Sunday, February 27, 2011

HOW FULL IS FULL?

I was sitting with a group of men discussing a passage from the Christian scriptures. It was from the gospel of John and concerned the good shepherd. One verse said "...I came to bring you life and life more abundantly." This line has been one of my favorites for many years. I was raised a fundamentalist Catholic and our goal was to get to heaven. Everything was geared towards this goal. We could even get special deals, indulgences, to make it easier and we had a bus stop, purgatory, to hang out and get things right in order to continue to the pearly gates. However, as an adult it became clear to me the message of scripture, actually the message of all moral systems, is the same. The reason to adhere to any one of them is because you can have life and life to its fullest. The reason to love your neighbor and enemies, turn the other cheek, forgive an infinite number of times and be the most human you can be is because your life will be amazingly fulfilling and joyous and wonderful. Heaven may be cool, but the promise of Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed as well as the promise of great humanists is the promise of an abundant life.

As the discussion continued, and this is such a powerful gathering every Sunday night which includes Fr. Louie Vitale OFM for a few more months, I asked if anyone could define what it means to have an abundant life...what does it mean to live life to its fullest...what is the definition of a truly filled existence? Everyone had their own take on it. I thought it would be an easy question to answer. Yet, the more we talked the more I realized how elusive the concept is. I had what looked to most like a full life. A wonderful, accomplished wife, 4 children each with so many individual gifts and strengths who I love with every ounce of my being, a great job which gave me a forum to voice my opinion, stroke my ego and even help some who couldn't help themselves. I lived in the best city in the world surrounded by other family and friends and had all the material goods we say define success. It is obvious to me now, something was missing. I was chasing something which I couldn't define. The joy, which should have been ever-present, was intermittent and anger showed its ugly head frequently. (Any of you who listened to me know, if you are honest, I could be terrible to callers and would get so angry and so worked up it became unlistenable at times) Whatever it was which was missing, led me to take risks and ignore warnings and make stupid decisions and ultimately I threw everything away and left my family in utter ruin and disappointed and embarrassed my friends and family.

So now I ask you this same question. What does it mean to have an abundant life? What does it mean to live life to its fullest? Please give this some thought. There is a temptation to answer it quickly with clich├ęs and possibly even flippantly, but it is the key to everything I believe. We know what our culture says defines a full or abundant life. We know what a lot of famous preachers say and I think in our hearts we know that any life which is not full or abundant will lead us to chase it even if we don't know what it is we seek. I ask you to ask your family and friends this question. Don't let anyone, or yourself, off easy on this. It's too important. It's so important; Jesus says it is why He was sent to us to teach us and tell us and show us. I suspect Buddha and Mohammed and Moses and Confucius and many others would say the same thing.

At the end of John's gospel, he says he could have included a lot more stories but picked the ones he did so that you might believe and have life and life to its fullest. Are you living an abundant life now? If not why not? How do you know if you can’t define it? Have you spent much time examining what it might mean for you and yours? I spend every day trying to answer this question convinced I have to have an answer before I return to the real world. Our everyday lives leave so little time for contemplation and reflection. I'm giving you permission to stop and take some time because this is just too important to put off.

I wish I had taken this time before and avoided the stupidity and mistakes, which I brought on myself. I am so grateful to be able to write and to share with you and maybe help to remind you this is a quest well worth engaging. I look forward to your thoughts and please encourage anyone you know to add theirs. I wish you could join us on Sunday nights. It's truly an extraordinary time.

7 comments:

  1. Hi Bernie,

    I think I've been waiting to see this particular post from you.

    While I found and continue to find your brand of outrage refreshing, because the world, and particularly our nation, is on a track that is quite frightening, so outrage often is the only appropriate response to what we see happening around us.

    But it is not the stuff of a steady spiritual diet. I struggle with maintaining a contemplative spirit, as I find little in myself to sustain me over the long haul. Abundant life, for me, seems to be held in the bosom of a vibrant and intentional community of people who believe in the sanctity of human relationship and potential.

    In addition to the bliss of my own precious marriage and the children I am blessed to share, I find enormous satisfaction in my relationships built through the Unitarian Universalist Society to which I belong. I was a life-long Lutheran in youthful days which included a seminary stint, but found an association based on creed and vow to be fundamentally empty. I was always attracted most to the people I thought I shared that creed-rooted life with, but as adherence to creeds failed to provide abundant life more routinely - becoming more a source of political control by clerical power structures than a source of salvation - the theology lost its center and purpose for my life.

