“Unless a grain of wheat goes into the earth and die, it remains by itself alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” This weekend, many will be thinking about Easter and considering the impact of death and resurrection. But what does it mean to practice resurrection? For some, a relationship have been virtually dead due to lasting bitterness. Perhaps you’ve given up on someone that has let you down again. Or maybe you’ve recently let someone down in a big way, and it looks like there’s no coming back from it. Asking for forgiveness is hard and choosing to can be even more challenging. Continuing without it tends to be worse, and often inducing more pain than we expect. As you go this weekend, consider how the practice of forgiveness can be renewing and restorative, not just for a relationship, but for yourself as well.
Words matter. One kind word can change someone’s entire day. Mother Teresa said, “kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” But in a culture that tells you you’re only valuable if you meet ever-changing standards, we all need to be reminded of our inherent value. We often think of words of encouragement but too often we buy the lie that says that thinking the thought is what matters, resulting in the robbery of words for others. Don’t diminish the power of words. Words written or spoken can change everything. The trouble is, without practice, it can be hard to create the space to think–never mind tell–the people you value how great they are. Who are those people that you love and esteem? Decide today to let them know it.
Every doorway has a story. Each has a distinct character, speaking volumes of the people living behind the door. What could possibly be behind a door is often left to the imagination — an array of secrets, emotions, and mysteries. A home with laughter, heartaches, hopes, banter, and more. This week, for many who will be reflecting on Passover, doors and doorways are an important reminder. What sort of doors do you have? What transpires on the inside of those doors? Is there a spirit of love, hope, and faith on the other side of that threshold? What is posted on our proverbial doors? Do we have a symbolic “welcome mat” at the door, or is it more like a “do not disturb” sign? Do we welcome the opportunity to be hospitable and benevolent to those in need of comfort, friendship or sustenance? Or do we (figuratively speaking) slam those doors in the faces of needy individuals who seek entry to the sincerity of our hearts? Today make a commitment to open a door that can lead to a more generous you.
What keeps us happy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier. They’re also physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected. It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. How might you develop relationships that matter? It’s been said that we make a living by what we get and we make a life by what we give. May we give ourselves to building long and healthy relationships that cultivate a lifetime of happiness.
Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. – – Mahatma Gandhi
How valuable is your time? One of the best ways to measure what is important to a person, is where and how they spend their time. Sharing your time with others is an act of generosity. So often we’re able to give not just in a moment of plenty, but in a time of our choosing. Are you optimistic about your ability to “fit things into my schedule” and then show up late? Punctuality is not just courteous to friends and neighbors, but it is also a way to measure generosity to others. We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our life, for hurry is a great enemy of being present in our world today. Time might be the most precious gift you have to share. How might you spend it in helping others today?
If poverty is the worst form of violence as Mahatma Gandhi said, then generosity might be the best form of peacemaking. When people are impoverished not only does it rob them of their dignity, it can often threaten their very existence. It can lead to unrest and even put countries or neighbors at war with one another. Some might argue that what we need is larger fences and bigger military defense to keep us safe. When poverty makes the world less stable, we are all less safe. When it comes to questions of making the world a safer place; how might your generosity be a force for making peace? Today, seek to be a peacemaker in your family, neighborhood, city, country, or world. Take one step towards making peace by being more generous.
Photo: The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt in Hermitage Museum St. Petersburg Russia
Ever spoke of people as ‘them,’ the ‘other,’ or stayed quiet when friends, family, or coworkers have? Attitudes to the ‘other’ and, frankly, anything outside of our culture, have shifted positions of fear into the mainstream. Now is the time to counter fear with generosity and ask the question – who is our neighbor?
by Bryan Grower
From my time studying philosophy at University, I have been interested in various thinkers, artists, and films that question the fabric of reality and the existential crisis caused by an uncritical pursuit of an “American Dream”. The crisis of identity and purpose seems to drive many to the extreme and often unhealthy measures to feel alive. Some have questioned whether consumer culture is our core vice rather than the ways we find to distract, numb or cope with our human condition. Where I am often disappointed in these cultural critiques is their focus on the human condition through the individual and their tendency to be cynical.
