Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanks for the Ability to Give Thanks

A problem I experience every Thanksgiving, as I ponder what to write to express my thankfulness on this day, is this. How does a finite being with a little pea-sized brain express his gratitude for the infinite and many-splendored wonders of the universe in which he has been placed, for the human-nourishing globe on which he has grown up, for the prosperous, kind, and generous land in which he has thrived, for the places he has lived in peace, for the roof over his head and the food on his table, and not last but rather at the top of the list, for the family and friends who have nurtured and sustained him and walked with him through thick and thin in this life.

And after mentioning those broad outlines of categories for which to be thankful, how does one “drill down” to all the things we take for granted, such as breath and life itself, for the ability to comprehend and communicate, for the atoms that make up the cells that make up the various parts of the marvelous bodies we inhabit, and for the spirit within us.
How does one give thanks for each and every thing on that never-ending list of things for which one is, or should be, thankful?
In a word, one does not. One cannot. Not for “each and every.” Yet, this year I will choose to express thanks for one basic, essential, and overarching gift—the gift of communication, which involves not only speech and all the associated methods of expressing thoughts and sharing ideas but also the very ability to receive information, process it, and craft a response.)

The scriptures tell us that God breathed into the Adam the breath of life and he “became a living being.” The Targum Onkelos (one of the earliest translations of the Torah from the Hebrew—in this case into Aramaic) says “became a speaking being.” Is it not that ability to communicate that sets us apart from so many other living things on the planet? Yes, there is some limited ability on the part of animals, and perhaps even, to a lesser extent, plants, but the created-in-the-image-of-God-like ability to comprehend, to give and receive thought, to bless (yes, and to curse), to choose (in speaking, we choose), and to express thanks, seems to be unique to the Adam, a term by the way, that is inclusive of both male and female humans.
So, this year I express my thanks for the ability to communicate with my fellow beings and with the Divine being who vouchsafed me that power. And having expressed that gratitude, I will use that ability to thank each and every one of you, my family and friends, for your love and compassion, and for continuing to be there for me and communicate with me, sometimes overlooking and forbearing my rants and raves with respect to things on which we disagree.
Thanks, too, for all those who have gone before and given us the nation we have been given and the potential to be “a light unto the nations” and a salutary presence in the world.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Give 110 Percent Eight Days a Week

I was listening to the Beatles song “Eight Days a Week” the other day, and I began to wonder, and I asked myself why it is that I get so bothered when people say they are going to “give 110 percent,” which is impossible. I doubt if we are ever able to give even 100 percent, let alone more than that. So, it has always bugged me.
But, lo, along come the Beatles, and suddenly I am thinking that this type of expression reflects the fact that people, humans, men and women, are created in the image of a higher Being. We are something more—fearfully and wonderfully made, according to the Psalmist. We know there is more to our destiny than this rather limited, quotidian existence.  
We long for the stars. We look up in wonder and awe, and we come up with a space program that even now is beaming back images of the planet/dwarf planet/non-planet Pluto from 4 billion miles away. The communication technology alone is miraculous.  
“Cogito ergo sum.” I think, therefore I am. I choose, therefore I can. I dream, therefore I am more than. I love, and that validates it all. I feel I am part of some grand, overarching, wonderful plan. I must be. I see you, and I marvel. We. We are part of a grand, mind-boggling universe. We see it, nature, the world, the creation, trillions of species, living or extinct, and we say, in our loftiest pronouncement, “WOW!”
We speak and write and communicate in so many ways, a wink, a smile, a nod of the head. There is more here than meets the eye. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We eschew the mundane for poetry. We string together words in ways that please not only our minds but our emotions, in ways that touch our souls, in ways that lift us up to the heavens.  
Our music transcends our puny, workaday lives. No matter the genre—Baroque, Chant, Plainsong, Polyphony, Rock, Metal, Punk, Hymns, Opera, Pop, Country—they all cry out, sing out, pour out that there is harmony in the world, there is wonder in the universe, there is something beyond, something more.  
We know seven, but we want eight, the supernatural, the superhuman, the beyond, the Übermensch, the super hero. Forty-nine is perfect (seven times seven) but we want 50, the jubilee, the time of rest and restoration, the time for rejoicing and re-creation. There is no largest number, no “infinite number.” Just add one and keep going. Infinity. Eternity. Is that not our home? 
We see bad things happening around us, evil, sin, tragedy, disaster, but in our mind’s eye, we see good triumphing over evil. Despite any evidence to the contrary, we, humans, we sons and daughters of Adam and Chava, we family of human beings, know that there is something more beyond. Oh, you may believe in your way and I in mine, but fundamentally we are seeking and believing in something more, lagniappe, goodness, greatness, grace, love, mercy, truth, life.  
We feel in our inner selves, inside, in the heart, in the soul, in the inner being, that we are inhabiting a body, but we are more. We look in the mirror and see the 62- going on 63-year-old face and yet we feel 25 inside. I am not old. Who is that old person looking back at me? And yet, there is also a part of us that feels ancient, touched by eternity, part of something larger, something better, something meaningful and wonderful.  
We touch one another. I’m talking literally now, a pat on the back, on the head, the touch of a hand, an arm around the shoulder, an embrace, hugs when we have been long apart, a cuddle, a punch on the arm, even a slap in the face, on occasion. It says there is something outside of me that I am nevertheless a part of and that I appreciate and that I love and want to embrace completely (figuratively, now) in all that I am and do. We are two, yet we two are one, yet part of a larger whole. We are a small group, but we are part of a larger family.  
We want all of our family to prosper. We believe they can, yet we are limited in our resources, so we do what we can for whom we can. (I am talking the family of man, now—please forgive the outdated, non-PC phrase—I still like it.) We give. We love. We laugh. We cry. We pray. We speak. We sit in silence. We dream of a world of peace, a world of love and understanding. We don’t see it, hear it, feel it, or smell it, but I think in some figurative way we may taste it. We are given tastes of it. In our relationships, one-on-one, small groups, families, faith groups, teams, we can imagine a world to come that is better than the one in which we find ourselves.  
So, keep on striving for 110 percent. Keep on living and loving your very best “eight days a week.” It means you are a human being, and you aspire to something more—because you are something more. Never forget it.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Independence Day 2015

