Monday, August 26, 2013

I have a dream

 I am saddened that, in 2013, we are still having a conversation about racism. Fifty years have passed since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his speech that has come to be know as the "I have a dream" speech. What was King's dream? That we should not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. We should all strive to make that dream a reality!

In the years that followed the speech, racism seemed to quell for a time. Now, again, we are experiencing racially motivated hatred, on all fronts. Why do we find it so hard to love our fellow man? Why can't we at least be nice to one another?  How is our character defining us? What is keeping this foul pot of racism stirred?

Lots of unanswered questions.

We have no control over what what sex we are born, or in what country we were born. Nor do we get to chose our personality type, our intellect, color skin, or the color of our eyes.  We can work hard and set our mind on a goal, but there are some things, regardless of what common trends in education and parenting teach us, we will just not be able to achieve. I can practice for years, but I will never be able to sing. (Well, I sing, but it doesn't sound like music!)

I was raised in the south, notorious for racism, yet I felt that racism was on the wane in the early 1970's when I was in high school. We had friends who were black. ("Black"was the proper name to call an African American then.)There was smart Roslyn, lovely Geraldine and Cynthia, "hot" Troy, very tall Jeff.  We were coming out of a very dark period in American history. We were trying, and making progress.  We were proud to have one of the first black football coaches in a newly integrated school, (think Remember the Titans after the students' enlightenment and transformation) who was the subject of a book, Black Coach. Everyone loved Coach Jerome Evans. It was "cool" to be tolerant and loving.

The more we practiced, the more it became real. 

Reminiscent of "The Help," I had a black . . . maid? . . . nanny? . . family member? I am not sure what to call Christine. She watched us three children while Mama, a single mother, worked. We were not wealthy, by any standard except happiness, so there was no "social class" differences between Christine's family and ours. Christine called us on our birthdays long after we required her care. She and my mother still go to lunch occasionally, when one of the children help them with their walkers. I still send Christine Christmas cards. We loved, and still love, Christine. (Update, both Christine and my mother died in 2014.)

Now fast forward more years than I can believe, we are again dealing with ugly discrimination. It isn't one sided. Where does such hatred come from? As a kid, I knew an old man who was an unashamed racist. His hatred made him ugly and terrifying.

The following video is rather long, but very captivating. It is from my era. Maybe it was training like this that made us more accepting, less judgmental. Let's try it again.

And let me be perfectly clear, I love you all, even those of you with blue eyes!

Learn something from the video!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quantum Change

It isn't likely that many readers will identify with Ebeneezer Scrooge. He was a hardhearted, miserable miser until, in the course of one night, he made a 180 degree turnaround, transforming into a giddy, compassionate, altruist.  Does this kind of change happen in real life?

For most of us, change happens so gradually it goes unnoticed until we look back and everything is different. For some of us, change is more startling.

William R. Miller and Janet D'de Baca, PhD clinical psychologists and teachers of traditional approaches to self-improvement, became intrigued by stories of clients' experiences of sudden, dramatic change. Miller and D'de Baca placed an ad in a local newspaper for people to share their stories of unexpected, personal transformations. They were shocked by the deluge and content of responses .

They were struck by the diversity of the responses, and also by the common thread that ran through them. The personal testimonies included "bolt-from-the-blue" and "seeing-the-light" types of mystical encounters to  life-changing insights and "powerful, sudden moments of consciousness." (I describe my own transformation experience in But the Greatest of These is Love as "the scales falling off my eyes.)

To document their data, Miller and D'de  Baca published  Quantum Change, When Epiphanies and Sudden Insights Transform Ordinary Lives (2001). They define Quantum Change as being marked my four elements: vivid, surprising, benevolent, and enduring. It is vivid in that it is an identifiable, distinctive, and memorable moment when the transformation occurred, or at least began. The person is aware that something extraordinary has happened, providing the element of surprise, or awe. Even though the experience is often unsettling, there is a benevolent quality to the event, an overwhelming quality of "loving kindness" surrounding it. The change is enduring. Even decades after the event, the transformation is still intact.

These transformations are mostly dismissed by the Western world  as delusions (Science) or presumption (Religion). But the "evidence" exists in a changed life. Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx would have likely scoffed at the idea of Quantum Change, yet, William James, their contemporary, often referred to as the father of American psychology, wrote about the same phenomena in The Varieties of Religious Experience (originally published in 1902 and still available today). Stories of Quantum Change are common among spiritual giants like St. Paul, St. Augustine, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. In fact, most spiritual giants have a Quantum Change story.  The experience has shaped the lives of great thinkers and writers like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and C. S. Lewis, who said he got on a bus an atheist, and got off, a believer. Quantum Change has been the impetus of many social reformers like Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, and Bill Wilson.

