Religion and Politics

Religion and Politics

During my recent life coach training we discussed several human development models. One that I particularly liked was Robert Kegan’s Theory of Consciousness Development where he defines six progressive stages of development. He defines Stage 5 as The Integral Self. Research suggests that 14% of adults are transitioning to this stage, and only 1% of adults actually attain it.

Several of the characteristics of this stage of development include:

• Is more accepting and understanding of other perspectives and positions

• Sees conflict as an opportunity to dialog across differences to bring about discovery and new understanding

• Comes to understand that some differences cannot be resolved

As we consider religion and politics, I think that it would do us all well to consider embracing this more excellent way. Two men that were on this path were former Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and the late Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts who were able to bridge their religious and political differences through friendship and mutual respect. I was moved to tears when I originally read the following speech that Orrin Hatch gave at Ted Kennedy’s funeral in 2009:

“America has lost a giant in politics and public policy. I have lost a close personal friend.

People called us the “odd couple,” which was certainly true. There are few men with whom I had less in common. Ted was born to a famous patrician family of Boston. He attended private schools and Harvard University. He was politically liberal and liberal in his lifestyle at least until he married Vicki Reggie, who set him straight. I grew up in a poor, working class family in Pittsburgh. Where Ted was the affable Irishman, I was the teetotaling Mormon missionary.

We did not agree on much, and more often than not, I was trying to derail whatever big government scheme he had just concocted. And, in those years that Republicans held the majority in the Senate, when it came to getting some of our ideas passed into law, he was not just a stone in the road, he was a boulder.

Disagreements over policy, however, were never personal with Ted. I recall a debate over increasing the minimum wage. Ted had launched into one of his patented histrionic speeches, the kind where he flailed his arms and got red in the face, spewing all sorts of red meat liberal rhetoric. When he finished, he stepped over to the minority side of the Senate chamber, put his arm around my shoulder, and said with a laugh and a grin, “How was that, Orrin?”

We did manage to forge partnerships on key legislation, such as the Ryan White AIDS Care Act, State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and most recently, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. Ted was a lion among liberals, but he was also a constructive and shrewd lawmaker. He never lost sight of the big picture and was willing to compromise on certain provisions in order to move forward on issues he believed important. And, perhaps most importantly, he always kept his word. When our carefully balanced compromise legislation came to the Senate floor, Ted often had to lead the opposition to amendments offered by Democratic colleagues that he would rather have supported. But, he took the integrity of our agreement seriously and protected the negotiated package. And, when my mother and father died times of deep sorrow for me Ted Kennedy was there with the right words and sincere sympathy. Ted was a man experienced in facing tragedy, having grieved more than his share, and yet became stronger for it. He and Vicki flew to Utah to attend my mother’s funeral, a gesture that will always mean a great deal to me.

We can all take a lesson from Ted’s 47 years of service and accomplishment. I hope that America’s ideological opposites in Congress, on the airwaves, in cyberspace, and in the public square will learn that being faithful to a political party or a philosophical view does not preclude civility, or even friendships, with those on the other side.

When reflecting on my dear friend’s life, my thoughts continue to turn to the future of this great nation. With the loss of such a liberal legislative powerhouse who spoke with conviction for his side of the aisle but who was always willing to look at an issue and find a way to negotiate a bipartisan deal, I fear that Washington has become too bitterly partisan. I hope that Americans in general and Washington politicians in particular will take a lesson from Ted’s life and realize that we must aggressively advocate for our positions but realize that in the end, we have to put aside political pandering, work together and do what is best for America.

Personally, I mourn the loss of my dear friend Ted Kennedy. I will miss sparring with him over policy, his unparalleled skills as a legislator, his wonderful sense of humor, and his generous nature. And Americans from all points on the political spectrum can surely admire the example of a United States senator who was dedicated to the last to advancing the vision of America that he held so dearly.”

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning

Every year we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is estimated that 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust. Six million of these were Jews. The Nazis killed approximately two-thirds of all Jews living in Europe.  An estimated 1.1 million children were murdered in the Holocaust. 

Viktor Emil Frankl (1905 – 1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as    a Holocaust survivor. His experiences as a concentration camp inmate led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, and thus, a reason to continue living.

In my most recent reading of his classic book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, I was struck by his statement “the striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.  That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centered, as well as in contrast to the will to power which Adlerian psychology, using the term “striving for superiority,” is focused.”

I think it is appropriate to substitute the word “purpose” for Frankl’s word “meaning.”  Therefore, of the three motivations that Frankl identifies, pleasure, power and purpose, purpose is the primary motivation of humankind.  Purpose is also one of my five identified components of a healthy life.

