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Sun, January 17, 2021

The Holy Decade

By Gard Jameson Gard Jameson, plumb line, lies, attitude, morality

With near 400,000 dead in America of a virulent pandemic, with the hottest sequence of years on record behind us, with deep fault lines of racial injustice clearly exposed, with a wide crack in the foundations of democracy evident, 2020 was a year of revelation!  Revelation of what?

Consider the following: We know that our health rests upon the wellbeing of all; as goes the part so goes the whole. I have often said: “the State of Nevada will never be better than the state of our children.”  As well, we are increasingly aware that the human footprint is having catastrophic effects upon the environment. We are also waking up to the significance of racial trauma and how deeply embedded racism is in our national and global culture. And, we are clearly sensing that our democracy is only as strong as the individuals who support it. 

As the prophets of Israel declared: there is a reckoning for immoral behavior.  The sage of Greece, Heraclitus proclaimed: “character is destiny.”  A friend, Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, the Chief Rabbi of Holland, has declared that the next ten years shall be “The Holy Decade.”   In the decade before us there is important reparation work to be done.  The good rabbi was thrown from a train as an infant into a farm field in France by his mother.  The train was on its way to Auschwitz. 

One of the most vivid pictures of the Old Testament is that in which the prophet Amos is standing in the midst of Israel holding a plumb line. A plumb line is a tool by which builders find the true vertical.  In other words, the law of morality is just as fixed as the law of gravity.  Goodness is not a sentimental human emotion; it is a law which governs the universe itself.  Amos dared to say before the people of Israel that they had lost their way; the plumb line of morality revealed that their moral compass was amiss. 

If you go about returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking agreements, lying, and disrespecting those you serve, then whether you are the police, the Senator, or the President, you shall discover a day of reckoning.  The moral laws of the invisible world will treat you as an offender, just as surely as the laws of gravity will pull you down.

The essayist and philosophical molder of American culture, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his Address on Abraham Lincoln put it this way

“There is a serene Providence which rules the fate of nations, which makes little account of time, little of one generation, makes no account of disasters, conquers alike by what is called defeat or by what is called victory, thrusts aside enemy and obstruction, crushes everything immoral as inhuman, and obtains the ultimate triumph by the sacrifice of everything that resists the moral laws of the world.”   

It is time that we bestow upon ourselves the beneficial influence of such a realization, whether it is in the hallways of academia or the hallways of our Congress.  Lies are just that: lies.  The misstatement of fact will forever be a lie.  Truth never bends toward the lie, nor does real goodness toward evil.  As Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle so clearly observed civilization, itself, exists upon the foundation of eternal values: truth, beauty, and goodness.  Saying that such values are mere fictions does not make it so, whether in the court room, before the press, or in the chambers of the Senate. 

The skeptic amongst us will continue to deny.  But, the evidence, as noted above, lies in the consequences of our choices.  Every choice carries within its two walls the inevitable consequence of that choice, which can be beneficial or harmful to the highest degree.  The moral consequence of choice is as unvarying as the law of gravitation, as the swing of the planets around the Sun.

The great American philosopher, William James, says: the person may not “count” his wrong deed, “and a kind of heaven may not count it; but it is being counted none the less.  Down among his nerve-cells and fibers the molecules are counting it, registering it and storing it up to be used against him (or her) when the next temptation comes."

Neuroscience clearly evidences this reality. The appearances of success that bring coveted results are poor substitutes for real character.  The world with its inadequate assessment may approve a person who seems to reach its desired goals, but triumph carries a steep cost when it is at the expense of the soul.

The plumb line stands before us clearly.  We have hard choices to make.  Can we move forward during the next ten years, “The Holy Decade,” with moral courage and a willingness to engage one another with both a quality of respect and with genuine goodwill?  I shared recently with one of our Congressional Representatives, Susie Lee: “what if every member of Congress were to sign and swear to an agreement to engage in a quality of genuine civil discourse with both respect and goodwill?”  Do you think that might make a difference? 

As Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, suggested, the only real freedom we have is the choice of our attitude.  That choice helped him to survive one of the greatest immoral events of human history.  That choice of attitude might just help us to survive and begin to thrive in the next ten years, and for generations thereafter.  For the sake of those generations, I challenge you, each of us, no matter which side of the isle we find ourselves on, to adopt a genuine attitude of respectful goodwill, beneficial compassion, and altruistic motivation. What will be revealed in the adoption of such an attitude will be the greatest gift of all!

