Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Golden Rule

It’s called the Golden Rule because it’s valuable and something we can measure ourselves by.  But what does it really mean when someone says, “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you?”

This way it’s usually stated isn’t quite correct.  How would a masochist act in interpreting, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”  He’d hurt someone because that’s what he’d like done to himself.

The true meaning is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Consequently, it needs to be restated as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you were in their circumstances.”  It’s not what you want, but what the other person needs.  If someone is lonely, offer friendship.

It is universal.  That’s why it appears in so many different religious traditions.

The problem in the world is that we’re all so wrapped up in our own wants (our frame of reference) that we don’t pay attention to the needs of those around us.  By reaching out, we move beyond our own closed system of daily problems and can benefit from the giving.

But for me, I forget this with my busy life, packed agenda, overbooked schedule, writing projects and book promotion.  I have to be aware of not being consumed in the “doing” of daily life and miss the people around me.

That’s why it’s worthwhile to stop, take a deep breath, look around and remember the Golden Rule.  It’s a benchmark we can measure ourselves against and an ethical standard for a more fulfilling life.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Prayer: I've Got a Branch

For me, prayer is an affirmation and expression of thankfulness, not a petition. 

When I was in elementary school, we attended a chapel service once a week.  I remember sitting in the auditorium listening to Reverend Rewick, singing hymns and generally not paying much attention.  From all those hours there, I remember one story.

A man fell off a cliff and as he tumbled down he began to pray.  “Dear God,” he beseeched.  “Help me.  I don’t want to die.  I promise to be a good person and not do anything bad again.”

He continued to fall and his prayer became more fervent.  “Dear God, please save me.  I’ll do anything you ask.”

He still fell and as the ground got closer he pleaded again, “Please help me, God.  I’ll dedicate my life to your service.”

Eight feet before being dashed against rocks, he saw a branch.  His arm shot out, he grabbed the branch and came to a stop a foot from the ground.  He gasped for breath, then said, “That’s okay, God, I’ve got a branch.”

I know that I ask for help in the difficult times and then cruise along mindlessly when times are good.  Like taking good health for granted.

We used to do a grace at dinner which was the most basic of prayers.  We held hands and said together, “Thank you.”

At its core, prayer is this affirmation, a thanks for life and all we’ve been given.

Sometimes before going to sleep I’ll say a prayer.  It’s a simple mantra.

“Dear God, thank you for everything you’ve done for me.  Give me the strength to do what’s right and to love those around me.”

That says it all.  The only other thing I could add is not “thanks for the fish,” but  “thanks for the branch.”

Thursday, July 16, 2015


My wife and I have just gone through a major change by moving from Colorado to Southern California. Many friends have asked why we moved into a drought area. Simple reason. Our daughter has had her first child, and we’ve moved nearby to help with child care. This will be our first grandchild that we will be close to in geography from day one.

My writing has been on hiatus with all the preparation for the move, the move itself and then all the action items of settling in. This process became more complex when I was hospitalized immediately upon our arrival in California with a hand infection and two weeks of IV antibiotic treatment. I’ve bounced back, and we’re getting acclimatized.

On the positive side, we have a new grandson and everyone is healthy and doing well.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

People, Projects and the Tinderbox

I’ve always been a project person.  I get involved and consumed in a variety of activities:  work, sports, hiking, snowshoeing, writing, teaching, collecting shells.  I’m not one to sit around relaxing.  After a few quiet minutes I jump up to work on a project.  There’s a good part to this.  I get a lot done, but I can overdo it.  It’s only in recent years that I’ve learned to relax more on weekends, taking a break to read a book by the pool or catch a nap.

There is a golden mean, a balance between frenzy and sloth.  There’s a time to charge ahead and a time to take a break.

Another dimension is that I tend to get absorbed in the project at hand and lose sight of the human touch, focusing more on the activity than the people I’m with.

