Three Virtues, and Voting for a Fourth

I’ve been thinking about the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. It’s been a long time since I studied my catechism, but maybe age and experience is a better teacher than the Baltimore Catechism anyway? My Dad was the best teacher of religious theory in my life, and he’s gone now. He wouldn’t have approved of all my ideas, conservative man that he was, but it was his teaching that launched my own quest for understanding.   (By the way, if you are not in the mood for a spiritual contemplation, here....click 'back' or something.)

Can we talk about why these three virtues are considered to be different than other virtues such as prudence and temperance? I don’t know what the church teaches about it, and I don’t especially care. (Do I hear thunder?) It seems to me that what makes faith, hope and charity different from all other virtues is that these three are between me and God in a way the others are not. Prudence and temperance are about my behavior, and are not really demonstrations of devotion, unseen by others.  Theological virtues are a private matter between me and God. (When I get to charity, I’ll tell you why I think charity isn’t a behavior.)

Faith. What is it? Really? Is it the unquestioning acceptance of what you’ve been taught, a firm belief in God? I think it’s so much more than that.  No, I don't think it's that at all, in fact.  I think faith is a genuine, deep examination of what you think, see and feel, and arriving at a positive assurance in your own heart about the presence of God and His intentions for you.

Did you ever give your spouse a book of coupons for personal favors? (Stay with me here…) Either the storebought sort you might buy at Spencers or maybe a handcrafted set, promising that upon presentation, you will wash his car, fix her breakfast in bed, do the dishes, whatever?

Would you give your spouse a coupon for “anything”? Pure and simple, whatever they ask, you will do. Bungee jumping off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, making love in a tool shed on display at the Home Depot, sell your car, move to Australia, get his mother’s name tattooed on your rump…whatever they ask, it is theirs. OK, I admit that last one would be mighty disturbing on a lot of levels.

I can hear you groaning at the idea. “What if he wants me to hunt brown bears on Kamchatka? Ugh!” (I’m sure you can think of more heinous requests than that.) Think hard. Would you trust your spouse to not ask of you anything that would hurt you, shame you, or endanger your relationship? Could you really give them carte blanche in such a way?

If you said, “Yes, I could.”, then I would say you have faith in your spouse. You are confident that you can trust them with your heart, body and soul. (And reputation). Isn’t that what we are doing when we have faith in God? Not blindly believing, but trusting that He has our best interests at heart. Choosing to trust, eyes open, that what He decides will be good?

Faith is a tough one to really DO, isn’t it?

Let’s talk about the second one: HOPE.

I was chatting with my favorite email philosopher about hope. For a long time, I had trouble with the idea of hope and what it really means. It seemed to me that the concept of hope was at odds with my firm belief that God helps those who help themselves. I would hear people say, “We’ll just hope for the best”, and then they’d sit back and expect the heavens to open and their problems to vanish in a puff of pink smoke or something. It can’t possibly work that way, can it?

Then I read (in some book, somewhere) the sentence: “The gods like the taste of salt.” In other words, the sweat of our brows is appetizing to the gods. Hmm. Eureka!  Clarity, at last!

Which gifts received mean the most to us? The quick last-minute-picked-up-at-the-airport-gift-shop sort of thing? Or the thing that the giver made especially with you in mind? Even if the gift itself is imperfect, the love and pleased expectations of the giver make it a gift to treasure.

What does this have to do with hope? Hold your horses and I’ll tell you. I think to hope is to have an expectation for a positive outcome of your labors, whether those labors be prayer or work or having babies or making a souffle’. I think when we hope, we are putting forth our best efforts, with the HOPE that those will be pleasing to God and that ultimately, good things will result.

Failing to hope is to give in to despair. And to despair is to say, “Things won’t improve, I can’t do better, God doesn’t care and I give up.” How would you feel if your child said to you, “I can not please you, you don’t like me, I’ll never amount to anything and I give up.” If one of my sons were to say such a thing to me, it would break my heart. How must God feel, when He is so infinitely loving?