Here is another excerpt from the book:

 “In attempting this psychological presentation and a psychopathological explanation of the typical characteristics of a concentration camp inmate, I may give the impression that the human being is completely and unavoidably influenced by his surroundings.  (In this case the surroundings being the unique structure of camp life, which forced the prisoner to conform his conduct to a certain set pattern.)  But what about human liberty?  Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings?  Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors – be they of a biological, psychological or sociological nature?  Is man but an accidental product of these?  Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings?  Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?

We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle.  The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action.  There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed.  Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.

And there were always choices to make.  Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions.  Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not the result of camp influences alone.  Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually.  He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”

Circle Makers and Lion Chasers

Circle Makers and Lion Chasers

“Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.” Mark Batterson.

Mark Batterson is an American pastor and author. Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. NCC is focused on reaching emerging generations and meets in theaters throughout the D.C. metro area. NCC also owns and operates the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill, and it is one of the most Innovative and influential churches in America.

What I like most about him though is that he is not just a man of faith; he is a man of action, and his books give practical insights, supported by his personal example, that can help us transform our dreams into reality.  I want to highlight two of his outstanding books that have inspired me to take risks as I did three years ago when I stepped out of the corporate world and into my calling.

As we begin a new year and a new decade, this is a good time to reflect on what challenges in my life do I need to circle in prayer and confidently face head on.

The following are edited book reviews and summaries written by others that reflect my views.

  • The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears – 2012

According to Pastor Mark Batterson in The Circle Maker, “Drawing prayer circles around our dreams isn’t just a mechanism whereby we accomplish great things for God. It’s a mechanism whereby God accomplishes great things in us.”

Do you ever sense that there’s far more to prayer than what you’re experiencing?

It’s time you learned from the legend of Honi the Circle Maker–a man bold enough to draw a circle in the sand and not budge from inside it until God answered his impossible prayer for his people.

What impossibly big dream is God calling you to draw a prayer circle around?

Sharing inspiring stories from his own experiences as a circle maker, Mark Batterson will help you uncover your heart’s deepest desires and God-given dreams and unleash them through the kind of audacious prayer that God delights to answer.

“There is nothing God loves more than keeping promises, answering prayers, performing miracles, and fulfilling dreams. That is who He is. That is what He does. And the bigger the circle we draw, the better, because God gets more glory. The greatest moments in life are the miraculous moments when human impotence and divine omnipotence intersect — and they intersect when we draw a circle around the impossible situations in our lives and invite God to intervene.”

“Once you embrace the omnipotence of God, you’ll draw ever-enlarging circles around your God-given, God-sized dreams.”

  • Chase the Lion: If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It’s Too Small – 2016

Quit playing it safe and start running toward the roar!

When the image of a man-eating beast travels through the optic nerve and into the visual cortex, the brain sends the body a simple but urgent message: run away! That’s what normal people do, but not lion chasers. Rather than seeing a five-hundred-pound problem, they see an opportunity for God to show up and show His power.

Chase the Lion is more than a catchphrase; it’s a radically different approach to life. It’s only when we stop fearing failure that we can fully seize the opportunity by the mane. With grit and gusto, New York Times best-selling author Mark Batterson delivers a bold message to everyone with a big dream.

This is a wake-up call to stop living as if the purpose of life was to simply arrive safely at death. Our dreams should scare us. They should be so big that without God they would be impossible to achieve. Quit running away from what you’re afraid of.

“Your greatest regret at the end of your life will be the lions you didn’t chase. You will look back longingly on risks not taken, opportunities not seized, and dreams not pursued. Stop running away from what scares you most and start chasing the God-ordained opportunities that cross your path.”

Based upon 2 Samuel 23, Chase the Lion tells the true story of an ancient warrior named Benaiah who chased a lion into a pit on a snowy day—and then killed it. For most people, that situation wouldn’t just be a problem…it would be the last problem they ever faced. For Benaiah, it was an opportunity to step into his destiny. After defeating the lion, he landed his dream job as King David’s bodyguard and eventually became commander-in-chief of Israel’s army under King Solomon.

Chase the lion!

Change the world!

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The New Normal

The New Normal

I finished my 65th and final half-marathon on October 19.  Three days later, I was on the operating table for a planned bunion surgery.  Recovery from this procedure takes about 8-10 weeks.  For the first two weeks I had to remain in a lying position with my foot elevated for 90% of the day.  I was cleared to do non-weight-bearing exercises from this position, so I did some leg raises and knee-in crunches.  These were normal movements that I usually did without impunity.

