A New Beginning

Image by _gee_s photostream.  Click on the picture to see more images from him.

Image by _gee_'s photostream. Click on the picture to see more images from him.

The rumor mill was buzzing at work when I arrived there on Wednesday:  layoffs were beginning again.  Coworkers were gathered in small groups, speaking in hushed tones.  As the morning dragged on, I overheard anxious and tearful clips of conversations as people passed by in the hallway beyond my cube.  The rumors were true.

I focused on performing my normal Wednesday morning activities.  At lunch, I went to the fitness center to work out.  The effort and sweat of the work out was therapeutic.  The chattering voices in my head cleared as I focused on the physical effort of exercising.

And in that quiet place, I realized that I couldn’t have planned for what was happening at work by judging from my past experiences.  I needed to trust to the Spirit’s guidance in the moment, just as I did at the ice skating rink (click here to see that post).

“But what would I do if I got laid off?” I thought.  “That would be a huge challenge to my ability to follow the Spirit’s guidance.”

But almost as soon as I had that thought, a sense of peace came over me.  I was being answered, “Of course you able.”

When I returned to work at 1:00, my fellow cube-dweller Roy said that my manager had been looking for me.  I spotted her down the hall and walked over to her.  “Can you come with me?” she asked.

And I instantly knew: for the first time in my life, I was being laid-off.

I have always had a clear picture in my mind of how I would feel and act when I finally got the tap on my shoulder.  Let me tell you, it would not have been pretty, but that’s not what happened.  Instead, in that moment, I felt something far different:

Acceptance.

Peace.

Liberation.

A smile spread across my face, and I couldn’t wipe off that silly grin through the entire termination process.  I even found myself comforting my manager and the HR representative as they conducted my exit meeting; they were both obviously struggling under their day’s responsibilities.  The healing offered wasn’t of me or for me, but blessed me more than words can describe.

“I don’t have to worry about this place anymore,” was the first thought that crossed my mind.  I didn’t realize until that very second just how much the worry of my old company’s economic health had been weighing on me.

I also clearly saw the opportunity that I was being given.  I couldn’t go back to my old industry – all three pottery companies where I had previously worked had closed their doors in the past few years – and the basket company I was working for is one-of-a-kind.  This chapter in my life was now coming to a complete and final close.

My future career will have to be in a different industry, perhaps a different field all together.  I have no idea what it will be, but a strong, peaceful feeling of hope filled me, assuring me it will be far better.  And I realized that I now have to be completely focused on the present, just as I was at the skating rink, in order to negotiate the countless steps necessary to find that life.  I have to rely completely on the Spirit’s guidance.

That’s the best place that I could possibly be.

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What Message Are You Sending?

Image of Barack Obamas Inauguration From The Crowd On The Mall by Johno525

Image of Barack Obama's Inauguration From The Crowd On The Mall by Johno525

Like so many others across our country and around the world, I felt compelled Tuesday to watch the historical events taking place in Washington D.C.  Even here in rural, republican-leaning, central Ohio, many of my friends and coworkers couldn’t help but watch the spectacle as it was occurring live from the nation’s capital.

I was drawn to the inauguration by accident.  I knew the historical significance of the day and I was eager for our new president to get to work, but I felt no need to gawk at the pomp and circumstance that always accompanies a presidential inauguration.  However, by mid-morning there was an energy in the air that was palpable.  The excitement and anticipation of so many people focused on this one, milestone event created an effect that could be felt on our factory floor.  I felt happy, peaceful, and accepted.  I found myself smiling for no apparent reason.

I wondered if others could feel the energy I was feeling.  As an experiment, I walked the aisle past our basket makers.  Each time I noticed one with their head down, intent on weaving a basket, I would focus my attention on them and smile the energy I was feeling in their direction. 

Five times out of five, each person looked up from their work, immediately caught my gaze, and returned my smile.  No matter how far away I was, no matter what direction they were facing, each time I focused that positive energy on them, within two seconds their head turned in my direction and their eyes found mine.  Absolutely amazing.

