Newsletter – January 2014 #2












“My life was also changed by discovering a simple method for grateful living: ‘Stop, Look, Go!’ ‘Stop,’ so as not to rush past the opportunity of the moment; ‘Look,’ for the given opportunity; and ‘Go!’ meaning ‘make something of this given opportunity here and now!’”



January Part 2 Greetings, Dear Friends…

I am finally ready to write the last two months’ Musings because enough of the clarity I sought has come to me. When I had my time of being a bit incapacitated over Christmas (and that’s all it was – just being a bit slowed down so I couldn’t proceed with life as normal for a few weeks), I began a month-long process of ‘remembering what I already know.” This is part of a quote that comes from Richard Bach’s Illusions…

Learning is remembering what you already know.

Teaching is just reminding others that they know as well as you.

Doing is proving you can remember.

Bach’s actual quote reads, ‘“Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, teachers.” Since I’ve always found the ‘Doing’ much more difficult than the ‘Learning’ and ‘Teaching’, I did this bit of tailoring to fit my experience.

My overwhelming experience as a teacher, counselor, consultant, partner and parent is having lived a life of being able to grasp concepts quickly and communicate them effectively to others – but it has taken me literally decades to live my way into turning those learnings and teachings into ongoing, reasonably consistent behavior. That I’ve actually made and recognized my surprising progress here was the gift of my being slowed known over the holidays.

Since I absolutely had to make real adjustments to getting around Scott, Sophie and Etienne’s delightfully decorated home, I did. The gift was that I made those adjustments without resentment or irritation and, in fact, discovered I truly enjoyed making them as a creative process of living! While this may seem no big deal to those of you who always had maturity, flexibility and an adaptable personality like I’m now experiencing, it’s a huge and delightful transformation for this habitually impatient and driven old man.

For most of my 75 years I’ve been a person who always wanted to be moving at his own pace in his own direction. I can remember being terribly frustrated when going on our two-mile run in the morning at an Outward Bound program in 1971 by having to continually adjust myself to the varying speeds of the group. Either I would be running up the back of the person in front of me or feeling pushed from behind, and I thoroughly resented both. As my family and friends can tell you, I could be a very nasty person when my personal momentum was hindered in any way by the world, and this ranged from being blocked from driving to consulting gig by icy roads right down to smashing a telephone that wouldn’t let me dial. Of course, I was unwilling to call these ‘childish tantrums’, but that’s definitely what they were, and I regularly behaved like a spoiled brat who demanded reality adjust to his every whim. Why I managed to keep family or friends is a mystery to me now.

But, as I had to make continual adjustments to reality during this last month, I was amazed to discover that not only was I easily making those adjustments but that I was actually enjoying the process. I found myself seeing each difficulty as a creative challenge and undertook to meet each with positive energy I have previously only brought to the limited teaching, consulting and design work I deigned to label ‘real creativity.” This enjoyment encompassed how to get my computer and it’s paraphernalia from my bedroom down to the dining room table so I could be with the family part of the day. Likewise, how to make my bed, coffee, lunch and take a shower safely were more opportunities for delightful engagement, not experiences of being blocked. What a difference this is in my approach to life from all my earlier years!

A major ‘Source’ (more about this to follow) has been my decade-long relationship with friend and mentor, ‘Elder Ed’ Paul with whom I’ve been having weekly Skype video conversations with since we met at a Third Age workshop in Asheville NC in 2003. While I was the official ‘teacher,’ what I was gifted with was a companion 21 years older than I (now 96 to my 75) who has been a primary agent of my moving into this lovely new stage of life!

Among the many life-changing insights Elder Ed has offered me is his simple and profound framework of RIP which means ‘Relaxing Into Participation’ (and is not actually far from ‘Rest In Peace’ if you can dissociate the dying connotations). RIP is Ed’s code for giving up control and surrendering into the flow of ‘Now.’ When we do this (as most spiritual traditions have also suggested), we must begin by recognizing any definition of ‘control’ that includes the notion of somehow ‘being in charge’ of life is flawed – it simply is not a component of human capability. Yes, on the ego level we love to believe we can grab the reins of life and run the show, but this is just non-sense. Nothing makes this clearer than aging, and, for that reason, accepting and aligning with the getting older process can be truly a great gift.

