Category: Don’s Blog

Tips for Fishing and Living # 58

Tip #58:

“Bass fishermen watch Monday night football, drink beer, drive pickup trucks and prefer noisy women with big breasts. Trout fishermen watch McNeil-Lehrer, drink white wine, drive foreign cars with passenger-side air bags and hardly think about women at all. This last characteristic may have something to do with the fact that trout fishermen spend most of the time immersed up to the thighs in ice-cold water.”                                                                              Author Unknown

Besides being very long, dated, probably stereotypic, as well as a sexist statement, the unknown author, I believe, is attempting to be a bit playful. Granted it is noteworthy this author is unknown to us and quite possibly prefers it this way. In any event there is more than a possibility here that trout fishermen are not missing out on certain things, but rather they simply are choosing what they prefer.

Can we look beyond the problematic aspects of this quote? If so can we see any valuable lessons or even a point that may prove useful? Whether one fishes for trout or for bass is not important. Pursuing one’s interests and passions is, for me, at the heart of this. You may be a beer drinker, a   Monday night footballer, or whatever it is you love doing; then by all means do it.

Sports metaphors offer us the imperative not to be content to only stand on the sidelines or sit in the bleachers. Rather, we are to get in the game. Engage in life. Engage in your life. May I remind you this is the only life you get to have?

 My last blog was about pursuing one’s art and living fully as an artist. To do so requires we take on purging ourselves of whatever blocks or misperceptions we have that cause us to deter from pursuing a path we are meant to follow. Instead we remain caught up in a ho-hum existence. Ted Williams, someone who knew a lot about hitting home runs, once said this:

“When you are in a slump, don’t swing harder, change your stance.”

Living life powerfully requires us to change our stance – possibly quite often – in order to recover from that which prevents us living fully. Metaphorically speaking we might need to grip the bat up a few inches higher, or move one shoulder out more, or move our legs a further apart. You get the idea. To keep doing the same things over and over (swinging harder) and expecting a different result is foolhardy. It’s also called insanity.   

Here are a few things we need to develop a different stance:

  1. For starters one must believe in him/her SELF. Playing small does not serve anyone. The world needs each of our unique gifts and talents. You and I are a one-of-a-kind, never to be duplicated again, person. You need to have a love affair – with yourself! Take on a practice of stopping at any mirrors you have in your home and look at you. Take a moment and smile at that person you see reflected back. Tell her/him “You are terrific.” Pinch your cheek and say to that person in the mirror, “You sweet thing, you!”

 This is not to make you into a narcissist; it’s to keep you from discounting your goodness. You are the right one for the job!

      2. We need to be willing to see the best in others. This is why # 1 is essential. I often tell people to, “love yourself first, and then see what happens.” The reason for this has to do with accepting one’s own goodness in order to then also to see goodness in each and every other person. When we are ok with ourselves we’re better equipped to bring an open heart to other people and we can treat them without judgment or defensiveness.

 This can have miraculous results. Not always, but often. If I love myself first I get me out of the way. I can now enter into our relationship without looking for something for me. I can be more generous. I can even love you when you do not love yourself. And I can possibly enroll you into your lovability, as well. 

    3. We need to be able to see opportunity everywhere.

What do you to read in this line below of the words that aren’t correctly separated?

“Opportunityisnowhere.”

 You will read “Opportunity is nowhere,” or read Opportunity “is now here.” It always has to do with our perspective. This pandemic is both a crisis and an opportunity for each of us. It is if we allow it to be. In spite of the terrible tragedy it has been causing, if we are willing to take the time to truly reflect on what we have been doing up until now a lot of good can happen.

 We’ll also need courage to make necessary changes to improve ourselves and our society (our world). This would be a great tribute to those 100,000+ Americans who have died. This promise to make changes that improve our society can be our legacy to them. It has been pointed out that the pandemic has highlighted many of the dysfunctional and unjust discrepancies within our society.

 There are still many injustices present on both a personal and societal level. Mostly we have learned to tolerate things so that eventually they become invisible. We all get what we tolerate. The pandemic has made many of these things become visible; and hopefully intolerable.  

             4.We require a steadfast capacity to focus on solutions.

It has long been said we are either part of the problem or part of the solution. My favorite way of stating this is from an old Pogo cartoon (A parody of American naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry in 1813 after defeating and capturing Royal Navy ships in the Battle of Lake Erie): Pogo paraphrased Perry by saying: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

It is easy enough to bitch and complain. How about taking a risk and offer a possible solution now and then? How about joining in conversations regarding what we can do – will do? We are such a divided nation and people are so quick to judge and criticize whatever anyone else says or does. There is a lot of room for middle ground. Most Americans are okay with finding middle ground solutions – compromises – things that give the most to the most. We can also take on the oath of “not doing harm” in the process of doing some good. Let’s get committed to seeking out these ways to go forward.

