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American Gladiators are Back!!!!! (The Third Duck: Defending yourself) December 28, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

This is the third in a series about “Getting your Ducks in a Row.” 

Thank goodness for this writer’s strike, because it is bringing back one of the greatest TV shows to ever grace the screen: American Gladiators.

Back in the 80’s I remember sitting through horrible episodes of Saturday Night Live (ok they weren’t as bad as some of them now) just to watch American Gladiators.  I am not sure why the show ever went off the air, other than the fact that they messed with some of the more popular games, eliminating some of them all together, or replacing them with goofy substitutes that they thought would liven things up.  I mean, who liked that stupid swinging one anyway?  That was just dumb if you ask me.


Duuuude….

It was a great concept- average Americans- Americans just like you or me taking on buff, steroid induced machines in some really physically challenging competitions.  Well, some of them were physically challenging anyway.  Like the Eliminator at the end of every show, or the one where they had to out-clime one of those buff Gladiators on a climbing wall.  It was great competition as the Gladiator, who was always in much better shape than the opponent scaled the wall like Spider-man to pull down his contender. 

There were games though that required almost no physical prowess whatsoever.  I can’t remember the name of it, but one of the games gave the Gladiator a high powered gun that shot tennis balls at the contender.  The contender had to hit a target just above the Gladiator’s head to win, using only tennis balls thrown by his arm. (OK he had some weapons of his own, but they never seemed to have great aim.)  The Gladiator would just sit up there and fire tennis balls at mach 5 at the contender’s head.  Now that is good TV.


Unfair advantage…

Sadly, the original Gladiators Zap, Laser, Gemini, Mitch, and Sneezy, (I may have some of those names wrong) got canceled and had to go back to working at Pay-less, as the most buff shoe salesmen ever.  They faded into obscurity, only to be seen in re-runs.

Now they are bringing back the Gladiators thanks to the writer’s strike, and the world will be a better place.  Once again we get to see average American’s get the crap beat out of them by over juiced men and women… I hope congress doesn’t ask THEM about steroid use…

Still, you have to give those average athletes credit… I would never want to go against a person who calls themselves Viper or Ice.  They often stood up against these big people and defended themselves well.  My favorite event by far was the pugel-sticks, where they stood up on big pedestals with giant cue-tips and attacked each other.  It was great.

Nobody stood there and took it though- they defended themselves, even if unsuccessfully, they still had to learn somehow along the line how to defend themselves.  This is the third “duck” in the series of 5 ducks that I mentioned in a previous post.

One of our basic human needs is to learn how to defend ourselves.  That can be hard to do- there are a lot of people that get into situations that prevent them from learning how to do this- how to defend themselves physically, emotionally, or psychologically.  It seems that they are going up against someone much more scary than any American Gladiator could ever be- be it a parent, a spouse, a family member, or even a boss.

Some people think that in order for people to love them, or in order to love someone (the second “duck”) that means that they have to let someone roll over them.  That is not the case- each one of us needs to learn how to defend ourselves, in order that we might love ourselves and others.  Being rolled over is not a loving thing to do for anyone.

Some people learn how to defend themselves inappropriately too.  Some people turn to addictions to insulate themselves from their own emotions or fears.  Drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex, food or whatever you want to put in that list (because you can be addicted to just about anything or anyone) is a quick and easy alternative to actually standing up to what we fear and defending ourselves in a healthy and appropriate way.  In the end, those quick fixes that we use for self defense end up isolating us from others and ourselves, they prevent us from loving or being loved, they add to our confusion, and diminish our self worth.

Another unhealthy way to defend ourselves is to try and control the situation- to roll over other people so that they cannot hurt us, or to try and manipulate situations so that we are always king of the mountain.  Ultimately to roll over other people to defend ourselves is also self defeating for the same reason that addictions are.  Basically, you begin to isolate yourself from other people as they come to fear you and your attitude and reactions to things. 


The King of the Mountain is always lonely

Defending ourselves does not mean to isolate with addictions, or to try and control every single situation by rolling over people.  In the end, it is more damaging to do either, and you will end up alone, fearful, and angry at the world.  I have seen it happen in people’s lives.

How do we properly defend ourselves?  I believe the key is in setting healthy boundaries and then keeping them. 

If we have someone in our lives that is toxic or dangerous to us, we have a right to set our own boundaries with that person.  That doesn’t mean imposing boundaries on them (that probably wouldn’t work anyway) but it means that if we have a toxic person in our lives, we choose when to see them or not, the setting and the circumstance.

That means that defending ourselves is to not put ourselves into a situation that we will get hurt by.  It means knowing ourselves well enough to set boundaries that are healthy, not exclusive, and it also means uttering the most difficult word: “No.”

Setting boundaries means saying no to some things.  Loving someone doesn’t mean you always say yes to every desire that they have.  Loving someone sometimes means you have to say no- it sometimes means that setting a boundary means that for their own good you have to put some distance between them and you.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t love them, but what it means is that you love them enough to protect both yourself and them.


Boundaries

You don’t even necessarily have to tell difficult people about your boundaries- it is you that has to keep them, not the other person.  That may mean removing yourself from a dangerous or abusive situation.  That may require you to ask for help in order to preserve yourself.

Really defending yourself and loving yourself aren’t too different.  It would be silly for that contender in American Gladiators to just stand there and take a beating from someone twice his size.  We, like that contender, have a right to healthy self preservation- to say no- and to make sure that we are in an environment that is happy and healthy. 

