Thursday, December 31, 2009

Leading Human Indicators

Daily, it seems, we hear reports of how the economy is improving; the Dow Jones Industrials have crossed the ten thousand mark, the banks are returning the government bailout money and are earning record profits. Even the jobless picture seems to be improving; less people filing for unemployment this month than last. Economists tell us that a bullish stock market is a “leading economic indicator” of good times to come. Calling this a “jobless recovery” strikes me as oxymoronic at best, and deeply insulting at worst. To the many thousands who have lost their jobs this holiday season and the many more who are desperately trying to find paying, much less meaningful work, talk of a “recovery” must seem out of touch and deluded. Can there really be a recovery if people don’t have the jobs needed to pay their bills and keep their homes? Sure, those of us fortunate to have investments are seeing a slight rebound, but can there be any real value in this economy until people are back at work and caring for their families with dignity and promise?

Measuring a recovery from the bottom line is poor economics. The human cost to this Great Recession is far greater than how far our portfolios have fallen. Divorces are on the rise, people are depressed and our state budget, so deeply dependent on taxes generated from economic growth, is unable to help the many who need it most.

What we need in this New Year is a recovery of the human spirit. What we need to be looking and working towards are the “leading human indicators” that our world will not only recover from this fall but grow in deeper and more meaningful ways than how much we consume. What would some of those human indicators look like? Well, some are already evident. Communities are reaching out to those in need. Not the governments of communities but communities of people united in a faith for a new beginning. This kind of recovery isn’t measurable by domestic output. It shows up in more subtle ways and is often deeply personal. Religious communities, especially, have seen both an increase in attendance but also an increase in giving to meet the needs of those amongst us who are most in need. We have a long way to go but it is a start. Volunteering to help, whether in a community of faith or in the many secular organizations dedicated to compassion would be another indicator that we are moving on. Feeding the hungry, helping a child to read, answering a help line, are all indicators of a real recovery.

I believe that a rebound in the arts might be another sign that we have grown from this crisis. It’s tempting to measure productivity by what we make or build or consume, but there is a deeper economic vitality in celebrating what makes us human. When we support every form of art again, just because it feeds our souls, we will be well on our way to a deeper recovery. Jobs will be created and the Holiness of what is beautiful in this world will be reclaimed.

As we begin this New Year, let us do so with a deeper hope that our wealth will expand in ways not measured by economists. There are other economies besides the monetary; the barter between friends, the care we show our neighbors that they may one day return to us, and the deep satisfaction that comes from helping another in the name of all that is Holy and good. May this be the year of a deeper good, a new beginning of hope and promise.

With Grace and Grit, John

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Staying Through the Storm

Of all the tests in our lives, of all the struggles wherein our destiny is determined, our relationships, especially during the holiday season, are the hardest to judge. How do we know when to stay through the storm? Relationships are a lot like the weather. Often tolerable but sometimes stormy. Some seasons are better than others. There are those days when we welcome the dawn with open arms. Glorious as it is, our lives seem in sync. But we all know that these relationships can run head long into a full blown gall, or be becalmed by mediocrity and fears. And then we despair. The question is then when do we leave?

Here I apply what I call my “theology of persistence.” As the psychologist Albert Ellis put it so poetically “the art of love is largely the art of persistence.” Or more understandably for me at least as the novelist Richard Ford put it “Writing is the only thing I've ever done with persistence, except for being married. “ To understand the place of the Holy in our lives we can’t give up on staying through the storm of life looking for the rainbow. In fact, meaning is more often found after a storm, at the end of the dark night than before it. This is why I sign off so often with the paradox of grace and grit; grace for the everyday miracles of being alive, grit for staying alive long enough to make it mean something.

With Grace and Grit, John

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Inner Harvest

Time is the one commodity that has no way of repeating again. Its harvest comes instantly at every moment we experience and then it is gone. This moment will never be repeated. This is the essence of the Buddhist understanding of moksha or illusion. Because this moment is so unique, its preciousness implores us to harvest it for the power of life that is before us. We spend so much time worrying about the past or being anxious about the future that we rarely see the preciousness of this moment. It is not that the reality is any less real. Pain hurts, weapons maim, poverty throbs in millions of lives. The entire universe, said the Buddha, 2300 years before Quantum physics, is destroyed and reborn in each moment. So it is with our lives, our past actions remain, memories persist, but the new moment before us is all there really is.

As she lay dying with cancer, Mary recited that wonderful phrase from Edith Pilaf "Je ne regret a rein." I have no regrets. And indeed she had none. We had known each other four short years but she had taught me so much. She would be the first to teach me that “time waits for no one” and “the past is past”. She was also the person who made the bridge from not regretting the past to learning how to harvest meaning from the experiences we did have. She helped me learn that appreciating the gifts of the present is far greater than any “thing” we give each other. As it says in the bible “You have sown so much but harvested so little”. “John” she told me close to the end, “don’t wait until you are like me to do your inner harvest.”

Even though time passes us by we can still learn what it leaves behind in the present. “Life” wrote T.S. Elliot “is the experience we pull meaning from”. My daughter Portia and her husband Scott and our little grandson Ashur have come to live with us. Whatever worries we had about living together have passed us by, we are having a wonderful time being a family. Every so often I am saddened by the possibility that they won’t live with us forever. And then? And then so what! Why am I sacrificing the now for a worry of the future? Now is the harvest… the blocks on the floor, the toys on the shelves, this is the time to harvest this now! Thanksgiving is only a reminder that we are on this planet for a very short time. What we learn to do with that time is up to us.