Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: The Hidden Power of Kindness

A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare
to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time
I remember some of the fairy tales mom used to read to me at bedtime.  Along with the story went the feeling of the warm covers and of mom nearby; they were good feelings.  Reading Lovasik’s The Hidden Power of Kindness brings to mind those memories.  It is a book which makes you comfortable, gives you warm feelings.
That’s not to say it is a fairy tale type story; it does give you pause at times.  While Mr. Lovasik describes what constitutes kind actions, he also notes what are unkind actions, and some of those make you look in the mirror.  He presents them in a kind way, but he makes no excuses for our sins.  While much of this book is a very comfortable read, you will find sections which will make you want to make excuses for your behavior.  He is truthful, yet kind, in explaining why you are mistaken.
The book has three sections, and their titles spoke volumes:  Develop a kind attitude; Learn to speak kindly; and Show your love in kind deeds.  There is also an appendix to the book which has the title:  How kind are you?  In it the author asks a series of questions of the reader, asking you to rate yourself in kindness.  I think perhaps some people should use that section as a prelude to Confession.
I found this book a very worthwhile read, perhaps even a book to be read by the family together.  I did underline a number of points in the book, but unlike most of my underlines in books, there were not sections or paragraphs underlined --- good explanations I wanted to remember --- but rather I have underlined a number of sentences.  Lovasik keeps it simple.  Here are some:
·         Kindness springs from the soul of a man; it makes life more endurable.
·         The selfish man knows no rest … compelled to strive for more … lives in anxiety.
·         The ability to find fault is believed by some people to be a sure sign of wisdom, but nothing requires so little intelligence. … Borrow your neighbor’s glasses sometime.  See yourself as others see you.
·         If you feel aversion to a person … it is the most dangerous time to form a proper opinion of him.
·         Love does not insist on its own way.  (Cf 1Cor 13:5)
·         You probably have the tendency to express impatience over the small faults of those around you. … Irritability is immaturity of character.
·         Instead of condemning people, try to understand them.  … be understanding and forgiving.  Since God does not propose to judge man until the end of his days, why should you?
·         If you must find fault, begin with praise.
·         It is not he who possesses much who is rich, but he who gives away much.
·         The reward for love is an eternity in which to live, to love, and to rejoice in love’s activities.  Love never ends.  (1Cor 13:8)
Life is short, and we must all give an account of on the Day of Judgment.  I am in earnest about using the time allotted to me by God on this earth to the best advantage in carrying out the ideal of my life – to make God more known and loved through my writings.  --- Lawrence G. Lovasik (1913-1986)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Should I Move?

I’ve meditated on the Parable of the Prodigal Son many times, and I’ve written about my insights from this one parable here a number of times.  I thought I had seen things presented there from just about all angles.  I was wrong.
Lk 15: 11-32
In my class this week, we were asked to meditate on Scripture, but with a focus on sin, the sin shown in the Bible and our own sin.  The first few days of readings and meditations were about the big sins:  the fallen angels, Adam and Eve, and the big sins in the world.  I admit that little came to me personally, and I didn’t feel any presence of God in my musings.  Then I read the passage from Luke, the passage I read dozens of times, and I was given a new insight.
The Prodigal Son takes property from his father, a future inheritance, now, and treats it as if it were totally his --- but the reality was that the property was his father’s to use until such time as he gifted it to the son.  But the son wanted it now.  I saw that the son was justified in receiving what he needs from his father, which the father would willingly give, but the rest is, if anything, a gift in the son’s care to be used in serving the father’s will.  But that’s not how he treated it. 
I recalled how I took the gift of life and talent nurtured in me by my father and selfishly used them as if they were solely mine.  I never really concerned myself much in what the needs of his life were, as the years past.
The Prodigal Son took the blessings given him by his father and moved to a faraway place.  He lived his life totally separate from his father, who loved him so much.  There are no words about what the father felt when his son went away.  He just let him go.  So did my dad.  I recalled how I had moved away to a far away city after college, “to begin to live my life,” as if it were mine alone to nurture from then on.  Some would say that this was a “cutting the apron strings,” and a good thing.  “We are meant to leave the nest and fly away.”  But thinking on this Parable, I recalled my youth, where all my aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins all lived in the same town, mere blocks away from each other.  And I recalled all the family gatherings, and I recalled the time I went to my aunt’s house and cried to her, when things weren’t going so well at home.  And my family, all of them, were there for me.
But I moved away; I lived alone in a distant city and now my grandparents, parents, sister and brother have died, and I know where few of my cousins even live; most moved away as I did.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son showed me a lesson this day --- family is MOST important in our lives.  We need family to be part of our lives; family continues to nurture us as we live our adult lives, until they age and reach a point where we begin to nurture them.  That is what families do.  That is what families are meant to do.  That is how we are meant to live, in social structures of love. 
(I know there are some who would say: “well, I can’t stand my father, or my mother, or siblings.  I moved to get away from them.”  To these I’d just remind about the command to love.  Perhaps your family didn’t love you, but that does not negate your obligation to love them.  Perhaps they don’t want your love, but living near them they can see your love, they can see your example, they can be nurtured by you without their trying, or your trying.  But you certainly can’t love your neighbor if you never see him, and he never sees you.)
The Prodigal Son squandered all his property on himself and his pleasures.  I focused my talents and gifts on myself, my career, and obtaining things I wanted --- or perhaps thought I should have, a kind of just payment for my labors.  I worked for what I wanted, a good thing, but once I received money for my labor, I thought it was all mine, earned solely by me.  I forgot about the gifts and talents nurtured in my by my father.  They were his investments in me, but I took his investment and all I earned from it, and looking back, yes, I squandered it on myself and what I thought important.  Oh, I was in contact and visited my parents occasionally, but they truly weren’t part of my life, not like family.  They didn’t see up close the fruits of their labors.
After his assets were gone, the Prodigal Son’s talents were used by another to feed his swine.  He had nothing.  There were people around me who valued my assets and talents, and they readily took them for their use, not caring about me.  The friends I chose were a lot like me; they cared about themselves.  Our ties were not so much love of others, as that we loved to give the same things to ourselves.  Jobs, hobbies, houses, cars, they liked the things we liked, and so somehow we thought that meant we liked one another. 
We didn’t know the meaning of love.
No one gave the Prodigal Son anything.  At a certain point in my life, I felt alone among my “friends.”
But then the Prodigal Son remembered his father, and went home.  I remembered my heavenly Father (or in truth, He called to me).  I came home to Him and confessed my sins, and he forgave me.  We’re going on together now, as family.  But in this, our discussion on the Prodigal Son, He showed me something:  I had also sinned against my earthly father, in all the examples shown above, and I never confessed my sins to him, nor sought earthly penance.  By moving away and not keeping him as part of my family, I did not honor him, as the commandment said:  Honor thy father and thy mother, that you might have eternal life.
And I thought:  do I deserve eternal life?
I don’t think children are meant to move away from parents, to not be part of their life.  It is to not honor them, disobeying the 4th Commandment, so great a sin that our eternal life is placed in balance.  It is a breaking up of family to move far away, as big as if you separated yourself from the Church, yet we take it as such a little thing.  There is a saying:  “You can always go home.”  Unsaid is why:  Because the father is waiting there to love you.
It is something He deserves; it is something we need --- to gain eternal life.
The Church is our spiritual family, but it is also our earthly family.  If we ARE far away from our parents and siblings, it may not be possible to move close with any ease.  We can use the social media to get closer, and we should.  We can get closer to our Church family, and we should.  I am investigating joining a 3rd Order Franciscan family; it seems the right thing to do.  I need family.
So do you. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Daaaad! Look At This, Dad!!