We aren’t talking about good works, here. Putting forth your well-intentioned labors for others is its own reward and a way to demonstrate your affection for God and your fellow human being. Hope is about keeping a positive attitude that lets you continue to work on, even when you aren’t seeing the immediate results you might want.

Hope is your absolute trust in a better day, given to you courtesy of The One who gets to hand such things out. Hope is about putting your best effort forth at all things, knowing that God likes the taste of salt and that a cheerful heart will bring you to a happy result–sooner or later.

Every one of us feels thwarted in our efforts, disappointed in our results and discouraged by our setbacks. These things do not excuse despair. To despair is to turn your back on God. Even in those darkest hours at the end of a painful illness, there is still hope. Maybe you can’t hope for a full recovery, but you can hope for comfort, surcease for your loved ones, and the ultimate positive outcome of your life’s labors.

Now, charity. Charity is a funny word. We use the word charity when we really mean something else entirely. It’s a noun. It’s an adjective. It’s even a proper name.

I have some very specific opinions about the meaning of charity. (I know this will surprise you if you’ve been reading my blog–that I might have an opinion.) There are hundreds of examples of false charity available for your viewing pleasure; just look in any direction or turn on the television.

My personal definition of charity came from a variety of religous schools of thought, distilled down through time and consideration into my own formula. I believe that charity is a way of working on God’s behalf, doing those things that you think God Himself would personally do if He were in your metaphorical shoes. God wouldn’t do a good thing and then go around bragging about it. He does His thing and says nothing. Did you ever look into the autumn sunset, admire the gorgeous color and then see the clouds shape up to say “Look what I did!!”? No. God does His thing and leaves us to do ours and we should all just shut up about it.

I think if you do a good thing and turn it into a television show — figurative or literal — you have subtracted the goodness from it. You turned it into entertainment and shot charity right between the eyes.

True charity should not hurt the pride of the recipient. Maybe this is too easy in our current Age of Entitlement. Far and away too many people feel entitled to receive charity and hence, have no pride. That’s for another rant. A talented altruist can help other people without making them feel small. In a perfect world, the recipient of your help wouldn’t even know it was you. Not always easy but it can be done.

This one is a little more difficult: giving away something you don’t want is not charity. It isn’t!!! To be an act of charity, it has to hurt a little, folks. I can give you my old clothes and be glad for the closet space, but that isn’t charity. Now if I gave you my car because you needed one? That would charity. I love my car! To count as charity, there must be some quality of effort on the part of the giver.

Here is where the rest of America and I will diverge. Helping doesn’t always help. I still struggle with this, but time will give me clarity, I am sure. If someone is hungry and you feed them, maybe all you did was feed them, not help them. Helping the poor to make a better life is helping. Helping the poor so that they never attain the skills to rise from poverty is not. That old saying about teaching a man to fish, right?

Giving money to a charitable organization is not necessarily an act of charity. Neither is picking an angel off the Angel Tree at Christmas. They are certainly acts of kindness, but maybe not charity. Just because it barks doesn’t mean it’s a dog.

Charity isn’t always giving away some tangible thing. Charity can be as simple as reserving judgement, holding your tongue or giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Charity can be not saying something. Charity can be saying something that is hard to say, but needs to be heard. Charity can be going, or staying at home.

Charity is looking at world around you with clear eyes, an open heart and a wise mind, rolling up your sleeves, and making it happen. Silently.

So, I’m thinking about getting up a petition to appoint a 4th theological virtue, but I can’t decide which one I’d vote for.

How about the virtue of humility? Patience? Gratitude? Alacrity is sure one of my personal faves. Kindness? Compassion? Empathy? Honesty? Integrity? Loyalty? Oh…so many to choose from.

Humility seems a likely candidate. One thing I really can’t stand is being around someone who thinks they’re all that (and a bag of chips). Most of those folks have very little to crow about, as far as I can tell. I admire someone who does much, says little, listens rather than talks (trying to learn to do that better myself), and is genuinely aware that they do not know everything.

