"The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, all in one."
- John Ruskin
This was the June 1, 2011 quote in the Zen calendar on my desk. I didn't know who John Ruskin was. He had some controversy in his life (disgustingly disturbing if true), but he also had some insights during his 1800's English life that I agree with, including this (from his Wikipedia entry):
"Nay, but I choose my physician and my clergyman, thus indicating my sense of the quality of their work. By all means, also, choose your bricklayer; that is the proper reward of the good workman, to be "chosen." The natural and right system respecting all labour is, that it should be paid at a fixed rate, but the good workman employed, and the bad workman unemployed. The false, unnatural, and destructive system is when the bad workman is allowed to offer his work at half-price, and either take the place of the good, or force him by his competition to work for an inadequate sum."
Ask for more than you really need. Offer less than you’re really willing to give up. Meet somewhere in the middle.
This timeless negotiating strategy works because it’s what everyone expects. When one side unilaterally deviates from this norm, as I do whenever purchasing a new vehicle, the experience is very frustrating. Rather than low-balling an offer and then moving towards a middle ground, I state exactly what I am willing to pay. The last two times I did this, I did indeed leave with the exact deal that I set out to strike, paying exactly what my initial offer had been; however, I believe it may have actually taken longer to accomplish than if I had gone in with a lower offer and then moved to the middle.
What do the Israelis and the Palestinians actually want their end result to look like? Only they know. And certain Israelis most certainly have a different result in mind than do other Israelis; likewise with the Palestinians. If either side or, ideally, each side, knew exactly what the other would actually agree to, then a deal could be struck. But neither side knows what those magical requirements are. I believe that Netanyahu and Abbas are actually getting familiar enough with one another to sense what it is that the other side would actually accept in terms of a deal for a Palestinian state. The more time they spend together, and the closer they get, the tougher the competing factions on each side will seek to make the talks. There will be blatant attempts at sabotage. If a deal looks imminent, virtually assured, then an assassination attempt may actually be made.
They are so close, one can almost taste an agreement. Let’s hope one gets done sooner than later, so that we can all see what the seeds of peace in the Middle East will allow the peoples of the world to harvest.
Quora.com and goodreads.com have been popping up more frequently in online meanderings over the past couple of weeks. Quora is basically a question and answer site, but not in the sense of querying Google or Wolfram Alpha. It's not a search bar that spits out answers; Quora is to Google is as an essay test is to multiple choice. The answers returned are ostensibly from "experts," but anyone can pose a question or answer. Just try to know what you're talking about if you submit an answer, for the sake of the other users.
Goodreads is a place to discuss works you have read, or are reading. It's got the requisite user-populated bookshelf, where you can add the titles that you have read, are reading, or would like to read. Like Quora, users can pose a question, or "explore" works, among a group of other readers. You may be "friends" with someone on the basis of their having read the same book that you are reading, or you may choose not to be friends with anyone. In any case, the book explorations/discussions can quickly shoot off onto tangents expected or otherwise, with hours or days passing between contributions by others. It's great!
What struck me about each of these (I believe I stumbled upon goodreads.com from a Quora question somehow, but I'm not entirely certain of that) is the quality of the communities. There don't seem to be a large number of users yet, although Quora is gaining traction, but those who participate do so with thoughtful effort. These discussions encourage thought and introspection, which can only advance the attempt to know thyself.
Better never to have met you in my dream than to wake and reach
for hands that are not there.
- Otomo No Yakamochi
Mother Teresa actually conversed with Jesus, according to her. Not surprising, considering her universally acclaimed saint-like existence. The problem was, it happened almost 50 years before she died. She spent the rest of her life after that communication in a desperate, fruitless attempt to be in communion with him again. Excerpts from her letters convey such utter despair and spiritual emptiness, that one must come away from reading them with the impression that surely she must have ultimately turned her back on the Church, if not on God himself.
She did not, however. Her unanswered prayers simply led to her searching, grasping, ever more intensely, which made the deafening silence all the more unbearable. Still, she persevered and carried out the request that was made to her by the voice of Jesus all those decades earlier, a request to take care of the wretchedly poor and sick of Calcutta, which she did until she died.
Where is the happy ending for the saint? It was not to be found here on earth during her bodily existence. Like Jesus, her heartfelt questioning of why her father had forsaken her had no effect on her plight. All she, all they, wanted, was to simply know that their father was with them, that it wasn't all a dream, that the hands were indeed there. But that was not to be. Not yet. And still, their faith endured.
How long is "long enough?"
If you were born to do something that you only got to actually "do" for 3 years of your life, would it be worth it? How about if you were offered the chance to do it for 20 years instead - would that be more worthwhile?
It depends on what that certain something is, obviously, but there are many, many people aged 35-45 who really feel called to do something different with their lives and are always defeated by the thought that it's somehow too late. It may be something that takes a year or more to prepare for and transition to, and in their well-meaning, pragmatic minds, it simply doesn't make sense to start all over again since they're already 40 years into their lives' journeys and have bills to pay and mouths to feed and future college tuition looming.
Why bother, they may ask, if they only have another 20 years left to travel down that new path? What could they possibly accomplish in such a fleeting blink of an eye?
I don't know what could be accomplished by a specific called and dedicated human being in a mere 20 years. But I know that a fireman can save a life in a matter of minutes - don't you think the person that he saved, as well as that person's family and friends, would consider that fireman a success in his career, even if that was the only day he ever worked? I know that Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the lives of all Americans in less than 20 years. And I know that Jesus of Nazareth changed the entire world in just 3 years of doing what he was born to do.