When my kids and I were in Indian Guides and Indian Princesses, a father/kid program (which seems to no longer be politically correct) sponsored by the YMCA, I heard two stories that hit home.  Every year in May we had the Spring Pow Wow, a gathering at the YMCA of the Rockies camp in Estes Park.  Over a weekend we swam, played miniature golf, bowled, rode horses, fished, had a campfire and hiked.  On Sunday morning the leader held a brief service from which I remember two relevant stories.

First, was a discussion about the Cat Steven’s song, “The Cat’s in the Cradle.”  This song relates the story of a father who was too busy to spend time with his son.  When the son grows up, he’s too busy to spend time with his father.  The punch line: “He grew up to be just like me.”  For us A-type personalities the message was clear.  Make the effort to spend quality time with your kids.

Second, the leader told the story of the Tinderbox:  Two Indian braves were chosen to compete to become the next chief of the tribe.  Each was given a tinderbox with an ember and told to scale the distant sacred mountain and light a fire at the top.  The first to succeed would become the new chief.

They charged off.  Half way up the mountain, the first brave came to an old man shivering beside a pile of wood.  “Please help me light my fire so I won’t freeze to death,” the old man begged.

The Indian brave looked at the old man with disdain.  “I have no time for that,” he said.  “I have to get to the top of the mountain to become chief.”  So he left the old man huddled in the cold.

Moments later the second brave came upon the old man.  “Please help me light my fire,” the old man pleaded.

The second brave could see the first brave climbing up ahead.  He knew that if he stopped, he’d surely lose the race and not become chief.  He looked back at the old man shivering in the cold and knew that he couldn’t leave him there to freeze to death.  So he took the ember out of his tinderbox and used it to start a fire for the old man.  Once the fire was going briskly, he removed a fresh ember and put it in his tinderbox.  He knew it was futile, but he continued up the mountain.

Down below the people watched and waited.  Suddenly, a fire appeared on the top of the sacred mountain.  It was the fire from the second brave.

The first brave had reached the top first, but when he went to light a fire, his ember had burned out.  The second brave arrived later, but his new ember was still glowing.  He lit a fire and became chief.

Remember the human element and take the time to replenish your embers.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

People Who Have All the Answers

Beware of people who have all the answers.  I used to envy anyone who took firm positions on every imaginable topic.  Someone like that seemed to have it together and really knew what was what.  Then I discovered that people who had all the answers got locked in, defended their viewpoint and were closed to new information.

The sun goes around the earth.  This was adamantly accepted as a fact to the point of torturing and killing those who disagreed.  A complex Ptolemaic system was built with convoluted concentric spheres rotating at different velocities and epicycles to explain planetary motion.  Circles within circles, rather than stepping back and seeing the very simple answer that the earth revolved around the sun.

When people have hypotheses that become enshrined as fact, the believers stop searching because they have an answer they like.  But since life is a mystery, some questions are without answers.  To go with one answer and not explore other alternatives causes problems.  I’m following the only true prophet.  Your prophet is a fraud and mine is correct.  The earth is flat and if you question it, I’ll lock you in prison.

A person who has all the answers doesn’t take kindly to people who disagree.

Think how easy life is if you have all the answers.  You don’t have to expend any energy questioning, exploring and trying to figure out what’s going on.  You have your secret decoder ring that gives you direction in every situation.  If it were only this simple.

“He protesteth too much.”  We’ve all met people who become more adamant the farther off base they are.  If you don’t know, just admit it.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Then get on with searching for an answer.

Relative mysteries are answerable.  How to fix a broken pipe, how to solve a mathematical equation, why water flows down a mountain.  Absolute mysteries are impossible to answer.  Why am I here?  What happens after I die?

So address the topics that are answerable and enjoy the mystery of the questions that are unanswerable.  Have opinions, explore alternatives, but don’t park your brain with a scripted answer that someone has written in a book.

Be aware of people who don’t have all the answers and are always searching.  But beware of people who have all the answers.  Remember.  They often don’t know the questions.