Browsing "Kind of Random"
Jul 31, 2014 - Kind of Random    No Comments

We are all one

Two people holding hands on a path.

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/taliesin

Dear Pope Francis,

Hope you’re well and having a balanced summer of not too much work and some rest. You deserve it.

I heard a local city councillor in the radio this morning. He was talking about the upcoming municipal elections and how the business community was looking at endorsing a slate of candidates felt to be friendly to their interests. In principle, I don’t really have a problem with that. Businesses are the economic lifeblood of any community and they deserve to have their interests represented on city council as long as they are held in balance with the needs of other residents.

What I found distressing about this particular councillor’s comments was that he expressed concern about the amount of city money going into efforts to end homelessness. He questioned the city’s involvement in social housing, saying there is only so much tax money to go around, and it might be better spent on improving things for local businesses.

In my mind, this is not a helpful view of city residents as it comes from an outdated sense that there are different kinds of citizens. What the councillor seemed to be saying is that there are residents of the city who deserve tax dollars to be sent their way, and those who don’t.

This view is highly problematic as it does not take into account the complex interrelatedness of our society. In short, we are all one and what happens to one group affects another. Devoting tax dollars to providing housing options for all residents of the city does not mean taking away money from businesses. In fact, it might free up money. Like most urban centres around the world, we have a homeless population whose needs are unevenly met by local city services. Because these residents often have substance abuse, mental health challenges, or both, they are most often dealt with by local police, who spend time shuttling them from cells to the hospital in a never-ending cycle. A significant amount of police resources goes into doing this — resources that might not be necessary if adequate housing options were available. Lower policing costs could translate into lower business taxes or an increase in services.

Our economic systems also depend on the full participation of all residents. Providing stable housing for homeless residents increases the chance that they will be able to address any mental health or addiction issues, find stable employment, pay taxes –and  buy products and services from local businesses. This is not wasted money; it will go back into the local economy, probably at a greater rate than taxes earmarked for other residents.

Separating out local residents into us versus them, deserving versus less-deserving, or business owner versus homeless is not only misguided, it is also economically problematic.

Your friend,

Kevin

Mar 10, 2014 - Kind of Random, Music    No Comments

Lent 2014 (Day 6): Music for a manic Monday

Dear Pope Francis,

Today was kind of a rough day. One of those days when everything just seems to be conspiring against my contentment.

But, we are not promised easy days or a life without a few bumps. It’s how we handle it that matters.

On days like this I find music really helpful. Different days require different music.

Today, it was this song from Peter Mayer that restored my equilibrium.

Here it is as a link

if the video doesn’t play for you.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep and a better Tuesday!

Your friend,

Kevin

Mar 8, 2014 - Kind of Random    1 Comment

Lent 2014 (Day 4): International Women’s Day

Dear Pope Francis,

Today is International Women’s Day. I’m not sure it’s appropriate for me, as a man, to write on that. So, I thought I’d share words of wisdom from a couple of important women.

The first is Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, whom I wrote about yesterday. When asked why, as a woman and a feminist, she chooses to stay in the Church, she replied:

Quote from Elizabeth Johnson

 

The second is from Malala Yousafzai, the young woman from Pakistan who was shot in the head because she dared to demand education for girls.

Malala Yousafzai quote

 

I think both of these quotes bear reading today.

Your friend,

Kevin

(P.S. Thanks to Rev. Daniel and Kaya Oakes for these photos.)

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Why Jesus should sue for trademark infringement

Jesus Facepalm

Dear Pope Francis —

If Jesus had a legal team — and, he probably wouldn’t, given his “turn the other cheek” philosophy, but let’s just assume he did — I think they would be hurriedly drafting cease-and-desist orders against many, many folks for infringing on his trademark. That law office would be churning out paperwork 24/7.

Individuals, companies and organizations trademark names and logos to ensure they are not used by others in a way that would cause either a negative impression or confusion in the marketplace. Using a protected name or logo in a way that dilutes the real owner’s brand is called trademark infringement. In other words, I can’t put computers together with spare parts lying around my house, slap a sticker of an apple with a bite out of it on them, and sell them as Macs. For one, they’re unlikely to work like a Mac. For another, they’re not a true representation of the company’s product.

