Monthly Archives: April 2017

A Voice for the World (Inspiration series, Week 17)

Francis has made caring for the poor and needy a central theme of his papacy.

The Pope – larger than life, mysterious, and to non-Catholics, generally not of much interest. To atheists and agnostics, even less so. And yet, in the midst of a world that often seems to be off its collective rocker, along comes a religious leader who seems determined to help keep our moral compasses somewhat straight. 

Born Jorge Mario Bogoglio in Buenos Aires, he studied to be a chemical technician and taught literature and psychology in Argentina colleges before earning a doctorate in theology. Overcoming his mother’s initial objections, he entered the priesthood in 1969. As he rose from titular bishop of Auca to archbishop of Buenos Aires and then to cardinal in 2091, he was already earning a reputation for his humility and simplicity. He was at the top of candidates following the death of Pope John Paul the II and then named 266th Pope on March 13, 2013. 

One wouldn’t be surprised at any man – even the Pope – being changed by such an elevation. And yet, Francis has brought a new sense of kindness and dare I say, spirituality, to his position that makes him unlike any other. Not only has he challenged church doctrine and points of view, he has openly talked about actions and viewpoints that he does not see as Christian in substance.

Pope Francis’ connection to the poor and suffering, and his insistence of society’s obligations to them, reaches beyond rhetoric of religion, which tells us to care for the least among us. This man teaches us by example. He visits slums, washes the feet of the homeless, takes the faces of small, impoverished children into his hands.

His voice is loud and clear (and sometimes exasperated) as he takes the powerful to task for the systems of inequity and lack of attention to those most in need. Indeed, Francis seems most at home and happy when chatting with villagers and those who have nothing to offer but their thanks and love. 

He seems closer to the descriptions of Jesus that I heard growing up than most of the “spiritual” voices in today’s world. And despite those who tell him to stick to his place, Francis continues to do – well, not that. Whether speaking on protecting the environment, questioning orthodoxy, or challenging our attitudes, he sticks his neck out for what many would call the greater good. It seems to often infuriate those who otherwise speak of piety and devotion to their higher power. 

Which has sometimes delighted those of is us who don’t necessarily subscribe to traditional faith bases and institutions. We are continually surprised to find ourselves deeply affected by this man whose beliefs and leanings in so many areas would seem to be radically different – and sometimes diametrically opposed – to our own. While other figures pack folks into mega-churches and decry those they deem sinners, Francis works on as an advocate and friend to those who need one most.

I don’t misunderstand his role, or his adherence to the laws and norms of Catholicism. I dont expect that he will suddenly shift from the church on every issue or doctrine. As its leader, he is bound to it. I will though, take great comfort in a voice that rises above the ever-present language of divisiveness to remind us that at our core, we are one people. 

In one lifetime, long ago, I was a Sunday School teacher, explaining to the smallest students about Jesus and how he taught people to live. It’s the part of my experience in the church that has had the most lasting effect.

“Love thy neighbor”

“Do unto others”

“Blessed are the meek”

These are the lessons that, all these years later and far beyond the church, still resonate for me. And though I will surely never get to tell him in person, I hope that Pope Francis continues to teach them to all who will listen.


Strength from Adversity (Inspiration series, Week 15)

From beloved TV star to real-life champion, Michael J. Fox choice to stay in the spotlight has helped many.


If you grew up watching television in the 1980s, few names are better remembered than Alex P. Keaton. Michael J. Fox’s lovable teen Republican and mogul-to-be made many a Thursday night a little less lonely for those of us with less-than-active social lives. 

After Family Ties he’d get even bigger with movies, especially Back to the Future (though some crazies I know prefer Teen Wolf). It seemed that no matter how much time passed, Fox held onto the boyish grin and mannerisms that had made him so popular right from the start.

He was just 29 and making the movie Doc Hollywood when he noticed twitching in his left pinky finger. The diagnosis was one no one could have seen coming -Parkinson’s disease. Fox would work for eight more years before revealing his illness to the public through an interview with People Magazine in 1998.

