Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 26, 2019 - Listening Honestly

    A teenager once told me he was inheriting his uncle’s yacht. Knowing the kid, I sadly didn’t believe him. But it didn’t matter. He had a record of somewhat alternative truths, each relatively harmless. I told him I thought he’d look real cool at the helm steering it into port. It served no purpose to call him out on it right there. Better to pick a moment like that carefully. There was more going on there than a fib.
As he walked away, a thought suddenly occurred to me. He was telling me his truth, just not with his facts. He was telling me he wanted to be seen as special. He wanted me to believe that he was loved. I assume because he thought himself neither special nor loved at all.
    A lot of raw honesty came from his little tale. I have never forgotten it.
    How much of the truth we hear is factual? Probably not very much. But there is a truth locked in its cage of words. It comes from the person telling it.
     Recognizing that truth is subjective and often tainted by even those we love and trust the most helped me let go of my ego a bit when noticing I was probably not getting all the facts as they occurred. If you listen honestly, you get a sense of what’s probably real. If you pay attention, you’ll start to see a pattern. Remember what it feels like to be insecure, for we have all known it. Ask yourself why that person might need to tell you a story in this way. Wonder what the moral of that story truly is.
Be compassionate with what you discover. They don’t realize they are being this vulnerable. They are working so hard to make sure that your view of them is better than their view of themselves they don’t realize how accidentally honest they’re being. Use that knowledge wisely and kindly.
This advice is more for you than them, really. For how they come to terms with their own identity is not likely solved by a confrontation about fibbing. That’s only a symptom of larger issues. They probably need more assistance than you can give them, but give what you can anyway. Be at peace with them first right where they are. That is the best way to transform anything we are challenged by toward the best possible version of themselves. Gently nudge them forward, don’t push them off a cliff.
Pride and ego make too many decisions for us. When we have been deceived we behave in all sorts of unhelpful ways. It’s not that we shouldn’t respond when people lie, prevaricate, mislead, exaggerate, or fib. And we must also leave room for the near-universal fallibility of human memory. But we should more purposefully consider our real goals when responding to intentional untruth. Our goal should be to achieve the highest number of safe, happy, healthy people on the planet as possible. Which means that our job is to rehabilitate when we would rather retaliate.
Remember that head-on confrontations don’t usually end up well. Be smart and strategic when addressing untruth. Remember your principles and use them to help you respond with wisdom rather than react in anger.
Listen honestly when others cannot speak it. Listen to their heart. It’s easier to understand the language of the heart than the mind anyway. It has a vocabulary of only two words. They are ‘love’ and ‘fear.’
Protect yourself with knowledge rather than wasting energy maintaining a wary stance of distrust. It’s too much work. The armor is too heavy. Let it go. Truth isn’t truth, as it has been recently said. But it’s okay. Because surface facts are not always the part which matter most. Know the difference and make a principled choice for each.
Hold people accountable for outright lies, however, because they are intentional misdirections meant to shield the truth about one person or group, often at the expense of harming another. They are used to create personal gain and avoid responsibility. They are a theft. A lie is a literal sin against right relationship. A lie is a foundation of sand for anything ever built upon it. Bring it into the light. It has no beneficial role in society, except in its discovery. But still, handle those moments with emotional restraint. We get so mad when people lie to us. While we have a right to our anger, we mustn't decide how to handle a lie with rage.
Keep it all in perspective. Be gentle. Kind, but firm. Be consistent in your principles and patient with both yourself and others. If you spend your life seeking lies, you will always find them. If you spend it seeking truth, you just might find some of that as well.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 19, 2019 - Thank You for My Relief