Every year I find myself quoting not only Jefferson but also Lincoln on the 4th of July, and perhaps it's because we find ourselves in similar straits today to those in which he found himself. We see our nation being splintered and torn asunder by those who would rule over us, unwilling to derive "their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed" but rather arrogating to themselves dictatorial powers and unwilling to recognize opposing views, choosing rather to characterize them as evil and even going so far as to making those thoughts illegal.
In 1776, our forebears faced a tyrannical entity far away across the sea. Today our problem is a tyrannical entity far away in D.C. The saddest part is that, whereas the royal tyrants of earlier times were not elected by the early Americans, too many of our countrymen voted this current crop of tyrants to rule over us, steal our substance, and restrict our liberty.
As my thoughts continue run along similar currents to those of the past, here are quotes from former 4th of July blog posts that still apply today.
2014. Paraphrasing Lincoln, “Now we are engaged in a great politico-socio-economic war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” May G-d grant us the insight, wisdom, and moral courage to extricate ourselves from the self-destructive morass in which we find ourselves—that we might once more be “a shining city on a hill.”
2013. This year's theme: America is an idea. This piece of parchment sets forth that idea:

It has become fashionable nowadays to eschew the Founding Fathers and their ideas. I have no such compunction. Their ideas have withstood the test of time. Would that this current generation realized it.

An image often missing from Independence Day celebrations.  USS Albany (CG-10), a symbol of our military, a guarantor of our freedoms, and my shipboard home for there years.

Our flag is a symbol of the ideas that make us who we are. We must never forgetwho we are.

Our eldest daughter put together this 15-second tribute to our nation. She loves the land of her birthSpain, her homes for many years in Italy, Canada, and Japan, and her current home—Australia, but she understands that "America is portable, we carry it around in our hearts and minds," and "We don't live in America. America lives in us, or to paraphrase a friend—to be an American is "to believe as an American."

2011. We used Dennis Prager's excellent 4th of July Seder. You can learn more about it here.

2010. Our nation's 16th president was faced with the prospect of the dividing asunder of the country and a fundamental change in the underlying principles and character of the nation, in fact a dissolution of the Union envisioned by its founders..
Had there been no Lincoln, it is difficult to imagine what this nation would have become, or whether it would even exist today in any form we would recognize as the United States of America.
We see our nation being pulled apart and splintered by those who would rule over us, unwilling to "derive their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed" but rather arrogating to themselves dictatorial powers.

...that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."
My Business Law professor had a favorite, trick question. What rights are granted by the U.S. Constitution?

