Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Wishes

With a view on a snowy Christmas day in West Newbury Vermont, I want to pass along my very best holiday wishes to everyone!  Thinking back to a recent  blog entry where I commented that "the world needs more love,"  here are a few thoughts/inspirations from a variety of sources:

Lyrics from U2's song, "One"

One love 
One blood 
One life 
You got to do what you should 
One life 
With each other 
One life 
But we're not the same 
We get to 
Carry each other 
Carry each other 

"We frail humans are at one time capable of the greatest good and, at the same time, capable of the greatest evil. Change will only come about when each of us takes up the daily struggle ourselves to be more forgiving, compassionate, loving, and above all joyful in the knowledge that, by some miracle of grace, we can change as those around us can change too."

MaĆ­read Corrigan-Maguire

Nobel Peace Prize winner and co-founder of the Community of Peace People in Northern Ireland.

Lyrics from the Beatle's "All you need is Love"
Love, love, love, 
love, love, love, 
love, love, love.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done. 
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung. 
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game It's easy. 
There's nothing you can make that can't be made. 
No one you can save that can't be saved. 
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time - It's easy.  
All you need is love, all you need is love, All you need is love, love, 
love is all you need.

Finally, with a nod to my favorite movie,"It's a Wonderful Life," there is a scene in the middle of the movie, where George Bailey is in his office at the building and loan and on the wall, underneath the photograph of his recently deceased father Peter Bailey, there is a framed quote that rings true:

"All you can take with you is that which you've given away."

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

LAX Terminal 5

Thirty years ago as a freshman in college, I read Mircea Eliade’s book, The Sacred and The Profane.  While I won’t try to summarize the book here, its central thesis is that the core of all religions is highlighting and maintaining the distinction between what is sacred and what is profane.  I still remember writing a freshman class paper on that topic, identifying various worldwide sights that had been “sacred” for multiple religions.  Examples included Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, originally a Byzantine cathedral that was transformed into a Muslim mosque, and the temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, originally built as Hindu shrines then transforming themselves into Buddhist temples. 

Whether we think about sacred spaces as such grand historic models, or as a simple neighborhood church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, I have always thought of sacred spaces as unique places apart from the daily grind.  For me, there is a chapel at Emory University that stands out, having been the site of my wedding, the wedding of my sister-in-law, the christening of my two children, and the memorial service for another sister-in-law.  There is nothing about that physical space that I find “sacred,” yet every time I enter the chapel I am overwhelmed by the memories and experiences, the smiles and the tears, and the heartbreak and the joy. 

It’s with this background in mind that I fast forward to a recent trip to Los Angeles.  I have been working a lot in Southern California recently and flying regularly through LAX.  On a recent trip, I was at the gate with some time on my hands, waiting to board the flight back home to Atlanta.  In typical fashion, I had my I-Pod on, listening to random songs on a playlist, and writing a draft for a blog entry.  The first song that came on was Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt,” which instantly reminded me of my friend Bruce.  I remembered sitting by his hospice bed before he died this summer, talking about music and him telling me about this specific song.  The next song that came up on the random shuffle was Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah,” the song that was played at the graveside of my sister-in-law Carrie.  It was just down the hall here in a men’s room in LAX’s terminal 5, after helping to clean out Carrie’s apartment after her death, that I changed out of my cleaning clothes and threw them away in the trash bin. 

After those two songs, my blog writing had ceased, and I was waiting for what song might be next.  It came from the Indigo Girls, with my sister-in-law and band member Emily singing  “I’ll Change.”   It was a song that I played for Bruce this past spring – in the final chorus of his life – on a ride through the Wisconsin countryside.  It was at this moment, sitting by gate 59B, that I broke down and began to weep.

Without a word, an older woman sitting a few chairs away reached into her handbag, drew out a pack of tissues, reached over to me and mouthed the words, “Keep it, it’s yours.”

 A simple act of kindness to a stranger, offered with grace, received with tears.

I understood then that somehow LAX’s terminal 5 had become “sacred” for me.  Through some amazing combination of random song selections, road weariness, and the kindness of a stranger, I became aware of what this otherwise “profane” place means to me. I’m certainly not suggesting for you to head to LAX’s terminal 5 to seek inspiration.  The walk down the central hall, past McDonald’s, a bookstore and a coffee shop, likely would come off rather generically…just another airport terminal.