Dear God, thank you for my relief. Thank you for the ever-lengthening daylight. Thank you for our slow emergence from the darkest part of this long winter. Thank you for my growing relief.
I know that peace, satisfaction, balance, and better blessings than even those all reside within me. They lovingly dole out whatever portions of their grace made possible by the allowing nature of my thoughts. Thank you for placing my hand on the faucet.
Thank you for the friends and family who notice my broadcasting heart in ways I typically forget to notice myself. Thank you for their gentleness—and for my patience with they who are not so gentle. I learn from them both.
Thank you for my health, in whatever capacity it exists. Thank you for every cell and fiber in my body which operates as it truly should. May they recruit increasing strength to heal the ones which cannot do the same.
Thank you for my abundance, in whatever form it appears. Thank you for every debt I satisfy. May those realities together strengthen my precarious relationship with matters of finance. My fears are unfounded. May the hearts of my debtors, both literal and figurative, be at ease in direct proportion to my gratitude for their patience with me. Thank you for our relief.
I say these words not for myself alone, for I am not alone in them. I say them on behalf of us all. All we who suffer to even the slightest degree. No human is completely free of it. Thank you for our relief.
I choose to think in these ways because I shall not tolerate despair. The relief I seek already exists somewhere in some corner I have yet to look. I am grateful for its existence. Let sadness and grief run their course, as they always do. I will run mine alongside them when I must, but in hope. I will imagine the light miles before I see it. I will maintain faith that all shall be well because it already is. I will do my best to remember I am loved. I do not run this race alone.
I will take physical actions which correspond with my desire, rather than with my feelings. My feelings betray me. I sometimes know not what I do. But my desire is constant. My greater intent knows the path. Let it do the driving when I cannot. Thank you for my higher self. Thank you for every time I’m not too afraid to listen to it. Guide my hands, and especially my mouth, according the the will of our divinest spark.
Thank you for every time I am able to listen honestly to others. Thank you for every time I am able to lovingly read between the lines of people’s words to note the character of their fear and sorrow. Let me respond with compassion. Thank you for my remembering that people are not bad, they are afraid. Help my hands and words to do what they can to comfort them. For their comfort often means my own.
Thank you for every time I am strong enough to wish my enemies well. For they are human, too. Thank you for any way in which their hearts are moved toward peace. May they find the ease they seek, if not always perhaps the way they seek it. Their desire for ease itself is just and right. Give me the courage to be hospitable and allowing. For they are the only pathways toward relationship.
Above all, thank you for the innate health of this planet. Thank you for its ability to heal itself. Thank you for every human who does their best to serve it well. For the air we breathe, the food that grows, the life which flourishes, and the waters permeating every corner in every form, thank you. May we learn from those waters which give us all life. That they teach us not only how to protect them, but also wash us clean.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 12, 2019 - The Racial Heart of America

The new millennium has been quite a ride so far. Nineteen years in, we have covered a lot of territory. Back in 2000, the Internet was still in its comparative infancy. It would be a few more years before social media would go mainstream and connect humanity in ways never before imagined. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Internet users have increased from 5% to 55% of the world’s population. That number grows exponentially. The Internet has democratized human communication forever.
We are always being faced with making a decision of one kind or another. But the decisions we end up with are the result of all the things to which we have been exposed. In the past 20 years, that list has increased by orders of magnitude. We see our neighbor more clearly now. Our enhanced social media use has turned the whole world upside down.
We’ve been somewhat cornered by the dilemma of either becoming accustomed to this shift or being afraid of it. But change is occurring all the time now in every sphere of human interaction. We have arrived at the age of the global society. Like it or not.
The challenge is that we are being forced to shed some of our most trusted preconceived ideas about other people. It’s been both difficult as well as illuminating. Even if we look at it anecdotally, greater numbers of individual civil rights have been gained in these recent decades than ever before in known history. Social change is occurring at a record pace ever since we started learning about other people from the actual people themselves.
Suddenly, our so-called “enemies” are seen to have faces, families, wants, desires and needs identical to our own. The love of a parent for their child is universal. Much of what we wish to now change about our world is because of that one, deep, shared empathy we have about our children. We understand what that kind of love is. When we see it destroyed, we feel it on the primordial level of our psyches. We universally move to stop it. The children are the unseen connecting thread to what we are facing right now as a global society. It affects every strata of human interaction because we are powerless to forget we are a procreative species with love at the core of our beings.
In only a few generations, much of humanity has become multi-national. When a single child can claim as many as eight or more different nationalities where are the borders between them? This battle shall not go on forever. It’s days are numbered.
The combined realities of global communication and our innate human empathy have combined to form a new paradigm in our society that many are afraid of. They deeply fear the “browning” of America. They see a great cultural shift occurring and resist it. They want things as they were before, when we were mostly ignorant of the realities of other human groups. They were more comfortable when they could choose to believe that the other groups weren’t really human. Or that they are criminals and bringers of disease. Much like we prefer to believe the lobster doesn’t feel it when it’s submerged in boiling water. But now we know. And some are trying very hard to avert their eyes and shelter their children from ever seeing it for themselves. They won’t have much luck with that for long.
In the past ten years we have begun to dig up our racial history a bit more bravely. We have, in fact, elected two extremely contrasting Presidents back-to-back which highlight this very sensitive examination of who we are as a country and planet. The debates we are holding right now are all about who should  “belong” and who shouldn’t. The reason the debate continues is because there are those who steadfastly cling to the idea there’s a choice in this and that they should hold the power to make it.
Our job as compassionate global citizens is to embrace change rather than resist it; to pray for and do our best to comfort the afflicted on both sides. For both are terrified and rightfully so. Follow the the teachings of the masters. They will show us the way. The dust and debris of this time will settle. Do your best to relax about any changes which might not be as bad as you once feared. Let the talking heads on the news limit their talking to one another. Listen to your heart.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sunday Message - January 6, 2019 - Peculiar People Rule!

