Friday, February 25, 2011

Hope, Perception, and Expectation

Three words: Hope, Perception, Expectation. 

Such huge ideas.  Can any of us really fully understand the cause and function of hope?  Or the formation of Perception and to what extent it represents reality?  Or if Expectations are fair and how we are to know how to evaluate them. 

These are the questions that keep me up at night.  I know my introduction sounds rather metaphysical or existential, but really--everyone else has these same questions.  I process these firings in my brain through words adn writing, but others paint, draw, sing, or tell stories of these three muses.  I don't know that I have ever heard a song that did not touch on one of these three.  Every painting or piece of art is the created perception of the artist.  And why even get out of bed, or take the time to live, if we have no hope.  Thus, these three are central to the human condition. 

Honestly, I don't think I would have ever denied the incredible power hope, perception and expectation all play in our lives, but what I have recently begun to discover is the bguiling and mysterious connection between the three. 

Beginning with hope.  I think hope is the most wonderful gift humans have at their disposal.  We can remain in our present state--whether wonderful or devestated--but still see something beyond our circumstance.  Sure, the loss of hope can bring grief of uncomprehensible measures, but this is not necessarily all bad, either.  And the potential dissappointment of unrequited hope should never be a deterrent in maintaining the silver lining.  Yet, if we are to maintain hope, what are we to hope for?  Many people have hopes and desires that--unless by the divine stroke of God's intervention--are just never going to happen.  I can say, I have fallen victim to the hopeful illusion before.  But I just didn't understand what we were supposed to base hope on.  I have hope for heaven.  And for redemption.  And for a day when Good will reign for eternity.  I mean, if I allow myself to hope for these things, that should certainly give me leave to hope for mere acceptance to my choice Grad School.  Or that I will one day make it to Uganda.  And it doesn't even seem so crazy to hope that someday I may find a friend to share life with.  (WARNING: This is the DANGEROUS one.)  Because, if we can hope for heaven, what would ever stop us from placing hope in every desire? 

Well, this is where perception comes in to play.  When trying to understand why some hopes seemed healthier, or more valid than others, I began to see a patter.  Hopes thrown to the wind, with no string to draw the kite in, are empty and not tied down.  An example would be (DON'T LAUGH--I'm being vulnerable!) my desire to be walking down the streets of New York, bump into a dashing gentleman in his thirties, and him look deep into my eys and ask me to coffee, where he would tell me all about his life as a director, and make me the star of all his movies.  Ha.  I know, ridiculous.  I recognize that, but I cannot tell you how many times this scenario has played through my daydreams!  So, here is the breakdown on why this is so completely unrealistic.  I do not live in New York.  I am way too aware of people to mindlessly clothesline somone.  And I can't act.  So, although the vision is romantic and appealing, is is in absolute contradiction to reality.   To invest in this hope would be foolish.  I do not fly to New York weekly and circle the blocks, looking for handsome gents to "bump" into.  However, many people (to a far lesser extent) make these kinds of sacrifices for a hope, equally detached from reality. 

So, why is Heaven okay to hope for?  Well.  We must look at the facts. Observe the past.  Assess our perception.  For me, heaven is a wonderful hope.  But I see the evidence from my experience and my experience in my faith that has allowed me to perceive the promises of God as Truth.  As reality.  God promises a new earth.  A heaven.  I hope for this with each breath. 

What I am trying to get at is that a hope for heaven, as grand as it is, in my honest perception--my reality--is validated.  In perceiving past experience (not imagined futures), I develop an honest perception.  And then I take that perception to those in my world that I love and trust, and they help me see where my perception may be flawed or distorted.  I then continue with my hope in hand.  A solid hope.  A healthy hope based on the honest perceptions of my experience.  Granted, this method is still not full-proof.  There is a risk involved in hope.  But if your perception measures up and outweighs the risk, at least it was a risk worth taking. 

We will experience grief when the door closes on hope.  But as difficult as grief may be, and as dark and cold and long as the tunnel appears, we must realize that with time, the light of hope will eventually resurface. 

When hope enters our dark world, it illuminates all that it can reach, but it also cast shadows on what is hidden from its rays.  These shadows are the places affected by our hope, yet left unnoticed because of the shadow.  In these lurking places of our soul, we should evaluate our expectations.  I have never been sure what I can expect from another person or from life.  Without appearing too pessimistic, I have been dissappointed.  But we all have.  Unmet expectations could probably explain 99% of the world's problems.  So--if expectations cause so many problems, what is their benefit?  We should certainly use our perception assessment to evaluate our expectations.  If the reality of the past continually does not meet the expectations we hold, then we should evaluate our satisfaction with the past. If we are happy and contented, perhaps we should not hold ourselves arbitrarily to such rigid expectations.  Yet, if our past does not reflect peacefulness and happiness, we should probably work towards upholding our expectations.  We can not control the actions of other people or events, but we can decide what we will allow and what investment we will make in the pursuit of our hopes and fulfillment of our expectations. 

