“…and the pursuit of happiness.” (the law of laughter)

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“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine but a broken spirit dries the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

I love to laugh.

I love to be with people who laugh.

Laughter is contagious.

Sure, there are times to be sad, to be angry, and to grieve, but I believe that even in the face of emotional, physical, and psychological trauma, joy and laughter can set us on the road to recovery.

I once read where Moe Howard (The Three Stooges) said that he felt like the only thing he was good at was making people laugh and believed that was his purpose in life. Minnie Pearl (Grand Ole Opry) talked about how she one day came to the conclusion that she would never be a raving beauty or glamour girl but she had a powerful gift to make a profound difference in the lives of others. She had the gift of making them laugh. Both of these people understood a powerful law of the Spiritual Universe. There is power in laughter and people need it. Laughter is a gift. Laughter is a healing balm.

The late comedians, George Burns and Bob Hope, who both lived to be over one hundred, believed it, too, that there is amazing power in laughter. According to Mayo Clinic, laughter can

  1. Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  2. Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  3. Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
  4. Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  5. Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
  6. Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
  7. Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.

An old Jewish proverb says, “As soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” Laughter can cleanse us. A deep bout of laughter can often be the cheapest form of therapy. Mark Twain, that master of satirical humor, once said, “Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.

“Laughter is the sun that drives misery from the human face,” Victor Hugo.

The quotes and evidence that laughter is beneficial on many levels goes on and on. However, there is something even more important than a few moments spent laughing at a party or parked in front of your favorite sitcom and that is inner joy. Those people who have learned to laugh through and at anything have done so because they have learned the power of a MERRY heart, aka, a positive attitude.

Proverbs 15:15 says that a cheerful heart has a continual feast. Happiness is a foundation and joy is an expression of love. However, you have to choose joy. We all face things that bring us down. We all face disappointments. We can either wallow in them or find the light and focus on it.

I remember an old saying I read in a discarded, discount book called How to Stay on Top When the Bottom Falls Out that changed my existence. I was seventeen, shy, alone and in over my head. Trust me when I tell you that my bottom had fallen out. Within three years my grandmother had died of a heart attack, my brother had been killed in an accident and my thirty-eight-year-old mom had suddenly passed away. My father was sinking into grief and depression. I was struggling with anorexia and thoughts of self-harm. I felt there was something innately WRONG with me and that somehow I didn’t deserve to live. I felt like I was never good enough and that people expected perfection I couldn’t give them. To make a long story short, my young life was complicated. All the trust-worthy adults in my life were gone and I was expected to be the adult. I found that ragged paperback book in a box of junk someone gave us and in that book there was a quote, “Two men looked out of prison bars. One saw mud. The other saw stars.” The author went on to say that our perspective changes everything. He quoted another author saying, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”

I made a decision that day. No matter how muddy it was, I was going to see stars. On cloudy evenings, I would remember that the stars were still there, just on the other side of the clouds. And in the day time, a tornado may be blowing at the moment, but no storm lasts forever. The sun is always, ALWAYS going to shine again. I decided that I would choose joy and that every day I would find something for which I could be thankful. Somehow being thankful brings joy.

I have a saying that I sign my work emails with, “Happiness is a choice, not a set of circumstances.” (I think I made that one up, but most likely someone else said it first.) I can’t help but think that the secret to a happy life isn’t in the things we have. It isn’t in the grand experiences we can give ourselves or others. The secret to a happy life is found in taking the moment we are in and consciously being thankful for whatever positive thing presents itself. It might be as grand as dinner in a palace or as simple as a dandelion peeping through the crack in a sidewalk. Corrie ten Boom told of a time when she was in a concentration camp and saw a dandelion poking its head through the cracks in the concrete. She rejoiced. Her sister, Betsie, rejoiced over fleas in their barracks because the fleas kept the guards out.

Paul, a man who wrote much of the New Testament, said, “Rejoice always.” One of the laws of the Spiritual Universe is to choose joy. Gratitude brings happiness and joy. Joy brings laughter and laughter brings healing.