The correct answer, of course, is that the Constitution grants us no rights. Governments do not grant rights. Divine Providence does. The purpose of the Constitution is to prevent government from usurping those rights. Listen to the language of the Bill of Rights. "Congress shall make no law...prohibiting...or abridging..." "the right of the people...shall not be infringed," "no soldier shall...without the consent of the owner," "the right of the people...shall not be violated," "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The rights exist; the Constitution seeks to prohibit government from preempting them, as it is so often wont to do.
We stand at a crossroads in our nation's history, much like that faced by our 16th president. There are forces at work in our land that would transform the very nature of the United States of America forever. To quote Lincoln, we are now "testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
When I enlisted, and reenlisted, and when I was commissioned an officer in the United States Navy, I swore to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" and to "bear true faith and allegiance to the same." Millions of my fellow Americans took the same oath. It has never been more important that we do just that.
2008. The sights and sounds, the music and pageantry of the celebration of the birth of my country never fails to bring tears to my eyes. When I ponder the blessings we have received "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence," as the writers of the Declaration of Independence put it; when I meditate on the privileges and advantages my family has received in our lives; when I think of my fellow Americans, who share this bounteous prosperity; I am choked up with gratitude and the thought that I did very little to earn these advantages. I was born in this country—born to a life of privilege—not exactly a meritorious act of volition.
In 25 years of service, I never faced down an enemy soldier. I never slept in a tent, never slogged through a swamp in some forsaken jungle, never carried my weapon everywhere for protection, never looked into the eyes of a child and wondered if he or she was wired to kill me. And yet people thank me for my service. How much more should we thank those who face death every day for an ideal, for a 232-year-old experiment called the United States of America.
As I pondered these things, I began to wonder what makes me "proud to be an American." What is the quintessentially American ideal that we celebrate every year on the birth of our nation? Freedom and liberty are words thrown around so much, they mean everything and nothing.

I finally came to the conclusion that I could not improve on the words of the Declaration of Independence and these self-evident truths: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

And in what is more a declaration of dependence than independence, the following: "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

Independence from a despotic power with a "history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over (us)" and dependence on Divine Providence and one another.

And I wondered, deep in my wonderer, in the place where I wonder, whether or not "the governed," i.e. us, we the people, have the capacity and the will and the understanding and the resolve to truly give our informed consent or whether we are destined to submit ourselves again to tyranny. We can only hope, pray, and work together that it be the former and not the latter!
There are those who do give me hope for the future, as for instance my dear friend, John H., who painted this wonderful creation a while back. It seems to fit here on this day.
2007. From Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait
"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.
"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we will save our country."

"It is the eternal struggle between two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says 'you toil and work and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation, and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle." [Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862]

"That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth." [Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863]

Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." Leviticus 25:10
כן, יהי רצון


Monday, April 06, 2015

Happy birthday, Bonnie!

It's a special day today--Bonnie's birthday--and therefore time for another blog post/note to mark the occasion. Whenever I do these posts, going through old pictures, I find a million that I want to post (well, not a million, but a lot). I know I can't post them all, so here are 10 or 12 specially selected shots from her past.
Here's one of the earliest ones--her passport picture. Born in Spain, she needed a passport to get into the United States.
 Here's a very early shot in Mifflin Township with Grandma and Grandpa Switzer. Note on the back says "1st grandchild--Bonnie S. Switzer"

 Here I am with Bonnie. Kathy's note on the picture says "Bonnie and Daddy (see Bon's haircut?). April '75.
 Bonnie with Kevin Bell--Gaeta, October '78.
 Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush stops in for Bonnie's birthday party (no, actually we were at his birthday party at the home of the U.S. ambassador to Canada).
 Not exactly sure where or when this was taken, but I liked it. Do you remember, Bon?
 At the Pearl Street house with Rory.
Here we are with Bonnie and Rory at their wedding at Faith Bible Chapel, Arvada.
Love this shot of Bonnie and Rory. 
Jono and Alia, our first two grandchildren. We are so proud of these guys and how Bonnie and Rory are raising them.
This is Bonnie's office (not to mention her cat). Her current position is at Goodlife Community Centre in Buderim, Queensland, Australia, where she takes care of many administrative tasks, including editing a quarterly glossy magazine.
 Some time ago, Bonnie began exercising her creative talents painting favorite quotes. This is one that I treasure and have hanging on the wall of my office.
 Eventually this led to her starting her own Etsy shop online. Her paintings are very beautiful and quite popular.
We celebrate you today, Bon. We rejoice with you as we remember the day of your birth with great joy. We are very proud of you and all that you are involved in, and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

He is Risen, Indeed!

 The tomb is empty. Life has overcome death.
 The Agnus Dei is risen as El Buen Pastor.
  He is risen!
 He is risen, indeed!
 Nature proclaims the new life as it rises from the death of winter into marvelous springtime.
Whether you call it Easter or Resurrection Day or Pasqua or you are just enjoying the new life budding forth in nature, may the Resurrection Life shed abroad on this joyous occasion infuse your being with newness of life and grace and every good thing. May we all experience new life in those areas that are dead or barely living.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Chag Pesach Sameach

To all who celebrate the historical and continuing miracle of Passover, we wish you "Chag Pesach Sameach." Happy Passover.