Gard Jameson

Co-founder, Children’s Advocacy Alliance, caanv.org

Co-founder, Volunteers in Medicine, vmsn.org

Founder, Compassionate Las Vegas, compassionatelv.org

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Mon, August 10, 2020

Human survival requires reflection and change

By Gard Jameson

Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 | 2 a.m.

Seventy-five years ago today, the American bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on an unsuspecting city. Within a matter of seconds, steel girders evaporated and a city disappeared, with more than 140,000 killed.

Today, COVID-19 has within a few months killed more than 160,000 unsuspecting Americans. Lives have evaporated and communities are being devastated.

What might we learn from the juxtaposition of these two events? Hiroshima and COVID-19 have caused a deep shift in our awareness of our relationship to one another and to the planet. Both have been devastating forces of nature, suggesting that we are not as in control as we might suspect. Both suggest that deep humility, a yearning for integrity, kindness and sincerity are more appropriate than ever.

Just as when the Twin Towers came down, it is a time to take a step back and listen to what is being spoken to humanity.

According to the American Museum of Natural History, climate change threatens to cause the largest extinction of species that the planet has ever known. There have been five mass extinction events, the largest being the Permian extinction, 252 million years ago, in which over 90% of all species were extinguished, the most recent being the Cretaceous extinction, in which the dinosaurs were wiped out, along with 75% of all species. The difference between those two great extinctions and the current period of massive extinction is that the human species is the prime cause of the current extinction event.

This has led thinkers such as Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme to suggest that we are entering a new period of existence on the planet, one in which there is a deeper awareness of our interdependence, in which the traditional narratives of prejudice, bias and bigotry, of divisive bipartisanship, racial injustice and social isolation are no longer functional, in which the acknowledgement of spiritual values, truth, beauty and goodness are becoming more vital than ever. According to historian Kenneth Clark, civilization, in a very important sense, rests upon the pillars of truth, beauty and goodness.

New vistas of opportunity may lure us, but only vistas laden with the sincere exercise of moral judgment, aesthetic appreciation and the expression of integrity, truth based upon both facts and spiritual insight, can deliver us from our current predicament. Whether you be theist, agnostic or atheist is of little concern; the incarnate affirmation of truth, beauty and goodness runs across all of those perspectives. Our capacity to tolerate amoral behavior and the absence of character will be of little benefit in the years to come.

A friend, Rabbi Soetendorp, the chief rabbi of Holland, will be standing near to the pope and other interfaith leaders this fall to declare this next 10 years as the Holy Decade, a time in which there must be more spiritual growth and discernment than in all previous recorded history, if we are to make our way forward. This Holy Decade will be marked by the recognition of our interdependence, and the need for an embodied Golden Rule in which winning is defined by everyone's victory, not just some particular political, social or religious institution.

The lie still has momentary strength in which some would declare that for the sake of “the larger good,” lies can be tolerated. But lies are symptomatic of moral decay and an absence of integrity, which is the sure formula for societal discord and dysfunction. Anger is never creative; it is always destructive of the person exhibiting it, and toxic to the culture around us. It is time for each of us to declare this new era of possibilities by engaging in attitudes and practices that will transform lies into truth, ugly behavior into virtuous behavior, and immorality into altruism and goodness. The environment will little tolerate a species, such as the human species, that continues to disregard and disrespect the planet as a whole.

Our cruel fantasies of unlimited growth, unlimited resources and the virtues of unlimited greed serve no one well. As suggested by E.F. Schumacher in his landmark book, Small is Beautiful, our future should incorporate an economics as if people mattered. And, for that matter, it should incorporate economics and politics as if the entire planet mattered.

As Schumacher wrote: "In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates humanity … money is thought to be all-powerful; if it could not actually buy non-material (spiritual) values, such as justice, harmony, beauty or even health (physical, mental, spiritual), it could circumvent the need for them or compensate for their loss ... we shrink back from the truth if we believe that the destructive forces of the modern world can be 'brought under control' simply by mobilizing more resources..."

We are being called to restore health, sanity and happiness on the basis of a global ethic in which the sanctity and reverence of all life is affirmed, in which we bring forth a more compassionate heart in our personal relationship, in which we recognize that there are larger forces than the human species are at work on the planet and in the universe. It is time, in humility, to learn from those larger powers.

Gard Jameson is a philosophy professor at UNLV, vice chair of the Charter for Compassion and co-founder of Volunteers in Medicine and the Children’s Advocacy Alliance.

