WILDFLOWERS

We love to see a meadow of wild flowers

And take delight in sweet pea, bluebell, pansy

But if we try to pick and hold their beauty

We find they fade and wilt in only hours

 

Still after we have placed them in a vase

We love their delicate pedals and scent

Like flowers, time with friends is only lent

Though beauty in friendships gives life grace

 

And we love it when our friends are nearby

But time with friends tends to be uncertain

If long or short, impermanence is certain

People change; in time we’ll say goodbye

 

Buddhists say that joy in friend or lover

Still is dukkha, suffering or grief

I see the transient nature of all life

Yet still take joy, delight, and pleasure

As it is in friendship, love, or flower

SITUATIONAL ETHOS: SCRIPT AND CAST

Self is poured into the social structure

In which one is situated

Options of connection are dependent

On the system in which one is

One is as an actor pouring self into a role

But self is not a role, though he or she act

One is situated

 

Friends are determined

Whom one receives into one’s life

Casting from the script written by the social structure

In which one is situated

Much as my television dictates

The terms of my engagement

(So, tonight I resigned myself to Karate-Kid II)

But I did not choose it

 

Personality improvises

Within the plot structure scripted

By social structures in which

One is situated

Self persists, improvising, developing, and accumulating

Experiences, motivations that persist

As the moon under undulating waves

In the play in which

One is situated

BACK THEN

An old movie

Brought to mind

College friends

We talked about the movie

Back then

When we were friends

That memory

Plays like an old movie clip

People and Places and Time and Times

My friends from Boston are in their early 20’s

In my memory

They will always be in their early 20’s

As I will never see them again

Good times

My friends from Virginia will always be in their late 30’s

But for one I remain in contact with

I will never see them again

Impoverished and bitter, then, ambition

Florida was (only) thirteen years ago

And I’ve been back several times

So one would say their friendship continues

My musician friends in Edmonton know how it was here, is now

Club owners, evolution of clubs, live venues that closed

Band members from so many years ago—still in town—

Occasionally regrouping to play for a night or two

In with the locals

Me, an outsider

With all those ways and customs I assimilated,

Left, learned again

Tore away from

My last stand, here

This city home to one million

Chinese, Lebanese, Africans, Indigenous

Those who grew up here

Those like me

Here, tired of new ways, places, my last stand

ONE NIGHT STAND

A realization has been clarifying

Surfacing amid currents of incubation

From which my truths and convictions

Emerge, fix, and enlighten my ways

 

Living feels increasingly like

The experience of a one-night stand

So many—perhaps all—of my enjoyments

Lack permanence, will depart; will leave me bereft

 

Five years adjusting—enjoying—a life in a new city

Friendships I made, vocational commitments

Departing to another new city

Making friends, vocational commitments

 

And even persisting in one place a long time

Businesses grow, downsize, lay off

Long-established establishments adjust

To the market’s demands, aging demographics

 

When a person is young, time feels long

One year is like an eternity

And few things change in one year

So it looks like things will always be

 

But with the perspective of many years

And the witness of businesses, clubs, and restaurants that close

Friends who move away, get terminally sick

One sees that happiness is subject to fortune

 

And so one takes the pleasure that the moment affords

Knowing that it may end precipitously

And that enjoyment may be over

Yet one partakes in full, aware that it is fleeting

Awake to its transitory nature

Courageously enjoying, not denying

What happiness a given situation affords

Religious Blog

Who Is My Neighbor?

Amos 7:7-17                                       Luke 10:25-37                                     Psalm 82

I think we all know that we need to love the neighbor.  The question is very real, though, as to just how our neighbor is.  That was the question of the expert in Jewish law.

The question of the expert in Jewish law is valid.  When Jesus asks him what he reads in the Jewish law, the expert refers to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.  For this talk, the passage from Leviticus is our special interest.  The expert in the law had real grounds for asking who the neighbor is.  Leviticus seems to say that only the people of Israel are the neighbor.  That is, the neighbor is the same tribe that you live in.  Let’s look at the Leviticus passage.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:17-18).

See the wording.  The first line says not to hate your own kin, your relatives.  The next line says not to take revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people.  Then it says to love your neighbor as yourself.  So the context in which the command to love your neighbor appears is one of family and tribe.  The expert in the law knows this, and legitimately asks just who the neighbor is.

Jesus frames His answer in stark terms.  In His answer, Jesus shows that the neighbor is everyone.  He shows this in His story by making Orthodox Jews look uncompassionate and by making a member of a hated foreign tribe—the Samaritans—the example of love for the neighbor. In Jesus’ story, a man is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, in the nation of Israel.  He is robbed, beaten and left for dead.  A Jewish priest not only passes the man by, but he crosses the street to avoid him.  Then a Levite, from the priestly tribe in Israel, does the same thing—he crosses the street to avoid the beaten and robbed man.  What is striking in this story, and ironic, is that the priest and Levite cross the street because of their Jewish religion.  According to Jewish law, contact with a dead body rendered the individual ritually unclean.  Leviticus 22:4-7 dictates that coming in contact with a corpse renders a person unclean, and a priest cannot perform rites and sacraments in the Temple while unclean.  In fact, a priest cannot even eat the food in the Temple, which they lived on, while ritually unclean.  They would remain unclean until sunset and after they had washed in water.  So to prevent ritual uncleanness, the priest and the Levite cross to the other side of the road to avoid contact with what they took to be a dead man.  So the leaders of the Jewish religion avoid the beaten and robbed man.  But a foreigner, from a heretical tribe, who were hated by the Jews, shows compassion and becomes the example of love for the neighbor.  By the end of the story, it is not the religion of the Jews that is the example of love for the neighbor, it is not even the status of a foreigner that is the example of love for the neighbor, but it is the capacity of compassion, which everyone can possess.

