Forgive and Forget; How to be Fully Present

The old adage, Forgive and Forget, can present some big challenges and often proves to be pretty troublesome.

We nod our heads in somber understanding upon hearing the response 'I can forgive, but I can't forget.’ But is it really possible to forgive without an element of forgetting? Forgiveness implies a letting go of resentments which bind us to an incident of sometimes traumatic proportions. And letting go, really letting go, requires a lot. The chokehold of old grudges, while exhausting, almost becomes a part of our survival. So releasing that grip in favor of forgiveness is quite a tall order. And therein lies the problem. Forgiving, by itself, is only a partial discharge of bitterness and anger. Freedom and the ability to live fully in the present comes only when we allow ourselves to forget.

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I went out this morning to watch as the full moon set and the sun rose over Florida's Gulf of Mexico. It's a ritual and joy of mine when visiting my adopted home state. I did much of my growing up in Hillsboro Beach, just north of Pompano and developed this early morning habit as a boy. There has never been one that wasn't awe-inspiring.

Today, my meditative moments were punctuated by an encounter with a Firefighter from Mississippi who had also come down to welcome the beauty and wonders. We chatted for quite a while, revealing his life-saving work and my journalism for ChaplainUSA. In turn, I asked him about how he deals with all of the trauma and how he is able to process or forget what happens in his job. I wondered aloud how he forgives those who do irreversible harm to others. This father of a young son explained that it is imperative if he is to be the kind of parent he wants to be. "You can't carry the things we see and do around with you. So you forgive and forget. It's the only way."

As the red sun broke through the horizon urging the yellow-white moon to settle back into the sea, the savvy of this heroic public servant was evident. A new day can't dawn until the old one disappears. You simply cannot forgive until you forget.

Arlen Becker, blog contributor and old friend, writes a regular thought-for-the-day. He says that "By forgiving the perceived errors of others and ourselves we are releasing our own minds of the burden of anger which is often keeping us from our joy. Forgive each time it comes up and soon it will be gone from the mind. Forgive quickly and leave the burden behind and find your happiness sooner." He is right of course. I think this forgiveness wisdom contains the essence of how to 'forget'. The first part is to disallow a resentment chokehold in the first place, never permitting it to cripple you. The second is to examine your part in an old wound and forgive yourself right along with the one who did harm, thus ending the victim/perpetrator relationship. Memories of hurt may remain, but they will have no power. The present is poisoned when the past lurks around every corner. In order to live fully, we must move on. By forgiving AND forgetting we are delivered from bondage to enjoy life here, now, and in the future.

Saying Goodbye to Self Pity; It's All About Delight

God isn't interested in self-pity any more than in lamenting, complaining, blaming, or measuring.

For that matter, I think God looks with a jaundiced eye at redemptive (quid pro quo) punishment or penance especially when it comes to 'paying-the-price' for what we might have done to offend God's sensibilities.

God doesn't offend. God delights. We are the ones who plunge ourselves into the abyss of indulgent melancholy believing that we deserve suffering. In a very real sense, we are hiding from the unconditional love, grace, tenderness, and forgiveness extended by God's all-inclusive heart.

Saying goodbye to self-pity requires a change of mind about what we think we are lacking while actively seeking and developing an attitude of gratitude. This is what opens the door to delight.

Finding delight everywhere we look.

Finding delight everywhere we look.

I often tell the story of a man I met at The University of Illinois in the summer of 1989. It had been a difficult day of counseling boys who suffered extreme childhood trauma. Their stories and problems were more overwhelming than usual, and I decided to take a walk around the park mall outside of our offices to clear my head. I felt so sorry for the kids...and for myself.

There was a modern art fountain structure with seating around it in the middle of what had once been a busy street. Suddenly, a voice shouted out these words; "I delight in it." Taken by surprise, I circled the fountain and found a ragged old fellow seated on the other side. He had a shopping cart holding his worldly possessions. I greeted him and asked him what he said. He repeated, "I delight in it."

My incredulous look must have been a dead give away, so he continued to explain. He said that several years ago he would sit on a bench and watch the traffic go back and forth. Later, they changed it to one way and now, closed to cars altogether, he watched people walking where cars once traveled. Then he repeated his claim. "I delight in it." Of course, there was no resisting him after that. I bought us both a hot dog and drinks. We ate and chatted away for a bit. Then he got up saying he had things to do, leaving me with an altered perspective. How could I indulge in self-pity and regret when my homeless friend could find delight everywhere he looked?