  1. We have to have a generative capacity to give to others.

This is a spin-off of the last point. It can mean many things, but basically it is all about our ability to come from a place of love. We cannot remain only in our heads; we need to embrace our hearts, as well. It is easy to be loving to others when they are doing so, as well. But can we bring love to those who are not bringing love? Can we bring love when we are not being loved in return? The short answer is: Yes. But this gets us back to the beginning and why it is so important to love yourself first. Otherwise we are running on empty. I also encourage getting a support system. Find those who love you no matter what.

Because we are each made in the image and likeness of God, we are made of God’s divinity. In other words, we are made of and from God’s divine love. Therefore, we are love. This is God’s indwelling within each of us, so when I am bringing love to my neighbor it is not really my love; it is God’s love that I am expressing. If my neighbor returns love that’s very nice. If he or she is unable or unwilling to so, well that’s okay, too. Perhaps another time. I do not have to get all worked up about it.

        6.We require Persistence.

Persistence overcomes resistance. In other words it is persistence that is key to most accomplishments. Great success comes from long, hard work. It begins with dreaming big dreams. Then it is “Practice, practice, practice.” Success is an inside job. It requires fortitude and perseverance. We need to do the heavy lifting.

This can become daunting and so it’s worth bringing into our efforts a bit fun and cheer now and then. Set small milestones and as you reach each one remind yourself of the overall larger goal. Also celebrate this latest step. Perhaps I’m getting a bit too preachy. Time for a joke:

If at first you don’t succeed, perhaps skydiving isn’t for you.

  1. We need to take Responsibility for our lives.

I once wrote a humorous and paradoxical essay on the “Art and Practice of Victimhood.” It was a how-to essay on how to go about becoming not just a victim, but a successful victim. It was tongue in cheek, and it pointed out various pay-offs that can come from such a life. Namely the big ticket item is that one gets to avoid taking personal responsibility for one’s life.

 I did not make up any of my ten suggestions for becoming a victim. I simply offered those various things people seem to do all the time as a strategy for being a successful victim. I prescribed the symptoms.

 Resolve to take 100% responsibility for everything you are or will ever be. Instead of making excuses, decide to make progress. Wherever you are tempted to say “I can’t,” change it to “I won’t.” You are free to do it, or not do it. By saying “I can’t’ you give away your power. Once you change the sentence to “I won’t” you might decide to change it to “I will.” Either way you are taking responsibility.

Mark Twain once wrote, “There are a thousand excuses for failure, but never a good one.”

 We are meant to grow so we have something to give. Life is growth. Perhaps what may come out of our confinement and slowed down pace is that by not being too busy living, we can use our time to design a life.

None of us gets to choose the various circumstances of our lives. We do, however, get to choose how we respond to these circumstances. And to this extent, I say, each of us gets to have powerful say in the matter of our lives.

 

Tips for Fishing and Living # 57

Tip #57:

“Scholars have long known that fishing eventually turns men into philosophers. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to buy decent tackle on a philosopher’s salary.”

Patrick F. McManus

We all have ideas of what it means to be a success. Some have it totally backwards; upside down. Quote the old adage “do what you love and love what you do” as much as you want but so many folks still hold that success is making lots of money. They equate being successful with financial wealth.

We need money, perhaps not quite as much as we may think. Needing and wanting are different. I may need transportation; whereas I may want a Ferrari. Lots of people with financial problems make plenty of money. Their problem comes down to spending more than they bring in. It’s called: spending above one’s means.

Doing with less as one enjoys doing what one loves is by far a better way to live. Others might not consider this success, but rest assured, you really are successful if you believe you are. It turns out that doing what you have real passion for – the kind of passion that means you would even do it without being paid brings ample rewards. Not always, but often. Also often true is what we really like doing we are very good at doing.

Sometimes we have a preoccupation about looking good or wanting to impress others instead of going after what we feel compelled to do. Well, who really cares what others think? It is not really important, although we might make it to be. Whenever we get around to sorting out the bigger life questions: Why we are here? What is our purpose for living? You guessed it. Other people’s opinions very quickly fall by the wayside. Other people’s approval, or praise, or us trying to do things in order to fulfill someone else’s dreams are foolhardy notions and unfulfilling.

When one is happy doing what one loves doing we discover benefits roll in and make us feel fulfilled and satisfied. Satisfaction is right up there with living in alignment with our life’s purpose. Utilizing our gifts and talents to make this world better than it was before we got here brings satisfaction beyond our self-interests. Self-interest is involved and has a place, and it is consistent with our making a difference in the world. The folks who are living this way are artists.

