Tag Archives: Sharing

The Unlikely Pizza

I’ve consumed a lot of pizza in my days.  Maybe it’s because pizza came into its own as an entre′ while I was a teen, or the fact that it’s probably my favorite food indulgence.  I’ve eaten more than my share of those pies.  I’ve had them homemade in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was nine years old, I’ve eaten them across Italy and the rest of western Europe, I’ve consumed them in the Virgin Islands, Mexico, Canada, Hungary and even on board a sailing vessel on the ocean.  I’m reasonably certain that I must hold some sort of unofficial pizza consumption record for my days in college.  In short, I am an expert.

But one of the most unlikely and satisfying slices occurred just last month, during my most recent visit to Nicaragua.  Yes, it was the first pizza I have consumed in that country.  But more important than that was the group of young women with whom I shared the pizza.  What might be the odds that on any given day in my life I would find myself having a Chefella’s pizza with 15 female cooperative members in Matagalpa, Nicaragua?  On March 12th, the answer was 100%

I love pizza anywhere, and under nearly any circumstances.  But when we arrived to join this mid-day meeting of entrepreneurs to the announcement that we would share pizza for lunch, I admit to being triply-excited: first, to talk again with these adventuresome women, most of whom were new to the idea of cooperative life; second, at the prospect of my first-ever Nicaraguan pizza; and third, to consider once more the collaborative symbolism of my favorite food.

You see, pizza in my experience has always been a cooperative meal.  When our kids were young, pizza night was a time for all of us to be in the kitchen and contributing our own labors to the creation of something worthwhile, in this case, for dinner.  Katie made the crust, I formed it in the pan, Megan and Molly spread the sauce, Ian added the meat and Nikki sprinkled the cheese.  We collectively watched the baking and timing.  And of course, we shared happily in the end result.

The entire process was one of great participation, involving every member of our family.  The fear might have been that if you didn’t help out, you wouldn’t get any pizza.  But the reality was more that this was something that we loved doing together, and that made the entire outcome- the pizza- even better.  Of course, the process mandated complete transparency.  Some of us couldn’t eat onions; indeed, a hidden agenda here would have resulted in stomach upset! Others didn’t care for green peppers.  One in our family didn’t wish to eat meat.  So we had to be very clear in drawing the lines of content in our pizzas.  Those ingredient boundaries were our respective stakes in the outcome.   And, of course, eventually we experienced the satisfaction and reward of shared effort: taking a piece of the pie.  Collaboration made homemade pizzas tastier than frozen ones, and more cost-effective than pizzeria models.

A pizza with the 15 women did not involve our collective making and baking, but it did connect us in a shared result.  Sitting around the tables which had been laid end-to-end created a loop of continuity, of solidarity,  of oneness for at least that special lunch period.  It will be up to the women members of the cooperatives to determine whether they can sustain that linkage to their ongoing mutual benefit.

Meanwhile, it made that unlikely pizza one of the best slices I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot….

Last One Standing, Only One Standing

It’s not often that I’ve yielded the blog space here to some other writer or article, but tonight I’m utterly compelled to do so.  The news story, here presented from the Associated Press, speaks for itself.

Below, an Indian woman uses a traditional mud stove in the area in front of her hut in a slum area, outskirts of New Delhi, India, Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

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DAVOS, Switzerland — The gap between the super-rich and the poorest half of the global population is starker than previously thought, with just eight men, from Bill Gates to Michael Bloomberg, owning as much wealth as 3.6 billion people, according to an analysis by Oxfam released Monday.

Presenting its findings on the dawn of the annual gathering of the global political and business elites in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, anti-poverty organization Oxfam says the gap between the very rich and poor is far greater than just a year ago. It’s urging leaders to do more than pay lip-service to the problem.

If not, it warns, public anger against this kind of inequality will continue to grow and lead to more seismic political changes akin to last year’s election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

“It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, who will be attending the meeting in Davos. “Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.”

The same report a year earlier said that the richest 62 people on the planet owned as much wealth as the bottom half of the population. However, Oxfam has revised that figure down to eight following new information gathered by Swiss bank Credit Suisse.

