Friday, May 15, 2020
America was once referred to as a beacon of hope for the world; the shining city on a hill—having pride in what went before and with hope, proudly anticipating what is ahead. That vision has been greatly dimmed and it has to do with leadership. Only a strong leader can steer the ship of state in the right direction amid the relentless challenges in the contemporary world.
What is a strong leader? It is Not one who equivocates on important issues, paints false pictures and denies responsibility; Not one who wields power to punish all who disagree and tears down others to enhance his self-image. But a strong leader is one who honestly faces challenges, accepts responsibility, gives credit to advisors and acknowledges his mistakes.
We’ve had many strong leaders in our past . . . it showed in JFK’s admitting his mistake regarding the Bay of Pigs and learning to surround himself with people having different perspectives; it was Woodrow Wilson meeting with an array of foreign powers to begin work for international cooperation; it was Barack Obama carrying the country forward without insulting and disparaging the hostile stonewalling from the other party; it was Harry Truman proudly displaying the sign on his desk ‘the buck stops here’; it was FDR’s ability to mobilize every man, woman and child to support the Nation’s war efforts during WWII.
To be a true leader requires character and moral fiber. A leader is one who goes ahead of others leading by example while relying on accurate information, proven knowledge and having the willingness to adapt if the facts determine another approach is necessary. It is a leader’s courage that becomes an inspiration to others.
Dictators are not ‘strong leaders’, they are in fact iron-fisted megalomaniacs who cruelly wield their power to single-handedly demand blind allegiance to their words without recourse to facts, reason or openness to proof. They instill fear in their followers.
At present, the man we have in America’s seat of power, is closer to a dictator than a strong leader. By aggrandizing his personal image while disparaging all other sources of democratic leadership he has weakened the nation’s respect for law and order. He has seeded widespread disrespect for the underpinnings of our democracy by repeatedly insulting and defaming these institutions upon which democracy stands: the free press, intelligence agencies, news media, the voting process, military leadership and scientific findings.
He has failed to deal with this pandemic with decisive action, giving mixed messages, disputing scientific findings, using insulting and disparaging remarks to all who voice a contrary opinion and firing key people who challange him, and even his blatant refusal to wear a face mask shows a level of disrespect for all authority but his own.
His failure to face the coronavirus crisis is but the final demonstration of his incompetence to lead a democratic nation. And his bungling portends a danger to our democracy.
Without strong leadership we watch the demise of our nation in in the eyes of the world and within our country, the crumbling of respect for law and order, inching more and more toward anarchy.
Friday, April 17, 2020
For the first time ever, all services and rituals of Easter and Passover season were canceled—attention was focused on the crisis of the global coronavirus pandemic. People sheltered in their homes, some watched virtual services on computers and TVs. …...It felt empty.
We are embroiled in a world pandemic; thousands have died and more will follow. This is a tragedy beyond reckoning . . . but history of the world shows that out of tragedy there often arises unexpected good.
I have seen signs of an awakening of our humanity. People reaching out to help others: doctors and nurses volunteering to leave their homes and go to help where the need is greatest; first responders knowingly walking into danger; people in apartment buildings cheering together from their windows the efforts of those facing the danger; healthy people singing and dancing from a distance to cheer up their neighbors; children finding ways to raise money to help strangers; homebound folks making face masks to distribute to nursing homes and shelters; random groups distributing food to those financially challenged by job loss . . . These are people helping people, not for profit or personal gain but because there is a need. Isn’t this what we are supposed to be about?
In our fast-paced competitive world we have over-valued the material side of life while under-valuing—often ignoring—the spiritual dimension of our reality. The spiritual dimension is not substantive but ethereal (without weight or measure) . . . the consciousness that is present only in humanity: love, compassion, empathy, hope, dreams, ideas, creativity, inventiveness . . . qualities that define our uniqueness and the very essence of our humanity.
I’ve longed for some unexpected good to come from this tragedy and I see it in the kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness that is daily emerging. Perhaps we needed to be slowed down to allow it to shine forth. This world-wide viral attack shows us the oneness of our small planet, what harms any part harms the whole. Man made boundaries no longer apply in a world with international transportation and communication. We are at the point in history which requires our acknowledgement of our One World—our survival depends on it.
A quote from Martin Luther King: ‘We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
And from a book by Kathleen Duffy titled: Teilhard’s Struggle ‘An evolutionary worldview implies that the cosmos is still unfinished and that its future depends on Human activity . . . the advance of Humanity’s movement in the direction of spirit depends critically on Human endeavor’ . . . not fleeing the world to commune with God but plunging into the World at its deepest and most violent.
Humanity has a purpose--we are here to build a better world.
Humanity has a purpose--we are here to build a better world.