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The Real Moulin Rouge in Paris (The second duck, to love and to be loved) December 27, 2007

Posted by rengawman in humor, Humor with a point, life, travel.
Tags: , , , , , ,
5 comments

A Humorous Story :

A few years ago, of of my favorite movies came to the big screen: Moulin Rouge.  Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, and even that short guy that plays the creepy clown in Spawn was in it.  Man, as if clowns weren’t creepy enough, he had to go and play an even creepier clown in that Spawn movie.  Frankly, I just find John Leguizamo creepy, whether he is dressed as a clown or not.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Moulin Rouge is about a burlesque house in Paris, France, near Mon Martres.  Mon Martres was famous, and still is, for many things, amoung the most notable are the artists.  Like many houses of ill repute, Moulin Rouge enjoyed a considerable amount of success for its time, which was about the turn of the 20th century.  The movie itself was about a particularly famous actress falling in love with a penniless writer.  There was a lot of singing involved, particularly of songs by Sting.

Anyway, I loved the movie, and around the time Moulin Rouge (the movie) was reaching the heights of its own popularity, I was taking a trip to France to see Paris.  We saw all the sites in that fair city, including the top of Mon Martres, and the glorious Sacre Coeur church that sits on top of it.  We ate a nice lunch, and saw some of the artists that hung around doing portraits of people.


Sacre Coeur, Paris

I was with my friend, lets call him Mitch (to protect the innocent).  Mitch had been having a tough week as they had lost his luggage in our trip from Rome to Paris.  All he had to wear was the clothes that he traveled in.  The airline was nice enough to give him a toothbrush though.

So Mitch and I finished lunch and looked into the guide book for the next thing to see.  It turns out that St. Ignatius of Loyola had founded the Society of Jesus on that very mountain, so we strolled down Mon Martres, faithfully following our guide book to the street where the church was built. Since we both attended a Jesuit school in Rome, we figured that we had to pay our respects. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon so it was locked.

Disappointed we looked into our guide book for something else to do, and lo and behold, the Moulin Rouge was just down the street and around the corner!  I told Mitch that we had to go since I was rather enamored by the movie Moulin Rouge, and it would be silly to miss.  He seemed hesitant.  He never told me why but I was about to find out.

Now, something should have told me this was a bad idea, but images of Nicole Kidman were dancing through my head.  That something was that two older gentlemen, dressed as two older women, were standing at the end of the street waving at us.  Their faces looked like melted candles.  I pointed at them and said to Mitch, “hey look at those two.”  They waved back, and said hello to us.  I thought it was funny.  Mitch did not. 


I think we may have seen Dame Edna- melty face

That didn’t deter me though, as we took a left at the elderly cross dressers and went further down the mountain.  My face was buried in the book trying to make sure we were going the right direction.  We got to the bottom of the hill and turned right.  Mitch immediately let out a rather loud, oh no!  I looked up, and there it was.  More neon than I had ever seen in my life: we were in the red light district of Paris.

Mitch was scared.  I was frankly scared.  I have never been in a more disturbing place in my life.  It was all around us, like we had walked through the closet in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but instead of appearing in Narnia, we appeared in a much scarier place.  Mitch told me that we should get out of here… I tried to act calm and I told him that there was a subway stop about a block ahead, conveniently placed right in front of the Moulin Rouge.

As we walked, there were people (fully clothed) standing in front of the various… establishments… trying to get us into the door.  I was trying to play it off as if it wasn’t disturbing, but Mitch wasn’t doing so well.  I said to him, “Mitch, they aren’t going to attack us!”  At that very moment, one of the door people grabbed Mitch by the arm, dragging him toward the door, and said- “You come with me sweety!”

Mitch let out a groan of terror.  I started laughing.  It was too much really.

So I fought off the door person, and we shuffled down what seemed to be the never ending block toward the Moulin Rouge.  I looked up, and there it was.  No Nicole Kidman, no Ewan McGregor- no creepy John Leguizamo.  Just a neon covered Red Windmill spinning in the afternoon sun.  It was still a burlesque house.  The guide book seemed to leave that whole part off of its description.

Mitch was ready to go, as was I.  The subway entrance was just a few feet away when I saw it- a candy stand.  I walked over and bought some gummy bears.  I got a bag full and then we got on the subway to whereever we ended up next.  I came to find Mitch wasn’t real happy with our adventure, but he eventually forgave me, as it was an honest mistake.

The Point:

There was a constant theme that went through the entire movie of Moulin Rouge- the Penniless writer, played by Ewan McGregor, came to Paris, not only to write, but to fall in love.  The constant theme throughout the movie was that there is nothing greater in this world, than to love and to be loved.  That brings us to the second duck that my spiritual director told me about last week.  It is absolutely on the money.  Of course, once Ewan McGregor expresses publicly his love for Nicole Kidman’s character, she dies of teburculosis.  I am sorry if I spoiled the ending for you… you had 7 years to watch it.

This is a fundamental human need that we have though- to love and to be loved.  Some people have a hard time with some aspects of this “duck” for various reasons. 

There are some people that are easy to love.  Some people that when we see them, it brightens our day, and it makes us feel good.  There are others, however, that are not so easy to love- sometimes it is a friend, or a co-worker, or a member of the family.  Love is not always an easy thing to do, but love is what we are made for.  As I have said in other posts, we are made in the image and likeness of God, which means that we have free will, and second, we have the ability to enter into relationships.  These culminate in love- love is the choice of willing the good of another person.

Sometimes willing the good of another person means that we have to give them up.  Sometimes it means doing something, or not doing something, that we might not want to do in order that we do what is best for our neighbor.  Love is very very difficult, but we have a need to love because it takes us out of ourselves, and is the basis for every relationship that we have, from friendship to family or even co-workers.  Love at least should be the basis for those relationships.  Love turns us away from ourselves, and improves the other person by letting them become the best that they can be.  Love hurts sometimes too- real love does, because it involved risk and sacrifice.  Risk that our gift of self may be rejected or mis-understood, and sacrifice, which is at the core of loving others- doing what is right for them and best for them, even if it is tough to do.

Believe it or not though, I believe that loving others is the harder of the two.  Accepting love is really hard for some people to do, because they don’t think they are worthy, or they have never really been loved.  Accepting love means admitting that you need love- it also involves risk- the risk of letting someone know you, and exposing what is in the deepest parts of your heart.  See, you can’t love what you don’t know, so often we reject love to protect those things in our hearts that we think are unlovable. 