The next day my knee was swollen, very painful, and I was barely able to move it.  Since I was already resting with my foot elevated, I added some over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and icing to my treatment regimen.  Seven days later, my condition did not improve, so I saw my orthopedist who took an x-ray and confirmed that I have osteoarthritis in my knee that will eventually require a knee replacement.  He gave me a cortisone shot and sent me on my way.  Normally, the effects of a cortisone shot last about three months.

Seven days later, I was cleared to go to the gym and do some non-weight bearing exercises.  I did some knee extensions with 20 pounds of resistance which is less than what I normally lift.  A few hours later, my knee swelled, the pain returned, and I had a limited range-of-motion.  I had over done it, and I was paying the price for it.

I returned to the orthopedist, who gave me a viscosupplement lubricant injection.  This time I was very cautious about my movements.  However, three days later the swelling, pain and restricted movement returned with a vengeance.  The orthopedist determined that I was experiencing an adverse reaction to the injection, so he aspired the fluid and gave me a second cortisone shot.

That did the trick, and I am recovering well.  However, I have come to realize, that I can’t return to all my previous activities without the risk of re-injuring my knee, so I had to give up teaching and participating in a couple of the higher intensity exercise classes.  As a result, I have become much more sensitive and compassionate toward people who experience physical pain and movement restrictions.

But things could be worse.

My friend Jamie Whitmore was a world class Xterra (off-road) pro triathlete.  She excelled in this sport having won six national titles and a world title.  Jamie won 37 overall championships, more than any other male or female at that time. In 2008 in the prime of her athletic career, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that left her paralyzed in her lower left leg.  She went from being a world class athlete to one who had to relearn how to walk.

After her recovery, she went on to compete in cycling events for the U.S. in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games where she brought home one gold medal and a silver medal. Jamie is also a recipient of an ESPY award for “Best Female Athlete with a Disability.”  She is still very active as an athlete, coach, and motivational speaker.

But things could be worse yet.

Joni Eareckson Tada lived an extremely busy life as an athletic teenager.  She broke her neck in a diving accident in 1967 when she was 17 that severed her spinal cord, resulting in permanent paralysis from the shoulders down.  After a period of struggle, she accepted her new normal and became a world renown author, motivational speaker and advocate for people with disabilities.

And things could be even worse.

We all face struggles and setbacks in life.  Whether it is a broken relationship, the death of a loved one, physical, financial or emotional challenges.  Whatever the misfortune, God is there to cushion the blow, give us hope and lead us into what is our new normal.

 

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Home For The Holidays

Home For The Holidays

 I grew up in a predominantly Jewish area of New York City where Chanukah menorahs outnumbered Christmas trees in the apartment building where I lived. Chanukah is a Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication. It is an eight day celebration of the miracle of one day’s supply of the Temple’s menorah oil lasting eight days.  It has its own charm and traditions such as the spinning of the dreidel, giving of gelt (money) and eating special holiday food such as latkes (potato pancakes).

For a comedic view of Chanukah, check out Adam Sandler’s parody: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC1cv6D4Wb0)

In 1970 when I came to believe in the Messiah, I was amazed to discover the Jewish aspects of Christmas.  It takes place in a Jewish city, Bethlehem, as foretold by the Jewish prophet Micah (Micah 5:2).  It has a Jewish cast, as Mary and Joseph were devout Jews, and the story is about the Incarnation of the Divine Son as foretold by the Jewish prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 9:6).

However, it wasn’t until 1973 after I married my wife Cheryl that I came to appreciate and experience the family aspects of the holiday season.  There was something magical about that Christmas Eve meal with all the children (and me) gathered in anticipation of opening their gifts. Year after year we gathered at Cheryl’s parents Clem and Kay’s house in Minnetonka with her brother Steve (and later, his wife Lisa and their three children Jenny, Tyler and Spencer), her sister Linda, our daughters Anna and Becky, and her grandfather George while he was living.

We missed the Christmas gathering in 1978 when we were living in New York on the campus of the non-profit organization where I was working.  However, we invited others who were away from their families to our home for Christmas that year.  It was not unlike Mary and Joseph who were also out of town pilgrims away from their family during that first Christmas, and in its own way it was a very special occasion for us that year.

In 1979 I started working for the Grumman Corporation.  Grumman closed its facilities from Christmas to New Years, so I was off work for the next ten days.  We had no particular plans for Christmas that year.  This was so unlike me, because I plan ahead for EVERYTHING.  I plan vacations a year or more in advance, but I had no plans for Christmas in 1979.

