Another Shooting

Who would have thought

That schools would be fraught

With death on display

On most any day

No place seems immune

To this violent tune

Played out in real time

On cell phones are these crimes

While parents and friends

Hold their breath till it ends

While the fallen lie still

With their blood from the kill

Stains the floor and our screens

As we ask what it means

Wisdom from Spiritual Directors

It seems that, most of my adult life I have either been in therapy or had a monthly visit with a spiritual director. They all have been good listeners and on occasion offered good advice and/or bits of wisdom.


One of my long running challenges was my relationship with my mother. Marie Johnson in Rochester posed this wise question.  “Geoff, when are you going to love your mother for who she is and not who you want her to be?” That was back in the lates ‘70s. Sadly it seems I am only making progress years later after Mom has died.


Fr. Burt Aires was an Episcopal priest. A recovering Alcoholic and support person for others in addiction. I am not an Alcoholic. However, like many others I’m a very compulsive person with addictive tendencies, be it over working or over eating etc. Fr. Burt was an avid sports fan. The best thing he ever said to me was, “Life is not a run up the middle. It’s an end run around the edges.” One other thing has stuck with me. I asked him why people were always walking all over me. And he said, “If you lie down and open your mouth they will shovel in the sh—t.”


Marge was a lay woman in Tucson. She was my guide through Ignatian Spiritual exercises. She helped me with my codependency issues and gave me the word “resources” that I might be reminded that everything was not just up to me alone!


Pat, also in Tucson, had been a Roman Catholic Nun. She helped me come to face the truth that part of me wished my chronically ill wife would just die and get the struggle over. Of course, that was only a small part but of me. Yet an unacknowledged negative will unconsciously act out in uncontrolled ways. Whereas, once acknowledged can be understood and its power neutralized.


In later years my spiritual director/therapist Paul, gave me a new framework to understand my struggle in my relationship with my mother. I came to accept that I am an adult child of a narcissist. Within this framework I was able to set new boundaries with my mother and relate to her more as Marie had suggested.


Gary lasted the longest of any counselor. This was true mostly because I didn’t move out of town. He had two main ideas that were repeated many times. The first direction is to make the next right decision with love. The second is to forgive yourself and others for decisions that weren’t so good. Then move back to step one again making as best as one can the next right decision with love.


Gary’s Second mantra was to always point to a triangle diagram on his whiteboard. The corners of the triangle are marked with the words persecutor, victim, rescuer. These of course are not positions we should emulate. They are a pattern of behavior and interpersonal drama people with in systems take turns playing. It is a merry-go-round we need to do our best to avoid.


Recently I felt it was time to move on to a new spiritual director. Teresa is a retired Methodist minister with whom I have shared ministry in the past. She like all the rest is a good listener. She also has the skill to ask the right questions that get to the heart of the things. This resonates well with me as life seems to be filled with problems to solve and questions to answer.


Wisdom from Zig Ziglar

The wisdom of the wise given in short sentences can contain a ton of wisdom.


Zig Zilar is perhaps one of the best and most popular speakers on the motivational circuit. He has also offered many inspirational books. Here I just want to talk about one meaningful sentence.


Look back with forgiveness, forward with hope, upwards with gratitude, and down with compassion.


Look back with forgiveness.


The truth is it is near impossible to live in peace in the present, or into the future, while holding unforgiveness about the past. When I find it difficult to forgive others I work to convince myself that it is an act of enlightened self-interest. When I don’t forgive I am usually letting someone else rent space in my mind and my heart for free. It zaps my energy and my joy in life. Also it has been pointed out that the lord’s prayer warns us about unforgiveness. We pray “Forgive us our trust passes as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The implication is the extent to which we forgive is the extent to which we are forgiven.


Certainly, there are better reasons to forgive. Jesus prayed to the Father for those who were nailing him to the cross. He said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”


The result of forgiveness can be very surprising and positive. Today’s enemy might be tomorrow’s ally.


Look forward with hope.


It’s another way of saying have faith and trust that things will work out. St Paul writes, “All things work together for good for those who trust in the Lord.” Romans 8:28


You could also frame this idea with the need for a positive attitude. If you believe the glass is always half empty that is what you will see. Then you fail to realize that half empty it’s just the other side of half full.


You might also come to realize that life can have many self-fulfilling prophecies. Many people are their own worst enemies. I had a friend in high school who was so convinced that he was clumsy that he would often literally trip over a line painted on the basketball court. Conversely, many successful athletes practice positive visualization. Before the game, before the crucial shot, before diving off the board, they see a successful outcome in their minds eye.


I am written elsewhere about how I was blessed to realize this idea when I was in kindergarten. The juniors in high school came to where we were to sell pencils that had the basketball schedule printed on them. I said to myself then, “when I am a junior I will come and sell pencils here too.” and I did!

Look up with gratitude.


In some circles Pollyanna gets a bad rap. Her name has come to equal a naïve view of the world. However, she and her Glad Game have wisdom for us all. An Attitude of Gratitude is a companion to a positive attitude. With it we recognize that much of the positive parts of our lives are grace.


Some years ago, while I was on a mission trip to the Philippines my wife attended a church near our home. That summer there had been many burnings at black churches across the south. She decided as a witness of solidarity to attend a rural black church near our home in South Carolina. She had such a positive experience that when I got home she wanted me to go with her one more time. I still had a Sunday off before returning to my regular job. So, we went.