It would mark a high-profile beginning into a whole new role for him. A year later, the actor testified before Congress on the need for more dollars for Parkinson’s research. And after completing his series Second City in 2000, he created a new foundation https://www.michaeljfox.org, which has raised more than $700 million dollars and is the largest nonprofit funder of research worldwide. He spoke about his experience with Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman. Though the effects of Parkinson’s became more obvious, with medication Fox kept enough control over his speaking voice and physical tics to keep going. And into the next decade he would appear in new shows, including one about a newscaster with the disease. 

He has stayed reliably visible, attending charity events and serving as the best kind of example for living with challenges. Comedians must have special souls, for the ability to laugh, and make others laugh, in the face of illness is a gift given to but a few. He even subtitled his 2009 book Adventures of an Optimist – no displays of self-pity from this guy.

He is, perhaps, an obvious hero, but no less powerful because he’s taken on the role in such a natural style. By sharing his story he shares the opportunity to help and becomes an insistent voice for research and treatment. I see Michael J. Fox – or just hear his name – and I am reminded to treasure every moment, live each day with joy, and do everything in my power to instigate positive change. 

There is something profound in turning one’s greatest liability into an undeniable strength. From tragedy to triumph sounds trite and yet, there he is, smiling, joking… living, each day with a vision and purpose that is too clear, too true, to be ignored. 

He fully uses what has been given him – including his illness. This trait unites so many of my Inspirers. They do not cry about their fate, at least not for long. Instead, they somehow turn their afflictions, pain, disappointments, into building blocks and end up higher than they might have been without the handicap. One watches and wonders: Would I be so gracious, so persistent in the face of such a diagnosis? Would I be an Inspirer?

It may be impossible to say for sure. We can be grateful, though, for those who have proven themselves worthy of the title. 


The Happy Warrior (Inspiration Series, Week 14)

Despite a lifetime that has seen many travails, the Dalai Lama is rarely seen without a smile that invites the world to join him

The 14th Dalai Lama has one of those faces. No matter what is going on in the world, he invokes an almost palpable sense of peace wherever he goes. Quiet and humble, his  mere presence is calming, his smile infectious. 

Identified as the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism at the age of 2, when he was still Lhamo Dondhup, the young boy would face an epic journey across Tibet to take the official role as the reincarnated Dalai Lama, along with a new name –  Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom) – two years later. He would be formally enthroned at age 15.

Just 23 when the Tibetan Uprising occurred,  the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he established a residence in exile and settlements for the refugees who had followed him. Over the course of his life, he has become an advocate for human rights, peace, and an independent Tibet. 

It is a life hard to imagine – and yet, beyond the robes, the reverence, the history, is that grin, accented by eyes that project a warmth and joy for everything around him. In his book, The Art of Happiness, he declares his belief on Page 1:

“I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in relgion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is toward happiness.” 

He discusses training the mind for happiness, learning about the behaviors and emotions that lead to positivity, how we can seek the causes that give rise to it. Training, he says, is key to cultivating practices and reducing negative feelings and actions. What struck me most, reading his words, is how practical they are. The Dalai Lama acknowledges the pain and often unfairness of the world, but offers the idea that one can learn to shift perspective. He notes that a life without obstacles might sound nice, but that:

“It is the very struggle of life that makes us who we are. And it is our enemies that provide us with the resistance necessary for growth.”

The idea of happiness as something within our control. Not an accident, or a  gift bestowed randomly on the fortunate few, but a way of being that can be cultivated over one’s lifetime. Happiness as a response not just to a good thing happening but to the good things that simply are and the possibilities of things to come.The breaths we take, the people who love us, and we them.

What if, as this master smiler and teacher suggests, we also remind ourselves of the joy that comes from compassion and service to others? How might our worlds change if our perspective did? 

I’m not generally a glass half-full kind of girl. Too often I leap down rabbit holes of potential problems before checking to see if thrtr’s an alternative. And there’s a part of me that wants to argue with the Dalai Lama’s approach, label it naive or undoable.  
But that smile…. it’s almost got me convinced.


%d bloggers like this: