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The Encounter Culture



Sometimes when I’m feeling stressed out, tense, or trapped in the blahs (like this morning) I like to reread these words by Abraham Heschel:

“Living is an ongoing encounter, a fighting to the end, in which thought of surrender is inconceivable. Fight against boredom, inertia. To live with commitment means to face opposition, to dare, to defy. A lack of such commitment means evading the challenge, drifting with the current.”

Here’s what I get from Heschel this morning.

First, I identify with the danger of just going with the flow—taking life, the moments, myself and others for granted. As the saying goes, only dead fish swim downstream.

Shakespeare expressed this in Macbeth’s words: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” I don’t think any of us want a petty life, but it can happen.

So I ask myself: If staying alive is not just a song but a battle…what do I fight for? And what’s the best way to fight?

Well, I do believe in the saying: Fight for people, never against them. That is always a challenge; sometimes we fail. Still, I think it’s the right challenge.

But this morning, I have to confess: the word “fight” bothers me a bit. It’s as if every morning the bell rings and I’m back in the center of the ring taking a beating again!

I know, of course, that “fight” is a good word in certain contexts. But today, I prefer Heschel’s first word: encounter. And then he adds another word: commitment.

Just think about that line: “Living is an ongoing encounter.” It makes me ask: What is the quality of my encounters and your encounters? We are having them—at the dinner table, at work, in the community. But are my encounters…tasty? Are they savory?

It’s interesting to think of a day as a series of encounters. First, a deep, quiet encounter with stillness. With quietness. With Life. A very real encounter with myself and my humanity. Then, out of that, some encounters with a few other priceless human beings through the day. And a quiet commitment to let those encounters more and more be colored by things like aliveness, listening, patience, forgiveness, courage and joy.

In the sixties, folks who were committed to fighting against some things they felt were wrong in society were called the counter culture.

Maybe what we need now is an encounter culture: folks who are committed to letting our daily encounters be enriched and flavored by the better angels of our humanity.

I can sign up for that kind of fight. Maybe you can too.

We Are Interwoven



[Guest Post by Landon Saunders]


Moderation is a lovely thought, isn’t it? Or is it?

In its best sense, it is an invitation to resist being captured by extremism, fanaticism, certainty—a sureness that regards any challenge as evil.

I remember an older professor who said she challenged her students to preface their remarks on very controversial subjects with the words “in my opinion.” These three words acknowledge the presence of other views in a respectful way. They are an invitation to moderation.

This said, we acknowledge that exceptional moments arise that call for stark responses—such as moments of immediate danger or injustices that threaten the very core of our humanity. Moderation does not suggest weakness, blandness, cowardice, or fearfulness in the face of such moments.

Moderation suggests thoughtfulness, strength, and wisdom for the moment. It acknowledges the differences that exist among our neighbors and the peoples of the earth. And it does not make normal any judgmental, hateful, spiteful words or selfish behaviors.

I recently read a beautiful story told by an elder in the Mi’ Kmag indigenous community, Danny Paul, which said we are kind of like trees. On the surface, every tree looks like it stands alone. But beneath the surface, all the trees in a forest are intertwined.

The greatest human beings among us sense this deep connection, and they treat others with something like what we call, even sometimes awkwardly, love.

Each of us has the chance to be such a person. It’s worth the gamble. In my opinion.

Five Simple Things



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


Over the years, when the world around me feels out of control, or when I find myself submerged in feelings of despair, I try to grab hold of just a few things. These things are simple activities that not only ground me, but also get me moving on a better path.

The first activity is EATING. As I can, I make at least some of my meals oases of wonder, respect, listening, and joyfulness.

The second is RANTING. I gather with some friends and have some “rant time.” After a few minutes of this, we can all laugh, feel better, and get on to better things.

The third is LAUGHING. I have learned to laugh from my innards. When we laugh from deep within, we put something good into society and give the world a joyous edge.

The fourth is HEALING. Human beings have an unbelievable capacity for healing. I want to be “with” others in a way that is healing.

And, finally, the fifth activity is THANKING. “To think is to thank.” Thankfulness eases strain and releases something rich both within and without. I find that it creates a better world.

Making these five simple activities—Eating, Ranting, Laughing, Healing, and Thanking—central during challenging times may seem too simple to make any real difference. But I have found that they have helped me to maintain a rich, deep, and joyous humanity. Perhaps they can do that for you as well.

Laughing At Labeling



It’s summer vacation, so instead of the usual quotation, I want to share another story of Nasruddin, the character in Middle Eastern literature who wore a turban and goatee and often said crazy things that had a kind of wisdom.

One day a politician agreed to meet Nasruddin for debate. He went to Nadruddin’s home at the appointed time and found he wasn’t there. Infuriated, the politician picked up a piece of chalk and wrote “Stupid Oaf” on the front door.

When he got home and saw this, Nasruddin rushed to the politician’s house. “I had forgotten that you were to call. I apologize for not being home,” he said. “Of course, I remembered the appointment as soon as I saw that you left your name on the door.”

No big point here. Just a gentle moment to laugh at our human but ridiculous tendency to label each other—whether liberal, conservative, or whatever.

I can think of two reasons why labeling is laughable.

First, labeling is like a boomerang; it has a tendency to come back on us (as in the story).

Second, when we label someone (which is so easy to slip into), we fail to see the whole person. As an Indian proverb says:

“When a pick-pocket looks at the greatest man in the world, all he sees are his pockets.”

Exuberance: Soaring On Your Own Wings



The poet William Blake believed that a big problem in life is half-heartedness—that tendency to just get by, hold back, become complacent or stay stuck in second gear.

He also believed that whenever we work to convert half-hearted living into whole-hearted living, this releases a new energy he called “exuberance”. Blake thought exuberance was so important, he wrote many proverbs about it. Let’s reflect on a few.

“Exuberance is beauty.”

Blake saw exuberance all around us, in riotous rivers, the roar of the ocean, the mystery of the stars, the play of children, in music, laughter, color, a wild flower, a grain of sand.

Every day, Blake believed, the exuberance of this world calls us to an experience of life that goes beyond “just enough” to “more than enough.”

 “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”

Doing and being “just enough” can lead to complacency and unlivedness, Blake thought. Life is best lived in the “more than enough” mode, where there is always more to learn, more to create, more to give, more to love, and more to your story. This is life traveling on the road of exuberance, the road of whole-heartedness, the road of excess.

 “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

 By “excess,” Blake means a life that moves beyond the glass-is-half-empty or the glass-is-half-full mode to a life that overflows. A life that is exuberant.

And a life that overflows—rather than a too-cautious life—is the path to wisdom, Blake says. The person who quietly puts her whole heart and mind into what she does and who she is will learn important things she would never learn otherwise. She will learn to fly.

 “No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.”

We were not meant to crawl through life, says Blake. Exuberance and whole-heartedness free us to soar on our own wings in the fulfillment our own unique life.