Wednesday, November 23, 2016

On Gratitude: Dear Kittens #15

(I write my daughters aka "kittens" a short letter each week under the pseudonym "TOC"="The Old Cat". We've always had cats so this rubric works for us. My daughters are both in high school. I try to distill the wisdom gained through my 47 years that I wish I'd have learned when I was a teen.)

 Dear Kittens,

“Gratitude not attitude.” You may remember this phrase. I used it to remind you to say, “Thank you.” As I’ve gotten older, I now realize that gratitude is not important it is indispensable.

Embracing gratitude has helped to transform my life and taught me to find joy even in the most difficult moments. Learning to say “Thank you” every day empowers us to discover happiness and peace in all circumstances.

Ponder some of my favorite quotations about gratitude. The medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “If the only prayer you said was ‘thank you,’ that would be enough.”
 The contemporary mystic and spiritual teacher Ekhart Tolle wrote, “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”

The 20th century monk and theologian Thomas Merton wrote, “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.”

All of these quotations capture the deep magic of saying, “Thank you.” Gratitude turns our attention outward. When we express gratitude, we shift our thoughts away from our selves, our needs, our concerns, our complaints, and our worries. Gratitude releases us to focus for a few moments on the good in our lives. Gratitude enables us to reset our thoughts on the abundance in our world rather than the challenges. There is always something for which to be thankful. Even on days when it seems as though the world is crashing in on us, we can still express gratitude for each breath that we take and for each beating of our heart.

Gratitude is the pathway to the door leading to the life of God’s dreams. Gratitude is critical for receiving each day as the gift that it is. When we say, “Thank you,” we are able to receive God’s gifts for us. To live out of gratitude enables each day to be a surprise. Instead of living out of entitlement or demand, we experience the good things in our lives as a gift.

Gratitude opens us up to living in the present moment. When we are grateful, we are content. Contentment allows us to be free from both past and future. We don’t have to feel cheated about events in the past. Nor do we have to worry about the details of tomorrow. We simply experience the new day as a gift and receive it with thanksgiving.

 Kittens, let me share two of my daily practices with you. I encourage you to try them. First, most mornings I prepare for the new day by praying and meditating. As soon as I finish, I write down five people or things for which I am thankful. I keep these lists in my journal. I try not to repeat myself, but I must admit that I often write that I’m thankful for my kittens! Second, before I fall asleep, I reflect on as many things from the day for which I’m thankful. This resets the mind and helps me to sleep better.

Embrace gratitude, Kittens. It will reset your life for the good.

Grateful for the chance to write you these notes each week,

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Letter to my Daughters on Elections and Love (Dear Kittens #34)

(I write my daughters aka "kittens" a short letter each week under the pseudonym "TOC"="The Old Cat". We've always had cats so this rubric works for us. My daughters are both in high school. I try to distill the wisdom gained through my 47 years that I wish I'd have learned when I was a teen. I wrote this one in the aftermath of the election this week and after observing the reactions of both sides to Donald Trump's upset victory over Hillary Clinton)

Dear Kittens,

The Presidential election of 2016 was a difficult one. TOC has voted in every election since 1988 and this one threw me for a loop. Since this is your first election that you’ve been old enough to observe and given its divisiveness during the campaign and in the days following, I wanted to share some reflections on how we should think and act about it.

The great Methodist leader John Wesley lived during challenging times too. Revolutions were stirring in the colonies that became the United States as well as in France. Moreover, the inequalities and divisions within England itself were stark and easily inflamed. Wesley sought to promote the Gospel of Jesus as the true hope of the world and to transform the world through the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Yet Wesley encouraged the early Methodists to participate in civic life and this included voting. Here is his advice. This is an actual entry from his journal on Oct 6, 1774:

"I met those of our [methodist groups] who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side."

This is good and simple wisdom. I don’t think that there are too many bribes involved in voting these days (Wesley’s #1), but his #2 and #3 are critical for modeling a good witness in the world.

In essence, they invite us to de-personalize politics. Too often our leaders on both sides resort to emotional appeals and personal attacks to win. Unfortunately, this type of persuasion works. This does not make it admirable or virtuousness. It is always easy to use labels: “leftie” “racist” “communist” “right wing nut job” “radical” “homophobe” etc. Labels attempt to dehumanize others and cast shame. Our country right now has elements on both sides who cannot sympathize with or even relate to persons on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Wesley emphasized the need to refuse to participate in the demonization or even speaking ill of those who disagree with us politically.

So how do we live well kittens and work for good especially during bitter seasons of divisive political debates and elections?

(1) Remember that absolute security comes only from God. No political party or ideology (even if its your personal favorite) can ever guarantee the future. Our hope is in God.

(2) There is not one god of the blue states and a separate god of the red states. God loves Clinton and all her supporters. God loves Trump and all his supporters. God is one and God is Lord of all peoples and nations. God loves everyone regardless of their vote or ideology, and God desires each persons best.

(3) We need to become better listeners of one another. The Gospel can unite us, but only if we reach out and build relationships with persons who think differently than us. Build a diverse group of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. If you don’t know anyone who voted for the opposite candidate, you need to expand your social circles. TOC has friends on both sides of the political spectrum. I have my own opinions, but these will never come between my friendships or my mission to reach others with the love of God.

(4) Be a bridge builder and uniter. No one ever gets what they want 100% of the time. We must learn to win and lose with grace and dignity. Seasons of change come and go. Always be ready to extend your hand in peace and compromise over common ground.

The future is better than you think, Kittens. I’m looking forward to it. As Ghandi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Live by faith, be known by love, serve as voices of hope:

If you'd like to read other "Dear Kittens" notes as they are published, send me an email to brian.russell9113 @ gmail .com