When I was small and young, I was close to the ground. I collected rocks, sticks, glass, broken toys, pennies then dimes, whatever caught my eye. Yes I am distracted by Sparkly Things. To what was I supposed to be paying attention?
I like to play with categories and play games about categories. I have one playmate with whom I share delightful, hilarious verbal exchanges in which we describe things, actions, ideas with two unrelating qualifiers. Like, "this pen is elegant yet vulnerable." Like, "that song is lulling and ironic."
To eavesdroppers, we are ridiculous. To us, we know we are creating a game that disrupts usual categorical thinking and hearing what the effect is. We haven't moved past two descriptions. It needs to be quick and quippy for us. It's so fun.
* * *
I recently watched The Secret to Modern Living: Algorithms. Because it is a film, I was able to take in the context by having a visual pictures demonstrating the explanations.
I wonder how much I might have comprehended if I just listened....the pictures and scenes were mesmerizing.
It has stuck with me. Because we have been able to outsource the job of figuring algorithms to technology and computing,
I wonder how much analytical and computational ability we are losing.
I wonder how the rush for manual labor and thinking is diminishing our motivation to use categorical analyses of our own life's implicit biases.
* * *
I am thinking about creating games and activities that enact the mathematical process of sorting and grouping towards a finite end.
I am thinking about a game that prompts children to "bubble sort" as well as "merge sort" or even "insert sort" themselves. I'm finding games with themes along this line yet without a narrative that leads to an end....message, and ultimate meaning making.
If somehow this is intriguing you, I invite you into a play land of collaboration and research with me.
The following are said to be features of a good algorithm:
1. Precision: a good algorithm must have a certain outlined steps. The steps should be exact enough, and not varying.
2. Uniqueness: each step taken in the algorithm should give a definite result as stated by the writer of the algorithm. The results should fluctuate by any means.
3. Feasibility: the algorithm should be possible and practicable in real life. It should be abstract or imaginary.
4. Input: a good algorithm must be able to accept a set of defined input.
5. Output: a good algorithm should be able to produce results as output, preferably solutions.
6. Finiteness: the algorithm should have a stop after a certain number of instructions.
7. Generality: the algorithm must apply to a set of define inputs.
* * *
How can we translate these into human ends?
Off to the practice lab!
To My Facebook Friends (and the other ones too),
This is not 'insider baseball talk.' That is a popular national pastime which involves paying a high ticket price to watch men play a game. Games are fun. For me baseball isn't fun and this isn't about baseball.
My institutional faith is in ideological conflict and emotional crisis right now. It is all about how who we are to function now based on the complacency, errors and sins of our own past. We have been thrust into confronting the institutional delivery system of a faith that claims a radical spirit of inclusive and empowering love for all.
It is not a new conversation when an institution and the leaders of that institution are called to reflect on and be true to their own sources of accountability and authority.
It is not an original conversation when an institution and the leaders of that institution are called to examine how their own tradition propagates an elite class that maintains power and control over expressions and acts that faith.
This is not the first time a promise of “trickle down” economics is another delay tactic that solidifies the suppression of those who have not, are not, and could never have been at the table of prophetic voices who call the people to radical love and justice and teach what that looks like.
Change takes time, we remind each other. How long?
Patience, we say. How much?
Does your faith or institution fall short of living into its full promise?
SO SAD that places of higher learning are risk-averse. To dedicate one's life to the pursuit of learning in a laboratory setting without being able to test out real-world theories is a bottle neck of ranking, competition and in-fighting.
It may be a developmental stage to feel emboldened and radical, but so is stealing. When consequences are dire and hate/violence is returned with hate/violence, it's not righteousness. It's sick. Could someone please figure out a dietary supplement or simple procedure to fuse the pre-frontal cortex at an earlier age? How does being right or radical include violence when violence is also condemned as an ideology? My violence is better than yours?
The incident at Middlebury College seems beyond morally justified to me. Maybe there is more to the story....still doesn't compare to hate crimes like hanging a child or killing a person based on difference. Still. Violence dehumanizes. Period. There is no right in hurt. The problem with righteous indignation is that it is still anger and it is anger that destroys and hurts. Sometimes pain does this too. The phoenix may rise from the ashes but that's not the human experiment I am committed to.