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Mon, October 21, 2019

Graciously PrePersonal

By Gard Jameson

This particular essay is a love letter to my Indwelling Presence of God. Life is all about experience; and, it is only through experience that we come to appreciate reality.

I grew up in a home where there was a very authoritarian father, who at times caused the children to be intimidated. That was compounded by his own proclivity to alcohol and poor ethical choices. And so, that was my introduction to authority. I recall that sometimes I would climb up the outside of the house to get to my room on the second story, not due to any violation of curfew, but just because of the fear factor.

And so, within each of us is the greatest authority of the universe, God! Wow! The Creator, Controller, and Universal Upholder of All Reality. Now that is authority! Over the years, I have wondered about this Indwelling Presence and concerned that such an authority would swamp my own personality. Over the years, I have also been growing my contemplative experience with that Indwelling Divine Reality.

I am now fully convinced that this Indwelling Divine Reality has proven that it is not here to swamp, to override, or to dictate in any autocratic manner. As we look around the world today, we see plenty of such examples where people have given in to dictators and autocrats who are not partners, but rather self-serving. And so, personal experience and observation might cause one to draw back from any such Presence.

The Urantia Book, my highest source of inspiration outside of my personal experience, suggests that God is “prepersonal.” In other words, God never imposes. God invites personal relationship in such a gracious manner as to honor in an absolute manner each of us, as evolutionary souls on an eternal adventure. God has chosen to be prepersonal for just that reason. That, for me, has become the very essence of the word “grace!”

My contemplative experience has helped me to know, with certainty, that God’s Indwelling Presence is the very essence of what it means to be in partnership with God. Such a realization is not something that comes from reading a book, though such a book as The Urantia Book has been most helpful in discerning what is true, beautiful, and good.

My contemplative experience has helped me to know, with certainty, that God stands beyond gender, beyond culture, beyond race, beyond ethnicity, as that perfect friend, who stands in readiness to be a friend, a loyal and gracious friend, to engage the divine journey.

This is a gift! This is grace! For this, I shall be forever grateful!

I invite you to experience this very same realization. For deep within me, until fairly recently, there have been some reservations about the nature of this Divine Indwelling Presence. And wonderments about the divine journey. And now, I can say, with certainty, of the most beloved friend, of the truest of lovers, of the most gracious and beautiful Presence, of the very Epitome of Goodness, I have no doubt.

Glory Be!

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Tue, March 12, 2019

The Spiritual Journey-Waking Up

By Gard Jameson spiritual journey, God-consciousness, the Titanic, materialism

Humanity wanders in a jungle where real values
have no meaning. Real values can have meaning
only when a person steps onto the spiritual path –
A path where negative emotions lose their purpose.
~Swami Ram Das

The winding staircase image suggests that the path of the individual's spiritual journey has many twists and turns. William Blake and Carl Jung were among those who characterized the evolution of the human psyche as circular, winding ever upwards, becoming increasingly refined as the individual moves closer to their true, divine nature. The decision to embark upon the soulward journey brings many challenges. There are so many distractions tempting us to turn back, take a different direction, or give up. What is important at the outset is that we commit to the path. The path contains all the possibilities and our journey is rooted in finding the path.

The early 20th century was a time of great optimism, with numerous remarkable scientific and industrial advances, steamships, automobiles, airplanes, and skyscrapers! There were many who felt that religion had outlived its purpose. Significant material progress was being achieved.

The steamship Titanic endures as one of the most powerful symbols of that particular era. In the dark early morning hours of April 15, 1912, four days into its maiden voyage, the seemingly invincible icon of human achievement struck an iceberg and sank into the North Atlantic Ocean. Two short years later, the world plunged into a bloodbath of carnage, devastation, and despair, as over 10-million people were senselessly killed, with another 20-million people wounded, during World War I. My own great uncle, Frank Gard, was among the casualties. On the heels of the Great War was the Great Depression, which would bring even more despair, and yet another horrific World War which included the Holocaust and the Atomic Bomb. No one could have imagined such a century at the outset of 1912. Over 100 million people – mostly civilians – lost their lives in the name of one ideology or another during these tragic years.

In hindsight, we can observe that material progress without spiritual progress is a formula for incalculable disaster, both individually and collectively. The safest way to minimize such tragedy is to sustain a daily discipline of cultivating our relationship with that which is Most Real through divine communion and selfless service. Neglect not your divine appointment to practice quiet communion and dynamic service. Such a lamp upon the pathway results in growing illumination!