Simply, we may need to redefine our boundaries and commit to enforcing them.  By restricting our investment, we are creating a reality where our expectations have the opportunity to be met.  Boundaries are an interesting aspect of the triad.  They function within each angle of hope, perception, and expectation.  They reinforce the bonds between the three, keep us tied into ourselves, and keep us rooted to the reality that hope may allow us to forget. 

Overall, i cannot imagine my life without hope.  I find such peace and contentment in a place of healthy hope.  I can find solace in today.  I can be present in the present hour.  And I can allow my imperfections, knowing that each day is another step toward the goodness that I am seeking. 

Thanks for stopping by.  Be Encouraged.  Have Hope.   And stay dusty. 

Yanomamo Ethnography as Basis for the Occurrence of Violence

As much as I value Napoleon Chagnon's comprehensive ethnography of the Amazonian Yanomamo Tribe and appreciate his incredible dedication to its development, I find less value in attributing cultural influences, alone, to the violence evidenced within the indigenous society. Of note, I do not think Chagnon claims allegiance to this assumption as singularly as many would mark him, but he certainly approaches his research from a sociological perspective. Although Chagnon's work has most often been referred to as a sociobiological ethnography, Chagnon's data collection techniques and anecdotal evidence represent the findings far more of a sociologist than a biologist, indication of a discrepancy from the proposed fusion. Resulting from Chagnon’s lack of scientific or hard evidence, I found myself unable to fully accept the inconsistencies and discrepancies which Chagnon underplays in his conclusions. 

Aside from his conclusions, Chagnon’s ethnography persists as a plethora of rich sociological material with unequivocal comparison or revolution. In a reduced summation of Chagnon’s proposed theory, the ferocity and violence among the Yanomamo is a result of cultural influences--such as: setting and substance, belief, and organization and kinship. To be sure, each of these factors do contribute to the continued brutality among the Yanomamo, but I would suggest that culture is not the root-cause of violence. Culture is a response to both human nature and substance. Therefore, such an ethnography offers incredibly valuable insight for the analysis and assessment of violence, but I would not attribute the same valuation to its data as a means for discovering the origins of violence. 

Firstly, Chagnon begins his volume by developing the setting and substance of his culture. His thorough depiction, based on extensive observation of the Yanomamo across time and subgroups, develops the schemata by which to build his theories. Certainly, the separation of the Yanomamo, set in the Amazon and detached from modern civilization, influence the rate of change and progression within their society. Societies seem to function like centrifugal force--inertia propels motion around the same center point until an outside force disrupts the motion and causes a change in direction. With this analogy, a society will continue movement around a fixed point of equilibrium until outside influences necessitate or instigate a change. In the Amazon, a habitat with little change in environment and minimal exposure to outside influences will more than likely experience comparatively little change over a long period of time. This stagnancy creates a unique and highly established order within the social organization, as observed among the Yanomamo. The proposed stagnancy also creates the opportunity for great depth of knowledge of their environment, as the secrets of the forest are passed down through the generations. Thus, the Yanomamo are quite clever in the application of their wisdom. Their ingenuity creates a society of horticulturists with intense understanding of, and efficiency within, their environment. This aspect should not be underestimated. With these conditions and the Yanomamo's mastery over them, a culture of expertise, simplicity, and "luxury" commands. Also, the abundance of vegetation and the consistent climate of the Amazon contribute largely to the allowances of labor and abundant leisure in the daily lives of the people. Leisure does not negate the experience of need, pain, loss and toil; yet, the average Yanomamo probably does not experience near the daily level of stress as the average American. For me, the cultural sociological argument ends at this observation--Chagnon’s cultural evaluation requires nuerosociology to further develop this conclusion. 