Anyone about to say, "oh...look at those crybaby liberals nazis....." Don't. The highest office in this country is held by a person who's modeling immature name calling, blaming, tantrums, and impulse -- something that parents across the political spectrum ever-strive not to happen if we want our children to be caring and responsible human beings.
I think of a little boy I used to know who often screamed YOU'RE BAD!!!!! Whenever he didn't get his way. Looking back it was developmentally cute and harmless but didn't that behavior need to be redirected in a way that showed all the choices a person has to express dissatisfaction with respect and without damage to understanding in relationship?
Anyone about to say "the revolution will not be civil....." How will that work out for us?
I dreamt about a hanging child last night and still, we count our children's crayons and cut the crusts off their sandwiches....
Is there more to this college story? I acknowledge I am reacting emotionally, which rarely has worked out for me. I am sad and worried. I am willing to be vulnerable to respectful critique, but not more logical fallacies. _/\_
I try to participate in social media and conversations without impulse. To join a heated argument is simply not a good use of time. Things Will Be Said that cross a line. Points Will Be Made that come from a different place in the brain.
My goal online and in person is to engage in curious and respectful conversations across difference. If I jump into the mix without centering myself, I feel offended or mad, mad and offended. It's not good and it is not only useless, it's harmful. At such a time, there is no such thing as my being right or wrong. An emotionally-charged conversation is barely a conversation, if at all -- by definition.
Occasionally I think about getting offline and avoiding this. Sometimes I think I'll become more introverted. After all, it really doesn't change minds to be offering counter facts of equally questionable value (even if I like them).
When I center myself in humility, generosity and curiosity, I have had moments of new patience, listening, and empathy. With practice, I am learning to access my wise mind more spontaneously. Some worry and anxiety and definitely frustration linger on.
Based on my own story, I learned early on never to try to discuss anything -- or especially not argue -- when emotions are running high. It's simply not smart. It defies brain science. We hear more and more about the variable accuracy of our pre-frontal cortexes, the quickness of the amygdala and whether or not the pathway to the hypocampus is sufficiently trod.
Our hypocampus is the place in our brain that guides us to insight, or wise mind.
Wise mind is the result of processing our emotions and rationale thoughts. My own experience of practice has show me that this equation is more multiplication than addition. After all, it is wisdom that is produced. Wisdom is priceless. Our ability to navigate and negotiate comes from constantly practiced interactions that are the result of wise mind. Wise mind is cultivated through the practice of mindfulness; being present. Mindfulness practice comes from Eastern (Zen) spiritual practices.
When we add discussion to the process our feelings and thoughts in order to gain understanding, we are talking about a process that is sometimes called dialectical behavior therapy. I first learned about this therapeutic model when I was a hospital chaplain intern. I learned how it is being used for people who struggle with mood disorder. As such, talking through the meaning of thoughts and feelings in a group is a powerful approach to gaining individual and group insight.
When we are spiritual leaders, when apply ourselves to sharing our purpose and passion with others in any form, the question is: from which place do we want to lead? model? convey? from the place of our emotions? from a purely rational place? if these two places are so different, which they are, what connects them?
Wise mind connects our parts into a whole.
Taking time and holding space to allow wisdom to guide takes a very practical application of empathy.
Everyone has a story of long ago and many wounds. Some people have more. Other people have had the means to acquire expensive treatments. Our role as spiritual leaders -- as practitioners who can inspire and equip, is to sort out our emotions before going out in to the public and speaking up and out.
That way, we can best respond to those who really show up battered and bloodied and get them the help they need.
I liked the Grey's Anatomy last night. The episode "It Only Gets Much Worse" operates according to the law that if it ain't broke, we don't fix it. I add my own conjunction -- and if it is broke, we all fix it.
I think my Dad died this with this in mind. In my last conversations with him, I could see he was coming to terms with the fact that he decided to let go but no one was letting. I asked him a chaplainy question like, "what's the hardest part, Dad?"
"...that no one is listening to me," he blurted out sharply.
He declined the opportunity to try to fix something about himself. He didn't feel broke, he felt done. He was 92 years old (almost 93), had lived a full life, and would not be anyone's burden. No.
It took a little while for us to hear this. It took us longer to understand this.
We can all relate to how hard it is to get back up again after a fall, in more ways than one. Just the amount of energy we anticipate needing keeps us in the bed. It's hard work. It takes will, not power.
