Friday, January 17, 2020
For 6 years now, I have been writing this blog, ofseriousthoughts. For the first 5 years I wrote twice a month. In my 6thyear I reduced it to once a month as I’m now working on another ‘work of serious fiction’. The response I’ve gotten to my blog is rewarding so I continue. Recently my daughter asked if I’d ever shared a chapter of my earlier fiction book in my blog. I hadn’t; and thought that was a good idea so I do that now.
The Stations is ‘serious fiction’, leaning heavily on psychology, philosophy, and theology. It is the spiritual journey of an artist commissioned to create Stations of the Cross, but encounters resistance from the conservative wing of the Catholic Church when he introduces contemporary concepts. He ultimately loses the commission yet continues the work. This excerpt is from chapter 18. The artist is feeling threatened and meets with his spiritual advisor, Mother Abara, who has asked him to share a writing from his journal:
“My writing is about faith and the conflict I feel. How can I be so sure about my Stations and yet so uncertain about God? Is there dishonesty in that? Do I actually lack faith?”
“But you have captured faith so solidly in your stations.”
“Jesus is the God-man, that’s the easy part. Beyond his form is the mystery of God. Our theology says a personal God.”
The nun only nodded and waited for him to continue.
The artist reached for his journal. “This is an entry I made while working on the theme of acceptance. I had struggled for days while nothing satisfied me; --then suddenly it was fully apparent what should be in this station. I wrote this after finishing my initial sketches.”
He opened to the marked page and read, “I feel grateful when such ideas present themselves. As I’ve often said, I don’t know who or what God is—surely not Santa Clause in the sky, handing out gifts to good little boys and girls—but somehow, in a way beyond my capacity to comprehend, there is a something which is the source from which Life, Truth, Beauty, Justice, and Creativity arise. And I am inexpressibly grateful when I receive a measure of those goodnesses. I know they are coming through me; I am not the source; I am the channel. I am sure of that fact. I am not the source for I am too limited, I am a means of expression…life, truth, creative ideas come through me and I am moved to give praise to the unknown source. Thank you, Source of my inspiration.” He closed the journal and looked up.
Mother Abara seemed to be savoring the words, “How would you explain to someone,--say an atheist—what you mean by being the means, not the source?”
The artist turned the question in his mind. “I don’t think I could explain it to an atheist’s satisfaction. Do I even understand this? No, this is where I get tangled in confusion. There is a source of Truth outside myself that uses me to express understanding. I can only encounter it; I can’t invent it. So, I have faith that it exists, yet what is that source? To call it God brings up narrowly defined images that I can’t accept. What I find is that I am connected to a source of the idea, the inspiration, not a ‘personal’ God.”
“Perhaps that is God, you just don’t recognize it. If your belief were free of doubt you wouldn’t need faith any more, you’d have knowledge.”
He thoughtfully considered her comment and probed deeper into his own soul. “I constantly struggle with this belief/doubt puzzle. I have faith, yet it’s not unquestioning or total. At times I’m even sure there isn’t a God. Often when I’m experiencing the conflict, I find that, instead of faith, I turn to reason. I believe in God because nothing else makes sense . . . I can’t create truth or beauty. I can only participate in it. Only if ‘my truth’ fits Truth, or ‘my beauty’ fits Beauty will it be recognized or accepted. …
There is a knowing within people that lets them recognize when a singular expression had entered upon the infinite, and so that expression is treasured. Some charlatan may temporarily deceive but to endure, the expression must participate in greater being beyond the narrow limits of the person doing the expressing. And so, we are back to my ‘reasoned faith’ that says there is something beyond what I personally can know or explain.”
“Do you want to name the ‘something’?”
“Yes and no. Within myself I feel this is the unknown source of my life quest, my God—yet to say ‘God’ is to call up images that confuse my thinking with outmoded ideas. Yes, I want to call it by name, I think it is God; but no, I don’t want to call it ‘God’ and get trapped in some theological box. I can only refer to it as a ‘something’ which I believe to be more real than this reality I live.”