We cannot begin to imagine how absolutely delighted God is in every bit of creation. Each grain of sand, blade of grass. flowing stream, critter and indeed, every one of us, is precious, sacred and holy in God's sight. Nothing is superior or inferior. Love could never tolerate hierarchy. It can all be summed up when seen through the eyes of a tattered angel who announces, "I delight in it."

Photograph by Phillip LeConte

Taking Ourselves Too Seriously; Embracing Playfulness

Lord knows there is plenty enough to be serious about.

Abundant concerns keep many of us up-at- night. I'm certainly not discounting any of this. Anyone who knows me well could attest to the fact that I have been an activist for change. Especially when the vulnerable are being victimized, or human rights are being denied. But for Pete's sake...there is a time and place. The joy of freeform playfulness is in such short supply that we're running on empty. When expressing humor in jokes requires examination through a microscope before daring to laugh, we've gone too far. As Hamlet's mother might say, 'Methinks thou dost protest too much'.

Freeform playfulness is the best medicine for restoring your soul. It makes room for serious work that needs to be done later. The old song "Ain't We Got Fun" from the Roaring Twenties is a good example of how this all works. Even hard times can be faced when we understand that a lighter spirit will allow us to prevail through it all.

A favorite little phrase my grandson Jack and I used since he was a tot to set the stage for some barely restrained play was "Wait a minute". When invoked, some mischief was sure to follow. I probably rile up my grandkids too much. But it's so very hard for me to resist. Most other adults look at me with despair as the kids spin out of control. If they only knew how much restraint I am using in deference to their wishes, they would probably find a way to exile me to some far away island where only serious minded grown-ups reside. Inside, I'm like an adolescent Great Dane who wants to romp around and test all the boundaries. Oh, the trouble I could find with a pack of youngsters.

Freeform playfulness makes most everything an exciting, rambunctious adventure.

Just like the endless knock-knock jokes and silly punch lines that our parents seemed to find hilarious, Gods heart is filled with our joy and humor. Author and humanitarian Father Gregory Boyle talks about the importance of continual playfulness, He says God never tires of our jokes and that we feel reached by this tenderness. So, let’s give solemnity and earnestness a time-out. If we are down about the mouth, sullen and serious, the chance that anyone will react favorably is dubious or doubtful. The one who comes to the table with a good mix of serious intent and a happy heart always lights the way. It never fails. The by-product will be precisely what we were searching for all the time.


Hear Today’s Journal

Listen to the audio version of today’s Journal on the new A Mystical Elephant Podcast from Robert K Jones. Each episode is designed to help folks find some happiness and joy in a sometimes chaotic world.

Denial; The Other Sound of Silence

Denial works until it doesn't. It is a disguise for fear, wrapped and muffled in a blanket of silence.

In 2017, the musical group Disturbed recorded and released its version of The Sound of Silence. The video is hard to watch perhaps because it is angry. Or maybe because it confronts our denial in such a straightforward manner.

Either way, it reinforces the fact that we have been silent in the face of devastating realities for far too long. As young activist Greta Thunberg says; "I want you to act as if the house was on fire...because it is."

We have been silent in the face of devastating realities for far too long.

It's not easy for me to be blunt. My professional and personal mission has been about spreading love and compassion, catching people being good, and encouraging progress and success while my clients struggle to heal and change.

But I have also been one who almost died of denial. Every aspect of my life was spinning out of control as I kept repeating the same mistakes over and over again. It took tough interventions from loved ones to finally reverse the cycle. There are harsh truths we must confront and acknowledge.

For when we are able to dismiss mass murders of school children in the name of constitutional rights, or ignore scientific evidence that climate change is threatening our existence there is little doubt that denial is driving us in silence to unimaginable disasters.

Greta Thunberg’s  words of wisdom  are that no one is too small to make a difference.

Greta Thunberg’s words of wisdom are that no one is too small to make a difference.

We have forsaken love for money and power.

Sacred text says a little child shall lead us. There is evidence that this is so, and all that remains is to follow. I mentioned Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old from Sweden who is boldly going where few adults seem capable. She describes her Autism Spectrum (Asperger's) as her superpower. Time magazine put her picture on its cover calling her a "next generation leader" and she has been nominated as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Her words of wisdom are that no one is too small to make a difference. Parkland survivors and March for Our Lives young people Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, and David Hogg (among many others) continue to speak up every day, registering people to vote and calling for legislative action. They have devised "A Peace Plan for a Safer America" showing us a way to sanity. In defiance of these brave kids, adults threaten, mock, and attack them. There is nothing like honesty and decisive action that so frightens silence and denial.