We were the only white faces in the congregation. I had worn my closure shirt and so was recognized as a pastor. Their pastor first invited me to visit with him in his office. Then he invited me to read a lesson of my own choosing. Then he invited me to sit with him on the dais in the front. Then he introduced me to the congregation and said “Dr. Schmitt has a few words for us.” As hospitable as this was the greatest part of our visit there came as he gave a pastoral prayer. In it he walked us all through the beginning of our day beginning with when we woke up. He encouraged us to be thankful for everything: that we were still alive, that we could stand up, that we had clothes to wear, but there was water to wash her face, and food for breakfast. By the time he finished he had encouraged us to be grateful for hundreds of things.


This reminds me of another congregation earlier in my career. We had a small congregation of poor folk who shared our building in Rochester New York. They had a special service on New Year’s Eve. The main purpose was to share messages of gratitude for the past year. I was struck that many of them were just grateful to have survived.


Look down with compassion.


One of my off repeated quotations is from Henry David Thoreau. “Most people live lives of quiet desperation.”


The motto for Kairos prison ministry is Listen, Listen, Love, Love.  If we will listen with compassion to others we can be of great service to help them unburden some of that desperation. It will give us patience and understanding for the trials and triumphs of others. People in 12 step programs call it, sharing experience, strength, and hope.


If we will look down with compassion, we just might we are looking at our own level with an equal. We are looking at another human being, who like us are doing the best they can to get from day today.


Awareness, Relatedness, Wholeness

Freshman year of seminary we were all required to take a course called Awareness, Relatedness, Wholeness. It was not academically challenging. It was however so personally challenging that we all rearranged the first letters and called WAR!  It was in this class I first read Carl Jung, learned about Personality Type theory, and pursued my interest in Dreams.


Dr. James Ashbrook was our instructor. Though he is now deceased, many of his books are still available from Amazon. In later years he was especially interested in Brain research and its implications for faith. The first book of his that we read at the time was  The Old Me and The New I. Such a topic was the geography of our own personal WARs.


“Know thyself” said Plato, among other Greek philosophers. He just didn’t say how difficult it might be. Those in Recovery (that’s another chapter) say “Denial is not  river in Egypt!). There are many tools to help us know ourselves and discover the new I, hiding inside. Personality Type theory provides very helpful tools. 12 Step recovery meetings and program can help us all. Dreams are, as Morton Kelsey called them “God’s forgotten Language.” Whatever the tool, self knowledge is on the path to wisdom and a better life experience.


One of the most powerful experiences from our WAR class came in an exercise using our imagination to help us achieve our future goals. We were asked to see ourselves 5 years into the future. I imagined myself walking the halls of the seminary dressed in a clergy “uniform” with a clerical collar.


Actually this was not a completely new idea for me. My first experience of it came in Kindergarten. My class was waiting to enter the cafeteria one day when a group of Juniors from the High School arrived. They were there to sell pencils with the Basketball schedule printed on them. It was the privilege each year of the Junior class to have this activity as fund raiser. I vowed to myself that when I was  Junior I would come back and sell pencils. Ten years later I did just that.


With these two personal experiences to encourage me, I often use this technique to help motivate myself to reach important goals. It is also a very good way to pray for others. Speak words describing the positive outcome of your prayers.


No Free Lunch

Dad was good with kids. He was happy to get right down on the floor and play. As my brother and I got older he took up fishing as a way to share an interest with us. It was my impression, which I appreciate more now than then, that he cared more about time with us than he did about the fishing. There were no bumper stickers saying “a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work!”


Dad had a strong work ethic. He was definitely a member of Dan Rather’s “Greatest Generation.” He lived through the depression and fought in WWII. He was probably a workaholic. One of is favorite sayings was “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”  I can’t remember him saying so, however, I also most likely learned from him that “if it seems to good to be true it probably is.”  When others are ready to “buy” every “news” item they read on the Internet or get in an email, I usually take the time to check it out on sites that expose hoaxes.


When Dad said, “There is no free lunch.”  He wasn’t just being a pessimist. He knew you might “pay” for things with currencies other than cold hard cash. One early morning when we were going fishing we stopped to rent an aluminum boat. When the man came to the door he recognized my father. He set us up with the boat and said, “just take it there will be no charge.” Later, I asked my Dad,”if there is no free lunch, how did we get the boat.?


He replied, “I don’t even know the man’s name. But I see him in the hall at the Plant everyday. I smile and say hello. Small kindnesses are well appreciated! And that is why he is letting us use his boat.


Dad also had a sort of weird, off kilter way of looking at the world. I didn’t see it often, but now and then there would be these odd conversations in which he would indicate that some commonly held beliefs might just be arbitrary. He’d ask, for example things like, “is black really black. Could it be white?” Or he would ask riddles that would make me think.


There were two Indians going down the river in a canoe: a big Indian and a little Indian. Now the little Indian was the big Indian’s son, but the big Indian wasn’t the little Indian’s father. Who was the big Indian? Answer: his mother of course. Sometimes the obvious is hidden by prejudice. The was a similar riddle involving

A patient and his surgeon. There were not many women surgeons then, and maybe not so many still?


Mom shared a plethora of old English folk wisdom, she learned as a child in London. She passed them on to my sister, brother, and me as the occasion called required.


A stitch in time saves nine. Let sleeping dogs lie. Once bitten; twice shy. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Out of sight; out of mind. Out of the frying pan; into the fire. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. All that glitters is not gold. More haste, less speed.You can not make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse. If wishes were horses them beggars would ride. It turnips were watches I’d wear one by my side. A penny saved is a penny earned. Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. Cut your coat according to you clothe. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Easy come, easy go better late than never. Look before you leap. A stitch in time saves nine. Well begun is half done.


Mom also taught us “common courtesy.” We learned “please and thank you. Excuse me, and May I “. She also taught me to open doors for women and the elderly and to escort a woman on the street side of a sidewalk.