Transcendence

I have been a fan of musical theater for decades now. I have seen shows in my hometown, in New York, in the movies and in television. The last five years gave the world at least two truly great musicals – Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. In the tumult of today, I often sit back and just listen to these shows. And many others.

I didn’t really listen to the whole Hamilton soundtrack until the show started streaming in Disney Plus. The first act was great. The acting, the songs, the story was just a treat. The second act, though, was incredible. And then there was this song, this moment in the show that made me realize that this is a show that all of us needs to see. Not just for the incredible cast, the incredible songs, the incredible performances. For me, this song is transcendent.

The beauty of this song is not just the melody or the voices that sing it. We all make mistakes and we all have regrets. And yet, in the midst of the sadness there was no recrimination. Instead, it talks about the loss, sacrifice, forgiveness and love. A beautiful tune and in the sadness of it all, hope and love.

Thank you Renee Elise Goldsberry. Thank you Philippa Soo. Thank you, Hamilton cast and singers. And thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda. Truly amazing.

The Forgotten Virtue

We are living in interesting times. Uncertain times. Volatile times. I read the stories about protests, destruction, the lack of leadership, the blame shifting, the marginalization of people that someone does not agree with, the marginalization of people because they look different than the familiar. Unsettling, convulsive, stressful. Words that we choose not to use somehow are words that we must use. What is happening? Why is this happening? What can we do to make our world the world that we like to live in, the one we are comfortable in?

The answers may not always be pleasant, and no one person, not one group, not one party, not one nation has all the answers to the questions that we ask. And yet, there are so many of us who want to tell others that our solution is THE solution. Shout down the words and ideas of those that I feel are unimportant. What matters most is what I believe, what I feel, what I see. There are great injustices in the world that must be corrected. This time, it is my time, our time to change the world for the better. To the world that I see. To the world as it should be. History has shown us that men are evil, that nations were built with pillars of hatred and oppression.

In many ways, there is a lot of truth to what is now being said. For too long, people refused to acknowledge that our world has not been fair, that justice has not always been just, that even a society that longed for freedom, that a nation established in search of freedom was not always free. At least not for a great many of its people. From the men and women who roamed freely for thousands of years, suddenly torn from their lands, pushed westward, herded into spaces that offered nothing but a bleak future. For those who survived. The cries of the wolf, of the bear, the cayote, the buffalo, mixed with cries indistinguishable from our own. If people would only listen.

I cannot imagine what life was like for those who marched the trail of tears. I cannot imagine what life was like for a man or woman, torn away from one continent, to arrive at another and live a life of destitution, helplessness, treated as yet another item in one man’s inventory, to be used, to be abused. Somehow, people allowed their worse instincts to guide their life. Even people with noble ideals became a prisoner of their own sense of righteousness, forgetting that all men and women are intrinsically part of the same human family. Greed, hatred, a myriad of reasons assured a life of suffering for too many Americans.

And so, with all the things in the past, we must be ready to break with all the things the past represented. Some say that ideals tainted by human frailty are not ideals at all. All the accomplishments of flawed men and women are worthless and should be relegated to the dustbins of history. We will not tolerate those transgressions. We live, after all, in a different time, a more enlightened time, a time with possibilities that allow us to remove the vestiges of everything that offends us. We are their betters. We demand justice. We demand so many things. Hatred must be a thing of the past. No one from the past is worthy. The sins of one, the sins of many are the sins of all. Recrimination abounds. The mantra of the emboldened rule the airwaves, if not our lives. We can make this a better world. We will make a world in the image that we see fit. Those who do not agree, well, they are throwbacks to that evil past. They are to be ostracized, criticized, demonized. A new collective has risen, with all the answers. There is only one truth and those who disagree will be shamed to submission. It is the price that people must pay for a the new world order. Where freedom is extended to all who believe. And woe to those who dare think to be different. There is only one truth, and it is our truth. Oppose us and you will be deemed an enemy of modernity, of truth, justice, and the new world that is being created.

Sometimes, I look at the world and I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I didn’t pay much attention to my high school reading back then, but it seems to me that The Scarlet Letter can still teach us something today. Lessons about our humanity and our impulses. Hester Prynne was shamed for having an affair. Instead of withering in the midst of universal condemnation, Hester lived a life that refused to bend to the societal pressures imposed upon her. Her quiet dignity in the face of attacks from the self righteous allowed her to grow, to find her self worth, to understand that her weaknesses and failures did not define her. It was this ability to learn, to seek improvement, on her own terms, that gave her life meaning. Centuries ago, Hawthorne gave a lesson that many seem to have forgotten. A life lived with a sense of right and wrong is better than a life of self righteousness.