Their Art isn’t necessarily painting or writing or singing or creating what we might define as art. These people are aware that creativity is the natural order and that life is energy itself. They know, too, that our creative dreams and yearnings are from the divine source, may I say God? Creativity is God’s gift to us; when we use our creativity we are giving back to God.

The word Will comes from both the Hebrew and Greek words which means yearning. It is the kind of yearning which lovers have for one another. If you want to know the Will of God it can be found in anything that is required of us to be united with one another in love. So when we are using our gifts and talents for our neighbors and doing so with love we are being God’s instruments.

Whatever is demanded by truth, by justice, by mercy, or by love must surely be willed by God. To consent to God’s will is to consent to be true, or to speak truth, or at least seek it out.

It matters not if one is a painter or a poet or a lawyer or a plumber; it all counts. We are all artists. Each one of us has an art that if it also happens to pay our bills, is called a job. Smart people or lucky people sometimes figure out a way to do their art AND get the bills paid.

Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Some people have some narrow ideas about who is or is not an artist. Also some people carry negative notions regarding artists and these negative notions propel them away from pursuing their own particular art. So we need some recovery requiring certain steps. By the time we grow up many pick up negative beliefs regarding what it costs to become an artist. Here are a few of such beliefs:

  • Everyone will hate me.
  • I will be abandoned by family and friends.
  • I cannot spell.
  • I will find out I do bad work.
  • I will look like a fool.
  • I don’t deserve to be successful.
  • I will get self-destructive and drink, do drugs or do other abusive behaviors.
  • It’s too late for me.

These and other beliefs don’t need to be true. Negative beliefs are only beliefs; they are not facts. To recover we need to heal our identity. To do our art we must show up and claim the artist within.  I love writing and I have been writing for a long time. Originally I had difficulty thinking of myself as a writer. I wrote for my college newspaper. I’ve written some poems, short stories, and essays, but I still told myself “I’m not a real writer. Real writers get published and I haven’t been published.”

Then I had an essay published in a magazine and they sent me $400. “Well,” I told myself, “it’s only a magazine and it’s a very small one.” This went on each time I got something else published. I would simply raise the bar as though none of my achievements counted.

Finally, I just decided that I am a writer. Good one, bad one, a so-so one; It didn’t matter. I decided to accept myself as a writer. I have been journaling daily for a long time – 30 years or more. I currently write this weekly blog. I have had and continue to write short stories. Occasionally I write a poem. It doesn’t matter if any of these pieces are published or not. Some have been; some not. I write primarily for me. I decided that I am a writer because that’s who I say I am. I love to write and so I write, and that is enough for me.

Recently, with all this time at home, I cleaned out my small home office and I came across a file listing all the various things I have written and published over the years. I had made a chronology of my work up to that point. It was a file I had completely forgotten about and it blew my mind. I was shocked to see how many things I had published. Up to that point I had over thirty published articles, essays, or short stories, plus a chapter or two in books. No poems yet. There have been more published pieces since I made this file. Also I have boxes of old journal notebooks stored in our basement from years of my daily journaling.

The point: Claim your Identity as an artist. I write because I am compelled to do so. It is one of the ways I express my creativity. I like to think on paper; a true introvert. I write because I am too stubborn to give up my own delight, which often goes against a world that, if allowed, would surely talk me out of my art.

Years ago a friend said to me, “you don’t care what others think of you.” He meant this as a compliment, meaning that I must be free from the constraints of what other people might think about me. The truth is I do care, only not enough to keep me from doing many of the things I feel compelled to do, especially writing. I don’t spell very well. Who knows where I’d be if spelling and grammar checking programs had come along when I was in high school. I am a writer who is committed to continue to keep learning to write better because I have something to say.

I have a writer friend who didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. His large family still flairs up regularly and gives him all sorts of things to handle. When these life situations come along he’ll often get philosophical and say, “Well, at least I can always write about this. It’ll make for a great story.” Usually he’ll then add that he’ll have to write it as fiction because “Nobody would believe it.” My friend knows how to utilize his art.

Up until his retirement my dentist worked three days a week doing dentistry, and three days a week as a metal sculptor. He taught sculpture as well as doing his own works. He is one of the happiest people I know. He’s good at both pursuits – his two art forms. I suspect both feed off each other and make him better at both.   

“The life which is not examined is not worth living.” Plato

If you are plumber or an attorney find the artistry within this vocation. If you love working on automobiles go for it. See the service you are to your neighbors. Again: do this in the knowledge that we are all artists. You are no exception.