There is a lot of brand dilution going on out there when it comes to Jesus. Many people claim to be acting in his name, but they likely aren’t his licensed representatives. Or, they haven’t looked at the terms of their licensing contract in a long, long while. If they did, they would find themselves in serious breach of Jesus’ trademark rights.

A few top contenders:

1) The Arizona and Kansas state legislatures. Both of these legislative bodies have recently either contemplated or passed laws that would legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals. (The Catholic Church in Kansas supported that state’s law.) The laws stipulate that businesses have a right, on religious (i.e. Christian) grounds, to refuse service to individuals if doing so would compromise the business owner’s values. This is being done, so lawmakers say, in the spirit of religious freedom. I’m not sure what Bible these folks are reading, but Jesus served everyone during his life. He didn’t care who they were, he treated them all equally and with dignity. Encouraging discrimination in Jesus’ name is definitely trademark infringement.

2) Archbishop Myers of New Jersey. I have nothing against providing a comfortable retirement for clergy. Many of them spend their entire lives in service to the Catholic community. However, comfortable should not mean extravagant, especially when so many of our seniors live in poverty. Jesus’ original followers essentially traveled with a pair of sandals and the clothes on their backs. I’m not sure any of them had a mansion with two pools waiting for them when they retired from spreading the Gospel. I don’t think they would have secluded themselves away from the community they’d served, either. This is certainly a breach of Jesus’ trademark license that anyone who purports to serve him should be following.

3) “Christian” politicians who cut aid to the poor. Many of the politicians decrying aid to the poor as a drain on the economy and government self-identify as Christian. I don’t think I need to add anything else to this. It speaks for itself.

4) Clergy who deny sacraments to people they don’t approve of. Whether it’s politicians who have Pro-Choice voting records, or LGBT individuals denied communion or last rites, sacraments should not be used as weapons. You, Pope Francis, have even spoken out against this practice. Jesus ministered to everyone and welcomed everyone into his embrace. That compassionate welcoming was the first sacrament. Why are we not following this example?

I realize that calling out these examples might be just as judgmental and wrong as those who paint others as bad Christians or bad Catholics. That’s fair. However, I think there is a real danger in this Jesus brand dilution. Jesus said “By their fruits you will recognize them.” I don’t think these folks are bad people. I just think they have a misguided view of what Jesus stood for. That might be fine if their views did not affect others, but they do. And, their actions reflect back on all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. This is why I find such examples so distressing. I encounter many people who discount — even despise — Christians because these are the examples they see. These “fruits” stand in for all of us, and that’s what upsets me.

This is one of the reasons I’m so grateful for you, Pope Francis. Your focus on the poor as well as compassion puts you in much closer alignment, in my view, with Jesus than many, many of your predecessors.

I think it’s time for all of us to have a closer look at Jesus’ trademark — and make sure we’re not infringing.

(By the way, I wrote a poem about this.)

Your friend,

Kevin

Merry Christmas from some silent monks

Dear Pope Francis,

Thought I’d wish you a Merry Christmas a day early as I won’t be near a computer tomorrow.

Given my search for silence, I thought you’d enjoy this rendition of Handel’s “Messiah” by some silent “monks”.

You can find it here if the above doesn’t play for you.

Merry Christmas.

Your friend,

Kevin

Nov 30, 2013 - Kind of Random, Mindfulness    No Comments

Forgive me, Holy Father, for I have not blogged

beginning again

Dear Pope Francis,

Forgive me Holy Father, for I have not blogged. It’s been…awhile since my last substantive blog post.

I know that, back in the halcyon days of June I said I’d write every day. I’ve kept up with that, for the most part, but there have been a few lags in posts. Life just has a way of intervening. I do try to keep up a few posts a week, at least, with interesting links and resources. But writing a full post every day can be a little tough.

However, with Advent just around the corner, I’ve decided to use the change in liturgical seasons to pick up the pace around here and I’ll be posting most every day until Christmas. There may be the odd skipped day, but I’m going to make it part of my Advent intentions to be more present on this blog.

So, thanks for keeping up with me. I look forward to sharing some great posts over the coming month!

Your friend,

Kevin

The Gratitude Squirrel!

Dear Pope Francis,

I started off today a bit grumbly, feeling a bit sorry for myself, and generally kind of miserable. It was Monday morning. My weekend, as usual, didn’t seem nearly long enough. I was back at work.