Suggestively, if throughout the day the average Yanomamo experiences little stress, he presumably sustains more "normal" levels of serotonin, a major chemical involved in the Fight-or-Flight Response. Spikes in serotonin stimulate an acute evolutionary reaction. In comparison, research tells us that the Average American lives in this state of survival, with dangerously high levels of serotonin emissions. As a result of sustained, high levels of this chemical (often related to stress), Americans have adapted their reactions to the spike, and although the brain is calling for a life-or- death response to outside stimulus, the adapted American has learned that this is just not necessary when your emails aren't loading fast enough. The bombardment of stress and stimulus in our environment creates far too many of these spikes to produce the evolutionary response at each signal of stress. However, the Yanomamo have, more than likely, retained the potency of this evolutionary mechanism. By way of limited exposure, occasional increased serotonin levels produced by a survival threat, could produce the intended evolutionary response. A comparative assessment to an American experiencing the same level of serotonin production, may cause us to perceive the response as intensified or violent. Yet this would only be our perception of the response. For if the Yanomamo response is more representative of the genetic/ chemical/ knee-jerk response to threatening stimuli, then violence reduces to a coping mechanism created by evolution. For, human nature is human nature. Perhaps this suggestion offers a better indication for the prevalence of violence among the Yanomamo. 

Further surmising in evolutionary methods may help me to understand why serotonin levels specifically increase aggression, or why these levels spike under threats of survival, but this does not seem to be a fruitful pursuit at this point. The focus should remain on the identification of these responses, and then the continued adaptation of these responses to create more positive results. So this is where my investigation of setting and substance takes me. And although Chagnon's distinct assessment certainly increases understanding of the opportunity and agency for violence among the Yanomamo, I do not feel he adequately discerns the root causation or occasion (the input which ultimately tips the cost-benefit ratio in favor of violence) of Yanomamo violence. 

In consideration of the occasion for violence, Chagnon does however suggest that the Yanomamo belief system gives rise to, and validation for violence. Firstly, a distinction should be drawn between the cultural aspects of religion or a belief system and spirituality. Spirituality is an individual experience that connects one to the collective, cosmic whole. Yet Chagnon’s research and the cultural analysis of religion evaluate both the development and existing structure of belief within a society. To digress, I do agree with Chagnon at this point of cultural influence, yet I see the relationship as inter-dependent, rather than contingent. Notably, many would argue a third alternative--that belief systems and religion supersede the structure of a society because the truths are transcendent, permanent, and evident. Yet, I find this argument to be completely unconvincing and impossible. If one were to observe any "one" religion in two distinct locations/cultures--whether across the globe or across the street--he would certainly find similarities, more than likely a fair number of doctrinal and practice parallels. Yet, significant discrepancies in interpretation, evaluation, and practice would lace his research. If the argument were true--that religion should somehow supersede culture--than the same religion would have the same affect on every culture. We know this to be untrue. Therefore, even religion is subject to the same influences that society incurs. 

To pursue Chagnon’s observation even farther, religion (or a belief system) not only creates and validates violence, but religion also fits into the argument for evolutionary sociology. Unaddressed by Chagnon, structured and communal belief systems fulfill a very real need among humanity for security--the evolutionary promise of survival and progeny. Religion provides the structure and validation for certainty. Structure gives us a sense of predictability, which makes us feel that we can control our future, rather than fall victims to it. Also, humans need to be validated in their utility- -again, associated with security. For example, a useful employee in the office will more than likely have a higher job-retention rate than a useless employee that offers little in their employment. Security, as it relates to violence, creates the need for religion. Religion, in turn, validates acts of aggression and violence because the motivation can be attributed to cosmic or spiritual conviction. So, man created religion within their society as a means of achieving purposeful unity within a society--perhaps at times, a political exploitation of an intrinsic human need in pursuit of control. And just as religion often defines certain aspects of culture, religion falls subject to the influence of evolution and human need. Therefore, although there are very salient circumstances in which Chagnon characterizes the Yanomamo’s belief system’s culpability in acts of violence, his conclusion again leaves wanting for lack of a deeper rabbit hole. 

Another aspect of the Yanomamo culture, the societal organization and kinship ties, most definitely reinforce the violence created by substance and nature. In understanding the structure and relationships within the Amazonian tribes, Chagnon goes to great length to formulate complex genealogies and hierarchal diagrams to illustrate his observations. Chagnon fervently explores the violence instigated over women--trading, lusting, kidnapping, etc. Battles since the stone-age to the modern era, to the timeless age of the Yanomamo have been fought over the relationship of male and female. However, the simple observation that raids and violence are the result of kidnapping women, or a need for more women, seems deficient. Of course, men (collective) want women (pl.)-- they want a lot of them. Conversely, women (collective) want man (s.). One man. And not just any man, but the best. The mutual desire is apparent, yet many people fulfill this desire without violence. Chagnon’s conclusions lack the cost-benefit evaluation of when and why violence is chosen. Also, his speculation about violent males, the unkari class, and their statistically increased probability for mating, seems fruitless. The data, which is the basis for this hypothesis, is unsubstantiated and varies among sub-groups. Perhaps a deeper look into the evolutionary motivations behind violence would validate Chagnon’s claims in a way that his research has suggested, yet failed to evidence. For there is no doubt that disputes over women has created confrontation and aggression throughout history, but the value does not seem to be in the conclusions of Chagnon’s theory. 