And the key to this is not resisting our natural flow of reality, but opening to and embracing it. This is what Ed means by ‘relaxing into participation,’ and, when we mature into this ability, whole universes of possibility we could not even glimpse previously unfold before us. Ed calls these our ‘Sources,’ and he emphasizes the importance of their paradoxical multiplicity as advisors and guides. One way he does this is to reject the limited human notion of ‘a right way’ insisting that reality, in our very limited perception, is usually seen as presenting EITHER/OR contradictions when, in fact, seen correctly, our Sources are always offering us BOTH/AND opportunities. But we have to give up our cherished rational and linear logic to recognize those possibilities.

Where most of the Second and even Third Age world is stuck is in the impossibility of RIP with the realities of BOTH/AND paradoxes – the deeply imprinted belief that there is always a ‘best’ or ‘right way’ to be found, and the work of life is to seek externally until we have found ‘IT.’ Of course, when we think we have, our ‘right way’ makes all other possibilities ‘wrong’ and ‘evil’ so we must use our ‘rightness’ to oppose them all. This, Ed makes very clear, is the fundamental problem with the variations of ‘monotheism’ (one version of which calls itself ‘atheism’) that have gone about murdering one another for thousands of years.

So, as weird as it may at first seem, Ed’s framework is much closer to the ‘polytheism’ that conceives of a ‘panoply’ of gods – ‘Wisdom Sources’ – we can consult and learn from. In other words, by ‘relaxing into participation’ Ed is showing us how to truly reach beyond our limited rational ability to see and know.

If the non-rationality of this seems too far-fetched, just imagine, now that you know there are no ‘right ways,’ taking on the belief that ‘all paths lead to the mountain top’ only to immediately realize you’ve just moved from an old to a new ‘right way.’ As quantum physics has made abundantly clear, paradoxical reality exists beyond human rationality’s ability to comprehend it.

Now onto another of the non-rational Sources Elder Ed’s mentoring has opened me to – the marvelous storyteller Rachel Naomi Remen. In ‘ENDBEGINNINGS’ she shares this learning for her earlier life…


   “I was 35 years old before I understood that there is no ending without a beginning. That beginnings and endings are and will be always right up against each other. Nothing ever ends without something else beginning or begins without something else ending. Perhaps this would be easier to remember if we had a word for it. Something like ‘endbegin,’ or ‘beginend.’

   “For a long time I never noticed the beginnings. That was one of the first things that changed for me when I entered the Institute for the Study of Humanistic Medicine, the Millers’ research program at Esalen. At that time, I was just learning how to make jewelry and had cast a silver ring. The design was the head of a woman whose long hair, entangled with stars, wound around your finger and formed the ring shank. Technically, it had been difficult to make and I was proud of the design. I finished it in time to wear to one of the first weekend sessions at Esalen.

   “The ring attracted a great deal of admiration and attention. At that time many craftsmen were in residence at Esalen, and several suggested that I drive back up the coast a few miles and show it to the jeweler at a gallery we had passed next to the road.

   “It was about to rain, but I made the trip anyway and had a wonderful afternoon. The jeweler, a gentle man and a gifted artist, had offered me tea and we spent an hour or so talking about beauty and the ways in which art reminds people of the soul. Heady conversation for a young academic physician. In the end, I left my ring with him so that he could recast it and sell it to others. I drove back down Route 1 with difficulty. Some serious rain had begun and the wind was strong enough to push my car a little on the road.

   “During the night, a wild and violent storm, the last of a long series of winter storms, hit the coast. At breakfast, without electricity and heat, I was shocked to hear that we were isolated. A stretch of Route 1 north of Esalen had fallen into the ocean. We would have to drive many miles south and go inland in order to go north to get back to San Francisco.