There are other things we must recover to live as full-fledged artists. There’s the need to recover our sense of power, our sense of integrity, and our sense of possibility. There are others, too. I’ve touched before on the sense of possibility and will come back to some of these others at another time.

It’s enough to realize that change requires a surrendering and a letting go of old habits and practices that keep us stuck in our currently unsatisfactory ways. Declare yourself to be who you really are. It doesn’t matter how buried or blocked the real person you are happens to be.

Getting back to success and being an artist, I see these two are intimately connected. A way of defining success is: knowing your purpose in life, growing to reach your potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others.  

Those fisherpersons who become philosophers are people who know they have a specific purpose and unique task to do while we are here. This, of course means that each of us is unique. We cannot be replaced, nor can our life be repeated. It is our responsibility to carry out our assignment – and it is also our greatest joy.

Tips for Fishing and Living # 56

Tip #56:

“The gods do not deduct from man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing.”

                                                                                         Babylonian Proverb

Time never stops for any reason. However, when one is doing what one loves to do it’s as though time vanishes. We’ll say in amazement, “I don’t know where the time went!” Conversely, when one is not doing what one loves or when we find ourselves doing a task we deem taxing or boring or noxious, then time seems to linger on forever. It is, of course, our perception of the experience that makes the time seem as either a prolonged, agonizing ordeal, or as a brief and spectacular segment.

Like most folks, I much prefer doing things I enjoy doing – gardening, reading, being out in nature, spending time with people I love, etc. During this pandemic and with the need to hunker down I have done things I have otherwise tended to put off. Up into now I’ve justified there wasn’t time to do these things. Well that’s certainly changed. And still, as I say, I have only done some of these things. The ones I have taken on I’ve plunged into with delight and enthusiasm. Why? Because I enjoy these things.

Jerry Seinfeld says you can simply take your Bucket List and change the “B” to “F” and be done with it. That’s certainly an option. Another way to tip the scale for taking on our to-do items we are less inclined to do is to change the meaning or the story we have about these things. Let’s say we know we should eat less and only healthy foods, as well as, exercise more. We really want to, but… (You know the drill). One way is to shift out of our usually rut is by first visualizing the desired result. It is a starting with the end approach. Imagining how great we are going to look and feel when we obtain our desired weight and are fit from exercising. Then go about doing those things that will bring about this desired result, as well as, stop doing the things that prevent it or don’t assist in creating our desired result.

Talk to yourself about how good you are going to feel when you do achieve this. At first, the actions you’ll take will be more of a drudgery. It takes usually about three months of replacing old habits with newer habits until the new ones become our established way. As you go about doing these new actions they’ll become the familiar ways as the old ways start to slip away.

Each time you go on that fast walk, when you finish it make sure you also take some time to live in that moment of completion with a satisfaction of being your word. Honor yourself with some sort of, “Atta boy/girl!” or “Nice going!” Smile as you remind yourself that you are onto something grand, that you are doing important things – in this case a restoration of your health and vitality.

Whether we go for the gold in life or we merely settle to stay on the sidelines with a mundane existence is totally up to us. We have the capacity to live a reflective life – one that operates from intention and with purpose – or to exist in some sort of arrangement that is about just getting by. Regardless of which one we adopt, in the end we will die.

This may seem morbid or negative. However, I think knowing we will die is great motivation. It can be motivating for us to actually live while we are still alive. This is not a drill. This is not a dress rehearsal.

Why not then go for it? Who is stopping you? Spoiler alert: YOU ARE. Whatever going for the gold might mean to you, do it! There is an old Nike advertisement that was right on: Just Do It. There is such a qualitative difference between being a participant in life instead of merely a spectator.

“How sad to have died when never having lived at all.”

I cannot tell you where this quote came from except it has great meaning to me. It reminds me to live my life to the full. I think someone 2,000 years ago may have told us this very same thing.

I don’t always do so, but this quote is something I repeatedly remind myself of so that I may snap out of whatever funk I’m experiencing. Whenever I slip up or wander off into some pity parlor in my head, I’ve gotten much better at getting off the proverbial couch and into some decisive action. You could say I’ve become my best cheerleader. I attempt to give myself permission to do what it is that I am yearning to do. Sometimes these things don’t amount to much, or they fall flat as a stupid or lame brain idea.

But, you know what? I am still mostly pleased that I took the action and checked it out. Now I know that particular desire or yearning wasn’t such a terrific one after all. And now I don’t have to spend the rest of my life wondering. As a bonus often there is some sort of take away I learned by doing this seemingly useless action. Maybe it queues me up for doing something better next time.

