Greenleaf writes: This is my present leading: I must better establish my own bond with the great events of story and history in which man’s potential for nobility has been tested and refined so that my search can be more a carrying forward from these events through my own experience.  Much as I value the tradition in which I live I feel a compelling obligation to leave it a mite better than I found it. 

As I have noted in previous postings: Our Founding Fathers were clear – democracy, as they defined it, is rooted in an educated citizenry.  Greenleaf, it seems to me, is referring directly to this when he writes about his obligation to ‘establish my own bond with the great events of story and history.’  How many of us citizens today actually have immersed ourselves in our own story and history so that we can make informed decisions?   

Our Founding Fathers created a representative democracy rooted in ‘The Bill of Rights’ and ‘The Rule of Law’ so that ALL of us would be response-able, responsible and accountable.  They also held an image that each of us has the potential to become the ‘noble’ individuals and that ‘we’ have the potential to become the ‘noble’ society that a representative democracy requires. 

As representatives of a democracy we are also required (is ‘required’ too strong a concept; I think not) to enhance our traditions so that we will leave them a mite better.  This is the legacy we will leave to those who follow us.  How many of us have actually embraced this challenge?  What is the legacy we are currently leaving to those who will follow us?

If our Founding Fathers were to appear and judge us – individually and collectively – how would we fare?  If they gave us a quiz – one that would reveal how well-educated we truly are when it comes to having learned what we needed to learn regarding our ‘story and history’ so we could responsibly add to our story and history in ways that enhanced the nobility of ALL – how would we fare? 

In our most recent national election we actually had folks who sought our votes pride themselves on ‘not knowing’ anything about ‘politics.’  They pride themselves on being ‘political-outsiders.’  Democracy is rooted in – its health and well-being depend upon – an electorate that is ‘politically savvy.’  Each of our Founding Fathers was deeply immersed in the ‘political system’ – democracy requires this of its members.  A fear our Founding Fathers had was that we citizens would not commit to the political education necessary to carry on, and add to, their vision.  That our distain for political education would create a void and the ‘strong man’ would step in and fill the void.

The strong man would tell us, ‘I alone can make it happen’ and we would abdicate our response-ability and responsibility and follow him (history is full of ‘strong men’ and the resulting destruction they caused – and history is full of folks who said, ‘this will never happen here for this strong man is not like the others’ – when, in effect, all ‘strong men’ morph into despots.  Lord Acton was right – ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’!).

So, Gentle Reader, what is your present leading

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Greenleaf writes: …two kinds of seekers: those who seek to find and those who seek to seek.  The first see the search as a path toward finding something they want.  …The others are interested in the search.  …The search gives them joy.  …These descriptions represent tendencies rather than clear types, tendencies that shape choices, and choice makes the seeker. 

After I wrote these words I sat for a time and reflected upon them.  As I was holding Greenleaf’s words an image appeared upon my mental-screen.  The image was of the great cellist, Pablo Casals.  He was a searcher without a destination. 

When Casals was 90 years old, the story goes, a young reporter was granted an interview.  The interview was to take place at Casals home.  The interview was to take place at 1pm.  The young reporter showed up at Casals front door at 12:45pm.  Casals manservant greeted the young reporter and escorted him to a sitting room.  The manservant told the young man that Casals was just about to finish his daily four hours of practice and that he would join the young man in the sitting room a little after 1pm. 

The young man began to think about Casals practicing four hours a day.  Shortly after 1pm Casals appeared, greeted the young reporter and sat down.  The young reporter began: ‘I don’t get it,’ he said, ‘you are Pablo Casals the greatest cellist in the world…why are you practicing four hours a day?’  Casals smiled the smile of the wise and softly responded, ‘I practice four hours a day in order to improve!’  Now, for me, Gentle Reader this is a powerful description of a searcher/seeker.

I first heard this story many years ago and the lesson, for me, was an invitation and a challenge: When am I going to seek to find and when am I going to seek simply for the joy that comes with the search?   I search more often for the joy and the challenge and the learning that comes with the search.  I have been playing golf for sixty-five years – talk about a ‘search’.  I love to read and I am always searching for that word, sentence, idea, concept, etc. that challenges me or that stimulates my thinking or my curiosity. 

I have spent my adult years searching for the ‘truths’ that lie within a wide-variety of faith and humanist traditions.  I am not a ‘planner.’  I am a seeker and searcher and as a result I have had more life experiences than most folks.  I have found that the Quaker idea of ‘Way Opening’ has been a powerful guideline for me.  I cannot begin to count the number of ‘Ways Opening’ that I would have missed if I had been a ‘destination-seeker.’  For me, ‘seek and ye shall find’ – not a destination but the ‘Way Opening’ – has been one of my main life-mantras. 