Ponies Will Be Ponies (the Law of Forgiveness)

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“The world belongs to those who let go.” Lao Tzu

When I was a child I had a pony named Lightning. One day I turned my back and he bit me. It hurt. It left prints on my skin. I never forgot how Lightning bit me but I didn’t hold it against him because my mom said, “He’s a pony. That’s the nature of a pony. Don’t turn your back on a pony. Ponies will be ponies.”

So, I accepted that biting me in the back was his nature. I didn’t hate him for it. I didn’t hold onto the pain of the bite. I didn’t let it consume me or cause me not to want to look at, talk about or think about ponies ever again. I accepted it and I moved on. All of these years later, I hold no grudges against that pony, nor other ponies who look like Lightning. I am not filled with remorse, regret, anger, guilt or shame when I remember him. I have let go. I have forgiven my pony. That is an over-simplified example of forgiveness, but the principle is the same. Forgiveness is a law of the Spiritual Universe. Forgiveness is the art of letting go. It has nothing to do with forgetfulness.

When a human being hurts us we can either hold onto the pain, the anger, etc. or we can let it go, realize it is the person’s nature and get on with our lives. That’s forgiveness–just letting go. Holding onto anger toward that person, holding onto pain caused by that person, doesn’t punish the person who hurt us. It hurts US (you, me)–over and over and over again. It gives that person power over our lives. It ties us to the past and robs us of joy in the present. It taints our lives. If we hold on to the negative thoughts and feelings, they will drain our life’s energy, making us bitter, angry, resentful and possibly even sick.

Forgiveness doesn’t equate to forgetfulness. When someone hurts us, forgiving doesn’t mean we don’t remember what was done to us or how much it hurt. It simply means we hold no anger or ill-will toward them. It means we acknowledge that they are the way they are, they were the way they were and we let it go.

But how do you forgive? How do we let go of the pain? The anger? The years of mistreatment or loneliness or feelings of worthlessness that someone inflicted upon us?

Well, realize that it is the past and the past doesn’t have to be our present or our future. Let go of yesterday. We can’t change it, can’t undo what was done. Think of it like a chapter in the book of life. Turn the page and move to the next chapter. Your story (my story) is not over, so don’t stay in a chapter that’s already been read. When you feel those old feelings coming back, turn to God and remember that’s where peace is found, your connection to the eternal spirit, creator of all things. Realize that you are a spirit and your spirit is not controlled by anyone or anything that they did to you. You are a great spiritual being and you are greater than anything your body or mind has endured. Get in touch with the source of all things, and say “I forgive….(whoever)” and feel peace flood over you. Forgiveness is a choice.

Realize that it’s normal to have anger and hurt and pain. They come when we are mistreated or betrayed or backstabbed or manipulated, etc., and we are not bad for feeling what we feel. We don’t have to blame someone else. We don’t have to justify our feelings. We can merely note that we have them and decide how we want to deal with them. But then we have to release them and move forward.

Ultimately, if we choose not to forgive, we choose to remain a victim. Somehow we’ve had this flawed understanding of an eye for an eye drilled into us. Ghandi said that if we lived by such a rule then pretty soon the whole world would be blind. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, which meant LET IT GO! We have to change the way we perceive things. Stephen Covey called it a paradigm shift. Notice I used the word “choose.” Yes, forgiveness is a choice. Choose to look at it as a life lesson. The pony bit me. Now I know the nature of a pony is to bite. I don’t hate ponies. I realize that a pony is a pony. Stop trying to punish people, guilt people, get even with people, manipulate people and remember that a pony is a pony. That’s the only path to freedom. You can’t change people and holding onto anger isn’t going to do you or them any good.

There is a Chinese saying, “If you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves.” In other words, your desire for revenge, your determination to get even, will eventually destroy you. Retaliation is NEVER the answer.