At this point, we need to ask whether there are better ways of being on the planet. We live in a time when we must clarify our point of view and our intentions. If we are sincere in our asking, the way forward will be revealed. But, unfortunately, if we should miss the question, we miss our very life. Let us wake up! Step up, step onto the path of the spiritual journey!

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Thu, August 02, 2018

Illuminated Interbeing Inspires Dedicated Interdoing

By Gard Jameson Gard Jameson, Urantia Book, interbeing, interdoing, Parker Palmer, Lao Tzu, Thich Nhat Hanh, NAIN, North American Interfaith Network,

The Vietnamese Buddhist sage, Thich Nhat Hanh, hoped that one day the word "interbeing" would make it into the dictionary. Interbeing suggests that all life is connected at a very deep level of subjectivity. It is for each of us to "illuminate" that quality of interbeing by our own spiritual practice, which includes engagement with the world at multiple levels.

Recently, I have had the privilege to be with interfaith co-workers in Washington, D.C., "reimagining interfaith." It was a wonderful experience of fellowship, shared values and dedication to working for healing, peace and justice for all creation.

What emerged for me from Reimagine Interfaith in D.C. is that we have an opportunity to lead by example, by allowing radical love and compassion to bring down all walls dividing groups within interfaith work and the peace movement, to create affiliations across the institutional boundaries, affiliations that are sacred and engaged. We all have the opportunity to allow radical love and compassion to expand the circles of inclusion.

It was in 1988 that a group of us gathered in Wichita, KS, to talk about creating a network of interfaith councils across North America. This event turned into NAIN, the North American Interfaith Network, which has since done a stellar job in connecting interfaith leaders around North America annually, discovering Martin Luther King and friends in Atlanta, Thomas Jefferson and friends in Virginia, and who knows what in Las Vegas!

The campfire at NAIN in Wichita brought together the great religious traditions of the planet. We have all seen the T-Shirts with these traditions' sacred symbols, COEXIST! Which is lovely and deeply meaningful. However, our inclusion, our campfire needs to include even more! During the D.C. gathering, I shared that I have two daughters who are "spiritual but not religious;" and, one of my daughters is transgender, something she shared that she was only comfortable doing in this generation.

There is a benign tsunami coming… the next generation. Globally, more and more are comfortable to identify as "spiritual" but not "religious." As Huston Smith has suggested religion will always have an important place at the table, as the river bed, whose water is either the abundance or lack of spirituality. Perhaps it is good that we examine the water level and the quality of the water!

Lao Tzu shares in his immortal words that Supreme Reality, TAO, of existence cannot be bottled or institutionalized; "the Tao that can be named is not the Eternal Tao." From 2,500 years ago, this coming generation echoes these wise words. My daughters resist the labels with words like, "NONE." Labels and words actually help define our limitations, creating the context for functional communication. But, as Wittgenstein suggests, words can be "a cage."

"It is high time that (each of us) had a religious experience so personal and so sublime that it could be realized and expressed only by 'feelings that lie too deep for words.'" (The Urantia Book, 99:5.9)

Out of this contemplative stance, illuminated interbeing, comes the inspiration for "dedicated interdoing." What I have learned in my community work with the medically fragile, vmsn.org, the children, caanv.org, anytownlv.org, and with non-profit leaders, jamesonfellowship.org, is that if we truly come to experience "interbeing," we are invited to the opportunity for "interdoing." Our community issues are best solved in a "collective impact" manner. The education sector desperately needs the other sectors, social services, arts& culture, healthcare, workforce development, environment to help solve its issues. I invite you to examine one such collective impact solution unfolding in our community through gardens, Green Our Planet, greenourplanet.org.

The possibility for such "interdoing" is predicated upon trust. At our Free and Charitable Medical Clinic, vmsn.org, TRUST stands for Teamwork, Respect for all, Unity & Urgency of mission, Service with excellence, and Transparency, TRUST. We build that trust one circle at a time, within ourselves, within our families, within our communities, within our nation, globally.

I invite you to examine the good work of Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness, who has elegantly invited us to engage in a new quality of trust, that leads to character, that leads to a healing of institutions: religious, political, economic, social.

My favorite definition for religion is: faith, trust, and assurance. Trust is the middle name of our religious and spiritual traditions. Without trust, these traditions become irrelevant. The same might be said of our economic, political and social institutions, as well. Have you noticed?