I have gotten to a point in life where I am able to do mostly those things I love to do, and fewer of those that I do not. “Love what you do; do what you love.” This is a formula for a happy life. With all this Covid-19 forced hunkering down time many are getting to do a bit of reflection and contemplation. This may be a facilitated by-product of the pandemic for a number of folks. It’s an opportunity to reflect about what are my gifts and contributions, what matters the most to me, and how do I want to spend my energy in the post-pandemic world?

Your thing doesn’t have to be fishing. That has never been the point. Your thing is anything that lights up your soul. Fishing is merely one way to facilitate some quiet time. With the quiet comes a possibility for contemplation. With contemplation one may be better able to discover a clearer purpose and direction to live a more intentional life. Determine what your way may be by going with your passions.

I have always enjoyed humor and comedy and to laugh and make others laugh. On a serious note let me say once again how humor and playfulness are antidotes for lessening one’s stress. Anxiousness is often an indication one is too serious; too somber. Or I sometimes say we’re being too significant. Granted not everything in life is a lark. However we are better able to find our way through a tragedy or harrowing time when we don’t take ourselves so seriously.

Having said this, let me get back to my love for humor. I have always dabbled in comedy. Then about twenty years ago I decided to take my avocation further. I actually went into Manhattan and took a 10-week comedy course at The New School. It was led by a professional comic. At the end of the course our instructor booked us into a NYC comedy club. Granted it was the early show and we collectively packed the club primarily with family and friends. But it was a hoot. I mean it was a fabulous experience. I knew by the end of that evening I wasn’t ever going to become a professional comic. But my time up there doing my stand-up performance was, as the American Express ad says, “Priceless.”

The reason I took this plunge came because I was seeing a business coach around this time. During one of our sessions she asked me to tell her those things I really enjoyed doing. When I talked about comedy and how I used it in presentations as part of my work, she reported back to me that “I lite up and I became animated and energized.” She said I owed it to myself to explore this area of joy more, and so I did.

Whatever you have a passion for I am here to tell you: “You Go Girl! You take it on Guy!” Why not? What I learned about doing stand-up comedy was that you have to be okay with making a complete fool of yourself. You have to be alright with possibly failing. Just before I went out on stage I was standing in a small anteroom. It had black and white photos of famous comedians that had been out on this stage over the years, the very one I was just minutes from stepping out onto. And I was nervous.

Then I thought this:

‘Don, you’ve raised six kids. You’ve been humiliated by them numerous times and you’ve more than survived. So what is this audience made up of people you mostly don’t know and are never going to see again going to possibly do to you? Humiliate you? Please!’

With that thought I started to laugh and I became giddy. Just at that moment I heard my name announced as the next comic and I was welcomed to take the stage. I walked out fearlessly and began my comedy debut. It was exhilarating experience. I was amazing. It was like I making my way through my very own version of sky diving. When I landed back on planet Earth I felt transformed as someone who was filled with confidence and delight.  

And by the way: When I was on that stage, I didn’t know where the time went.

Tips for Fishing and Living # 55

Tip #55:

“Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught.”

Author Unknown

Bill is a wonderful guy. Sometimes, however, he gets into fretting over a recent or not-so-recent mistake he’s convinced himself he’s made.  He’ll then get on a tear and beat up on himself unmercifully. This is annoying to those who happen to be around him and get caught up in listening to his self-effacing monologue. This is also counter-productive and damaging to Bill. That’s because while Bill frets over some past poor choices or even a past serious screw-up, he missing out on living for today – of living in the present.

It’s all well and good to learn from our past mistakes, just so long as we don’t hang out there forever. Drawing from our past is best whenever wisdom is found from it and we are thus helped to live more effectively in the present. Mistakes are, perhaps, poorly named as such and would be best called learning experiences. If we don’t learn anything from such moments then we are doomed to repeat them. Our so-called mistakes are potentially our best avenues for learning and growing.

This business of the huge fish that got away readily applies to a lot of things besides fish. Also it is more common than we like to admit. I do think we all tend to suffer from our various faulty perceptions by either (a) thinking things are much better than they actually are, or (b) going the other way and seeing things as far worse than they are. Either way is just the other side of the same problem. Option (c) is whatever happened, happened. We are the ones that make up a meaning about what happened. Why not make up a better meaning? At least, we can make up one that is useful and one we can benefit from.  

Dwelling on one’s past or worrying about the future are also very similar mistakes. Both have huge costs: they prevent us from living in the present moment or, as the Zen folks like to say, living in the HERE and NOW. One of the daily quotes in our local newspaper was from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, which reads:

“What experience and history teach is this: that people and governments have never learned anything from history.”

We did have a flu pandemic in 1918 that has so much to offer us regarding the road to recovery. Social distancing and staying at home were key components back then to stem the spread of the influenza. The term we are currently using to describe the long home-stay, or self-imposed quarantine is shelter-in-place. This overall shut-down has gone on for a while and we’re now seeing some people suffering from what is being termed shelter-in-place fatigue.