We're not really taught how to have the will to face what we must, whether it's a physical struggle, an emotional assault, spiritual crisis, or the end of the world. We end up being consumed only by power -- either by being denied agency or having an addiction for it. Without will we are disabled in any ability to do the one thing that might save us o that we can then help another. That's kinda what we're supposed to be doing. We'd like to think that if we are just supportive enough or are supported enough, then someone's will can be jumpstarted. Maybe. It hasn't happened for me that way. We aren't supposed to beg the dying to give us yet one more piece of them to make it less sad. It doesn't help and prolongs the suffering. I know. I witnessed it.
I'm grieving and it's an honorable process to be in. I am being a student of feeling loss without blame (even when there are actions of cause) collecting blessings, and insight. Sometimes final moments are sacred and lucid. Some passings are unaware. There are killings that happen long before death.
If anything can go wrong, it will. Assuming this might be true, let's prepare for that.
Great Papa's time came and then his final moment. He put his will into dying. Death was his last wish.
"In lieu of flowers, give to any children's charity."
"Just do something for children who are suffering, whatever it is, wherever you are."
* * *
The funeral was one week ago. It was at Crown Hill. The ground was bare and earth not firm. The wind and rain were pricking through the cold: shades of roses, somewhat sheer flag, shiny casket, astro turf, grave diggers in hoodies. Agua sagrada was sprayed into the hole. Prayers were offered. The Honor Guard presented. The notes of Taps rolling up the snowy hills were unbelievably beautiful. Literally.
No one rolled or slipped down the hill like last time.
There was nothing more to carry.
We could all go home.
So that's what we did.
I am waking up for the children only.
We didn't say "he died surrounded by his loving family," not only because that's what he wanted, but it wasn't fully true. If it was true enough for Dad, great. What remains for those who couldn't be there during his moments will be a weight that could bend their back forever. The obituary itself took up the most columns in the local newspaper that day. We did use what he wrote but he forgot to mention a few things about himself. We added what we thought was incontrovertible. Nice touch by my brother mentioning the James Street neighborhood.
We did some high religious ritual in order to make it comfortable for those grieving in the family whose truth is found in high religious ritual. We also did non-religious ritual which offered an opening for raw if not sweet honesty with respect. This is what the children will likely remember most. There were two infants and four luscious cheeks among the gathered. I remember how I sat thinking about nibbling on these cheeks, as I gazed at my cute Dad in his casual attire, with his peaceful and kind, slight smile. I knew he would approve of my daydreaming about the babies, even in the middle of his sombre death rite.
There was no way I could pick out a passage from Tales of the Wayside Inn and share it at his service. It was too much about men and too much about migration. Contentious issue right now. And so I picked a passage from Longfellow to put on his prayer card. I sent it through my brother as my selection. I also told him that if he prefers something more religious, to feel free to use his own judgement. I said, "I trust you." And I did. He chose the Longfellow piece and added a little more. We had already delighted in our own cleverness of not choosing a picture of a saint. Are you kidding me? Of course I have pictures of Dad's Adirondack paintings on my phone here. How about this one? From my phone through the air across the table went Dad's art, "Rowboat into the Sunset at Nelson Lake." I felt bad about not using the Tales of the Wayside Inn piece because he mentioned it specifically. But then I saw how it was to be included. My son gave his piece of eulogy in recalling the first time he was old enough to be taken to the Wayside Inn to share ONE coo-woo (America's first cocktail) with Grandpa. Okay, chuckle-chuckle, Dad. Now I get it. You're funny.
So now the request for Moonlight Cocktail made sense to me, except it would be inappropriate for the service with the grandchildren or great-grandchildren. I speak for myself in saying that I took the message as encouragement, by Dad, on the eve of his final death rites -- that is, to have the second best cocktail (according to him). I had a dirty martini, at Jack's in Albany. I had TWO, actually. I was able to breathe, laugh and cry and feel sweet about everything. Thank you Dad, one of them WAS for you, you know.... I see you smiling.
