January 10, 2021


An Afternoon at the Beach Oil Paint Rendered — Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
If you have been with me
for a while,
you know that one of the central 
features of my faith
is the crucial importance
of knowing what you would go to hell for--
being right about it being worth
going to hell for--
and being willing to go to hell for it.

Now, the catch is being right about its importance.

How do you know that what is important to you
should be important to you?

We all know people whose judgment is suspect.
We would not want them 
looking after our children, 
or taking care of our lawn,
or choosing our desert.
There is general agreement
that they don't know what is important.

And we know people whom we admire
for their tastes
and the quality of their life.
They live with grace and kindness,
and have a firm sense of direction
and do not waffle on matters of grave importance.
They know what they are doing,
and do it well.
They would all be on our list of admirable people.

So there is common agreement among us
as to what good judgment is and is not--
as to what is important and is not.
We all know what should be important,
and what should not be important.

How do we know?
Cultural cues perhaps.
We have a common culture.
We know how it is to be done in our culture.
We know how "we do it" here.

Put us in a different culture,
and it probably wouldn't go so well for us
until we learned the cues.
Until we learned how they do it there.
Then we could fit right in.

What is important is a cultural preference.
We think it is an individual choice,
but we are children of our culture.

Our culture can just be the group we run with.
What is important to us is important
to everyone in our group.
We take our cues for living from them.
We do it the way it is 'spozed to be done
within our sub-culture.

It still isn't an individual choice.

Cut off from others,
we don't have a clue about what is important.
We would go to hell for anything at all.

So, who composes our culture?
Who are the people we look to for guidance?
Who do we want to be like when we grow up?
Or just when we wake up each day?
Who do we try to please?
Who would be most happy with the choices we make?

That is who calls our shots,
directs our life,
guides us along the way.

And we talk about being free.
Being ourselves.
Making up our own mind.
But our mind is made up for us
by the people who are important to us.

The important thing to us
is keeping the right people happy with us.
That is what we would go to hell for.

Think about that.

What makes us think that the people we run with
know what is important?
How do they know?
What makes them think so?
How free are they
to decide for themselves
what is important?

Or, are we all tricking ourselves
thinking someone knows more than we do
about what matters most?

And, if so, where would that leave us?
Going to hell for what?



The Watchman and the Virgin 95/20/2010 Oil Paint Rendered — Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah
We live with a foot in different worlds.
There is the world of rock-solid,
see/feel/touch/taste reality,
and there is the world
of numinous,
unconscious (because we are not conscious of it),
unsay-able reality beyond words.

It is our place to know more than words can say,
and to live in this world
of normal, apparent, reality,
as the incarnation,
living proof
of a reality that cannot be told.



Alligator Lake 05/02/2014 Oil Paint Rendered — Santee State Park, Santee, South Carolina
Liberty! Justice! Equality! Truth!
Are the four corners of democracy--
and the essential rights of human development.

We have to be free to live our own life
without the constraints of injustice
and discrimination,
while honoring one another's right
to their own life.

That is what it takes to be true to ourselves
in the work 
of finding and living our life--
an opportunity and a calling
that we have squandered and wasted
on entertaining pastimes
and addictive escapes
in avoiding our responsibility
to be who we are
in ways that incarnate/express/birth/exhibit
ourselves in service to the good of the whole.

It is time we stepped back
from our rush to wealth,
privilege and power
in the service of greed
and get to work
transforming our relationship 
with ourselves
and living to answer the question,
"What should we do with the time left for living?"
With what we want being restricted to
doing what is called for
with the gifts that are ours 
to serve and to share,
in each situation as it arises,
whether we feel like it or not.



Six-mile Creek Road 07/12/2014 Oil Paint Rendered — Lancaster County, South Carolina
Martin Hägglund has written 
This Life--Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom
in which he says,
"Our time together is illuminated 
by the sense that it will not last forever
and we need to take care of one another
because our lives are fragile."

His is a beautiful book
offered precisely at the right time,
with exactly what we need
to gather ourselves
and find our way forward,
individually and collectively--
and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

This is our time on the earth.
It is all we have to work with.
We are the only ones here to do the work.
It is all up to us--
the present and the future
hang in the balance,
waiting for us to stand up
and be who we are.

There is no one here but us.
No one is going to rescue us.
No Savior is going to deliver us
from the work that is ours to do,
from the times that are ours to live.

Fred Craddock said, 
all those years ago,
"The message of the Messiah is,

There is only us.

And we have to make the most
of the time that is ours to live.

Beginning right here.
Right now.

Hägglund writes:
"My freedom require3s that I ask myself
what I should do with my time.
Even when I am utterly absorbed in what I do,
what I say, and what I love,
the possibility of this question 
must be alive in me."

And, as with him, so with us all!



Smoky Mountain Winter 03/02/2014 Oil Paint Rendered — Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Nothing can change 
until something else does.
That is what keeps things
as they are.
Waiting for things to change.

We have to change what can be changed
in order for anything to change.

We start with changing nothing
but our awareness
of the situation
in each situation as it arises.

Awareness doesn't change anything,
but it is the foundational change
that changes everything.

Sit still and become aware
of sitting still.
Center yourself sitting still
in the present moment.

Realize that sitting here, now,
you are the center of the universe.
Breathe in the truth
of your being here, now,
at the center of all things.

Be aware of your breathing. 
Control your breathing
by taking a slow, deep, breath
in through your nose
to the very bottom of your lungs.

Watch as your diaphragm expands
and your belly protrudes
to allow that to happen.

At full lung capacity,
release your breath slowly 
to a full exhale,
contracting your stomach
to expel the air completely. 

Between breaths, 
pause for a slow count of five,
and repeat this process five times.

At the end of the last, sixth, breath,
focus your awareness on your sitting
and the space around you.
You have distanced yourself
from the world
of normal, apparent, reality
for the space of six breaths.

This distance is the space required
to observe the situation
without attachment to the situation.
detached awareness observes
without investment/involvement/participation/

Just watching.
Just seeing.
Just observing.
Just breathing.
That's all.
For six breaths.

Repeat this exercise
as frequently as you are able
throughout the day,
each day,
for the rest of your life.

Just sit.
Just breathe.
Just be aware of the moment,
sitting, breathing.

You will be transforming the world.
One breath at a time.

You don't have to believe it.
Just. Do. It.  

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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