Saturday, March 23, 2013


The speaker stepped up to the podium but didn't say a word.  I was getting a little nervous for him. Was there a problem? Why was he just looking out over the audience?
SUDDENLY, he held up a large white poster board, and shouted “What do you see”? We all sort of jumped in our seats. All we saw was the white board with one small dot on it, smack dab in the center. 


After recovering from the initial surprise, one of the ladies in the audience tentatively ventured an answer… “A small black speck?” she offered. 

Then he really came back loud and strong. “SEE WHAT I MEAN? This board is all white but there is ONE, TEENEY WEENIE black spot on it and THAT’s what you see.   Notice that you didn’t say a large white poster with a teeny dot.  That's the problem with being a janitor!  People only see the tiny flaws, not the big picture”!

Then his shoulders dropped and he gave us a wide smile. The tension broken, we all relaxed. 

This was a Toastmasters meeting and we were all here to improve our public speaking skills, to learn to improvise, to structure and deliver different kinds of speeches and presentations. 

Bill owned a fairly large janitorial service in the Los Angeles area and he showed his frustration in that speech, apparently an ongoing problem in the cleaning service business, that no matter how much effort you spend or how clean you get a building or offices, there is always SOMEONE that sees a small imperfection or spot. 

Bill made his point very clearly as he discussed how so many times there is a lack of appreciation for the efforts expended and too many unrealistic expectations of what people should get for their money. 

I loved that speech. It’s funny how some things stick with you to use as examples in life. I have thought about it many times since, the mark of a good, impressive message. It has made me think how often we are “Picky-Picky” over the smallest things.   By way of definition, Picky-Picky is a fictional cat in the Ramona series of children’s’ books by Beverly Cleary.  Picky-Picky is the Quimbys' old grumpy cat and his name comes from his finicky attitude towards his cat food. Having three cats, we know all too well the signs of “Picky-Picky”. 

We have all probably experienced that situation where despite our best efforts someone just isn't satisfied. Whether in our family situation or at work, in a sporting event, at church or in a public meeting. Way too many times in marriages, or personal relationships, impatience or intolerance raise tempers and cause hurt feelings, or worse.

As a parent, I have been guilty of holding too high a standard, many times an inflexible (some would say “bull headed”) expectation of what my beloved children should be doing, saying, wearing, thinking, and acting… the whole gamut. In some instances I have “missed the ball” and some wonderful moments to see surprising creativity, to appreciate the unexpected, to experience the beauty of “outside the box” thinking by my children, due to my own adherence to a previously outlined course of behavior or action. 

Now, as I mentioned, I have seen the other side of Picky-Picky too!!   And, as my friend Bill of the janitorial service learned, it hits closer to home when we are the object of the exacting scrutiny, the meticulous appraisal of our best efforts and persnickety criticism of our performance. (Think, "Boy, he can dish it out but he can’t take it"!!!) 
 As the object of criticism we can learn even greater lessons. I’m sure most of us have been on the receiving end and realize just how hurtful and unjust it often seems. 

On one occasion I had been elected to serve as the leader of Sunday services in our local church. This was an important position and having been elected by the membership to serve that three-year term, I worked very hard to prepare. I was pretty nervous and wanted to do a good job.

In preparation I selected appropriate scripture readings, selected hymns, rehearsed, and even took a series of Reading Aloud lessons from a professional instructor. Although we were relatively young, didn’t have a lot of money and were raising four children, I invested in a new suit, several beautiful blue shirts, an expensive tie, new shoes, even got a haircut!! 

At the first Sunday morning service, my “debut”, I was really excited. Everything went off without a hitch. I was so delighted… until… a lady came up to me afterwards in the vestibule and said, “You really should have worn a white shirt. Readers ALWAYS wear white shirts”.     Psssssssss. That sound was the air going out of my balloon!! After all of the work, the hours, the prayer, the study, the attention to detail… my shirt turned out to be the problem!! 

At that moment… I KNEW Picky Picky!!!

I got to the car, sat there for a minute with wife and 4 kids on board, and I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed and couldn’t stop. I had run head long into Picky-Picky.   You know, I just loved that dear lady. I loved that she was so concerned that everything be just right. I loved that she wanted me to be the best. I loved that I could see the love that she was expressing, even though it seemed like a hammer to my head.

You may have read this interpretation of Jesus’ counsel about criticizing others as given in Matthew 7 where he described the “mote and the beam”. This translation is from The Message translation by Biblical scholar Professor Eugene Peterson:

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. … It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt?... …Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” 

The lessons I have learned from the grumpy cat, Picky-Picky are… Do be meticulous. Do strive for perfection. Do be fastidious, painstaking, and fussy. But not when it gets in the way of love, understanding, openness, sincerity, receptivity to new ideas. 