Most people get that we need to do this as a tool to stem the infection from spreading, at least to some degree. Most people understand this is our best defense against the corona virus until we have a vaccine.  

There are costs to this approach. Mental and emotional issues are showing up. There is real concern about increased spousal and child abuse. Struggling to cope without social contact, especially those living alone is taxing. Using Zoom and other online connections is somewhat helpful, but we are social beings and need contact. Helping professionals are attempting to address these and other problems.

Thinking people know these recommended options are better than death from the virus. And of course there are those who seem solely concerned with opening up the economy. Let the old and the frail die! It is estimated that if we were to continue social distancing into the Fall 1.7 million people would not die and we would also save 3.2 billion dollars.

If our government had subsidized businesses so that companies could have kept their workers on the payroll, and not done relief the way we are doing we’d be much better off. We’d have more people keeping their jobs and nowhere the high incidence of unemployment that we are currently facing.

In Great Britain the government did provide businesses subsidies to be able to keep their workers on the payrolls. Jobs didn’t vanish as much as here. Without massive unemployment uncertainty has been greatly reduced lowering peoples’ anxiety.   

As to those protesting about opening up the economy sooner ignoring the safety guidelines, I think many of them have been drinking the cool aid way too long and are ill-informed. Also they’ve been duped into the delusional thinking that our American economy is God. That it is the all- important perspective, and the only perspective that matters. Profit over people requires getting the working force up again ASAP.

I am all for work and for everyone being paid as part of one’s contribution to toward a better society. I am not anti-economy. I am against making money matter more than people’s lives. We have an anti-science mentality that is showing up in the midst of the misinformation and that pushes back against what medical and science it telling us.

In his book, Deer Hunting With Jesus, author Joe Bageant states his belief that the Democratic Party lost the political support of poor rural whites and how the Republican Party has convinced these people to “vote against their own economic self-interest.” He wrote this in 2007 and it appears to remain true to this day. It is staggering to realize that the stock market, for the most part, has been making money while we also have enormous – unprecedented – unemployment. How does this even make any sense? Labor costs money and this takes away profit from the wealthy elite. Fewer workers means more profits. So much more economic wealth is produced today by not manufacturing things but by stock trading, derivatives, and other non-manufacturing methods. At one time this was a small part of our GNP. Some estimate today it is over 30%.  

Globally, today 40 % of all the world’s wealth is owned by 1 per cent of the population. Just prior to the last economic recession these wealthy elite held slightly less than $80 trillion. After the bailouts these wealthiest individuals collectively had a little over $83 trillion. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, those with more than $1 million, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth.

We see more of the same tendencies to take care of the wealthiest people again with our government’s relief packages while regular tax payers get a one-time check along with the likelihood of unemployment, not to mention the loss of medical insurance. While corporations are given loans and grants, local and regional volunteers are running around trying to feed the hungry and care for the very poor.

Normal is not the same as Healthy. Our normal has been the economy as God. We need a much better God than this. We need, in general, a much bigger God. For many people we have a God that is too small. This pandemic has caused us to face what we call life and death. This is difficult to do without a religious faith. The trouble today is that many have not found a God big enough for their modern needs of today.

Our experience of life has grown exponentially and with this our mental horizons have been expanded. We are bewildered by all sorts of 20th and 21st century global events and by on-going scientific discoveries. While this has been occurring our ideas of God have remained mostly static.

Many have an image of God from childhood has not evolved into a mature adult one. This child image doesn’t help us make sense of our expanded experiences of life. Some live within a religious practice that they either moat confront they’re outgrown childhood image of God, or they must repress this and pretend it all fits together. Some just abandon organized religion and write it off as hopelessly inept. Whether they leave or stay many live with an inner dissatisfaction. This breeds cynicism and resignation.

There are those that do keep searching for a bigger God. Some of these people will say they are “not religious, but are spiritual.” I’ve heard leaders of organized religion speak down to such thinking. My rebuttal is many of these people within organizes religion are “religious but not spiritual.” Neither way is very helpful. Both seem to be committed to making God in their own image.

William James and others tell us that no matter how large we are able to make God, it is always too small. They would tell us that “God is the more.” “How big is God you say? No, more.”

Perhaps the best we can do is understand the essence of God. The essence of God amounts to these three aspects: Reality, Truth, and Love. I cannot break open these aspects at this time. I also don’t think we need to get some intellectual understanding to understand God. We cannot. What we can do is discover and recognize a bit of God’s enormous – infinite – essence through our world and those within.

