Schools for "Life-Enlightenment"

NFS Grundtvig was a 19th century Danish leader, hymn-writer, and pastor who sought ways to educate and lift up the common people in an age that was still dominated by royalty, nobility, and an intellectual elite. Grundtvig thought that education should be not only in the style of Latin learning but should be accessible to farmers and peasants. Grundtvig’s inspiration helped lead to folk schools in Scandinavia. The folk school sessions often were scheduled from November- April during the slow season for the farmers; soon women were included in the folk schools as well. Grundtvig believed that the folk schools should be for the enlightenment of the people, and one of his best-known songs is titled “Enlightenment”:

Is light just for the learned to debate and to control?
No! Light is heaven’s gift, and
heav’n shines its light on all.
Not with the scholar but the
farmer does the sun rise up,
Enlightens best those most
immersed in life from toe to top.

The amazing thing for university-educated Grundtvig was to assert that “light” is not dependent upon university education or upon someone with credentials, but that we all should receive this light. The scandalous statement from Grundtvig is that light rises up with the farmer and those most immersed in life; that enlightenment is not just to lift up only some people but is for farmers, peasants, and other women and men, too. It is not anti-intellectualism, but rather anti-elitism. Enlightenment is for all.

Thus folk schools became filled with the forms that Grundtvig most loved: song, conversation, and attention to the whole person.

Grundtvig believed that songs uplift and educate people; songs are an extension of human development and art. By singing the vast array of songs he wrote, Grundtvig believed the peasants could be strengthened for everyday life through learning both their ethnic stories and Bible stories. Grundtvig spent a great deal of time studying and translating Nordic mythology. He saw those myths as oral stories that communicated values and guidance for people in the Nordic countries. Grundtvig translated Beowulf, for instance, as well as stories about Odin and Thor and Freya. He believed these Nordic myths which had helped shaped Scandinavian life for centuries could now help Danes to listen anew for the living word.

Grundtvig’s view of the folk schools was that they would not be shaped by grades or tests (neither of which are used at folk schools to this day). They would be schools for life where everyone over 18 would be welcome to learn and be enlightened. Grundtvig wrote:

Enlightenment is our treasure,
although it slowly seeps in.
But over time the living word
brings life-enlightenment.
Light springs from people’s deeds
and grows through constant tender care,
It shines in the people’s counsel till
stars turn to sun’s glare.

Enlightenment is not an immediate, sudden experience but comes through time and tender care. If we look, we can see light in the deeds of people who show care around us. “The people’s counsel” also referred to the new democratic changes that were happening in Denmark in the last half of the 19th century. With those changes, the people were finding an opportunity to share the wisdom gained through their own lives – in fields and trades and homes – in leading community life.

Grundtvig especially highlighted the simple joys of everyday life. He struggled at times with depression and could barely get himself out of bed. At other times he wrote and met with people in a near-manic energy. Yet through all his ups and downs he saw and appreciated the simple joys of life in his time – the seasons of rural life, the larks and labor common in Denmark, the stories and sounds of the ocean. His prolific creativity in writing and poetry has continued to influence Nordic music and poetry by focusing on everyday experiences. When his sons were confirmed, Grundtvig wrote a poem that is an inspiring ode to our existence. The first stanza sounds like this:

A simple, joyful, active life on earth
Is one which I would not with royalty exchange.
We walk in our ancestors’ wise footsteps,
With equal worth in castle and in cottage.
With eyes turned heavenward as God creates,
Awake to beauty and greatness still here on earth,
Yet knowing deep longings that stay unfilled
Until eternity in glory gives them birth.

This shows the life-enlightenment of Grundtvig. May we each live in this joy and grow in awareness of the simple, joyful, active life on earth!


Joy that needs a voice

If you hear beautiful music, the next words out of our mouths are "listen to this". Or when you see the sun glint on the fresh snow you probably say "look at that"! Or if you have a piece of chocolate, isn't it almost immediate we say "mmmmmm, taste this"?

These are all ways we express joy. The thing about Joy is that you want to share it with somebody else. Joy is not something we can keep bottled up inside. It is joy that brings us together in this season to share and give with others.

Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness, as the word implies, happens. Joy transcends happiness and goes deeper. We can experience joy even in the midst of great hardship. Sometimes that joy helps sustain us, and can help sustain others. And then there are those times we are so "pregnant" with joy so wonderful that it just has to come out.

What gives you joy? I've found times when I'm so "pregnant" with joy that I have a perma-grin. Spending time with family overseas that I don't get to see often, skiing in the Alps, discussing deep questions with my Confirmation students, or making new connections with people all develop my joy. My soul magnifies my joy!

What brings you joy? Does the stock market bring you joy? Or the Tuesday evening show lineup? A young child learning the alphabet? Someone who is in a hospital who shares words that touch your soul? Joy is found in the common, ordinary things of our lives.