 So I watched as much of the swearing-in ceremony as my schedule would allow, I listened to President Obama’s inauguration speech over NPR, I watched much of the parade and a few of the balls on CNN.  The themes of responsibility and accountability came through in the President’s speech, but there were many other messages that were sent during the day’s events.  The diversity and acceptance of the crowd on the mall, the anticipation of change, the inclusion of so many that have been traditionally marginalized, the hope for a brighter future and a better world. 

So many positive messages combined with an overwhelming majority of happy people (in spite of security and scheduling issues in Washington) created an emotional energy that can only be described as love.  It grew and multiplied through out the day and affected us all, as my experiment showed, whether we realized it or not.  Lord, may we as a human race experience more and more days like Tuesday, January 20, 2009.

A Different Message

Wednesday morning at work gave me a completely different experience.  I opened my e-mail and received the following message:

This message contains graphics. If you do not see the graphics, click here to view.

 
For 30 years Focus on the Family has been nurturing and defending families worldwide. Visit focusonthefamily.com for articles and resources to help you and your family thrive.
  Relationships & Marriage | Parenting | Media Center | Family Store | Support Family Ministry  
     
  Key Message From the Editor of Focus on the Family Citizen® magazine.

Dear Friend,

Inauguration Day 2009 marks the beginning of a new administration under President Barack Obama and those he’s chosen to serve in it.

Regardless of who you voted for two months ago, you undoubtedly are wondering …

  • Will abortion become more deeply embedded in our nation’s legal code and more widely accepted … or not?
  • Will our military men and women be forced to live with those openly practicing homosexual lifestyles?
  • Will same-sex marriage be legalized in more and more states?
  • Will President Obama give in to pressure to choose liberal activist judges who act as legislators rather than interpreters of the law?
  • Will time-honored Judeo-Christian values be preserved or destroyed in each of our 50 states and in Washington, D.C.?

You undoubtedly are asking: What can I do to protect America’s godly heritage and secure a safe future for my children and grandchildren?

That’s why Citizen Magazine exists. Month after month, it brings concerned citizens like you the “no-spin” truth, practical suggestions and encouragement needed to influence the issues and events that are important to you and your family.

So give yourself the truth behind the news … the action tips … and the motivation you need. Subscribe to Citizen today!

Sincerely,

Tom Hess
Editor

With the stakes for our country’s direction so high, there’s no better time to request your subscription to Focus on the Family Citizen® magazine. Staying informed is crucial–Citizen is a must-read to give you the truth behind the news!

Request Citizenonline today or by calling 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459), and mention CT09AEICZA. With your subscription request, we will also send you a complimentary 7-CD set, Amazing Stories, which will inspire you to rely upon God in every circumstance.

 
     
 
Subscribe today and you'll also receive a complimentary copy of Amazing Stories, a 7-CD broadcast set Receive the complimentary 7-CD broadcast set Amazing Stories when you subscribe to Focus on the Family Citizen today!This collection of radio broadcasts includes some of the most inspirational testimonies heard on the “Focus on the Family®” broadcast. These stories will remind you that God is always there–even in the most difficult situations. To get your complimentary gift, subscribe today!
 
Visit focusonthefamily.com today!

I do my best to grow in my Christian faith each day.  Does the fact that I hadn’t “undoubtedly wondered” about any of the issues raised in this e-mail advertisement make me a “bad” Christian?  What about the next questions that crossed my mind: it was right to legislate the civil rights laws that made yesterday’s inauguration possible because that was an issue of justice, but is it right to legislate laws that address moral issues?  Didn’t we try that during prohibition?

This is a message of fear, plain and simple.  This advertisement is judgemental and discriminatory.  The good intentions of well-meaning people have been turned to other purposes by this message.

My question to Focus on the Family is this: if we could interview Jesus Christ today, which message would He be more likely to associate with, President Obama’s inauguration Tuesday or the advertisement above? 

What message are you sending?

Multiple Universes (Part II)

Image by Joka2000

Image by Joka2000

In the beginning, man believed that the earth was the center of the universe.  The sun, the moon, and all the stars moved across the sky each day in a dance orchestrated by God, who looked down upon us from heaven beyond the stars.  We were his chosen people, the ones He created in His image, and we were placed at the center of His creation.

