EXPECTATIONS OF THE GREAT SOUL

Aristotle’s “great soul,” high-minded,” “magnanimous” person expects, deserves

Great things—Which are . . . ?

The world’s greatest benefit is the attribution of honor

People find wealth, fame, and power attractive

But such things, and such people, are fatuous

The attribution of honor above all rests on the good person

Sadly, is this the way of the world?

Good people love the good, and honor attaches to love

Craving for honor can detach from love

Fatuous honor so acquired

Judgments, judgmental, praise and antipathy

The necessary tasks in self-perfection

Secular sins for psycho-babble, hence popular parlance

 

The great soul bears intervals of fortune with equanimity

And so expects not position, occupation, income

I expect, expected, position, occupation

I spat out my bitterness and contempt

“Take away the thought, ‘I have been harmed,’

“And you take away the harm.”

Taking Epictetus to heart, I rethought my expectations, my bitterness

The great soul, if he or she exist

In all things remains equanimous

I struggle; good men can

Perhaps in another world, or at another time

I’ll be at peace

Some glad morning

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SONNET: WEALTH IN POVERTY

School taught me life with meager earning

I learned to live, and also to live well

During the time I devoted my life to learning

I learned that the best things markets don’t sell

 

My material possessions now give

The means to continue to learn and grow

Impoverishment is showing me a better way to live

Books, guitar, and Bach on the piano

 

Excess wealth can turn into complacency

And self-absorbed indifference to others

Time can pass in mindless frivolity

In egotistical isolation from our sisters and brothers

 

Impoverished circumstances can be abundant

And meager income become, in fact, a major grant

THE LESSON FOR TODAY (Not Necessarily a Poem)

Dollars and debts and interest compounding

Stocks and bonds and dividends

The bottom line and profit margins and markets

The economic drive some ride into obscene wealth

The likes of these bought Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

For the highest price ever in the ‘80’s

While Van Gogh, himself, died impoverished

Having sold only one painting in his lifetime

The likes of Van Gogh aren’t concerned with

Dollars and debts and interest compounding

His ecstasy was discovering how to paint a tree

The purchase of Sunflowers contributed to the GDP

But the production of the same didn’t

Obscene profits are no real incentive

Is Jesus’ Message Dead?

I can’t believe that Jesus’ message is dead.  I think that, rather, what Christian churches have done with it may be dead.  Churches and church services are not necessarily what Jesus’ message is all about.  I say this as a Christian minister.

I’ve recently been reading carefully the Gospel of Matthew, focusing on Jesus’ words.  Jesus is about looking at the heart.  Jesus is about spiritual values, not materialism.  Jesus is about forgiveness.  Jesus is about opening up to foreigners and outsiders.  Jesus is about helping those less fortunate.  Jesus is about healing.  Jesus is about love.  Jesus is about connection with God.  I can cite chapter and verse for these assertions.

Is our society opposed to these messages?  I don’t think so.  I think that society basically would agree with these ideas.

What kind of world would oppose ideas like this?  It would be, one by one, a society that doesn’t look at the heart, that only looks at outward acts, that wants only more and greater status symbols and material goods, that lives for revenge, that hates foreigners, that only cares about one’s friends and family and no one else, that cares nothing for the poor, weak, and orphaned, that hurts instead of healing, that hates, that disbelieves and cares only about self.  Is this the world we live in?  Maybe.  But I hope not.

It is true that the world sends us messages, largely through TV commercials that run counter to Jesus’ message.  Expensive car commercials show people who are superior to others, or are superior by some standards.  That is a dual message: 1) buy an expensive car; and 2) be better than everyone else.  There are many movies whose plots turn around revenge.  It’s not “good guys versus bad guys.”  Rather it’s more and more, “You killed a loved one so I’m going to get you.”  So there are messages in the world that run counter to Jesus’ message.

But driving around town, I see a lot of Hondas and Fords on the road, so it’s not true that the world is populated by ubermenschen driving expensive cars.  I think most of society is people living with a beloved partner, or a circle of friends, going to work and coming home and trying to do the right thing.  Then there’s the issue of God.

A lot of people, I think, don’t have much room for God.  It’s not that they disbelieve, it’s that they have no time for God, no need for God.  You can’t separate God from Jesus’ message.  Maybe that’s why it may look like Jesus’ message is dead.  It’s certainly true that self-sufficiency is a strong drug.  Making it on your own; self-made man or woman.  Top of the heap.  Number one.

Then there’s the issue of church.  I think about young people clubbing to those insipid songs with pounding rhythm, overpowering bass tones, monotonous melodies.  Then I think about the 17th and 19th century hymns that we typically sing on Sunday.  And the notion of sitting still for an hour listening to me pray, read from the Bible, and preach.  It’s not surprising that some people would have other things to do.  And none of that is a necessary part of the Jesus message.  It is true that Jesus taught in synagogues and read the Scriptures in them.  And I think that Biblical literacy is important.  But that doesn’t mean the traditional church services that have evolved over millennia.  Nor does Christianity mean the vocal, politically-motivated proselytizing, self-righteous right-wing form that seems to get all the attention and would define all Christianity by their own style.  Indeed, all religion.

