Playing With Glyphs

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imageI’m sitting at Starbucks before heading to work and I get a the urge to play with making glyphs. Now, I’m no linguist and I’ve not spent time with any ancient glyphs, so I’m no authority here. I simply had a canvas that I had prepared in Procreate on my iPad and was thinking of looking up a cool Japanese symbol to add to it. But, since I don’t know any Japanese symbols, I’m at the mercy of websites to supply me the image and the meaning.

I don’t know about you, but that always scares me. Like what happens if the website says this is the symbol for purity, but it’s actually the symbol for dunce, as in “Look at this dunce who saw something on the Internet and copied it!” I decided instead to work through a short exercise of what it might be like to create my own glyphs, my own symbols to convey an idea.

It wasn’t terribly easy, and I’m aware that we’ve all seen symbols and used them all our lives. I can’t do this in a vacuum of experience or culture, but can I move somewhat outside of my own experience to make something a little new? It won’t be totally new, but maybe a little novel?

I chose to convey the idea of compassion, compassion being our ability to see the suffering of someone and feeling moved to alleviate the suffering. My glyph is read left to right, top to bottom. I decided to convey four distinct ideas with the glyphs to represent compassion. First, there is awareness, the eye, that is looking upon a person. Second, that person is suffering, as seen by the downward movement of the arrow. Third, there is identifying with that person and making a communal bond, when the curving walls bring us together, like cupping hands. The final and fourth idea is a reversal of the downward trend of life to an alleviation of the suffering, an upward arrow.

The value of this little exercise of mine was not the work of deciding how to draw a person or make an stylized eyeball, but it was the meditation on compassion as a movement, an action and a process. Can I live this way? Can I see people and move to identify with them and work together to bring healing? Do I want to? It seems to me that we have a daily choice to go beside people in their worst of times, or to retreat and hope that less is asked of us when next we meet someone. This decision was poignantly played out in the story Jesus told about the man we now call The Good Samaritan.

In that story we see two people choose to ignore the suffering of another person, and one person choose to face the suffering and help alleviate it. Jesus taught this story to illustrate love for one’s neighbor, for all of ine’s neighbors. The story transcended ethnic divides, religious divides and national divides. The story unites us as a single humanity that cares for one another. That’s a concept worthy of some imagination. That’s a story worth doodling and imagining as a template for our own walk down the road.

AMDG, Todd

Why Ashes?

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Lent cover
Some of my favorite Lenten music is from the Benedictines of Mary. You can find them on Apple Music,  Spotify or their website.

It’s Ash Wednesday again, and if you don’t have plans tonight I’d like to invite you to join my family at St. John’s Episcopal Church for the imposition of ashes and celebration of the Holy Eucharist. (I’m working all day and can’t make an earlier service.) We’ve come to another Lenten Season, a time of reflection, repentance, sometimes rededication. But, why ashes?

I think it’s fair to say that most of us don’t think about our death each day. And really it’s probably healthy for us not to be too focused on our impending deaths. Once in a while though, it’s good and it’s healthy to remember that our journey here on earth needs to be made with intention, and it needs to be made in view of the end and the destination of our journey.

     The ashes remind us in a very tangible way that our bodies are not eternal. The imposition of ashes and the words that are spoken in the services every year on Ash Wednesday remind us that our bodies will be a memory one day. Yet, we are also reminded that we are eternal beings, linked to the divine for all times. These shells, our mortal bodies, have meaning and purpose, but also have a timeframe in which they operate.
     With this in view we begin a another 40 day journey of reflection, of introspection. We begin a 40 day journey of looking over our lives and dreaming about what our lives may yet become. This is a journey that is taken in prayer, fasting and often with extra time built into each day for study and meditation. Lent can be an important time of spiritual reset, emotional strengthening, intellectual inspiration and much needed rest from the diversions that plague us and fatigue us throughout the rest of the year.
     Yes, I encourage you to fast during this time. I will be beginning my usual meat fast for the next 40 days. But more than just fasting from something, I would like to join the many voices every year that remind us that fasting is also about attaining something not just giving something up. Fasting also has a component of connection with others. I encourage you to think creatively, to dream and to imagine ways to go deeper with your faith, to grow deeper with others. I encourage you to think about your daily spiritual practices, and maybe put a finger on something that has been dropped or an important part of life that you’ve neglected. When we’re doing this kind of reflection, then we can take steps to strengthen up our spirits, to rebuild our intentions, and to refocus on the central things of life, both for ourselves and others. We’ll be blogging and working along these lines during the Lenten Season. Here’s a piece of one of my favorite passages about fasting, Isaiah 58; I’ll just leave it here…
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 
5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 
6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
i prayed     Our lives are often long and they are sometimes short. Our lives are marked by ups and downs, and our lives are often spent learning lessons and trying to remember the things we’ve been taught. Like the ashes which will wash away when you get home, or the next time you take a shower, our lives have a beginning and an end. The beginning is set for us, and is out of our hands. The end is also often provided for us without a lot of input from our wishes, desires or ideas of timing. But all those in-between days are the open fields in which we run, they are the canvases upon which we paint, and they are the paper upon which we have the opportunity to help write our stories.
     I bless you in this Lenten season. And I ask you to bless me. May we each be reminded in the best way and the most healthy way that we are not eternal upon this earth, but our lives are still pregnant with meaning and infused with God’s presence, God’s will and God’s love. Reflecting upon these things, it is my prayer that in the next 40 days we will be able to go deeper, deeper as individuals beloved of God and deeper together as the family God has made upon this earth.
     Oh, one last thing… I was asked if I would preach the sermon this coming Sunday night at the 5 PM service, February 14. If your Valentine’s Day plans will be concluded by five, I’d invite you to come worship with us at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, MD. It’s a blue jeans and sweatshirt kind of service, and an inclusive congregation that welcomes you as you are, so please feel a full and a complete invitation to come be with us.
AMDG, Todd