Joy is good for you, and good for the world. May you find joy in the everyday occurences of your life as we enter the New Year!

The Gust

Blurry Season

This time of year is normally filled with Christmas carols, white snow and massive amounts of anything edible. Snowman are out and in full swing making many winter wonderland appearances while Christmas presents are being bought and ripped open at a rapid pace. Smiles, alcohol and a good amount of laughs are passed around like a peace pipe on an Indian reservation. Overall it’s a good time to be around friends and family and catch up on some of the happenings of the past year, regardless of how far you have to travel to see some of them.

Christmas time or even winter time is a good time for the winter advocate or the closet skier to get out and enjoy. Hopefully you live in the northern hemisphere and get to enjoy the winter sensations but even if you don’t you can still feel that “Christmas feeling” in the air.

I just wanted to make a quick note and I hope everyone got to feel that special feeling and got to see everyone they wanted to see during their few mandatory days off this winter.
*raises glass quickly*

Cheers to Christmas time… can’t wait for your drinking buddy “New Years Eve” to come along next. Shit, what to drink? Guess I have to go shopping again, but this time to the liquor store, haha…


Radical amazement

As we enter the Advent and Christmas season, we have a renewed opportunity to experience rebirth. As we wait expectantly for the birth of a Jewish baby who would grow into an inspiring rabbi, I am reminded of the insistent message of a modern Jewish rabbi about radical amazement.

Abraham Heschel was a Jewish rabbi who was born in Warsaw, Poland and who escaped to England before the start of World War II. Heschel immigrated to the United States and taught at Jewish Theological Seminary. Heschel participated in Christian-Jewish dialogues and was very involved in the Civil Rights movement. Rabbi Heschel wrote that the greatest obstacle to knowledge is our attachment to conventional notions or mental clich├ęs. We take things for granted. What Heschel said we desperately need is radical amazement, which means being maladjusted to conventional notions.

That's right: it can be good to be maladjusted to the way we always have seen things because then we can see the world and our lives afresh.

Radical amazement is what happens when you look at a gorgeous sunset and suddenly are amazed not just at the colors but also at the very ability to see! Radical amazement happens when you not only hear beautiful music but also are amazed at the ability to hear and enjoy at all! Radical amazement refers not so much to what we know as to that we know. Radical amazement gets at the root wonder of being here at all.

As civilization advances, Heschel said, our sense of wonder declines. We take things for granted. Yet Heschel insisted that a life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not so much a will to believe as a will to wonder. We have the chance for radical amazement again. Our home computers are more powerful than themainframes that NASA used to land a man on the moon yet we often complain about the slowness of a program. We sit on an airplane for a few hours to travel to the coast, yet we complain about a line for boarding. We turn on electric lights for granted without giving thanks for them. Who ever stares with wonder at a light bulb? Yet a candle flame can stir up in us a sense of wonder so weapproach our life with freshness.

At this time of year we tend to light candles. We slow down for a moment to wonder at the flame. I believe our Advent and Christmas seasons are a success even if we only experience a moment of radical amazement. Radical amazement can open our hearts to the wonder of that little Jewish baby asleep in a manger so many years ago.

Radical amazement can open our eyes to see the gift of the people who are now around us. Radical amazement can open our hands to reach out to others who, like us, share the same hopes, desires, and dreams of mankind.

During this Advent and Christmas season there are many opportunities for busyness and frantic activity. We may enjoy those activities and even thrive in them. There are also occasions where people keenly notice the emptiness of loved ones who have died or moved on. We may feel saddened by those losses. Through all the ups and downs, may everyone have a chance to help one another re-discover ourselves in this season of radical amazement!


Live your life

Written above are 3 simple words that are actually quite easy to say, but rather hard to follow. Many people talk about trying to do fun things and go cool places, but I feel like very few of us succeed in doing so. Many of us repeatedly step up to the plate and all we hear is the ball fly by us while the umpire screams, “you’re out!!”

Why do so many of us fail to hit the ball or even swing the bat. I guess half the battle is getting in the batters box, but the other have is finishing what you started to do. Good intentions don’t get you anywhere in life. You need to finish what you started, you need to do what you said you were going to do and live your life the bet way possible.

What do I even mean by living your life? Well, to put it simple, “enjoy your life”, but those words don’t add much clarity as people will settle with what they have and tell you time and again they are enjoying their lives. But who are they kidding? Are they really? I guess it’s not your nor mine place to say yes or no, but it is quite easy to read between the lines and see who is getting in the batters box and swinging and who is still riding pine.

You need to be able to wake up every morning and be excited about your life, your accomplishments and what lies ahead of you in your path. You owe it to yourself to have the best life possible. So why not have it?