 Then in the 1500’s, a man of science named Copernicus published a theory that the earth was not stationary, but actually moving.  The apparent motion of the sun rising and setting was due to the earth rotating once a day on its axis and the inconsistent movements of the planets in the night sky was caused by the earth revolving around the sun once a year.  His theory fit the data of the observed facts better than the previous, long-held belief.

Since then, science has taught us a great deal about our world and the universe we live in.  We live on a small planet orbiting an ordinary yellow star located at the edge of an average galaxy among many, many other galaxies.  Copernicus’ theory knocked us from our most-favored position at the center of the universe, but it also spawned a host of other scientific advances.   

And at every step of the journey since Copernicus’ time, organized religion has fought the advances of science like a jealous older brother putting down a talented sibling.  Running disagreements over competing beliefs like Big Bang versus Creationism or Evolution versus Intelligent Design receive regular media attention.  Opinions on both sides are sharply drawn since they touch on the core beliefs each of us hold so dearly.

In my last post, I discussed the theory of multiple universes that has recently gained favor among some leading physicists and the controversy surrounding that theory.  The possibility of multiple universes comes out of quantum mechanics, the study of the smallest particles of matter.  The M-theory is the best model physicists currently have to explain the behavior of particles, like electrons or quarks, and how they relate to the General Theory of Relativity.  But the theory works best in eleven dimensions and, among other things, gives rise to the possibility of multiple universes.

Foul!

Predictably, the possibility that our universe isn’t unique and that multiple universes containing nearly identical copies of ourselves may currently exist in dimensions we can’t perceive has generated some strong opinions on both sides of the theory.  Some scientists have invoked this theory as another example that an intelligent Creator is less likely; the issue of the anthropic nature of the universe is explained by simple, random chance.  The natural reaction of some religious believers is to discount the theory out of hand as another elaborate attempt by science to deny the existence of God.  Both sides are crying, “Foul!” and claiming the simpler, more reasonable position in this disagreement.

As a person of faith who also embraces the spirit of inquiry and improvement that best epitomizes science, I’m always uncomfortable with these partisan arguments.  Science and religion are, at their best, two of mankind’s greatest accomplishments.  At their worst, both have been used to inflict massive suffering on the world.  They are not diametrically opposed, as is often portrayed in today’s media soundbites, but share common goals and objectives.  Science without religion is cold and soulless, religion without science is blind and dumb.  I believe that they need each other.  Together religion and science can inform, correct, and support each other.

For instance, on the theory of multiple universes, is it possible for there to be an infinite number of parallel universes while still having an intimate, personal Intelligence in control of it all?  Copernicus showed that the earth isn’t at the center of creation, proving the religious leaders’ widely held beliefs to be wrong.  However, he didn’t disprove the existence of God, he merely showed the limits of mankind’s imagination at the time.  It can be argued that Copernicus, who was a devout Catholic, helped to demonstrate how much larger God must be if He exists and He created all that is apparent in the universe today.

So the possible existence of other parallel universes can be seen as another extension of the same Copernican revolution.  Multiple universes don’t diminish, but rather enhance the province of a benevolent Creator, and they force another expansion of the mind of man.  Religion has been guilty of repeatedly overstating the importance of man in the universe, but science is equally guilty of the same human-centered bias by repeatedly underestimating the potential abilities an infinite God could wield.

But assuming parallel universes do exist, and are currently popping into existence due to small quantum differences such as the roll of the dice or your turning left instead of right at the cross road, the question most reasonable people would ask is, “Why?”  Why would God make it so complicated?  What possible purpose could He have for creating a multiverse of infinite life choices and diverging histories?  That doesn’t seem reasonable at all.

Here’s my theory: parallel universes allow us to live with free will and simultaneously abide by God’s intimate will for each of us. 

It works like this: in any dynamic system, the distribution of potential future outcomes is described by the Schrodinger Equation.  It “predicts analytically and precisely the probability of events or outcomes.”  That means in any situation, there is the most probable, or preferred, outcome plus a range of other, lower probability possibilities.  I take this to mean that the Universe has a preference in every situation.

But there’s also another law of physics known as the “Uncertainty Principle” which gives rise the “observer effect.”  It’s impossible to know precisely both the location and the momentum of a particle.  The act of observing something changes the thing itself.  In other words, we affect the universe simply by being in it.

This means that we’re in a continual dance with the universe.  The Universe’s preferred paths can be described through the math of probabilities, but we have our own preferences too; we have our free will.

From the Universe’s (God’s) perspective, we make things a lot more interesting because we’re unknown entities.  We’re the X-factor that gives rise to many more potential universes and their possibilities. 

But how does this benefit us?

I believe God enlivens every particle of our universe, existing within us and throughout the infinite stretches of the cosmos.  He has carefully planned each second of His preferred life for each of us.  Since He has given us free will, He will not impose that life on us.  Consequently, if we choose differently than He prefers, we could diverge into a parallel universe, exact in every detail to His preferred universe except for our choice.  Within that universe, the same laws apply (both physically and spiritually), therefore there are new preferred paths and new choices for us to make.

It’s a win – win for both parties.  We get to choose however we would like, and our loving God will still see each of us safely to the end of his preferred path for us.

This is a theory in development, with many more questions than answers.  If we make too many poor choices and stray too far from the original, preferred path, can this explain the loss of inner peace, purpose, and enthusiasm that many people feel in the world today?  Is it possible to consciously decide to move back towards God’s preferred path?  Is it possible that universes can converge through our conscious choices? 

And how would someone know if they were on their preferred path?  Our great religions may have already answered that question.  There are two possible ways to be on the right path, to be in harmony with the probabilities / preferences of the Universe:

  1. Chance: not choosing means the probability is highest that you’ll be on the preferred path at each divergence.  Examples: children, sages, and savants (think Forest Gump).
  2. Consciously choosing: living in the present moment, avoiding the experience and old peridynes of the ego and being open to the “still, quiet voice” within that speaks only when you invite it to and believe it will answer.  Remaining still, alert, open to what is.  Right action then naturally happen through you.

There are many implications to this theory, but this post is already over-long, so we’ll hold them for now.  Please share your thoughts, questions, concerns, and objections below.

When God is Shouting at You

It has been great hearing back from many of you now that we’ve gone live with the Serendipity Journal.  Thank you all for your kind words of encouragement.  Please let me encourage you to leave your thoughts and comments in the Leave a Reply boxes below each post.

I heard some bad news in an e-mail from my good friend Suzy in North Carolina: her husband Alan has prostate cancer.  Extensive testing has shown that the cancer is thankfully confined to his prostate at this time.  They’re currently waiting on Chapel Hill to schedule the date of his surgery.  Thanks for keeping them in your prayers.

My father is a prostate cancer survivor.  He just celebrated his 5 year anniversary of being cancer free.  I found the story of how he decided on the best course of treatment for his cancer to be truly inspirational, and I shared it with Suzy in my e-mail response.  Here’s what I wrote:

My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 2002.  He did a bunch of research on the best way to treat it, surgery or radiation.  Both methods had their drawbacks.  After a very thorough investigation, he decided to rest from thinking about it over the weekend, then make a final decision the following Monday.  

On Monday, he arrived in his office and began a final review of his two treatment options.  Almost immediately, the phone rang with a friend on the line who had just learned of Dad’s cancer.  “Have you heard about the treatment program at Sloan-Kettering in Manhattan?”  This friend told him about the advanced radiation technique they had developed that used a much finer-focused beam to pinpoint the cancer.  “You should check them out before you make a decision,” his friend insisted.   Dad thanked him, but hung up the phone convinced that his best option lay in one of the two processes he had already researched. 

But within 5 minutes, another friend called to tell him about that same hospital, and within the hour a third friend called with the same advice.  Dad decided to put his decision on hold and check out Sloan-Kettering.  Once he checked them out, he realized that their treatment program was superior to everything else that he had investigated.  They successfully treated him, and he has remained cancer-free ever since.

During his treatment, my father confided to me that he felt that he had been led to that hospital; that God had spoken to him through his friends. God has many different ways that he communicates with us. It may be a feeling or an intuition; a new way of thinking during a prayer; or an inspiration during a quiet moment. He may send you a song on the radio that answers a question that you’re pondering, or reveal a new truth to you through scripture. Or sometimes, when he really wants to get your attention, he may have three different people give you the same message.

