Some Big Questions with Small Answers

From time to time I take stock by asking myself some big questions. In case you’re interested, Vera, here are my answers as of today (in other words, either the questions or answers, or both, could change):

What’s the purpose of life?

Perhaps there is none. My focus is on experiencing life fully.

What stands in the way of contentment and happiness?

Three things come to mind: 1) desire, 2) the need to make a difference and 3) the idea that I and the world should be something we’re not.

Is there a creator-being (God)?

No one knows. Moreover, it’s a question that need not be answered.

What is the prime age?

Physically, our 20s and even into our 30s. Cognitively, our mid-20s to mid-40s. Emotionally and psychologically, we can improve with age; there is no reason to believe we ever have to peak (subject to disease).

What’s the most important factor to consider in deciding where to work?

The attributes of the people who work there: their purpose, expertise, standards (both performance and ethical), and values.

What deserves more attention than it gets?

The inner life. The external receives nearly all our attention.

What are the most precious things in life?

Authentic, caring relationships. And experiences that excite us.

Is money the root of all evil?

No, although it’s the root of much evil. But ego plays a major role, too.

If there is no god, is there even such a thing as evil or sin?

Depends on what you mean by it. Clearly, there are things that harm oneself, others, or the earth. Call it what you want.

What would I do different if I had the opportunity to start over?

Not spend so much time looking for answers that don’t exist. Seek deeper understanding and become more aware of the knowable. Recognize the dangers of the ego and desire. Waste less time in meetings and watching TV and sporting events. Accept reality, expect nothing from others or fate, and be less judgmental. Eat less sugar and sugar-containing products. Be a better listener. Start my own business or firm. Be less attached to, dependent upon, and concerned with others and the ego. Value relationships more. Work less and play more. Live more in the moment.

What’s the best movie I’ve watched, the best book I’ve read, the best president we’ve had, the best college, etc.?

I’m tapped out with our obsession with rankings and hierarchies. They’re a distraction and waste of time.

What constitutes a good book?

One that’s worth reading more than once. If you want to know what authors and books I value, come and look at my bookcase (and the floor surrounding it).

What would I do different in rearing my children?

Be less concerned with imparting values and what I thought was knowledge, and regulating conduct, and more focused on helping them discover things and gain a deeper understanding of people and themselves. Ask the question “why?” more often.

What do you think of organized religion?

It demands I embrace too many ideas I no longer believe are true or necessary or even beneficial. And I’ve grown weary of the way the institution manipulates people through guilt, embraces obvious charlatans, and condones — indeed, helps perpetuate — ideologies and power structures that subjugate and pacify people. So organized religion no longer has a place in my life. Even more personally, it filled my psyche with the seeds of self-doubt and self-loathing, which nearly killed me. All and all, the dangers of organized religion are under-appreciated. That said, its rituals and ethical foundations can play an important and beneficial role in the world. And some of the most admirable, authentic people I’ve known I’ve met through the church (although, admittedly, some of the most deceitful, fraudulent, and despicable people I’ve met have been regular church-goers).

What’s unexplainable in life?

Most things. Of the many, two stand out in my life: 1) a vision in my 40s (very different from a dream) and 2) a born-again experience in my early 50s (bearing absolutely no resemblance to what evangelical Christians think of as being “born again”).

What do I hope to understand better?

My own mind.

What do I hope to control better?

My own thoughts.

What is the most destructive force on earth?

Fear.

What do I fear?

Too numerous to list. Someday I hope to fear nothing. My fears today are fewer and less powerful than they used to be. But I still am fearful of too many things. Courage is harder to muster than one would think.

What are the two most important words ever spoken?

“Fear not.” – Jesus

What are the three most important words ever spoken?

“Love one another.” – Jesus

Am I optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Neither. Moreover, my views of the future are of no import, either to me or to anyone else. I have no idea what the future holds, nor do I need to. My focus is on today. I looked forward to getting up this morning. And I expect to have the same excitement tomorrow morning.

Whom do I admire?

People who risk or sacrifice something to help others. And people who are authentic and don’t pretend to be somebody they aren’t. People who do their best. People who are honest (with others and themselves).

What traits serve people well?

Curiosity, open-mindedness, and courage.

What’s most important in life?

Inner peace.

What do I want to be remembered for?

I’ll be dead. Such questions don’t interest me. They seem silly and narcissistic.

 

 

An Ideal For Which I Am Prepared to Die

Is there such a thing — an ideal for which I am prepared to die? Maybe not. Maybe I lack the courage. Maybe I feel I have too much to lose and not enough to gain. Maybe I think it’s a lost cause.

Injustice has been on my mind a lot lately now that injustice, cruelty, and racism are once again ascendant, this time under the presidency of Donald J. Trump and other similar autocrats around the world. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of injustice. It’s easy to feel devoid of courage — a coward, if you will. No one likes to feel like a coward.

Looking back through history, it’s clear change for justice and truth often, if not always, comes from the hard, sacrificial work of courageous people — people who were willing to sacrifice their freedom and livelihoods and, sometimes, even their lives. Truly courageous people.