How about you, Gentle Reader – Do you seek to find or seek to seek or. . .?   

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Greenleaf writes: Can the seeker accept this about his search, that there is no way, no well- marked path? If there were such a way…there would be an assurance of accomplishment, a promise of certainty.  There would be something…which when found would end the search.  And life at that point would be empty.

The words of the great American Poet, Robert Frost, emerged into my consciousness as I reflected this morning on this passage: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.  We are, as human beings, called to be the surveyors of our own paths – a challenge that too many of us, it seems, shy away from.  How many of us want to follow the paths that others have traveled – or that others have laid out for us to follow rather than choose to survey our own path(s)? 

Frost is clear: following the less traveled road does not guarantee anything other than that by following this path all the difference will be made.  Choosing to be a seeker in this way requires ‘faith’ not ‘surety.’  Choosing to be a seeker does not guarantee ‘certainty.’  How many of us strive for a life of ‘certainty,’  ‘predictability,’ ‘security’ and ‘achievement of goals’ (think: status or wealth or power)? 

Now, goals are crucial.  However there is, as Greenleaf notes, a trap.  To become obsessed with a goal and then to achieve the goal leads to a life that is empty.  Don’t believe me?  Perhaps you would believe Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut.  He tells us that he became obsessed with traveling to and walking on the moon.  He accomplished his ‘destination’ and when he returned to earth he became greatly depressed for life no longer held any meaning for him. 

Thankfully he survived and learned that to become obsessed with ‘A Destination’ was, in effect, a soul-killer: whether you reached your destination or not you put your soul at risk (think: life, passion, reason-for-living, etc.).  The poet David Whyte tells us that when our inner fire is extinguished (think: achieving our obsession) then our body fills with dense smoke and we suffocate from within.

Greenleaf was a Quaker and the Quakers have a wonderful concept: ‘Way Opens-Way Closes.’  If I become obsessed with a destination I will miss ‘way-opening.’  The searcher and seeker will, as part of his or her searching and seeking, strive to be awake and aware in order to discern ‘way-opening.’  When one perceives ‘way-opening’ then one has to choose.  The choice often involves choosing to follow the road less traveled; it often involves becoming a surveyor of new paths (at least ‘new paths’ for the searcher and seeker).  There are, of course, accomplishments and near-accomplishments and non-accomplishments along the way; this is the way life is.  Failure only truly occurs once one stops or, as Buzz Aldrin reminded us, when one has reached an obsessed-full destination. 

In closing this morning, I am reminded of the insight of Walt Whitman: Now, understand me well – It is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.

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Greenleaf writes: A distinguished Rabbi and scholar had just finished a talk on the prophets in which he had spoken of the false prophets and the true prophets.  “How,” a questioner asked him, “does one tell a false prophet from a true prophet?”  His answer was simple though it left the questioner puzzled), “there is no way!”

Greenleaf quoted the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (a close friend of Greenleaf’s).  Heschel wrote a powerful treatise, ‘The Prophets’ and I invite you, gentle reader to check it out; Heschel’s insights might resonate with you (or, at minimum, challenge your thinking). 

Some say there are no more prophets and others, myself included, say that as long as we humans search and seek in certain ways that prophets will ‘reveal  themselves’ and they will speak to us.  Some of these prophets will be ‘god-sent’ to us (depending upon what one believes, these prophets will fit a traditional definition of ‘prophet’: a person who speaks for a deity via divine inspiration).  Then, there are ‘other’ prophets who ‘show up’ when the searcher and seeker is ‘ready.’  The great Chinese sage noted that ‘when the student is ready the teacher will appear.’ This ‘prophet’ is the inspired teacher that is waiting to be called forth (some believe that this teacher resides within each of us and is available to each of us). 

Then, other prophets predict the future; they have the gift of foresight.  Then, again, some prophets are spokespersons for a ‘Movement’ or a ‘Cause’ or a ‘Doctrine.’ 

For us, in our country, preceding and during an ‘election year’ there are many ‘prophets’ attempting to guide us or influence us or convince us.  Some of them are seeking our votes and some are ‘surrogates’ for those seeking our votes.  Some are ‘prophets of old’ who re-emerge every four years.  Some of these folks are faith-based prophets.  Some are spokespersons for a ‘party’ or a ‘cause’ or a ‘movement’ or a ‘doctrine’ (think; ‘trickle-down’), or an ideology (think: white supremacy). 

