Thursday, May 31, 2012

Generously Asking For Help

Are you a natural helper?  Do you find joy and satisfaction in serving others?  Most people do.  Even those who see service as a duty or a moral obligation experience the joy of service, only somewhat less directly.  They are pleased and satisfied more by having done their duty, than by the act of service itself. In either mode, we often receive even more than we give.  When we serve others, whether out of joyful duty, or out of naked sacrifice, the satisfaction that comes from that service can reinforce the attitude of service and generosity, and lead to a lifetime pattern of rewarding behavior.

But what happens when we ourselves need help?  If you are like me, you often find it hard to ask for help in things large and small.  Why?  Because we have an inflated view of our own capacity for self-reliance?  Because we don't want to admit that we just can't do everything for ourselves all of the time?  Because we don't want to be a burden?  There is an easy way out of these self-defeating ideas that will resonate with your generous soul.  When you need help, ask for it out of generosity.  Remember the satisfaction that you feel when you make a difference for somebody else.  When you invite somebody to serve you, you are offering the other an opportunity to experience that same satisfaction.

When you have an opportunity to serve, serve generously.  When you need help, ask generously.  When you are grateful, offer thanks generously.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Structure of U.S. Presidential Race Shows Little Change So Far

Structure of U.S. Presidential Race Shows Little Change So Far

According to the latest Gallup numbers, the President and Mr. Romney are running neck and neck for the second straight month.  Have voters already made up their minds?  What will cause one of the candidates to surge ahead?  Some major domestic or world event?  Spin and rhetoric?  So far, the only detectable trend is that the nonreligious and those with "no religion" (you'll have to ask Gallup about the difference) are moving into the incumbent's column.  This movement however is offset by small gains by Mr. Romney in a broad range of subgroups.  On the surface, this might suggest a weakening of the President's strategic position.  It would be a huge gamble to openly and specifically appeal to the nonreligious.  At the same time, any appeal designed to stem the apparent trend of slow erosion across a broad spectrum of voters is likely be general, vague, and personal.  Let's hope that personal appeals, from either side, will be strengths-based and not degenerate into "politics as usual."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Mother The Pilgrim

My Mom was a many things to many people, but she was more things to me than she was to anybody else.  She was a bundle of contradictions, at times in a deep and protracted struggle with her disappointments, at other times miraculously generous, going far, far out of her way to help and inspire others.  She was a child of the Roaring 20s, a teenager of the Great Depression and a young adult of the Greatest Generation.  She grew up in a world that told strong, smart women like her, with great and varied aptitudes for science, math, arts, and letters, that she should learn shorthand and bookkeeping.  After World War II, she left her familiar surroundings of Northeast Ohio and made it on her own in graphic arts in Chicago, and in staffing and recruiting in New York, where she became a Mother.

We moved to Ohio for a while, to live with my grandparents.  She continued to work in staffing and recruiting in Canton and Cleveland.  Somewhere along the way, her pilgrimage took a different direction.  I don't know whether it was a conversion or an awakening, or what she would call it, but it was a clear turning point.  She quit the personnel business and went to work for the First Presbyterian Church of Akron, while also becoming heavily involved with the North Canton Baptist Temple.  Soon, we moved back to New York, where she went to work for the United Church Board for World Ministries, then the Pension Board of the American Baptist Convention, and finally the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, whence she retired after 16 years of service.

Throughout her journey, her vocation, avocations, ideas and attitudes had the hallmarks of a pilgrim's progress. She believed in sacrifice, providing more for me and for others than for herself.  She believed in heroes, famous and obscure, of the world stage, of the silver screen and of everyday life, from Dwight Eisenhower, to the characters played by John Wayne, to her brother Ray and her uncle Tom.  She knew exile.  In broken relationships, untapped talents, and evaporated dreams, she knew what it was like to live far apart from one's mortal aspirations.  She was passionate, especially when she became interested in a cause.  She was passionate about doing the right thing, and doing the right thing the right way.  She believed in justice, inclusion, and equality. In my earliest recollection of a conversation about race, she taught me not to follow my Grandmother's example when, speaking from ignorance, she used the "N word" to refer to a neighbor's household help.

Ultimately, my Mom's pilgrimage was grounded in inspiration. This was hard to see for those who only knew her in her later years, which were often times of suffering and confusion, but I know the spark that was there before and that never went out.  She believed in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in his Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  I can think of nothing that would please her more than to acknowledge this truth.  She was inspired by the words of the scriptures, the great preachers of the Gospel, and the hymns.  For her, the reality and mystery of the Trinity could not be better described than the words of three hymns. Of God the Father, in Martin Luther's words, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, a bulwark never failing!"  Of God the Son, in Joseph Scriven's words, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!" And perhaps most deeply, of God the Holy Spirit, through the words of Edwin Hatch:

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

Mom, you have long ago departed this imperfect life. You pilgrimage here is complete. Now you are with Him in Eternity.  May those you left behind, run as good a race, as noble a pilgrimage as you did.  Thank you, Mom!  We will see you soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

That's a relief!

I was worried that this fall's U.S. presidential election was going to get bogged down in small matters like the ongoing economic malaise and the broadening disregard for the Constitution.  Thanks to Mr. Obama's statements yesterday, we won't be discussing those things for a while.  Phew!