In the 15th century the word peculiar meant ‘private property’ or ‘something belonging exclusively to one person.’ Over time, that idea of singularity became laced with more judgemental terms such as ‘odd’ or ‘eccentric.’ Today, along with its now-layered meaning of odd and eccentric singularity, we have added a layer of complimentary value to the definition as one who thinks outside the box. Peculiarity has always had an evolving relationship with the rest of civilized society.
And thank God for that.
How many of us know someone who we might, by definition, consider peculiar? How many of us might consider ourselves the same? I absolutely know that I do. Sometimes it makes me feel special, sometimes it makes me feel a target. I don’t believe for one minute that everyone hasn’t experienced the same.
There’s a bit of biblical background for this word as well. Both Moses in the Old Testament as well as the disciple Peter in the New Testament used it to refer to a people who belonged specially to God.
To belong to something in that sense is not the same as thinking themselves property, let’s be clear. To belong to God in this particular sense means to embody It. To claim oneself a practitioner of a set of guidelines believed to be of divine origin. They belonged to those ways as they belonged to the ones who taught them. They were one with them.
Unitarian Universalism is a peculiar faith. In all senses of the word. It allows for dissent so long as it is presented with love and respect. In many ways, both of those ideas are quite peculiar. It says that you are allowed to be different here. In fact, it’s celebrated. But play nice. There are those who seek conformity at all costs. Even in the name of God. But that approach is a contradiction in terms. Here at First Parish you are allowed to think of the Ultimate Reality in any way you see fit. But contrary to popular belief that definitely does not mean that we have no beliefs. Love is our doctrine. All else is merely commentary.
That is quite peculiar.
It is peculiar in the sense that it is odd for an organized, essentially-Christian religion to tell you that you have permission to think for yourself. Which ties into the second idea behind peculiarity, that we expressly belong to something. One might think it means we belong to the church. But that is, in a sense, incorrect. You do not belong to this church building. Even if you are a member.
What the peculiar doctrine of love teaches us, through our sources and principles, is that you recognize that you belong to yourself first. You are the epicenter of your experience. You are the conduit of positive energy and compassion. You are the engine of love on this planet. This peculiar doctrine of love teaches that you are not just allowed, but encouraged to seek your own truth in the safe company of other seekers, and take action as a group, an ekklesia, a church body. Through this we find we belong to one another in the same way we belong to ourselves. How peculiar.
When someone is a revolutionary, they have made themselves peculiar to two opposing groups of people at the same time. To one they have declared they belong, to the other they have declared themselves different. A revolutionary seeks, through one method or another, to facilitate change. A revolutionary makes it a calling to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, because they both belong to one and differ from the other. A revolutionary has a long neck which sticks out above the crowd yet still can hold their hands.
We have had many such peculiar people in human history. People who have dragged our civilization out of the dark ages and prepared it for the dangerous time to come—which happens to be now—when we would be able to really see what everyone is up to behind closed doors. The keyhole has been enlarged by their action. And we are seeing through it more clearly than ever before. It is the peculiar people who have prepared us for the great shift we are experiencing at this very moment. Thanks be to them all. Especially those with inconvenient truths, for those are the ones we need to hear the most.
Being peculiar requires a tremendous amount of courage, fortitude and above all, willingness, to not just recognize the need for change, not just to know how to make that change happen, but the bravery to set that change in motion. The bravery to risk martyrdom for the sake of those to whom you belong; to whom you are most peculiar.
Let’s now list some peculiar people through the ages whose names may not all be familiar all to us, but for whose courage, our society now stands a chance of surviving the next age. Trust that they have prepared us well; to see truth, to sense lies, to insist upon integrity and design systems meant to protect us from our darker impulses while still allowing enough freedom to fail. And learn. And grow.