And, so, we need spiritual practices that illuminate our being, that connect us to "interbeing." Teilhard de Chardin let us know, along with others, that joy is the infallible sign of the divine. Our traditions suggest that joy is our birthright. Let us have the contemplative presence to immerse ourselves in that quality of being, so that we might go into the world ready to engage "dedicated interdoing!" May our legacy be that we ignited "interbeing" in such a manner as to bring hope and healing to our troubled planet by our "interdoing!"

Blessings!

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Mon, July 09, 2018

Four Essential Attitudes of Compassionate Service

By Gard Jameson compassionate service, Gard Jameson, Jesus, religion, beatitudes, suffering, mercy, peace, forgiveness

 

Four Essential Attitudes of Compassionate Service

Blessed are those who mourn…

Blessed are those who are merciful…

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Blessed are you when you are persecuted…

In a world of bullies and tyrants, abuse and neglect, these are attitudes worth considering! Especially given the Source!

At 65 years of age, I observe that most people cannot see beyond their own lives, nor do they have a particular desire to do so. They are selfish! Which is a good news, bad news story. Selfishness has helped to preserve our lives through the millennia, good news; selfishness has also helped to propel a quality of historical violence, war and alienation which is unimaginable! Over 100 million murdered in the 20th century for absolutely no reason. Bad news!

Confucius observed many years ago, that the myopia of selfishness is the cause of all of our suffering, our violence, both to self and others. Until we can move our awareness to truly encompass family, community, the nation, and "all within the four seas," we shall be the victims of our own selfish regard. More importantly, we are helping to perpetrate a violent world. Think about it!

Jesus provides the way out of that narcissistic trap of selfish regard through the last four of his momentous eight beatitudes, the Eightfold Path of Jesus.

I have an acquaintance who once shared: "I don't do charity." He said that it is just not on his radar. He spends his time fishing, shooting and travelling and is worth many, many dollars. Jesus provides a number of parables about such wealth, as a symbol of such narcissism, suggesting that such an attitude is not the way to the kingdom. Indeed, it leads in a very different direction.

I have discovered there are many, many people like my acquaintance who do not have much regard for others, even those in desperate need. I tell my students that the world is "on fire" and "all hands are needed on deck." Selfishness is destroying the tender fabric of our economics, our politics, our environment, our very bodies. It is time to join the fire brigade; and, Jesus demonstrates the Way, four attitudes leading to a better world!

First, we must learn to be tenderhearted, to mourn, to open our hearts to those who are suffering and in difficulty, which would be most people. This is a seemingly easy task since there are so many who are in pain. And yet, most people shroud their identities with fear, anxiety and anger, not allowing the pain of others into their awareness. My experience suggests that such awareness opens a space in which God might step in and help transform us, in God's image.

Our exercise in this first step is to really allow ourselves to open to the suffering of others, to mourn.

Second, we need to extend the gift of compassion, mercy, which our mourning has given birth to. As the prophet Micah suggests, we should "love mercy" so that we might "act justly," thereby "walking humbly with God." Compassion or mercy are impossible to a heart incapable of mourning. Only a broken heart, broken by our mourning for others, can possibly hope to experience the fullness of God's unconditional love.

Our exercise in this second step is truly extend the love of God to others in compassion, in mercy, to say: "I wish you well," with the fullness of our hearts.

Third, we are each and all called to be peacemakers, to be an ambassador of "matchless goodwill," with helping hands. Peacemaking is not an easy step; but, a necessary condition of a better world for everyone. Peacemaking implies that there will be conflict along the way, both personal and collective. Our chosen avenue of service reflects our capacity to be a peacemaker. How is your peacemaking touching your inner conflicts, your family conflicts, your community conflicts, your national conflicts, the conflicts occurring globally? As Teresa of Calcutta suggests, it is vital that we serve in our own backyard, and pray for the world while we do it. As Albert Schweitzer suggests, real happiness ensues only in a life of dedicated service.

Our exercise for the third step is to discern what our life plan of service will be, this begins with compassion and caring for ourselves, but extends through the family to community, through community to the nation, and beyond all borders and walls.

Fourth, and lastly, comes the suggestion by Jesus that those who step in the waters of peacemaking will, by definition, experience some level of persecution. In my 65 years on the planet, even in the most exhilarating levels of service, I have experienced from people that I would not have expected a surprising level of persecution. People who have indicated trust to me have sometimes been the ones to persecute and demonstrate ill will. As painful as these experiences have been, I can say that they have produced only a larger capacity to mourn for those individuals and for their willingness to engage in mean behavior.