The value, per my assessment, should point towards action, not a dead-end statement. Where can humanity move from Chagnon’s conclusion? Should men just care less about women? This is obviously perverse, and certainly not Chagnon’s assumption. But I do believe this personifies the danger in using such data to discover the source of violence--shouldn’t the source point us towards some solution? If a pipe is leaking, you follow the hose from the end until you find the leak. Once you find where the source of the problem is, you do not resolve with just knowing the location of the leak. You fix it. Seemingly, this same logic would function in the investigation of violence. 

However, a point in favor of Chagnon’s work--I see great potential for a broader understanding of violence. Understanding fosters compassion and honesty. And in all fairness, an honest representation seems to be Chagnon's ultimate goal. To understand the circumstances under which violence becomes the choice method for evolutionary efficiency, is to build a catalogue of experience that can function alongside our intuition. The problem, however, remains that throughout time, violence has proven to be an effective tool for meeting our needs. Otherwise, evolution would have weeded-out this mechanism long ago. 

Thus, only classifying and evaluating observations, as Chagnon has done in his ethnography, we are limited by the tools we have been exposed to. Consider Ariel in the Little Mermaid--she had never seen a fork. She, actually, had heard of a "thingamabob," but had never seen it used for its intended purpose. At dinner with Prince Alex, she brought her soup bowl to her mouth to eat, and began using the fork as a brush. Using only her past experience, she was unable to appropriately use the tools at her disposal. Chagnon would certainly admit that his research on the nature of violence is by no means comprehensive, but he offers another layer of understanding. 

Humanity, depravity, and benevolence are such complex experiences--no single method or interpretation could ever contain the whole of these matters. The value of Chagnon’s work is not to be a comprehensive theory of violence, but his research broadens our perspective of humanity. His life work does not ultimately offer any defined solutions or fortified origins of violence, and we are again left without an answer. But we may use Chagnon’s contributions with discretion and continue further assimilation, interpretation and application in hopes of someday understanding the darkness within.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The High Courts of Love + The 14th of February

Note:  I have chosen to arrange this post so that the historical background of St. Valentine's Day appears before my personal discourse and discovery of the Day for Love.  If you are less interested in the data, and would prefer to just observe insight from another perspective, I would suggest scrolling down to just below the Roses are Red poem to the paragraph beginning, "So I am not sure any of this work..."

Whichever point you find yourself on the continuum of St. Valentine's Day sentiment, I do not believe a heart exists outside of, or beyond, its spectrum of influence.  Sure, many see only the bad, and those of such opinion may readily contest my belief.  Yet, I would remind the skeptics that negative associations remain to be emotions, and humans have yet to discover how to avoid the affects of emotion.  Thus, Cupid's arrow still carries the sting, and his arbitrary target practice renders February 14th an annual excuse to disdain love.  But why let the American commercialization of yet *ANOTHER* holiday control the possiblity or mask the opportunity for something good?  For me, I had just lost contact with what the day was purposed to acheive.  It can't be all bad (as much as I think that would be easier), so I went on a quest to redeem the chubby cherib.  As [almost] always, I googled it.  

For starters, who is Mr. Valentine?  Well, there are actually 2 known martyrs of this appelation: St. Valentine of Terni (AD 197) and St. V. of Rome (AD 269).  However, by the time these two Casanovas were linked to the romance of 2.14, they had become one memory.  Not much is known of Val, except that he/they was/were buried on the Via Flaminia on the day we now celebrate. 

So, how did these two young chaps get hooked up on the love train?  The historical data, as it relates to the romantic tradition, actually presents a sketchy link.  Yet, as the origins of V-day, the subject remains worthy of consideration. The medeival acta, or "acts" of the saints appear in the haiographical Legenda Aurea [a.k.a.: The Golden Legend (the G.L. from here on), circa 1260 AD, is the Medeival equivilent of today's Harry Potter or Twighlight series--the "everyone-and-their-mother has read/loved/watched the movie/bought the T-shirt" fad.  However, instead of twisting tales of vampiers, warewolves and witchery, the G.L. records the fanciful accounts of the Saints as an anthology.]  Anyhow, the historical records state that Val was a Christian who came into contact with the Roman Emperor Claudius II.  Claud kind of liked Val, so the Emporer tried to convince Val to convert to pagaenism in order to save his life.  Val wouldn't concede, and in reply, he offered an audacious presentation instead, trying to convert Claud to Christianity.  Well, Val's "Come to Jesus" session didn't sit so well with Claud, who was not exactly enthused by Val's blatant disrespect.  And immediately, Claud called for Val's execution.  Suggestively, while awaiting his death, Val healed the blind daughter of his jailer.  A seemingly random point, but the significance ties in to the story at a later crossroad. 