Oxfam used Forbes’ billionaires list that was last published in March 2016 to make its headline claim. According to the Forbes list, Microsoft founder Gates is the richest individual with a net worth of $75 billion. The others, in order of ranking, are Amancio Ortega, the Spanish founder of fashion house Inditex, financier Warren Buffett, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim Helu, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York.

Oxfam outlined measures that it hopes will be enacted to help reduce the inequality.

They include higher taxes on wealth and income to ensure a more level playing field and to fund investments in public services and jobs, greater cooperation among governments on ensuring workers are paid decently and the rich don’t dodge their taxes. And business leaders should commit to paying their fair share of taxes and a living wage to employees.

Max Lawson, Oxfam’s policy adviser, urged billionaires to “do the right thing,” and to do “what Bill Gates has called on them to do, which is pay their taxes.”

The ability of the rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes was vividly exposed last year in the so-called “Panama Papers,” a leaked trove of data that revealed details on offshore accounts that helped individuals shelter their wealth.

“We have a situation where billionaires are paying less tax often than their cleaner or their secretary,” Lawson told The Associated Press. “That’s crazy.”

It’s because of this kind of inequality that trust in institutions has fallen sharply since the global financial crisis of 2008, according to Edelman, one of the world’s biggest marketing firms.

In its own pre-Davos survey of more than 33,000 people across 28 markets, Edelman found the largest-ever drop in trust across government, business, media and even non-governmental organizations. CEO credibility is at an all-time low and government leaders are the least trusted group, according to the survey.

The firm’s 2017 Trust Barometer found that 53 percent of respondents believe the current system has failed them in that it is unfair and offers few hopes for the future, with only 15 percent believing it is working. That belief was evident for both the general population and those with college education.

“The implications of the global trust crisis are deep and wide-ranging,” said Richard Edelman, the firm’s president and CEO. “It began with the Great Recession of 2008, but like the second and third waves of a tsunami, globalization and technological change have further weakened people’s trust in global institutions. The consequence is virulent populism and nationalism as the mass population has taken control away from the elites.” 

Edelman highlighted how “the emergence of a media echo chamber” that reinforces personal beliefs while shutting out opposing views has magnified this “cycle of distrust.” According to the survey, search engines are trusted more as an information tool than traditional news editors, 59 percent to 41 percent.

“People now view media as part of the elite,” said Edelman. “The result is a proclivity for self-referential media and reliance on peers. The lack of trust in media has also given rise to the fake news phenomenon and politicians speaking directly to the masses.”

Edelman said business may be best-placed to help improve trust. Companies need to be transparent and honest with their employees about the changes taking place in the work-place, improve skills and pay fairly, he said.

The online survey was conducted between Oct. 13 and Nov. 16, 2016.

This, readers, lies at the core of nearly all of the unrest and discontent that exists in the world today.  Philosophical disagreements run deep, to be sure, but even behind such issues, there is almost certainly a clash between economic deprivation and overabundance.  It’s an untenable reality, much like the pending impacts of climate change.  In both cases, we collectively will step up to face the problem, or we will become victims of our own inaction.

We’re now down to the top eight wealthiest people in the world, in a game of “last one standing.”  I cannot help but wonder what he/she will do in the face of a fully dispossessed humanity….

New Year’s Revolutions

Even if we deny the need for or intention to establish New Year’s resolutions, we all have ’em, even if tucked away anonymously in the back of our conscious thought.  They are items that we wish we could be better at or that we could improve upon, whether for ourselves of the sake of others.  Often they are health-related, sometimes they are financial determinations, occasionally they call us to change some quirk of personality.  But they are almost always difficult to live up to and can leave us feeling even more inept or unaccomplished than before.  Indeed, some “experts” suggest that resolutions are a bad thing, setting us up for failure or disappointment.  I’m not sure whether they are a help or a hindrance, having resolved many years ago never to establish any such challenges.

Yet with New Year’s Eve on our doorstep and noisy parties on so many calendars , I’m compelled to offer my own list of hoped-for personal transformations for 2017.  I suppose that any of the following could be adopted by others, without copyright infringement, if the fit was right. 

1. I resolve to learn the Spanish language, just as I have resolved for each of the past 10 years.

Knowing a language other than my own grants me a clarity.  The essence of connecting with others lies in the ability to express oneself to others directly and personally, without the intervention of a translator or mechanical interpreter.  The most painful and counterproductive reality of my work in Nicaragua (even with the impeccable translations of my colleague), is my inability to express personally to another human being what I think and feel.  I suspect that no one else suffers from such a shortcoming.