Within the fourth step lies the exercise. Jesus did it while on the cross, "forgive them, they know not what they do." To extend lovingkindness to all beings, friend and foe, is the height of compassionate service and the depth of spiritual bliss. Even in the height of his agony on the cross, Jesus could experience the depth of bliss associated with the Father's love.

And, so we see, how the circle of compassionate service finds its fulfilment in these four essential attitudes. Jesus taught a religion of love of God and service to all humanity. We experience God's love within the holy walls of worship; and we are privileged to act as God's ambassadors in compassionate service. This dual affection gives rise to a life well-lived, dedicated to the glory of God!

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Thu, December 21, 2017

Route 91

By Gard Jameson

Living in Southern Nevada, I was close to the tragic events of October 1st.

58 human beings were mercilessly murdered in a senseless act. Hundreds were wounded. Two of my students were among the injured. One friend was fleeing for her life when she saw a man bleeding profusely from his gunshot wound. She stopped, applied pressure and saved his life.

Whether it was the Texas A&M shooting back in the 1960s, the Sandy Hook shooting, the Columbine shooting, or Route 91, these events leave us in a state of shock and trauma. Who could kill children at school? Who could murder concert attendees?

Our image of God becomes monumentally important when events like these take place. If we imagine God as withholding love, mercy, and ministry in moments like these we do God a great disservice. And, yet, the Baylor University study on the image of God shows that the vast majority of people believe that God is either authoritarian, critical and/or distant, not interested.

Only as we courageously venture to the inner recesses of our soul do we discover, in certainty, the God of all creation to be eternal in Unconditional Love, universal in Unfailing Mercy, and infinite in Matchless Goodwill. As we approach the end of a year, 2017, that saw such tragedies, that witnessed the advance of global warming and its effects, that wondered at nations daring to suggest the option of nuclear war, are you willing to rededicate yourself to the God, who loves you, uniquely, and without conditions, who cares for your personal welfare, like no one else ever could, and who in ways mysterious, ministers to you, even now???

As we open our hearts and minds to this God of Galaxies, we discover a renewed enthusiasm to run the good race of faith, to let people know through our lives that love governs the universe, that mercy is the air we breathe, and that unselfish service is our pathway to freedom. Are you willing to give God your time by consenting to God’s Presence and Action in your life? Are you willing to affirm the Supreme Values of existence, by being transformed by those values?

Are you willing to express matchless goodwill with every step of your being?

“Of God, the most inescapable of all presences, the most real of all facts, the most living of all truths, the most loving of all friends, and the most divine of all values, we have the right to be the most certain of all universe experiences.” (102:7.10)

May your life be an expression of such certitude! Shalom, Peace, Salaam!

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Mon, April 17, 2017

Compassionate Living

By Gard Jameson

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." ~ Dalai Lama

"Who does not want happiness for others and for ourselves? If so, see me after class."

Those are the words that I share with my students at the University of Nevada in the first week of class. The answer is obvious; and yet, how many of us know how to practice compassion?

In his book, The Compassionate Life, Marc Ian Barasch shares:

"I've come to admire the metaphoric elegance of a tree: donating free oxygen, running on solar energy, sheltering all creatures, making a quiet, tenacious display of life's generativity. People have always gathered beneath trees to parley and to palaver, to picnic and to play. Every faith has a Great Tree rooted in its narrative. I imagine each sapling we plant as a resurrection of hope, an emissary to the future. A tree seems an apt emblem of the interdependent, ecology-base global order so many are working to bring to fruition."

Marc provides illustration after illustration inviting us to live the compassionate life, from generous spirits who practice compassionate living every day of their lives to those who would donate an organ to a perfect stranger, we see how life can be lived in transforming fulfillment.

I was a Certified Public Accountant for 25 years before taking a turn in the road, now teaching philosophy, and doing community engagement work. While I was a CPA, I encountered many very well-to-do clients who were, to put it kindly, "miserly givers." Invariably, I observed lives of quiet desperation and non-redemptive suffering. When asking one wealthy client about their philanthropic intent, I was told: "I don't do philanthropy." With divorce and a child suicide in the resume, I could only feel compassion for the ignorance of his plight.

I have often thought, wouldn't it be lovely to send all of these clients a copy of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and advise them just to watch the last scene of Old Scrooge opening up his window, requesting the purchase of a big turkey for Tiny Tim's family, and following through with an offer of health and well-being for Tiny Tim and the entire family?