Using words of The Beatitudes, here is what I have to say to these rebellious children. "You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world. How blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness." Bust our denial and challenge our silent complacency. Keep showing us the way to a world where life matters and everyone belongs.


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The Sounds of Silence; A Path to Serenity

Fifty-five years ago Paul Simon wrote words and created music which gave birth to a song that has become a haunting standard.

The Sound of Silence tells us about our failure to communicate and inability to love one another. But it begins; "Hello darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again" setting the listener on a dual pathway marked by both quiet contemplation and meaningful action.

These practices are essential if we are to find serenity. Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness (Luke 5:16) and the Buddha used meditation as a means to enlightenment. Both teachers set an example so that their followers might to do likewise.

From Moses to Elijah to Muhammad and in every religious/spiritual tradition, we are told to embrace silence for inspiration and as an anchor for what we do and say.

I wrote a curated content article last year about Mindfulness and Meditation which explored how to use prayer and contemplation in daily life. As my personal practice of prayerful silence has continued over the following months, a deepening appreciation for it increased significantly. One of my discoveries is that as noisy and chaotic as things might be on the outside, they are equal to or exceeded by the clamor and disorder in my head.

Finding a quiet place is easier than subduing my internal chatter. Where shutting a door and creating a conducive atmosphere may take some effort, hushing my monkey-mind requires patience, practice and discipline. There are lots of techniques, websites, and apps out there to provide guidance. One of them called Ten Percent Happier by former skeptic Dan Harris is particularly good. It takes participants from the basics to pretty advanced meditation. But whatever resources one might choose to find silence, the resulting serenity is well worth it.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death.”
— from Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda

It would do the world a lot of good if we could stop the shouting and fighting. But this cannot be achieved if there is little going on in hearts but greed, fear, loneliness, and resentment. We can see the effects all around us in the rise of suicide, bullying at schools, mass shootings, addiction, and trauma related mental health problems. All truly good things must come from a calm, loving center core. Otherwise, they will be ego-driven and self-serving.

I don't think we can continue down the way we are headed without disastrous results. There is too much pain, too much sadness, and too much hatred. There are too many victims at the side of the road and too few Good Samaritans to bind up their wounds. We have to quit talking and start listening.

For that is the basis of good communication. Perhaps the words of the prophets really are written on subway and tenement walls. The path to serenity is hiding in plain sight. And once discovered, the sounds of silence will lead us to lasting peace and serenity.

Resources:

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Go to site.

Awe and Acceptance; Looking Through Different Lenses

It seems that most all of us could use a new pair of glasses!

The lenses we have in place no longer provide clear, joyful images which enable us to stand in awe. They've become cloudy and scratched over time by resentment and judgment. Under these conditions, with our sight so badly obstructed, it's hard to appreciate the majesty of our surroundings and magnificence of one another. A vision checkup is in order.

Mother took me to a local optometrist when I was twelve years old. My complaints about poor vision were met with some doubt due to the fact that my best friend had just gotten some glasses. She figured that I wanted a pair to be like him. Dr. Harry Janoff's assurance that my eyes were pretty weak did little to convince her of my need. It wasn't until we were driving home, with me wearing the new specs, that she became a believer.

I looked out at the passing countryside and wondered aloud if everyone was was able to see leaves on trees without being close to them. Mom had to pull the car over to wipe away her tears. Her apologies to me were begrudgingly accepted, but my well deserved vindication paled in comparison to the wondrous details of the new world around me.

If we do take the step of getting that new pair of glasses, we will become overwhelmed with a desire for inspection and introspection. The way we look at things and how we see ourselves will be dramatically changed. There probably will come a tendency to be critical of the way things were in the past and we must be cautious in applying our newfound perspective in hindsight. The world today is quite different than it was fifty or one hundred years ago. As my 1969 high school reunion comes closer, that fact becomes clearer by the moment. We were a fun bunch of mischievous kids but what was tolerated by adults back then might be fodder for news reports today.

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The new lenses we wear will open up a world which must be received not only by embracing the grandeur but should be mixed with a spirit of acceptance. A physician who struggled with drug and alcohol use became a contributor to the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. His writing has been a touchstone of recovery for countless people. At the end of his story, he wrote saying; "I must keep my magic magnifying mind on my acceptance and off my expectations, for my serenity is directly proportional to my level of acceptance."