Some of us seek the prophets that will confirm our beliefs, values, assumptions, stereotypes, prejudices and/or judgments.  Some of us seek prophets that will challenge us to reflect, think, search and seek.  Some of us seek prophets that confirm ‘THE TRUTH’ and some of us seek prophets that will confirm that ‘MANY TRUTHS’ exist. 

We judge these many prophets.  Unlike Heschel we believe we know which prophets are ‘true prophets’ and which ones are ‘false prophets’ (in this we are, in fact, prophets ourselves).  We forget that only over-time (think: hindsight) will some of these prophets be revealed as ‘true’ or ‘false’ while others will be ‘labeled’ ‘true’ or ‘false’ simply because of what ‘we believe’ not because they have ‘revealed’ themselves as ‘true’ or as ‘false’ prophets. 

I have already decided which ‘label’ – ‘true’ or ‘false’ – to pin onto a number of those ‘political prophets.’  I am also aware that some of the ‘false prophets’ from the last election cycle have now revealed themselves to be ‘true’ prophets during this cycle.  Thus far I have not discerned that some of the ‘true’ prophets from the last election cycle have now revealed themselves to be ‘false’ prophets (to me, at least). 

Gentle reader: Do you believe that prophets exist today?  If you do, what types of prophets exist for you?  Do you define ‘prophet’ in faith-based terms or in terms that include a variety of definitions?  Personally, I like the ‘many definitions’ of prophet.  The questions, however, are the same for all of us: How do we discern the ‘true’ from the ‘false’ prophet?  Are we willing to be response-able and responsible and strive to identify and ‘name’ both the ‘true’ and the ‘false’ prophets who are speaking to us during this election cycle? 

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Greenleaf writes: It will never be easy to live your life optimally.  There will be obstacles, always… What will some of these obstacles be?  …First, the pressure of time – you will have too much to do… You will have to choose – life’s most difficult task.  …then there will be distractions, plenty of distractions.  …to clarify for yourself, what you believe about yourself.  …Leo Tolstoy [provided us a guide when he wrote] ‘I believe that the sole meaning of my life lies in living by that light which is within me.’ 

Although Greenleaf wrote these words many years ago they are still important words for us ‘busy-body post-modern’ folks.  For example, we continue to be told (think: ‘sold a bill of goods’) that technology will ‘free us up’ and ‘give us more time’ to do the things we enjoy doing.  I know few folks who say they actually have ‘more time’ to do the things they enjoy doing.  ‘Free Time’ is an illusion for many folks.  Students, for example, actually have ‘less time’ available to them as a result of technology.  Working folks actually have less time available to them (my adult children will attest to this).  The ‘pressure of time’ continues to be a major pressure that washes over us on a daily basis – it is not a ‘cool cleansing wave’ that washes over us, it is the raging out of control tsunami that is drowning us each day.

Greenleaf was also correct in that we have to choose and this is one of life’s most difficult tasks.  To complicate our choices: We do not have to choose between one or two or even three things; we have to choose among a vast number of things.  When I was a child my parents would take me and my siblings to buy honey from   the honey-bee keeper.  Once, when my children were 8 and 6 years of age and we were visiting my parents, I decided to take them to the honey-bee keeper in order to purchase some honey.  When we arrived we were confronted with more than twenty varieties of honey to choose from.  Again, technology alone has provided us with more choice – not less.  And our busy life-styles have increased the ‘pressure of time.’  So we have more choice plus more ‘time pressure.’  Yet, choose we must.

We live in the age of anxiety and distraction.  These two are siblings connected at the hip.  We are, it seems to me, addicted to distraction just as much as we are addicted to ‘busyness’ and ‘speed’ (we are suffering from a ‘Hurry Sickness’).  How many folks run to ‘reality T.V.’ in order to become distracted from the pressures and anxieties of their lives? 

How many of us actually take the time to discern what it is we truly believe about ourselves.  How many of us are aware of the ‘light’ that is in us; the light that can guide us?  If we view our inner light as a ‘fire of passion’ then how hot is our inner fire?  What are we truly, deeply passionate about?  Do we take the time to discern and to choose – to be response-able and responsible?  Are we so whelmed over by distraction and so immersed in anxiety that we are unable to stop, step-back, reflect and choose (to choose ‘wisely’)? 

I leave us this morning with Tolstoy’s ‘wisdom distilled’:

  • Remember, there is only one important time, and that time is now
  • Remember, the most important one is always the one you are with
  • Remember, the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side
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