There is a joy inherent in human existence. Our happiness is rooted in that joy. If we could but open the windows of our hearts and minds to take in the powerful spirit that comes with a compassionate and giving soul, we would never close that window again.

If we could see that it is our nature to be selfless, compassionate givers, more so than to be selfish, miserly takers, we would do everything in our power to commence the journey down the path of kindness. On that path, we would learn from many good souls along the way. We would see the height and breadth of those great trees all along the path, providing refuge to all who would take shelter.

In Buddhism, "The Three Jewels" signify three great refuges, three great trees:

1) the first being the awakening to our own compassionate Buddha, divine nature,

2) the realization that there are universal practices of compassion that can help guide our way, consisting in greater generosity, greater patience, greater diligence, greater discipline, more spiritual practice, leading to greater insight, and

3) the appreciation that there are fellow travelers on the path of kindness, and that we would do well to associate ourselves with such fellow travelers.

I invite you to fully engage the path of kindness. I invite you to take shelter from the storm that is this world, under the great Tree of Compassion, a tree that not only shelters but provides the oxygen needed to skip down the path. One of my fellow travelers, Wayne Teasdale, taught me that Contemplative Practice leads to Contemplative Action. May you be blessed by the joy, the peace, the love that comes from such practice. And, may you become a blessing to many, breathing in other's suffering, breathing out lovingkindness.

Easter, 2017

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Fri, February 17, 2017

The Most Highs Rule

By Gard Jameson

"No matter what blunders your fellow men make in their world management of today, in an age to come the gospel which I declare to you will rule this very world." (143:1.4)

At the 2015 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City there was shared the story of a Russian officer who was given a message that might have set off a nuclear war between Russia and the West in the Fall of 1983. He shared that he heard a voice that clearly directed him not to pass the message along to those who might have initiated such a conflagration. He also shared that he did not know what would get him into more trouble with his superiors, not passing the message along or hearing voices. That story has been documented with actor Kevin Costner, The Man Who Saved Civilization.

On the night of September 26 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was on duty at Serpukhov-15, a top secret command station in dense forests south of Moscow. His job was to analyze satellite data that would detect a pre-emptive nuclear first strike from the USA – a prospect that in Soviet minds at least, was not unrealistic at that time.

Just three weeks before, the Russians had shot down a Korean jet liner with 269 passengers on board, including a US Congressman and 60 other Americans, after wrongly suspecting it of being a spy plane. The incident pushed East-West tensions to their highest since the Cuban missile crisis, and prompted Ronald Reagan's infamous remark that the Soviet Union was an "evil empire." 

So when, at 12:15 am, the bright red warning lights started flashing and a loud klaxon horn began wailing, indicating a missile from West Coast USA, Petrov and his colleagues feared the very, very worst. "I saw, that a missile had been fired, aimed at us," he recalls. "It was an adrenalin shock. I will never forget it." 

Could it be a false alarm? Petrov asked his colleagues manning the satellite telescopes for "visual confirmation." But with the atmosphere cloudy, it was impossible to say. And besides, the computer said no. As the monitor in front of him showed first one, then two, and then eventually five apparent missile blips, he was forced to make a decision.

Either America was starting World War III, in which case Russia had to respond immediately and overwhelmingly, effectively wiping out the world. Or he could tell his superiors that the mighty Soviet Union's early warning system was malfunctioning, and hope like hell that he was right. With the blips on the screen getting ever nearer to Soviet soil, he had 15 minutes to make his mind up. Seldom had the fate of the world hung more in the hands of one man.

Can you imagine the scene? Can you imagine an angel or some divine personality, whispering quite clearly into his ear: "do not relay this information?"

The World has found itself in similar situations a few times, the Cuban missile crisis in the 1962, a technical malfunction in Omaha, Nebraska in 1979, and there have been other such events.

The night before the third debate between the Presidential candidates last Fall, I made the mistake of telling my class that we would meet, not knowing that all other classes had been dismissed that evening. The rest of the building was empty. So, instead of class I told my students that we would talk about "other things." I asked: "How many of you trust our economic institutions?" Not one student raised their hand. I asked: "How many of you trust our political institutions?" Not one student raised their hand. I asked: "How many of you trust our religious institutions?" Not one student raised their hand.

We have made a mess of things. It may indeed get messier. Humans have an enormous capacity to make a mess. We have lost our way, at all levels.

In the midst of such messiness, we retain the capacity to commune with divine reality, to know that the divine rules our hearts, that the divine rules all the kingdoms of men and women, and all creatures.