This is what shame is- our whole culture is based around shame for a good part- shame is the belief that there is something unlovable about me- something we are embarrassed to show.   People who are abused often feel this- not only do they not let other people love them, but they have a hard time loving themselves.  Being loved involves even more of a risk than loving someone else, simply because in order to be loved you have to be open and honest with yourself and others in order for them to love you.

That is where God comes into the picture.  He loves us unconditionally.  There is nothing we can do to lose that lose, and nothing we need do to earn it.  God knows us better than we know ourselves, and always does what is best for us.  Sometimes that means saying no to us as well.  The key and the goal is to begin to see ourselves as God sees us- to let Him love us, so that we might imitate that toward ourselves and others.

There is no amount of shame that God cannot love away if we let Him.  Then we ourselves can be loved, and in turn, go out and love others- finding out what they need and their greatest good and willing that.  This fulfills who we are as human beings, allowing us to freely enter into a loving relationship with God, ourselves, and other human beings.

My Magic Monkey Blogspot Political Muffin Chronicles December 21, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Uncategorized.
4 comments

So my brother and I were chatting yesterday about this blog, and I was mentioning the different hits I was getting from the search engines, primarily from the search term “smart car” from my blog on an efficient diesel engine the other day.  Just because of “smart cars” I am getting hundreds of hits a day on that particular blog.  So he suggested that I look up the most popular words in the blogosphere (what a dumb word frankly) and the above title is FILLED with the most googled and searched words in regards to blogs.  Well, except monkey and muffin.  Those are MY most searched for terms on the internet.  I am seeking help.

Monkey Muffins -- Visit Our Store!!
That’s right… Monkey Muffins.  I have ordered 5 cases already.

That having been said, I was intending today to write a little blog about 4th grade.  Because I know people are interested in my 4th grade stories.  I just know they are.  Please be interested…

When I was in 4th grade, I was really into magic- I mean really into it.  I think it all started when my mom took me to see David Copperfield (the illusionist, not the Dickens character) the year that he walked through the Great Wall of China. (Incidentally I had a trick that performed a couple of times in High School that was similar- I could break the Great Chair of Aluminum without batting an eye just by sitting on it). (Not to mention futons)

In this particular show, DC didn’t have a great wall of China to walk through, but he did have a somewhat impressive metal wall that he walked through.  As I recall, the trick took about 20 minutes to perform altogether, but 19 minutes of it was David Copperfield dancing around the wall in a dramatic fashion.  Maybe I was just into dramatic dancing.  No… it was magic.

AllI could think of back then was figuring out how the heck he did that, and how no wall would ever hold me back again.  I can’t tell you how many walls I tried to walk through after that.  I can’t tell you because I eventually passed out from hitting my head on various walls trying to walk through them.  I don’t remember 1985 at all.


Owned by the wall

I even went as far as going to a Magic Society meeting (yes there is such an organization, it just doesn’t exist in Arrested Development). (I often heard Final Countdown playing in my sleep.)


GOB

OK even as much as I was into magic back then, the Magic Society proved to be creepy, even by 4th grade standards.  Sure these guys could make pigeons come out of places where no pigeon should be, but I am pretty sure it warped their brains somehow.  (I remember one creepy guy in particular)  (creepy).  Most of these guys did not have the grace nor the finesse of David Copperfield, although there was a lot of dramatic dancing going on at the meeting I went to.  Maybe I just went to the wrong meeting.

This did not deter me in the least.  Certainly I wasn’t called to join the Magic Society as a 4th grader- these guys spent way too much time doing magic even for me.  I got my first magic kit shortly thereafter- a Harry Blackstone Magic kit.  For those of you who don’t know, Harry Blackstone was the David Copperfield of the 70’s.  He was a great man.  More mysterious than dramatic, I think he was a great magician. (Could have used more dramatic dancing though.)


It appears that he is dancing… dramatically

I spent the next couple of weeks learning the various tricks- making balls disappearing under cups, card tricks, various tricks involving strings (which almost made me lose a finger once by the way) (That is a different blog) (Strings tied to tight can cut off the circulation in a child’s finger I learned one day) (On my own finger)

After a couple of weeks I felt like I was ready to perform.  I had perfected about half the tricks, and thrown in a few dramatic dance moved to boot and I knew it was time.  So I approached my 4th grade teacher Mr. Sunderland, who also let me run a banking business in class (yet another blog) (I made lots of money that year) (For a 4th grader) and I asked him to let me perform.

Perform I did- I don’t know if it was the dramatic dancing, or the quality of magic, but I was able to dazzle the other 4th graders.  As I get older, I realize how easy it is dazzle 4th graders by the way.  A couple of my tricks flubbed up, but for the most part my career as a 4th grade magician was off to a running start.  It was my first and last show.  I did do some card tricks for a waitress at Bob Evans a few weeks after that, but that was the end of my professional career before I found something else, or my banking business took too much of my time.

I think my interest in magic goes right along with a lot of my habits and actions.  In sacraments class back in grad school in Rome, our professor told us the difference between magic and prophecy.  Prophecy in a culture is for the good of the culture and not the prophet, whereas magic is an attempt to control one’s environment- it is somewhat self centered.

Who doesn’t want to control their environment and walk through walls or fly around?  If that sentiment wasn’t shared by a lot of people there wouldn’t be comic book heroes with superpowers, or people like Donald Trump and Martha Stewart.  It is in our nature to try and control our environment however it is possible, and magic seems to do that well.  It seems that David Copperfield can dance through a wall or make the statue of liberty disappear.  It seems like he has total control over his environment when in reality it is all an illusion.

