world today. And unlike many of the leaders throughout the dawn of humanity, he did it without hatred or violence. What AOC and others represent is purpose: purpose of ending suffering. Not just for themselves, but everyone.

Authentic leadership comes from deep confidence and understanding of life that enables us to align our compass to a humanistic direction without departing from our humanity. When we fail to follow our calling and vocation, and instead, focus on the most unimportant and trivial, our conscience warns that something’s not right and corrective measures and proactive actions are required. Therefore, we must initiate a conscious effort to dedicate enough time, focus, and energies on positive, meaningful activities and align ourselves to commandments found in the Beatitudes, located in the compassion of Buddha, and bless us with true peace, joy, and fulfillment. These are the values that help us be “human” in a godly sense.

In a real sense, our life is about love–it’s the compass of compassion God requires us to align.

Treatment began early May. Two months later, I’m amazed at how much my life is tethered to technology.

For many, the smartphone is a magic wand that summons carry-out, pays for gasoline, can connect friends, track flights, make reservations and even order from the great big box store in the sky. With the exception of a few moments in my writings, I’ve focused on just how much this technology can destroy a life. Via some weird purchasing smartphone app, one could buy something from another country, make an ill-advised comment or get trolled, or get a ton of botnet emails on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I’ve retrieved the weather, texted a friend and checked the latest Chicago Cubs score.

Yet, it can be a lifesaver. September 14th, Siri was able to send a personal distress call. At 2:36 AM, I returned to life. My first comment was to apologize for not having this event at 2:36 PM.

In his article, In The Land Where the Internet Ends, New York Times writer Pagan Kennedy details how he drove down a back road in West Virginia and into a parallel reality. After passing Spruce Mountain, his phone lost service and remained comatose for days.

“I came in hopes of finding a certain kind of wildness and solitude. I live in Massachusetts, and I often disappear into the forests and rivers to clear my head. I’ve always loved the moment when the bars on my phone disappear. When I’m out of range entirely, floating along in a kayak, time grows elastic. I stare down into that other kingdom below me, at the minnows darting through the duckweed, and feel deeply free — no one’s watching; no one knows where I am.”

Like Kennedy, I so desperately wish to pull my phone out and hurl the damn things into the air. Yet, I cannot. My life is attached to the technology, intertwined by a host of technology genius, smartwatch, smartphone, and body. The aforementioned technology lives for me. As long as I live, it lives. Dare I pass, someone will wipe its system and become another person’s dread or wonder. Smart technology tracks everything–blood pressure, pulse, calories, exercise, sleep patterns, medications, and weight. I can communicate with my physicians, request medications, receive test results, schedule appointments, track both mood and thoughts. And, at the slightest miscue, it can notify emergency contacts and I might be afforded the opportunity to return.

Medical beeps and buzzes intricately denote bodily vital signs. And in that, I’ve noticed amazing things. For instance, April 25, on the day I learned of my tumor, my ‘Beats Per Minute” was 96. Two months later, after treatment, 66. Yet, this capability and inevitably only deepens the profound mystery of my own identity. I took birth in human form. Therefore, what force gave life? What forces allowed others the ability to create the technology that measures and assists this form (body)? And regardless of the answer, the world’s great spiritual teachings repeat I am not who I thought I was.

But does that mean there is no self or a search for true self? Or, is ‘self’ different? These are hard questions to answer. Technology can measure bleeps and blips, but identity, friendship, love and ultimately, humanity remains elusive to the critical eye. As such, the technology enhances my humanness, and the soul God hath given this vessel (me). I appreciate the fact that the best things humans enjoy (being human) is the same thing that will destroy my time here. Yet, the knowledge that I’m fully alive and awake is wondrous.

In being overly holy and righteous, we discard the wonder of humanity, of being created in the image of something beautiful and miraculous. I don’t believe such deep levels of righteousness is what God intended.

Like Thoreau, I too sometimes awake in the night and think of possibilities. I can catch an echo of the great exchange of love between humanity and eternal life. We have the ability to create an original work of art. This creation (body) does not originate from the bleeps and blips. I was not generated based upon programming. The technology connects my body to the world helps me understand and appreciate my humanity. And if I am strong enough to look beyond my own selfishness, maybe I can understand a small nugget of the divine–how spirit could become flesh. It’s not by luck. Maybe, rather, divine.