The appreciation of our oneness and desire to make the world a better place should never be hampered by becoming caught up in condemnation of how things used to be. Our ‘magic magnifying minds’ will take over once again. For the new pair of glasses will have become cloudy and scratched by the same judgment and resentment which ruined the last pair. We must become accepting seers who understand the lessons of history, embrace the present moment and who have great hope for the future.

Splendiferous Fall; Revealing the Beauty Within

The drama of changing seasons can hardly be ignored. Even those who are the busiest or most caught up in distractions or self-absorption take pause, however momentary. Life is transforming before our very eyes. Spring, Summer, and Winter each have plenty to offer, but Fall is the most magnificent. Leaves on hardwood trees make it so of course. When the countryside is dressed in red, green, gold, yellow and brown even the most ordinary places will become breathtaking. Or as my younger daughter, Courtney, said at age five, “It’s Splendiferous”

I've been around. My adolescence was spent near Fort Lauderdale in Hillsboro Beach where there is little that is overtly noticeable in Autumn's arrival or departure besides welcomed cooler temperatures. Instead, it's carried on a gentle evening breeze by Night Blooming Jasmine. I've also lived in North Carolina where people come from all over to be swept away by the grandeur. My childhood in Danville, Illinois had a Fall with its own charm and beauty. We took an annual drive down to Brown County, Indiana to have our socks blown off. But Autumn and "Injun Summer" were spectacular enough. Regardless of where home might have been, the seasons-of-life analogy was not lost on me. As the hours of light become shorter, chlorophyll production slows, and true leaf colors are revealed, it has always seemed obvious that God is sending a love letter about what could be coming next as people age.

The truth is that nothing diminishes as daylight hours become shorter nor are we diminished as we get older. This is evidenced in beautiful colors revealed in the leaves which had been there all along. Likewise, grace and brilliance are exposed as we transition to elderhood. They too have always been there. What is difficult to see while we are young and busy becomes easily visible in later years. Some of this comes from slowing down and some of it is bestowed as wisdom through experience. Now that my own Autumnal Equinox is well astern, floating out in Mother Ocean along with the exuberant energy of my youth, I began to wonder where the splendiferousness might be. But then it became clear. Just like my Autumn's in South Florida, it hides as a subtle insider while blossoming at the edge of night.

From Earth Shattering to World Building

Sometimes it feels like we move from one earth-shattering crisis to another. It's not difficult to become perpetual victims of chaos and crisis if this is our prevailing life view. It all becomes so overwhelming. If you turn on a cable news channel the red banner of Breaking News will be boldly displayed in red on the bottom of the screen. If it isn't there immediately, just wait a minute. Of course the announcement is always intended to be shocking. It’s never good. Earth-shattering things are happening all of the time, so there's little need to invent things that will agitate people. We seem addicted to hearing and watching what awful things are going on. Like voyeurs who can't seem to take their eyes off of something salacious, we just keep coming back for more. I think it might be time to shift from our fascination on the earth-shattering to a focus on world-building and what each of us might do to further those efforts.

"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." ~ James Baldwin

The movement from earth-shattering to world-building requires a bit of self-awareness and some heartfelt commitment to change. But it's not too hard and doesn't require volunteering in some faraway disaster area. Changing the world in which we live for the better begins in our own homes. When we take an inventory of the way we interact with the people who live under our roofs, it will certainly reveal plenty of room for improvement and growth. Sure, we love each other, but probably miss dozens of opportunities to demonstrate it every day.

One way to engage in some world-building around home is by showing the genuine delight we experience in the presence of our loved ones. I try this out frequently, and it's always a hit. When I tell my grandson or granddaughters that they are stars, superheroes, or how cute and funny they are it always results in squirming, smiles or giggles (of course, then I rile them up and make life more difficult for their parents). The eyes of my wife and grown children twinkle with appreciation when I express my admiration for them. It works every time. And believe it or not, the world becomes a happier place as well. The ripples become waves to ride as we carry what I call the 'delight program' into our neighborhoods and greater community. This is because delight fosters remarkable transformation in anyone it touches and then spreads from one person to the next.

The Yiddish expression mazel tov comes from Hebrew words meaning "a constellation of good stars and destiny" This is wishing unfettered congratulations and joy for someone in whom God delights. And God delights in each and every one of us. The world can be shattered in violence if we engage in hate. But it can be built and reconstructed with love and delight. It is a matter of choice. As for me, I think a good mazel tov is best. After all, you are the apple of God's eye.