So, those are the key points as recorded in the G.L., commonly accepted to be largely representative of historical fact. As for the modern romantic connection, we can attribute to the great "historical investigations" of American Greetings.  As posted on the website (submitted by none other than American greetings), we read the story of a harsh Roman Emperor Claudius II who would not allow his soldiers to marry because he believed they would be less-effective warriors.  The love-crazed St. Valentine believed so faithfully in love, that he would secretly officiate the marriages of the soldiers.  When Claud discovered this treason, he ordered Val be put to death.  And then, while imprisoned before his execution, St. Val fell in love with the jailer's daughter, who would come to visit him everyday leading up to his death.  The day of his execution, February 14th of the 2nd or 3rd century, St. Val allegedly wrote the first "valentine" to Miss Jailer's Daughter, signing the note, "From your Valentine..."  Thankfully, concedes the potential mysticism of this lore, a legend that most-certainly romanticizes the tale of a Christian martyr.  

From the 3rd century A.D., no St. Val romantic reference appears in literature until the 14th century, A.D.,  when Chaucer ushers in the use of the Saint's Day in reference to a season when birds meet to find their mate.  The poem, Parlement of Foules, was commissioned for the wedding of the 15-year olds, Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia.  Cute. 

Now, the connection has been made.  France becomes the center of the world during the Early Renaissance and Enlightenment Periods.  The world comes together in Paris and explores life, learning and love.  On St. Valentine's Day in 1400 A.D., the High Courts of Love are established in Paris.  The special court deals with matters between lovers, betrayal, and the abuse of women.  Interestingly, the judges in the courts are elected by the women.  And the basis of their selection, a poem submitted by applicants.  These poems came to be known as, Valentines.  The earliest surviving record of such a Valentine is scribed by Charles d'Orleans from the 15th century who was being held in Captivity in England.  His submission was a poem for his wife, and in French, it reads:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée...
Charles d'Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2
The proliferation of this idea lead to an onslaught of literary references, and soon, the idea of Valentine's Day as a special day for lovers became tradition. An interesting note, we are all familiar with, "Roses are red. Violets are blue...," but the origins of this poem are actually from Edmond Spencer's, The Fairee Queen. The original text reads...

"She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew."

Grammar's Garland Nursery Rhymes took off on this epic piece of literature and offers us,

The rose is red, the violet's blue
The honey's sweet, and so are you
Thou are my love and I am thine
I drew thee to my Valentine
The lot was cast and then I drew
And Fortune said it shou'd be you.

So, I am not sure if any of this work has acted to redeem or expose the origins of the Holiday for the Heart, but for me, I think I am ready to reclaim St. Valentine's Day, fable or fact. I do tend to question tradition--and not to rebel against tradition alone for rebellion's sake--but so that I do not forsake the richness and fullness of its origins. To take a retrospective glance reveals the rose-scented road that has brought us to dancing teddy bears and kiss-print boxers. This discovery liberates me to decide for myself whether, or not, this is an occasion I will accept, reject, or choose to redeem.

And the verdict. For me, I think this one may take some intentional redemptive measures, but I am none-the-less confident it can be done. Over the years, I have bounced between being jaded (wearing black on Feb. 14), rebellious (Single's Awareness Day! YAY!) and/or compensating (Jesus is my Valentine--true, but not legitimately the spirit of the day). As for today, I will choose to redeem. Because Valentine's Day IS a day for lovers. So, although I have no such attachment in 2011, I can recognize the holiday each year, but without feeling any pressure to compensate or yield.

I think of it like this. I am not Muslim, so I do not feel the need to participate in the fasts of Ramadan. Yet, I also feel no need to criticize, react, nor justify my absence in the festivities. Conversely, I am a person who loves God and Jesus. There are many days which carry a special significance to my faith. Passover, for example. Although I am thankful for the covenant between God and Abraham every single day, the Passover feast is a special time for me to fully embrace the gift of God's goodness. I just imagine a young boy in Jerusalem, participating in the ceremonies of the sacrificial lamb for the first time. Passover would be a yearly festival known to the young boy since his birth. Yet on this year, the festival carries unprecedented excitement, honor and significance--an experience that will hang heavily in his heart until the day of his death.