That is about the same when it comes to controlling our own environments- it is an illusion to believe that we have control over most of anything- that attempt to control our feelings or emotions or the actions of our environment of others is simply like magic- an illusion.  There are lots of ways we try to do that by the way that are much more dangerous than magic- work, titles, power, drugs, alcohol, spending- insert your vice here.  None of it gives us any more control over our environment than anything else.  I often wonder, with all their money, how free someone like Donald Trump or Martha Stewart really is.  Maybe they are slaves to their money- I would bet they are.

Realizing how little control we have over things is really liberating.  I can’t control how I feel about things- I can’t control how you feel about things- I can’t change the weather or walk through walls.  What I do have control over however, thanks to the grace of God, are my choices- my actions.  I do have control over that no matter what is going on around me.  I do not believe that we are necessarily determined to act in a particular way because of our environment or upbringing.  I think often that we, myself included, simply choose to go with what is easier or comfortable or what we know thus giving our free will to someone else, or enslaving it to some kind of addiction.  Certainly we are created to be free rational beings capable of entering into good relationships with people of free will.  It is hard to take back our free will because that means maybe ticking someone off, but as I mentioned yesterday, you are probably going to tick someone off anyway, and you can’t please everyone (another issue of control) so you might as well not try. 

The intelligent thing is to cultivate your free will- to learn to discern what is best for you and those around you, what is within your power to do, and to do that thing.  I can’t determine how anyone acts but me, and even then to act completely freely I need the grace of God himself to be the free being he created me to be.

More Important than The Bible- Opinion and Truth December 21, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation.
5 comments


I found Waldo… he is strangely alone…

Do you remember those pesky magic eye puzzles that were all the rage ten or fifteen years ago?  About the same time as we were trying to find that stupid Waldo guy (who apparently liked to hang out in large crowds… I can relate) every single mall had a kiosk where they sold these stupid magic eye puzzles.

To the naked eye, it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting- a hodgepodge (love that word) of colors sort of splattered onto a poster.  Apparently, if you stared at this thing long enough, crossed your eyes, stood on your head, and had a few drinks, the image would change and you would see a farm-scape or a sailboat, or Waldo, in 3D appear before your very eyes.  It just so happened that the next kiosk over sold little bottles of Advil and eye drops, because not only did you have a headache from staring at these stupid posters, but your eyes dried out because you had to hold them open for so long trying to figure out if it was a monkey or a baseball bat that magically appeared out of the mixture of colors and textures.  These stupid things were just as popular back then as hyper-color t-shirts.  (Yea… remember those?  If you touched them they changed color because of the heat in your hand.  Until you washed them once.  I am sure we were all poisoned by those shirts somehow.  Maybe that is how we could see that magic eye puzzle- the hyper color t-shirts were making us hallucinate.)

I have to admit trying out these magic eye puzzles myself the first time.  I walked by the kiosk and saw people just staring into the collection of various eye puzzles, and decided to join the herd.  3 hours later, I think I saw a camel in a space suit pop out in 3D.


It is the Mona Lisa… you see it don’t you?

There were always three types of people at these kiosks- the people that would walk up and look into the magic eye puzzle and instantly yell out (as if any of us cared) “I SEE IT!!  IT IS A SUNSET IN TOKYO IN JUNE!”  Others, grumbling, also loud enough for people to hear, “I just can’t see it, it is just a bunch of colors running together… I just can’t see it… are you sure that’s there?”  The third type of person was the type that felt sorry for the second type of guy who couldn’t see the dolphin jumping out of a bowl of spaghettio’s and would help out assuring the incapable person- “It’ll be alright- just relax- let your eyes cross- don’t you see the dolphin?  He’s right over there!”


This one is meaningless… they just made this one to mess with us.

I think that the most entertaining feature of the magic eye puzzle was not the magic eye puzzle itself, but watching the people stare for minutes at a time into what looked like a child’s finger painting. 


I know the feelin’ buddy.

I did eventually see the images pop out of the posters, and it was neat, but I wonder if there was anything there at all, or if I was just buying into the hype of the magic eye puzzle.  Maybe there was something there and maybe there wasn’t- was it my own perception, or was I borrowing the perception from my neighbor who gleefully “got it?”

Here is an interesting fact I heard recently- up to 90% (90%!!!!) of our perceptions are borrowed from other people.

I will let that sink in for just a minute.

It’s like Homer Simpson once said- 42% of statistics are made up on the spot, but only 12% of people know that.  Sometimes we trust in the perceptions of others more than we know.

So when it comes to a world view- a cosmology as the philosophers like to coin it, a lot of our views come from what other people have told us.  I think that is what Nietzsche was talking about when he was talking about his “will to power.”  The will to power is the ability to impose our own perception onto the people around us.  It works- just watch the news.  They are imposing their views on us all the time, and I am even tempted to believe it simply because it is easier to believe them than to do the research on my own.  I don’t have the time, the resources or the energy to do that.

Perception is a tricky thing.  As I have mentioned in past posts, there are as many perceptions as there are people- if I am looking at this chair, and so are you, we may be seeing the chair differently- I may think it is red, and you may think it is violet.  Perceptions, whether given or borrowed, are never 100% accurate.  That is where communication comes in, in order that we may cut through what is mere opinion to the objective truth underneath.  Life is constantly about that- it is a constant battle that I think a lot people really don’t engage in too well because it is a lot of work.  Rather they would just rather accept the perceptions of others- culture, media, or what have you.


The rose colored glasses of opinion.

What is more important than the chair in our above example is not the chair necessarily, but our perception and our interpretation of the chair.

In a like manner, when we talk about theology, more specifically the Bible, it really isn’t the Bible that is important these days, but it is MY personal interpretation of the Bible that is important.  You can really interpret the Bible in any way you want- a great example that I like to use is the whole slavery issue in the history of the United States- the abolishionists used the Bible to go against slavery, while the south used it to support slavery.