[Note: the following are excerpted from’s August 18, 2017 article “25 Unbelievable People Who Changed the World” by  ( accessed January 2019)]

Charles Darwin - A renowned English naturalist, geologist, and biologist, Charles Darwin came up with a theory that made us rethink our place in the world. Know as evolution by natural selection, his idea that all species of life (including humans) have evolved from common ancestors shook the whole world. Darwin published his theory of evolution with compelling evidence in his revolutionary book On the Origin of Species in 1859.

Tim Berners-Lee - Born in 1955, Tim Berners-Lee is an English engineer and computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. Sometimes also referred to as the “Father of the Internet,” Berners-Lee designed and built the first Web browser, editor, and server. These widely adopted technologies have changed the way information is created and consumed forever.

Gautama Buddha - Gautama Buddha—also known as Siddhartha Gautama—was a spiritual leader on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. Buddha was born as a prince into luxury in the 6th century BC. However, when he grew up, he embarked on a journey of self-discovery. Through Buddhism, he has influenced lives of millions people all over the world.

Rosa Parks - Also known as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement,” Rosa Parks was a pioneer of civil rights in a racially segregated Alabama in 1950’s. In 1955, the African-American civil rights activist refused to give away her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, thereby, disobeying the bus driver’s orders. Her rebellious act triggered what later became known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the key events in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Albert Einstein - Albert Einstein is generally considered one the most respected and influential scientists of all time. Throughout his life, he devised a number of interesting and revolutionary concepts, ideas, and theories. It was his Theory of Relativity, however, that made him one of the greatest historical figures to change the world. Even now, a century later, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is still reshaping how the modern scientific community thinks as they search for a grand Theory of Everything.

Leonardo da Vinci - This Italian Renaissance genius mastered many things during his lifetime, from sculpture and painting to architecture, music, mathematics, and anatomy to engineering and more. Considered one of the most diversely talented men who have ever lived on Earth, da Vinci is also credited with numerous revolutionary inventions including the parachute, helicopter, tank, and scissors.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - One of the most influential figures of the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for his nonviolent campaign against racism (for which he received the 1964 Peace Prize). His vision of society in which race was not important in how people were treated has inspired millions all over the world. MLK Jr. also played a key role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and Gandhi’s philosophy.

Abraham Lincoln - The 16th President of the US, Abraham Lincoln is known for many great things such as preserving the Union during the American Civil War, strengthening the federal government, and modernizing the American economy, but it was his anti-slavery efforts that earned him the reputation of a truly remarkable and inspirational historical figure. As a devoted emancipator of slaves, he created a legacy that endures.

Stephen Hawking - One of the most famous and respected modern scientists, Stephen Hawking has made a stunning contribution to the world of science (particularly to cosmology). What makes his credits even more impressive is the fact that he has been suffering from a rare, slow-progressing disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that has left him completely paralyzed. Despite the horrible disease, Hawking is still continuing his research in order for us to better understand the world.

Tank Man - Also known as the Unknown Protester or Unknown Rebel, the Tank Man is the nickname of an unknown man who stood in front of a column of tanks to block their way after the Chinese military had brutally suppressed the Tiananmen Square Protests in June 1989. It is not known who the man was or what happened to him, but the photo of him has become an international and very powerful symbol of brave, non-violent resistance.

Muhammad - Born in 570 in Mecca (modern Saudi Arabia), Muhammad was the prophet and founder of the religion of Islam. He united Arabian nations into a single Muslim political entity and ensured that his teachings, practices, and the Quran formed the basis of Islamic religious belief. Muhammad had few early followers, but he managed to make most of the Arabian Peninsula convert to Islam before his death in 632. Islam has expanded immensely over the centuries and now is the second largest religion in the world with over 1.8 billion followers.

The 14th Dalai Lama - The winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, the 14th Dalai Lama is known for his Buddhist peace philosophy based on reverence for all living things and the idea of a universal responsibility that embraces both man and nature. The current Tibetan leader has been always willing to compromise and seek reconciliation despite brutal violations. He has also been a keen supporter of women’s rights, inter-faith dialogues, and environmentalism to name a few things.

Princess Diana - Nicknamed “The People’s Princess,” Princess Diana won hearts of millions of people all over the world through her hard charity work. She devoted much of her short life (she died in a car accident at the age of just 36) to helping poor people in developing countries. A leader of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning campaign to ban landmines, Princess Diana was involved with dozens of charities and non-profit organizations including the London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, The Red Cross, and AIDS research.