As far as "Memories of You," I soon learned how many versions existed. I wondered why Dad wanted the Rosemary Clooney one instead of Frank Sinatra. Because it's specific and available, I go with the Rosemary Clooney version. I run it by our resident, family serenader to stroke it on his violin strings. Yes, sure, said the violinist. I asked mydaughter if she's interested in singing. I say it's up to her, because it is. But next thing we knew is was the eve of my father's memorial. l try to gently clarify, "are you up for signing tomorrow?" "What?" my daughter asks. And then there it was. I heard myself say, "sing Rosemary Clooney. Grandpa wanted the Rosemary Clooney version of 'Memories of You.'" "I'll try," she said. Well, my son-in-love did play his violin and my daughter did sing. She cried a little bit. It was all so lovely because I think we were all feeling good and peaceful as we watched Dad be sung to: a final lullabye while the children nestled on laps and against napes. I guess it was so meaningful that a picture was taken in the middle of this musical rite. Unforgettable.
We were concerned about not having calling hours. We thought part of the healing would be to give our family a last glimpse at those who remember Dad and could speak of his goodness. But by a week ago, the "quick" part of the directive was the most valuable detail Dad anticipated. So we just did it, as well as we could, without delay. The Facebook town square gave our family more than deserved condolences for our loss. We have felt quite loved.
Thank you for the clues Dad. We hope you think it turned out as excellent as it did. You never said we weren't special. You never said we were. You modeled not going overboard with accolades, and you demonstrated how to show up. Dad, thank you for being the ballast that kept us alive. We know that other things did too but your steadiness has been constant grace.
You taught us your most prized possession was your treasury of stories we called, When You Were A Little Boy. You made everything sound fun, you made being poor feel rich, you describe the scarcity as the reason for the jazz. You could have told your childhood stories differently. You could have told your adult story differently, But you never did. You told it good, whether it was or wasn't; and you meant it. Well played, Dad.
I almost forgot. You also said (with your eyes closed, and your crooked shaking figure showing me to the words you were seeing),
"In. Lieu. of. Flowers. give to any children's charity." Before you said Shriners or St. Jude's Hospital, Dad.
"Oh right. Whatever you think best. Just do something for children who are suffering, whatever it is, wherever you are."
My hypothesis is this:
The word should, should only be used in a question format, in a case of emergency. That way, people will believe you when you find yourself shouting at them to do something or think something or feel something or be something, they trust that you are using the word should to save their life. It’s a selfless gesture to tell someone they should change their behavior. It’s kind of like bearing witness, though. Initiation. When you care enough to take the risk of offense to convey something important to another. Or, when someone who hasn’t told you what to do your whole life, tells you what to do.
I'm going to my most vulnerable personal story with this as an invitation for readers to consider doing the same.
I left home when I was 18 never to return to the family nest. School, work, marriage, kids, work, divorce, kids, work, etc. etc. etc. During my childhood and my adulthood, my father never directed shoulds at me. And so if there is one person I could hear over the years, it has been my father. He didn't always say a lot and he never wanted to be the first to speak. He was never the last to speak, even at the end.
Throughout my whole life, though, we always played question games. First it was "21 Questions," then it was "trivia" and then it was "Swan Boating" and eventually it was the "drawing game." Even nine days ago, he asked me from his pain-relieved state of mind, "notice anything different?" I did notice he had had a nice shave. Yet, I guessed a couple funny things first like, "you've decided to join an Olympic bobsled team." He was too weak to laugh but did smile. I also guessed some other things that were pretty funny but troublemaking. It was nice to smile with him as I stroked his trimmed beard.
That simple joy, even then, will be Dad's legacy. However, I speak for myself in how I underestimated him. Dad was humble and unobtrusive. I didn't think my Dad would have any special wishes, but he did. The first time he stated them we were sharing a glass a wine. I wrote them down for him and put them away. I wondered what part they would play. It was no where near time so I forgot about them those last wishes.
Three weeks ago, as I and my children greeted him as he lay napping, he reiterated everything he had told me years before. He told me and my children his last wishes. I was the person he designated as the spiritual celebrate for when "the time comes." Other family members would have other last special tasks.
We tried to honor them all.
"Do not say 'he died surrounded by his loving family.' I hate that. It's braggy. Even though I AM surrounded by my" [cough] [more coughing] "by my family. Well, mostly. Just put what I wrote. Nothing fancy."
"Do not do high religious ritual. Use your judgement. Make it something the great-grandchildren will like."
"I like Tales of the Wayside Inn, by Longfellow."
"My Two Favorite Songs are 'Moonlight Cocktail' and 'Memories of You.' The Rosemary Clooney one."
"No Calling Hours. Just family. Do it quick."
So we did all that, but it took a little time to understand why.