Authentically Living the Gospel's Message of Peace

There is encouraging evidence that we share in a collective consciousness which is guiding us to fulfill God's Eternal Dream of a peaceful people, under a friendly sky in union with all creation.

This is not milk-toast sentiment nor naive wishful-thinking either. It is obvious that we are struggling through times of violence, addiction, injustice, and a myriad of terrible problems. But while it seems that we are practically derailed by our own pain, there is an undercurrent of love joining us together in ways that we can hardly fathom.

A good example is the burgeoning movement called Campaign Nonviolence observed this week with workshops, marches, festivals, and gatherings all around the USA. Emerging from 50 cities comes a light shining on ways to end what Dr. King called the three evils of society; racism, poverty and war.

Memphis, Tennessee, one of the five most violent cities in the country would seem to be an unlikely place to wage peace. But the city is fully embracing Campaign Nonviolence. One of the most powerful events occurs on Saturday, September 21. Memphis is hosting a forum at the National Civil Rights Museum which is located at the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King. People are joining in a desire to end systemic violence. Their stated goal is "to discuss and co-create life skills tools that can help towards a more tranquil, respectful and compassionate life in each of the core life interactions - personal, professional and societal." They have an action plan which includes projects for veterans groups, schools and multi-cultural organizations.

United Nations Photograph by Phillip LeConte

United Nations Photograph by Phillip LeConte

I have come to believe that work for nonviolence must begin within the shadows of our inner selves. This involves admitting tendencies we have to judge others. We must recognize not only the harm we inflict by what we say and do but by exploring the violence we harbor in our hearts. We trade evil for good, as Thomas Keating suggests, by making our internal and external enemies our partners.

In so doing, we become empowered to authentically live out the Gospel message of peace by loving our neighbors without prejudice or exceptions.

Visit https://paceebene.org/

Banner Photography Phillip LeConte

A Time For Encouragement; What the World Needs Now

I was reminded by a friend that September 12 has been designated as a National Day of Encouragement.

It took a group of high school students to come up with this idea more than a decade ago. They identified a lack of encouragement as the biggest problem facing them. First, the governor of Arkansas and later the United States Senate recognized the wisdom of these young people by proclaiming an annual observation to uplift one another by reaching out a hand of compassion and friendship.

As simply stated by the teenagers who got this movement started, "Encouragement Matters." The date chosen was no coincidence. Following our remembrance of 9/11 each year with a day of encouragement is quite fitting. We certainly needed something like that. Right now, it seems like every day should be dedicated to such an important endeavor.

We can do so much better. If only we could begin to see one another as God sees us. The prevalent urge to judge and condemn leaves in its wake a deep and lasting loneliness. It is evidenced in rising suicide rates among kids and cops. It fuels the addiction epidemic. I have been working with a young man who is suffering a dark night of the soul. He told me that he has made grave mistakes and failed over and over to do better. Now he is certain that nobody could ever believe in him again. People have even told him this is true.

So, he isolates at home in his room touched by no one. The only light that shines comes from a computer screen. My job is to help him discover the fact that despite everything, he is loved. It will take other hands reaching out and encouraging him forward for his life to regain meaning.

There is a wonderful tune from the musical, Dear Evan Hansen called “You Will Be Found”. The theatrical production has swept Broadway and is now touring the country. It deals with feelings of abandonment, forgottenness, and hope through the loving intercession of friends. The lyrics of the song are inspiring. They offer encouragement so longed for by those who seem lost.

Even when the dark comes crashing through

When you need a friend to carry you

And when you're broken on the ground

You will be found.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, who works with and loves gang members says that; "Nothing can move the dial on God's love for us. After all, that is already fixed at its highest setting." God's gaze is filled with infinite tenderness and mercy. When we grasp just a smidgeon of this reality it becomes possible to envision and encourage the goodness in every person we encounter. We can lift each other out of our despair. I guarantee this as the outcome…The world will be a better place.

Surviving Trauma; Transforming Pain and Suffering

We have survived somehow. Through all of the trials and tribulations, pain and suffering, we have come out on the other side. Often bruised, damaged, and somewhat worse for the wear, we have overcome adversity to meet the challenges of today. It hasn't all been a bed of thorns of course. There has been plenty of sun drenched days and ample amounts of joy. But the one who survives trauma carries a certain amount of death into even the best of times.