As I downed coffee to try and kick-start my energy, I was poking around Google when I discovered this:

The Gratitude Squirrel

 

The photo accompanied this article.

I laughed. So hard I snorted coffee out my nose. It was just what I needed to cause a shift in my day.

I’ve decided to call this little guy the Gratitude Squirrel. I think he’ll be a bit of totem for me from now on, especially on grumpy days.

Your friend,

Kevin

 

Oct 10, 2013 - Kind of Random, Resources    1 Comment

Letting my loyal soldier rest

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Dear Pope Francis,

During my Masters program at  Sophia, I did some boundary-pushing things. I drummed and chanted with Afia Walking Tree. I practiced tai chi. I danced in a library courtyard. I read something I’d just written with Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows looking on (along with about 80 or so complete strangers).

But I think the most challenging thing I did at Sophia was during a weekend with Bill Plotkin. During our Saturday morning session, Plotkin talked about the need to fall in love with the world. He said that only by coming to love the world can you start to find your soul. Plotkin has a slightly different definition for soul than what some might be used to. For him, soul is an individual’s ultimate place in the world, their offering to the rest of creation. We’re all called to find our soul, says Plotkin, and that journey always involves a descent.

Before the descent, says Plotkin, we go through other initial stages. There’s the Wanderer, for example, where we go out into the world, searching for who we are. Part of that search, if I understood Plotkin correctly, involves coming to love the world.

In the spirit of that, Plotkin gave us an exercise: we were to go outside and allow ourselves to be led to any non-human part of creation. Then, we were to praise that non-human part of creation, as if we were speaking to a person. We were to do this out loud, emphatically and authentically. With a warning about watching for ticks and other natural hazards, Plotkin set us loose.

When I heard this, I looked around at the rest of the room. To my eye, everyone seemed not only fine with this, but absolutely ecstatic. Me? Not so much.

I’m so not doing this, I said to myself. Seriously? Go talk to a rock? Praise a rock? Did I actually pay for this?

This was my internal dialogue as I walked towards the door. To be honest, I dragged my feet a bit, both mentally and physically. I just could not fathom doing this. And, what if someone saw me?

But as I crossed the threshold of the door, I steadied myself. I was here to experience new things, wasn’t I? I was here to figure out new ways of seeing the world, seeing myself. If one of those ways involved losing touch with reality for 20 minutes and talking to rocks, fine. I’d give it a try. But nobody should expect me to enjoy it.

I emerged from the building onto a balcony of sorts that overlooks the rest of the Holy Names University campus, which is perched on the side of the Oakland Hills. And, right away, I was hit by gust of wind that brought me up short. I stopped, turned my face into the breeze, and inhaled.

I’ve always loved wind. I need moving air around me. When we shared a car, my sister used to always complain about being buffeted by the fan when she started it up. I always left the fan on full blast, with all the vents pointing at me. Still do, in my own car. When I fly, the fresh air vent is always cranked up full. The worst part of any flight for me is when the pilot shuts everything down, including ventilation, for a few brief moments when the plane pushes back from the gate. The wait for air to flow again always seems interminable.

Plotkin had said to let ourselves be guided to a non-human part of creation. I wasn’t just guided to mine; it smacked me in the face. A gentle smack, but a smack nonetheless. So, I faced into the wind and gave it praise and thanks.

And I didn’t feel the least bit goofy while I did it. It felt, pardon the pun, natural.

After awhile the wind let me go and roam, and I praised a few more non-human entities: a tree, the ground, grass, a Bird of Paradise. Then, as our time was coming to an end, I went back and praised the wind.

In addition to teaching me about the knowledge that can come by engaging in a conversation with creation, Plotkin’s exercise brought up something about myself as well. The main reason that I really didn’t want to do his exercise at first was not because I thought it wouldn’t be useful. No, I was worried about being seen doing it. I was worried about sticking out and looking odd. The fact that there would be about 30 other people doing the same thing all around me didn’t matter. I would stick out. I would look funny. I would be exposed.

In his book Soulcraft, Plotkin talks about some of the barriers to finding your soul. One of them he calls the Loyal Soldier. This is a part of our psychological make-up that was formed to protect us. He likens it to those Japanese soldiers from WWII who hid in dense forests and emerged, decades later, thinking the war was still on and ready to take up arms to defend their country. The Japanese did a smart thing with these men, says Plotkin. They welcomed them home, thanked them for their service, and told them they could now rest as the fighting was done. Handled this way, the soldiers were much more willing to accept that the world had changed while they were in hiding.