Nelson Mandela - The South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, philanthropist, and former President of South Africa (1994 to 1999), Nelson Mandela was truly a transformative force in the history of South Africa and the world. Despite having been imprisoned for almost 26 years, Mandela never lost faith in winning freedom for the South African people. His tireless work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and democracy has inspired millions all over the world and earned him the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Joan of Arc - Also known as the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc is the greatest heroine of French history and one of the most famous and inspirational female figures. Born as a poor farm girl in 1412, she believed she was chosen to lead France to victory in the Hundred Years’ War against England. She died before the end of the war (she was burned at the stake in 1431), but her courage and dedication (particularly during the Siege of Orleans) significantly boosted the morale of the French army and paved the way for the ultimate French victory.

Jesus of Nazareth - The central figure of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth has changed the world in so many ways that he is often considered the most influential and inspirational figure of all time. These days, over 2.4 billion Christians follow his ideas and teachings. Jesus’s compassion and universal concern for suffering, his humility, and forgiveness were in contrast with what was considered virtuous by most ancient civilizations of his time.

These courageous, innovative, insightful, compassionate, and yes, peculiar people along with millions of others just like them yet remain unsung, are the engine of human progress toward a future age of peace.
    May we be more like them. May we see our own special and peculiar light, and in seeing it, know exactly what to do with it.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 5, 2019 - Look Forward

    What is expected of us? Who or what expects it? Let’s state a few things plainly, first. Humanity is actually progressing, not regressing. Try to get used to that idea. The view we have through the media is similar to the way that astrologers describe a planet as being in “retrograde.” It’s not really moving backward, it just looks that way. But in either regard, the purpose of my bringing it up is to ask: What does your inner voice tell you about it? Because that’s the who/what which expects something of us. Essentially, whether you believe in such things or not, that inner voice is who you’re praying to, communicating with and even hoping to gain the approval of. It’s just human nature.
     You do not have to believe in God to have an inner voice, for the record. It’s not limited to that. Most of us have many voices rattling around inside our heads vying for attention. Voices from our past reminding us of bits of wisdom mingled with nonsense. They come from all different directions. Make no mistake, these voices have expectations, too. Some will lie to stay alive, like the voice of addiction. Some will soothe us, like the memory of a friend’s advice. Each voice has an agenda of its own. Even God’s.
    The voices inside you all want something from you. They want to thrive. They each want to continue to exist in the forefront of your mind for their own reasons. They want to grow and become entrenched in your actions and behaviors. Some are good ideas, some are not. But all want you to believe that they are the likeliest pathway toward you feeling better. Traditions that teach us to orient ourselves properly and lovingly can give us a frame of reference for sorting through them. Each offer tools for evaluating between fearful voices and loving ones. Take note of that process.
     Many cultures orient themselves in a particular direction when participating in a sacred act such as going to church or temple. For Muslims, no matter where they are in the world, when they pray they physically orient themselves in a direction toward the city of Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad. While in meditation, people of various world traditions often orient their mind’s eye to different locations both literal as well as energetic. Christian congregations always face the eucharist. We look toward, we attend to, we face a direction, on purpose, for a reason. Every tradition includes some form of choice to point toward something as an act of their intent. Notice things like this when they appear in multiple traditions. They give clues to us as humans.
     Let’s give some recognition, then, when multiple cultures, religions and philosophies each make a great point of pointing. Toward what do you point? Toward what does your attention flow? Whatever psychic act it is which forms the basis of what we call “prayer,” our attention is the action of it. We all need something upon which to place our focus.
    I have a suggestion for you. Face forward. Take all that we are advised about the mysterious value in picking a direction and pick one. Choose forward. Attend to and dream about the future while recognizing—and honoring—where you stand right now. Face the direction you wish to go. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re really moving in that direction, just keep facing that way. Looks can be deceiving. Just ask the planet Mercury. Have faith that forward movement is always occurring.
    This is almost entirely an inner exercise, let’s be honest. But that’s where all things originate. Accept the fact that how you think determines how life unfolds for you. It doesn’t mean things will always go the way you want or that they will be easy, just easier than they might have been otherwise. And it doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong, or thought the wrong things just because life periodically sucks. Assigning blame only takes our attention away from facing forward. Don’t bother. Just face forward. Keep your eye on the prize. Choose only the voices emanating from that direction to perk your ear. Let the rest become white noise.
It’s all just speculation in the end. But facing forward, living under an assumption that there is no such thing as wasted time because literally every experience has the potential to teach us, is the better basis for all of life’s actions. Whether you believe in the assistance of a Higher Power in the universe or not, the advice is the same. Face forward. Look to the peak in the distance and decide to go there. Even if the valley is filled with clouds. It will all be okay.