So when it comes down to it these days, what is more important than the Bible, or the Koran, or the Torah, or the Big Book in this culture, is our personal interpretation of the book- I can interpret those books to mean whatever I want them to mean- or whatever someone has told me to interpret them as.  In order to interpret the Bible in the proper way we would need to go back to the original intention of the author (and the Spirit that inspired that author) and begin from there for a proper and true interpretation.  Otherwise the snake handlers are just as justified to handle snakes as any of the mainstream religions.

It is a fine line between figuring out the truth and separating it from mere opinion or perception.  As I said, this is probably the work of our lives, because the intellect seeks the truth.  I do not think that there is a simple answer to this problem, as it goes back to the radical individualism of our modern western culture.  Truth is out there though, it is simply not a matter of perception, but finding the truth requires us in some sense to question the perceptions that we have, the perceptions that others have, and to find the truth that underlies it all.  That doesn’t mean that a generally accepted perception isn’t necessarily true, but we should deeply question EVERYTHING in our search for what is true and what is merely opinion.

There are two philosophers that come to mind here that I think would be important to mention.  The first is Francis Bacon, and the other is Martin Heidegger.  Both of these guys were advocates of what I am talking about- Bacon said that we have preconceived “idols” of the marketplace- accepted notions that were given to us by our upbringing and inculturation that we accept as truth.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t true, but that we need to toss them out every so often to test them to find which is true, and which is simply an “idol.”  Heidegger on the other hand advocates a similar plan- that is to “step into the clearing of being,” in other words like a forest to step into a clearing that the sun (being) is unobscured by the trees of perception and opinion.


The “clearing” of being

Only when we step into the clearing of being, and get rid of the idols of the marketplace, can we begin to compare our own and others perceptions of things- including things like religious texts like the Bible, the the truth.

I remember my first day in philosophy class ten years ago- we studied… I think it was the Phaedo by Plato (I could be wrong on the title of that one)- the whole thing centered on the difference between mere opinion and truth.  Its conclusion was that opinion can be true, but isn’t necessarily true, and it is our task- really our deepest desire- to separate opinion from what is objectively true.  That’s about as hard sometimes as seeing those pecky pictures in the magic eye posters.

At the end of the day, finding truth is sort of like picking Waldo out of one of those “Where’s Waldo” pictures.  There are a lot of things that LOOK like Waldo that are not, just like there are things that APPEAR true which are not.  We can never be content with a look a like to the truth, just like we are not done with our search until we find Waldo, or see the 3D image in the magic eye poster.


Where’s Waldo?  Where is the truth?

Thermostat in my Car December 21, 2007

Posted by rengawman in cars, Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy.
Tags: , ,
2 comments

A wise man once said- “Walk right side of road, squished like grape.  Walk left side of road, squished like grape.  Walk middle of road, you safe.”  That wise man:  Mr. Myiagi from the Karate Kid series.  He could also beat up guys half his age and twice his size- AND catch flies with chopsticks.  Which go great, by the way, with a little soy sauce and Cantonese rice.


He could render a man, or a fly, unconscious in 10 seconds with those chopsticks.

 It is funny- I have never been the kind of guy to walk down the middle, although I am certainly learning.  I am a guy that if I do something, I want to do it all the way and absolutely- giving everything I am and have to a particular pursuit.  Sometimes that has worked out for me- like in school or in work, and other times it hasn’t worked out so well for me like eating that has plagued me in my past.


He even makes standing in the street look cool.

A great analogy for who I am, and I suspect who a lot of people are is the thermostat in my car.  If it is hot outside, I always put the air-conditioner on full blast, fan all the way up, knob turned all the way to the cold side of the dial.  I love getting it so cold in my car that you can see your breathe and draw things on the frosted glass of the car.  Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than getting out of a cold car into a hot day. 

 
Ahhh… summertime.

Once it does get too cold for the yeti (or bigfoot as he is commonly known in West Virgina, according to my friend Doug Ondeck) I don’t merely turn the thermostat down- nope, I turn the fan all the way off.  Then when it gets hot again, I turn the fan all the way on full blast.  There isn’t a lot of middle ground with me.


What the dashboard of my car looks like- it is red like Knight Rider (3rd reference)

 

 The same thing happens when it is cold outside.  My car, the coolest car ever in the world, has a remote starter on it.  So what I do is I start the car, making sure that the heat is all the way in the red part of the dial, and the fan is on 4.  Then I set a lump of dough on the seat, and by the time I get out there, the car is so hot it can cook the lump of dough into bread.  Who doesn’t like fresh bread on their way to work?  I know I do.  Then I usually turn the heat all the way off.  Not much middle ground there either.


OK I don’t turn up the thermostat quite this high.

 

I guess Mr. Myagi is right though.  I notice that I have done a lot of things like that in my life.  Some have said that it is an all or none proposition with me.  I suspect that there is a little area in everyone’s life where it is all or none, or there is a lot of excess. 

The greeks defined virtue as the golden mean- walking down the middle of the road, not too much one way, or too much to the other but virtue is found in the middle- in moderation.  That is something I am actually learning about in my life right now.  You can in fact have too much of a good thing.

I think we should take the European view of life.  If you ever eat in France you know that their portions are never big- it is just enough to get a taste, and not enough of anything to fill you up (except for that one Christmas dinner I ate there.  That is another blog).  Here in the States when you go to a restaurant the portions are so big, you usually need to get carried out on a stretcher!  Thanks a lot Cheesecake Factory!


Typical meal at the Cheesecake Factory

 

That is how life should be I guess.  We should try and set the dial to something that is consistent- not too hot, not too cold.

I am actually trying to do that in my life right now.  I notice that when I am in the car, the fan is on about 2 or 3 (out of 4) and the knob is set at a comfortable quarter point, never too hot or cold.  I am trying to learn how to walk down the middle of the road so I don’t get squashed like a grape.

Maybe you have something that is a little extreme in your life.  The way that we move back into the center is to do it slowly and consistently.  It is funny how when you work on one virtue, they are all connected and when you find the golden mean in one area of your life, you find it in others.