In the midst of all the messiness, why should we not commune with divine reality? To know that the divine does rule, not only in our hearts, but also this very world. Why should we not?

We learn from Jesus's life that:

"He well knew that each age must evolve its own remedies for existing troubles. And if Jesus were on earth today, living his life in the flesh, he would be a great disappointment to the majority of good men and women for the simple reason that he would not take sides in present-day political, social, or economic disputes. He would remain grandly aloof while teaching you how to perfect your inner spiritual life so as to render you manyfold more competent to attack the solution of your purely human problems.

"Jesus would make all men Godlike and then stand by sympathetically while these sons of God solve their own political, social, and economic problems." (140:8.17,18)

We are each called upon to enable character growth, the expansion of wisdom and compassion within our soul in accord with our willingness to consent to the Father's will, present in our conscious awareness in this moment, now. All it takes is your consent. Do we take seriously the urgency of the present moment? Do we dare to commune with the Eternal Presence of Infinite Love? If you truly care about the issues of this world, I invite you to join me in such communion. Won't you join me?

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Thu, November 24, 2016

Spiritual Character

By Gard Jameson

Character counts! During the recent cycle of political engagement, I was privileged to read David Brooks' The Road to Character. What I have learned from both experiences is that character, the quality of our soul, is important as we move toward responsibility, toward leadership, toward the Divine.

He speaks of two personalities residing within each of us; that split should be enough to cause us to submit to the Divine Therapy. The first personality is attracted to pleasure and self-seeking happiness. The second personality, rooted in the Divine, is the only aspect of ourself that is capable of soul satisfaction and sustainability. This second personality seeks the way of wisdom and worship, the way of service and love. The first personality is "restless" and "fearful."

Using a number of great characters of history: labor rights advocate Frances Perkins; advocate of the poor Dorothy Day; advocate of discipline and self-mastery General George Marshall; civil rights advocate Philip Randoph; spiritual advocate Augustine of Hippo; and others, Brooks helps us to understand the attributes of real character. One of my favorite fictional characters, played by Gregory Peck, is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. There was a person of tender kindness and moral strength, a person made of both steel and velvet!

Brooks proposes the Humility Code:

1. We don't live for happiness, we live for holiness

2. A proper self-appraisal goes a long way toward deeper humility

3. Self-inquiry also reveals the splendor that resides within each of us

4. In our struggle, we discover that humility is the greatest virtue, and that

5. Pride is the greatest vice

6. Once basic needs are met, the struggle for character, against sin and for virtue, should be the theme of our existence

7. Character only emerges as we courageously confront our shadow, our inner demons

8. What leads us astray is our emotional reactivity, anxiety, anger and fear

9. Humility is not achieved in a vacuum; other people and a Higher Power are necessary to the journey

10. We are all saved by grace, by uninvited, unearned acceptance

11. The courage to confront our weakness comes from calming the voice of our ego, by quieting the "restless" self, by being still and knowing something greater than ourselves

12. Wisdom, the crown of real character, is a function of meekness and modesty, humility

13. To find our character, our soul, we must find our vocation, our calling, our unique gift that no one else in the universe is capable of answering or offering

14. The true person of character leads "along the grain of human nature rather than going against it"

15. Finally - such a character may never reach the history books, but such a person is an embodiment of "unity of purpose," pursuing a worthwhile unattainable.

In speaking of character, Brooks identifies "pride" as the chief stumbling block, the voice that says: "I am self-sufficient, great and powerful."

"Pride can come in bloated form. This person wants people to see visible proof of his superiority. He wants to be on the VIP list. In conversation, he boasts, he brags. He needs to see his superiority reflected in other people's eyes."

There are also the proud persons who have low self-esteem.

"They feel they haven't lived up to their potential. They feel unworthy. They want to hide and disappear, to fade into the background and nurse their hurts. We don't associate them with pride, but they are still, at root, suffering from the same disease. They are still yoking happiness to accomplishment… they tend to be just as self-centered, only in a self-pitying and isolating way rather than in an assertive and bragging way."

Probably my favorite vignette in the book is on Augustine, one of the Fathers of Modern Christian Theology. Augustine noted in his autobiography,

"'The older I got in age, the worse I got in emptiness," noting that "our hearts are restless until we rest in Thee."

Is it any wonder that the very first beatitude of Jesus was: "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit..," the humble!

May you find within yourself that divine spark of wisdom that ever leads the humble soul toward the shoreline of real character! Bless you and your journey!

Happy Thanksgiving,

Gard

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