   “The gallery where I had left my ring had stood next to the stretch of road that had washed into the Pacific. The building was gone and my ring with it.

   “Through my numbness, I could hear several inner voices commenting on my loss. The loudest was my father’s saying, ‘This never would’ve happened if you hadn’t allowed a total stranger to exploit you and make a profit from your design. How stupid can you be, and you a doctor?’ And my mother: ‘You are so careless! You can never be trusted with anything valuable. You always forget things and lose things.’ Mixed in was the voice of a very young part of myself that kept looking at the place on my hand where the ring had been yesterday and saying, ‘Where is it? It was right here.’

   “In anguish, I went to the edge of the cliffs and stood looking down at the Pacific, still wild from yesterday’s storm. Down there somewhere was my ring. As I watched the ocean hammer the cliffs, it began to occur to me that there was something rather natural, even inevitable, about what had happened. Pieces of the land had been falling into the ocean for millions of years. Perhaps all those familiar blaming voices were wrong. There was nothing at all personal and it, just some larger process at work.

   “I looked at the place on my finger again. This time it really was an empty space. And silent. It was a big. For the first time I faced a loss with a sense of curiosity.

   “What would come to fill up this space? Would I make another ring? Or would I find another ring in a secondhand shop, or even another country? Perhaps someday someone I had not even met would give me a ring because he loved me.

   “I was 35 years old and I had never trusted life before. I had never allowed any empty spaces. Like my family, I had believed that that empty spaces remained empty. Life had been about hanging on to what you had and medical training had only reinforced the avoidance of loss at all costs. Anything I had ever let go of had claw marks on it. Yet this empty space had become different. It held all the excitement and anticipation of a wrapped Christmas present.”  (From Kitchen Table Wisdom)


Thank you so much, Rachel Naomi Remen, for this and your many other stories in Kitchen Table Wisdom. If readers of these Musings would like to know more about Rachel, please go to

I was going to go on to share other Sources that have been offering wisdom to me recently, but this is more than enough for one set of Musings. I hope my sharing of Ed’s RIP/Sources framework is of value to you; I have taken some years to allow myself the experience that’s enabled me to confirm its practicality.

And there are enough examples of Sources’ gifts in these articles that follow – it has been effortless on my part for them become an extension of my own learnings. May you find them as inspirational and timely as I have…

 2.  MOST HAVE NO IDEA WHAT MARTIN LUTHER KING ACTUALLY DID – This piece gave me a much more profound understanding of the incredible difference King made to African Americans who lived in the South…

3.  AN UNSUNG HERO OF CIVIL RIGHTS is the story of conservative white Republican Congressman William Moore McCulloch without whom the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not have become law…  

4.  ALONE, YET NOT ALONE shares David Brooks’ insight into the compatibility of spirituality and paradox as well as introducing a new singer/philosopher…

5.  A ZURICH 17-YEAR OLD’S GRATITUDE/THANKFULNESS PROJECT offers simple glimpses of Brother David Stendl-Rast’s own growth in the practice of gratitude…

6.  HOUSE PROUD: FREEDOM IN 704 SQUARE FEET gives a perfect example of attending to ‘what we give our life’s time to’…

7.  THIS MONTH’S LINKS – The biggest surprise to me was the ‘bird’s view of the world’…

Until February, much love, FW




This will be a very short diary. It will not contain any links or any scholarly references. It is about a very narrow topic, from a very personal, subjective perspective.

The topic at hand is what Martin Luther King actually did, what it was that he actually accomplished.

What most people who reference Dr. King seem not to know is how Dr. King actually changed the subjective experience of life in the United States for African Americans. And yeah, I said for African Americans, not for Americans, because his main impact was his effect on the lives of African Americans, not on Americans in general. His main impact was not to make white people nicer or fairer. That’s why some of us who are African Americans get a bit possessive about his legacy. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, despite what our civil religion tells us, is not color blind.

I remember that many years ago, when I was a smartass home from first year of college, I was standing in the kitchen arguing with my father. My head was full of newly discovered political ideologies and black nationalism, and I had just read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, probably for the second time.

A bit of context. My father was from a background, which if we were talking about Europe or Latin America, we would call, “peasant” origin, although he had risen solidly into the working-middle class. He was from rural Virginia and his parents had been tobacco farmers. I spent two weeks or so every summer on the farm of my grandmother and step-grandfather. They had no running water, no gas, a wood burning stove, no bathtubs or toilets but an outhouse, potbelly stoves for heat in the winter, a giant wood pile, a smoke house where hams and bacon hung, chickens, pigs, semi wild housecats that lived outdoors, no tractor or car, but an old plow horse and plows and other horse drawn implements, and electricity only after I was about 8 years old. The area did not have high schools for blacks and my father went as far as the seventh grade in a one room schoolhouse. All four of his grandparents, whom he had known as a child, had been born slaves. It was mainly because of World War II and urbanization that my father left that life.

They lived in a valley or hollow or “holler” in which all the landowners and tenants were black. In the morning if you wanted to talk to cousin Taft, you would walk down to behind the outhouse and yell across the valley, “Heeeyyyy Taaaaft,” and you could see him far, far in the distance, come out of his cabin and yell back.

On the one hand, this was a pleasant situation because they lived in isolation from white people. On the other hand, they did have to leave the valley to go to town where all the rigid rules of Jim Crow applied. By the time I was little, my people had been in this country for six generations (going back, according to oral rendering of our genealogy, to Africa Jones and Mama Suki), much more under slavery than under freedom, and all of it under some form of racial terrorism, which had inculcated many humiliating behavior patterns.

Anyway, that’s background. I think we were kind of typical as African Americans in the pre-civil rights era went.

So anyway, I was having this argument with my father about Martin Luther King and how his message was too conservative compared to Malcolm X’s message. My father got really angry at me. It wasn’t that he disliked Malcolm X, but his point was that Malcolm X hadn’t accomplished anything as Dr. King had.

I was kind of sarcastic and asked something like, so what did Martin Luther King accomplish other than giving his “I have a dream speech.”

Before I tell you what my father told me, I want to digress. Because at this point in our amnesiac national existence, my question pretty much reflects the national civic religion view of what Dr. King accomplished. He gave this great speech. Or some people say, “he marched.” I was so angry at Mrs. Clinton during the primaries when she said that Dr. King marched, but it was LBJ who delivered the Civil Rights Act.

At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech.

My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”

Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this. If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing The Help, may not understand what this was all about. But living in the south (and in parts of the midwest and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea. Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement used to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”

This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father’s memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people. The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.

This was just one of many humiliating practices we were taught to prevent white people from going berserk.

I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparents’ vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank. They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness. My strong, valiant, self-educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men. Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict. Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.

This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.

If you didn’t get taught such things, let alone experience them, I caution you against invoking the memory of Dr. King as though he belongs exclusively to you and not primarily to African Americans.

The question is, how did Dr. King do this—and of course, he didn’t do it alone.

(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of nonviolent resistance, and taught the practices of nonviolent resistance.)

So what did they do?

They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be okay.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating—from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

And you know what? The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad.

Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicced on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.

That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south. Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song. The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another. This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.

Please let this sink in. It wasn’t marches or speeches. It was taking a severe beating, surviving and realizing that our fears were mostly illusory and that we were free.

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war-like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on. But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears. So please don’t tell me that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today. If you did not go through that transition, you’re not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.

That is what Dr. King did—not march, not give good speeches. He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.

Once the beating was over, we were free.

It wasn’t the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us. It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid. So, sorry Mrs. Clinton, as much as I admire you, you were wrong on this one. Our people freed ourselves and those Acts, as important as they were, were only white people officially recognizing what we had done.




This year America will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, a candidate for the greatest legislative accomplishment of the last century. We will recall the presidents who launched (J.F.K.) and landed (L.B.J.) this profound if incomplete attempt to repair the damage racism had done to our democracy and our humanity. We will esteem the leaders and martyrs of the movement that forced the issue onto our national conscience, including the man we honor on this holiday. We will recall, too, the Southern Democrats who stood — and stalled — in defense of segregation, and the Republicans who later capitalized on the outcome with a cynical appeal to white resentment. We will lament the current attempts by several states, with the Supreme Court’s blessing, to roll back the basic franchise promised in the Civil Rights Act (and reinforced by the Voting Rights Act the following year). And we will probably invoke the legacy of this great law many times as we debate the status of millions of undocumented residents and the rights of gay Americans.

Somewhere in all this worthy commemoration we should pause to pay homage to a conservative white Republican named William Moore McCulloch. Never heard of him? Neither had I. But there is a good case to be made that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not have become law without him. And there is a very good case to be made that Washington desperately needs his example today.

McCulloch was a congressman from a rural, conservative district in west central Ohio. He was frugal with the taxpayers’ money, favored allowing prayer in schools and keeping the federal government out of them, voted against foreign aid and gun control. These views were sufficiently in sync with his constituents that voters re-elected him 12 times.

With a district that was 2.7 percent black, he had no political incentive to stick his neck out on something as contentious as civil rights. But McCulloch was descended from abolitionists, and had been appalled by his exposure to Jim Crow when he worked as a young lawyer in Florida. This fortified in him a strong belief that the blessings of the Constitution were not meant exclusively for white men, and that it was the highest duty of the federal government to secure those blessings for all.

Moreover — quaint as this may seem today — he believed that principles were not things to be surrendered to polls and lobbyists and that clamorous mob called “the base.” On the wall of his district office in Piqua, Ohio, McCulloch displayed a framed excerpt from Edmund Burke’s message to the electors of Bristol: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

The Kennedy and Johnson administrations knew they would need a large contingent of Republicans to get the civil rights bill past the segregationist Southern Democrats who held the commanding heights on Capitol Hill. And so they sent an emissary to McCulloch, who was the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, and enlisted him as a partner. He agreed to an active collaboration with the Democratic White House, an alliance hard to imagine today and even then viewed by some in his party as bordering on treason. He had two conditions. First, if McCulloch helped get a strong bill through the House, he insisted the president would not allow it to be weakened in the Senate, where the oligarchy of Southern Democrats had successfully filibustered past civil rights measures until they were rendered toothless. Second, McCulloch wanted assurances that Republicans would share the credit for passage.

McCulloch’s story is rescued from obscurity in Todd Purdum’s forthcoming account of the great battle, “An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Purdum, a former New York Times colleague who now writes for Vanity Fair and Politico, has composed a suspenseful legislative procedural that is a synthesis of history and fresh reporting. His account of the Civil Rights Act is rich in characters, including other Republicans instrumental in passing the landmark bill, like Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois and Representative Charles Halleck of Indiana, the Republican leader in the House. (Those were the days when “party of Lincoln” actually meant something.) But Purdum has a particular affection for Bill McCulloch, who became, as one legislative aide put it, “the conscience of the bill.” McCulloch assured the bill was the toughest and most enforceable that could muster a majority, and he stiffened the spines of President Johnson and his attorney general, Robert Kennedy, when the opposition got tough. The Southerners’ filibuster dragged on for 57 days but was ended without major concessions, the first time supporters had ever broken a filibuster on a civil rights bill.

The final version outlawed discrimination in hotels, restaurants and other public accommodations. It empowered the attorney general to bring suit to desegregate public schools. It prohibited discrimination in hiring, and let victims of such discrimination seek redress in the courts. And it expanded protection of the right to vote, which would be greatly strengthened the following year. (Yes, McCulloch was a champion of the Voting Rights Act, too.) In the end, the Civil Rights Act passed with a larger percentage of Republicans in support than Democrats.

Among the documents found in McCulloch’s papers years after his death was a handwritten and unusually heartfelt letter from the former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, who wrote: “Your integrity under such pressures is what makes our political system worth fighting for and dying for. Please forgive the emotional tone of this letter — but I want you to know how much your example means to me. It is a light of hope in an often dark world, and one I shall raise my children on as they grow older.”