Peeking Duck- Self Worth December 21, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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As I mentioned in previous posts, actually, about 3 days ago, I mentioned my fondness for Chinese food.  Usually when I go into Chinese restaurants, the entrees that I order always have some similar elements: They are chickeny, the contain some kind of nut, and they are spicy.  Every so often though, I like to order duck, as it is a nice change of pace from my nut-chicken-spicy combo that I usually get.

The only reason I wrote that above paragraph was so that the title of this post might at least have some reference to Peking Duck, often served in Asian restaurants.  I did that so that the pun I used in the title might also have a reference.  Other than that, the above paragraph has absolutely no purpose in this blog.  Thank you for reading.

Anyway, as I mentioned yesterday, I was visiting my spiritual director from Toledo.  A great Jesuit who I got to know in Rome 7 years ago when he was the director of spiritual formation at the North American College.  When I arrived in Rome, tired, smelly from the flight, and covered in ketchup (that is another story) they shoved us into the refectory for our first Italian meal.  My now spiritual director was at my table, and was the first people I ate with in that city.  I remember him making bruschetta (pronounced Bru-sk-ett-a) out of the bread on the table when he toasted it an poured cheese and olive oil on it.  He was a good salad maker as I recall as well.  Beyond that, I really never knew him until I got a friend’s ordination a few year ago in Michigan, and he offered to be my Spiritual Director.  He has stuck with me in these last years in thick and thin- he has been a real blessing to me, and I am sure others who have struggled through the years.


I was covered in Ketchup the day I arrived in Rome… mmm … ketchup

One of the things we talked about this week was, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, getting my ducks in a row.  Those crazy ducks.

The first of the five ducks, or psychological needs that we have to wrangle up, is that of self worth.  Man have I struggled with that.  Where do we get our self worth?  How do we find it?  What are the sorts of things that prevent us from realizing our self worth?

Primarily, as I have mentioned in previous posts, we are made in the image and likeness of God, which has two implications by nature.  One is that we have free will, or we should have it, and second is that we are capable of entering into relationship with other people. (See my post on the Trinity and its interior relationship if you need material to put you to sleep).  Free will and the ability to enter into relationship culminates in love.  Love, as my director tells me, is willing the good of another.  I always say that love is a choice, not a feeling, so even if it hurts, we have to do what is the greatest good for ourselves, our communities, and our neighbors.

That being made in the image and likeness of God is what primarily gives us our self worth.  No other creature, not dogs or angels, can claim to be made in God’s image and likeness.  They cannot express free will, or enter into relationships in love the way that we can.

The problem is that we have a hard time perceiving that we are made in that image and likeness.  The primary cause of that: Sin.  Now, I am not going to go into depth here about sin, but I already have in this post here.

Sin primarily detracts from the beauty and worth of every person, not because it destroys the fact that we are in the image and likeness of God, but because it tarnishes it like a mirror can get tarnished, making it difficult to see our reflection of God’s divine nature.  When we sin, in any of the stages, our instant reaction is like the of Adam and Eve’s- we see that we are naked, and we are ashamed of ourselves, heck, we even become ashamed of the fact that we are not living up to the image and likeness of God in which we were created.  That leads us to do what they did- they cover themselves- they cover their nature.

So it is sin that detracts from us seeing our self worth- that dignity that we have been made in God’s image and likeness- each and every person.  From the greatest saint, to the greatest murderer, nothing can take that image and likeness to God away from us, but sin can make it harder for us to see.

So we are constantly having to rediscover our self worth- we really do need to have this duck in a row if we are going to get the others in line.  We want to know we are worth while, and we will, without a doubt, seek some kind of validation of that self worth, or we will try to cover it like Adam and Eve, and we will be ashamed of something that is so beuatifually created by God.

Some of the ways that we try and find validation is through relationships.  That is ok if the relationship is healthy.  Often though we seek people that we relate to, or are similar to, in order that we might validate ourselves in them.  Sometimes that means multiple marriages, sexual partners, remaining in abusive situations, or any number of things.  There are people that constantly seek the validation that only God can give to them.

There are ways of covering it up too.  People who are ashamed of themselves cannot face or accept that they are worthwhile and try to cover their nature with booze, or drugs, or shapping, eating, jobs, uniforms, or any number of potential addicitions that are out there.  We can even be addicted to people or ideologies!

In the end if we truly want to find our self worth, we have to “peek” (ahh there is my title reference) into ourselves- take the good with the bad, and see that underneith it all, we still have that beauty and that dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, despite the fact that we are a bit tarnished at times by our choices to turn away from the inherent dignity that is in each person.

The other way to find self worth requires a bit of spirituality I think.  We need to see ourselves as God sees us.  He doesn’t require us to be handsome or smart or funny or have a great job or a great car or any number of things that give us validation in our culture.  Rather, he loves just because we exist.  Unconditionally.  Whether we love Him back or not.  That is the ultimate validation of our self worth.

Once we begin to realize that we have self worth, it directs us toward putting our second duck in a row, which I will talk about tomorrow- the need to love and to be loved.

Getting your Ducks in a Row December 20, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy.
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About a year ago, it was time for my mom to move out of the house that I had gone to High School in, and which she had lived for the previous 14 years.  There were a lot of memories in that house- it is the house where my Father passed away- it is the house that I “left home” from, and that I often returned to, to visit my parents, and our dog, Snuggles.  I did not name the dog- we adopted her.  Admittingly, she was a cock-a-poo, so while Snuggles actually kind of fit her, I am pretty sure she hated that name.  I would have named her Bone Crusher, or Megatron, after one of the Transformers if I had my druthers.  But I never have my druthers.  I am druther free.  No druthers for me.


Not the actual Snuggles, but close enough for our purposes

As we were in the process of moving mom out of her house, where she was by herself and only using about 20% of it, and into her condo, mom had a phrase that she liked to use.  Nothing could go on in life, until she got her “ducks in a row.”  There were many ducks to get into a row when we were moving mom- I know.  I helped move all those damned ducks with my brothers.  Actually, the ducks in a row thing become something of a joke between all of us and we often laughed about it.