If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.
— Richard Rohr, Christian mystic

Our survivor brains have adapted to deal with the worst. This presents us with a dilemma. We can either endure what has happened by continuing to protect and defend ourselves against an unknowable future, or we can choose to transform our pain and emerge as a new and improved version of ourselves.

Richard Rohr, the Christian mystic, tells us, "If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it." There is no doubt that he is right. My decades of work with wounded people affirms this truth. For example, without exception, every boy who was referred to me as a sexual perpetrator had been molested repeatedly as a younger child. Their sexual assaults replicated the young offender's own exploitation.

Power exerted over them created a survival response of seeking control by victimizing weaker children. This pattern or trait is not limited to any specific trauma. If left unattended, the suffering experienced and survived will later influence our behavior in ways that often inflict even greater anguish to others.

All of the negativity we witness has roots in piles and piles of disappointments, unrealized dreams and hopes, tragic losses, betrayals, and all forms of woundedness. Bitterness and blaming is heaped on the shoulders of innocent bystanders, our friends, family and children of the next generation. But each of us has the power to stop transmitting our pain by transforming it.

We can refuse the tendency of our ego to hurt others by offering the wounds we have received and our survival of them as rays of hope for all those who suffer similar experiences.

We can offer hands of healing instead of building protective walls. We will in turn find ourselves transformed and born anew.

Life can be wonderful when we make it so.

Becoming Authentic; Doing the Inside Job

When I think about an inside job, the initial images that come to mind are of a dishonest key employee who arranges for theft of assets from the company. The bank teller assists a heist by giving away vault combinations and then shares in the clandestine loot. It is marked by betrayal of confidence. But there is another kind of inside job. It comes with a rude awakening that our character flaws, excesses, shortcomings, and barriers we have built to insulate us from pain are keeping us from experiencing the wholeness of life. We recognize that incessant efforts to shape and control external events have mostly just resulted in tire spinning. And there we are, looking like Pogo Possum who says; "We have met the enemy, and he is us".

Perhaps the inside job of employee betrayal may not be so different from the inside job which robs us of authenticity after all. For it is the false self (ego), insecure and driven for comfort that tells us to avoid anything which threatens our status quo. The genuine, real person dwelling within yearns for connectedness and mutuality but is stifled by external clamor to be important, separate, self sufficient, and superior. And so we continue to betray ourselves and steal away the treasure of love given freely by God.

Years ago, crushed by the weight of my own grief and misadventures, I leaned heavily on the wisdom of my mentor, Lyle A. He was a crusty old curmudgeon who believed strongly that the 12 Steps of AA provided the best model for healing, recovery and living life on life's terms. I was working hard to rebuild my finances, reputation, and credibility with limited success and went to Lyle for direction. He heard about enough of my whining, blaming and excuses when he told me to forget the whole thing and to go bury myself in a bottle of bourbon. He said that I had missed the whole point. Happiness, joy, fulfillment and healing were an inside job. Until I could figure out a way to do some major interior remodeling, the exterior would continue to fall apart. I was relying on my own resilience while Edging-God-Out. Lyle was right of course. It took a long time and more bruises and missteps, but eventually it did the work and I let God take control.

Yogi Berra once quipped that 'it gets late early out there'. And it does. The time for working on the inside job is now. Though I always heartily recommend the 12 Steps for Everyone, and good resources like Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr, whatever path you take must bring you to your silent center where that wee small voice can be heard calling you The Beloved. It is the only way to wholeness and healing.

Freedom Against The Wind; Sailing to Joy and Happiness

The new day has dawned.

Now comes the challenge of deciding what can be done with it. How we will spend today is largely up to us. Sure, there are those who will direct our activities. We have obligations to fulfill. People depend on us to one degree or another and we are accountable. However the goal is not to acquiesce to demands or to please others. The goal is joy and happiness. This might sound a bit self-serving or hedonistic, but it is not. Far from it. All spiritual teachings point us in that direction.

Only that day dawns to which we are awake.
— Henry David Thoreau

So this new day calls for sorting out the inconsequential in order to live more fully toward joy and happiness. Finding the new freedom promised in that endeavor will sometimes feel like fighting against the wind. But ultimately, the same wind will fill our sails and take us to the place we have been seeking all along.

Chris, a lifelong friend of mine sent me an email recently which provided a link to an article called "Claim Freedom" by teacher Evan Mehlenbacher. It was really quite good, and I ended up subscribing to his blog. What caught me a bit off guard though was a comment Chris made about his take on my life's mission. He said that he had been 'thinking of me and my work freeing people'. Over the course of most of the past five decades, I have worked with folks who suffered childhood abuse, trauma, and addictions. The headwinds they faced were sometimes CAT 5 in strength.