I wonder if current Republican congressional representatives would laud Rep. McCulloch while continuing business as usual.

It is political writ in today’s Washington that you can be a person of conviction or a compromiser, but not both. McCulloch believed that principles and pragmatism were not only compatible, but that the combination was the bedrock of representative democracy.

“The function of Congress,” he explained, in a farewell speech to House colleagues on his retirement, “is not to convert the will of the majority of the people into law; rather its function is to hammer out on the anvil of public debate a compromise between polar positions acceptable to a majority.” In contrast to the direct democracy of a town meeting, “It is less clear that there is a losing side.”

“Anyone, of course, can introduce grandiose legislative schemes,” he noted on another occasion. “But reaching for the sky, rather than aiming for the possible, is a form of showmanship we don’t wish to engage in. Reality is what we live by and accomplishment is what we seek. For only in compromise, moderation and understanding are we able to fashion our society into a cohesive and durable structure.”

You would be hard pressed to find a McCulloch in today’s Congress of zero-sum partisans and base-whipped invertebrates. Lawmakers now, as President Kennedy said of purists who favored a civil rights bill that was maximalist but unwinnable, “would rather have an issue than a bill.” The handful of surviving legislators in the McCulloch mold seem to be retiring. There are members of the ruling House majority who occasionally show signs of wanting to make law rather than make bumper-sticker slogans, but they are too often beaten back into line. In that category we can count the man who now represents McCulloch’s hometown of Piqua, Ohio: John Andrew Boehner.

In the House of Representatives there is an imposing two-story amphitheater called the National Statuary Hall, to which each state may contribute two marble or bronze likenesses of favorite historical figures. Ohio is represented by President James A. Garfield and William Allen, a former senator and governor known as a champion of westward expansion. Allen was also, as it happens, a champion of slavery, and a few years ago the state began a campaign to replace him. The names of 10 Ohioans were put to voters in a statewide ballot. Bill McCulloch came in fourth, after Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers and Jesse Owens. I can’t argue with the result, but in this year when our commitment to equality is both remembered and tested, isn’t it nice to imagine the message a statue of Bill McCulloch would have sent?




There is a strong vein of hostility against orthodox religious believers in America today, especially among the young. When secular or mostly secular people are asked by researchers to give their impression of the devoutly faithful, whether Jewish, Christian or other, the words that come up commonly include “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” “old-fashioned” and “out of touch.”

It’s not surprising. There is a yawning gap between the way many believers experience faith and the way that faith is presented to the world.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described one experience of faith in his book “God in Search of Man”: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal. …To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

And yet Heschel understood that the faith expressed by many, even many who are inwardly conflicted, is often dull, oppressive and insipid — a religiosity in which “faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion.”

There must be something legalistic in the human makeup, because cold, rigid, unambiguous, unparadoxical belief is common, especially considering how fervently the Scriptures oppose it.

And yet there is a silent majority who experience a faith that is attractively marked by combinations of fervor and doubt, clarity and confusion, empathy and moral demand.

For example, Audrey Assad is a Catholic songwriter with a crystalline voice and a sober intensity to her stage presence. (You can see her perform her song “I Shall Not Want” on YouTube.) She writes the sort of emotionally drenched music that helps people who are in crisis. A surprising number of women tell her they listened to her music while in labor.

She had an idyllic childhood in a Protestant sect prone to black-or-white dichotomies. But when she was in her 20s, life’s tragedies and complexities inevitably mounted, and she experienced a gradual erosion of certainty.

She began reading her way through the books on the Barnes & Noble Great Books shelf, trying to cover the ones she missed by not going to college. She loved George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda” and was taken by Tolstoy. “He didn’t have an easy time encountering himself,” she says, sympathetically. “I was reading my way from darkness into paradox.”