This is a uniquely religious message.  I think that most people show compassion to their friends and family.  This is a kind of self-love.  One’s friends and family belong to them.  They are extensions of self.  They exchange love for each other and they care for each other’s welfare.  But what about other people whom one has no special connection to?

Ethics philosophers have written much about this.  They talk about care for “near and distant” neighbors.  Who deserves our care most?  Is it our friends and family first?  Is it the people of our city?  Is it our Province?  Do we take care of our Country first?  Those would be considered near neighbors.  They are close to us.

But what are we to do with distant neighbors?  That is, people with whom we have no special connection.  Strangers.  People of different countries.  People we don’t know.

I would like to tell two stories about these issues.  One story is about me a long time ago at Urbana University.  The other is about an experience Carol and I had in Chicago, not even a week ago.

I was very rule-oriented when I was young.  I had principles I followed.  I had strict interpretations of Christianity and ethics.  One of my principles was that I treated everyone equally.  I had no room for particular recipients of good.  I showed good-will to everyone equally.  At least that is what I tried to do.  Well after I had been at Urbana University for a year, at the start of the next new semester a Swedenborgian student enrolled.  One of the Swedenborgian professors who knew her and her family, asked me to take her under my wing, and show her the ropes in order to make her feel at home at this new school, new place.  Well, due to my philosophy, I said that I would treat Debbie the way I treated everyone else at the University.  I had no room in my ethics to give Debbie special attention.  Kind of heartless; but that was how I saw things back then.  Distant neighbors deserved the same kindness as near neighbors.  The professor and everyone else didn’t get my ethics.  And, of course, now I would do things much differently.

Fast-forward 40 years.  Carol and I are schlepping our big suitcases down a sidewalk of downtown Chicago.  We were trying to get to the subway, to catch a train to the airport.  In Chicago, almost all the doors are revolving doors.  We tried to get into an office building because they had an elevator down to the subway and we didn’t fancy lugging our heavy suitcases down a flight of stairs.  Well the particular office building we were going into had one of those revolving doors.  I stumbled and lurched in the revolving door, trying to get me and my suitcase around in the narrow partition of the revolving door.  A security guard in the office building saw my difficulty.  I managed to get through, but he saw what a struggle it was.  Carol was still outside.  He told her to hold on a minute, and he opened another door—a regular door—with his keys, and got her into the building through a secure door which he opened for her.  Then he used his key to access the elevator for us.  We didn’t know that the elevators weren’t for the general public!  This was amazing for us.  He didn’t know us.  It was obvious that we didn’t have business in the building.  We were clearly tourists from distant parts.  Yet this security guard went out of his way to help us get into the building.  He was being a real neighbor to us.  Distant neighbors.

We got into the elevator and down to the subway turnstile.  The attendant there helped us use the handicap doorway to get our luggage through to the train.  Then we looked at the tracks and saw a long stairway down to the train tracks.  We weren’t ready for this.  Well as it happened, a Latino man and his daughter were going down to the tracks, too.  And the man stopped Carol, took up her suitcase and carried it down the stairs for her.  He didn’t know us, would never see us again, and he helped us, anyway.  And Carol wanted me to add that he and his daughter earned a hug from her for this.

The security guard and the Latino man were good neighbors to us.  I wasn’t much of a good neighbor to Debbie at Urbana University.  Situations to be good neighbors present themselves to us all the time.  We help our friends and families without a second thought.  But when we help someone who isn’t friend or family, it is entirely that they will become friends.  There is a man in my condo complex whom I have seen in the halls.  I say, “Hi,” and sometimes get a, “Hi,” back.  But recently someone had jammed some paper in the door lock into the complex to keep the door unlocked.  The guy I had met in the hallways was picking at the paper with a key, trying to get it out of the door.  I went back to my car and got out a dart I kept there for when Carol and I used to play darts.  The dart worked well, and the man got out all the paper.  That one moment bonded us a bit.  We now have a closer connection that we had before.

The neighbor is everyone, everywhere we can do good to.  Do you know who the closest neighbor is?  It is God.  God is the greatest neighbor.  Whenever we do good, we are doing good for God.  Jesus said, “When you have done it to the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it to me” (Matthew 25:40).  With God as our spiritual parent, we are all children of God.  So from a spiritual perspective, everyone is a near neighbor.  Care for distant neighbors doesn’t prohibit us from care for near neighbors, too.  Our friends and family are natural neighbors.  God and the people around us are spiritual neighbors.  Let’s keep our eyes open for the privilege of doing good whenever it presents itself to us, to everyone to whom we can do good.