You would truly be surprised how fun your life can be if you just let it be fun. IF you smile a bit more everyday and do a few more fun things here and there. Get out and go for a walk in the park, see your favorite movie, drink your favorite wine (and maybe have too much), laugh hard and loud without caring when and where you are and most importantly live your life.

Too often we see mid-life crises, or people that have breakdowns. We push ourselves too far to the edge and finally we do fall over. I don’t think we need to slow down, but I do think we should smell the fuckin damn roses once in awhile. I mean why not? Plan for doing something fun. Now this doesn’t mean plan a specific time for fun, but rather have fun in doing more things. Expect everything to go well, more often than not, how you think about a particular task, errand, person, whatever…, will make it that much more enjoyable in the end…

Try this, trust me…


Why not be gay?

Ok, ok, the title isn't the best, but at least it got you to read this far.. haha, sucker.

No but to be serious for half a second, have you ever thought about being gay? Has this thought ever trickled into your mind or have you ever had a tiny urge to try? Watch, talk about it, whatever?

Before you start getting all these weird ideas in your head about why I could be possibly talking about this, let me explain a few things. First and foremost just think about any gay friends that you have or possibly have known through out your life or maybe ones that are still currently in it. Do bad thoughts come to mind or are you giggling because you are remembering how cool and laid back your buddy is.

Chances are you are smiling because probably a pretty high percentage of the ones you know are super cool and fun-loving, easy to get along with dudes. (I will talk from the gay standpoint and not the lesbian one, because I know more gay guys) These guys tend to be the ones that simply genuinely nice. They are normally gentlemen are always making you smile or laugh.

I got to hand it to them, first of all it's not that easy to come out of the closet in today's society where it's not particularly easy to do so. Not everyone is a gay lover and there are still quite a few gay-haters (making up words now) that are out there. I tip my hat to them, because not only do they have to come to grips with something that is not socially excepted, at least not right away and then on top of it they don't have as many potentional suitors to chose from. But even after all the adversity they tend to be cool dudes.

As was recently explained to me, "Gay guys have the best of both worlds, they are caring like a women but yet chilled out like a guy..." And after hearing this I couldn't help but not my head in total agreeance. I mean being gay is a pretty good mix of the desired traits from either sex. Cleaner, more dependable than most straight males, whether that is with actually cleaning or personal hygene, I believe in my experience it holds true. And yet they still have that respect and caring that normal so desire from women. Not a bad combo.

This blog isn't really about my lust to start batting for the other team but rather a simple observation about the switch-hitters of the world. Kudo's to them for going against the grain of society and being happy. I mean I don't have statistics in front of me, but I would be willing to guess that gay couples having lower divorce rates then heterosexual couples.That in itself says something.

Alright, enough of the random gay rant, but I just wanted to give a shout out to the "switch-hitters" of the world, keep on rockin it.

Next batter please...


Cultivate goodness

As Luke stated, I'm "the new guy" around here. My focus tends to be on what I'd call "earthy spirituality." I draw hope and inspiration from what happens around us in our everyday lives and how we are all inter-connected.

As I look at my life and at the world around me, I sometimes struggle with the slowness of change. I get frustrated at the slow changes that take place to bring about help to the people who need a hand up in life. I get frustrated at the slow changes in our society for healthy priorities in politics.

And then I look at my own life, where change is often even more agonizingly slow. When I want to make changes in how I speak or act or think, I find that old habits die hard. It seems difficult to root out all the old, bad habits personally and societally. Awhile ago I re-read some thoughts that Martin Luther King wrote nearly 50 years ago, and which I find helpful for our day as well. King wrote: "Concentrate not on the eradication of evil but on the cultivation of virtue... Evil will not be driven out, but crowded out."

This has struck a chord for me. If we focus on the bad things happening around us, we become problem-centered. However, if we focus ourselves on nurturing goodness and mercy, then these positive attributes become the center of our lives. It becomes overwhelming for us to try to root out all the evils around us, and we can lose hope. However, if we focus our efforts on cultivating acceptance, generosity, and understanding in little ways together, we will make a difference! We will, in effect, crowd out evil. Jesus Christ did not get rid of sin and evil when he died on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago. However, He crowded out their power by displaying God's deep love for us. We still deal with the effects of sin and evil, but we have confidence that they will not have ultimate power for us.

This focus on cultivating virtue rather than on eradicating evil seems helpful to me. This focus on crowding out the power of evil by focusing on joy seems more open to the earthy lives we lead, and more hopeful and realistic about what we are able to do in our day. This focus on cultivating goodness can help us to see the assets in our lives and the world around us, and then work to improve and build on them. Let us resolve together to focus not solely on rooting out evil, but on nurturing and cultivating goodness!