Patience is good, but can be a double-edged sword. Too many times I patiently wait for something, past the point of reason and then the next thing I know my patience has transmuted into inaction. Not good.

Gratitude. I like gratitude. I have much to be grateful for (which is another post). I don’t want your gratitude; I want to be aware of how much is mine only through the grace of others. You will understand, I'm sure, that I’m not talking only about the tangible.

Alacrity is a fine thing, too. Nothing brightens my day in the same way as a person who works with cheerful quickness. If that person is my own son, then I feel like they learned something important to the success of their life. If that person is a colleague, it makes everyone else’s day brighter and easier.  And if that person is someone with whom I am doing business, it makes me feel like a valued and appreciated customer.

Honesty and integrity are wonderful virtues, but too often conceal a darker side. Many a hurtful word is said under the pretense of being honest. And integrity can sometimes go hand-in-hand with unyielding stubbornness. Each is a virtue on its own, but each one can also be a cover--or an excuse-- for a less admirable trait.

I’m in favor of kindness, compassion and empathy, too. Those are all lovely virtues to have.

You know what? I think I know what the fourth virtue should be. Balance. We need all of the other virtues, but we must have balance to them or we may fail to temper our honesty with kindness, our integrity with compassion and so on. Yep. Balance. That’s where it’s at, baby.

WTH???

Something happened at work today which was disturbing.  I'm not going to tell you that it rocked me to my core, because I've been getting other indications that this was coming.  Still, it was disturbing.

I received an email from an underwriter, asking me for more information on an antique/classic auto that was being referenced in an insurance policy.  I open up the file, and review the auto in question.  It's a 1980 GMC Pickup. 

A 1980 truck is an antique?  Let me get this straight.  A vehicle that came onto the market when I was old enough to drive it...is an antique??????????  Oh.  My.  Gosh. 

I should have known it was going to happen.  I've seen toys on the Antiques Road Show that were just like something I played with..  Yeah, and even the lunch box I carried to school...admired by some darn appraiser for its great condition, considering its age.  Sheesh.

I should have known when the cable-sweater tights that I wore as a girl came back into fashion.  Or when the "golden oldies" stations stopped playing Nat King Cole and started playing Three Dog Night.  I even heard Blondie on that station.  And Pat Benetar!

A "retro" look in a fashion magazine looks a lot like my high school year book.  Hmmm.  People get nostalgic over big hair, shoulder pads and dolphin shorts. ??  Oh, here's a good one:  One day my youngest son stopped by my office and saw the Brother electric typewriter in the back corner:, "What is THAT thing?".  Yeah, I know.  He had a similarly agog reaction to carbon paper.  "Why don't you just print it twice if you need two copies?"  What would he say if he know about mimeograph sheets that you had to correct with a little ether?  Or how excited I was when they came out with correction strips, instead of those horrid erasers that would erase a hole in your paper, or white-out which you had to wait for it to dry?  Do you remember when IBM invented the self-correcting "Selectric II"?  It would erase the last letter, if you hadn't typed anything past that point.  If I remember right, both pitches (10pt Pica and 12pt Elite) were available on interchangeable balls.  It was all that and a bag of chips, I'm telling you.

The first time I looked at one of those surveys and my age-range was over half-way through the list of choices, I should have noticed.  I definitely noticed it when a client sat at my desk one day (and I'm sorry to report this was quite a few years ago) to discuss professional liability insurance for his dentistry practice, and he was much younger than I.  He was old enough to have gone through all the years of school that it takes to be a dentist, start a practice, get married, have kids....  but he was still younger than me.

I called someone in her late 20s a "kid" the other day. 

I need to call that underwriter about the antique auto.  It might make me feel better if we can re-classify that.

A Peek Into Your Soul

I'm working on a project for a friend.  She's also my boss, but I'm going to talk about the friendship part.  It's a project that gave me an insight....