Mutual Love, February’s Intention

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Weekly Grace Feb 7 2016As we enter into February and the Lenten Season, let’s pray for a mutual love to deepen and expand among us, against all odds. Each week we’ll dig into a single biblical author’s thoughts or account of mutual love and we’ll re-affirm our own commitment to the love that should be growing between us.

It’s going to be my personal prayer this month that I will be able to grow in deeper love for the people who are least like me and think least like me. I believe I have more often been taught to try to change those people, or at least to avoid them. If I wasn’t taught to do so, then I have certainly learned through experience that this is usually the easiest course.

Perhaps with some prayerful creativity and reflection I can discover ways to listen to them better; I may even find some ways to more fully offer them the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, I will imagine some new ways for us to maintain our unique experiences and perspectives, but still coexist in harmony and shared love. It seems that when Paul was speaking to the church in Rome he fully expected them to be a diverse people, but never released from that debt of shared love.

Let’s just go ahead and accept it: we won’t awake tomorrow to find that everyone thinks and believes like we do, even in our own families or congregations. So, what’s next? Without a universal agreement on all doctrine and faith issues, may we still maintain a sense of mutual love and shared harmony? Without our complete similarity of conviction, may we nonetheless value and support one another’s spiritual journeys and affirm the mutual love and things we do share in common? It may go “against the grain” by some human sense, but that may just be the signal that we’re moving into a truly transformative practice. Lord, teach us to pray.

AMDG, Todd

An Unfinished Sketch

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IMG_1965I rarely show anything I’m doodling until it’s completely done, but I realized this morning that I haven’t opened my sketch book in a week! This is a piece I started a couple of weeks ago that I need to finish.

I recently made another move in my job with Apple, from retail sales back into the tech support group. It’s a step on my journey into a new role with Apple as I go full-time. I’m one our store’s newest Creative, joining the team that leads workshops and does training sessions. Until I finish my own training for my new position, I’m doing a lot of tech support for mobile devices again, and that can be a stressful job. We work with people in stressful situations. From the failure of a device to incidents of accidental damage, we are helping folks get through some anxiety filled time as they feel the withdrawal pains of being momentarily unplugged from our tech-connected lives.

One thing I do to prepare for each day at work is practice my work mantra on my drive to the store. It goes something like this:

I love my customers.
I am so glad I can serve them.
I love my customers.
I’m going to do my best for them, today.

This mantra helps me get in the mindset of service. It helps me center on the truth that our customers are coming to us with real needs, and my response must focus on those needs. It would be too easy to just become defensive or upset, to reflect back their anxieties and stress. No, I have to let their anxieties and frustrations be authentic and real, spoken and experienced, and let those anxieties and frustrations pass through me and past me without landing in my own spirit. Then, I’m ready to get down to business with helping them determine the best solution for their situation.

My mantra is an action of intentionally deciding what will be planted within me so that I can choose what I’ll be producing from the soil of my heart and mind. This is not just a service industry principle, but a life principle. I must choose the seeds of peace, compassion, empathy and love as what I cultivate within myself if I want to have those things to share with others. This is a daily effort, forever unfinished and being finished. I guess it’s ok to share a doodle before it’s done, as its unfinished state can meaningfully reflect the on-going becoming of life.