    For me, a whole-life investment in the people with whom I share this planet is what brings Abundance. A religious society whose center is based on community rather than creed is the safe place from which I can act. Community based on relationship and liberal political activism makes sense; it is a place where I feel whole. It allows me to reflect on my own personal meaning and worth, it provides me the place from which I can be truly grateful for the gifts my wife and children bring me each day. It is a place where my imperfections are acknowledged, my gifts are celebrated, my sanctity taken for granted.

    This place took almost forty years to find from the point I separated from my theo-religiocentric self. Now it's not a matter of wishing for what may have been before, but of the life and love that can now be. I am happy for you that you have found your Sunday night community - there is no place more sacred.

    -Bill

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  2. The answer tto this question I believe the Lord made so simple for us to understand.It is man that complicates the simplicity of the Gospel and the Word of God.Jesus Himself is the abundant life that man is looking for.God the Father gave Him,(Christ)a name that is higher than any name.So great a name that one day every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.To know life abundantly is to know Him.He and He alone is The Way,The Truth,The Life,the embodiment of all truth weather it be relligeous,philosophical,scientific or psychological truth.The message He was saying in the gospel of John was simply that He is the abundant life man is searching for.

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  3. Hello, Bernie, Sir James of Cloverdale here
    I just read HOW FULL IS FULL? and the 2 comments.
    Whatever you are learning from those Sunday evenings, you should bottle it and let me sell it for you. No, seriously, it was the most personal thing I've ever experienced, and I hardly know you as your fans ... well anyway Let Me Have a Turn Now:
    I took trainings up several levels in 'Mother Wave Work' ... I remember trainer Jitendra and an enlightened woman -- what was her name? Katie? Anyway, She produced a series of experiences, and one of the results is that now I have a new relationship with the word ABUNDANCE.
    The stem of the word ABUNDANCE is -UNDA-.
    Wave. Experience the Wave of energy in which we believe we are limited to.
    Next, let that expand to the whole room we are in, or the whole cell we are in, whatever, then expand that to the city, the country, .... until you get to that Humanity One of which we are all Part; and those are just words, concepts, not the experience itself - which seems to come from your meditative practice.

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  4. What comes up for me right away is to build and promote the APS ... the Alyssa Peterson Society.
    So here is my pitch:

    The US Soldier Who Committed Suicide
    After She Refused To Take Part in Torture
    By Greg Mitchell
    September 14, 2010 "The Nation" --
    With each revelation, or court decision,
    on US torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo --
    or the airing this month of The Tillman Story
    and Lawrence Wright's My Trip to Al-Qaeda --
    I am reminded of the chilling story of Alyssa Peterson, who died seven years ago this week.
    Appalled when ordered to take part in interrogations
    that,
    no doubt,
    involved what most would call torture,
    she refused,
    then
    killed
    herself
    a few days later,
    on September 15, 2003.

    Of course, we now know from the torture memos
    and the US Senate committee probe
    and various press reports,
    that the "Gitmo-izing" of Iraq was happening
    just at the time Alyssa got swept up in it.
    Spc. Alyssa Peterson was one of the first female soldiers who died in Iraq. Her death under these circumstances should have drawn wide attention.
    A cover-up, naturally, followed.

    Peterson, 27, a Flagstaff, Ariz., native, served with C Company, 311th Military Intelligence BN, 101st Airborne. She was a valuable Arabic-speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at our air base in troubled Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq. According to official records, she died on Sept. 15, 2003,
    from a "non-hostile weapons discharge."

    [FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST I AM DELETING THE DETAILS HERE.]

    Here's what the Flagstaff public radio station, KNAU, where Elston worked, reported: "Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage.
    Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed."

    The official probe of her death would later note that earlier she had been "reprimanded" for showing "empathy" for the prisoners.
    One of the most moving parts of the report, in fact, is this: "She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire."
    She was then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. "But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle," the documents disclose.
    The official report revealed that a notebook she had written in was found next to her body, but blacked out its contents.

    The Army talked to some of Peterson's colleagues.
    Asked to summarize their comments, Elston told me: "The reactions to the suicide were that she was having a difficult time separating her personal feelings from her professional duties.
    That was the consistent point in the testimonies, that she objected to the interrogation techniques, without describing what those techniques were."

    Elston said that the documents also refer to a suicide note found on her body, which suggested that she found it ironic that suicide prevention training had taught her how to commit suicide.
    He filed another FOIA request for a copy of the actual note. It did not emerge.

    Peterson, a devout Mormon --
    her mother Bobbi claims she always stuck up for "the underdog"-- had graduated from Flagstaff High School and earned a psychology degree from Northern Arizona University on a military scholarship. She was trained in interrogation techniques at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and was sent to the Middle East in 2003, reportedly going in place of another soldier who did not wish to go.

    [FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST I AM DELETING THE DETAILS HERE.]

