Friday, March 25, 2011

What you make of it, it is!

I have spent some hours over the last several days at a table on the Driscoll Bridge at DU helping with fundraising efforts for the relief efforts in Japan. We've been collecting funds, writing in a "Book of Condolences", and folding origami cranes. The table has been staffed throughout the day by students, faculty and staff -- most of whom are Japanese or are studying Japanese. All of them are much more accomplished crane-folders than I!

I have learned over the past several months to fold two - count 'em: TWO - different kinds of cranes; one is just an additional set of folds different than the other. And this morning, I finally folded a crane from a smaller sheet of paper! Quite an accomplishment. Not! The students were folding smaller and smaller cranes. The smallest I saw probably measures less than a half-inch, wing-tip to wing-tip!

But what was eye-popping, and worth a bit of reflection, were the other creations that emerged from a single, square, sheet of paper. Boxes, frogs, multi-petaled roses, stars, bunnies, and on and on! One student had her laptop open, and was web-surfing to all sorts of creations. Their skills, and understanding of the folding-and-tucking techniques, allowed them to see instructions for something new, and turn out a polished product in a minute or so. And all from a single sheet of square paper (and, for the purist, no scissors!).

A single sheet of square paper. Potentiality. What it becomes dependent on the skills, talents and wishes of the folder. That paper has no internal intention; it doesn't lie there expecting to be a crane or a frog . . . or a Yoda. It is pure potential.

A quote I acquired sometime back (I can't remember the source) reads: "Every new morning is a new beginning of our life. Every day is a completed whole." Remembering that at the beginning of the day helps me put away the previous day with it's accumulated baggage. The next several hours spread before me may have appointments or specific tasks, all with ostensible, predictable (or desired) outcomes. But those are not the ONLY possible outcomes. By bringing who, or what I am, to them, I have the opportunity to steer them in one direction or another. Much like choosing to fold a star or a box.

I will admit that I'm not a fan of fate, or determinism. I believe that I am always involved in a process of co-creation—the Divine and I working together for something better than the present. That implies that each encounter, each decision, is much like a 6x6 sheet of origami paper. I bring my experience, my talents, my values, and my desires to them. And that are full of potential.

What I make of them, they are.



Friday, March 18, 2011

"Fix it back!" Tsunami theology, pt. 2

We had little way of knowing, when I was writing last week, what twists and turns the situation in Japan would take. We knew that nuclear reactors were damaged; we had no idea that meltdowns might be in the offing. We knew that the loss of life was great; we did not know how great. And who would have thought that the Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, would see the tsunami as a divine punishment to wash away Japan's "egoism" (he has, subsequently, apologized for such a statement). I read about that statement, and within a couple of days I read the following:

Snapshots from Japan: A woman opens up her home and bathrooms to weary travelers walking hours home. A baker gives out free bread. Customers at the supermarket pick up fallen items and quietly stand in line to buy food. An old man at the evacuation shelter asks, "What's going to happen now?" And a young high school boy nearby responds, "Don't worry! When we grow up, we will promise to fix it back!" *

I was so happy to read of these kinds of actions. I was also moved to read the response of the high school boy. He embodies a sort of optimism that characterizes a portion of the population of any country, at any time, but that often gets pushed aside by the "wisdom" of us older folks. It doesn't seem to me that Japan has to wait until that boy "grows up"; he's fixing it now!

We needn't wait. And we needn't simply think in terms of tragedies like this earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis. There are situations surrounding us all of the time that may require little more than a kind word to "fix it back".

I was perusing a particular website the other day, and reading some of the commentators whose work populated it. I was dumb-founded at how often the word "fear" appeared. Editorial pages are filled with fear-mongering and cynicism. "Hunker down!" they seem to cry out! "Build your shelter! (whether underground or tax). "Save yourselves!"

As much as the Japanese (wisely) did to protect themselves against earthquakes and tsunamis, the magnitude of this quake overwhelmed them. And, now, we're seeing a different side of human nature emerge: fear is giving way to mutual assistance. A renewed community is being forged.

When reminded in such a powerful way of how power-less we actually are, we are almost forced to return to one of those most fundamental of virtues: care for others-even those we do not know.

"Redeem the time". Tikkun olam (Hebrew for "repair the world"). "Compassion for all living creatures." "Open hands, not clenched fists."

"Fix it back!" Promise? There are so many ways to do so! How many can we think of? How many might we do?



*This came into my email inbox from You can read more, similar, statement of selfless behavior in the aftermath of the tragedy here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami theology

A friend just posted on her Facebook page that CalTech has reported that the coastline of the Japanese island of Honshu has moved 8 feet into the ocean as a result of the earthquake this morning.* That, coupled with the tragic loss of life and property because of the accompanying tsunami, has already occasioned numerous bloggers and other "pundits' from many religious traditions to assert that the disaster was somehow a message/judgment from God. The same kind of questionable (in my mind) attribution of natural disasters to God's judgment is something we've seen before: Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in SE Asia, Haiti, etc. My comment: "Hoo, doggies!"

The theme of all of these "thinkers" seems to be: "Wow, something bad happened in the world and lots of people suffered! God's really angry at _______ (fill in the blank)." There are SO many problems with this kind of thinking, and I don't want to go through them all again. But one of the chief objections is that "many innocent people died because of the (purported) wickedness of some that God is (purportedly) punishing". That's a pretty potent objection in my book. For example, in the book of Genesis, Abraham bargains with God over the destruction of Sodom/Gomorrah. The summary of Abraham's argument is: if there are even a FEW righteous people in those cities, God should spare them. God does not (except Lot's family) -- implying that he agreed with Abraham's argument! It's just that there were no righteous people to be found.

As I said, however, I don't want to revisit these kinds of arguments. I want to raise another. Some background. First, at the end of the first creation story in the book of Genesis (1.1-2.4), God has created the entire world and its inhabitants. And God declares that the entire creation is "very good." The plants, the animals . . . and the humans. Very good! Second, at the end of the biblical book of Jonah, God upbraids Jonah for pouting because God had NOT destroyed Nineveh (they repented of their wickedness -- whatever it was). God's reason: "don't you know there are folks there who don't know their right hand from their left . . . and also many animals?" (Jonah 4.11).

The photo above is clearly NOT related to the disaster in Japan this morning. It is of a disaster that occurred just over thirty years ago. I grew up in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens. I camped in the Spirit Lake campground there. I remember seeing the steam coming out of the mountain just a few days before it erupted. And when it did, the devastation was incredible. And it has been attributed to God's judgment! And there WAS loss of life -- about 65 people (directly and indirectly). But also 7000 large animals (bears, deer, elk) and approximately 12,500,000 fish! (I don't know how birds were affected; many other, smaller, animals could burrow and escape the pyroclastic flow). So, God's judgment on some people is such that God's very good creation of innocents should also suffer? What about those "many animals"?

That's just BAD theology in so many ways. The math is bad, certainly. But what it also assumes is that the "bad" actions of some people deserve such a violent, destructive, response that the deaths of millions of innocents is not even part of the equation. I've not heard anyone address THAT issue: do not the animals fit into the equation?**

It's just bad. No God I would want to believe in could behave that way.

Hoo, doggies!

And now it's up to us to pray for, and help, ALL of those affected by this movement of the earth move forward.



* I've seen this reported elsewhere, although I can't find an original citation.

** I'd like to thank the students in my just-ended class "Pets, Partners or Pot-roast" for helping me see this!

Friday, March 4, 2011

An embarrassment of riches

I just returned from Metro CareRing (MCR), one of the major hunger relief centers in Denver, and one of Denver's largest food pantries. Those readers of these reflections who see the entire newsletter where it is originally published (rather than on the blogsite or Facebook), will know that I've been planning a community service opportunity at MCR for several weeks. My experience with these service opportunities has generally been that -- at most -- a dozen folks will respond positively, and between six and and eight will actually materialize. Perfect, I thought, for what I had envisioned.

Imagine my surprise when, within a few days of posting this opportunity, emails came pouring in with volunteers galore. One reason for the response was that a professor in an ethics class at the Business School suggested to his students that this opportunity would be a good service project for them. But even without that added incentive, the response was overwhelming. So much so that I feared WE would overwhelm Metro CareRing; that is, that there wouldn't be enough for all of the volunteers to do. I even began to get a bit stressfully grumpy about what we were "imposing" on the organization; I was little embarrassed that what I had TOLD them was NOT what looked like was going to happen.

I knew that some folks were driving to the center, but I had posted a suggestion that we take public transportation. So I was somewhat pleased when there were only two at the Light Rail station: "Maybe the expected attrition rate WILL bring us back down to normal," I thought. And, when we arrived, a couple of other cars soon appeared -- but we were still around ten folks, expecting three or four more. "Manageable", I thought. We went inside the building, and began waiting for our orientation. And still they came! More chairs. The room was full (above!). Part way through the introductions MORE came. And then MORE.

The staff at MCR was DELIGHTED! And as I settled back and watched them handle the horde, I began to relax. And, of course, it turned out that our sheer numbers were able to accomplish in a morning more than the MCR folks ever expected. Many of us were "out of sight" of the actual clients who were served by MCR, but the amount of work we were able to do far surpassed the needs of today. And all of us enjoyed the time -- there was a richness in the work that matched the strength of our numbers. And the welcoming graciousness of the staff set me off-center -- in the end, a good thing.

The desire to serve is immense, as is the need to be served. I'll not worry about too many volunteers again! And, several moments of "thanksgiving" are in order.