Our Story – Our Stories

share your story on sticky note

When we look into our hearts, can we find our story? Do we have a story?

I ask myself this often. God made me in His image and likeness; this is according to what the Bible says. I am also loved by God, as I love him. He has given me life, and He has given me a story. Do I know what this story is?

I began my working life by joining the family business. This was a small retail odds and ends store that had a camera department. I joined this because when I received my discharge from the Marines, my parents had just bought the store and the head of the camera department quit; he thought that he should have been given the opportunity to buy, instead of my parents.

I worked in this store for twenty-seven years, beginning as a novelty gift shop to a full-fledged camera store, and finally to a photo lab and photo studio. It was never really profitable. Due to bad luck when the building that the store was in was bought by a person who did not share the view of the building that the previous owner had. A photo store did not please him. Over the next twenty years, we were forced to move three times, costing us customers, and costing us money that should have been profits. I finally closed the store in the early 1990s and returned to college to become a teacher, which was not such a big change, since as a photo guru, I taught many people how to use their cameras and how to take good pictures. Teaching was a big part of my photo career.

When I became a teacher, several of my former mentors came to mean and said something such as it’s about time, or you finally woke up to what you should be doing.

When I became a teacher and then a college professor, I was never happier. I knew from my first day as a teacher, which was to be a long-term substitute for a teacher who was having a baby, I knew that I had found what my story was. I was fifty-one years old, when I began teaching; and, I was seventy-five years old when I retired.

I know that I touched many lives; I know that because there are many former students who are my friends and we are in contact with each other on a regular basis.

When I became a college professor, the counsellors directed many veterans to my classes; these veterans all had faced difficult times, while serving in the Middle East. Today, these are a few of my closets and dearest memories, vying with first place status with the first group of students I had in the eighth-grade substitute year, who then followed me, or I followed them, into high school, where some were in my classes for a total of four different courses, ranging from United States History I, to AP European History, to AP Economics.

My story, the won given by God, was to be a mentor to all of my students. One even carved a cane for me that I still use today. People comment on the cane and I tell them the story of my mentoring this student. My story is one of mentoring. Even though I am now retired from teaching, I continue to mentor people through prayer leadership at my church. The people I speak with are seeking help from God; I cannot give them this help, but I can help them understand how much they are lived by God, and how much God is in their lives. In other words, I am teaching them to believe in themselves and their relations with God.

This is my story. It is the reason that I can look into the heart of a person, the flower that has come for God’s assistance. When id o this, I see the universe blossoming before me. I see the reason we have such a bountiful earth, providing us with God’s sustenance. This allows me to see that the formation of molecules that make us humans comes from God and is comforted by God in every step of our lives.

All we must do is recognize and accept what our story is, or what our stories are.

I pray that all of my friends, those I know, and those I don’t know, will have a very blessed day today. Hug your family, hug your friends, hug those whom you do not know. This is one of God’s greatest gifts – the hug.

The Mustard Seed

mustard seed

The Mustard Seed.

Unfortunately, separateness is the chosen stance of most of us, which makes it difficult for us to live in unity and love with the each other. Our small selves take one side or the other to feel secure. It frames reality in a two-fold way: for me or against me, totally right or totally wrong, my group’s opinion or another group’s. All these keep us apart, forever unable to unite as one. This is the best our small egotistical selves can do; it is so far from adequate that we can no longer recognize how far apart we are. We call this intelligence, but it is not wisdom. Wisdom is something we are sorely lacking in our lonely, separate lives. 

How can we truly believe that we are complete, or compleat, people? Until we can recognize the fact that as long as there are people who are starved for food, housing, love, and a myriad of other basic human needs, we cannot say that we are happy. There has been a great uproar over our border policies and the separation of children. Yet, there is no uproar at the number of families begging for a few dollars at an intersection into mall. These families are just as in need as those on the borders. They may not be separated, but they are being punished for being poor and in need. As many of us give them a dollar or two, what they really need is more substantial that we as individuals can give. We must as a society work to eliminate this blight on our human existence.

I am an ardent reader; I read great literature, cheap mystery novels, books on meditation, spiritual development, great and not so great poetry; and, I read the Bible, mainly the four gospels. From each of these, I try to glean something that will enlighten me (except for the cheap mystery; those are for fun). I try to dig a little deeper each time I read something to try to understand what the author is saying. This is particularly true when reading Jesus’s parables. I learned the parables when I was a boy growing up in East Orange, New Jersey. I studied them more in Sunday School in Summit, New Jersey.

Each time, my teachers boiled the stories down to simple basic life lessons, as do most of the ministers I hear when preaching about these from the pulpits. None of these parables are easily understood. Jesus was constantly berating his disciples because they did not understand. But what did he expect; they were simple folk, fisherman and the like. They probably had very little formal education and what Bible learning they had came verbally from the local rabbi, who probable did not have much more education than they did.