Last week I listened to Nelson Mandela’s remarks to the court when he was being put on trail during white South Africa’s attempt to quell the equal rights movement and preserve apartheid and white supremacy. Here is a portion of his remarks, Vera. It will be well worth your time listening to them someday. He closes by saying, “It is an ideal, for which I am prepared to die.” “It” is the freedom and equality of his people — Africans (people of dark skin) who were being subjugated and oppressed in their own land.

No education in justice can be complete without also reading the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in what has become known as his Letter from Birmingham Jail. You can find it here. It’s a letter that should be taught in every church in America, but, of course, it isn’t. The fight is not over.

One of my favorite bloggers, Yves Smith, recently wrote: Continue reading

The Day the Heart of God Was Revealed

This is what follows Christmas. According to the Gospel story, Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus. He thought Jesus would be a threat to the empire — to the systems of power that underpinned the privilege and wealth of the few. So Herod ordered all newborn male babies to be slain. And the blood of the innocents flowed.

To avoid Herod’s threat, Joseph and Mary fled with the child to Egypt. It was the day Jesus became a refugee. (Interestingly, if they had tried to seek refuge in the U.S. today, they would have been turned away.)

But it’s more than a story about a refugee. Far more. At least to anyone who believes in a god — more specifically, in a god whose nature and purpose were revealed in the being and life of Jesus.

To such people, Jesus the refugee reveals much. He reveals the very heart of God. Continue reading

It’s So Much Easier to Love the Baby Than the Man

How can you not love a baby? They’re so innocent. So cuddly. So cute. I have no idea what the baby Jesus looked like; however, I bet he was easy to love.

But then he grew up. And he wasn’t nearly as lovable. At least to some people. Indeed, to them, he was principally a threat. And the way powerful people handle threats is you deal with them.

I suppose, then, the ultimate question about this baby is, Was he someone to love or fear?

We can’t have it both ways, although we try. But, really, we can’t. We can’t truly love someone we fear.

So, was he someone to love or fear? That’s the great Christmas question in my mind.

But, to be fair, I suppose there’s another option. We can simply ignore him. We can truly ignore him, or ignore him while pretending we’re not (by claiming we love him while marginalizing him).

It seems that’s where we are in my country today. Not everyone. But most of us.

If there was ever any doubt (and, to some of us, there wasn’t), it was answered by our decision to make Donald Trump our president.

Donald Trump is the antithesis of Jesus. They have nothing in common. I’ve read articles by people around the world wondering how American Christians can embrace Mr. Trump. I find such articles amusing, for, after all,the answer is as plain as the nose on his face.

American Christians can support Mr. Trump because most of them love other things more than Jesus. Which is fine. That’s not only their right, but it’s also quite understandable. What’s not fine, however, is trying to cast Mr. Trump as someone he isn’t. By doing that, all the Christians are doing (most notably the evangelical community and the so-called religious right) is undermining their own credibility (assuming they have any left).

Some of Mr. Trump’s die-hard Christian supporters try to justify their allegiance by conceding Mr. Trump is an “imperfect vessel” (their words, not mine). They also remind us, using a well worn cliché that is always employed in a highly selective, partisan manner, that “no one is perfect.”

But of course, no one is talking about perfection. What we have here is the antithesis of all the values and principles that underpinned the teachings and life of the one born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.

Mr. Trump himself is constantly reminding us how great and successful he is, and that he’s one of the winners. He points to his great wealth as proof. He also constantly reminds us he has no time for those whom he refers to as losers. He ridicules them. Defames them. Pokes fun at them. Holds them in utter contempt.

Can there be any doubt Mr. Trump would consider someone like Jesus to be a loser? I think not. Of course, Mr. Trump won’t admit it, because he’s smart enough to know it could cost him votes.

So American elects Donald Trump to be its leader and still celebrates the baby’s birth. Go figure.

Why do we do it? I suppose it’s because it makes us feel good. Why not try to have it both ways. Moreover, how can you not love a baby?

But the baby Jesus was like every other boy born that day who managed to survive childhood diseases: he grew up to be a man. Not just any man. But a man who saw the world differently than most. A man who thought the poor were blessed. Who thought love was more important than possessions. Who rejected the way of power and domination. Who thought the manner we treated and cared for each other mattered.

Jesus the man said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

It’s so much easier to love the baby than the man.

Soul in the Game

I was surprised recently to read these words written by scholar and author Nassim Taleb (and former equities trader). Nassim is not fond of liberals. He’s not in the conservatives’ camp either. He’s probably more libertarian than conservative. But he’s less harsh on conservatives. He holds a special disdain for liberals, especially if they’re academics or economists. Or do-gooders who want to tell everyone else how to live. So you can image my surprise when I read his assessment of Ralph Nadar, a liberal by anyone’s standards. Nassim wrote:

I developed a friendship over the past few years with the activist Ralph Nadar … . Aside from an astonishing amount of personal courage and total indifference toward smear campaigns, he exhibited absolutely no divorce between what he preaches and his lifestyle, none. Just like saints who have soul in their game. The man is a secular saint.