There’s a scene in the movie Old Yeller that has stuck with me for years. Travis is sad and regretting the fact that he had to shoot the dog he loved so much. He is having a hard time forgiving himself and letting go of the past. His dad comes home from a long journey and finds him still grieving. He tells him that life is part good and part bad. If we spend all of the good times regretting the bad, then we lose out on the good. In this world people are going to hurt us, physically, emotionally and mentally. Spouses are going to leave. People are going to cheat you out of money. They’re going to side-swipe your vehicle, toilet paper your house, shoot your dog, run over your cats, throw beer cans in your yard, cuss you out on Facebook. They’re going to steal from you and lie about you. They’re going to throw you under the bus at work, take the promotion right out from under you. And sometimes–they’ll do it on purpose. We can either spend our whole lives bitter, resentful and feeling sorry for ourselves, holding onto the past and the hurt that they caused us or we can seize the moment and find the beauty that is in front of us right now.

There is freedom in forgiveness.

The Law of Being Kind and Gentle

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What is kindness?

Some people use kind and nice interchangeably but they’re not the same.

A serial killer can be nice but not kind. Nice is an act we put on to be socially acceptable. Nice is surface but kindness comes from deep within. Nice is born of society, but kindness is born of the spirit.

Like compassion, kindness is not an emotion. It’s an act, a choice. It’s choosing to help, to be altruistic, even when you know there’s nothing in it for you, even when you don’t feel like it.

Every day the news is filled with violence, hatred, crime, deception, greed and fear. These are the symptoms of a society, a world, in the grips of temporal displacement, people believing that this life is all that there is and having no true concept of spiritual universe and its laws, which often lie in direct contradiction to what is trending at the moment or even what is popular. These acts testify to people who are spiritually asleep and not in tune with a higher, better way.

Violence breeds more violence and as Ghandi said, an eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind, blind with fear, blind with anger, blind with hatred. People stop seeing each other as human beings. They say and do horrible things to each other, in the name of politics, in the name of religion–doesn’t matter, cruelty is cruelty and if I hate a person, then no matter what I accuse that person of, I am no better. Hatred is a by-product of fear. Violence is never an acceptable way to deal with disappointment or hardship. What was it Jesus said, “If you live by the sword, you die by the sword?” Violence, cruelty and hatred only lead to more violence, cruelty and hatred. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a person has no choice but to defend himself or herself or the ones they love from violent attacks, but words only hold power over you if you let them. They are never an excuse to be cruel.

When we are kind we are vulnerable, but the vulnerable are the strongest and the bravest of us all. “Nothing is so strong as gentlenessnothing so gentle as real strength.” – Saint Francis de Sales

To be gentle one must also be kind and have integrity. Gentleness implies that a person has learned to control the savage part of his or herself, the reptile brain as it is called in martial arts or that base part of us that just reacts out of survival instinct and fear. Without gentleness we become no more than educated animals. This gentleness comes from the spirit but we must choose to put it on like clothing.

What we throw out into the world gets reflected back to us. If I am a negative person, always criticizing others, always offended then I will draw more negativity and criticism into my life. If I have an attitude of gratitude and sow kindness everywhere I go then I will be loved by many and doors will swing open for me. A kind disposition opens a multitude of doors. “Kindness is bottomless. Once accessed, there is an infinite supply. Helping others, you help yourself. Tao Te Ching

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel.~Proverbs 11:17 If you are cruel you do yourself more harm than you can imagine. You damage your very soul, your sense of self and become more spiritually blind with each cruel act. Cruelty is poison both to the one it is perpetrated upon and the perpetrator.

Kindness, always produces generosity, and is a mark of spiritual maturity. Gentleness is the by-product of kindness and goes hand-in-hand with humility, grace and compassion. Gentleness is a reflection of an inner strength that can only be found in those mature enough and courageous enough to be kind.