Jesus’s stories beg us to interpret them for ourselves. We are no longer first century Jews living under Roman Rule; but we are twenty-first century humans living under our own forms of oppressive governments. And if you don’t believe this, try walking down the center of your town naked! Not that I’m a nudist, but you get my point; our society is filled with just as many petty laws as the Roman governed Jewish communities is Jesus’s time.

Consider the parable of the mustard seed. I see so many ways to interpret this, as an educator, as a concerned citizen who observes the homeless, and as a member of a society that allows our government to separate children from their families. There are many lessons to be learned from these parables.

Try reading one; associate it with what your life is like; then apply it to those around you; then broaden that to include all in your sphere, whatever that might be. If you see a problem that could be solved by your understanding of it, then maybe it’s time to stand up, make known the issue, and try to correct this. My wonderful wife and two of her friends did this by beginning a market-style food table for those in our community who are not as fortunate as we are. Look on Facebook for The Table at St George’s and see what a few people have done with the story of the mustard seed.

I’ve done preaching for the day. Bless you all; have a glorious day.

Time of Rest

rest

Times of Rest

 Linda and I drove to Duck, North Carolina yesterday; we were joined by Linda’s brother, Karl, and our son, Cordis. Our daughter, Megan, and her husband, Joe, will join us on Tuesday.

It is a time for rest and relaxation. Presently, I am sitting in a dining nook, overlooking the bay. Being on the top floor, we can see quite a distance. It is a beautiful morning, but a little muggy. I had the chance at midnight to go out on the deck and be totally floored by the vista that stood before me. I looked up and saw stars, stars, and stars. I was reminded of the scene in Roots when Kunta Kinte was born; his father took him from the hut, offered the child up to the heavens, and said, “Behold, the only thing greater than you.”

I was completely in awe of the pageantry of the skies. I was reminded that in the known, or unknown, universe there are 600 billion trillion stars. Each star is a sun, perhaps similar to the one we recognize when we arise each morning. Six hundred billion trillion, I cannot perceive the size of the universe. What I am sure of is that we are probably under-counting the number. That is one of the limitations that as humans we are prone to suffer.

Six hundred billion trillions suns, each the center of a constellation, perhaps just like ours, with a planet int hat constellation called Earth.

Are they all inhabited by humans? There may be life forms similar, or completely different than what we know as living, intelligent beings. (I will not comment on our intelligence!)

That’s a lot of brothers and sisters in God’s universe!

As I am looking at the serenity of the waters in the bay, I remind myself that life does not have to be as violent as it is. And, I am not talking of gun or street violent. I am thinking about how upset our lives can be because we place obstacles in front of us no matter what we do. Most of these are man made and can be avoided, but only if we take the time to reason what is best, not what is more convenient.

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. How true to our lives this is. We tend to follow this wind aimlessly without thinking. I ask if our lives are as frivolous as these esoteric breezes. Where do we come from; where are we going? These are questions that we refuse to acknowledge. Do we know where we are going? I do not mean up the corporate ladder or seeking some political or non-political office. Why do we allow our impatience to govern our lives?

I am retired, but I still have the where am I going pressures that seem to invade my thoughts every day. What do I want to accomplish? What can I do to help others? What is God asking of me? This last one is the reason why I think we need more time to rest. Everyone who is born is a child of God. It is only in my time of rest that I can meditate on this truth.

As Linda and I were lying in bed this morning, thinking of the day ahead. She asked what are we going to do all week. How can we last a whole week on Duck without doing anything? I said that we could always leave early. We don’t have to stay the entire week. We can return to Fredericksburg and rejoin the convoluted days of pressure and dissatisfaction. We can reload the pressures on us to perform.

But no; we must find it in ourselves to truly relax, to truly take this time of rest for regeneration. None of us know what lies ahead. Just as with the wind, we really do not know where we will be one year from now, or ten years from now. We must place our very beings into that which created us. We have free will to do what we want, but we must recognize the paths laid before us.

Can we rest? Truly rest?

God bless you all and have a restful day this first Saturday in August.

Ohiyesa

ohiyesaBorn Ohiyesa, Charles Alexander Eastman was born in a buffalo hide tipi in 1858. At the age of 15, instead of remaining with the Sioux in Minnesota, he attended four different colleges, eventual graduating from Boston College as a doctor. He was also a great native writer and prophet. The following is a meditation of his that really struck home to me.

“The man who preserves his selfhood, ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence – not a leaf, as it were, astir on a tree; not a ripple upon the surface of shining pool – his, in the mind of the unlettered sage, is the ideal attitude and conduct of life. If you ask him: ‘What is silence?’ he will answer: ‘It is the Great Mystery! The holy silence is His voice!’ If you ask: ‘What are the fruits of silence?’ he will say: ‘They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity, and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character.’” 

