Engage… but don’t try so hard

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Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on Pexels.com

That’s what Pope Francis said that all people should do, in stressing the message of fraternity in Morocco.  There are few Christians there, with Muslims numbering at 36 million.  He was mostly speaking to Christians when he advised: to engage in dialogue, and engage in charity.  And more stunning is his directive to Catholic priests and nuns, “Don’t try to convert others to Christianity…”  Just begin the human connection; start the conversation of love, unity and peace.  It doesn’t sound like your grandfather’s catechism, does it?!  Many of us have this evangelization stuff a bit confused.  Like ‘my religion is better than yours, and here’s why—so you better come around to my beliefs.’

Did you hear about the contest between the wind and the sun?  They both tried to get the man to remove his coat.  The wind went first and howled ferociously, but the man just clutched his fleece even tighter.  Now it was the sun’s turn.  It just shined.  And warmed.  And the man removed his coat.  This is like religion.  People must make their own decisions, possibly encouraged by others but never forced, or made to feel guilty, or hoodwinked in any way.

I thought of the fairytale above– last weekend while walking back to Penn Station, after finishing my @PBJ Religion presentation at the @New Life Expo.  The workshop participants were hungry and wonderful.  They represented many lifetimes of being blown around by “the winds” of sometimes injurious religious experiences.  All they were seeking is that spiritual sunshine which brings peace.  And as humans, that is our only authentic, universal craving: peace.

Just My Luck!

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Luck. Some say “I never win anything.” Others, “With my luck… (fill in with some bad occurrence like rain on your wedding day).”  Today, we honor St. Patrick. We say, “the luck of the Irish be with ya’!” Though St. Patrick rarely talked about luck and he wasn’t even Irish. Years ago, suspicious people used to carry around rabbit-foot keychains for good luck (I know, disgusting, right?). My wife wrote a children’s book when our kids were little called Jack’s Coin. It was about a little boy who had a  special magical coin.  Good things happened to Jack when he had the coin.  And then as little boys do, Jack misplaced his good luck coin. His Mom explained to Jack that he and all of us, make our own good luck, coin or no coin. (Caldecott Medal award-winning author Peter Spier from Shoreham told my wife he loved her book and re-read it many times).

It’s a scary world and even sucky for a lot of individuals. We are often motivated by fear and that prompts our next actions.Instead PBJ religion says get juiced in the exciting prospect that you and me really do have a lot to do with our destiny– more than we could have ever imagined. You make your own luck you make your own good time. You determine your own fate as well (Accept and then Aspire).  We don’t want to believe this, because it’s a lot of responsibility to be in charge of ourselves. It’s on you, baby! You got this!

What are you giving IN for Lent?

Young healthy girl on home scales.

I asked my nine-year-old granddaughter if she remembered what was meant by Lent.  She said, “Oh yeah, when we give up stuff.”  I further inquired if she was giving something up.  She replied, “Maybe… but not my phone!”  A college alum friend of mine volunteered that she was giving up candy and not talking mean on Facebook!”  “Sacrificing” or giving up stuff is fairly easy especially if it helps us chip away at our bad habits like overeating and over texting or whatever.  We understand giving up stuff.  We get it.

PBJ Religion is more challenging however than what many of us choose to be our annual, Lenten rituals.  PBJ Religion says we must accept everyone and everything, and then immediately aspire to how we want that new situation to look and to be.  This is more than giving up (for Lent).  This is “giving in.”  For many of us (particularly those with testosterone issues), this is a tough nut to crack (no pun intended, well maybe it was).  Our ginormous egos lead our emotional charges, causing us to vigorously fight all battles for the wrong reasons.  Back off a bit.  Chill.  Lighten up.

The reason why agnostic Christians question dogma, is that most of it is interpreted to be sad.  But Jesus actually asked his friends and followers why they were so sad?  “Spiritual agnostics” make up the SBNA segment (Spiritual But Not Affiliated).  This group takes issue with the idea that only organized religion and the traditions that come with it (giving up stuff for example), is the best way to foster and nurture spiritual growth.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen said “We don’t need hair shirts to prove we love God.”  And he also pointed out that in the Apostles Creed (formally recited at every Catholic Mass), the most miserable part of Jesus’ life (His horrifying crucifixion) is expressed is only one word: suffered.  It says “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”  Sheen believed that Catholic Christians over-concentrated on the negative viewpoint.

Dark, scary, creaky houses of worship… hard kneelers—sure whatever floats your spiritual boat.  But don’t forget about the day-by-day, even moment-by-moment “openings” for truly spreading the good news.  PBJ Religion accepting and aspiring (like “okay this is a crappy situation, but I gotta deal with it anyway… so let me visualize how it would be in the ideal scenario”).  You will be amazed how this formula practiced again and again, will make you a nicer, less-judgey, more positive and upbeat person.  PS.  ‘Likely skinnier as well.