The nun let the artist’s words recede before speaking. “The something is beyond specific naming because it is beyond human comprehension—but traditionally it is called God, or Allah, or The Tao, or the Great Spirit. It is alright to leave it as ‘something’. If we would only stop arguing over what the something should be called, we might remember that ancient Hebrew tradition cautioned against naming God. In answer to his question ‘Who are you?’ Moses was told ‘I am Who am.’” As the nun was speaking, she reached for her Bible.
The artist continued the thought, “I think you are saying that when we remember to affirm an unknown God, we will re-discover humility . . . and learn to say “Thank You” instead of insisting we alone have THE answer—or threatening those whose call was different from our own.”
The nun only nodded, encouraging him to continue. “I feel such urgency to convey the need to see creation differently than we have seen it thus far. We’ve used life instead of realizing we’re participants in something beyond our reckoning. It’s all in the story of Jesus, but we miss the point. We are bound together as life flows through us.”
“’I am’ means ‘to be’ or ‘life’” said the nun as she leafed through the Bible and quickly found what she was looking for. “EXODUS 3:13, ‘But’ said Moses to God, ‘when I go to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’, if they ask me ‘What is his name’ What am I to tell them?’ God replied, ‘I am who am’. Then he added ‘This is what you shall tell the Israelites ‘I AM sent me to you.’.”
Closing the page, she looked up and said with a smile, “You are in good company when you exert caution in giving a name to your ‘something’. Your stations say that God is Life. Hold tightly to your urgency! No matter how uncomfortable it becomes around the complacent clergy who want you to simply repeat what others have already said.”
The Stations by B. Sabonis-Chafee
Available at Amazon
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
For this Christmas season, I once again post my short story ‘The Gift’. Christmas is a time we like to look back at old favorites—this is mine. Each time posted, this story has been warmly received. It is the only story that I have written which appeared unexpectedly as ‘a whole’ in my mind.
It was written as a ‘new myth’. It had always bothered me that although there are shepherds, angels, and wise men at the stable, nowhere is there any help for Mary at the birth. Surely Joseph prayed for help; in my myth, his prayer was answered and Jesus’ first miracle was for one speaking ‘the Word’ for the first time.
In the time before the star shone over Bethlehem, there lived a shepherd and his wife who had six sons. The husband was very proud to have such a family of sons, but the wife longed for a daughter. After the fourth boy, she had expressed that wish to her husband. He scolded her, saying it was sons, not daughters that every good Hebrew should pray for. Although she dearly loved and cared for each son, she never stopped yearning for a daughter. After the birth of her sixth boy her heart became heavy, realizing she was passing out of her childbearing years and was not to realize her hope. But to their surprise, she conceived again, and a year later, she gave birth to a girl! She immediately declared the child to be God’s blessing, and requested of her husband that the baby be named Johanna, Hebrew for ‘gift of God’. They so named her.
The baby was very beautiful, strong and healthy—except for a twisted foot. Faithfully during the child’s infancy, her mother massaged and molded the foot, which improved from the care, but it was never to be fully cured. Throughout her life, Johanna was to walk with a limp.
The husband—being a good Jew—went frequently to the temple. As his fellow worshipers became aware of the child’s deformity, some would shake their heads and say this was punishment for his sins. When he repeated this to his wife—who usually made no retort to his chidings—she scolded him: “Do not question God! His ways are not our ways . . . this child is a gift; God has plans for her.” The husband just shook his head and walked away.
Johanna had a loving nature and sweet disposition, but she did not speak. At first they thought nothing of it—with six lively and boisterous brothers, there was always commotion to which she was alert, so they simply thought her quiet. One day a physician said her tongue cleaved to her jaw and she would never speak.
“—A curse of God for sure!” said the people.
As she grew, the girl learned household tasks as befits a Hebrew woman, but she also had a great love of the sheep of her father’s flock and took delight in shepherding them in nearby fields that were not hard to walk to. Later, as she matured, Johanna took on the task of bedding them at night when they were stabled . . . and she gently soothed the delivering ewes at lambing time. Several times she saved both ewe and lamb in a difficult labor. Always she was kind and gentle. The knowledge of her skill spread through the village and at lambing time all welcomed her.