She also began reading theology. She’d never read anything written before 1835. She went back to Augustine (whose phrases show up in her lyrics) and the early church fathers. Denominationally, she went backward in time. She became Baptist, then Presbyterian, then Catholic: “I was ready to be an atheist. I was going to be a Catholic or an atheist. “

She came to feel the legacy of millions of people who had struggled with the same feelings for thousands of years. “I still have routine brushes with agnosticism,” she says. “I still brush against the feeling that I don’t believe any of this, but the church always brings me back. …I don’t think Jesus wants to brush away the paradoxes and mysteries.”

Her lyrics dwell in the parts of Christianity she doesn’t understand. “I don’t want people to think I’ve had an easy time.” She still fights the tendency to go to extremes. “If I’d have been an atheist I’d have been the most obnoxious, Dawkins-loving atheist. I wouldn’t have been like Christopher Hitchens.”

Her life, like all lives, is unexpected, complex and unique. Her music provides a clearer outward display of how many inwardly experience God.

If you are a secular person curious about how believers experience their faith, you might start with Augustine’s famous passage “What do I love when I love my God,” and especially the way his experience is in the world but then mysteriously surpasses the world:

“It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers, and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God — a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my innerness, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God.”




RAFAEL: “I am 17 years old and I am doing a major school project on gratitude/thankfulness. As Sir John Templeton asked: ‘How can we get six billion people around the world to practice gratitude?’ I want to create a training program at my school. For my project it would be amazing, if you could answer the following questions for me.” Rafael Ruch, Zurich, Switzerland

RR: “What are you grateful/thankful for in the last year (2013)?”

BD: “On a personal level, I am grateful that my health held out, in spite of my old age (87), that I was able to write and travel and lecture and spend time with good friends.”

RR: “What are you grateful/thankful for in general/in your life?”

BD: “Although I am not always as mindful of it as I would like to be, I am grateful for every single moment, because every moment offers me a new opportunity as a completely free gift. Specifically, I am grateful for the many opportunities to enjoy life through all my senses and to share this joy with others.”

RR: “How does gratitude affect you/your state of being?”

BD: “Whenever I am grateful, I feel more joyful, more awake, and energized in mind and body: I feel ‘in tune with Life.’”

RR: “Have there been life-changing events/moments/situations in your life, which you are thankful for?”

BD: “Several times in my life I was in immediate danger of death (almost being hit by a train at an open train-crossing, or facing an enemy machine-gun pointing directly at me from a few feet away, or having no food and thinking that I might die from starvation). At such moments I learned to appreciate life and live gratefully.”

BD: “My life was also changed by discovering a simple method for grateful living: ‘Stop, Look, Go!’ ‘Stop,’ so as not to rush past the opportunity of the moment; ‘Look,’ for the given opportunity; and ‘Go!’ meaning ‘make something of this given opportunity here and now!’”

RR: “Thank you very much for your time! With kind regards and respect, Rafael”





Early in their marriage, Lily Copenagle and Jamie Kennel began crafting a plan for living, scribbling house designs and lists of must-haves on notepads and paper napkins.

The idea was simple. They would create a home that was big enough for the two of them, but small enough so that it would be easy to maintain, environmentally responsible and inexpensive to operate. And that would allow them to free up their time and funds for intellectual and recreational pursuits. Own less, live more: It sounds like a platitude, but it became their strategy.

“We never liked furnishing or cleaning or taking care of things we really didn’t need,” said Ms. Copenagle, 40, who has degrees in physics and cell biology and is associate dean of students at Reed College in Portland, Ore., where her job involves helping students stay, and succeed, in college.

As her husband said, “There’s so much more personal freedom in going smaller.”

Mr. Kennel, 38, is the director of a Portland paramedics program who plans to pursue a doctorate in education or the behavioral sciences, and is particularly interested in how small teams of emergency medical technicians and others work together in a crisis, often in tight quarters. Ms. Copenagle said, “Jamie sees people on the worst day of their life, medically, and I see them at their toughest academic moment.”

The couple married eight years ago, after they had been dating for a year, in a characteristically small ceremony — it was just the two of them — while on vacation in Nicaragua. Once they returned to Portland, they gave a party so friends and family wouldn’t disown them. And soon after, they began making lists.