What I am suggesting is that for me, that spot has taken on greater meaning.  For me, that hallway, those seats, the one specific men’s room, all evoke a set of memories and feelings that I find truly powerful.  My encouragement is to find the LAX terminal 5 in your life.  Look beyond the historic definitions of “sacred” or “inspirational” spaces and look into your life and history.  Find those spots, those unusual yet everyday locations, that allow you to be connected to your feelings, your experiences, your history, and maybe most importantly, to those who you love or have loved.

I am certain that Eliade was not referring to LAX when he wrote, “the religious symbol translates a human situation into cosmological terms and vice versa …. This means that man does not feel himself ’isolated’ in the cosmos.”  Look for your LAX terminal 5 as a way to allow yourself to be connected to, rather than isolated from, the world and the cosmos.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Advent "four step"

On a recent Sunday, the pastor of our little Lutheran church, Pastor Bradley, gave a simple yet powerful children’s sermon, obviously not solely targeted at the little ones. He shared a few thoughts about the meaning of Advent, the time of preparation, and he asked the kids to recite with him four key ideas: Worship Fully, Give More, Spend Less, and Love All. Once the kids had the four phrases down, he had them follow him around the altar, repeating the four phrases as they walked, ultimately bringing the entire congregation into the act reciting loudly: Worship Fully, Give More, Spend Less, Love All, Worship Fully, Give More, ……

While moving and poignant at the moment, those four simple ideas have continued to grow for me over the past days and I’ve been thinking a lot about how each phrase connects to my life and me this holiday season. Whether you have a faith tradition (be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or another) or not, these four ideas can be helpful and powerful to all of us as we head to the end of 2009.

Worship Fully: The dictionary describes “Worship” as “The feeling and expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.” In this season, it is so easy to become lost in the hectic consumerism of the holiday season. It’s hard to take a step back and remember that the axis of the universe does NOT spin around our individual lives, but that we are all part of a larger cosmological dance. Regardless of tradition, this is a good time to step back and be thankful and appreciative to have the chance to participate in the dance called life.

Give More: As I mentioned in a previous entry titled “The Lens of Success,” it’s important to remember that half of the world’s population of more than 6 billion people live on less that $1.00 a day. We take for granted how much we have, and need a reminder that there are tremendous needs not only half way around the world but in each of our communities every day. Over the years, Jennie and I have hosted an annual holiday party that we’ve titled “Peas on Earth.” As a price of admission everyone is asked to bring canned goods, and we collect, sort, and deliver them to the local food bank. Over the 17 years of holding the party we have collected thousands of pounds of food, yet the need at the food bank continues to grow – not decline – every year. All of us have a few things we can share today, whether it be a few dollars or a few cans of peas.

Spend Less: For those of you who are parents, you likely will relate to my metaphor of an overflowing toy box. My kids’ “toy boxes” are filled with a cornucopia of dolls, games, balls, puzzles, etc. On a somewhat regular basis, my wife will bring out the donation bag and we’ll sit with our children and work our way to the bottom of the “toy box” to see what toys that are not being played with might be still be in good enough shape to donate to those in need. Our lives are like the “toy boxes.” We surround ourselves with stuff and things, needing temporary storage units to store the stuff in until the day comes that we want to downscale and simplify our lives. Then there is a mad rush to find a destination of all the “stuff.” Maybe by spending a little less now, we can work on ways to simplify our “toy boxes.”

Love All: Certainly the most challenging phrase of the four. Pastor Bradley did not encourage us to “love more,” or “love fully,” or “hate less.” His nudge was in the word “all.” How do we love all, especially the ones we don’t want to love? How do we love neighbors or acquaintances who haven’t seemed very nice? How can we possibly love the Taliban, or Al Qaeda, or Hezbollah or some other group seemingly intent on our destruction? There are no simple answers on this one, but a few things are clear to me. The world needs more love and less hate… the world needs more compassion and less indifference… and the world needs more giving and less taking.  

As you find your way through the holiday season, remember these four phrases. Find ways to bring these four ideas to life in your everyday life. Whether by circling the altar at your church/temple/synagogue, walking around your kitchen table at home, or speaking them out loud in your car, look for ways to step out of the rat race and practice these four “steps” in the dance of life.