When the moving guys came to move the big stuff that would have otherwise given my brothers and me back trouble and hernias, I remember looking out the window at the moving truck, and not thinking much of it.  Then I saw it.  There was a giant duck on the side.


Me and the duck- I look upset at the giant duck.

I pointed this out to my family, and we all shared a chuckle.  Mom said she didn’t hire them because of the ducks.  I am beginning to wonder.

At any rate, “ducks in a row” is a phrase that my spiritual director likes to use as well.  He says in that in our lives we have 5 basic psychological needs- five ducks as it were- that we have to keep in line if we want to live a happy and sane life.  The problem with these psychological and emotional ducks is the same problem with real ducks: they tend to wonder around and get out of line.  There is nothing worse, I imagine, than trying to wrangle up a bunch of stray ducks.  It is probably a constant struggle if you yourself are not a duck. 

In short, we are trying to get our ducks in a row all the time, or we should be.  I think a lot of people don’t try to keep their ducks in a row by good healthy means, but through things like trying to get the ducks drunk, or to feed them until they can’t move, or by spending lots of money on things they don’t need.  There is a lot of ways to try and cage the “ducks” rather than keeping them in line- but the catch in our lives is that not only do we have to keep our ducks in a row, we also have to do it in freedom- not by some artificial means.

So what are these 5 ducks that my Spiritual Director told me about?

1. Self- Worth
2. Ability to love and be loved
3. Ability to defend myself
4. Ability to deal with my own inner confusion
5. Ability to accept the consequences of my actions

I think these are pretty good ducks, and a lot of the spiritual direction that I get from him concerns these ducks.

Over the next couple of days I will take each of these ducks and look at them in depth- both generally, and in terms of my own life… enjoy wrangling your ducks!

For my next trick… December 19, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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I am really happy to announce the publication of my first book, The Flabbergasted Philosopher Gets Motivated, which is for sale at this link.  This is sort of a “Best of Josh Wagner” book, sort of like a Beetles Anthology, but without the music… or the fan base… or Yoko Ono.  Don’t think she hasn’t tried to horn her way into my creativity with her “Plums floating in Perfume in a Man’s Hat.”  She is crafty alright.  I hope whoever buys a copy enjoys it. 

It would make a great gift…  now only if there was some kind of gift giving holiday where someone might enjoy this as a gift.  Oh well…

The Resplendent Garment

Ignatian retreat

The first book will be called “The Resplendent Garment.”  This last summer I was able to go on a 30 day silent retreat in Morristown New Jersey, where I did the Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I tell you what… 30 days sitting and listening to God will certainly give you a lot of insight into His great love for us, how and why he created us and the universe, as well as knowledge of the great world of groundhogs.  Yep… groundhogs. His name was Harvey.  Harvey the Groundhog.  I guess you will have to wait for the book to know exactly what I mean.  All I can say is what God said to me: “Be the Groundhog.”

 There was so many good and rich spiritual experiences in those 30 days that I knew one of the things I was supposed to do with my time was to write a book about those experiences.  The theme of the resplendent garment of God’s divine love kept coming up through the retreat, and so I intend to share that with people through writing a book about it.  I had started to write it shortly after the retreat, but I needed a few months to process all of the wonderful graces that God had given to me during that time.  I plan to start writing that shortly, within the next week.

 Title to be announced

The second book will be a collaboration between me and a friend and his miraculous journey through a life threatening illness.  My friend should have probably died, but somehow managed, with the love of God, his friends and family to become miraculously healed, changing not only his life, but the life of those around him. 

What Makes your Heart Burn?

Finally, I would like to do a compilation book where I interview people, get their stories about life and what motivates them in terms of all aspects of life- spiritually, intellectually, professionally, physically, and socially.  It will be a collection of vignettes similar to what my first book looks like, but integrating other people’s stories, in addition to some of my own.

This is where I need your help!  If you think that you have a story worth telling, or have had an event that changed your life or the lives of others, that you think would help other people, let me know through an email! (joshua.john.wagner@gmail.com)

Due to my short attention span (maybe I have ADHD, who knows) I will be working on all three simultaneously, a little bit every day.  I have a day by day approach to things, and I have a “vitamin” mentality.  That is, like vitamins, you take one pill a day, not a hand-full once a week.  You can really achieve any goal like this.  I read once that Jerry Seinfeld sits down and writes one joke a day- one joke!  Imagine the virtually endless amount of material that he has acquired over the years doing that.  I figure if I write 2 or 3 pages a day, I will have a book in draft form in a month or so.  But like all things, sometimes it is just tough to get started.

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The Wise Fortune Cookie December 18, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation.
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To quote Monty Python- “I like Chinese.”

Yesterday I was out and about and got to try two very wonderful Asian Cuisines.  One was Thai, and the other Chinese.  Of course it was delicioso as they say in the old country… of… Europe.  I always like to have a little spice in my food, and I ended up having the Hot Pepper Chicken for lunch, and the always palatable General Tso’s chicken for dinner.  That General Tso must have been one spicy meatball!  I believe that he defeated his enemies with flavor, and his army was made entirely of breaded chickens.


The Chicken Army Commanders, General Tso, and his number 2 Colonel Sanders (Why is he wearing that Kimono and holding a Watermelon?)

Eating either of these fine dishes requires Jedi like skills so that you don’t accidentally inject one of the little red peppers that rattle when your fork gets too near.  Once my brother Owen was eating a bit of leftover Chinese food when his Jedi skills failed him and he ate one of those peppers whole.  It was a great show as he guzzled down gallons of water to try and quench the fire that had erupted on his tongue.  It sort of reminded me of the time Homer ate one of the hallucinating peppers in the famous episode of the chili cook-off.  I don’t think my brother saw a coyote with the voice of Johnny Cash, but I am sure he would have said something if he had.  He did, however, begin to howl like some kind of coyote after he ate the nasty little pepper.