“The heart that is generous and kind most resembles God,” Robert Burns

Rick Warren

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The Law of Humility

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“Only great humility and great love allow one to obtain the Great Power, Which is the same as the Power of Tao (the power of the Way).” Lao Tzu

“Happy are the humble: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus

Humility. The very word grates on some people because they have a false concept of it. Apparently, some people think that humility and self-deprecation are one and the same and that to be humble you have to be a doormat. No. No. And NO. That is NOT the meaning of humility.

According to Merriam-Webster’s humility is FREEDOM from pride or arrogance.

Wait a minute. Pride and arrogance are things from which we need to be freed? Yes, in the sense that pride and arrogance (which is an extreme sense of self importance and desire to be adored and admired by others) are the cultivation, preservation and exaltation of self esteem and importance. Constantly, being a slave to “looking good,” is definitely a type of bondage.

To obtain a sense of humility then is to obtain a type of freedom. What exactly IS that freedom? It’s the independence of not needing to prove yourself to anyone, to not need praise or approval. That doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate it when it comes, merely that you don’t need it or crave it and it’s the freedom from having to look good (be approved of) in the eyes of others. I think it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “A great man is always willing to be little.”

Here’s an example. Once upon a time in ancient Israel, a teenager named David went out to the battlefield to take food and wine to his brothers who were in the army. He was just a scrawny kid, a shepherd, a nobody from nowhere. Nobody looked up to him or respected him. He had no claim to fame. While being an errand boy to his brothers, a giant came out and made fun of the entire Israeli army. David was appalled and asked something like, “Who is this guy and why doesn’t anyone stand up to him?” His brothers were embarrassed by his naive presumption that somebody ought to put this terrifying threat in his place. David then said he’d go fight that giant and his brother’s accused him of being arrogant! But nothing was further from the truth. Human approval meant so little to the boy that he was willing to lay his life on the line to do what he believed was the right thing to do. People laughed at David. They ridiculed him. If there was any pride or arrogance in him at the moment, he would have backed down, but he didn’t.

David cared more about being true to what he knew was right than about what society said or what anyone thought of him. Pride doesn’t do that. Pride wants to look good and get accolades. Pride likes to have a little “worship” from others and craves approval.

David went out to face the most terrifying foe in his world, armed with the simplicity of a shepherd (seriously, the kid had a pouch full of rocks!). The enemy came at David with the best armor the world had to offer at that time. He was superior and he bragged about his superiority. David had only his simple faith, “I come to you in the name of the Lord,” he said. There was no bragging about his own might or ability. But he was confident in the source of his strength.

David ran to the battlefield in humility, just doing what he needed to do where he was at. He had nothing to prove and nothing to lose (well, except his life). That is humility. He wasn’t thinking about himself, but about his God and about his people. If you have ever read the story then you already know that David slung his stone, which struck Goliath in the head and knocked him down.Then David ran over, picked up the giant’s sword and beheaded him with his own weapon. When the opposing army saw how a youngster had defeated a seasoned champion, they were terrified and fled the battlefield with the armies of Israel hot on their trail. If David had been engulfed in “pride” or concern over how he looked in the eyes of everybody else, the battle would never have been won.

It’s worth noting that the person who demands that they be noticed, adores and admired is arrogant, but so is the person who won’t do things because they’re worried that they might “look bad” in front of other people. That is still a type of pride. Arrogance often wears the disguise of politeness and nice-ness.

Being shy or reserved does not equate with humility. Doing everything within your power to keep from standing out does not equate with humility, either. For example, the person who gets on stage and sings his heart out, knowing that he may fall flat on his face or be laughed off stage, exhibits more humility than the musician who worries what others will say and keeps his music all to himself. The artist who never shares her work is more prideful than the one who allows herself to be vulnerable and shares it with the world in hopes of touching someone’s life. It’s not about whether we’re center stage or not. It’s about motivation. A closet narcissist is still a narcissist; they’re just better at disguising their pride in the garments of false humility.

Consider the following true story that I once witnessed.