2.  I resolve to be more giving of the immense blessings I have received, both personal and material.

I’m just a temporary steward of everything I am, everything I have.  I don’t get to take any of it with me when I leave.  I’d rather have the enjoyment of giving it away now and feeling the immense pleasure of sharing that which I never deserved in the first place.

3.  I resolve to preserve more water.

I can do without TVs and cell phones and vocation and achievement and even the loves of my life.  But I need water.  (So do you.)  I’m going to collect it and be careful with it.  What a treasure!

4.  I resolve to de-clutter.

While I’m busy giving more things away, I’ll be de-cluttering at the same time.  And when the unnecessary elements of my daily living are out of the way, I’m thinking that the important matters will receive more of my attention.  Have you ever lost anything?

5.  I resolve to be more open to the possibility that newly-elected politicians could actually do some good things.

All resolutions require some time and effort but I really don’t expect to spend much of either on this one, I admit.  People could say that I haven’t really resolved much here, but then again, I can think of few current politicians who have given me any reason to expect honest leadership or commitment to the common good.

6.  I resolve to stay committed to the preservation of my health and fitness, since no one else can or will.

It’s probably true that I am what I eat.  And I am what I drink and how I sleep and how I care for myself.  My health and well-being are a product of my own choices and self-care, rather than the domain of doctors and therapists.  I’d like those professional people to go along for the trip, but I insist on driving.  Who knows, maybe some others might choose to follow.

7.  I resolve to learn more about more of the world, since the politicians and the media are not up to the task.

Like everyone else, I’ve always been a creature who is subject to my own personal perceptions about the truth.  My life experiences necessarily shape my views of things.  But it’s becoming more and more difficult to separate reality from someone’s self-serving spin on the truth.  Absolute truth may not even exist, but I need to get closer to it than I am now.  The future of the world depends on it.

8.  I resolve to better love my neighbor.

It’s what I’m called to do as a moral human being.  I know who they are, I know where they are and I know them as both my obligation and my privilege.  I just need to better understand how to extend my reach.

9.  I resolve to write a book, or at least begin the process.

As I have led organizations and worked with groups around the country (and elsewhere in the world), I’ve come to know that each and every human being has a unique and important story to tell; even the most mundane of lives holds immeasurable gifts.  So it must be true of me, too.  I want to identify and tell that story

10.  I resolve to embrace the truth that peace comes only from within.

I know it’s there, and I have gone to that well more times than I can count over my lifetime.  And still, it is not enough that I have sought and found such peace.  It is there that my joys and trials, achievements and failures, thrills and disappointments are all reconciled within my life.  I know the source of that comfort for myself; I resolve to cherish and foster it.

Maybe your list, if one exists, doesn’t resemble this one at all.  But if I was inclined to set myself up for either enriching my life or, alternatively, creating huge disappointment, these would be my revolutionary priorities.

In any case, I’ve still got two days to think about it….

 

3 In 10

I suppose that one cannot be in any line of work for very long without becoming a student of human behaviors, intentionally or unintentionally.  The stories that I can tell from my years in a for-profit environment reveal the zenith of both corporate heroism as well as personal greed.  (Ask me about those sometime.)  Likewise, my past ten years in the not-for-profit arena contain tales of stirring courage as well as frustratingly open self-aggrandizement.  In whatever venue we travel, the polars of humanity are there.  “The great central human considerations may be found everywhere,” wrote author Joseph Langland.

With that in mind, I read a recent report by a midwestern college that provided a short profile of its first-year students, their capacities and their outlooks on certain matters.  And there in the second line, I read a statistic that both puzzled and discouraged me. The report stated that 71.8% of this group feel that it’s “very important” to help others in difficulty.

I don’t believe that these statistics were presented as either positive or negative traits, but rather a report about how these students look statistically.  Nor can I say that they are typical for the age group or an overall college population.  But I could not prevent myself from a certain degree of amazement that nearly 30% of any diverse group would respond in this way, let alone a group of college students whose education and experiences might be expected to produce reports of greater compassion.  Yes, 71.8% of the respondents signaled a high degree of commitment to those in trouble.  Maybe the real story lies within that metric.  But nearly 3 in 10 did not think that helping others in difficulty was very important at all.