After my spiritual metamorphosis in 2000, a friend who was aware of my experience, shared an article from Christianity Today which led me to this book, which I immediately ordered, ravenously read, and wrote Dr. Miller. He wrote me back, stating that Quantum Change isn't as rare as one might think. People hesitate to talk about their experience because of the inadequacy of words to describe their experience,  and they "feel odd." I understood this awkward difficulty. Still, it gave me hope. Miller described himself in the letter, not in the book, as a "devote Christian" and described these as "born again" experiences. Yes, me too!

In the surveys of respondents, Changers reported their priorities reversed. Characteristics that seemed important before the change, like wealth, pleasure, attractiveness, abruptly diminished in importance. The biggest single gain was in the priority given to spirituality, which previously had been at the bottom or close. Many reported that Quantum Change was a process, a series of changes, like a "primary earthquake, followed by a series of aftershocks." Many Changers felt moved to acts of compassion and service to others. My experience paved the way for my adoption of an older Russian boy.

The final chapter, "Message to Humankind," sums up that Changers acknowledge there is a Truth in the experience, "sensing a great Whole of which all humans are a part" (Italics mine). A common theme in the aftermath of Quantum Change is humility, and a feeling of unworthiness of the experience. And immense gratitude. I must be a textbook example—I related to all "symptoms."

 Read the book, (and mine!) Consider your own spiritual journey. If you have experienced a Quantum Change, be it an epiphany or a sudden insight that sparked change, please leave me a message. Share your testimony. You are in excellent company!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Good Life

I am not a big fan of war movies. I spend most of the time shielding my eyes from the gore and violence.

Saving Private Ryan is one of the few exceptions. Set during the Normandy invasion in World War II, Steven Spielberg's 1998 masterpiece chronicles the mission to find and remove from combat one Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon). Ryan's three brothers, all soldiers, have been killed in recent days in combat.  Captain John W. Miller (Tom Hanks) has the mission of locating Pvt. Ryan and returning him safely to his mother.  General George C. Marshall has issued the order himself, believing that three sons were more than  any mother should have to contribute to the war.

My favorite part was the end when the Allies stormed in for the surprise rescue, but unfortunately, too late to save Capt. Miller. As he lay dying, he struggles to leave Pvt. Ryan with one enduring directive, "James, earn this . . . Earn it."

"Earn this." Ryan's rescue came at a high cost. Of the eight soldiers commissioned to save him, only two returned relatively unscathed.

As Ryan kneels close to the dead captain, his face transitions to that of an old man visiting the Normandy American cemetery with his family, fifty years later. The elderly man kneels by his captain's grave. Ryan explains to Miller that he has tried to live a good life. He hopes he has. Unsatisfied, he turns to his family standing back. "Tell me I've led a good life . . . Tell me I'm a good man."

We instinctively understand why Ryan feels compelled to live a good life, as payment for the sacrifice of his captain and the others. But why is goodness the payment for the debt? Why not revenge, by killing all former Nazis?

While he was still an atheist, C.S. Lewis struggled with what he saw as a mystery, when confronted with what he called the "Law of  (Human) Nature" or the "Rule of Right and Wrong." He experienced an uncomfortable, nagging suspicion that he might be wrong about his belief in no god. He wrote in Mere Christianity that people seem to be appealing to a standard of behavior that all parties are aware of. "If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently?" Where does this innate sense of decency or fairness come from? What is this standard?

I have recently joined an online "faith" forum where I can post my ideas along with others. I feel "called" to write. For God! No pressure!

I am amazed at the strong presence of atheists on these sites. They ask challenging, thought-provoking questions, present good arguments, provide videos expounding the wisdom of their gods, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, and mentor vulnerable converts. Their have their own religion! Certainly atheists can and do behave decently. As a matter of fact, there have been studies that conclude that they behave better than people of faith.  But the question remains—where does this innate sense of honor come from? Evolution? Survival of the fittest? More thoughts on that another day.

"Evidence" from atheists will not sway me, even though they claim my experience with God, my testimony, is, at best, an illusion, and at worst, a contrived, manipulative hoax. Will we ever find common ground? One day.

Chuck Colson, in his excellent book, The Good Life, which inspired this post, wrote that we are "irresistibly religious."  A French philosopher unknown to me stated that human life is characterized by a "divine restlessness" which puts us on a quest for the meaning of life, a command imprinted on our "unextinguished souls."

We are all on the perennial quest for the meaning of life, and our purpose in it. Ironically that search for meaning is often what gives our lives meaning. We are all searching for something, probably because we are born with knowledge of the Truth, and a desire to know it.

Pope John Paul II summed it up succinctly, " One may define the human being as the one who seeks the truth."

A worthy pursuit!