In this Day and Age

This past week I heard another story on the radio about women and the difficulty of their lives.  The thought came to mind that in this day and age it is still unbelievable that we have racism, sexism, and poor treatment of others.  For all our accomplishments as humans, we still hear story upon story of age-old problems: hunger, disease, warfare, hatred, discrimination, and domination.  As a species, have we learned anything? 

But then I thought, why does it have to be the negative?  Why cannot we say, "in this day and age.." of things that are positive?  In this day and age, can you believe that we can talk to someone across the world?  In this day and age, can you believe that surgeons can stop a heart and replace it with another?  In this day and age, can you believe we can open a metal box and find something to eat?  For the general population we no longer have to spend most of our days hunting, foraging, sowing and harvesting.  For many of us we do not have to worry about shelter, food and our immediate survival. 

If we have advanced beyond the basics, are we improving the lives of others?  Are we moving beyond a day to day existence to something more?  

I am reminded of the Biblical story of Esther.  She was the only one in a position to save the lives of her people. As her uncle reminds her, she was born for such a time as this.  The question becomes in this day and age and in this time and place, am I helping to improve the lives of others?  

I think all of us are born for such a time as this.  For whatever reason, and it is partly our responsibility to figure out our purpose, we are born into our set of circumstances: family, time, place, temperament, gifts and graces. I am living in this day and age.  The next question becomes, how am I living it? For the improvement of myself and others or as a repetition of the same old human condition?

What about you? Have you ever felt that you were born for such a time as this?  Or do you feel that you are a pawn in the game of life and that you don't have much say in the matter?  I believe while we cannot change some of the basic facts of our place and time of birth, we can choose to embrace and improve the situations we find ourselves. 

In this day and age we can choose to focus on the positive and the improvement of the day and age. 

The Greatest

Michael Phelps.   The greatest swimmer that ever was.  (To mangle a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Natural)  The most decorated Olympic athlete ever. (18 gold medals and 22 total)   A man with so much: so much potential and so much waste.  Tragic. 

There was an interesting article in Sunday's  New York Times Sports section about Michael Phelps.  He is on a comeback journey. 

In April when my husband and I went to Washington D.C. we also visited the Portrait Gallery.  It has great artwork but is not nearly as crowded as the National Galleries.  Plus it is in the old patent office building which my husband likes. 

There was an exhibit on portraits of various famous individuals- some from entertainment, some from politics, others from sport. For each subject they gave a brief explanation about the person, his/her accomplishments and life.  For Michael Phelps, all the swimming accomplishments were overshadowed by his poor decisions resulting in DUI arrests.  To have all his athletic accomplishments and then to be reduced to one's poor decisions is tragic. 

As his coach told him, " Michael, you have all the money that anybody your age could ever want or need; you have a profound influence in the world; you have free time- and you're the most miserable person I know." 

Part of The New York Times article is describing his comeback and how is on a path to wholeness.  I truly hope that is the case. 

His situation is similar to so many others.  Sure, everything about him is larger than life than most- most people will never achieve the world recognition or fame or wealth, yet the human condition is still the same: we all desire a sense of purpose and a sense that there is something bigger than ourselves and our accomplishments.  As Augustine of Hippo says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” 

In finding God we find a life bigger than ourselves.  We discover that life is not all about us, not all about our accomplishments and not all about our things.  We find that by humbling ourselves and by serving our fellow humankind we can accomplish far greater things than being the greatest that ever was. 

What about you?  You might not be in Michael Phelps league, but you might feel that you are on a track to destruction. Or that you don't need anyone else's help or support.  Or that you have everything that you could possibly want or desire yet you still feel empty. Do you have a sense of purpose with what you are doing and how you are living your life?   Do you feel that your life is tragic?   If so, have you ever considered looking beyond yourself?  I would suggest that you look to the One who was, is and will always be the greatest- period.  


Great Decisions

The mission of the Foreign Policy Association today, as it has been throughout its 97-year history, is to serve as a catalyst for developing awareness, understanding, and informed opinion on U.S. foreign policy and global issues.

The mission of the Foreign Policy Association today, as it has been throughout its 97-year history, is to serve as a catalyst for developing awareness, understanding, and informed opinion on U.S. foreign policy and global issues.

 I have been attending a group, Great Decisions, that reads and discusses foreign policy. Our curriculum is written and provided by the Foreign Policy Administration.  It has been an enlightening and interesting group. (If you are interested in sponsoring or finding a group in your area, Click here. Even if you don't join a group the site has wonderful articles and current reference materials.)

This  semester contains 8 sessions about current affairs, mostly those things taking place in the Middle East and Asia.  We've discussed or will discuss the Middle East alliance, Islamic State, The Kurds, Migration, The Koreas, United Nations, Climate Change and Cuba.  

In all these topics that we discuss there are many issues. They all have complexities and nuances that require Solomon's wisdom. But it seems to me that underlying many of the issues is that a group of people- doesn't matter their nationality or race- feel unrecognized and obscure.  They are feeling that they do not belong, that no one is listening and that there is no recourse except for violence towards those whom they consider  "lesser" than themselves.

I am reminded that most people desire a sense of belonging, a sense of knowing and being known by others and a sense of purpose. For the heavy conflicts in the East, how do you get them to stop long enough to be known?  How do you have them treat each other with decency and respect?  How can they recognize and listen to one another without feeling that they have compromised themselves? 

It is not just " another country's" problem.  Our country may not be in a physical civil war with guns and ammo, but we have the same tensions between those who feel unaccepted and unrecognized and those who are not listening.  It seems as if these same issues rise up whether one lives in the Middle East, Korea or downtown Baltimore. 

What about you?  Do you feel disenfranchised by your government, unrecognized by your religion, unknown by your neighbors, unaccepted by your family?  Or if you are honest, is there anything in your own behavior that might be causing others to feel that same way? 

I love the name of this 97 year-old series- Great Decisions.  I keep thinking that it should be called, Great Discussions because the topics do evoke wonderful discourse but great decisions is more appropriate. I think that everyone needs to make some type of decision- will I just let things happen around me or will I, in whatever small way, participate?    This class has been a first step in starting to grasp what goes on in the world.  The more I learn about others and our "differences", the more I learn at the core of all of our being is just the same;  we all want to be known, to have purpose and to have a sense of belonging. 

My prayer is that each of the groups we study will find that.  To some degree the fighting, the loathing, the bickering will not end until those desires are met.  I can only pray that each person might experience it personally, with the thought that our longing of belonging and purpose is our internal pull to be drawn closer to our Creator, whether we want to recognize that or not.   I think that is the great decision.