AMDG, Todd

Finishing a Month on Civility

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Weekly Grace Jan 31 2016I realized today that with the drama of Snowzilla last Sunday, I forgot to make a Weekly Grace! I mean, wow. I haven’t missed one in a few years. So, I wanted to make sure we finished and finished well this month of intention based around civility.

It’s an election cycle year, and it’s a pretty heated race for all concerned. That’s one reason I wanted to start the year on civility. Another reason is that sometimes it’s so hard to keep my words flowing from love. It’s so easy to let something else step in and drive my speech.

In our focal passage written to the church in Corinth, Paul says that nothing is as important as love. Nothing should be allowed to take it’s place. There’s no miraculous spiritual gift, no self-denial, not even any great knowledge or correctness that surpasses love. This is not a message that religious people like to hear. We are very enamored of our personal gifts and, oh my… our correctness? We often like to stake our very salvation on it or deny another person theirs.

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 
5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 
6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 
10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Paul says that his ability to understand every question and mystery is nothing if he does not have love for others. The capacity to love matters more than the capacity to be right. I won’t belabor this point too long, but come on! I think it’s one of the clearest passages that teach us that we should let our love help us understand more often than letting our understanding teach us to love.

Our civility will grow as we move more fully toward letting love take it’s place of preeminence in our lives. Our words will grow to reflect that we have matured past the idea that our own perceived correctness gives us license to fight, humiliate, defame or condemn. We will listen better, with more desire to understand one another. We’ll ask good questions, meant to free and not to trap. We’ll grow together as we share and understand one another better. This could be a good year, even with a presidential election.

AMDG, Todd

I Feel No Need to Destroy You

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oct 2 2012 civilityI don’t like what you said. I think your ideas and conclusions are flawed. But, I don’t need to hate you. I don’t need to silence you or destroy you. My ideas are not right by how wrong I make you sound, or by how much I manage to embarrass you. I will simply state with conviction my ideas and beliefs, and I’ll let you do the same.

I’m going to pull up a little reminder from my Civility exercise circa late 2012… for us to think differently, believe differently, and even fundamentally be different people, does not necessitate that you be “destroyed.” You don’t need to be labeled stupid, less, evil or a hypocrite, just because we are dissimilar.

Back in 2012 I said it this way, “An opportunity of civility: One who disagrees with you is not necessarily evil or an enemy.”

Here are a few screenshots of what I’m talking about…
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Dang, everyone is being destroyed. Can you guess what verses from scripture this makes me want to quote? Yep…

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

Galatians 5:13-15, NRSV

It’s a thing these days in social media for someone to be destroying someone else, but doesn’t mean we have to participate. I see it online everyday, and I see the term “destroy” used in religious debates, social debates and political debates. It doesn’t seem to be enough for a person to hold an opinion or a conviction, but there must also be some destruction going on.

When we do away with the need to be destroying someone, we open that door of opportunity. Stop and spend a few moments of time imagining ways to be a person of conviction without needing to be a person of competitiveness. Imagine conviction without condemnation (Need an image of conviction without condemnation? Try the story in John 8:1-11.) Imagine your cherished ideas being valuable in their own right, without needing to demean another person’s thoughts or ideas.

The fact is, if I destroy everyone who thinks differently than I do, I become less wise for the effort. I will grow less. I will face fewer challenges, which means I will spend less time reflecting and deepening my cherished ideas. I am simply lessened by destroying (I suppose this really means silencing) people who think differently than I do.

Now, I’m not trying to destroy people who have shared an article lately in which someone was destroyed. I’m asking if we can stop a minute and distance ourselves a bit from the sensationalist wording and headlines? May we also stop and reflect on the need to be so competitive and demeaning in our disagreements? State your convictions. Elaborate on them. Support them. But if you can’t do that without attacking someone else and demeaning them, please consider your ideas and how you formed them. Are they factually based and relevant, or are they simply more of the divisive fighting between “us and them” that we get so much of every day? Are we simply playing a game of who insults and demeans the other the best? I’ll leave that discernment to you.

AMDG, Todd

 

Lift Them Up!

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Weekly Grace Jan 17 to 23 2016One of the uses or blessings of civility is it’s ability too turn things around, to take a bad situation and make it better, to help a person having a bad day begin to have a better day. An important part of civility is acting out of that civil impulse to positively engage and support one’s community.

Do you see someone around you struggling? Do you see someone who needs encouragement? Lift them up! Be a person who spreads joy and increases peace in the world with kind words, encouraging and positive contributions.

The proverb in our Weekly Grace is at once obvious and such a needed reminder. Our words have an effect, so let’s plan for the best effect possible. As children in Sunday School classes we often put our fingers over lips and sang “O be careful little lips what you say!” and I hope we never grow too old for that lesson.

AMDG, Todd