I cannot compare with this great man, but I also came from humble backgrounds in Newark, New Jersey. I had all the privileges of a white man but failed to recognize them until I entered graduate school at the age of 50 to become a high school history teacher.

Since then I have devoted my life to the improvement of my students, my friends, and those who I casually meet in my everyday life. When I became a teacher, I very quickly realized that to be a truly successful teacher, one had to listen to his students. It is very easy to stand at the head of a class and lecture on American history, getting lost in the fact that what the teacher knows is unimportant; it is what the student can glean from the teacher’s knowledge that is important.

Believe me, I was not perfect, but I will match my 20 years of teaching with anyone, because I listened to what my students were saying. In any classroom situation, there is downtime, when the students will talk amongst themselves. Even though I was sitting at my desk, by antennae were set on high and were all around the room. I was able to filter out the chatter and listen to what the students were saying about history, about me, and about other teachers.

I think it was this listening that encouraged me to begin a military history club that met early, 7:00 AM, where the students selected the curricula. Over the years, this club grew from five or six boys to 20-30 boys and girls. Over my 14-year high school teaching career, seven of my students were selected to attend one of the military academies or received full ROTC scholarships at other schools. One of the young women, I taught attended Annapolis, another received a full Navy ROTC scholarship and became a strong Marine leader.

I return to the idea of silence. If we use our brains to dominate a conversation or to prepare a response to another, we lose what knowledge is placed before us. This is knowledge that we can never reclaim.

Silence in our world is not just for spiritual meditation. It is for us to open our hearts and minds, listening to others, appreciating the vitality of all around us.

Thank you Ohiyesa for such a great reminder of how we can enrich ourselves and those around us.

 

Surrendering our Egos.

feet-washing

Surrendering our Egos.

Oswald Chambers writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). These words mean the breaking of my own independence with my own hand and surrendering to the supremacy of the Lord. No one can do this for me, I must do it myself. We live in a moment of grace. Through the hedges of our divisions we can glimpse again the beauty of life’s oneness. We can hear the essential harmony that lies at the heart of our universe. We are beginning to understand, amidst the suffering of our divisions, that we will can move back into relationship with one another, as individuals, families, nations, and species. We rejoice that we are God’s children, comforted and sheltered in His loving embrace, close to His breast, His heart, His love. By surrendering our ego, we are strengthened that we will be on the correct path in our relations with others.

I have written much about how we relate to our family, friends, neighbors, and those we do not know, but hopefully care for. We are constantly walking through a forest filled with horrors that Grimm brothers could never dream of. The leaders of the world hold the future in the world at their fingertips.

I matured during the birth and initial spread of the atomic and then the nuclear bombs in the early 1905s. I jokingly remember practicing what to do in the case of a nuclear missile hitting Newark, New Jersey. We all filed into the hallway, away from the large classroom windows, squatted against the wall in the corridor, and placed our radiation protection, our 3-ring binders, over our heads, in the hope that if we were attacked, the radiation would not affect us negatively. Oh, how naïve we were back then.

But, you know what, our leaders, both democratic, with a small d, and communistic, with a small c, were smart enough to realize that a nuclear confrontation would destroy life on Earth, as we know it. Calmer heads resisted the temptations, no matter how angry they were at each other. I believe that God softened the hearts of our presidents and the Soviet leaders, bringing peace, if not harmony, between us. Although I was not as strong a Christian as I am now, I did pray that, somehow, we would resist nuclear destruction.

I still pray that cooler heads will prevail, with the nudging by God, to continue the tenuous peace we have in the world. We have our differences; we constantly fight over who is more correct; but so far, we have again resisted total destruction of the human race. I know there are leaders out there that use the Bible, or Koran, or whatever religious doctrine they practice that may justify eliminating mankind and the inherent sin that lives within us all.

I remain assured that God will soften the hearts of our angry leaders to preserve mankind on this, the third planet from the Sun. I do not believe that we are the only intelligent creatures in the entire universe; I do believe that in our tiny, minute, part of this vast universe, no matter how unreasonable and questionable we act, we are intelligent enough to resist destroying what we have.  

With the help of God’s grace, we will survive.

Giving of Ourselves

thanksgiving

Giving of Ourselves

I really do not have a proper title for this meditation, but here I sit with many thoughts running through my head. I am a part of the stewardship commission at my church; a position of deep concern, deep joy, and extremely difficult work.