For me, I think I would like to look at Valentine's Day as such. No red balloons or boxed chocolates for me right now, but that is perfectly okay. I am presently not of station to participate in V-Day, but just as the young boy experiences the the yearly festivals since birth, his waiting period does not spoil his anticipation with shame or resentment, but he can cherish the day that he should be the one to bring the family sacrifice to the altar. Even now, I can see the goodness, and one day, if/when it is my turn to "carry the lamb to the altar," I will be ready to meet the occasion with steadfast joy and profound understanding and humility.

So, my charge to the Beyonce Crew/Single Ladies and the Bachelors 'til the Rapture--time for us all to sluff-off the shame+guilt associated with not appearing on Cupid's hit list, and maybe even be thankful for another year of escaping the crazy, toxic venom of Chunk's arrows. 

To all my Romeos and Juliets, Ferdinands and Isabellas, Guineveres and Lancelots, Edwards and Bellas, Bennifers and Brangelinas--equally time to stop taking for granted the goodness of Valentine's Day by cheapening it with false love or gifts not worthy to be brought to the altar. To bring back the metaphor, families would literally spend an entire year's wages just to bring a worthy sacrifice to the temple--all in hopes of begging God to remember their covenant. The promises of their faith rested in their traditions. Imagine the streets of Jerusalem perverted with paper cut-outs of lambs and pigeons and cotton-stuffed animals that perhaps even sing the scriptures. Impossible.  But if the Jews forget the origins of their traditions, perhaps this possibility becomes plausible, and even logical, considering the costs. Yet, what a profound detriment tied to the loss of the heritage of such rituals. And if the annual sacrifice could be purchased at a market on your way to the altar--with little, or no, effort and from only an hour's wages--would the redeeming covenant retain its potency? Suggestively, perhaps the real "gifts" of St. Valentine's Day have been muffled in the convenient markets filled with paper cut-outs and plush toys masquerading as the true gifts, leaving the Lover's Day empty or cheapened. 

Perhaps when the brokenness of Valentine's Day is restored, all hearts can be truly filled on February the 14th--either through God's gift of romantic love, or the hope found in God's love for romance.

Thanks for stopping by. Happy Valentine's Day. Stay dusty.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Take my Hands Off it: You Build and Destroy

My mom actually sent me this article about 3 weeks ago (excerpt at bottom of post). I printed it, and it has been in my "To read when i can breath" file ever since. Well, isn't that just like God. For today, when I desperately needed a breath, He had already provided. The faithful worlds of another soul in the kingdom provided me an access point for learning in my own life.  A few weeks ago, I read a wonderful, yet simple book, The Whole-Hearted Life. Not my typical read, but I am so thankful for the gift it has been to me. The author of the book is actually a Shame Researcher. Correct. She researches shame. Sounds depressing, I know, but her profound experience with shame--its causes, effects, and power-- actually lead to her understanding of what comprises a full, happy life. She interviewed hundreds of participants over a a period of years, had them self-rate their happiness, and combined her own session notes to achieve her data. Through a series of interviews and analysis, she recognized some very central commonalities among the group of people who lead happy lives. These commonalities breached: race, social class, occupation, gender, and even religion. I learned a lot from the book, as far as some more intentional techniques to weave good practices into my daily life, but I was also encouraged to find that I had been doing many of these things already. So--What are they? you may ask. Well, I will tell you, but to understand what these terms mean (she has constructed very intentional definitions in her book), taking 4-5 hours to understand them would certainly be worth the effort.

Compassion is huge. This comes almost directly from her shame research, but true compassion is not lying, "buttering someone up," minimizing, hyperbolizing or attacking.  Compassion is meeting someone with honesty, while validating their need and pointing them towards reality and calm. A great way to do this is to share an experience and become vulnerable, as well.  This creates a special bond between the two--for they share in the wonderful and overwhelming experience of humanity. A key point here is to know who you can trust to show you compassion.  It would be unwise to seek compassion from someone unable to give it.  No good would come from bringing your shame and vulnerability to someone who does not have enough care and concern to meet you in your weakness and see you through it.  With this understanding, it is equally unwise to publicize such need for compassion.  I do not discourage "publication" in the sense that one should hide his insecurities, but if you throw your needs to the wind, prepared for the wind to sweep them away. If some sparrow does happen to pass overhead and take hold of your offering, perhaps the semblance of compassion satisfies, but the sparrow will more than likely continue its flight, and your need for validation will remain unfulfilled.  The truth is, we all have needs and we all feel inadequate at times, but to try to fill up with "false compassion" leaves your heart like an empty malt ball.  Such a bummer.  It looks good, and the chocolate is nice, but you wanted the malt part.  Surely you have experienced this before! Because when you take a bite, there is only air!  Looked like a malt ball; felt like a malt ball; came in a malt ball box. But is a malt ball a malt ball without the malt?  (How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck... haha) Anyhow... the malt ball is empty, and you are still left with your hurt.  Better to develop real relationships that where the compassion is symbiotic. Promise.  :)  To illustrate this, just a few days after reading this chapter, I was handed an opportunity to practice what I had read.  I focused on not minimizing how real the situation seemed to my friend, I shared a similar experience of frustration, and we were able to laugh about our freak-outs. And guess what--it worked?!?! :) God blessed me. This encouragement gave me the motivation to keep reading.

