28 February 2013

Lent: Money

I use money like my 6th sense. I make good use of my 5 senses when I have it. I work to earn it; work and labor are linked with money. Money’s a motivator for me. I work for it, yes, but an end in itself to acquire and hold, no. I work so I can care for my loved ones and myself. I work to feel I’m contributing to something greater than myself. I believe hoarding money for its own sake is immoral. I’m no slave to it; I’ve walked away from it.
I’m blessed with abundance. I was born into a birth family with an abundance of resources especially new financial resources. I never felt a want of educational, medical, dental, or material abundance. I was taught social cues. I was educated to discern new social cues. I was taught to travel and felt I could travel anywhere. I’ve never been accustomed to sustained deprivation or impoverishment. As a result the abundance I’ve been accustomed to is interwoven with my perceptions and attitudes.
I used to take money for granted; I learned complacency. Later on I had to work hard to have a little money and learn to live with a little. When I was earning the most money I spent it on care and nurture of my family and stuff, just stuff for what I thought was a bit of happiness.
I’m keenly aware of money’s presence and the knowledge of what it could mean to be without it. I’m afraid my means of production for earning money has shifted beyond what I can shape. I sense the economic skill set I’ve been accustomed to has shifted to a new skill set I’m ignorant of and unaccustomed to. It demands smaller hands and fingers than the good Lord has blessed me with. I’m afraid technology has morphed away from manual labor into air-conditioned centralized computer concentration campuses staffed with programming analysts, quantitative analysts and systems analysts who write plusses and minuses and technical service personnel who tend hardware.
Just beyond our little monetary perimeter I see outward and visible signs of inward and invisible injustices wrought by changes in the means for producing income. The many who are not getting by in the manner to which they had been accustomed, or educated to believe in, are growing. So when we spend for a new roof or a heating and air system for our 70-year-old house, or new repairs on our 20-year-old car, or give away cash to our sacred spiritual space or a 1-week visit to a beach, I feel thanksgiving and some helpless inevitability and grieving.
I’m afraid, and if I couldn't feel my 5 senses with the 6th sense I’d feel impoverished too.

21 February 2013

Lent: Work

What’s my relationship to work? Am I a slave to work?
In the beginning, around age 18, work was what I did for my money and it was a laborious task. As a younger man and father work took more clock time, much energy, and 12 hours recovery. Later on I worked to keep work in balance with study, exercise, reflection and renewal, and thanksgiving. Now semi-retired my labor takes somewhat less clock time, the same energy output, and my recovery takes more clock and calendar time. I've worked 45 years to this destination. I’m blessed I have education and gifts and talents and health to choose my work. So I’m not slavish nor am I enslaved. Nonetheless I must work because I only tolerate idleness for so long; in the end idleness is costly, boring, and my nemesis to my internal and spiritual health.
What do I mean now by work? In his Rule St. Benedict mostly means manual labor. St. Benedict said if one lived by the labor of your hands you really were a monk. Idleness was their soul’s enemy and had serious practical and economic costs. Work is the second longest segment of his ordered, prayerful, balanced and well-rounded 6th century living. He appoints 6 hours each day for work: 4 of manual labor and 2 for study. In 2013, for those fortunate ones who afford it, workout and exercise serve as manual labor.
Growing up my work was living in private schools. I worked 15 years studying with teachers and books, reading, writing, mathematics, science, foreign language, and exercise. I learned baseball, football, wrestling, soccer and swimming, and art history and photography. My mother added handwriting and ballroom etiquette and dancing and then I added girls.
When I was 18 I graduated from boarding school. I applied for work at The Republic Steel Mill in Cleveland, Ohio. I was assigned to a maintenance crew. The mill produced cold rolled steel. My task was to swab kerosene soaked brushes and wipe large bits of rotini-shaped steel off metal rolling pins stacked on a flatbed railroad car. Each car was rolled out as I completed swabbing the pins and a new car rolled in. They were transported to another area plucked by an overhead crane and carried and gently placed into even bigger machines that powered them. These machines flattened cold steel to specific thickness and width and extruded it into shiny neat coils ready for delivery. Another task was climb down underneath these behemoths and assist a crewman. We’d ladder 10’ down into a concrete pit beneath the whole unit. The unit straddled the width and breadth of the pit. I was one inexperienced boy-man on a dirty dozen crew of experienced United Steelworkers. I learned and earned more than I’d ever experienced, made, or dreamed of. I was shocked and I lasted 3 weeks.
As a young man I felt ashamed of my labor and some jobs; they were physically laborious and mentally painful. I was not reared or educated for them. This hobbled me and shaped my choices. In the beginning labor was simply beneath me. I’m certain my arrogance and anger showed and I made some life changing choices as a result. Later on acceptance set in and work was humbling and character building and many painful lessons I learned. I hope I never demean a person, never make my children feel ashamed, for the work they choose to do. It’s dreadful to shame a person for manual labor.
I’ve worked in many roles earning my way. I’ve bought and sold textbooks. I labored with a toy sculpture artist. I’ve delivered flowers, made cold-call door-to-door sales in city and town, drove a taxi-cab, swept grocery floors, secretaried in an art gallery, accounted for thousands of dollars as a bank teller and millions of dollars as a head-teller, and worked as a bookkeeper in a stamp auction company. I’ve done credit investigations and arranged credit lines in a major NYC auction house for buyers of fine art. I’ve worked in bookstores and loved it. I’ve made photographs of every kind with all analog camera formats and loved it. I’ve written advertising copy for print and radio medias for advertising agencies. I served as an assistant administrator in a church and loved it. Now I mow lawns with a push mower for pin money. And I pray while I mow.