As the years went on, each of the brothers in turn took wives . . . but no marriage could be arranged for Johanna. Only the mean or stupid would accept so flawed a woman for wife, and her parents would not agree to such a match.
As her parents grew old, the daughter cared first for her father, then later her mother thru their aged infirmities, always with kindness and a loving disposition. Her mother never ceased saying Johanna was God’s gift and blessing.
After the deaths of her parents, Johanna went to live with and assist the elderly devout long-widowed Anna of the tribe of Asher, who spent much time in the temple praying. In addition to the duties of Anna’s house, Johanna continued to watch over the stables and tend the lambing of the village.
One December evening, on her rounds of the stables, Johanna came upon a man sitting dejectedly with his head in his hands—at her approach the man leapt to his feet saying, “You are the answer to my prayers . . . Can you help me? I am Joseph; my wife Mary is about to give birth . . .” Johanna gave no response. “I am a carpenter and do not have knowledge of such things. We came for the census. I could find no lodgings or midwife for her, but we were given shelter in this stable . . . her time has come. Now she is napping between her labor pains—and I feel so helpless. I called upon the Lord God to send help . . . and here you are. Will you help us?”
Johanna nodded. Joseph soon realized she could not speak, but he did not question God. He thanked God for sending this kind young woman as he handed her the supplies they had carried with them for this need. She moved with self-assurance and, though not a midwife, all the years of tending the ewes gave her the needed inner confidence. Her kindness, warmth and gentleness soothed both the travelers.
At the moment of birth, gently she received the newborn into her hands, cleared the mucus, patted his back to encourage his first breaths of air, wiped him with the linens, and tucked him into Mary’s arms.
With gratefulness, Mary received the baby and said, “He is to be called, Jesus.” At that moment the infant’s tiny fingers curled around Johanna’s index finger—she opened her lips and whispered “Welcome, Jesus” . . .
Friday, November 29, 2019
After the latest school shootings, a young student from that school asked on air: “Why did this happen?” People have many answers and of course there are multiple factors involved. I want to cite something that is not often brought up: In today’s world, God and goodness are rarely talked about in public. We as a nation have lost our moral compass.
At its founding, this nation leaned heavily on God. Most leaders were individuals of belief who read and regularly referred to the Bible. Many references to God appeared in official documents . . . and even our money was to bear ‘In God We Trust’. No particular religion was intended but there was an understanding that a Supreme Being, God, gave us our world and the mandate to act morally. In the past, daily prayers, especially at meals and bedtime, were said—and even family Bible reading was common.
During the 20th Century, little by little, we became a secular society. God was referred to less and less, and eventually in 1962, prayer was banned in public schools.
I understand that the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of religion and a separation of church and state is called for, but that was not meant to imply freedom from religion; rather, no one religion can have control over government affairs. Unfortunately in the minds of many, over time it came to suggest religion and religious pursuits were either suspect or irrelevant.
In recent years, regular religious activities have lessened and society has coarsened. As a people we’ve become more and more irreverent. There is no longer a clear moral order and without societal help that supports moral order, it is so much harder to raise children.
All religions have some undesirable elements and that is because they are human institutions, designed by and run by humans—humans are flawed. There is a distinction to be made between religion/religions and God. While religions try to point to ‘the good’, God represents all that IS Good and desirable: love, justice, truth . . . empathy and compassion . . . qualities that form the moral foundation of humanity.
If religions do their job as they should, they teach of right and wrong, good and bad, truth and falsehood—and about making choices guided by the 10 Commandments or its equivalent All religions hold some version of those basic moral values. If a child is not guided to integrate those values from an early age, the child is left with a big hole. They may seek dangerous ways to fill that hole.
To become literate, a person must go through a formal process involving the learning of letter names and sounds, combining them to make words, recognizing that combinations have specific meaning. Without going through the process of learning those basic ‘building blocks’, a person will not be able to read and write, he/she will be illiterate.