20 years is a mighty long time to make a mark on the world and its inhabitants, even if that world is the size of an elementary classroom and the population is 25 9-year olds, and 40 years old is way too young to give up on a dream.
Writing is entirely too dependent on the reader. You can be the most talented, inspiring, grammatically perfect writer the world has ever produced, but the ability of your written words to convey what you intend to convey is completely subject to the limitations of the reader. The skills of reading, the gift of empathy, a technical or literary or subject matter-specific vocabulary, the chance that the reader reads the language in which the message has been composed, are all determining factors in whether or not the recipient of the message will fully grasp the words on the page (or the screen, or the slab, or whatever the medium may be) in the intended manner.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus apparently left no writing from his own hand to be handed down through the ages, so that all may know his words directly? Among the many possibilities:
Unlike writing, speaking is a two-way conduit. If anything needs clarification, it can be handled on the spot. And we all know of the importance of the way the words are spoken, the emphasis on certain phrases, the emotions involved, the facial and bodily expressions, and all of the other nuances that are lost when words are left to the hand-guided stylus alone.
Eventually, the teachings and witness of Jesus were written down to the best of certain people's abilities, for preservation as well as efficiency of delivery to as wide an audience as quickly as possible.
That, however, is not how he originally delivered his message to his disciples. Perhaps he charged them with orally delivering his teachings as he himself delivered them; perhaps not. And maybe each of them told others as they may have instructed to do, and those others told still others, which could have eventually resulted in a message every bit as confusing and unintended as the presently evolved written word and tradition can seem to be.
When God wants to communicate with us, he does it in a direct way, leaving out the middle man, leaving out the written word, speaking directly to our hearts and any other part of us that is capable of hearing, or showing us exactly what we need to see in order to be able to fully comprehend whatever it is that he needs us to understand. For many, perhaps the Bible and/or going to church is all that is necessary for sending and guiding us along a perfectly acceptable path, a "good enough" life, an earthly existence which needs no redirection from God as long as the basic rules and regs are observed (especially the one about embracing Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life). For others, something more, or at least different, would be appreciated.
What might an example of that "something more or different" be? I have no idea. As always, I'm all ears.
A respected professional acquaintance also happens to be an atheist. Not of the agnostic persuasion, but of the "religious beliefs are ridiculous superstition" sort. We see eye to eye on most topics besides this one, and each of us realizes that the other is entitled to his own beliefs.
I stumped him though. Just once, but it stuck with me. You see, he is a very rational man, as was Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine was a "deist," a believer that there was a creator of the universe of some kind (which is more than I can elicit from my acquaintance), but not in God per se, and certainly not in any organized religious belief system. Paine's greatest work was Rights of Man, which was, among other things, an extremely well-reasoned attack on religion (particularly "revealed" religion: in a nutshell, though something may well be revealed to someone, anyone else to whom it is not directly revealed is merely subscribing to the revelation in a secondhand, word of mouth exercise that is entirely dependent upon the credibility of the source to which the thing was revealed; we are, in essence, believing in that source, more so than what that source alleged was revealed to him or her).
The deist movement had a great influence on some of the Founding Fathers; hence, although the United States of America was clearly founded as a nation of Christians rather than a Christian nation, it is still somewhat notable (at least to myself) that for all of the references to God in the Declaration of Independence, there is no mention of Jesus Christ. Which brings me to the point.
One simple question to my friend and to all non-believers who are firmly and patriotically rooted in the tenets of our nation's founding documents and ethos: if all men are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, who exactly endowed them with such? And if the clear and correct answer of "their Creator" is rejected by these non-believers, then it should therefore follow (in their minds, not mine) that all men are not, in fact, endowed with these rights.
That is a terrible thought, one which could tear down the entire belief and value system of America and democracies everywhere. If that is the case, if all men are not endowed by their Creator with something that makes us different from the rest of creation, then we must in fact be no different than the rest of creation, and therefore subject to the same "survival of the fittest" rules and procedures as the rest of the universe (take what you can get, enslave others, enrich yourself - in other words, the same thing that our current exercise of "Extreme Capitalism" is producing). Clearly, there is something within many of us that rejects that possibility, the possibility that we are no higher than the animals in the scheme of things. That "something" can be traced back to the Greeks of 400 BC and beyond, as well as to other cultures and eras in human history. And if that "something" is not God-given, from where does it emanate?
And if you were wondering about the spoils of that great philosophical victory over my atheist friend: nothing less than the utterance of his heartfelt "good point."
1. Did you help someone that really needed it, or get such help from someone else, in a way that each of you will always remember?
2. Did you read a book in 2009?
How many: 1 or 2, 5 or 6? Fiction or non? Did you learn anything via the written word?
3. Did you visit a city you've never visited before?
For how many days? Did you do something or see something new to you while you were there?
4. Did you start work in a different job, or at a different company or location, or take some new classes in 2009? Did you spend your days with a different group of people than you did in 2008?
5. Did your relationship with anyone living with you noticeably improve? Or worsen?
6. Did you try or experience something new? Did you learn anything in a hands-on way?
Was it something you always wanted to try or know? And even if it wasn't, did you still make the most of it?
In short, did you spend 2009 living, or dying?