Mr. Kennel, who is 6-foot-1, wanted a place that did not have the cramped rooms and low-slung doorways of the older houses they had been living in, so he wouldn’t have to remember to duck his head whenever he walked through a door.

Ms. Copenagle wanted a space that was small enough to vacuum completely in five minutes, within cord’s reach of a single outlet, so there wouldn’t have to be any unplugging and replugging of the vacuum cleaner.

And stairs were out of the question because Sirena, one of their beloved rescue dogs, is 14 and fragile; they also realized that as young and agile as they are now, they might be in a similar situation one day.

After they had settled on a neighborhood in the northern part of the city, they bought a decrepit 1950s house on a deep lot for $190,000 and tore it down, being careful to donate or repurpose anything reusable. What they threw away filled just one Dumpster.

Their neighbors were concerned about what might rise in place of the old home: a McMansion, multiple townhouses or some other hideous anomaly among the area’s modest bungalows. No one imagined that the couple would put up a tidy little house of barely more than 700 square feet — 704, to be exact — that had a vaulted green roof planted with native flora and a friendly 1960s vibe.

“My mother likes to joke that we took a perfectly good two-bedroom house and put up a room,” Ms. Copenagle said.

Mr. Kennel’s family could not fathom it either, he said: “It doesn’t fit their societal picture of success, generally. We’re doing well, so why aren’t we demonstrating that through our house?”

Even the architects they interviewed had balked at the idea, Ms. Copenagle said. “They kept telling us, ‘You really don’t want this.’ ”

After all, while living small has its share of vocal advocates, it is still underrepresented in the American housing market. In 2012, the average home built in the United States was roughly 2,500 square feet.

But this wasn’t about status or money.

“We can certainly afford a bigger place with a higher price tag,” Ms. Copenagle said. “We just don’t want it.”

So they persevered, commissioning blueprints for a design they came up with themselves, filing for permits and hiring a general contractor. Eventually, though, “it dawned on us that we were on site all the time,” Ms. Copenagle said. “And our general contractor was never here.”

Once the framing was complete, they decided to get rid of the contractor and finish most of the work themselves. It was another way to save money — and besides, “we enjoyed doing the construction work,” Ms. Copenagle said.

In all, the house, which was completed in 2012, cost about $135,000 to build, including materials and labor. (Their own labor, which isn’t part of that figure, they valued at $50,000.) Next time, they said, they will forgo general contractors, architects and real estate agents, which added another $18,000 at the outset.

Those costs were offset by grants of roughly $9,000 that the city awarded them for the green roof, and they get a break on their water bill for managing and reusing storm water with permeable pavers, a rain garden and a 550-gallon rain barrel.

The landscaping also softens the industrial feeling of the exterior and entices passers-by to stop and ring the doorbell, asking questions or offering opinions. The residents do not seem to mind. They are delighted with the way the indoor and outdoor spaces flow together, creating the impression of a more expansive home. And they are proud of their house’s performance in the energy-savings department.

None of this has gone unnoticed by the neighbors. Kim Conrow, 65, who lives next door, marveled: “On weekends, they actually go places and do things. They’re not tied to the projects most of us are tied to. I’m so charmed by the simplicity of it.”

Ms. Conrow admitted, however, that she would never be able to share a closet with her husband the way her neighbors do.

Still, the benefits of that arrangement speak for themselves. In nine months, the mortgage will be paid in full, which will leave Ms. Copenagle and Mr. Kennel with monthly costs of roughly $370 for property taxes, utilities, municipal services and insurance.

That’s good, because they will soon have to pay tuition for Mr. Kennel’s next degree. And Ms. Copenagle has bought a sleeker kayak so she can keep up with her husband as he paddles his stand-up board on the local rivers. Recently, they also bought 20 acres in northeastern Washington, completely off the grid, with incredible views of the Cascade Mountains.

The scribbling on napkins has begun again. This time, the goal is 400 square feet.









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