Democracy

For those of you who think our form of government (Democracy) is too divided, fractious, and subject to partisanship let me share this . . .

In the summers between ’73-77′ I worked at a camp on Cape Cod that oftened employed immigrants coming to the States from other countries.

One day I was working with a woman named Marina who was immigrating from Russian, where she left behind a prestigious career, success, and family.

I can’t remember why she decided to leave Russia or the circumstance that brought her to our country, but I distinctly remember asking her, “What is the main difference between life in Russia and life in the States?”

“Life in Russia is easy”, she said. “Life in America is hard.”

That made me wonder why she decided to leave in the first place until she continued.

“But life in Russia is not normal. Life in America is normal.”

Yes, democracy and the freedoms it allows is hard. Sometimes harder than our will to honor and cherish it. Sometimes pushing us beyond our comfort zone. Where the peices rarely fit together without difficulty and friction. Where we often must compromise for the greater good.

[I’m not talking about discarding fundamental principles.]

What makes America great is not policy. Policy is the evidence of our concern and respect for each other as fellow citizens of this great Country and the world at large – or at least it should be.

What makes America great is the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution. Of our commitment to equal protection under the Law for all citizens. The very laws that we ourselves create and decide upon, not laws imposed on us by some dictatorial State.

Yes, life here in the United States of America is hard, but it is a life of freedom where all citizens can pursue life, liberty, and happiness. One that provides us a normal life where each of us can choose our faith, direction, and purpose.

I’ll take that any day!

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In Essence

At the risk of making something amazing seem too simple I will continue with this one caveat – sometimes something is so incredible that we must, if we are to understand it at all, apply the simplest of logic if we are even to grasp it in part.

And so I give you mankind.

We spend a considerable amount of time studying human history, interaction, and culture. We dedicate hours of careful examination to delicate ecosystems and creatures on this planet. We have spent billions of dollars exploring the mysteries of the Universe. And yet we know very little about what makes a person fully human.

It can be said that we are physical, intellectual, and spiritual beings – and that sounds obvious, but it necessarily creates a structure of understanding that has little to do with reality. We are not compartmental. You can’t peel off these facets, examine them, modify them separately, and then expect a human to survive. It doesn’t work that way.

If humans hadn’t had opposable thumbs, if our brains hadn’t desired more than just basic needs, if we had never aspired to believe in something greater than ourselves, we might not be where we are today. History is a testament to that. Those are observable facts of life, but they are not life itself.

What makes a person fully human is not their elemental make up, but something that can’t be defined – a combination of personality, temperament, and self awareness most people define as the soul. That individuality is so vital to who we are that we consider it eternal and set all our beliefs in life and the after-life on it. It’s the seed at the heart of religious faith. That we can know and be personally known by the Creator.

The soul is not merely another part of who we are, it is integral to every thing we are and hope to be. Everything we experience is filtered through the essence of our soul. It allows us to laugh one moment and brings us to tears the next. It fills our hearts with great love on one hand and curses us with destructive anger and indignation on the other. It motivates us to survive, but moves us to self sacrifice to the point of death. Its existence is a mystery and yet when we die the weight of it’s presence leaves our bodies 21 grams lighter.

We spend much of our time doing what we can to take care of ourselves physically and stimulate ourselves intellectually. We eat healthy, exercise, maintain good habits, try to keep open minds and expand our knowledge. Those are all great and good things. But how do we feed and nurture our indefinable essence?

I certainly don’t have an answer for that, but maybe accepting each other and ourselves for the truly unique beings we are is a good place to start.

Tuning

Piano tuners have quite a daunting job. It’s not just about getting strings to hit their individually assigned notes. It’s the art of bringing the entire instrument into harmony where each note resonates in concert with the whole.

A piano tuner begins by “laying the bearings”, which is done by establishing a single octave in the middle of the piano as a foundation. This is called the “Temperament Octave”. All other tuning, either above or below, stems from this group of eight notes. But these eight notes are not perfectly tuned. If the scale is tuned to sound perfect when one chord is played the same notes are out of tune for other chords. And so the piano tuner must leave all the chords imperfectly tuned just shy of intolerable. This is referred to as the “Equal Temperament” scale.