Similarly, to become a morally responsible person a child must go through a process of differentiating right from wrong, good from bad, truth from falsehood. That happens in early religious training. Without a formal process aided by a religion, the setting of a moral foundation falls entirely on the parents and home. Few are the homes prepared to take up teaching either literacy or moral order. Schools provide the formal training for literacy and religions provide training in moral decision making. Without societal support of moral principals, the parental job becomes much harder.
I believe the absence of integrated social references to God, values, and moral training is a critical factor in our present social unrest and pervasive violence. We have indeed lost our moral compass.
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
I strongly take the position that Donald Trump is detrimental to democracy and to America. Politically I am and have always been an independent voter. Although I lean toward the democratic side I have voted republican at times and on two occasions wrote in a different name on presidential choice when I could not fully support either candidate. I state this to emphasize that there are ways to evaluate other than through partisan lenses.
Trump accuses others of being prejudice, partisan and bias or on a witch-hunt to deflect from the fact that there are true reasons for opposing his presidency. Obscuring facts is Trump’s way to confuse, distort and distract from reasonable analysis.
Prior to the 2016 election I wrote a blog titled ‘The Danger of Donald’ (11/5/16). In it I stated: “The office of the Presidency can help or hinder the nation’s progress . . . I see the character of the one seeking office to be of prime importance . . . I looked up the word megalomaniac and found ‘delusion about one’s own power and importance and obsession with grandiose or extravagant things’ . . . Donald Trump is only after his own aggrandizement and seeks to undermine public trust in the democratic system that has led our country to greatness. If you listen to the undertones of his rhetoric you will hear the heartbeat of a dictator.”
Now, three years later, I stand by those words. I’ve worked in psychiatric hospitals and clinics and have encountered certifiable megalomaniacs—they believe themselves to be superior to everyone else. They lie with impunity and have unshakable belief that their interpretation is THE truth and no factual evidence will dissuade them. They know more than the doctors and councilors and know they are beyond all laws and normal justice, for they are a law unto themselves. People are only pawns for their purposes. Their skill at manipulation leaves people of normal intelligence confused and sometimes doubting themselves.
Think of some of Trumps public statements—about his knowing more that anyone else (diplomats, lawyers, military officers). He brags about his own superlative intelligence and impeccable wisdom, of his being the only one who can ‘fix it’ (broken America), that he is the country’s greatest president and has done more good than anyone else in office. (Google 50 outrageous Trump quotes) Those kinds of statements don’t come from the mouth of a normal intelligent and respected man.
This man is a compulsive liar, he is incapable of apologizing, he lack integrity, and he is both amoral and immoral. He insults and degrades anyone who questions or challenges him, he lack restraint and regularly and maliciously libels his perceived enemies.
A president carries the image of America to the greater world—he has sullied the image of our nation. He has made concerted efforts to denigrate all of the institutions that underpin our democracy, beginning with our free press (fake news), other aspects of governing (FBI, CIA, etc.), the military (he knows more than the generals), our form of voting (it’s rigged). He has withdrawn our nation from signed treaties agreed upon with other nations for global protection, and his most recent outrageous single handed decision was to withdraw protection from the Kurds—our strongest ally in the fight against ISIS—leaving them to be slaughtered by the Turks and ceding control to Russia.
To say this man, Donald Trump, is a danger is an understatement. This is not a partisan issue; this is a problem we all must open our eyes to regardless of political party.
This is a quote from Time Magazine (7/8/19); from the Southern Baptist Convention 1998: ‘Resolution on Moral Character by leaders of Public office: . . . Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawn unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in society . . .”
I am not a Baptist but I commend that statement and suggest everyone read it carefully.
Saturday, September 28, 2019
What does it mean to have a meaningful life? Teilhard de Chardin writes of ‘a true act’ and the ‘zest for life’. A true act is something into which one invests his or her self, believing it to be of abiding value. The ‘zest for life’ is the fundamental energy—an evolutionary pressure born with reflective awareness that drives humans to create. All creativity fuels hope and move us toward meaning. To create can be as simple as finding a new way to tackle an old task or as profound as composing a symphony.
Meaning doesn’t come from the accumulation of wealth and it can’t be reached with a ‘me first’ attitude. Many suicides and much of the drug use results from a loss of hope and the failure to find meaning in life.