Boundaries are important. When you feel taken advantage of, it is difficult to feel positively about your actions. Understanding your limits with honesty and communicating those to your environment, and following through with your needs even works to form stronger bonds when you sometimes have to say, "No." Resentment and obligation are difficult emotions to push out, and often, when unresolved, they poison the goodness that your initial desire to please intended to access.

Gratitude. I always felt like I was a thankful person, but this is different. My conversations with God no longer end or begin with, "Thanks for my amazing family. I know they love me. Thanks for my incredible friends; I love our community." These are CERTAINLY things to feel thankful for, but EACH DAY I am waiting for God's special little gifts. I realized that when I really feel thankful for a gift that someone has blessed me with, I want to bless them also. A very special bond forms through gratitude, and I see this as one of the most transforming ways I can remain connected to God. Today, I am looking for the gifts. A gorgeous, sunny day is a gift, and sometimes I can truly be thankful for it, but my gratitude has more become the connections or experience that dramatically move my soul. Example: Today, I met a man at Wal-Mart--he was asking for donations.  He was part of a ministry for recovering drug addicts. He said a lot, actually, but one thing he definitely said was, "I don't do this because the ministry needs money, or because I am even expecting donations. But when I walk into the world every day and can share the love of God, my hearts pulses and my spirit sings the grace that I can claim in Christ." I am pretty sure that is verbatim; for his testimony is inscribed on my heart and still rings in my ears. He also went on to say that people don't believe addicts can change. By confessing to people every day the grace and love of LORD, he was able to remind himself of the joy he has found. Amazing man. His name is Selby. We will be praying for each other for one month. Thank you, LORD. Your face shines upon me.

And--then there is play. I am actually pretty good at this, if I do say so myself. BUT, it was wonderful to hear that this is actually a key component to a full life. :) I think there are times when my play has been viewed as irresponsible or unnecessary, but actually, we need to play and create! Whether music, photography, scrap-booking, acting, woodworking. Lord God is Creator, and being formed in His image, it is only natural that we should have the desire to create (and procreate, I might add! But that is for a different post!).

Finally, spirituality is inextricably important--perhaps even the glue. A belief that we are all connected and part of something facilitates the possibility for all other factors of joy. In life, everyone is looking for purpose, and the need for purpose comes from a need to be validated or valued. This need points directly to love. We all are desperately looking for love. Well, Selby found it. I think/know that I have found it. And even in the times I choose the lesser or when I close my heart to the love that has been offered, there love remains, waiting.  An out-streched hand.  A peaceful stream.  Shalom. (by the way... Shalom--Definition: as His will be done. Translation: everything exactly as God wills it.) An opportunity to fall within His will awaits me.

So, that being said, here is the excerpt that really moved me to post. It is from Churchianity (Full article on Featured Finds Tab.) Worth the read.

It will not be enough for you to then say: "Lord, the Church belongs to You, not to me, not to anyone. Now I see my mistake. I take my hands off of it, for it is not mine to control or run. I repent of trying to build what you wish to destroy, and destroying what you wish to build. What am I, Lord, but a little stone, a little sheep, a little member of a wonderful Body of Believers? You are building Your Church, and now I will let you do it. At last I see. Only let me find a quiet place to serve You and serve Your people in secret, for I want nothing else for me, but all of it for You."

All the arguments in the world will not convince people, nor should we attempt to make people see. Simply allow them to see. Look upon the face of Him who sees things as they are so that others may look into your eyes and see Him as He is. God will grant us a discerning heart and eyes to see and hear if we will ask Him for such holy things, and if we are willing to accept both the joy and the burden that accompanies such a revelation.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay dusty.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Special Two, Missy Higgins

Okay, so I like Missy Higgins.  Fair enough.  Also, the girl rocks.  This one I am not playing (obviously), but it took me around 6 months to learn the other one (I don't play the piano), so I used a karaoke track.

