What It Feels Like To Be A Hero

On NPR last night a military doctor described his admiration for a soldier who had been injured rescuing his buddy from a burning Humvee. I was immediately moved as I tried to imagine how it must have felt for that soldier in that moment and beyond, and intrigued by my longing to feel the same thing.

It is my impression that one is no more fully alive than when they are engaged in heroic acts no matter how significant or small or unseen. Perhaps we are obsessed with heroes and heroism for that very reason. From the current NBC series to the NYFD action figures to the herculean expectations we set for our politicians and leaders heroism is hipper than ever.

In our modern culture heroes ascend from the common ranks rather than descend from divinity. Centuries ago our heroes were either gods themselves or were directly related (Zeus, Jesus, etc.) Later they could be one of us, but they had to have a special blessing (King Arthur, etc.) Nowadays the idea of being "god-like" has been kidnapped by New Age Humanism which morphed from 19th century Eugenics (Michael Jordan, The X-Men, etc.)

Now anybody can be considered a hero for just about any reason. Which begs the question... is it heroic to return a lost wallet? Or rescue a buddy from a burning vehicle? Or go to work everyday to provide for your family? Wouldn't we do these things anyway? What makes the everyday sacrifices we make heroic?

The answer it seems is not in the actions that we take but the spirit in which we do them, and by spirit I mean the intrinsic human need for transcendence we all share. If that is the case then anything we do beyond our own self-interest can be considered heroic which may not be such a bad thing. Even when altruism is ordinary, it is still extraordinary in the grander scheme of things.

So on the heroism scale from 1 to 10 -- with 10 being an immaculate sacrifice for all mankind, and 1 being the incarnation of pure evil -- a hero factor of 5 would be something like making yourself a sandwich. From that point anything you do for someone else would certainly raise the factor. In the end the only extraordinary thing any of us can do is what we do for someone else.

The factor would also increase with anonymity and according to the degree of sacrifice either physically, emotionally or mentally. It would also depend on whether you did so voluntarily. It is unclear whether the actual success of your endeavor matters, since a prolonged sacrifice to no avail could certainly be heroic but probably not as much as one that actually made a difference.

That said, something as mundane as changing a diaper, or cleaning up trash, or driving with respect can be heroic if you give yourself permission to feel like a hero for doing it. Once you can do that you might also begin to recognize the anonymous faces all around you as the heroes they really are.


Camels Crossing The Desert

This is an aerial photgraph of camels crossing the desert.
Look carefully to notice we are actually seeing their shadows on the sand.

Click image for link to photo.
Click here for the interesting article it came from.

"Happy Holidays"

One reason a person or store might say "happy holidays" is because December is a season of holidays for mainstream faiths as well as lesser-knowns. The multi-faith Web site beliefnet.org tracks dozens of religions and publishes news, features and explanatory articles about them. It is the source for the following calendar. (source of this article)

Dec. 3
Beginning of Advent (Christian) : Start of a four-week preparation for the coming of Jesus.

Dec. 8
Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Christian) : Commemoration of Mary's conception.

Bodhi Day/Rohatsu (Zen Buddhist) : Commemoration of the Buddha's enlightenment.

Dec. 16-24
Hanukkah (Jewish) : Eight-day festival of lights beginning on the 25th of Kislev commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Syrian King Antiochus in 165 B.C. (begins at sundown the night before).

Dec. 20
Mother Night (Heathen) : Eve of Winter Solstice and the holiest night of the year; marks the beginning of the 12 days of Yule.

Dec. 21
Winter Solstice/Saturnalia/Yule (Pagan/Wiccan and Heathen) : Pagan observance of the longest night of the year, celebrating the rebirth of the sun god. The first of 12 days of Yule celebrating the Holy Tide of Heathen ancestral ways, community, gift giving and the rebirth of longer days.

Dec. 21-25
Pancha Ganapati (Hindu) : Five-day festival honoring Ganesh, the deity who removes obstacles.