I don’t think that I am naive,  Particularly in an age where every sordid and unkind act is reported in detail over ubiquitous social media outlets, criminality and cruelty seem to be rather common. Yet I was struck by the response of this audience, one which, on the whole, might be considered to be more worldly, more in tune with the interdependence that mankind requires for survival, one which seems to pride itself in its attacks upon injustice, calamity and even boorish behaviors with their techno devices in hand.  This was an audience of men and women with at least one full year of college under their belts, more than enough to have begun the awakening that society craves in its “next gen” leaders.  And 3 in 10 have little apparent concern about helping others in trouble.

Maybe these are the outliers, the slow-to-mature ones who have yet to cross the threshold from narcissistic self-serving to a more selfless giving.  Maybe they see the development of their future careers as so all-consuming as to have tunnel vision to those futures.  Perhaps they didn’t understand the question.  But whatever their excuses, these respondents are cause for worry, both for themselves and those for whom they do not see the need to help.

Our reality is that we depend upon the sensitivity and collegiality of one another now more than ever.  Some may deceive themselves into believing that they have survived and thrived in their lives all by themselves, without the presence of others.  But it’s delusional thinking.  Even without mentors or family members, we are impacted daily by the density of humanity on earth and the speed with which our actions are felt by others.    The statistic above makes me wonder what those 3 in 10 feel about all of the actors in their lives, known and unknown, who helped them attain the chance at a college education.

The survey question didn’t even come close to broaching the issue of our global interdependence.  Without a sense of importance about helping those in difficulty at home, the 3 in 10 can hardly be looked to for global solutions to poverty, human rights violations, foreign wars or maybe even  (could they be this myopic?) climate change.  The most pressing issues of our present and future demand extraordinary abilities to “walk in another’s shoes” and live our lives in the mutually dependent manner that our future requires.  It will take 100%  of our human capacities to survive those most pressing issues.  And that’s a statistic which requires little interpretation….

 

 

Being There

Among the many newsletters, magazines and Internet articles which I receive about Nicaragua, every so often someone’s reflections about being in the country capture my attention.  I found one such article in the most recent newsletter from ProNica, the U.S.-based organization which works to build cross-cultural relationships between Nicaraguans and North Americans using Quaker values.  It’s an organization which has done good work in Nicaragua focusing on community cohesiveness and just, economic development.

ProNica’s new Program Director is Bambi Griffin.  In the most recent newsletter, she has written an introductory piece which I think captures an important element of providing assistance of any kind in Nicaragua, or any other country.  She writes of her first visit to Nicaragua shortly after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998.  I have excerpted her article below:

When I arrived, it was the dry season, hot and dusty.  I was going to help community members by digging postholes.  Wooden posts would be cemented into the holes so the black plastic tarps could be wrapped around them to create basic shelters, the residents’ new homes.  I made it a point to wear my oldest, grungiest clothes that I planned to discard when leaving Nicaragua.  When we arrived, women were hanging freshly washed clothes on anything they could find: barbed wire or a tree stump, to dry them under the sun.  Children were running around.  Little girls were dressed in bright frilly pageant dresses that looked out of place with the dusty brown earth and rows of black tarp tents.  People were trying to put order into their day-to-day lives while living without running water, electricity, or even walls.

The community members came out to meet the volunteers, and when they did, I realized something very embarrassing, something that was the start of an important transformation for me.

The residents of Nueva Vida had done the opposite of what I had done.  They had taken the time to put on the very best they had.  They didn’t come out to meet us looking disheveled.  They were neatly dressed, their hair was combed, the lady whose house we were going to dig postholes for that morning had applied lipstick.  In contrast, I was wearing stained jeans with a hole ripped in the knee.  I had on an old tee shirt that I used to sleep in, that was also stained, and I had a bandana on my head.