This always has me thinking and meditating about what I am, what I am doing, and what can I do for others. Some call this Christian sharing; I call this concern for my brothers and sisters in the one race we have, the human race. I have a former student in New Jersey who carved a special cane for me, simulating a totem from the Watchung Indians in New Jersey. It is a gift I cherish, reminding me of what I am capable of doing for others. (I taught him to read when he was a freshman in high school). I shared my gifts with him, and he shared his gifts with me. I know that I helped to change his life; but he also changed mt life, by giving me the gift of something that is very useful in reminding me that what I can do for others is the most important part of my life. This is why I kept teaching until this past April after turning 75.

My original-American friends remind me that in the tribal councils, when the leaders had to make a life-changing or life-giving decision, they would meditate on how the change would affect the present tribe. But they also were concerned how the change would affect future generations, going out to the seventh generation. If the change was harmful in any respect, they would reject it.

What an intuitive way to conduct change!!!!

Can we do it? Yes, but only if we are willing to sacrifice. And by sacrifice, I mean sacrifice those ideas and practices that we think are so vital to our existence.

Stewardship is not just pledging to give money. Money is, unfortunately, important to keep a church vital. But money is always replaceable. What is not replaceable is giving of ourselves. When we give our time, sharing our talents with others, we are giving gifts that can never be replaced.

At St. George’s church, my wife is an integral part in the founding and leadership of The Table at St. George’s. This is a free, produce-filled market for the less fortunate in our community. Linda and the people who began this keep it functioning are giving valuable gifts to our neighbors; gifts that can never die, because of the love and caring that is behind the whole idea. It takes money to operate this table, but more importantly, it takes the time and love donated by the volunteers to keep it going. This is a change that will affect the shoppers for a lifetime, giving them the opportunity to live, to grow their families for several generations to come, maybe even to the seventh generation.

What this all boils down to is that I believe that stewardship is something far greater that just putting a few dollars into the plate on a Sunday morning. I believe that after carefully considering how much money we can afford to give, we must then meditate on how much of ourselves we can give, how much we can share our talents with others that will affect a positive change for the next seven generations.

God bless you all and keep you safe and joyful.

We Depend on Each Other

good-samaritan

We Depend on Each Other

I confess that I am not very good at asking others for help. I know this is a crucial survival skill, so I am slowly realizing that I am becoming more dependent upon my family and friends. I am a proud man; although I have been supported throughout my life when life has knocked me down, I am still, at least inside me, the young Marine of the 1960s. I understand the basic truisms of life, even though I sometimes reject them.

We are in this life together and depend on each other for things we cannot imagine. Do we drive to work? Who built our cars, or paved the roads? Who grew the chicken for the eggs we eat in the morning? We cannot survive alone.

We must express appreciation for all that occurs in our lives. I thank a person for holding a door open for me. I praise the young, or old, server who brings me my ordered meal, and I reward them generously. I joke with the caring men and women in the hospital, when I am forced to spend a few hours with them. These people, who serve me in my needs, come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and national origins. I look beyond these “differences” to see the person beneath the masks they wear, how much we are alike.

This next has been difficult for me at times, and that is to hold my inner tension to myself, cultivating a giving, or in some instances, a life-giving way that enhances my experience and the people sharing my experience. When I find myself praying with others, for their needs, I know that when this happens, my prayer partner is enhanced by the support shown. I know this because I have been on the receiving end often.

We must also use our voice to affect changes where we see the need. However, we cannot be so obnoxious with our own voice to crush others’ opinions. I have been privileged to sit on many councils that set priorities for those the council leads. This can be from school teacher boards to chambers of commerce to executive church councils. I am presently a member of the vestry in the church that Linda and I attend. These ruling bodies can be very difficult; with my work and educational experience, my abilities range from being an accountant, to operating my own retail business, to being a teacher in both high school and college. In all these situations, I have been blessed by being on some leadership committees. My voice, my opinion, is vital to these boards, but so are those of others. It is a delicate balance when trying to affect change.

All these elements lead to the most important, building and living in a community. Community is one of the basic needs of life. God created us to live together, to work together, to laugh together, to cry together. I have a very good friend from my high school days who has recently become a friend on Facebook. I post a thought-provoking saying daily, and one day this long-ago friend commented on the saying. I replied saying that we cannot forget that all people living on earth are God’s children, Americans, Italians, Mexicans, and Muslims. God loves all his children and we must do the same. I was hesitant in sending this reply, because I did not want to see offensive to this old friend that I have not seen in years. His response was positive, much to my relief. One thing that I have learned in my 75+ years is that all the people I have known, been to school with, taught, shared a meal with, are all my brothers and sisters under God’s love and living in God’s embrace. I love them all; they are family.

I meditate daily; both formally and informally. My meditations allow me to see that God is present in all of us, regardless of who we are, where we come from, what we look like, what church we attend. No one can be left out of God’s grace; we are dependent collectively for each other’s’ well-being. I must care for all of us, as God does.