“I try to make sense of things. Which is why, I guess, I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be.” ~Bicentennial Man~

A Kansas mother posted videos about giving chlorine dioxide (basically industrial bleach), to her sons. Laurel Austin documented her son Jeremy’s first dosing of chlorine dioxide on YouTube. Austin a mother of six, four of whom are adults with autism has tried almost every fad online “cure” for autism — a developmental disorder that has no known cure — including treatments for heavy metal poisoning, hormone therapies used in chemical castration and “natural” remedies such as cilantro and algae.

Nothing worked. Including the bleach.

The solution Austin uses was first promoted decades ago by former Scientologist, Jim Humble. Humble touted the mixture as a cure for AIDS, cancer and almost every other disease known to humanity. in October 2016, after years of investigation by the United States and other countries, and just days after ABC News tracked him down in Mexico to ask about the dangerous game prosecutors say his church is playing with desperate people, Humble wrote:

“There are certainly times I have said some things that I probably should have said differently. For lack of a better way to express things at the time — or because others put words in my mouth, in the past I have stated that MMS (Mineral Miracle Solution) cures most of all diseases. Today, I say that MMS cures nothing!”

Few four-letter words in disease management are more frustrating than the word “cure.” I believe I got ‘sick’ during my military rotation on Guam. In four decades of being sick, I’ve been repeatedly told about cures. I just took this one supplement or went on that one diet, all of my troubles would end. I’ve been told to drink more water. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Random cures popped up everywhere. First, there was shark cartilage supplements. Then there was Bee venom. Let’s not forget acupuncture. Now turmeric is now in vogue. You know, that magic root used in Indian cooking that turns food and fingers a burnt yellow. Yeah. I only presume that some nameless researcher, at an Indian restaurant, picked up a piece of turmeric and said, “Gee. I bet this will cure cancer, arthritis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and gout.

As a Buddhist, living with a terminal disease is about learning how to accept and how to adjust. It’s about recognizing progress; being grateful for what I can and can’t do while still remaining optimistic. The tumor in my neck doesn’t define me, rather I define myself. I strengthen in the moonlight of night and live to tarry another day. When all is said and done,my greatest strengths are drawn from tender and heartfelt moments shared with others. There within that body of love, is a door unto another world, that keeps on hoping.

I close with the following story.

A preaching professor at Harvard University tells the story of the year his 5-year-old son was working on an art project in his kindergarten class. It was made of plaster, resembled nothing in particular, but with some paint, sparkle and time in a kiln, it was ready to be wrapped as a gift. He wrapped it himself, and was beside himself with excitement. It would be a gift for his father, one three months in the making.

Early in December, when the child could hardly contain the secret, the last day of school finally came. All the parents arrived for the big Christmas play, and when the students left for home, they were finally allowed to take their ceramic presents home. The professor’s son secured his gift, ran toward his parents, tripped, and fell to the floor. The gift went airborne, and when it landed on the cafeteria floor, the shattering sound stopped all conversations. It was perfectly quiet for a moment, as all involved considered the magnitude of the loss. For a 5-year-old, there had never been a more expensive gift. He crumpled down on the floor next to his broken gift and just started crying.

Both parents rushed to their son, but the father was uncomfortable with the moment. People were watching. His son was crying. He patted the boy on the head and said, “Son, it’s OK – it doesn’t matter.” His wife glared at the great professor. “Oh yes, it matters,” she said to both of her men, “Oh yes, it does matter.” She cradled her son in her arms, rocked him back and forth, and cried with him.

In a few minutes, the crying ceased. “Now,” said the mother, “let’s go home and see what can be made with what’s left.” And so with mother’s magic and a glue gun, they put together from the broken pieces a multi-colored butterfly. Amazingly, the artwork after the tragedy was actually much more beautiful than what it had been in a pre-broken state.

Rather than looking for the magic cure, see what can be made with what’s left.

Three weeks ago, Ms. Kalabash, my 63-year-old neighbor, stopped me before my travel to Sacramento. She noted how the cool early morn temperature floated through her shoulder-length hair, of the crisp morning air, and of the birds jotting from tree to tree.

“Beautiful morning. Just beautiful,” Kalabash exclaimed. Noting my luggage, “Where are you off to this week?”

“Ah. To the desert –Sacramento.”

“Why? What the hell’s there?”

“Ah, someone decided it was a great place to build a company headquarters.”

She raised an eyebrow while simultaneously wrinkling her nose. “Well,” she paused. “Have a great trip.”

It was the last time I saw Kalabash.

Three days ago, a realtor notice posted a for sale sign the community bulletin board. Deep in debt from recurring years of arthritic pain, and no hope blooming over the horizon, she went to bed on June 10th and never awoke. Some speculated she passed from lack of proper medical care. Others claimed she downed a series of pills in sequence and committed suicide.