Although the community members had lost almost everything they owned, in some cases even their families, they looked presentable that morning when they came to meet the volunteers.  I was ashamed.  I was going to meet people I had never met before to work with them on a project.  Why did I think it was OK to wear clothes that I planned to throw away?  Why did I present myself to them in a way that I would never present myself to any other group of people that I would be working with?  Did I feel that they deserved any less than anyone else?  Why had I not done for the residents of Nueva Vida what they had done for me?  Put their best foot forward.  They, who had so little, offered what they had, and I, who had so much, didn’t consider that these people deserved the same basic respect I would have shown to anyone else.  That day I started questioning myself, my motives, and my actions.

I realized that I unknowingly went into a community under the impression that I was going to “help.”  I entered their space with a lack of sensitivity and awareness of who they were, what they had experienced, and I focused on my own needs and wants.  I had not even thought about them, but rather me.  I thought I was going to do a job, to “help.”  I realized that they did not need me to dig postholes for them.  They were just being kind to let me do it.  What they needed was to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion.  That is what they needed.  I mistakenly thought I was just there to dog postholes….

I don’t often talk about my first experience in Nicaragua because I didn’t live through what the residents lived through.  I did not live with a dirt floor, four posts surrounded by black plastic tarp for my walls, struggling daily for the survival of my family.  I talk about it now because it was the start of my understanding of my privilege, something that I will never be able to un-do.  When I think I am helping, I might actually be causing harm.  That first experience was when I seriously questioned my motivations, the purpose behind my actions, and my understanding of what I was doing and why….

Like so many other occasions in life, we are sometimes subject to the unintended consequences of what we do.  The desire to “help” in a country like Nicaragua may be well-intentioned.  But without an understanding of the current context, the traditions, the social milieu and even the international histories between nations- being there in the fullest sense-  aid workers and organizations run the risk of perpetuating inequalities, power disparities or even creating setbacks for Nica progress.  Bambi Griffin writes perceptively about that reality, one from which many other aid workers could learn an important truth.

As hard to believe as it may be, giving of yourself isn’t always an easy thing, even if it’s nearly always a good thing….

 

The $2 Bill

I spoke before a college social work class last week.  The theme of the discussion was the impact of public policy on the lives of not only U.S. citizens, but also on residents of other countries.   I appreciate sharing the Winds of Peace experience with young people for several reasons: they universally exhibit an interest, they represent the best opportunity for future impact and I can usually recognize “lights turning on” in the face of dramatic stories and photographs that are shared.  What more could a speaker ask?

In this particular class, I tried something new to make a point.  Since the class size was only 15, I decided to distribute brand new $2 bills to each person.  (Thank goodness the class was not immense in size- I might have been forced to reconsider this strategy altogether.) Initially it may have seemed as though I sought to pay the students for their attention and interest, but not even I am desperate (or wealthy) enough to stoop to such a tactic.  Instead, as I explained, the $2 bill was theirs to keep and to reflect upon.  For there are many  for whom that $2 represent an entire day’s wages.                          unnamedThe $2-a-day threshold has been widely referenced when talking about global impoverishment.  Unfortunately, it has been recited often enough that the notion no longer seems to stir the incredulity that it once did; it has become a sad and interesting statistic with less “punch” than it had when we first heard of it.  I wanted the $2 bill to change that, by providing a unique (we don’t see many such bills in circulation anymore) and tangible ($2 in the hand is worth more than words) representation of just how little that amount is.  Then we went on about how some of our own consumption habits influence this state of affairs.

The first reaction of the students was bemusement; perhaps not many guest presenters have left money behind.  But once the bills were in hand, I invited them to consider how their money should be spent, given the realities of everyday needs.  To complicate their deliberations, I also suggested that their dilemma might be even more difficult in real life with the presence of a child or two; the $2 bill is still worth only $2.  There are not many Starbucks coffees to be consumed in that scenario.

When I have spoken about Nicaraguan poverty in the past, some have questioned whether goods are considerably less expensive in Nicaragua than in the U.S.  But by offering a comparison of some common grocery and clothing items in each country, that myth was quickly dispelled in class.  There are no “easy outs” or solutions for this reality.  The fact is that $2 does not come anywhere close to meeting basic living needs, and it’s emotionally disturbing to come face to face with that.   If the students keep the $2 bills for the uniqueness of the denomination, maybe they will also retain the empty feeling they experienced as they contemplated a life of deprivation.