How does one find meaning? It begins with having an appreciation for what is here for us that we ourselves haven’t created—which is almost everything . . . from the world in which we live and the air we breathe, to the food we buy in the grocery store, to the music and stories we enjoy, to our fancy gadgets from cars to smart phones, to electric tooth brushes; someone else is responsible for it being there for our use. Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you say is ‘Thank You’—it is enough.
A search for meaning requires a serious self-exploration asking ‘What truly matters to me?’ Some find their meaning easily but usually it is not readily obvious and takes work to realize requiring much thought, reading, meditation and moving out into the world, trying what is appealing but perhaps is scary and difficult.
The next requirement is to leave self-centeredness behind and begin to look for purpose beyond the self, asking ‘What out there matters to me and how does it affect those around me?’ That expands our awareness to taking others into consideration—from our family and their wants and needs, to friends, to strangers, to life and our world. Some times in the search for meaning one finds support, but often there is opposition and that raises new questions: ‘How does their opinion effect me?’ ‘Can I stay true to what I seek without damaging others?’ ‘What in all this is truly important to me?’
That expansion allows one to begin to see that we are part of the flow of life in this One World and that One World is what it presently is by the choices and actions of all who came before us. It is our turn now; we are making the choices and taking the actions that continue the flow of life that will go on beyond us.
As we awaken to meaning, we move out of our selfishness, to invest in something greater than ourselves. We all need hope, and meaning provides the ground for hope. To merely hope for a better world is not enough, it isn’t going to ‘just happen’—we must choose to make it happen, to hope and believe ‘I can add to the possibility of a better world.’ That is the beginning of a meaningful life.
Finding the answer to ‘What really matters to me?’ will be different for everyone. For some it will be small and local such as making a good and loving home for my family. Others desire a wider pursuit like giving expression in art, music or writing, and for still others, devotion to a worthy cause, but always it will be something beyond selfishness.
There is a deep satisfaction that comes of being able to identify what truly matters personally and pursuing it with devotion. Life doesn’t become easier, it often opens the door to unexpected disappointments but if it be a ‘true act’, it gives hope and meaning that allows one to face whatever the challenges.
It is more than just an expression to say ‘it is in giving that we receive’; it is only in giving that we find our way to a meaningful life.
Monday, August 12, 2019
We have unwittingly produced a culture of violence . . . it bears a relationship to addiction. No one intended that, it wasn’t consciously willed; it just crept up on us. Much like in any addiction, there is denial of its danger—the chosen thing seems harmless . . . ‘it’s a stress reliever’, ‘everyone does it’, ‘it is our right’. And excuses abound for supporting its continuation—until something so serious happens the problem can no longer be denied.
A week ago, within a 24-hour period, there were two mass shootings in two different cities leaving 31 people dead. What words are left to capture the horror of another mass shooting in America? Haven’t all the words already been used for such atrocities?
The first mass shooting of strangers by one person was in 1966 (53 years ago). Charles Whitman climbed to the observation deck of the Texas University clock tower with a rifle and proceeded to pick off passing students. There were 18 deaths counting the shooter. The nation was in shock, it was described as ‘the worst mass killing in American history’. How could such a thing happen? He was an ex-Marine, it was later determined he suffered from PTSD. That was in the mid-1900; in the 2000’s there has been a steady increase of mass murders—it is said it has become ‘the norm’.
Can a culture or society be addicted? I believe it can be. Not every member of that society need be involved and the addiction shows itself in different expressions, but where a majority supports something that is clearly unhealthy, it constitutes a kind of social addiction. Violence is unhealthy and a continuous focus on it is psychologically damaging.
When we see evidence of this disorder expressed in a mass killer, people strain to find an explanation, a ‘reason’: guns, mental health, childhood abuse, violent video games, divisive and insulting rhetoric, negative rap music, pornography, violence in movies and on TV, radical right-wing ideology, lure of the forbidden . . . and always there is denial that that thing can’t be it . . . ‘that’s nothing new’, ‘it has always been around’, etc. But that misses the point, it isn’t any one thing, it’s the repetitive, all-pervasive presence of many forms of violence in our everyday lives that assaults the psyche of people. Not any ‘one thing’ alone but the cumulative effect of our obsession with violence . . . then someone here or there demonstrates an intense reaction.
