Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Personal Note

If you will indulge me a pause for a reflective moment …

The end of 2016 is also the completion of ten years of social commentary postings on the Thoughts From The Mountain blogsite. It is also the completion of seven years of spiritual messages on the Our Spiritual Way blogsite. There have been 221 individual essay-ettes on the Thoughts site; 95 essay-ettes on the Spiritual site. An estimated 300,000 words. So many words. Oftentimes when I am staring at the calendar looking at the next posting due date, I wonder, “What else is there to write about? What else is left to say.” Yet, inevitably, some topic ultimately presents itself. Thereby, another posting hits the digital landscape.

When I first heard the call to start writing these blogs, the principal question for me – besides whether I was qualified or not to speak on these subjects – was what would be my “niche.” Did I have something new to add to the dialog, rather than just repeating commentary already provided by other writers? There are literally thousands of blogs out there, wandering the internet in search of an audience. Some are well-written, contributing to expanding our knowledge and nourishing our personal growth. Others, not so much. If I have nothing new and of real substance to offer to you, then I do not need to be just another piece of clutter in your inbox.

My goal with the Thoughts blog is not to just react to individual events as they come down the pike. There are plenty of sources in place already for that commentary. Rather, I am always trying to find the broader principles, the larger themes, the historical context for what passes through these events of our daily lives. Such encompassing themes always exist; the difficulty is in unearthing them. The blog is simply a way to sort out for myself whatever insights I may come up with, and to share them with you. They may or may not be meaningful or applicable to you and where your life’s journey has taken you thus far, but I leave that assessment to you. Hopefully you will be stimulated and able to take my thoughts and build upon them to discover your own insights – insights that will excite and inform your thinking.

The same principles apply to the Spiritual blog. Frankly, I try to stay out of denominational, institutional, and religious dogma discussions. There are no lack of such religious issues generating much strong discussion, and plenty of religious speakers more than ready to comment on them. Issues such as of the meaning of, and the direction for, the church in today’s society, and who has the “right” answers about these questions. Yet even in the midst of such often heated confusion, there are many small congregations, and individual congregants, doing such very good things, often going unpublicized. They remain true to the core beliefs of their faith, do not unduly burden others with that faith, and genuinely reflect the best examples of their founding Teachers regardless of denominational and institutional pressures. My personal spiritual pursuit is to find the fundamental spiritual lessons that transcend separate religions, scriptures, geography, cultures, and national borders. Because in the end, the one thing that we share is that we are all human beings. We may have different beliefs about how we got here, and what is expected of us now that we are here. But underneath the skin, and beyond the intellectual corners of our minds, we all think, react, and seek similar things. We all know fear; we all often feel overwhelmed by this Life we barely understand; we are all making up our way as we go; we all embrace joy; we are all interrelated and affected by each other. If we ever get around to embracing those commonalities instead of beating up on each other, that is where we will find true transcendent spirituality.

One of my disappointments in the recent election campaign of personalities that we witnessed was that issues of substance, very vexing problems needing fresh thinking leading to genuine solutions, got completely ignored and drowned out in the buzzword conversations that passed for national debate. Needed conversations on social and spiritual topics that underpin our secular life were also buried under the campaign noise. In 2017 my intention for these blogs is to get out from under this suffocating blanket of coarse arguments and move back to discussions of ideas. We will never find the commonality and humanity that we seek as long as we are overwhelmed by these tsunamis of personalities. Observing the events of our daily lives is like looking at a small, cropped photograph of division and conflict. It is in the quest of the bigger picture, the glaring, expansive billboard of our social and spiritual landscape, that we will find the love, unity and compassion that we seek.