We came home from church on Sunday, December 23 and I asked Cheryl, “What are we going to do for Christmas?” Half jesting, she said, “Let’s drive to Minnesota.  If we leave now, we can be at my parent’s house for dinner on Christmas Eve.”  This insane idea really clicked with me, so 30 minutes later our car was packed with our two young daughters and their wrapped Christmas presents bound for the 24 hour trek to Minnesota.  We had an unexpected meeting with a deer in Western Pennsylvania that took out the right high beam headlight of our Toyota Corona, but the only other casualties of our trip were our daughter’s Baby Feel So Real dolls that froze solid in the trunk.

Our journey was filled with anticipation and excitement about surprising Cheryl’s family and being with them at Christmas after a year’s absence. Cheryl’s mother called us shortly before we left for Minnesota, but we didn’t divulge our plans to her.  Cheryl finally called her mother in Indiana and told her that we were on our way to their house. At first she didn’t believe Cheryl, but after it sunk in, she quickly bought more groceries and gifts for our daughters to open up on Christmas Eve.  This was a special Christmas and our most memorable as a family.

The next year I was still working for Grumman, and we planned our trip to Minnesota.  The trip was good, but it was not the same as the previous year.  However, all memories of Christmas time with my in-laws are precious, none to be taken for granted. These 20 years of family gatherings came to an abrupt end when my mother-in-law passed away in 1993, and my father-in-law passed away two years later.   We eventually established new family traditions, but we all remember that special unplanned Christmas gathering in 1979 when everybody was with us.

Here is a totally unrelated postscript to my 1979 Christmas story, but one that might encourage us whenever possible to move quickly to reconcile any broken family relationships – especially during this season when family gatherings are special.

My great grandmother lived to be 103.  She immigrated to the United States from Poland shortly after World War I.  She had a half sister who was ten years younger who she had a falling out with while they both lived in Europe.  They had nothing to do with each other for over 70 years.  However in the last year of my great grandmother’s life, she had to be moved to a nursing home; the same home where her half sister lived.  To make a long story short, they were reconciled there.  Life is too short to hold grudges; let there be peace on the earth and good will toward man.

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Half Marathon Man

Half Marathon Man

Adlai Stevenson was a distinguished statesman and two-time Democratic presidential nominee. He lost the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections to the popular war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower.  He mounted a third attempt to secure the Democratic nomination for president in 1960, but he faced an even tougher challenge in the young and charismatic John F. Kennedy, who easily won the Democratic nomination and went on to win the presidential election that year.  Someone once asked Stevenson how it felt to lose, and he said “I was reminded of a story that a fellow townsman of ours used to tell – Abraham Lincoln. They asked him how he felt once after an unsuccessful election. He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”

It must have been a tough ten-year period for Adlai Stevenson filed with periods of hope and anticipation which ultimately ended in defeat. I know the feeling. For me, it was a ten-year attempt to break the four-hour barrier in the marathon.  There were 15 attempts between 1989 and 1999.  There were five attempts at the Twin Cities Marathon. There were plane trips to Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Jacksonville, Sacramento, and New York, and return trips with mixed feelings of accomplishment and disappointment.

Only one half of one percent of the U.S. population has completed a marathon, and I have completed 15.  Those who followed my journey would often say to me, “At least you finished.”  However, this was no consolation to me.  Those who are frequent marathoners know what I am talking about.

I was a good half-marathoner though, and I usually broke two hours in my early years of running.  I ran my best half in Mora, MN in 1990 on a hilly course in 1:45.  Based on those results, I should have broken four hours in the marathon that year.  My problem year after year though was GI discomfort as I reached the 20-mile mark that forced me to walk the next six miles.

That period was the cardio and carb era when we were taught to maximize our mileage and our intake of carbohydrates.  I believe that this strategy contributed to my GI distress.  If I knew and practiced then what I know and practice now about strength training and balanced diet, I for sure would not have experienced GI distress, and I would have broken four hours in several of my marathon attempts, but the opportunity passed me by.

Back in fifth grade, my good friend Mark Schlosberg said to me, “Michael, you are not the strongest or the fastest (among our group of friends), but you have the most endurance.”  These words have had prophetic significance to me over the years, and they still ring true to me today evidenced by the fact that I am still working out regularly and teaching others how to enjoy the benefits of staying active.

Adlai Stevenson never attained the presidency, but he served in many governmental roles including Governor of Illinois and U.S. Secretary to the United Nations, which is not too shabby of a political legacy.  Half marathons may not be as glamorous as full marathons, and I have completed 64 of them, so I guess being a half marathon man is pretty good too.

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