I've known her for about ten years.  We've seen each other at school, when she was my child's teacher.  We sat next to each other at a fundraising banquet.  She's been at my house, where we laughed about life in the country.  She likes my bread pudding and I think her lemon bars are TO DIE FOR.  I know her kids and she knows mine.  Our husbands went to high school together.  I even plagiarized the colors of her living room walls for my own.  (She was very generous about the theft, too.)

Today I saw something completely new in her.  I got a peek into her soul.  You see, my friend is an artist.  I've seen her art many times and I am jealous of her talent in the most friendly, loving sort of way.   She needs a website, and I'm working on building it for her.  Today I was looking at about 40 pictures of her as she is painting.  And I saw someone I had previously only guessed at.

The pictures themselves are beautiful, I think.  The light in the room is lovely and the colors are warm and inviting.  The painting she is working on is beautiful.  But the part that made me really stop and look and smile was her.  She's relaxed.  Glowing.  Completely in her happy place.  Even her hair is shining more beautifully than ever.  Yeah, I'm jealous of her hair, too.... The tension is out of her arms and hands, and her eyes are lit from a place within, heretofore unseen. 

Since my dear friend hates having her picture taken, and since I understand that completely,  I chose a picture that leaves her in some anonymity.  This is temporary, because I (she calls me her evil webmistress...) am MAKING her include some photos of herself on her web page.  While I'm working on building a web page, she is getting used to being in the public eye by blogging.  You can read her blog here:  http://www.tinacrabdreeart.blogspot.com/




Once in a great while, you get to share a moment with someone.  You get to feel their joy, or their peace, or even their sorrow and connect to them in a whole new way.  I don't know squat about painting, but I know what peace looks like when I see it.  And it's beautiful.

Have you found that place in your soul?  That comfortable, peaceful, blissful place that lets you know that all is right and you are where you belong?  I find moments of it when I write, or when I turn out an especially nice loaf of bread.  Sometimes I find it when a friend asks for guidance and I am able to help them find the light again.  So far, I haven't managed to take the time to really apply myself to any of those things. 

I think that those moments, however long we get to enjoy them, are about as close as we get in this world....to God.

Ode to Spelling

I'll confess it right here and now, folks.  I'm a little uptight about spelling.  I sit here in front of my window, and I write in a chatty, casual style.  Sometimes I make typographical errors, but since I don't have a proofreader, those errors might slip past me.  Oh, I can write very formally if I need to.  There's just no fun in that on a blog.  I do try very hard to not let spelling mistakes get through to your tender eyes.  I might disregard some of the rules of grammar I learned in school, but at the very least, you should not have to try to figure out which word I am trying to use.

Tuesday, I sat in a class on website design, with a bunch of young snots (the age of my baby), and our homework assignment was to make a little pretend web page.  When they were all 'live' I could click around and see everyone else's work.  Many of those pages were a mess of run-on sentences, poorly punctuated and woefully misspelled.  You know what the really sad part of all of this is?  There were some very interesting and entertaining thoughts contained in those train-wreck writings.  Some of those young people have something to say, but who will get their message if the message is too garbled to comprehend? 

I am not a patient woman about this.  If I click on your web page, your Craigslist listing or your Ebay ad and I have to try to translate your gibberish into English...I will simply click away and look elsewhere. 

Some girl (I'm assuming it's a girl) wrote on my son's truck window in that wipe-off window paint you see on all the high-school kid's cars.  She said, "You're hot! Mmmmm......!"  And I was so pleased that she said, "You're hot!" instead of, "Your hot" or even worse, "UR hot".  Is there something wrong with me that I'm not offended by a girl announcing that she thinks my boy is hot;  I'm just thrilled she understands that she need to use the contraction instead of the possessive form?

I think I need therapy.