Because… Love is the basis of life and is it more important than anything else in the world.   (
And blue shirts aren’t really all that bad!!!!)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Kilkenny Cats - Good Cat - Bad Cat

Two cats sit before mirrors. One cat a fluffy little blue-eyed, loving cat sees reflected back from that mirror a loving image, innocent and gentle, mirroring back the love that is projected from the original.

Now picture an angry cat, a cat with a grudge perhaps, a cat that is unhappy, maybe bitter, maybe suffering a bad attitude, a bad hair day perhaps. He sees reflected back the snarling, hissing, unhappy visage staring back in anger.

The mirror gives a pure reflection, faithfully imaging back the characteristics of the original in each case. Two cats. Two mirrors. Same law of reflection in operation, the mirror reflecting back what it sees, but the pictures are completely different.

The image of the angry cat reminds me of an old Irish legend, that can be recited or sung, and it has a real-life lesson. It goes like this:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny,
Each thought there was one cat too many,
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats, there weren't any.

Now, lest you think I spend my days thinking about Irish fighting cats, let me explain.   This thought came up recently when I was examining my own actions, wondering why I was feeling unhappy with myself. It seems that too often some things get under my skin, and they shouldn't  I think television and the news media have a lot to do with it, but it’s my own reaction, similar to that angry cat that is at fault. The bad feeling comes from my own impatience and a seeming lack of justice in the human scene that brings it on. I am seeing a reflection of my own critical thinking.
Oh, the issues are endless, immigration injustices, gun control and the arguments on both sides of that issue, voting rights, the lack of love and respect for our fellow man as witnessed in gay issues, political maneuvering, equal rights for women, international turmoil, world climate change, the U.S. budget deficit, and more and more…. 
How tempted I am to respond, to strike back with sometimes critical, ego driven comments which do not actually reflect the peace and harmony which I strive and pray for. 

And how subtle is that "temptation to engage", to wrestle, to contend, to scream and shout our opinions. The TV stations even invite us to “respond’ to controversial issues, “Weigh in...Tell us what you think!!” they say.   Like poking and prodding us to fight, to get into the scrap!! The equivalent of the old boyhood challenge “I dare ya to knock the block off my shoulder!” 
That peaceful cat, looking out and seeing the loving peaceful cat reflected back has become a role model for me.

A statement in the widely read and referenced Bible companion book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, gives us a clue to why we react this way. The author, theologian Mary Baker Eddy, writes
“Pictures are mentally formed before the artist can convey them to canvas. So is it with all material conceptions.” * She elaborates her point by saying, “Mortal mind sees what it believes as certainly as it believes what it sees. It feels, hears, and sees its own thoughts.”

When I am feeling contentious, getting angry over the news or other issues that trouble me, I am acting out those mental pictures I have been developing. Like the artist, I am painting the pictures held in thought on the canvas of my life. But sometimes they have not been pretty ones.

The Bible has some clear guidance to help stop us before we get too deep into the contention. A great verse says:
“The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.” ** The Message Bible translation of that same verse brings it home to us today in an even clearer picture: “The start of a quarrel is like a leak in a dam, so stop it before it bursts.”

When Jesus was confronted by anger and strong opinions, what did he do? He turned away to walk through the crowd; stooped and drew in the sand when confronted by those who questioned his judgment; and he turned the other cheek.
A wonderful clue shows us how he avoided the petty day-to-day arguments. He said: “I am not of this world”.*** His sights were higher, his goals more spiritual, his boundaries unlimited. His view of life transcended the material, conflicting views of those around him as he lifted thought to be in the secret place of the most High, the Kingdom of Heaven, the realm of thought where God lives. He counseled his followers to be Peacemakers. This man, the highest earthly spiritual representative of his Father, set the example for us and assured us that we too could do the works that he did. 

After all, our day-to-day crises, our troubling present, those things that upset us today will fade away, but we have an eternity in which  to love. We, too, can say, "I am not of this world."  We can get started today, casting off the contention, the angry cat in each of us, and reflect love and harmony 
in our thoughts and actions like that loving kitty.

Science and Health assures us that:
"Man is harmonious when governed by Soul. Hence the importance of understanding the truth of being, which reveals the laws of spiritual existence." ****

Don't you just LOVE... LOVE?

*      Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures – by Mary Baker Eddy page 86:29
**    Proverbs 17:14 King James Version of The Bible
***  John 8:23 
**** Science and Health  page 273:18

For those who have inquired about Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, referenced in some of my articles, here’s the information.  This book is used in Bible study by students of Christian Science and people of many different faiths.

It explains the scientific laws behind the teachings and healings of Christ Jesus. From the first chapter, “Prayer,” to her exegeses of Genesis and Revelation, the author invites readers to deeply consider the allness of God, the perfection of man as God's spiritual creation, and how an understanding of these facts brings healing—just as it did in biblical times. For over 135 years, readers have testified that reading and studying this book has given them a spiritual sense of the Bible and their permanent relationship to God, and has also resulted in physical healing and spiritual uplift.   For more information or to purchase this book, click here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Moldau or Dead Sea?