I was in a group where a gentleman was asked to sing a song. The man stood up and protested, “Oh, I’m not very good at singing,” he was digging in his pocket for his song as he spoke. “I’m just a poor man who does his best, and…” he was now making his way to the platform in the front of the room, “Y’all just listen to the words and not to why I sing them.” He walked with his eyes toward the ground, showing us all that he was shy and humble. Once on the platform, he dispelled other self-depreciating words to let us know what a humble person he was. People were nodding with softened and sympathetic expressions, but something bothered me about the entire episode. Then it hit me. This man was not humble at all. He was PROUD. That’s right; he was proud of his own perceived piety! He was proud of his humility. He wanted everyone to know that he was humble and therefore, spiritual. I almost laughed. Real humility doesn’t need recognition or fan-fare. So what would have been the truly humble response? Easy. He would just gotten up, walked up front, said something like, “I hope you enjoy this song.” Then he would have sung it and gone back to his seat. The most humble thing he could have said would have been thank you. “True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.” – Martin Luther

Humility simply means that you are secure enough in who you are and in what you believe that you have nothing to prove to anybody, you don’t feel the need to impress anybody and you are able to use the god-given gifts or life-skills you’ve acquired to betterment of humanity without needing accolades or praise. This spiritual principle or law is expressed when Jesus said that the greatest among us was the one who willingly served others, not the one who demanded to be served. The greatest leader is the servant. “…avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men. “– Lao-tzu

If you want others to find you interesting, show interest in them. If you want others to appreciate you, appreciate them. If you want to make a difference in the world, lay aside your concern over the way you appear, your need for approval and let the gifts within you come forth. An apple tree doesn’t care what it looks like, it simply produces apples. It doesn’t matter that some people my not like apples or that others may say the apples or the tree itself are ugly or disgusting or they may ridicule the tree. The truth is that fruit provides nourishment to wildlife and passersby and the tree itself provides shelter for many life-forms. Humility is simply bearing your fruit in this world and being what you were made to be without regards to praise or criticisms.

I close with a quote from Rick Warren, a California pastor, who said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.”

The Law of Seeds and Joy

Continuing with my Laws of the Spiritual Universe series, I’d like to talk about gardening. Yep. You read that right. Gardening.

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This spring I planted a marigold seed and guess what came up? Uh-huh! A marigold plant! Now it has flowers on it and some of the flowers have gone to seed. In place of one tiny seed, I have hundreds of marigold seeds! Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it, that you harvest whatever you plant?

Well, in this case, the spiritual law is the same. The types of seeds (attitudes or beliefs) you sow determine the fruit (manifestations) that you receive in your life. What you put out determines what comes back to you. Solomon said that if you cast your bread upon the water, after many days, it will return to you. “Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over it shall be poured (dumped, heaped) into your lap.” (Luke 6:38 NIV) I’ve heard it said that opposites attract. That’s not true in the spiritual world. In the spiritual world, deep calls out to deep and iron sharpens iron. In other words, like attracts like or what you put out is what you get back.

If you want joy, then share joy. Laugh with others. Do random acts of kindness. Smile at people, even if they don’t smile back. If you choose to be joyful, you will draw people with positive energy into your life. The opposite is also true. Ever heard that old saying, “Misery loves company?” Well, it does. Some people will be uncomfortable around your joy and will attempt to bring you down to their level. Don’t let them. Some may want to siphon off your energy because they haven’t learned this law yet. You can’t force a spiritual understanding upon someone who isn’t “there” yet. Just be you in front of them and hope that one day they grow into it. People mature physically and mentally at different rates. They also mature spiritually at different rates. A thirty-year-old may be spiritually more mature than an eighty-year-old or vice versa. Natural age and spiritual age don’t always correspond.

Share joy as if you’re full of it and eventually, you will be. Laugh a little bit everyday. Find the positive in every situation, no matter how small it may be. Find it and celebrate it.