14 February 2013

Lent: Beloveds

Albrecht Durer’s, Christ as a Man of Sorrows, is a self-portrait. It’s reasonable Albrecht felt like a man of constant sorrow. He put it into his Christ. I think the expression borders on bewildered irony, an Oh vey! It's a wonderful work now unmoored from it’s era, by me, which I link to our swirling & transforming western culture. Even so I think Durer’s Christ’s expression reflects how Lent is sometimes ordained to feel and marked for spiritual preparation and recollection and reflection.
So what’s my relationship with the most significant people in my life? Who are they? My wife. Our children. My sister. Maybe some few friends. Maybe beloveds who lived and influenced me more deeply than I knew at the time, but now are dead. I can’t imagine my life without my wife and children. I’m separated from some whom I once held dear. I hold them in my memory. And sadly I can imagine being friendless. It’s good news I can list any people.
I like Buddha's 5 Remembrances. His 4th lays bare how I sometimes experience my relationship with beloveds: love & separation. Buddha offers them to cushion human suffering. The Higher Power does not ordain suffering.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
Relationship is dynamic. No matter how I try my relationship with each loved one changes. We grow in union and harmony, or grow and move apart, or lay fallow, or pass away. I nourished my children as best I could. I still do that when I feel they permit me to. My children are no longer mine, more like beloved ones; my “my” now seems peeled away. And I'm filled with my heartbreaking, like a tearing, when I experience this or sense it. It is suffering. Am I prepared to shoulder it; to accept it and labor under its weight?
I still seek my relationships with my beloveds no matter the separation and distance and death. Thich Nhat Hanh says suffering may be transformed into peace, joy, and liberation. For me this may be so if I practice my relationship with my Higher Power. Jesus’ behavior teaches suffering is borne and transforms us individually and in community. I practice Christianity. I practice Taoist Tai Chi. I practice contemplative prayer. My practices facilitate my seeking my relationships.
I seek spiritual transformation. I don’t seek spiritual stagnation. My feeling separation from beloved ones is merely my humanity and my fallen-ness and my spiritual transformation in the dynamic union with the Higher Power. I’m still practicing love; feeling and sensing joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.