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IN SERVICE OF PEOPLE, NOT GOD

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After this century began, I had the pleasure of reading an anthology of short-stories, stories that implicated the human role in the larger scheme of existence. Is human life an absurd situation, or is there any inherent purpose in life, at all? For a guy who, at the time, didn’t have any formal college education, the old dusty book posited interesting questions about how people behave in ways so that life has meaning. That struck me as very interesting! The book, published in 1963, is called The Existential Imagination.[1] Many copies of the book are still available via Amazon.com and for as little as a penny (shipping and handling, is extra).[2] Need I mention, I’ve owned three copies over the years?

There are many good stories in the book regarding issues unique to the human condition. I don’t necessarily have any favorite story because they are all good for very different reasons. I would like to share the plot from one of the stories, here, and hopefully it allows you to ponder about any philosophical or theological implications thereafter. Hopefully, you are curious enough to go buy a copy, then read the rest of the book yourself.

The story that I mean to share is called Saint Emmanuel The Good, Martyr. It is the longest story of the anthology at around 35-pages. It’s written in the form of a fictional memoir, a letter found by the true author. The letter is an account of an Italian woman, Angelita, who takes the reader through her life, beginning as a young girl who entered convent school – at her brothers bidding. She spends five years there – until at age 15 – before returning to her village, Valverde de Lucerna. There she introduces us to the true protagonist in her memoir: Don Manuel, the priest in her beloved village.

The Don is described as a healer, a saint, who chopped wood for the poor, the protector, and nourishment to the village. He is kind to all – favoring “the most unfortunate…especially those who rebelled” (102).
One of my favorite quotes came from this story. It’s great advice even if stemming from a work of fiction. It reads:

“We should concern ourselves less with what people are trying to tell us than with what they tell us without trying” – Don Manuel

Angelita, also wrote about a time when a man in the village sent his boy out into the woods in a heavy rainstorm to fetch a loosed calf. The Don, saw the boy wandering near the trees, so he went out in the heavy rain to inquire why the boy was out at such a dangerous time. The boy explained, his father sent him out for a lost calf, whereafter listening, the Don sends the boy home. He explained he would locate the calf and bring it home for him. Upon returning to the boys home (with the calf) the father went out to meet the Don, who was soaking wet. The man, Angelita wrote, was thoroughly ashamed of himself.

The story builds to denouement once Angelita’s brother, Lazarus, returns home from America. Lazarus was not Catholic, and further did not believe in God. However, Don Manuel and Lazarus spend so much time together that after Angelita’s mom died, Lazarus chose to take communion, thereby converting to Catholicism. The village rejoices, and because, Don Manuel, had yet again, performed a miracle!

Later in the evening, Angelita finds herself alone with her brother, to whom she asks, “What things did Don Manuel state to you, that caused this conversion?” She hugs him. Lazarus finally replied that he only did so for the people, not because he himself believed, nor to seek eternal life. The Don implored him to take up religious life so to set a good example for the people, by taking part in religious community life. But Lazarus explains solemnly, that he also asked the Don, why he seemed to ask that he live a lie, adding, “Do you, believe, Don Manuel?” The Don, looking out over the lake, silently wept. After a few moments, the Don said:

“The truth, Lazarus, is perhaps something so unbearable, so terrible, so deadly, that simple people could not live with it,” and, “I am put here to give life… to make [people] happy, to make them dream they are immortal – and not to destroy them. The important
thing is that they live sanely, in accord with eachother…with my truth they could not live at all…”, “…let them live…”, “with the illusion that all this has a purpose”
(120).

So, there were tough questions, indeed, utilizing deep human conflict, one that many people have grappled with over the millennia. I, too, have often looked to the stars, asked my elders, and sought the answer to the very questions this story outlines, namely, Is there a God, and what does that mean for us? If there is no God, what then? Is life a pointless marathon unto death? Maybe it’s not so bad that we are left to answer this question alone? The greater point is that it’s a wonderful journey trying to figure it out for yourself. As I believe Don Manuel would say: At times, you might feel sad, or liberated when pondering the meaning of existing only a short while. Life may seem very lonely in that view. Whatever answers you come to, I’m sure you will be fine when choosing to live for others; according to one priest, it is exactly the same as living for God.

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Notes:
1.Karl, Frederick R., and Leo Hamalian, eds. (1963). “The Existential Imagination.” First Premier Books/Fawcett. NY

2.https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B000GRFJYO/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1465370579&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=the+existential+imagination

3. Images, public domain, customizations

Four Considerations in Educational Planning

What are your true passions?

What are your true passions?

IN LIFE, FEW THINGS DRIVE BEHAVIOR as strongly as does passion. Whether passion for creativity, for aiding the needy, a passion for music and so forth, these will vary among us, but we all should share a few passions. It would be nice if we shared the same passion for life, well-being, and education, too. However, we have so many distractions in contemporary times that a passion for learning and progress often gets stifled by frivolity and work.