Dec. 25
Christmas (Christian) : Celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.

Dec. 26
Zarathosht Diso (Zoroastrian) : Commemoration of the death of the Prophet Zarathustra, a prophet believed to have been from modern-day Iran.

Dec. 26-Jan. 1
Kwanzaa (Interfaith) : Seven-day African-American and Pan-African holiday celebrating family, community and culture.

Dec. 30
Hajj (Muslim) : Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

Dec. 31
Eid al-Adha (Muslim) : Festival of the Sacrifice, a commemoration of Abraham.



I asked my Pakistani friend Amber if Muslims were evangelical and she said no. In fact it was quite the opposite. They have gone out of their way for some time to avoid the spotlight, and with recent events it has become challenging to explain their way of life amidst a great deal of scrutiny.

Having been raised Southern Baptist I can tesitfy to living a very different experience. Growing up it was considered a rite of passage to "share your faith" with friends, classmates and total strangers. I even took classes at my church on how to win converts, and can readily name several Wal-Mart sized Christian organizations endeavoring to do just that.

And now with Christmas upon us I am intrigued with the mind-boggling claims by some Christians of persecution substantiated by the secularization of Christmas, which by definition is an oxymoron. There can be no such thing as a secular Christmas, any more than there can be a secular Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan or Chinese New Year. What persecuted Christians call secularization is simply a dose of reality as the vast universe of other faiths and traditions gain the respect they deserve.

It is a central tenet of fundamentalism to embrace persecution as a justification for outright bigotry. It's also very easy to feel persecuted when you are the only one who can ever be right. It puts one in a vicious cycle which some seem to find tragically fulfilling.

It is a shame too when someone like that is the President of the United States, but it does explain why he and many around him are unable to see the burning forest for the trees. He reminds me of the aging bloated Elvis surrounded by yes-men unwilling to tell him he was too sick to go on tour. Who can blame them? Their livelihoods were at stake.... until. Oops.

Granted he is not the only one. There are many others that use fundamentalism to fuel the fires of fear and hatred. Terrorism is merely a symptom of the larger illness of hubris.

Perhaps the calling of our time is not to defeat terrorism, but to replace fundamentalism with a more enlightened view of faith -- one that is not merely tolerant, which still implies superiority, but one of respect, even reverence, of others.

Is that possible? Certainly so. But it may require a surge of Post-Fundamentalist Evangelism with all the fire and passion as the early Zealots, the Protestant Reformers, or Baptist Preachers.


Attention Deficit and The Art of Daydreaming

My brother said the other day he wishes he could TiVo the radio. Too often he hears the last part of something interesting and wishes he could hit rewind to hear what it was about. I have experienced the same thing watching news channels trying to catch the feed on the bottom of the screen.

This is a symptom of Adult ADD... an inability to manage the constant deluge of information. But I refuse to feel disabled. I rather think the problem is that my brother and I, along with a multitude of others, are endowed with a surplus of curiosity which in my view is admirable and priceless, but puts us at odds with the modern world.

It has become commonplace to expect folks to access, process and retain a ridiculous amount of information in order to keep up with daily life; or to consider them feeble when they can't. There are now vast industries flourishing in the storage of excess information which by anyone's admission is utterly useless. Seniors become more vulnerable as they find it increasingly difficult to fathom new technologies while children who can't seem to pay attention are chemically bridled.

What is actually happening is that the media are so good at saturating the environment with content that anyone with the slightest bit of wonder will find it nearly impossible to keep up with the infinite flow of ideas, and will end up daydreaming while the rest of it floods right by.

A recent conversation with Dan, who is actually a real scientist, revealed that the scientific method upon which the modern world has been built depends essentially on the opportunity to ponder intriguing details at length. He tells me it is a daily challenge to maintain scientific integrity in the face of constant pressure to produce results.