Questions About Myself

I've been wondering about the "me" I present to the world every day.  The reason I'm wondering is because very often on my little 5-minute commute, I see this lady out weeding her yard.  In her nightgown.  Weeding her front yard, facing a busy residential street.  In her nightgown.  And not that I want to paint too graphic a picture for you here, but let me just tell you that the sun shining behind a cotton nightie...uh...conceals very little.

You have to admit it's a strange way to face the world.  What is she thinking?  What does she see when she looks in the mirror?  I have a great many more questions about this (up to and including whether or not this is evidence of insanity) but it also makes me consider what other people might see in me that makes them wonder.
  • What do people think when they see me driving down the road singing?  If they know me, they're thinking, "Thank God I can't hear her singing."  What about the ones who don't know me?  For that matter, I'll even ask the people who do know me:  do I look crazy, singing "Crazy" to myself?  Now that they've invented hands-free communication devices, I hope people just think I'm on the phone.  But I doubt it.
  • People who read this blog might remember my confession about a perfectly stupid fear of mine, which I really hate to even admit.  But if you know me, and you know what I confessed to, does it make you think I'm a little wacko?
  • I like skirts and dresses.  That isn't TOO crazy, since I am a woman, after all.  I truly prefer them to jeans.  I blame it on my strict upbringing, but that's an excuse.  I simply prefer a dress.  I guess I could say I think my legs are better than my ass, but I'm not sure about that.  People ask me all the time what I'm dressed up for.  It sounds a bit crazy when I say, "comfort".
  • My relationship with my dog is a little puzzling.  We still struggle somewhat for the title "dominant female".  She is not alllowed in the house (and I don't want to hear your lectures about it, either.  My reasons are very valid, and you probably wouldn't let her in your house, either.)  but she is still an integral member of our family.  I love her, but I'm not sure I like her.  Is that a little crazy?
  • I think it is absolutely disgusting to mix your corn in with your mashed potatoes and gravy.  I don't mind soup or stew or Chinese food, and all of those mix vegetables up with other things.  But the corn stays out of the spuds.  Period.  And honestly, I am NOT a picky eater.  It must be the texture.
  • I salt my toast.  I can't even explain that.
  • My children are the greatest.  I love them beyond reason.  I think they are cool and handsome and all things good.  But I don't especially like your children.  There are a few exceptions to this, but very few.  How can I have such boundless love for my kids and so little patience for yours? 
I wonder what the outside world thinks of me and my quirks.  Don't tell.  I probably don't want to know what you think.  The next time you go out to weed your front yard in your nightie, you might want to wonder what the world is seeing when they look at you.

Mom's Milestone

Mom had her 80th birthday a month ago.  We had a very nice party for her, and even though she is an anti-social creature, she enjoyed the company and the attention.

I, being the embarrassingly rotten daughter I am, called her last night (for the first time since her party....).
Mom has reached a milestone.  Two months ago, she talked about being an old lady with just a hint of sadness and dismay.  Since her birthday, she sounds proud.  Impressed with herself at having achieved 80 years.

It is remarkable that she has achieved these 80 years in good overall health and with a such a sound mind.  Between the starving time when the Nazis occupied Holland, her native country, to the difficult time she had bringing forth the four of us, to tuberculosis and I don't know what else.....  it's impressive that she's here today and doing very well.  She smokes. (SHAME ON YOU MOM!!!)  No exercise.  Her diet...well, this is starting to sound like a lecture, so I'll lay off.  All in all, it is a wonder that she is so well.

There is something about the way she is embracing her age that I really like.  She laughs.  She jokes about it.  She holds her head high. Her mom was like that, too, and so is her older sister.  I like it that the women in my family do not become crabby, cranky old whiners.  Even at 80, and beyond, they embrace each day with a joyful spirit and a twinkle of humor in their eyes.  My mom takes that twinkle of humor to the next level and all the way to mischief.  But she's always been that way.

I don't know if the attitude is what helps the women in my family be so "with it" into their golden years.  Maybe it's that being "with it" lets you stay cheerful?  No.  I think it's the other way around.