We are potentially getting to experience God’s essence within one another as more and more ordinary people are stepping up and acting in extraordinary ways. We can never have an image of God that is too big. Discovering and recognizing God’s essence requires we come at this from our heart, not our head.

When I am working with a struggling couple I sometimes make the case that what they have been doing up until now is not marriage. It is more of an arrangement, perhaps some sort of unspoken, adolescent agreement that allows each one to justify his/her remaining as a child, one that is selfish and totally irresponsible. Then I invite the couple to “try marriage.” I tell them that real marriage is not for the faint-hearted but is for “grownups.”

I make the same case for all of us today. This pandemic is a wake-up call for each of us to also step up; to grow up. To become, if not already, responsible for being an expression of the essence of God with our inner reality, our truth, and our love…and to do so with the realization that we are God’s indwelling. When we know this we also know our purpose – to reveal God to one another.

That is the really huge fish and we ought to not let it get away.

I’d say doing so now is as good a time as any – perhaps an even more pressing and urgent time than ever.

Tips for Fishing and Living # 54

Tip #54:

“Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day; give him a religion, and he’ll starve to death while praying for a fish.”                                                  

Author Unknown

There is an old joke that goes like so:

“Question – What’s the difference between and liturgist and terrorist?

Answer – “You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

None of this is about knocking religion; it’s a knock to those that use religion to justify rigid thinking, laziness, magical thinking, or even a lack of responsible action. It’s a stand against those who throw out the window their God given common sense, and in their desperation seek simple answers to complex questions. Jesus was well known for bringing self-critical thinking to religion. To not do so is to open up the possibility of idolatry.

As an example we unfortunately have the sad news of Pastor Gerald Glenn, 66, bishop and founder of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield, VA, who recently died from the Covid-19 coronavirus shortly after he defied his State’s mandate for social distancing and limited size gatherings, and held church services. We’ll likely never know of those congregants who also got infected, and perhaps even fatally so, as well.

Faith, especially foolish faith is tragic; it’s outright dangerous. Also faith without proper action is, at best, worthless. Action without faith often is stupid. However faith and action together are the bookends of a full and purposeful life.

There’s the very old story of the man who sits on the roof of his house while the flood waters keep rising and he keeps praying for God to help him, all the while refusing first the row boat, then the motor boat, and finally the helicopter. He keeps telling these rescuers that God is going to save him. He is an idiot. God comes to us in many different ways. In this man’s case it was via a row boat, motor boat, and a helicopter!

Only those with a genuine openness to discovery and are not so locked up in their puny set ways are uncluttered enough to allow for God to operate fully and powerfully in their life. Sometimes it takes a serendipitous chance situation or even a seemingly tragic event to wake us up. I think this global pandemic is doing just that – at least it potentially can do so. Tragedies can lead us into one of two possible responses: To either become a bitter and closed off person, or, through prayer and contemplation, to be willing to walk with God – the God who brings us through whatever darkness we may be experiencing.

I recall from a movie, the title of which I cannot remember, only that it had this line in it: “The Religious Right are neither.” There are conservative activists speaking out that their rights are being violated with requirements to stay home, use social distancing and masks when out doing essential shopping, etc. Such logic is ill-founded, selfish, and immature. This is the juvenile thinking of a fifth grader. We are not being denied our freedom. Most of us we are being inconvenienced; for others the shut-down is a terribly burdensome. And as a people of a common bond, we have the responsibility to make adjustments and accommodations for those hardest hit by this crisis.

The few goof balls going around protesting their right to do whatever they are currently not being allowed to do, are doing so while most Americans (87% as of this writing) are expressing a worry that the country will open up too soon, and before enough safeguards are put into place.

My response to these clamoring protestors is, “So, you are not really Pro-Life after all.”(A line stolen from FB). Churchill said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Let’s add stupidity…as well as greed.

So back to the business of common sense. Our Sunday Visitor published a pamphlet entitled: Faith and Common Sense: The Catholic Response to an Epidemic. The pamphlet was published way before this present pandemic. You may get a copy by contacting OSV and ordering this pamphlet –                              # 800.348.2440. I will tell you what it broadly speaks about. It begins with how preparation is important and how we all should have stocked up on supplies and other items in advance. We did not do so, not as a people and not as a nation. It isn’t worth addressing this point at this moment. The pamphlet then tells how we must use good common sense, and do such things such as avoiding others if we ourselves aren’t feeling well, and help those most vulnerable, such as the poor, elderly and those living alone.

The pamphlet, of course, comes from a given perspective that we are all in this together. The OSV pamphlet concludes with what it calls a case for the Common Good. It describes several of the many things our public health officials and other experts have been saying since this pandemic began. The Common Good is so fundamental, not merely to Catholics, but rather is a central principle of all organized religions and good people in general.