At times, I veered away seeking other professions for a break, but always came back to see if I could at least help pack some sandbags. I never considered my work being about freeing people. But I guess that's exactly what I have been called to do. And in the final analysis, it is what each of us must do if we are to reach the goal of joy and happiness.

Richard Rohr has defined the role of freedom as conjoining compassion and mercy. I think this statement is true. For when we have been blessed with freedom, joy, and happiness we have an obligation to give it away to others. It cannot be contained. The only way I know how to extend such freedom, joy and happiness to others is through my shared brokenness and vulnerability. This can only result in subsequent compassion and mercy. We no longer have room for measuring and judgment. Then the new day dawns on a sea of mutuality and interconnectedness and there will always be fair winds following.

Labor Day Reminiscence; Sweet Memories of Home

The ceremonial Last Day of Summer is here again. Our long Labor Day weekend comes with a flourish as fairs, carnivals and festivals offer a wide variety of music, whimsical entertainment and every imaginable kind of tempting, mouthwatering (and usually unhealthy) treat. Who can resist a deep fried Oreo? Backyard grills are firing up and kids are taking their last dips in pools that will close for the season on Tuesday.

Some of my favorite memories of Labor Day take me back to my childhood in Danville, Illinois. Despite the looming spectre of school starting after the weekend, concerns were muted in part because of the National Sweet Corn Festival which would be in full swing a few miles away in Hoopeston. We could perch at our cousin Martha and Tom Merritt’s house, wander on downtown and fill ourselves with succulent, Supersweet bliss. To those who might chuckle at my glee, you just haven't had corn on the cob until you eat a few dozen ears of Illinois gold. The process of creating culinary perfection involves an antique steam engine and somewhere around 50 tons of sweet corn buttered and salted on conveyor belts delivered for free to ravenous foodies of all kinds. This has been going on since 1938 and shows no sign of demise. There are lots of other activities like carnival rides, a midway, live music, bingo, car shows and lots of beer for grown ups. But nothing makes my mouth water and heart long for home like the good old Sweet Corn Festival.

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The days of picnics in the park with speeches by union leaders have gone by the wayside and the labor movement seems to have lost its umph. Jerry Lewis isn't around to entertain-a-thon us any more with various labor organizations raising money for MDA. There is still a glimmer of respect paid to workers at the Labor Day Concert in Washington, DC with fireworks and the National Symphony Orchestra. But so it goes with many of our holidays. We often lose the original intent in favor of our celebration. Perhaps that would be a really good topic for another column. Be that as it may let the good times roll this weekend. Eat a bunch of sweet corn.

Winning and Losing; A Model of Cooperation

Everybody doesn't win. Though motivational speakers might try to convince us that we are all winners, it just can't be reconciled with reality. Two or three decades ago, well-meaning parents and coaches began handing out medals and trophies to every youngster who participated in athletic games which so clearly had winning and losing sides. Their altruistic desire didn't really work out, mainly because it was the grown-ups who placed greatest significance on awards, not the children. For kids, the goal of winning is not to make losers of their opponents. Winning, and the awards received at the end of a tournament are a mark of achievement through hard work, training, and dedication. It is the strict dualistic thinking of adults that labels losing as a failure. The "everybody-is-a-winner" practice is simply overprotective and unnecessary.

Each August, my wife and I anticipate the Little League World Series which exemplifies competition at its' very best. This contest is a perfect example of how we might restructure our attitudes about winners and losers. And the young players are our teachers. Members from opposing teams hug each other, congratulate each other, and console each other. They celebrate as a community showing us that victory has many facets, only one of which is winning the contest. I can't imagine any player leaving Williamsport feeling like a "loser". In fact, the 2019 Little League World Champions, Louisiana’s East Bank All Stars, emerged from the so-called losers bracket to take the title.

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In the larger grown-up arena, when our political leaders, or others, apply a ‘loser’ label to an individual group, it is an attempt to project weakness and failure upon them. Any sense of community is destroyed. They are sending a message that the highest purpose in life is to win at any cost. This fiercely divisive drive for superiority wipes out the possibility of cooperation. Intolerance of inferiors festers into an us-versus-them culture. And us-versus-them is not only a failure of imagination but the worst kind of lie. We are all in this struggle together. In the end it's still all about how we cooperate and play the game. Perhaps New Jersey Little League manager Jairo Labrador demonstrated the joy of connection found in simply playing together....win or lose. After his team was eliminated, he gathering his boys around him saying; "For the rest of my life, I'm proud that you guys get to call me coach." Now there is a life lesson if I ever heard one.