I think that society has been shaped by Judeo-Christian values.  We think that soup kitchens, Habitat-for Humanity, health care, minimum wage, friendliness, doing a good turn daily are good things.  While there are counter-messages to the Jesus message, I think that a lot of people would be attracted to what Jesus says, if they read His words freshly and without the lens of tradition and church.  While some churches exclude unbelievers, Jesus included everyone He contacted.  He even dined with a Pharisee on at least one occasion.  While churches are dwindling, I still think that Jesus’ message lives.

Shelley and that Contentment Surpassing Wealth

Shelley makes reference to “that content surpassing wealth/The sage in meditation found,/And walked with inward glory crowned” (Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples).  The poet laments that he doesn’t have that content, but notices that, “Others I see whom these surround–/Smiling they live, and call life pleasure.”  It’s likely not my place to say whether I walk with inward glory, but I do number myself among those who have that content surpassing wealth.  That is, usually I have that content surpassing wealth.  Lately, I’ve been telling my acquaintances that I’m wealthy.  When they raise their eyebrows, I clarify by saying that I feel wealthy.  I have everything I want.  An outside observer, looking at my possessions, likely would wonder how I could feel that way.  My condo is small, I drive a 10-year-old Honda, my material possessions are few, my clothes are not expensive.  But the possessions I do have satisfy my wants superbly.  The contentment surpasses wealth probably because it depends on a certain attitude toward wealth.

 

When an individual isn’t concerned with wealth, then lacking it doesn’t sting.  Then there are the other things a person can concern oneself with that don’t cost much, but reward much.  A good paperback book doesn’t cost much.  And the satisfaction one receives from a good book contributes greatly to the contentment sages in meditation find.  A good book and reflection on it, is a sagely undertaking.  A Beethoven symphony can be downloaded for $9.99.  Time spent with a Beethoven symphony is a sagely undertaking.  Each piece of great art works on the soul, making the individual different after each encounter.  Art and knowledge form a person’s psyche.  A psyche who seeks an encounter with something spiritual, like a Turgenev novel, will find contentment.  My edition of Turgenev cost me $21.00, and will last me weeks, and then the lasting satisfaction my soul will enjoy after my encounter with it.  But a psyche who chases wealth, power, status, and fame will likely not find contentment.  They are all unquenchable cravings, and no matter how much of each one possesses, it will never be enough.

 

Lately, my spiritual seeking has been leading me into discontent.  I am planning to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which is being held in Toronto this year.  Finding lodging I can afford, securing a flight, and negotiating the public transportation of a foreign city are all anxiety provoking, and a strain on my modest finances.  But having attended the previous one in Salt Lake City, I anticipate an ultimately rewarding and fulfilling experience in Toronto.  The temporary anxiety that goes into the achievement of this spiritual goal will be rewarded with a lasting spiritual formation in my soul, during and after the event.  With my aspirations set on humanistic and spiritual acquisition, I expect to continue through my life, as I do now, according to Shelley’s words, “Smiling they live, and call life pleasure.”

Joking about Wealth

I made jokes, maybe taunts

At the trappings of wealth

The clothes, the cars

In my poverty

My indifference to wealth

But we were all friends, then

It was all in good fun

 

It’s not fun, now

And we’re not friends, now

Getting and Spending

I think that western society finds its amusement primarily in spending money.  I know that I do.  It’s a real kick buying something new.  Almost more fun than enjoying the new thing that I buy.  William Wordsworth wrote this in his poem, THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US.  “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/Getting and spending, we lay waste to our powers.”  I wanted to entitle this blog simply, “Spending.”  But we also enjoy getting–just not as much as spending, I think.

We hear about how much poverty there is in the world, largely in developing nations.  But what we don’t hear about is community.  I’ve been impoverished and completely contented and happy.  This was in a small, rural town.  I spent many an evening sitting on back porches with friends, talking as the sun went down.  Or visiting with an elder family I knew.  Or basking in the sunlight on a summer afternoon with friends.  I read more philosophy then, drank but little.  Friends mattered more to me than they do now.

Now I’m more comfortable financially and it seems there’s always something I want.  I walked away from the casino today, which is all about getting and spending and only about it, with modest gains.  And I wrangled mentally about what I should have bet to make even more.  The stock market is the same–all based on getting and spending.  I just bought a new wool coat, but it’s too formal to wear to the blues club.  I’m thinking about buying a new leather bomber jacket.  Getting and spending.

I met only one person who said, “I have enough money.”  And that’s the only time I heard it in my life.  This person bought pots and pans for a women’s shelter with the extra money he had.  When I hear about poverty in the world, I wonder if the society in question has a sense of community that might their emotional wants more than spending would.  As was the case with me in my days of poverty in the small town.  In a society that derives its enjoyment from spending, as is ours, poverty is most certainly a curse.  But maybe poor societies are richer than ours.  (I most certainly am not talking about world hunger, which is a decidedly different issue.)  I’m not sure we can measure happiness by a culture’s ability to spend.  The cures may well be that we do measure our happiness by our capacity to spend.