The psychological Loyal Soldier, says Plotkin, defends us against perceived threats. It leaps up, shield in hand, to provide mental protection. This is all well and good when we’re growing up and might need a little sheltering to get through the trials of youth. The problem, says Plotkin, is that the Loyal Soldier will remain on alert long after it should have retired to a quiet life with a little garden. What this means is we continue to view experiences for growth, that will prepare us to transition to another stage of life, as battles to be fought rather than opportunities to learn.

In my case, my Loyal Soldier is particularly attuned to situations in which I’m going to be exposed. I was teased a lot as a kid. I was smart. I was overweight. My Loyal Soldier got good at protecting me from this, and, he did his job well. I survived. But, in adulthood, his leaping to my defense gets a bit problematic. He sees every situation where I’m likely to look a little odd or provoke any kind of ridicule — even if it’s only from inside my head — as a call to action. He rises in his rusty mail, pulls his sword from its cobwebbed scabbard, and rushes in.

In Soulcraft, Plotkin offers a way of gently retiring your Loyal Soldier. You praise them. You thank them for their service. And then you point out that the threat has passed, the war was won long ago, and, really, wouldn’t a life of leisure be more inviting right now? Maybe the Loyal Soldier should take up stamp collecting or take that bus trip through Europe (skipping the battlefields and military graveyards, perhaps)? I’m giving my own spin to Plotkin here, but you get the idea. Slowly, the Loyal Soldier will catch on and realize peace as broken out and leave you to carry on.

So, since our weekend with Bill Plotkin, this has been one of my tasks. I’ve kept an eye on my Loyal Soldier, listening for the clank of armour that signals he’s about to intervene on my behalf. I assess the situation and give him the all clear. Sometimes he still springs into action, but it’s easier for me to back him off as time goes by. Hopefully I’ll soon be able to encourage him to move into that seaside cottage I’ve bought for him.

What about you, Pope Francis? What’s getting in the way of your being able to live out what you were put into this universe to do (other than the Curia)? What’s your own Loyal Soldier doing? What conversations can you have with him or her to convince them the war is over and they can be at peace?

Your friend,

Kevin

(Photo credit: ppdigitalLicense)

(Note: If you buy a book via a link in my blog post, I get a little bit of money from Amazon. Full disclosure. But, it helps with little things like hosting, etc…)

Oct 6, 2013 - Kind of Random    1 Comment

The best laid plans…

Lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

Photo credit: Kevin Aschenbrenner

Dear Pope Francis,

So, I didn’t mean to disappear on you. Not really. You see, I’ve just returned from a 10-day vacation, touring the Canadian Maritimes and also New England. It was amazing. The photo at the top of this post is the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Truly a remarkable place. I’ve never been to the Maritimes before, and it was a great experience. It really brought home how big Canada is, and how different the various regions are.

When I was planning for my trip, I had everything set in my mind for how I’d handle being away from a computer and a reliable Internet connection for 10 days. I wanted to keep up the daily posts, and so I thought I’d just write extra posts ahead of the trip and set them to go up automatically while I was away.

That, however, didn’t quite work out. I got sick before I left, and things got very, very busy. I also came to realize that I desperately needed a break and some real re-charging time. So, I decided not to push my limits before my vacation and to just let some things slide for a bit.

I had also planned to write while I was away, taking time out each morning to journal and maybe jot down some poetry. That didn’t happen either. I just did not feel the urge to write. And, by the second day of the trip, I’d made peace with that too. I’ve been writing constantly for more than three years, working on this blog, another blog, my Masters program assignments, and other writing. My day job also involves a lot of writing. And, so, it was kind of a relief to not have to put fingers to a keyboard for awhile.

I think that was a good thing. At the beginning of my trip I felt rather empty. I didn’t have much to write about. The well was dry. And then, a couple of days before the end of my vacation, ideas started to bubble again. I was almost giddy as blog post topics and poem themes rose up from wherever they come from. I jotted them down and you’ll see some of them in the weeks ahead.

So, Pope Francis, I’m back, and ready to resume my daily posts. How I got here isn’t how I planned, but it was a perfect journey.

Your friend,

Kevin

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