I don’t have enough $2 bills to give away to everyone.  (Do we really need them?)  I can nevertheless invite people to use their own resources to consider what life might be like on $2 a day.  The exercise quickly moves from thinking about which niceties we might be able to do without to a more difficult evaluation of which essentials would have to go.  The first part of the deliberation is vexingly entertaining; the second part is maddeningly impossible.

If the $2 exercise properly infects the students from last Tuesday’s class, they will be left with a virus which has a cure, albeit a difficult one. The treatment for the disparities between those with more than enough and those with less than enough is personal understanding, knowing in both head and heart that the gap exists.  If that treatment truly takes hold, we’ll know what to do next….

 

 

 

It’s All About You

We are bombarded with advertisements all the time, whether on television, radio, Internet or printed materials.  There’s nothing new about this at all, though the ingenuity used to invade our consciousness is sometimes surprising.  (I still maintain that the ads over urinals in public restrooms is arguably the most captive approach.)  But I’ve encountered a number of messages lately with the same refrain:  “It’s All About You.”  There’s the recurrent ad on the radio for a local bank which uses that line in its musical imprinting.  (As if banks these days are even conceivably “all about” their customers.)  One of my favorite retailers has begun to use the phrase in its website ads.  (In reality, it’s more about my purchases than about me, I’m quite sure.)  And it’s a message that makes me uneasy.

I understand the implication:  I’m worthy of the product being offered and the benefits that it will provide.  I must have worked hard in life and am entitled to the luxury-pleasure-convenience-status of the item being offered as a visible affirmation of my worth, one that others will see with admiration and maybe even jealousy, because they, too, are worth it.

It’s an easy trap for us consumers to fall into.  The latest versions of luxurious living and tempting toys are alluring, indeed.  Caribbean cruises on floating hotels and cars that drive and park themselves are nearly beyond imagination.  Even in the far reaches of Nicaragua, cell phone accessibility has become an increasingly commonplace wonder.  If some of the chronically poor peasants enjoy such technology, surely the rest of us are entitled to that and more; we must be entitled.

But the promise of “all about you” and the attendant requirement for acquiring more items in our lives is a misnomer for fulfillment, whatever our socioeconomic status.  Not only because shiny things become dulled in time, but also because they- and we- are all so temporary.  We don’t get to take any of our toys with us when we depart the planet, and they will come to the temporary ownership of someone else.  The cycle will continue indefinitely and we will have been owners for only a second in time, nothing more.  We are only stewards of things, whether they be greater or fewer than others, but they are never truly a part of us.

 

In reality, it’s not all about me.  It’s hardly about me or any of us at all. (I was even reminded of that recently in church, sometimes not a bad place for new perspectives.  See the message from January 25.)   Each of us is but one seven billionth of the planet; a mere one one hundred and eight billionth of human history.  Clearly, it cannot be about you or me; we are not that unique.  So it must be about something else, a perspective that makes the center of attention somewhere other than ourselves.  If not me, if not you, then our focus must be on “the others,” the marginalized among us who need and deserve our consideration.

Yet the more I consider the notion, an unexpected reversal of thinking occurs to me.  Maybe it is all about me.  Not in the sense of the receiving and entitlement, but in the giving and opportunity.  Maybe it truly is about each of us individually taking ownership, not of our things but of our stewardship.  Maybe instead of competing in the marketplace for the most goods, our competition ought to be seen in divesting ourselves of the incredible wealth we have accumulated during our lives of privilege.  Is it possible that the hallmark of success could be measured by the number of lives touched, the number of hungry fed, the number of homeless sheltered?  For we do lead lives of great privilege in contrast to most of the other humans on earth, present and past alike.  How even those kings and emperors of antiquity would be astounded at the lifestyles most of us live!

I received a product ordered online the other day, another manifestation of my own consumerism.  It arrived in a carton marked, “Happiness delivered.”  I was immediately struck by the presumption that the product delivered would make me happy, and that I never even had to leave the comfort of my home to achieve such joy.  The presumption was yet one more attempt to equate a purchase with personal and lasting fulfillment.  In reality, the item was one that, yes, I felt (right or wrong) that I needed, but it did not make me happy. That emotion has to come from somewhere else, somewhere from within.  And that is all about me, and my relationship to other human beings.