We as a society seem more than happy to be the tools for creating a new gulag. We happily parrot the ideas and beliefs of those who want to think for us, who thrust their ideas upon the world as if their ideas alone are right. That their solutions are the only solutions. That being part of a whole, unwavering in commitment, unquestioning in demeanor, is the only way to live one’s life. I am reminded of some of the ideas put forth by Raymond Kurzweil a few years ago. The singularity is here. Common thought for a common action. Individuality is not needed in the collective. We are part of the greater whole, a world where man and machine become one, where an individual’s contribution to society becomes nothing more than a machine assigned chore. Today’s apparatchik are precursors to tomorrow’s hive mind. While today the self righteous leaders insist in homogeneity of thought and intent, tomorrow’s cybernetic overlord will be no less benign and just as sinister. A single orthodoxy, created by a new breed of enlightened men and women, is here to save the world. Embrace it. Or else.

We need to acknowledge that diversity is what gives humanity its strength. Different abilities, different interest, different ideas, different beliefs. All grounded by a virtue that seems to be forgotten. The virtue of humility. If you believe that you are unworthy and not important, then your desire to subjugate others will probably not be very strong. Without the desire to impose your will or your ideas on others, you may find merit in something that someone else believes in. Or at least have an idea why that person believes in it. If you open your mind to the infinity of ideas that people can share with each other, you can begin to understand that we are a global community of individuals capable of doing things with a sense of selflessness. When no one man or woman is important, we understand that we are all important.

With humility, you can temper hate. With humility, you begin to understand that the differences among us can be enlightening. The humble does not seek to dominate but to serve. If each of us serves the other, which of us is the slave, which of us is the master? We can learn so much from one another. We humans are imperfect and will always be. And yet, we must not allow the imperfections to justify cruelty, intransigence, hatred.

Nelson Mandela allowed his sense of self to be subsumed by humility. In so doing, he helped begin the healing of a nation. In his quiet dignity, we saw what true strength really is. Humility. Forgiveness. And love.

A Christmas Message

For many, today is a special day.  A day to be with family.  To share stories.  To laugh, to eat, to be merry.  And that is all good.  To those who follow Christ, this is the day when God fulfilled his promise and gave us His Son.  Announced by angels, the child of God came not to condemn.  Or to belittle.  Or to oppress.  Or to destroy.  The Son of God was born from the womb of a woman, the new Eve, who willingly obeyed the Father who created us all.   Mary’s faith and obedience allowed God to became truly one with us.  To know the love of a human mother, singularly blessed.  To be raised by an adoptive father, if you will, who taught his son what it means to work hard, to be dutiful, to be faithful.  It was a life not rich in material things, but it was a life rich in spirit, in faith, in humility, in love.

Today, we yearn for great things.  For ourselves.  For our country.  We often think that we alone have the answers.  That our way is the only way, our needs the only things that matter.  We must have the loudest voice, the biggest house, the biggest bank account.  We have an incessant need to glorify ourselves, often at the expense of others.

Two thousand years ago, that was not the message that the Creator gave to His creation.  God did not boast.  He did not bully.  He did not seek attention.  He did not punish.  No, through His Son Jesus Christ, He showed the world that we are all one with God.  We are all children of God.  Jew and gentile alike.  Christ did not carry arms nor did he extol others to oppress or to punish.  He lived a life of humility, of obedience, of subservience.  Our Creator became our brother.  He taught us that we are no longer alone.  That no one is alone.  He taught us to give ourselves to each other.  To respect each other.  To treat each other with dignity, as we are all brothers and sisters in the sight of the Almighty.  He taught us that it is through the giving of one’s self that we are made whole.

Let the gift of God, and the sacrifice of the Son, live in your hearts forever.  When you see someone in the corner needing help, look not in derision.  Share what you have.  Use the talents that were given  to you.  Not to accumulate wealth.  Nor intimidate the weak.

Each of us is unique, with gifts uniquely are own.  To be used, in our own way, to serve all of God’s creation.  Be a friend.  God knows no borders.  God sees color everywhere and rejoices in diversity.  With love, everything is possible.  Even people who do not share our faith are our brothers and sisters.  Treat them as you would have God treat you.  With respect.  With kindness.  With understanding.  If you believe that God created all of us with a purpose, then how can you look at someone with a disability, or someone with a different pigmentation, or someone with a different set preferences with disdain?  Each of us can teach the other.  Each of use can learn from one another.

Jesus came to cleanse us of our sins.  An act of forgiveness.  An act of sacrifice.  A gift, from our Creator, showing us the way to a life of happiness and peace.  Share what you have.  Forgive others and ask to be forgiven.  For in forgiveness, love will come.

Let a flower bloom in your heart.  Be the seed that grows into a tree that gives comfort to all.  Let God’s love, ever present, live within you.   And so I end with prayers, from different points of view.

For those who do not believe in the Almighty, live long and prosper.  Remember to share in your prosperity.

May the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, creator of the Universe, bless you.  May your life be fruitful.

May Allah grant you and your family good health and prosperity.

May Jesus, our savior, Son of God, instill upon your heart the beauty and wonder of God’s love.  Share with others what you have and in so doing, share eternity with all of God’s creation.  Let there be peace.  Let there be joy.  Let there be love.