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  5. Tomorrow marks the seventh anniversary of the death of Spc. Alyssa R. Peterson in Iraq. Yesterday, in Part I of this article [1], I described how, appalled when ordered to take part in interrogations that likely involved what most would call torture, Spc. Peterson, 27, refused, then killed herself a few days later, on September 15, 2003, with her own rifle.

    Of course, we now know from the torture memos and the U.S. Senate committee probe and various press reports, that the "Gitmo-izing" of Iraq was happening just at the time Alyssa, a valuable Arabic-speaking interpreter, got swept up in it. When she objected, she was reprimanded, according to the official report.
    Then she chose suicide.

    [FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST I AM DELETING THE DETAILS HERE.]

    Their one conversation, Williams told me, centered on personal, not military, problems, and it's hard to tell where it fit in the suicide timeline. According to records of the Army probe, Peterson had protested, and asked out of, interrogations after just two days in what was known as "the cage" -- and killed herself shortly after that. This might have all transpired just after her encounter with Williams, or it might have happened before and she did not mention it at that time -- they did not really know each other.

    Peterson's suicide on Sept. 15, 2003-- reported to the press and public as death by "non-hostile gunshot," usually meaning an accident -- was the only fatality suffered by the battalion during their entire time in Iraq, Williams reports. At the memorial service, everyone knew the cause of her death.

    [FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST I AM DELETING THE DETAILS HERE.]

    Soldiers later told her that "the old rules no longer applied because this was a different world. This was a new kind of war."

    Here's what she told Soledad O'Brien of CNN: "I was asked to assist. And what I saw was that individuals who were doing interrogations had slipped over a line and were really doing things that were inappropriate. There were prisoners that were

    [FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST I AM DELETING THE DETAILS HERE.]

    And it really didn't seem to make a lot of sense to me. I didn't know if this was standard. But it did not seem to work. And it really made me feel like we were losing that crucial moral higher ground, and we weren't behaving in the way that Americans are supposed to behave."

    As soon as that day ended, she told a superior she would never do it again.

    [FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST I AM DELETING THE DETAILS HERE.]

    How can it be that anyone should think this is "brave, honorable service" to this country? Alyssa Peterson at least had a heart, one that she stopped before it violated further the claims of conscience. Families and loved ones usually feel embarrassed by a member's suicide. But Alyssa's should be seen as a heroic act. May Alyssa take her place among the steadfast ones and be honored for her decision.

    [FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST I AM DELETING THE DETAILS HERE.]

    ______________________________________________
    PERSONAL NOTE FROM JAMES F HOLWELL…
    I’m adding this to all the above because we hold the theory that there is in Humanity a oneness that recognizes Itself.
    It is Not in our ‘nature’
    to perpetrate all manor of violence upon each other. It is a Learned Response.

    What we collectively learned we can collectively unlearn.
    Let’s start by applying once a day the Pay It Forward principle.
    Let me know …
    No, let the group know.
    Join us at ourgifttothefuture@yahoogroups.com
    Let all of us know with one message to our online community. Once you are a member, visit the Files section and get into the understanding of ‘Metapolitics’. That is the folder where the file of THIS document is to be uploaded
    for free downloading by any member.
    An easy way to join is to send a blank email to:
    ourgifttothefuture-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
    Sir James
    aka LC001

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  6. The Lion asks an excellent question, and I've been thinking about it, excitedly, for some time. I asked myself, "When have I felt most fully alive?" (another way, for me, of saying full, abundant living). This can be answered a couple of ways, but the most sustained experience was when, as a pastor of United Methodist Churches, I was leading worship every Sunday morning. We gathered as the worshiping community, to praise, pray, listen and gain strength to be sent out into the world. We sang, shared joys and concerns, celebrated baptisms and the Lord's Supper, laughed, cried and sat in the holiness of the mystery of God's presence. In worship, I transcended self, for a little bit of time, and was changed. How I miss leading those worship services, being in community regularly in that way, now that I'm retired.

    Another way I might answer the Lion's question was my coming to realize, through counseling some 23 years ago, that my being loved, and my being able to BE loving, was vital to my well-being. When we know we are loved, we can love others (1 John 4:19), and we must love others, I think, to experience full life. We have to experience both: the being loved and the loving.

    Today, I feel the most alive when I'm in connection, at some meaningful level, with others. Having 3 great little grand kids brings, joy, too. When I get a chance to work on some justice issues, I feel more alive. And when I take time to sit in prayer, I sometimes experience the fullness of life that leads to thanksgiving. Giving thanks is living a full life.

    These are a few thoughts. Thanks, Lion, for this question, and for giving us a chance to respond! What would YOU say is full life?

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  7. What is going with Bernie
    It's been too long since this comment was posted!

    I hope he post again soon

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