Confession, Fr. McDonald, and the Nones…

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Photo by Newsday

(Monseigneur) Father McDonald was a pillar in the Center Moriches community before he left us for the big pearly gates last year, God rest his soul.  But he was very much alive many years ago during the one time I went to Confession with him officiating.  I had nothing earth-shattering to declare, pretty routine stuff… no one is ever quite sure how to go to Confession (is there a Catholicism for Dummies?!).  But Father Mack shared an observation I recollect today.  He commended me on coming to him, like locally. (In the past I was a pretty active member of parish committees—people knew me). He revealed that many people go out of town for confession to keep things anonymous.  I told him I wasn’t above sneaking out of St. John’s to a more cloistered place for penance, but didn’t really feel the need.  That seemed to make him contented. 

Curiously I still ponder who were those (probably) liberal Catholics who blew town, and why?  Fear of God?  I don’t think so.  Fear of humans.  Let’s make up a term: Clergyitus.  Okay you not likely find it in a modern Catholic Bible.   But you’ve heard of white coat syndrome at blood pressure taking time?  This is black cassock syndrome at Sunday time.  These scaredy-cats still maintained Catholic beliefs, they just desired additional concealment.  And now they may very well be part of the fastest-growing segment of religious believers.  According to Pew Research, this 23% of Americans are called “nones,” whose religious affiliation is none… but they are spiritual.  In a June article in the LA Times, Steven Asma writes about the one-third of millennials who belong to this cluster group, “And who can blame them?  They were raised in an era of sex abuse scandals and jihadist extremism. Corruption of institutions and ideologies have turned many young people away.”

 PBJ Religion is here for the nones, and everyone else too—practicing Catholics or not… practicing anything or not.  PBJ Religion says the mystery of faith is still an unknown, but there is nothing to fear.  And it’s okay to be happy.

Suspend Disbelief in Magic

“Suspend disbelief in magic.  It’s real!  Believe it!”  This is one of
the more popular of the PBJ Religion Handy Dandy Pocket Quotes in the
back of the upcoming book (publication date not yet announced).  People
like it because we want to believe!  Yesterday morning I attended my
first Groundhog Day ceremony at the Holtsville Ecology Site here on Long
Island.  My buddy from way back, Greg Drossel has been peeking inside of
Holtsville Hal’s den for 22 years to see if he would see his shadow (if
you’re unfamiliar with this tradition, check your pulse and watch the
Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day) Classic!  A million people were there
(maybe not a full million), but let’s just say that the parking lot was
surprisingly packed for the 7:25 AM ritual.  Why attend? For the free
hot chocolate, sure I might travel for a good cup IF it had
mini-marshmallows and was served in souvenir mugs (I love collecting
crap like that).  Was it “Big Mike” from WBZO Radio dressed like a
ground hog with whom I got my picture taken in the sub-freezing morning
sunshine?  Speaking of pictures, was it getting in a shot with the
famous Greg Drossel who used to run the Long Island Game Farm and now is
the Dean of the Ross School in East Hampton and the even more
famous/infamous “Hal” from Holtsville?!  Or was it being with my darling
daughter and granddaughter who were interviewed on Fios1News TV where
two million people saw the cyron display “Kathy from Centereach” which
was inaccurate on a few levels– but gave our family lots of chuckles?!

It was all of it.  It was spirit.  This is true spirituality.  Being out
in frigid, morning temperatures anticipating Hal’s prognostication. Most
of us believe Hal, because we want to.  PBJ Religion says “You got to
Hope to Cope.”  It’s a scary and uncertain world out there, but there is
a Santa Claus and a Tooth Fairy and some kind of God in all of us.  Do
we need ground hogs for ceremonies and finding the magic of peaceful
feelings?  Maybe and maybe not.  But it sure was fun.

“Doin’ okay… hangin’ in there…”

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A common reply when asking your colleague “How’s it going?” is “Great!” If they answer: “Things are just really falling into place today, family’s wonderful, and health is good for the most part, my boss is a prince, dog got a good report at the vet, got a terrific buy on beee—yuuuu-tee-ful bananas at the market down the street…” Well, you might even avoid conversations with that person. We (whomever that is, maybe not you and me, but then again it could be?) are more within our comfort zone when we are a bit more negative, or maybe more accurately stated: a bit less positive. Like, who could be so damn happy all the time?!

Let’s talk about #3 on the 19-question quiz to see if you have a peaceful workplace. You either answered that Employees complaining about working (and seemingly everything?) either: almost never or sometimes or often. Frequent complaining can certainly can detract from a peaceful workplace!