Planting seeds of gratitude for what you have and doing the best you can with what you’ve got without being bitter, critical and complaining will open doors for you that you could only imagine were possible. Being grateful for small blessings leads to bigger opportunities. It may not happen immediately, but keep celebrating. Keep smiling. Keep hoping and don’t let bitterness, cynicism, jadedness and a critical outlook steal your joy. Constant complaining leads to more things to complain about!

That doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience a down time in your life. Every farmer can tell you that there are times of drought and times of rain. There are times when you have to fight off insects and plagues, but ultimately, the general law is that if you plant corn, you get corn. In the same way, spiritually you might have to stand up to doubt and tell it to take a backseat in your life or you might have to look fear in the eye and tell it to take a hike.

This leads me to my next point–giving. Some people give and then later come back to collect on the gift. That kind of giving has its own reward and that reward is limited, but if you give, expecting nothing in return, then all of heaven will pour out on you when the time is right and you will stand amazed at the blessings (another word for JOY) in your life. When we give, it ought not to be because it looks good or seems like the “right thing to do.” We shouldn’t give out of guilt or obligation, ever. For the law of giving to work, it has to be done because you WANT to do it, because it makes you happy to do it!

In conclusion, whatever you do, do it with all your heart, not begrudgingly (or because you feel like you are obligated, guilted or indebted) but because you want to and it makes you happy. Deep calls out to deep, like draws like, you reap what you sow and as you think in your heart (believe about yourself) that’s what you are. Don’t let anyone else define you because their vision is still small or because they lack faith, hope or joy. Don’t let their fear lie to you about who you are or what you have. Plant marigold seeds, reap marigolds. Plant joy, reap joy. Plant kindness, reap kindness. Plant faith (evidence of the unseen; calling what is not as if though it were), reap the unseen.

The Law of COMPASSION

Just as the physical universe has laws that govern it, like the laws of gravity and thermodynamics, etc., the spiritual universe also has laws that govern it and those laws may or may not always coincide with the laws of the physical universe. However, they will always supersede them. Over the course of the next few blog posts I hope to highlight what I see as the laws of the spiritual universe.

So, here’s what I perceive as the first law of the spiritual universe: the Law of Compassion. The Dalai Lama sums it up pretty well when he says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Compassion allows us to see beyond our side of the story or our own subjective point of view. It allows us to see the “bigger picture” of life and existence. It is both a thing and an action. It is that invisible force, connecting all things in the universe. Unless we tap into this mighty all-connecting force, we will lack the capacity to know true love.

Compassion is not merely feeling bad for someone or feeling sorry for them. That is sympathy. Compassion isn’t just putting yourself in someone else’s place or feeling what they feel. That is empathy. Compassion is greater than both and should be the end result of either. I’m reminded of several stories in the Bible where Jesus was moved with compassion for people and this compassion produced miraculous results.

Compassion is that invisible force, connecting everything in the universe. It is both a force and a feeling, but it always results in a manifestation. It is the ability to see the world for what it is rather than what our judgments make it. Compassion creates peace, healing and miracles.

It’s important to note that true compassion is never prompted by the need for a covert contract. If payback is expected for a favor or an act or a gift, then self-preservation and ultimately, fear, are at the heart of it and not compassion. Compassion does what needs to be done for the genuine good of another person and expects nothing in return, not recognition and not returned favors. Compassion feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, acts as a counselor and doesn’t keep tabs.

“Compassion is the basis of all morality.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