I am informed in my thinking by Native American perspectives on the idea of ownership, not only the impossibility of owning individual lands but of things, as well: ““It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome… Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving… The Indians in their simplicity literally give away all that they have—to relatives, to guests of other tribes or clans, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.” (Charles Alexander Eastman, Santee Dakota Physician, 1858-1939.)

I’m not an ascetic and thus cannot call others to such a lifestyle.  But I recognize, like Native Americans long before me, that what we have- whether in material, opportunity, education, energy or aspiration- is never owned by us.   Rather, any of these are gifts to be shared in the best ways that we can, part of a collective competition of largesse, and our lives are truly about discerning how to do just that….

 

 

 

 

Bridging A Gap

It’s an exciting time for many in this country, with the first visit of Pope Francis to the U.S.  Some 70 million U.S. Catholics notwithstanding, it’s remarkable to see and to feel the excitement generated by this pope.  Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been mesmerized by the rock star quality of this man and, more notably, of his message about taking care of each other and the planet.  It’s a moment to savor, this feel-good visit from someone who has the capacity to generate an upbeat and hopeful message; not many could do it.  But it also creates a disconnect for us, as we cheer the messenger while simultaneously spurning the message.

Like many, I have watched copious news coverage of the papal visit, out of interest and curiosity.  I’m both interested in hearing the topics that Francis has chosen to highlight and curious about our collective and positive reaction to him and “the higher Chief” to whom Francis reports.  But I wonder about the gap that exists there, one that Francis has referenced on several occasions in his talks here.  That distance between the emotional uplift of this man’s visit and  the reality of our daily actions is wide, and I am confounded by that space.

How is it possible that we can be so emotionally and spiritually attuned to the lessons Francis brings, while at the same time living our lives deaf to our own opportunities to respond?  Matters of climate and environment, poverty and hunger, stewardship and servanthood have seemingly captivated the pope’s audiences around the world- now including the U.S.- at a time when the debate rhetoric around such issues has never been more polarized and heated.  And we are all the same in this spiritual conundrum that afflicts us between our feeling and our doing.

Catholics from Latin America are especially in love with Francis, for he is “of them” and speaks to Latin Americans in their own language, a connection which is treasured.  From country to country Francis is welcomed by heads of state who cherish the moments of being in the presence of the pope and his hopeful message, only to return all-too-frequently to their autocratic regimes of favoritism, exclusion and oppression.  Even in the rural reaches, professors of the faith who hold a very proprietary view of Francis and his humble servanthood will too often seek to take advantage of opportunities for gain over good character.  We are seemingly infected with the virus of selfhood.

In Europe, the pontiff is received upon red carpets and with gifts of expressive love by leaders who, in some cases, have slammed shut the doors of receptive love on the very homeless about whom the pope continually reminds us.  Particularly on the European continent, we are afflicted with the disease of short memory about dispossession and relocation.

In the U.S., political leaders have clamored to be among those in audience with the pope; few were absent as Francis addressed Congress.  Yet some of these eager faces will reflect a far different countenance in the days to come as the country weighs national interests of short-term corporate health against interests of long-term personal, national and global well-being, of political postures versus strength of character, of support for military revolutions in contrast to Francis’ “revolution of tenderness and love.”  Here, we are seemingly diseased through our affluence and power.

The observations and questions posed here are not intended to be accusatory or pejorative to anyone other than perhaps myself.  To be sure, we are complex beings with internally competing motives that shape us day by day, even hour-by-hour.  We are human, imperfect by definition.  We cannot be perfectly consistent because we live in dynamic surroundings, some physical, some emotional, some spiritual.  We are subject to awesome and unexpected changes to our lives, alterations which can be both unanticipated and unexplainable.    Our world is transforming every day, in ways seen and unseen to most of us.

But almost despite those realities, Pope Francis has been able to reach out to the world with a message that has caught us off-guard but which is full of possibilities.  The receptivity to that message does not depend entirely in the voice of the deliverer, but in the hearts and minds of the rest of us.  Francis has asked us to be our best selves. Consistency between that ideal and our daily actions is entirely within our command.  Deep down, that’s why we’re so glad the pope is here, sharing his universal words of humility and hope, and why we long to embrace both him and his message….