First, why do people complain? Two reasons. The first is that if we are coming off as appreciating life too much, we’re afraid others will not think we’re working hard enough. And in America, working long and hard is praised on the pedestal. Also most of us don’t care so much if people are jealous of us (some even favor it!), but we don’t want to be perceived as lazy folk who get stuff handed to them on silver spoons. Pioneer pride is perceived as an admirable trait. The second reason is more internal and more potent. If we are celebrating like the character in the above paragraph where everything is going super, and then something devastating occurs (think school shooting), we have less far to fall—then if we are just “Doin’ okay… hangin’ in there…”

People grumble when they feel alone. We should not whine along with them nor especially try to top their murmur! “Oh your Mom died? Yeah, I know how you feel. We lost our fifth cousin who we hadn’t seen in about ten years… to tell you the truth (whispering voice) nobody was really crazy about him in the first pla…”

But we do feel alone—and sad, and afraid. Normal, common, natural, human. Death has a habit of doing that to people. We are afraid of where they are going? And where we are going as well! But death of every kind yields to new life, magical bliss. It’s all good as we say. We just don’t have the money-back guarantee on it (although in the 16th Century, the Catholic Church used to sell indulgences! Wow. SMH). Crap in our lives, problems worthy of complaining is actually productive. Call it spiritual construction at work or something like that.

The less you complain, the less you’ll complain. Growth for evolving into the next life (whatever that means to you, but make sure you aspire to be happy!) is now! So stop complaining, seriously just STOP. You will automatically gravitate towards a spirit of cooperation. And then the third mechanical end result will be collaboration. Clearly there are many more than one way to address a situation. Just as there are many religions.  If spirituality is like water,” said the Dalai Lama, “religion is like tea.”

Life will depend less on you and more on the synergy/teamwork/team effort of everyone working together. It is no longer one plus one equals two. It now equals three, four or five! Leverage of resources which makes for exponential progress and productiveness… is God. This partnership with others, this group effort IS PBJ Religion at work. Not only will it furnish you with a super-charged positive PBJ Workplace—but will more importantly convince you just a little bit more that you are on the right track for what life has in store for us, now on earth as we know it… and forever! And the summarizing quote goes to an even more (?) famous philosopher, Buzz Lightyear. “To infinity and beyond!”

Long Island Speakers Bureau at Microsoft Store

msstore-hero-1600x600-1Thanks to the Microsoft Store (Huntington Station, NY) for hosting us last night. I was one of the featured speakers along with colleagues from the Long Island Speakers Bureau. There was a feeling of calmness in the atmosphere—and it became obvious as to why, as the evening evolved. The leaders of the group (LISB) have an inherent sense of hope. Let me explain. The group assists one another to get better. For as one speaker becomes more skilled and honed, the entire organization looks, feels, and performs better. Sure we all have our challenges and even problems, but hope is alive and helps the aggregate to better cope. You gotta hope to cope.

So how does this circumstance differ from what we see in politics and from what we ourselves even experience at work (and at home too!)? It doesn’t. There is no difference. Problems are everywhere, no one is exempt. So why did it feel so markedly more positive? We all had hope for each other to become better at the task, we cheered in that mission. What was good for one, was good for the group.

And if, and it’s a big IF… we viewed every life situation that way, and every other human being similarly, the collective faith would be fecund. Mutual, multiparty “hoping” by working collaboratively—would result in allied “coping.” Coping is Peace. God knows the world needs more of that. We gotta hope to cope.

Wonderful people, warm conversations and great energy. That’s exactly what PBJ Religion is all about!

Lights, Please…

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Life is hard.  In fact it kind of sucks for a lot of humans in the world. Charlie Brown said, “Everything I do turns into a disaster, I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about.” He speaks for a lot of us  You remember the rest of the story, Linus brings light to the situation. Charlie Brown becomes enlightened. Linus made a difference.

A single family, the Maccabees kept Judaism alive in 165 BC, in spite of most of the tribes being destroyed, and other Jews being lured away from their fundamental beliefs by seductive Greek culture.

And a single Jew, an even littler kid than Linus, was born to bring even more light and love. Try thinking of these two potent words as synonymous: light and love. These are the common denominator.

So as when Linus gives the directive before he recites from Luke, “Lights please,” and when you light your Hanukah menorah on your piano, and when you plug in the Christmas tree in your den… think love. And if you’ve never experienced Kermit singing Christmas Wish, it’s time, time to finally get it: “I don’t know if you believe in Christmas, or if you have presents underneath a Christmas tree?  But if you believe in love, that will be more than enough for you to come and celebrate with me.” Kermit was an early adopter of PBJ Religion.

PBJ for Thanksgiving?

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Most of us don’t live in the wonderful world of moderation. Most of us are not consistent in life activities.  Instead we force ourselves into highs and lows. We want to be stuffed before leaving the Thanksgiving table.  We seem to feel more comfortable with excess and extremes. We live right up to our means. We then try to live beyond our means. Until we can’t anymore. So we don’t decide what “enough” is. We “go” until we can’t go anymore. Then enough really is enough.

Let’s revisit what enough can mean to us. It is good to leave the table a little hungry. Why? Because the food tastes better the next time around. But often we live like there is no tomorrow. Isn’t it amazing that there are wisdom-of-the-ages sayings for just about every human feeling imaginable? We go through the motions like there may not be a next-time-around. This feeling like life is fleeting is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does seem to get in the way of knowing our own capacity for “full” whether it be food, work, relationships and so on.