CRITICAL THINKING vs CRITICAL MASS

I believe that hurting a child, any child, is ALWAYS wrong.
I believe that violence breeds violence.
I believe in preserving life above making money, yet I believe a person should be allowed to make all the money they can so long as they don’t hurt anyone else to do it.
I believe in the pursuit of happiness.
I do not believe all men are created equal. If they were, then everyone would be the same size, color, shape and have the same abilities, but I DO believe in treating all humans fairly. I believe in being fair, and enforced equality is often unfair.
I believe there is never any excuse for breaking in and destroying the businesses, homes and lives of innocent people.
I believe that mistreating an animal is a precursor to mistreating humans.
I believe that being “nice” is a facade but being “kind” is genuine.
I believe that when you take rights away from one group, you lessen the rights and value of every group.
I believe that when your desires, practices or behavior threatens the fundamental human rights of others, then you should be held accountable. (example: If I believe that I have the right to do drugs and drive, but in doing so I cause a car crash that kills a five-year-old child, I should be treated like a murderer because my behavior took an innocent life.)
I believe that the family is the foundation of any society and when you destroy families, you destroy emotional and spiritual foundations that ultimately lead to societal break-downs, and cultural failures.
I believe that when you strip away spirituality in a culture, you end up with a society of self-absorbed, egocentric people who don’t fully see others as humans.
I believe that in order to have stable citizens, you must have actively involved parents and other adults such as uncles, aunts and grandparents in the lives of children.
I believe the most important education a child will ever get is the one their parents set before them.
I’m sure you have your own set of beliefs, too. I hope they are based, not on emotion or on what society has told you is acceptable, but looking at many opposing arguments and true open-mindedness. I think that true critical thinking is as rare as a diamond in a gravel quarry. Many people equate a political view with open-mindedness but politics have nothing to do with critical thinking. However, critical thinking will affect the way we vote, the way we worship, the way we interact in relationships. I’m thinking today that critical thinking is a critical skill and we certainly need more of it.

Country Bumpkin

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A friend calls me Country Bumpkin. I don’t mind. I find the most simple things in this world are also the most complex and far-reaching. I have a need to be surrounded by those complex simplicities. I do my best thinking when I’m alone, surrounded by nature. That’s when I have my epiphanies, my eureka-sparks, my moments of brilliance (okay, well, they’re brilliant to me.)

I need to touch the earth, to feel the sun on my face and the wind on my lips. I need the smell of soil and the sounds of birds. I need dragonflies and butterflies and tiny garden snakes. I need crickets and snails and random centipedes. I need to see the stars at night and wonder at the moon. I need the magic of trees. I need the sound of rain falling on the leaves and scent of a wet woodland floor, spring peepers and fire-flies.

When I am surrounded by the natural world, it doesn’t matter what I look like or sound like. It doesn’t matter what accomplishments I’ve made or failures I’ve experienced. All that matters is that I make like a flower, grow, bloom and produce some sort of seed for future flowers to grow, so that there will always be flowers on the earth. A seed can be an idea, an invention, an investment into the lives of others. A seed can be a song, a poem, a book. A seed can be a simple act of kindness. Flowers don’t compare themselves to other flowers. They just grow and bloom, according to whatever kind of plants they are.

 

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Dreams of a County Poet

No dream comes true and thrives unless someone is willing to support it. My friend, Jeanne Lane​ [kinship to the poet, Robert Penn Warren] and her daughter, Dawn Osborne, have had a dream for many years, to keep the oldest country store in America operational. Located in Gravel Switch, Kentucky, in the heart of Kentucky’s Knobs region, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, is Penn’s Store. It’s a tiny building that sits on the corners of three counties with history dating back to before the 1850s.

101_6754Jeanne Penn Lane, speaking with a guest author.

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Dawn Osborne, Performing.

Jeanne and Dawn haven’t tried to keep the store open to make a profit. No, their desire was to keep something of heritage and tradition and family alive. Jeanne Penn Lane is a true historian, a curator of what made central Kentucky special and unique, a preserver of culture. But she is so much more. Jeanne and Dawn have always had a passion for the arts and for Kentucky. As a part of that, they initiated the Kentucky Writers Day held there each spring, in hopes of giving Kentucky writers, artists and musicians a place to share their voices, to make connections and to remember.