It is a conviction that we are our brothers and sisters keepers, and as such, there is no room for any nonsense about losing one’s freedom or liberties while impinging on others, and other any such selfish thinking. We do need to be vigilant regarding any of our basic rights and liberties, and watchful that opportunists do not exploit this time to erode what are basic rights for all people.

Governor Gavin Newsom of California has been utilizing a state-of-the-art AI logarithm tracking system (Blue Dot) to know where in present time what counties and areas the virus flares up. He first made certain any information obtained would not be used in any way to violate individual’s rights and privacy.   

It turns out most Americans have truly stepped up and are cooperating by doing the necessary things now proving to be effective in reducing the epidemic from further spread. I don’t think anyone likes these sacrifices, but to do otherwise is purely self-centered and faulty thinking. We do these things because we are all of God’s creation.

The final part of this informative OSV pamphlet speaks about how we need to trust God. It is very easy and understandable to become afraid – even panicky – and to allow our imaginations to run away with us. Fear just means we have forgotten how much we are loved. To trust God one must know he/she is loved. Only then can trusting become a sure fire way to manage anxiousness. Trusting calls for a surrendering and a steadfast belief that our God is with us, as God always is, and is especially with us during these difficult times as well. It also doesn’t mean we stop doing the smart, common sense things. Remember: Faith AND action.

This pandemic is a game changer. We are already talking about the next phase –“The Post Covid-19 New Normal.” Listen to any of the people who have recovered, and especially those that have left the hospital and returned home. Hear them say things like:

“I will never again take my life, or my family, for granted.”

“I am so humbled and forever grateful for all those who made it possible for me to be alive.”

Our society is being made anew. There a silver lining that many are already finding in this most difficult time. None of us would have asked for this to occur. And we are far from over it, with much more to endure. We have, in addition, a long and difficult economic recovery to handle, and there is much grieving yet to do for so many. We cannot let those we grieve for have died in vain. Let their legacy be that we went forward to build a better society, a better world. Let this we our way of honoring them.

This past weekend the gospel reading for Catholics was about the Road to Emmaus. Two apostles while traveling on the road to Emmaus, meet up with a stranger, who then joins them on their sojourn. Eventually the apostles realize it is Jesus – the risen Christ. This story is a great reminder that we, too, can take on the possibility that everyone we encounter is also an encounter with this Jesus.

What if we were then to treat each person as if she or he might be the messiah? Therefore, we would begin to treat this other with special – preferential – treatment. What if we also treated ourselves, on the outside chance, that we might be the messiah? And so we commit taking on treating ourselves in a kinder, more loving way, as well.

I think this is happening; it is happening a lot. Simply look around and see how people have stepped up, maybe sewing masks, providing meals, being good neighbors, or just saying “hello” to people passing by and doing countless acts of kindness and generosity.

At the risk of including too many Catholic references I add one more. This week (April 29) was the Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena, the Patron Saint of Nurses, no less. Catherine wrote:

“Since love of neighbor has its source in God, the more the soul loves God, the more she loves her neighbor.”

This is very good medicine for today, for sure.

The human and divine co-existing at the same time is real religion. Wholeness and Holiness are one in the same. They are simpatico. This co-existing creates honest people, people that don’t waste time trying to prove they are right, or superior, or saved. They are people who just go about living and loving the mystery that they are and that others are.

I know it is an over-used thought that the Chinese have a word for crisis that also means opportunity. It isn’t actually totally accurate but became folk lore ever since John F. Kennedy began using it in 1959:

“In the Chinese language, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing ‘danger,’ and the other, ‘opportunity’.”

I think in order for us to move forward we must take such an approach by looking for whatever the opportunities may be. So, let me end this with a thought by G. K. Chesterton, a hero among conservative Catholics. He once wrote:

“The test of a good religion is whether or not it can laugh at itself.”

The overall lack of self-critical thinking, the inability to laugh at oneself, and a general inability to ever appreciate what is right in front of us, are very unattractive elements of those with more fundamentalist approaches, conservative or retro-Catholics, and many ideological Republicans. If they have the truth they don’t seem to be enjoying it, nor do they make it look attractive.

Richard Rohr speaks of liminal space and describes as an inner state where we can begin to think and act in new ways. We usually enter liminal space when our former way is challenged or changed. We are vulnerable and ideally we become open to new possibilities. Liminal space is what allows for transformation. It offers those who are reflecting to be open to what some may call the “Teachable Moment.”

I say, “Hello and welcome, my fellow classmates. May we both learn from this teachable moment, as well as, be prompted to move forward with new vigor and purpose.”