Two springs pour forth in the shade of the forest, one warm and gushing, the other cold and peaceful. Their waves joyously rush down over their rocky beds, then unite and glisten in the rays of the morning sun.  Thus begins the symphonic picture of the Moldau River as painted in music by renowned Czechoslovakian composer, Bedrich Smetana.   

The Moldau, the longest River in Czechoslovakia is about 300 miles long and flows from its source, those two streams in the Bohemian forest, and finally empties into the Elbe River.   As you listen to Smetan's composition you can almost hear the river grow from its humble beginnings into a mighty river. 

I love that mental picture of that river flowing with a sense of purpose, rolling on past farmland and forests carrying boats,  giving of itself, perhaps providing a refreshing drink to birds and animals, flowing ever onward supplying water for farmers’ fields, and beauty to all those who gaze upon it.  To me it typifies the constant flow of life coming from a hidden source and disappearing into the eternal existence.  A river with a purpose, not only a thing of beauty but a worthwhile function, a raison d'etre.   

The Arid Dead Sea
In sharp contrast to the Moldau is the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea is fed by the Jordan River and some small canals that drain into it.  But, unlike other seas it has no outlet, no river or stream originates from the Dead Sea and as a result water only leaves by evaporation, leaving behind high concentration of salinity. Over time the water has become so salty that it does not support life, hence it's name... Dead Sea.   Many years ago the Dead Sea was much larger than it is today and was not as salty, but lack of an outlet and the resulting  stagnation have left it lifeless, purposeless in the cycle of life.

That thought of the Dead Sea having no outlet compared to the vital, alive Moldau has caused me to compare the two and how that contrast can typify our lives.    I ponder which one I have become and often think it would be wise for us all to stop and ask ourselves, maybe each day, “Will I be the Moldau today?  Or the Dead Sea?   Do I have sense of purpose; Am I a living, bubbly river of joy, happiness and selflessness, am I a worthy recipient of God’s Love, am I sharing the blessings?  Or am I a closed off, aloof loner, not wanting to share all of the good I have and the lessons I have learned?  Maybe satisfied to sit and do little, even while I have so much to share?”

The temptation for some folks as they reach retirement age is to , in effect,  “shut down”.   You may have witnessed it to some extent in otherwise wonderful, talented, loving people who accept the world belief that older people have not much to offer, or can’t be very productive.   

I have found it helpful to ask myself,  'Am I living for others? Or am I only living for myself, my limited goals and objectives, my own selfish interests?  Am I becoming saltier and saltier, filling up with the pollution of stagnation with no outlet?'  Oh, the temptation is there!!

A friend recently asked why I kept so busy. This dear, long-time friend said, “When I retired… I RETIRED!   I don’t do anything.”     I thought to myself, ‘but you have so much to give, so much to share of your experience, so much love to impart to a thirsty world.’  That conversation inspired me to "keep moving"!!

Selfless Giving
Each one of us has the innate ability to be like the Moldau River, to see life’s flow as productive and useful, to flow effortlessly, to share and support and to give, to quench the thirst of those who are thirsting for love and companionship, maybe themselves searching for more meaningful life, maybe just needing a gentle touch or a warm handshake and a smile. (Or a small bouquet of flowers!!) 

In that book that contains priceless home remedies for everything we need, the Holy Bible, Jesus sets the example for us to follow, selflessly sharing what he had with all who were receptive. On one occasion he met a young woman at a well and asked her to draw some water for him.   She questioned him as to why a Jew would be asking for water from a Samaritan, since the Jews usually had no dealings with the Samaritans.  

Give the Water of Life Freely 

Jesus, seeing her need for help morally and spiritually, told her that if she had asked him, he would have given her “living waters”.  In John 4 "Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.   Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:  But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

Jesus, that loyal servant of his Father, whose life defined “sense of purpose”, whose every breath reflected the Love, Life and Mind of the Creator,  shared the Living Waters, the healing Truth of God's Love for man, the Father's precious ideas, and he blessed all  whom he encountered.     

A wonderful poem depicts the blessing of the flowing, living waters as opposed to “Dead Sea living”  It demonstrates how in sharing with others, we ourselves are refreshed! 

Make channels for the streams of Love, **
Where they may broadly run;
And Love has overflowing streams,
To fill them every one.

But if at any time we cease
 Such channels to provide,
The very founts of love for us
Will then seem parched and dried.

For we must share,
If we would keep
That blessing from above;
They cease to have who cease to give:
Such is the law of Love.

May we all leave behind the Dead Sea life and choose the Moldau, the “living waters” as our Water of the Day, today, and always.

(If you are not familiar with Smetana’s Moldau, you can hear it here:  )

** The Christian Science Hymnal