Earlier in his writing, Taleb had commented about courage, sacrifice and heroism. He referred to a “new form of courage, that of the Socratic Plato.” He noted the privilege of “standing up for one’s values, … the highest form of honor.” He added:

No one has had more prestige in history than two thinkers who overtly and defiantly sacrificed their lives for their ideas–two Eastern Mediterraneans; one Greek and one Semite.

People who had soul in the game. People who exhibited “absolutely no divorce” between what they preached and how they lived.

Perhaps most of us don’t have it in us to be heroes. Or to be people who exhibit no divorce between what we preach and our lifestyle. I know I don’t. But it’s nice there have been — there are — such people. They inspire the rest of us. They give us hope. They confirm that words matter. That actions matter. That lives matter. That we matter.

God Approves of Assassinations (So Says Christian Cleric)

Robert Jeffress, a pastor friend of our president, said,

“The Bible gives the president the moral authority to use whatever force necessary… to take out an evildoer like Kim Jong-un.”

“That gives the government … the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un.”

I’ve always found such positions to be strange for a community that professes to follow someone who was executed by the state.

I’ve also found it to be strange considering all the words attributed to their professed lord, Jesus of Nazareth — words, backed up by actions, that seemingly undercut many of their claims.

In any case, it seems like the world is full of people who know precisely what is acceptable to God and what isn’t. They come in all stripes of course, but mostly Christian and Muslim.

I wonder how so many people established such deep insights into the mind of a divine being. I’m impressed.

Or not.

It’s ridiculous, of course. I say “of course,” yet it’s anything but obvious to many.

That’s the world in which we live, Vera. It’s a dangerous place, full of many people who say things that seem crazy to the rest of us.

But what seems crazy to some is holy and true to others. Again, that’s the world in which we live.

We’ll try to hold it together for your generation, although I have to confess that, on certain days, the task seems taunting. Crazy seems to have gathered a lot of steam in recent years. For heaven’s sake, crazy even occupies our White House today, at least when it’s not playing golf or throwing business his family’s way.

I like to think that crazy won’t have the last word. I like to think that violence won’t have the last word. But thinking something doesn’t make it so.

We’re teetering on the brink of war as I write this post. As with most wars, the chicken hawks who most want it won’t be in harms way, or send their sons and daughters to die in it. That’s not how chicken hawks operate. At heart, they’re cowards. All talk. All bluster. Just follow the chicken-in-chief’s tweets and public statements if you want an example. Consider how he demeaned a courageous former prisoner of war (John McCain).

Humanity has created the means to destroy itself. We live our lives believing we’ll be able to keep the lid on our nuclear and biological weapons and preserve the Garden of Eden we are creating for ourselves. And perhaps we will. Perhaps not.

What are the odds that a mistake won’t eventually happen? Or that something won’t provide a justification for an escalation that then triggers a chain of events that quickly gets out of control?

History tells us that black swans will happen. It’s just a matter of time. The only question is, how bad will it be?

I don’t know. Neither does Robert Jeffress, for despite his claims, only a crazy would believe he has some special insight into the mind of a divine being.

So how are we to deal with such realities?

For starters, it makes rational sense for humanity to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction. It’s possible. It’s doable. All that’s necessary is the will. And leadership. Today, we have neither. But perhaps we’ll have both someday.

Second, it requires an ethos that concludes that humans killing humans is an act of barbarism. You’d like to think religious folk would lead the way here. But that’s a pipe dream. Religious folk, by and large, embrace violence. And killing. They say their god says it’s O.K. Actually, it’s not only O.K., it’s condoned. Perhaps even an obligation.

So others will have to provide the necessary moral and ethical leadership if our species is to survive. It’s possible, yet part of me believes it won’t materialize until we experience an horrendous event.

In the meantime, my mission is to keep you safe. And to embrace rationality over crazy. And to take Jesus at his word.

We’ll see how that plays out.

I’m Moved By Sacrifice

Recently, in a discussion with your grandmother about our new president, it dawned on me: my heroes — those whom I respect and admire the most — have sacrificed.

It wasn’t all about them. They risked everything for others. They were truly great in my mind.

And then just a week or so later I was listening to an interview of Kara Swisher and heard her say, “I’m moved by sacrifice.” That’s it, I thought. I, too, am moved by sacrifice. Continue reading

Christmas Is a Great Time for Choosing How to Live

Whining gets old fast. No one like to be around a whiner.

If I find myself complaining about something, I have to ask myself, then why am I not doing something about it?

No one likes to be around a complainer. Incessant complaining makes for a very sour person. It’s hard to be happy if you’re always complaining.

So one thing I’ve learned over the years, Vera, is either do something about it or shut up. Continue reading

Speaking from Ignorance

One thing I’ve learned over the years, Vera, is that we think we know far more than we actually know. And we’re not shy about speaking out of ignorance.

I suppose it’s always been the case. But it seems worse now, coming on the heels of decades of unrelenting partisan propaganda. I also suspect that, as much good as the Internet has facilitated in the world, it has contributed greatly to the spread of ignorance. It’s certainly has made it easier to reach a receptive audience. Continue reading