To complicate things each note on the piano has three strings per note. These three strings are called “unisons”. After the piano tuner finishes tuning all the inital notes they must go back and tune each unison string to the same vibration.

As individuals we “lay our bearings” by finding our center. It’s our temperament. It’s the core of who we are. Everything else stems from this. We are far from perfect. And yet that very imperfection is what binds us together. For we are all equally imperfect you and me.

As we search for harmony in a world of dissonance let us seek to understand as much as we wish to be understood, to offer compassion as much as we wish compassion for ourselves, and to strive for unison as a single vibration for peace and justice. Let us never forget that though we are uniquely ourselves we are all part of a much greater more magnificent Universal Song.

This In-between Week

‚ÄčThis week, which bridges the old year to the new, is a magical week. We are still flush with the warmth of the giving Holidays and openly hopeful for the year to come. There’s no other week like it.

We set out on this journey with little more than our name. If we are fortunate we are encouraged to reach high and follow our dreams. If not we eventually find our own way because life is like that. It has a way of unfolding and coming together just as it should. Eventually we come to where we are. This week. This in-between week where we look back and forge ahead at the same time.

Whatever this past year was to you, either good or bad, remember this – you are the person you are because of all that happened. One small change, one slight modification, and you would be a different you. We will never know what that person would be like, but we do know who we are right now and that’s a powerful place to stand.

Orient yourself. Take stock. This next year promises to be another life changer. Play your part and I’ll play mine. Each and every attempt we make to love and care about each other is an affirmative statement. Each and every act of kindness and consideration speaks volumes about who we are. You are not insignificant in the grand scheme of things. One single atom’s change and the world would be a different place.

So let’s celebrate what is and what can be. Love those you hold dear and keep them close. And as far as the year to come? Reach high and far and dream big, my friend, because you never know what it could bring. It might just be the best one yet!

Incarnation

In the summer of 1974 I was working on Cape Cod. I was 20 years old. I didn’t have my own car at the time so on my days off I would hitchhike or borrow a bicycle to get where I wanted to go.

Now, before you lecture me on hitchhiking let me just tell you that back then it wasn’t considered as dangerous as it is now. At least I never ran into any issues.

One particular day off I wanted to check out Sandy Neck. I found a ride to Sandwich and started walking east on Route 6A. It wasn’t long before I managed to catch a ride with a young guy not much older than myself. We struck up a conversation where he told me he was exploring the idea of reincarnation – a concept that I had barely been exposed to in my midwestern Bible Belt life.

He did his best to educate me.

“Well,” I said after his rudimentary explanation, “if we supposedly get better each time we reincarnate I would think there should be some pretty perfect people walking around by now and I really don’t see much evidence of that.”

He gave me a puzzled look. Thinking back now I don’t think his study on the subject was quite complete yet.

“Here’s what I believe in”, I said. “I believe in incarnation.”

“Incarnation?” He asked.

“Yeah, it’s really pretty simple. Incarnation is where the Spirit of God acually lives inside us. We are still who we are with the ability to choose our own way, but we have the added insight of an Inner Voice for guidance. If we take the time to listen we can live our best lives.”

And that’s about the time we arrived at the pull off for Sandy Neck.

“Thanks for the ride!” I said as I hopped out of the car.

“You’re welcome. Enjoy!” he replied.

I’ve thought about that conversation many times since then. Through my ups and downs and backs and forths in my own faith over the years I’ve always believed what I said to him that day.

It only makes sense that we recognize God’s imprint on us in the same way creative work can be attributed to a specific artist based on their unique artistic fingerprint. Sometimes you don’t even need to know who the artist is. You just know by looking at the work.