I hope this doesn't come across as indulgent. I am just having fun with it.  I love these songs--although, kind of wish my sister would sing them.  But I'm all I've got for now.  ha.  okay...  The Special Two, Missy Higgins.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

This is a first. Nightminds by Missy Higgins

Soooo.. not my typical post.  I just learned I have a video on my computer! ha.  i'm a little behind, to say the least.  This is Nightminds by Missy Higgins.  Don't go listen to her right away--I don't hold a stick!  But this is sometimes what happens as a result of "inclement weather conditions."  I haven't sung "in front of people" since high school, so here's to regaining my youth!  ha. 
Enjoy.  Thanks for stopping by. 

A spider chooses to spin her web.

Intrigued by anonymous’s comment, I went researching. 
As proposed:  Spiders choose to spin a web.
But why?  Well, every species (including homo sapiens) are coded with a genetic propensity towards survival.  There is a collective drive and an individual drive.  The collective, for example, creates the phenomenon of “society” or “community.”  Humans have learned over the years that survival is much easier when we do not have to generate every resources necessary to survival.  I did not grow all that is in my refrigerator and I did not build the house I live in.  I trade for what I need with the resources that my life (and life choices) produce.  On the other hand, the individual drive to survive causes circumstances such as inter/intra-communal violence and aggression.  Our instinct to push our DNA into the future generations holds such force that species are willing to take offensive action for the protection of this intrinsic impulsion.
With such germane tendencies, species learn to adapt to their environment in order to assure survival.  Over multiple generations, the benefactors of preferred genetic mutations pass on their adaptations to their offspring.  Those that posses the genetic “upper hand” are more likely to survive, thus more likely to procreate.  Thus, the process of evolution has allowed for each species to develop a “tool kit” of genomic and phenomic capabilities that increase the opportunity of progeny.  The human thinks.  The eagle flies.  And the the spider spins its web.  
To return to the proposed choice of a spider and her web, a little data on the process of webbing draws a few potential parallels.   Firstly, The spider spins a web to catch food--naive insects who tangle in the sticky web.  The thread of the spider’s web is quite the evolution--its strength, elasticity and gummy properties, if reproduced by humans with a girth of 3 cm, could stop a Boieng 747 mid-flight.  The production of this thread takes place in several glands on the upper abdomen.  Each gland produces a thread for a special purpose. There are seven different known glands. Of note, each spider possesses only some of these glands and not all seven together.
To spin her web, normally a spider has three pairs of spinners.  Although, some spiders have just one pair and others, as many as four. Just as each gland serves a special purpose, each spinner has it own function. Within the spinners, there are small tubes connected to the glands. The number of tubes can vary between 2 and 50.000.
And, how is this web constructed?  The most difficult part is the construction of the first thread--a sturdy horizontal thread on which the rest of the web hangs. But how does the spider connect this thread between the two connecting points? She can not fly. Does she connect a thread at one place, walk down with an enrolling thread behind her to the other side where pulls the thread horizontal and connects it?
No, the answer is more simple. She makes use of the wind and some luck.
The wind carries a thin adhesive thread released from her spinners while making the thread longer and longer. If she is lucky the thread sticks to a proper spot. Then she walks carefully over the thread, strengthening it with a second thread. This is repeated until the primary thread is strong enough.  Spinning a web takes a lot of time and energy.  The process almost completely drains the spider, so once complete, she must sit and wait for her meal.  She has done her work--hopefully chosen a prudent location, spun her web with care and attention, and courageously utilized her resources to work for her survival.  
I am aware that courage and fear are concepts which a spider simply could not understand, but there is no denying that the spider experiences something like emotions--fear, specifically.  When in danger, spiders may bite or spin a web or run away.  They will use their bodies’ physique and genetic make-up to escape danger.  Human, however, may be more complex in some ways and perhaps less complex in others.  When humans are “in danger,” or are struggling with emotions perhaps unattainable to a spider, we have no way to spin a web from a silky thread, or bite with poison to numb our adversary, but we do have other tools--our brains being the most significant.  
I have not dealt with so many aspects of the spider and her web, and perhaps I will revisit this topic at another time.  But for now, the most salient parallel I see between the choice of a spider and human sovereignty over fate, is that we are both coded to survive, and there are an incalculable number of factors that threaten this intention in both environments. Yet, we also both have a very unique set of tools.  We don’t just disappear or become invisible when threatened, but we can choose to use our instincts, spin the appropriate thread, take the first leap, wish for luck and a good wind, get to work spinning, and then learn patience as we await the results of our labor.  
Thanks for the comment, Anonymous.  You made me think.  I am blessed.