I intend to continue my search to know more today than I did yesterday. To understand just a little bit better that which I did not fully grasp yesterday. To be a little more skeptical about what I may think I believe. And to put such insights that I may have to good use in my relationships with others – including each of you. Relationships that hopefully will continually be made better. None of us has the full Truth about anything. Every person, thing or idea is inherently too complex, too expansive, for us to find solely on our own. So we learn best by sharing each of our individual discoveries, pulling Truth together like pieces of a vast mosaic artwork. When we come to see divergent opinion not as a threat to our thinking and well-being, but as an opportunity to add more bits and pieces to a continually broadening perspective and understanding, then we can progress together to a better place for all.

So with your permission if not indulgence, I begin a new decade of writing, for as short or long as God determines that my life still has some worthwhile contributions to offer. Writing that seeks to be built upon deep reflection, factual accuracy, historical connection, respect to those involved, exploring differing perspectives of belief, while giving voice to that which frequently goes unsaid. Perhaps thereby you will begin another decade of reading alongside. Thank you for your interest, support, and feedback as I have traveled this long pathway. I am quite sure there will be plenty to talk about in the months and years ahead. In the meantime, I wish you many times of quiet reflection, joy and love during this coming year. Peace be within you.

©   2016   Randy Bell               www.OurSpiritualWay.blogspot.com


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Happy Holidays Redux

Back in December 2007, I wrote a post about a rising national protest from some Americans. They were complaining about being instructed to say “Happy Holidays” to their customers instead of wishing them “Merry Christmas.” This gag order was seen as an infringement on their religious rights, and yet another assault on the public expression of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Since then, this religious persecution mantra has resurfaced on an annual basis, sponsored in part by Fox News stoking the fire. After these many years of argument, we really need to put this issue back into the Church where it belongs, and out of the public debate and business marketplace.

When we look to extend a greeting or good wish to another person, the presumption is that our goal is to honor that person’s life and aspiration. When we send someone a Get Well card, it is not we who are sick but another who is suffering. When we send a Congratulations card to a recent graduate, it is not we who are walking across that commencement stage. The premise is that we extend good feelings to someone for what is happening in THEIR life, not ours.

The story and celebration of Jesus’ birth is a remarkable yet decidedly Christian event. However, there are millions of non-Christians in this country, almost one-third of our population. Many of us no longer live in isolated homogeneous communities, but increasingly we live intermixed all together.  One can choose to “spread the Gospel” in the winter holiday time to those not looking to receive it, or one can express true love and acceptance of each other and honor their respective celebrations.  People who insist on the “right” to wish a Merry Christmas to people whose traditions of observance are different are in fact being very selfish.  They are looking to make themselves feel better, not the person they are addressing. They are not seeking to truly spread “joy and good will to others,” but to themselves. Does a Christian you expect a Jew to wish you a Happy Hanukkah?

On the website http://www.interfaith-calendar.org/2016.htm, there are 19 religious holidays listed as celebrated in December, and 21 in January. They include a number of generalized “Christian” observances, but many are reflective only of one denomination of Christianity: Christian, Catholic Christian, Hispanic Christian, Hispanic Catholic Christian, Orthodox Christian, Armenian Orthodox Christian, Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.  In addition, a number of non-Christian holidays occur within these same two months: Jewish, Shinto, Buddhist, Confucian, Daoist, Islam, Zoroastrian, Baha'i, Sikh, Wicca/Pagan.

People of all of these faiths are our neighbors and fellow citizens. Our country’s diversity is one of our strengths and reflects our multiple cultural and religious heritages.  So say Happy Birthday to me on my birthday, not yours.  Wish me a Happy 4th of July, not a Happy Bastille Day.  Wish people joy and peace in their own personal form.  If you know that family or friends are Christian, then by all means wish them the “Merry Christmas” that they celebrate. If you do not know them, or have not bothered to try to understand another person’s religion and culture, then do not assume that you know them. Just know that when in doubt, “Happy Holidays” really does work just fine in all cases. And in this time of such strife and division, perhaps a simple message of “Peace” works even better.

Happy Holidays. Peace be within each of you, and your families and friends.

©   2016   Randy Bell               www.OurSpiritualWay.blogspot.com