Friday, March 20, 2020
Just as the human body is a whole in which damage to any part is shared by the whole; our World is a functioning unit where damage to any part is shared by the whole. Recently the whole world has been damaged by the coronavirus. If we can find anything positive coming out of this global pandemic where we have shared fear and loss, I hope it brings a greater awareness of our One World.
Only recently has humanity become aware of the reality of our world as a singular unit—it has always been treated as if it were made up of separate parts. The first time the curvature of the planet was observed was in 1935 when an explorer balloon observed the earth’s spherical horizon. In 1946 the first pictures of the curvature appeared. The most famous picture of all time was taken in a rocket traveling to the moon on December 7, 1972—the stunning picture of one tiny Blue Marble drifting in the vastness of space; one single whole unit on which everything we have ever known resides. We have come to revere that picture; but have we yet understood its’ meaning? This is one world, one singular complete unit, sustained by the delicately balanced interaction of its many parts—and humanity is one of those parts.
For thousands of years of human history, the earth’s complexity and vital interactions were not realized or understood, so its wholeness was separated into pieces. Those generations can be excused, they didn’t know.
Looking to the long past we see a slow gathering of groups of people from tribes to villages to cities, until the groups became Nations which laid claim to land areas and fought wars to hold or expand their ‘piece’. National Resources, earth’s gift to humanity, were claimed and privatized for profit by states, special groups and corporations or occasional individuals. The air and waterways were polluted in the name of progress as industrialization swept the globe. Species were carelessly extinguished for profit and pleasure—all because of a ‘piecemeal’ focus while failing to recognize the earth’s reliance on its interdependent functioning.
In the half century since that photo of our ‘blue planet’ appeared, we should have become cognizant of our world’s wholeness and awakened to the realization of its delicate balance and that we—humanity is part of it. We should all be seriously taking steps to mend the sundering, not withdrawing from peace and climate accords!
It will take generations to end the warring, and learn to share the planet and its’ resources, but it has been given to This generation that it begins to move in that direction. We may look at the acrimoniousness in today’s world and say ‘it’s not possible’—but look back some 80 years and see the bitter fighting between Germany and Japan against Great Britain and America in WWII and realize they are now all allies.
My point of writing this is that the coronavirus is awakening us the reality of One World. We will get through the suffering, with painful losses to be sure, but I pray it awakens us to the only way we can save ourselves from ourselves—by seeing our wholeness.
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
America has a legal system, not a justice system. A legal system is tied to the letter of the law; the goal of a legal system is to win. A justice system resides in the spirit of the law; the goal of a justice system is to reach the truth.
The impeachment trial of Donald Trump exemplifies the difference. Everyone agrees about what he did and most agree that it was wrong; but the specific word to fit what he did was not in the constitution so he was acquitted . . . his side won! If it had been a justice system and the goal were to reach truth; the impeachment would have been upheld.
The letter of the law is absolute and seems to be unbendable, yet it is subject to manipulation by clever minds seeking to win at all costs. When winning becomes the primary goal, truth and justice suffer.
In day to day living there are few if any absolutes. Life is infinitely complex and variables effect how actions are viewed. In this case, the actions of Donald Trump seen through the eyes of justice were wrong. It was not merely an impulsive misjudgment on his part, it was an elaborate and long-term plan to entice a young newly elected leader, who had pledged to fight corruption, to be led—forced by circumstances—into participating in corruption. The financial aid desperately needed by his country was being with withheld. The truth is that this action alone is worth impeachment.
But looking further into the truth-justice issue: Trump operates as a con-man without a conscience; his personal views alone guide his actions. His history shows numerous unethical business deals. Among others are those involving bankruptcy in which he protected his money while all others, from investors to the cleaning people, lost. His misogynistic attitude was clearly captured on TV. He blatantly lies about everything and anything and repeats the lies over and over until some folks come to believe him. He unconscionably hurls insults and slander at anyone who opposes him. In short, he acts more like a dictator than a president. A democracy requires that a person of honor and integrity lead it.
Since he took office, the U.S. world standing has steadily gone down. He disparages allies and embraces dictators. He single-handedly has withdrawn our country from international treaties that were years in preparation. All the world now recognizes the Climate Crisis but he denies it. He has defamed the reputation of all institutions supporting our democracy from our intelligence agencies to the free press.
Our legal system has enabled Donald Trump to continue to ravage our country’s reputation, there seems to be no more constraints on his behavior. I believe it was Stephen Collins of CNN who said he has weaponized the Presidency by punishing his ‘enemies’—anyone who spoke against him. Now he is freeing ‘criminal friends’ from their legal sentences.
It has been said by many Republicans that the Democrats have been prejudice against Trump since his inauguration. It isn’t prejudice that motivates them but recognition that the man in power is unfit to rule. His ‘winning’ frees him to continue to damage our Democracy.
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” . . .