AYE CARAMBA!

One of the great things about eating Asian food is at the end you get the little fortune cookie.  Actually, I can’t stand Chinese food, I just go for the fortune cookies.  It would probably cost me a lot less to just go out and buy them wholesale, but I like the whole experience, and plus, you get free chopsticks.

I used to have a rule that you had to eat the cookie before you read your fortune or it wouldn’t come true.  Now that I have given up sugar, I have rescinded that rule, and just read the fortune.  I got two yesterday, since I ate at two different places.

The first: “Don’t let the past and useless details choke your existence.”

 (Lucky numbers 5, 14, 28, 7, 42,36)

I have written about the past before, but this cookie brings to light a whole different aspect.  It is possible for us to be choked by our past, and the decisions that we have made which brings us to wherever we are now.  I was just up with my Spiritual Director in Toledo yesterday, and we talked about the fact that God doesn’t waste anything, and even if he uses circuitous methods for getting us where He wants us, nothing is ever wasted.  So we should look upon our past decisions, both good and bad, as part of the path that leads us to where we are right now, which will lead us down that path of life in the future.  We shouldn’t regret the past, or shut the door on it, but learn to use it to make wise decisions in the future.

The other part of the fortune is that we shouldn’t let the minor details, past, present, or future give us such anxiety that it “chokes” our existence.  As a wise fellow once told, me, God is in the details, but we shouldn’t get caught in such minutia that we miss the bigger picture, or life in general.

My second fortune told me: “An unexpected event will soon bring you fortune.” (Lucky numbers 4,6,11,24,37)

It is my hope that this unexpected event will be that one of my readers will take these numbers, win the lottery, and share the money with me.  Further, I will use my lottery money to buy more fortune cookies, which will in turn win me more lottery money.

Running on Treadmills December 17, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, running.
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I am a wimp.

 It’s official.

It is something that I have to admit to myself, my family, and complete strangers on the interweb… I am a wimp.

I took up running about 11 months ago or so on a dare… a bet… a challenge?  Someone told me that it would be possible for me, Joshua Wagner, to run a half marathon- 13.2 miles.  I scoffed and I sconed.  Wait… a scone is a pastry.  I may have had one of those though when they told me, as a reaction to the scoffing.  I have scoffed with a scone, and I have sconed with a scoff.  What the heck am I talking about?


This lady is so sconed…. dude…

So I began to train- training was a great experience of my life because I found out that I am not physically incapable of running.  I hadn’t done that since my triumphal days of winning the 5th grade high jump competition in Mrs. Thomas’ gym class.  Sure it was tough at first putting one dainty foot in front of the other- ok my feet are anything but dainty, but you get the point.  I had to start training indoors though because of the affore mentioned wimpyness.

See, I hate the cold.  I was never a big fan of it, even growing up on a farm in the frozen tundra’s of Lima, Ohio.  The only good thing cold is good for is bringing snow and cancelling school.  That’s it.  Otherwise it just makes me downright irritable.  and cold.  It makes me cold.  Now that is not to say that I don’t like crisp- crisp is good…. I like being crispy in the fall when the wind is still, and you can wear a sweater.  I just like to avoid being cold.  Believe me, Phoenix, Arizona looks pretty good after about December 3rd.


I know Crackle!

So when I started training for the Marathon last year, I had to start training indoors because it was January- on treadmills.  That was alright because I never knew any better- previous to January of last year, the furthest I ran was when Pizza Hut began their all you can eat Pizza buffet.  I was customer number 3!

The nice thing about running on treadmills is that you can watch TV.  I watched a whole season of Thundercats, the greatest cartoon of the 1980’s on the treadmill.  It is always good to have someone to run with, and my running partner was often Lion-O, leader of the Thundercats.  Snarf. (Hey the spell check actually knows the word Snarf!  That’s just Smurfy!)


Talk about a motivating partner…

Then I got to go run on a track!  WOW what an experience.  It was like I was unfettered, unbridled, and free as a bird!  The track I ran on seemed like I had been able to wake up from a long nap, after a cup of Hybernol, and be liberated from the incessant hum of the treadmill track.

Plus I could watch other people work out and play in the gym that I was running at.  All was good with the world, and as April approached, so did the warm weather.

I began to run outside.  There is nothing better than running outside- especially in the city.   I prefer city running to forest running because there is always something new to see as you run in the city.  To me, trees begin to look alike after awhile when I am running and I get bored.  I would often run with my arms stretched out toward the heavens, and hum the theme from “Chariots of Fire.”

Now that it is getting cold again, and January is quickly approaching, it is time to start thinking about getting on a more rigorous training schedule again.  But that means running on treadmills again while it is cold, and that is tough.  After about 3 miles I just want to scream.  Sometimes I do, and it freaks people out in the gym.  (They asked me not to do that anymore.)

It made me realize that running is much more than just putting one foot in front of the other- it is a whole experience, body, mind and spirit.  I often saw running journals on the racks of news stands, and I couldn’t figure out how someone could publish a monthly magazine about something we do almost naturally.  Running was one of the best things to take up, because I believe it is more of a mental sport than a physical one.

All sports are like that though- heck, anything is like that.  The problem with treadmills isn’t that it is physically harder to run, but that it is mentally harder to run- you aren’t going anywhere it seems- that is hard to  take psychologically I imagine, and I believe that 3 miles on the treamill is always going to be harder than 10 miles outside.

One of the great lessons that running has taught me is that if you believe that you can do something, you will probably do it.  If you think you will fail, you will probably find some way to do it.  In some areas of our lives we need to re-tool the way that we think in order to achieve the good in our lives that we want.

When I run on treadmills I have to fool my mind by various tricks that I have learned.  I cover the time and the distance with a towel, I play inspiring music, I envision myself running outside… although I would never recommend running on treadmill with your eyes shut for more than about two seconds… yikes!