Taking some of the violence issues we live with, perhaps first and foremost is the nation’s love of/obsession with guns—it is matched nowhere else in the world. There is a misinterpreted constitutional amendment with which gun-lobbyists block any attempts to put controls on guns. Centuries ago when the constitution was written the young country was largely lawless and the amendment was meant to give citizens the ability to protect themselves. At that time there were only muskets, rifles and pistols—that was the ownership that was protected. Over the centuries technical advances brought forth automatic assault weapon for use in war; surely there was not foresight for these weapon and our forefathers would not have protected private ownership of them.
Currently there are more guns than people in our country, surely that suggests we are a violent culture. Although there are many laws to protect the public from faulty merchandise that may be harmful, yet all attempts to secure protection for the public against assault weapons are blocked. The near-religious fervor to ‘protect our gun rights’ seems as ‘unhealthy’ as any other addiction.
Another thing that is contributing to the demise of our culture and fueling violence is the coarsening of rhetoric. Not so many years ago, politeness coupled with sensitivity was a desirable virtue. It was considered a sign of maturity to be able to engage in debate without resorting to name-calling and insults. Such restraint is necessary for diplomacy. That politeness has been in a downward spiral since the 60’s, but has taken a notable plunge since the 2016 presidential campaign.
One more thing I will single out from my list of signs of a disordered culture is the emphasis upon violence in our entertainment industry. But before going into the violence, consider the fact that the entertainment industry alone is capable of making instantaneous millionaires: sports stars, movie and TV stars, singers with smash hits are materially rewarded far above the norm of society. It points to something unhealthy about a society in which entertainers are valued more than scientists, educators, researchers, health professionals . . . anyone else except money manipulators who add nothing to the advancement of society; their purpose is to help make the already rich yet richer, and they profit disproportionately doing it.
Back to the point of violence—movies came into prominence in American culture in the beginning of the 1900’s, TV in the 1950’s. Very soon it became apparent that the most popular themes were sex and violence; movies attempted to control both with censorship from the early 1900’s to the ‘50s and 60’s when finally censorship was abandoned in 1966. I don’t argue for the return of censorship but I do want the public to realize that the constant exposure to violence and immorality is damaging to young minds still in the process of forming . . . sex and violence are exciting and stimulating and we seem to be automatically drawn to them, and that is the same problem that occurs with cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Wisdom tells us to approach them with care, using self-control.
There has been nothing more influential in contemporary society than television—in our homes with 24/7 availability—that was true until the Internet; those two influences supersede all other influences. The person one become results form a duel interaction of heredity and environment, and the environment of TV and Internet makes violence readily available.
We humans are the only creatures blessed with reflective awareness, the ability to see forward and back so we can plan and choose. That constitutes our consciousness—it is a huge responsibility—together humanity makes the world to be what it is. There have been both good and bad choices. As we expand our consciousness we learn to make better choices.
The cumulative effect of many negative influences without a positive counter balance creates a culture of violence. For all intents and purposes any concept of a God has been eliminated from our secular materialistic society. About mid-way into the 1900’s laws were passed to prohibit prayer in schools and all mention of God in public affairs.
Now I know and don’t deny ‘religion’ is a volatile issue, wars have been fought in its name, but that results from one religion claiming superiority and insisting all others are wrong. God is so far above religions and so beyond our ability to comprehend, any religion insisting upon its exclusive ‘rightness’ is in error. A ‘God concept’ embodies all that is good: love, mercy, justice, hope, truth, compassion . . . that goodness needs expression. You can remove from the public specific religious ideologies, but not God. Call God by whatever name or names you choose, or no name other than ‘the good’. There is a need in any and all societies to hold up before all people—especially children still in a formative stage—an articulated set of values that are regularly called forth. Does it really matter if God is preexistent or if God is something we strive and hope for? In our lives we need a ‘God image’ to carry forward the good we long for.
I recommend Marianne Williamson’s book: Healing the Soul of America