The Netflix documentary: The Minimalists is an interesting film about two friends Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus and their exploration of minimalism. They wrote a memoir, Everything That Remains about how they stumbled into a growing movement that is discovering the freedom possible from the clutches of debt and an insatiable desire of greed and acquisition. They raise the same questions of freedom and identity as those asked by many thinkers and artists before them, but they approach the question from a far less cynical and more practical perspective. They found that adjusting their lifestyle to live simply and intentionally afforded them the ability focus on the things in life the add value and fulfillment. This is a memoir about pursuing lives that are “intentional, deliberate and meaningful” and it challenges an uncritical pursuit of lifestyles we cannot afford, status advertisers tell us we need and an elusive promise of security if we could ever just make a little more.
“Understand, every moth is drawn to light, even when that light is a flame, hot and burning, flickering, the fire tantalizing the drab creature with its blueish-white illumination. But when the moth flies too close to the flame, we all know what happens: it gets burned, incinerated by the very thing that drew it near. For decades now, I have played the role of the moth, lured by the flame of consumerism, pop culture’s beautiful conflagration, a firestorm of lust and greed and wanting, a haunting desire to consume that which cannot be consumed, to be fulfilled by that which can never be fulfilling. A vacant proposition, leaving me empty inside, which further fuels my desire to consume. Accepting the flame for what it is, then, is important: it is necessary and beautiful and, most of all, dangerous. Realizing this, becoming aware of the danger, is difficult to do. But this is how we wake up.”
I appreciate the tangible “experiments” the authors provide in how they and others have adapted into the Minimalism movement and their honesty about their failures along the way. Practices and life rhythms are an important part of community development and crafting lives of meaning. I was speaking to a friend about the Minimalism movement and we began to discuss if there is more substance to this conversation than providing life tips and internet memes: ‘4 Ways to Clear the Clutter from Your Home’ or ‘How to Find Meaning in 3 Steps’. What is left once we clear the clutter? Will there be anything of substance that remains?
At Common Change, we believe the substance and meaning is built collaboratively with friends and neighbors around a table where we take responsibility for each other’s well-being. A community practice is an activity that gathers people together to share their gifts, teach what they know and create neighbors that seek after each other’s welfare. A discussion of a meaningful life must incorporate practices or life rhythms that help people be more human. Everything That Remains is an inspirational discussion that I hope drives us to not merely find ways to reorganize our lives in the pursuit of individual meaning, but drives us to the community table to discover ways to be “intentional, deliberate and meaningful” together.
by Dustin Hite
One of the biggest struggles we often have as we encounter the parables of Jesus is our penchant for assuming a one-to-one correlation between story and meaning. Specifically, we often approach these parables as if they will easily yield their fruit to us for easy application in our lives. Our desire for the kind of return on investment promised by many self-help hucksters will always be thwarted by Jesus, the storyteller. New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine in her book Short Stories by Jesus says it best: “The parables are open-ended in that interpretation will take place in every act of reading…good storytellers adapt their tales to the needs and interests of their audiences.”
This open-ended nature of the parables may cause anxiety for some and yet freedom for others. This is no more true than when we consider one of the most controversial parables Jesus ever shared. It comes from the Gospel of Matthew and deals with a master giving money (or “talents” in some translations) to his servants with no explicit instruction about what to do with them. He goes away for a time during which two of the three servants put their allotted money to work and achieve a return. The other servant buries his allotment in the ground. Only upon the master’s return do we realize he had an expectation that ALL of his servants would achieve a return. When he discovers that the third servant simply hid his money in the ground, he becomes indignant, taking back the money from the servant and giving it to the one who gained the biggest return.
So, what are we to make of this parable? For some, like biblical scholar Ched Myers, the meaning is quite easy to assess. The third servant was actually the one who behaved in line with the values of the kingdom of God, for in the ancient world the kinds of returns the other servants achieved would only be the result of cutting corners, cheating others, and stealing from fellow kinsfolk (something in Jewish culture that would have been scandalous). For others, our Western capitalist context leads us to read this parable as one of two industrious servants achieving returns for their master that were expected, and it challenges us to ask the question of whether or not we are achieving results, not for gains in capital, but rather for the kingdom of God. Each of these interpretive communities sees little room for the reading of the other, and I think that’s to our detriment.