Jeanne’s one desire has been to give something of beauty and value to her community. Kentucky has long been the birth place of world renown artists, novelists, poets, musicians and actors. Jeanne and Dawn want the world to know this, to understand the caliber of people that come out of these hills, hollers, swamps, tobacco patches, saw mills, corn fields, hayfields, coal mines and creek beds. Throughout the years, celebrities have trekked from all over the world to sit around the pot-bellied stove in Penn’s Store and share their music with a receptive audience, even before they shared it with record labels. Prize-winning authors have sat on her porch and eaten a famous “balony sandwich” while bouncing story ideas off each other. Even modern day celebrities have graced the aged porch of Penn’s Store. In 2009, Turtle Man answered the Call of the Wildman and showed up with his Team Turtle to enter the annual Great Outhouse Blowout, a fun event that Jeanne has hosted for years in order to bring in much needed funds in order to keep the store operational. It’s a time when vendors can come and set up and people of all ages from all over the world can watch the outhouses race for the Golden Throne Award.

308719_2170075930448_722707637_n Animal Planet’s Turtle Man and Yours Truly, goofing around.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_of_the_Wildman

If you don’t live in the state of Kentucky and you are passing through, unless you check out Penn’s Store, you’ve missed a part of what makes Kentucky culture unique. It’s not the kind of thing with buttons, bells, whistles and all kinds of hoop-la, no, it’s real Kentucky, both the way it was and the way it is. It’s a piece of American history that has survived into the New Millennium and it’s a good piece, a piece worth keeping.

101_6807Me, posing for a shot with the timeless poet, H.R. Stoneback, who has worked diligently to keep Kentucky Writer’s Day and Penn’s Store operational. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.R._Stoneback

However, keeping a dream alive isn’t free nor is it cheap. Jeanne’s dream is to give others a piece of heritage, a piece of culture, an outlet for the arts but she needs help. I’m posting a link to Penn’s Store’s website where you can find all of their contact information. Most people could donate a few dollars to the store and help Jeanne and Dawn continue to offer events and opportunities for artists, writers, musicians and actors without it ever making a huge dent, but many small gifts could be the difference in whether the dream continues to live or whether it becomes just another forgotten paragraph of American history. I can’t help but reference Audrey Hepburn who said, “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.” In this case, the people are those who have come before us in our human family. By preserving this piece of the past and the this hub of community in the present, we preserve something for ourselves and our children. And, she did also say…things. But Penn’s Store is more than a thing. It’s a piece of “life.”

101_6799Sarah Elizabeth Burkey, and I, hanging out at Kentucky Writer’s Day. Sarah is the Assistant Director of Music for the Cherokee Historical Association.

Here’s the link:http://www.pennsstore.com/history/history.htm Help in any way you can. No effort is too small. Sponsor an event, send a gift, go visit the store, be a vendor…anything helps.

Jeanne and Dawn have no idea that I’m writing this article. It was my own idea, but I want people to realize that this precious little gem has been buried in the hills of Kentucky all these years, this little unselfish piece of living history and heritage that seeks to help artist, musicians, writers and actors build a foundation for future endeavors. Let’s not throw it out. Country stores have become a thing of the past in most places, but here is one, still operational, that has existed since the 1850s. That’s living history. I hope some of you who read this will contact Jeanne and Dawn today and become a part of it.

You can contact Jeanne or Dawn via the contact info on their website, on their facebook page Penn’s Store.

101_6752When a person visits Penn’s Store, he or she travels back in time and feels a connection, not only with yesteryears but also with the earth itself.

Looking for Pork Chop McQuade

Upon the death of her father Cupcake became the caregiver of her mother and sister, both morbidly obese, both perpetually depressed. While her aging uncle, Faucett, tried to give her guidance, she longed for empathy and emotional support. So, she married Bob “Pork Chop” McQuade who turned out to be a conspiracy theorist. Now, her mother is dead, her sister is a recluse, Uncle Faucet has Alzheimers and Bob…well, Bob is missing. In an attempt to find Bob and cling to the last shred of normalacy in her life, Cupcake accepts help from a local sheriff, Daniel Ransom, a man driven by guilt. As they set out to find Bob, Cupcake finds the person who’s really missing in her life, herself.

 

 

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