I’m finding that He’s guiding and encouraging me on an almost daily basis (I wonder, on those days when I don’t receive His communication, is He not speaking or am I just missing it?).  He seems to especially enjoy communicating with me through serendipity – I no longer believe in coincidences…  Best save that for another post later.

How about you?  How is God speaking to you? 

What My Dying Guinea Pig Taught Me

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.  Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours.  Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.  Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.  Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.  Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place.  Show respect to all people and grovel to none.”      – Tecumseh

According to my friend Brad, who practices Native American religion, a person’s death song is their final prayer.  I first read about death songs in The Gospel of the Redman.  There were several accounts in the book of white men observing Native American warriors singing a song when it was apparent they were going to die.  Each would continue singing, usually in a high-pitched, wailing sort of way, until his death.  There was also an account of a young Native boy, severely scalded by boiling water, who sang in the same way each time his dressings were changed. 

I felt I needed to understand what a death song is, perhaps even prepare one for myself, but the book contained no information on what was contained in those songs.  I tried looking up “death songs” on-line; you don’t want to see what Google brings back.  So I resorted to asking Brad.  Was the song some sort of an account of the singers accomplishments in this life?  “No,” he said, “the Native Americans were selfless, so the songs aren’t about accomplishments.  It’s more of a welcome song – ‘Today is a good day to die.’  That sort of thing, you know?”  No.  Not really.

I was still mulling all this over the next morning as I went about my morning chores of feeding our animals.  My heart sank when I spotted one of our two male guinea pigs lying on his side in the cage, barely alive.  He had been declining for the past week, most likely from an infected bite from his brother.  We had done our best to treat him, Carol cleaned and disinfected his wound several days, but he didn’t respond. 

I woke Carol and we talked treatment options for the pig, but there’re no vets in our area that will treat these types of pets.  I scooped him up and wrapped him in a towel.  I wanted to force pedialyte down him.  But I realized that he was very near the end, he was suffering, and as much as I wanted to help prolong his life, I didn’t want to make him suffer unnecessarily.  I wept as I held his weak, little body in my arms; it was the first time that he didn’t struggle against being held.

Finally, I decided the kind thing to do was to put him in a bag, just as Carol had suggested.  It took me two tries – the first time he appeared uncomforable and struggled, so I took him out of the bag.  But then he started to convulse and make small sounds of pain.  I put him back in the bag rocked him in my arms as I watched the rising sun through the sliding glass door.

Even though he was weak and unable to care for himself, God used that little guinea pig to teach me in a powerful way.  I helped him to die.  In the end, I had to do what was best for him, inspite of my feelings and desires.  It tore me up to let him go.  I did not meet his death with the acceptance of a person who’s fully alive.

He helped me find my death song.  It has been with me for a long, long time, though I misplaced it for a number of years.  I sang it to him from my heart as I rocked him by the glass door.  In my mind, it sounded just like the first time we sang it in Sunday school:

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

For the Bible tells me so;

Little ones to Him belong,

They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!

Yes, Jesus loves me!

Yes, Jesus loves me!

The Bible tells me so.

Every life has value.  I think I felt so strongly because he was so dependent on us.  So often, I thought of that guinea pig as just another chore: feed him each morning, clean his cage once a week, clip his nails every couple of months.  But as he was slipping away, I was able to thank him for all that he gave to me.  I’ll miss his whistles and squeaks, the way he chewed on the bars of the cage or ran around the edges when he was excited, the way he wresteled with his carrots before eating them or bumped his nose up when you pet him. 

His world was limited to that cage in our livingroom or kitchen, but it felt like I was carrying him with me as I went about my business throughout that day.  The view of a meadow, the smell of a lilac in bloom, the sight of the clouds in the overcast sky, they all brought him to mind, even though we never visited those places together.

How fragile is life.  How little is under our control, even though we believe differently.  I struggled most of that day with feelings of regret and remorse.  I was grieving, yes, but I also mourned the lost opportunities if only I’d paid more attention, tried to be more present.  I understood that I needed to let him go in my heart, that I couldn’t go back and change the time that I spent with him (or anyone else).  All I can do is focus on the relationships that I can nourish today. 

And as I finally accepted that truth, I was blessed with an impression of what that little pig is feeling now that he’s released from the pain he had in this life.  We did the best we could to provide for him, but You, Father, will do infinitely better.  Thank You.