Meeting her daughter yesterday afternoon, her daughter indicated Kalabash was over $60,000 in medical debt, even with insurance. “My mother couldn’t keep up,” wiping away an errant tear. Kalabash racked up more than several thousand dollars in out-of-pocket medical expenses—doctors, x-rays, surgeons, anesthesiologists, radiologists, and pharmaceuticals, you name it. She had health insurance. However, the policy had a $6,000 deductible.

Herein lay just one debate over the future of the Affordable Care Act—just because a person is insured, doesn’t mean healthcare is affordable. Years and years of deductibles add up. For those with lifetime illnesses, physicians, hospitals, pharmaceuticals, and other medical costs are killers.

And like many others before, Kalabash became invisible. She disappeared into the night.

Kalabash became invisible – to everyone.

Invisible. Strange word.

Like Kalabash, I don’t look sick yet. Like Kalabash, I’ve told nothing of my health to but only a limited few. Clothes hide weight loss; drugs help me walk; smiles and laughter disarm the curious. As a result, I can find myself not wanting to go out, even if I if can, because the importance of willing to be accepted is more critical than the months remaining. How I look doesn’t necessarily reflect how I feel.

Invisibility can bring tragic consequences. Kalabash feared misunderstanding over what it meant to be disabled. Too sick to work and be active also meant she couldn’t go out to a restaurant or experience a night out. She feared her long-term disability payments would be revoked if someone saw them being active in some way, perhaps going to the store.

Kalabash felt the burden was on her to be invisible to others. It turns out; she died that way.

For those living an invisible life, Author Toni Bernhard wrote:

… I remembered something a [Buddhist] teacher had said: ‘If your compassion doesn’t include yourself, it is incomplete.’

Bernhard’s comments will come as a challenge to many, but looking at myself,  maybe I need to stop blaming myself for getting sick. It might help if the world does the same.

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.

Interpreting God

I was dining one night when I overheard two people discussing the best way to interpret God. After a brief pause, one said, “Maybe there’s an app?

Reflecting on my youth, I first read the Bible cover-to-cover at age 18. Having no theological training, many of the thou’s, tho’s, thus’, thereby, shalt’s, coulda’s, shoulda’s, woulda’s were way over my head. It was a weird feeling. I could take apart an M-16, clean it, and reassemble it in 20 minutes, but somehow, Biblical verbiage escaped me.

The Bible was never read in my home. As a kid, English was the only chosen language. One semester, I was registered in a French class. Any hopes for entering the diplomatic corps were dashed on the blackboard as I could barely comprehend Merci (thank you) or S’il Vous Plaît (please). I once said Merci to my father. The look on his face was priceless. To him, French was best left in school, and generally, everything outside our home and conversations of Coors beer barely registered. Foreign films, short documentaries and other attempts to introduce any ‘refinement‘ were quickly forgotten, mostly within minutes.

I was so inept at Biblical reading that I was convinced, that after prayer, God would respond, but respond in Tongues. Damn, then I would have to find someone who could understand Tongues. How would an 18 year find such a person? Place a classified ‘Help Wanted’ ad?

18-year-old, first-time bible reader, received a message from God. Unfortunately, the message is in Tongues. Need interpreter. Will pay, but can’t pay much.”

Comprehension was always a challenge. I have to admit; I learned conversational Spanish. However, even conversational Spanish had difficulties. On a fraud investigation in Southern Chile, my driver asked if I wanted to go to the cocina (kitchen). I laughed heartily. “Knowing he did not understand English, I replied, “It’s 10:30 PM. What the hell do I want to go to a ‘casino’ for?” Wasn’t until I repeated the story to a coworker in Atlanta that I learned my error.

There were many times I thought God must believe I’m incompetent. This personal level of insecurity dates back to 1999 when I worked with a colleague who spoke 12 languages and could easily skip, with ease, between dialects. He smoothly transitioned from Arabic to Darija, to French, then Hindi, Bengal, Spanish and so on. Elderly Egyptians recount how in Alexandria, in the early 20th century, they would switch between Arabic, French, English, Italian, and Greek, depending on what they were doing and whom they were addressing.

For some time, I remained rudderless. While able to speak to God, I often did not hear the response. In truth, none of us who commit to prayer and the spiritual life enjoy those periods during which prayer, liturgy, or spiritual reading seem dry or dull. But such moments are necessary—or so it would seem—for God permits them. It turns out I wasn’t alone.