I don’t know the God of your understanding, heck, I don’t even know if you do or even care to, but over time I’ve come to understand and appreciate mine. It’s the reason I do the things I do and live the life I lead. It’s at the very heart of who I am. And in large part it’s why I believe we are all so connected. The godly incarnation we share is why we love and care about each other so much.

And so I honor that of God in you, my friend. It’s what makes life sacred. It what gives it meaning and direction. Find a silent moment when you get a chance and listen to that still small Voice. It might not be very strong or loud, but it’s there. It knows you, knows where you’re going, and knows how to get you there.

And above all else, be kind to each other, because when you are you honor that of God in everyone else you meet.

Which Christmas?

Holy days, rites, and rituals are powerful things. Like ingrained habits they take on meanings far beyond their origins. And so it is with Christmas.

Jesus never said, “Buy gifts and exchange them in remembrance of my birth”. Truth is, no one really knows exactly when Jesus was born. That wasn’t the focus of early Christianity. For them it was all about his death and resurrection.

What we do know is that Christmas started as a way to co-opt the Winter Soltice celebration of Saturnalia so converts would feel more comfortable leaving their pagan gods for the Christian one. Over time it took on a life of its own. Festive trappings were added, carols were written, stories were told, traditions created, movies made, and eventually it turned into something quite magical.

The Christmas we celebrate today is a far cry from the humble story it was derived from, and though it has brought much goodwill and kindness to this world, the Christmas that consumed Saturnalia has now been consumed by Commerce. Each year we rail against “Christmas Creep” that forces shopping on us ever earlier. It’s a fight between what we wish it was and what it’s actually become – a time of high economic energy that businesses rely on! We’re left with this funky split personality of a Holiday. One that’s a tension between two separate purposes – religious vs. secular.

Regardless of its origin or history the question remains, which Christmas will we give in to? The Christmas financed by our wallets or the Christmas that’s held in our hearts? The Christmas that worries we haven’t done enough or the Christmas that loves us just the way we are? The Christmas that makes us want to slit our wrists in Holiday parking lots or the Christmas where we can sit for hours enjoying family and friends? The Christmas of frantically running around buying last minute gifts or the Christmas that promises to change the world by a humble yet remarkable birth?

Hmm, seems pretty obvious now that I’ve written all that.

Just Imagine! [An Essay for Christmas]

I’m a big fan of anthropomorphism. Who among us can resist the urge to attribute human traits, human emotions, or human intentions to non-human entities. Most dog owners believe their pet can read their minds. I know I do. We see human expression in their decidedly canine faces all the time. We know beyond a doubt they have an intelligence and spiritual existence equivalent to our own.

My twin sister is famously known for seeing faces in all sorts of objects including appliances, leftovers, and knots in wooden cabinets. I suppose it’s part of our child-like storytelling nature – finding the familiar in objects closest to us. Dancing Disney candlesticks, benevolent trees in enchanted forests, talking crickets, elephants soaring on flappy ears, and seven small dwarfy men coming to the aid of a distressed damsel all condition us from an early age to believe the possible of the improbable.

Imagination allows us to see how something will be before it’s true. Whether it actual exists at the moment is of little importance. This creative world building is at the core of scientific discovery and invention. I have long held that genius is more about the interpretation and explanation of daydreams than anything else. I picture Einstein gazing out his window imagining a world he must later explain to his unimaginative fellow colleagues.

At this time of year, when we are most near our childlikeness, let’s put away our cynicism and give way to our imaginations. Let’s create a world where laughter and love are valued more than all the riches we’ll ever secure, where true caring sustains us, where joy is in all hearts, and the potential of this world is beyond our wildest dreams. If we dream it, we can create it. If we believe it, it can come true.

After all, isn’t that the real Spirit of this Season? The belief that Heaven can come to Earth, that all of us are brothers and sisters in the Light, that Peace can and will find a place on this planet and in the hearts of men? You might say, “That’s quite a tall tale you’ve told there, Miss Kris”. Well, that may be true, but if we don’t imagine it, if we don’t believe it in our hearts, if we don’t walk and act accordingly then who will bring this to the world, my friend? Who indeed.