Elderhood; An (Almost) Full Embrace of Aging

Getting old. It sneaks up in the mirror revealing itself like adolescent acne of decades gone by. Misplaced little hairs, wrinkles and weird brown spots are suddenly reflected as an unfamiliar image stares back. A professional colleague of mine, Don Kuhl founder of The Change Companies, writes about Aging three times a week. After being greeted by the scary old man in the mirror, I went back to his blog for some perspective and humor. Then I posted a little photojournal on some of my FB groups which dealt with the inner grace and elegance that can reveal themselves as we age. Like a defiant Gray Panther, I raise a fist in solidarity with my sister and brother Baby Boomers.

I don't necessarily like the idea of being a senior citizen so I'm adopting the term elderhood to take its place. Childhood was fun, and elderhood seems to open up some promising possibilities. One pleasant discovery has been that time, so recently constricted to tight schedules, business demands, and accountability, is no longer such a critical measure. Instead of a day being broken down into minutes and hours of events and destinations, it reverts back into being a cumulative experience.

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When I was a boy, and the adults would ask what all we had been doing on a long summer day. I remember responding with a muttered "Just goofing around". How could the adventures of baseball, finding tadpoles in the pond, building forts in the woods, fighting off savage invaders, and skinny dipping in the lake be conveyed to parents who thought we should be doing something productive? It's like that in elderhood too. Now its our grown children asking somewhat suspiciously what we did with ourselves all day. There is no way they could understand the joy of sleeping in late, savoring a hot cup of coffee like it was fine wine, sharing breakfast in bed, watching neighbors from the porch, napping during a Cubs game, and talking about dreams or days-gone-by as being valuably spent hours.

My wife, twelve year old dog Wrigley, and I get it. Even with the aches and pains, bottles of medication, and visions of strangers in the looking glass, we (almost) fully embrace the whole elderhood thing. Our hard won wisdom may be discounted by younger ones who should be seeking it. But we accept this with the firm understanding that someday in the not too distant future...they will get it too.

Making Amends; The Joy of Reconciliation

Amends making, though often difficult, is a great equalizer and healer. The harm done by our words and actions can leave hurt feelings and deep wounds. If left unattended, they can destroy relationships. But when we are able to own our mistakes and take responsibility for damage done, we will experience the joy of reconciliation.

The familiar promise "first, do no harm" is attributed to the Hippocratic Oath which some doctors pledge in medical school. It isn't universally made by the way, and practically impossible to fulfill. How could any person live up to such a creed. We are human and fallible. At a time when other organizations seem to be adopting 'do no harm', we might want to step back and take a closer look at what that phrase might entail. If I was to create comic book characters for the no harm doctrine they would be Expectation Man and Assumption Woman. Their super power would be perfection in all things. Since we are not perfect, it's a sure thing that we will do some harm, inflict pain, and blunder from time to time. The difference between a brute who leaves life strewn with wreckage and a person of conscience who cleans up mistakes is the real-life super power of making amends.

There are plenty of mistakes, wounds and regrets that reside in the fog of yesterday. The promises of today will remain enshrouded in them without our active participation.

So how does one go about making amends? The folks of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) seem to have it nailed. Seven of their 12 Steps show how. A member of that organization once told me if one was to boil the steps down into six words, they would be Trust God. Clean House. Help Others. He went on to say that if there is no housecleaning the former and later are impossible. Anyway, the process comes down to taking a personal inventory, admitting the nature of your wrongs, and then going directly to the people who have been injured, accepting responsibility for damage done. Forgiveness along with the chance for restored relationships becomes a possibility. And the relief experienced on both sides is what I call the joy of reconciliation.

In this era of increasing polarization, name calling, and hate-speak there is lots of harm being done. Family members and friends are distancing themselves...each taking up their own assumed moral high ground. When those who have stirred up all of this divisiveness are long gone we will be left in isolated and lonely places. Perhaps adopting the 12 Step model would be a plan. Start out by admitting to yourself the mistakes which have done harm. Then try to make them right (or as AA people say ‘Do the Next Right Thing’). Remember, making those amends will result in the joy of reconciliation.