One of the things I am passionate about is education, more specifically, lifelong learning. Educating oneself involves so much sacrifice, diligence, and focus though can also be enjoyable, especially when education from one’s culture or heritage is playfully passed down through the generations.
Another reason to be passionate about education is that one’s academic accomplishments represent hard work and positive steps toward one’s career, a promotion or raise in a wage, and perhaps a huge leap toward more meaningful employment altogether.

Finally, we cannot obtain anything in life without money from work. Everything costs money, from the air we breathe (we are taxed due to pollutants), the food we eat, the water we drink, to our comfortable shelters and clothes. Without a good-paying job, one likely could not attain much stability nor be able to appreciate the fruits of one’s labors through vacation, leisure, or by participating in holiday celebrations. Money demands work, work demands education, education demands you. So, before stepping into an educational institution – to work for that raise in pay or to start a new career – there are a few things that I discuss with my students before they jump in to this grand responsibility; I’m going to share those ideas with you, here. I call them the four directions on education.

1) What is it that you want to do for work for a very, very long time? In other words, you’re going to be going to school for at least 1-year and then after that, hopefully work in this position or this “career tree” for the rest of your life. It’s an important consideration.

2) Are you legally able to work in this field? Talk to someone who works in the field, research it, and determine what the minimum requirements are that would need to be met. There would be no sense in studying to work as detective if the legal environment prohibited it, right?

3) Conduct a cost-benefit analysis (list Pros and Cons) against your current life once you’ve decided upon your career path What sacrifices could be made, and can you absorb the additional loss of 10-to-25 hours per week doing homework – and probably commuting, if you’re not taking classes online.

4) Do you plan to attend a regionally accredited university or college, or nationally accredited university – in the alternative, as these groups typically permit credit transfers for work completed. You never want to attend a school for any extended amount of time or spend any money on a dead end degree or diploma from some career school to only find out later it was a waste of time and energy attaining it.(1) The U.S. Dept. of Education has a good reference list of accepted accredited academic bodies.(2)

Four simple considerations...

Four simple considerations…

Once you’ve covered all of these bases contact an academic advisor and open your life up to her, as she can help you into the next chapter of your life (as well as direct you to the financial aid office for options). In a few years time you will enjoy the fruits of your labors and bask in the glory of your new-found stability.
Get passionate about education, education carries your future.

Notes:
1. http://www.geteducated.com/regional-vs-national-accreditation-which-is-better-for-online-colleges
2. http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/
3. images, public domain customizations

FEBRUARY MAN

February Man

A MERE FIFTY-SEVEN YEARS AFTER The Emancipation Proclamation, humanity was granted the timely presence of a great man. This man’s words are archived for us in the many beautiful poems and ideas he left regarding the dual-consciousness that some African-Americans felt during his time: on the one hand, learning to assimilate into white society, and on the other, struggling to maintain cultural autonomy. Even without knowing who this man was, a poem such as, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, waves that dual-consciousness a generation removed from bondage.(1) This poem – if one can see past its vivid sadness – hides evidence of an energy that would aid the birth and rise of the Harlem Renaissance.

Langston Hughes wrote that poem as a teenager in 1920, where he sat as a passenger on a train that took him directly over the vast Mississippi River. Langston was on his way to meet his estranged father, who lived far to the southwest, in Mexico City.(2)

ca. 1925

ca. 1925

About his poem, Langston stated the river made him feel a connection to history, pre-January 1st, 1863(3). That he recalled reading President Lincoln’s biography, about the horrors of bartering over and selling humans, in places near the Mississippi: the same water that nourished the cotton fields, once smothered his people. Feeling this, he wrote, “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the human blood in my veins…I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.”

There are parallels today which beckon the spirit of Langston Hughes – a disunity of culture which cannot be broadly articulated. Yet, this is a great month, a great opportunity to spy the past, realizing that everyday can be a Mississippi River – an image that stirs our core energy and compels us to bring about our vision of who we want to be, perhaps 57-years from now. We all carry that energy, but like Langston we have to have the courage, the will to express it – even when things are dark and out of reach…

We all have those days, mornings when the sunrise seems more of a weapon of torture than a symbol of a new day, of new beginnings. When I get down, or when I’m lonely, when darkness calls for friendship, I find myself sitting on the front porch steps listening to Langston’s mama talk to him, encouraging him. Langston archived this image in one of his most famous poems. He wrote it for you:

“..Boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now — For I’se still.
goin, honey.
I’se still climbin’, And life for me.
ain’t been no crystal stair. “
(4)

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Notes:
1. Langston Hughes, 1920, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
2. Langston was of mixed race, picture Terrence Howard after three or four strong cups of coffee.
3. Official signing of the Emancipation Proclamation
4. Excerpt from, “Mother to Son”, from Hughes, Langston. “(James) Langston Hughes.” Gale Database Contemporary Authors (2003): Web. November 13, 2010
Photo: Langston Hughes, circa 1925,public domain

ARTIST IN MOTION: Miss Native American (2013~14), Sarah Ortegon

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