The truth is that some of the most useful innovations of the last millenia have come from discoveries made while working on something else. That's how science works. A good scientist, we agreed, has the fortitude to wander off into unchartered territory following a hunch, usually without permission, in spite of conventional wisdom, which after all is the reason no one had thought of it yet.

Daydreaming as it turns out, might actually be better for us than paying attention to all the insignificant bits of information that overwhelm us. In the end, having an Attention Deficit may not actually be a disorder so much as a luxurious malady.


Somewhere Near The Tip

I was eating a whole grain English Muffin and steeping a cup of mate' when I realized how victimized I am by surges of popularity in our modern economy. I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point theories to the point of near obsession. Ever since I read the book I have been dissecting the marketing scheme behind everything from cat food to the Iraq War.

In my mind I envision Gladwell as the guy who plays Ugly Betty's boyfriend. (Exhibit A - Exhibit B.) I often hear myself wonder pensively "what would Malcolm say?" which in today's economy would cost me around $10,000 to verify if I hired him for a function.

Nevertheless I heard Soledad OBrien use the term "tipping point" in regards to the Iraq war and it has been buzzing in my head ever since. It bothers me that "tipping" is now the target and we are developing a new competitive arena around the concept. I suppose there are Mullah's and Imam's having similar conversations about "tipping" the insurgency.

The term will likely go the way of Kleenex and BandAids, and lose it's meaning altogether when eventually everyone will be trying to make something tip, and the mysterious psychological forces will no longer be mysterious... just mechanical.

Anyway... back to the mate'. There was a time when I saw a mate' kit on an end cap at Whole Foods and was disinclined to pay $8 because I was afraid it would taste nasty and I would want my $8 back. A few years later, just before the tip, the price of mate' has gone way down and its availability way up.

I can buy it at nearly any local grocery for about the price of other Rooibos or Specialty Tea which is cheap enough for me to try it and, as it turns out, like it very much. My wife's yoga instructor drinks it everyday. He likes it enough to buy it wholesale. You can also get an expensive version of it at Teavana if you live near a wealthy neighborhood mall.

So the lesson to learn is that if you find something you like you want to tell just enough people about it to get the price down, but must live with the fact that if something becomes too popular and "tips" it will begin to suck.

For instance... Denver used to be the coolest place to live for like 50 years. Now it's so crowded nobody goes there anymore. (ibid; Yogi Berra.) And the price of living there is going up so fast you can' t afford to live there, or at least we can't, or we would. Too bad. Denver is "post-tip."

On the other hand, flat screen TV's are just popluar enough to increase availability, but the price is still too high. You can't leave a WalMart without seeing one on a flatbed pushed by a beaming redneck. But in about a year they will be as cheap as a wristwatch calculator and then my wife and I can afford to buy one, but they will no longer be cool. Also too bad. Flat screens are "pre-tip"

Whole grains and organics however are tipping as we speak. We were ahead of the tip a few years ago when I used to put flax seed in my organic unbleached whole grain oatmeal, but we had to drive two hours round trip to put that together. Now you can get whole grain organic stuff at the Stop-N-Go and that's fine with me. It's still tipping and will likely get cheaper until the government starts to regulate it, so stock up.


Welcome to the driveway

It occured to me recently that every day I leave and return from the same place-- the concrete launchpad next to my house called a driveway. And no matter where I go, driving sets my mind free to wander which leads me into some interesting cerebral terrain. Stuff on the radio, recent converstions, philisophical questions, memories, regrets, ideas, images, conspiracy theories, reality, silence-- all ingredients of an ongoing stew of contemplation.

And then it culminates in a meditative pause at the end of the driveway. A few seconds of pure zen everyday as I transition from one journey to the next. Empty moments when all of the unfettered thoughts and ruminations come bubbling up from my psyche and dissipate like steam from my brain.

Within the insanity of suburban life I was pleased to discover I do indeed have a spiritual practice in this sacred stillness. And so I am bringing it here to give away.

Keep in touch.