Sitting at the kitchen table, I heard the voices of small children on the front porch.  I instinctively glanced at the calendar:  no, the most diehard of trick-or-treaters wouldn’t be coming here on November 8th, so I quietly walked over to the foyer and looked out the front door glass.
“Daaaad!  Look at this, Dad!”  The young voice was yelling toward the black car which sat at the curb where, undoubtedly, dad was waiting. 
Earlier this week I had seen the announcement of a Boy Scout food drive, asking that canned goods be left on the front porch for pickup on Saturday morning.  I dutifully went shopping and purchased a couple of cases of soup, which I placed on the porch earlier today.
“Dad!  There’s twenty-two cans here,” the young boy screamed in excitement.  “No, there’s twenty-four,” said his slightly older brother.  “Are you sure,” the younger one asked.  “Yes, twelve times two is twenty-four,” said the older.
“Dad!  Dad, there’s twenty-four cans here,” the young one screamed with all the enthusiasm of youth.
I watched them wrestle the cases to the car, and then raised my eyes upward and smiled.  “Look at this, Dad.”
On a rainy, dreary day with snowflakes in the air, it just got a little sunnier.   

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: Their Name Is Today

This is the second book I have reviewed by Johann Christoph Arnold.  The first, Rich In Years, was about old people; this one is focused on the young.  The subtitle of this book reads:  Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World.
I only review books I consider worth your reading, or my re-reading when I have the time --- or re-reading at least the underlined parts which, in a book I recommend, usually are quite a few.  And so as I write this review and flip through the pages of this book, I am surprised to see that there is but one sentence underlined in the entire book:
As parents and teachers, we need to rediscover and guide our children back to the concept of “less is more.”
Mr. Arnold is a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.  You can easily research this in more detail if you like, and perhaps you should.  He and his wife have counseled thousands of individuals and families over the past forty years.   His books have sold over a million copies.  I use the term “wise” very rarely to describe individuals, but I would describe Mr. Arnold as a man rich in wisdom.
His writing comes across to you as gently as a grandfather speaking softly to a young child in his lap.  You may remember parts of the story he is telling, but you don’t ever feel inclined to interrupt him and say: “But I’ve heard this before.”  As you hear him tell it, with love, the old words are as comforting as a hug --- it never gets old to receive it.  He tells you things which are common sense – no use underlining the words; you know them --- but he says them in such a way that, like a child listening, you know they are very important, and so you want to pay close attention.  And you don’t want to forget what he says.
There’s not much more I can really say about this book; you have to read it to experience it.  I will say, however, that you should consider giving it to every parent to read, especially those with younger children.  This book tells parents honestly how to love their children in today’s detached world.  It tells parents when to discipline, when to draw lines, and when to hug.  It speaks to independence, and holding close.  It makes no bones about telling parents:  You need to protect your children; you need to protect their childhood from the world which throws adult concepts and responsibilities at them before they can even understand what they mean.  And this book gives parents enough data, facts and figures, to give them backbone when they might be inclined to say:  “But I can’t do that.”
Mr. Arnold gently chides parents that they are not loving their children when they set up electronic devices as babysitters.  Instead he shows the joys and rewards of being hands-on parents, and keeping their children safe, now and into their adulthood.  He does not set up as the boogeyman someone who might drive up in a car and kidnap your child, but he shows you the reality of much closer and more dangerous kidnappers.
This book will give many young parents much to think about, and for some will explain what being a parent really means.