St. John of the Cross wrote of “the dark night of the soul.” So did Mother Teresa. And Terese of Avila discussed “the period of aridity.” It’s typical for the religious life, to be plunged into not knowing. I don’t lead an overtly religious life. However, what most are looking for: some way to let real life, with the pain, not blow us apart. And in the wake of such great forces, many quit.

Then again, how many times do both the prayee and responder misinterpret the message?

A rather old-fashioned lady was planning several weeks of vacation in Florida. Being quite elegant, she wanted to ensure the campground was adequately equipped with “toilet” facilities. Feeling too dignified to write the word “toilet,” she thought of an old fashioned term “Bathroom Commode,” and abbreviated it as “B.C..” Her letter included the request, “Does the campground have its own ‘B.C’?”

Upon receipt, the owner couldn’t understand what ‘B.C.’ meant. He came to the conclusion she was asking about the Baptist Church. So, he responded:

“Dear Madam: I regret the delay in answering your letter very much, but I take pleasure in informing you that the “B.C.” is located nine miles north and is capable of seating 250 people at one time.

As a Buddhist, I learned every person has a personal language which provides a unique prism through which to interpret God’s wisdom and experience. We’re not in the position, as human beings, to figure out the mind of God. It is our shared humanity and fellowship with other humans. I now believe God communicates not with mere words alone, but through culture, shared experience, laughter, tears, music, books, blogs, and joy.

It’s important to realize God shares our condition of humanity. God became one of us and poured himself into our human experience so that we are never alone, so that God is with us even into the worst of times, even when we do not know it. God is there. God will equip you with what you need when you need it.

What Lucky Taught Me

“And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”

~ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories ~

Lucky was acquired. Living in Mendota Heights, MN during the winter of 1993, I noticed a 15 pound stray, orange long haired tabby. Of the few times was seen, he drank from standing pools of water on the street. Finally, on one ‘lucky night,’ I nabbed him. Capturing is misleading; he came willingly. I named him Lucky because it was pure luck we crossed paths.

Unlike ancient Egyptian pyramids, Lucky came with no ‘warning sign.’ Though I certainly could have used one, he had no user manual. And while I looked quite extensively, there was no ‘off’ button. For all the world’s Yang, you know, those loving, wholesome thoughts, Lucky received a double dose of Yin. To this day, I believe Lucky woke in the morning and ate nothing but a quarter slice of lemon. That was the high note, and it dwindled quickly thereon.

He was perpetually cranky. One might say Lucky was prejudice. But after having lived with him much of his life, I can honestly state Lucky was not prejudiced – he hated everyone. Almost equally. As one friend phrased it, “Those aren’t ears, they’re horns.

Still, Lucky taught me just as many lessons as Figaro.

Real Love Does Not Require Complete Understanding
We all want to be loved. Behind the grump, Lucky just wanted to be loved. On most days, his real personality came out, and he was often happy and affectionate. As Norman Maclean observed, I didn’t always understand him, but I loved him completely.

The Truth is Easier To With Those We Love
With little fear of repercussion, its easier to share the dark, deep troubles of those we love. Whatever life Lucky lived before me, maybe we drift more towards truth as we age because we realize “truth” is what cuts through the weighty, granite fortresses of life. As Maclean said, “But maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.” In truth, after all these years since he’s gone, I believe Lucky loved someone trying to help him, even if I couldn’t wholly cure whatever ill hurt him.

Interconnection Means Sharing an Life’s Arc
The lake just off Concord Way was perched adjacent to my patio. Watching Lucky follow geese across the clear blue water reminds me that the arc of flowing water symbolizes the arc of life. Lucky and I were connected by that lake, and while living upon the shoreline, we etched deep patterns of life’s harmonic vitality into one another. I was amazed at how we lived through the seasons, and torrent weather with a philosophical exploration of a spiritual dimension. Through it, we believed in each other, because we lived in each other. He was an anchor for me, just as I was an anchor for him.

Relationships Require Work
Lucky and I worked hard at building trust. I didn’t know him; he didn’t know me. He didn’t choose to like me just because I was black or white. He didn’t care how tall I was, my education, my social status or wealth. We connected because we both chose to trust. As a result, our lives became an intimate story between souls. We shared something beautiful. And now that I think about it, it was always about love and relationship – about how we became brothers and formed one common bond. Even in death, his sense of self-transcendent interconnectedness still lives today.

I am humbled to have been a participant in his life. For all his gruff, Lucky still moves me in a positive, meaningful, and profound way. I’m moved to a different level each time I reflect on him and of our unspoken love.

God, I miss him. And it’s that level of love both Christ and Buddha would honor.

Thank you Lucky.

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