THE AMERICAN CHESTNUT

THE AMERICAN CHESTNUT

In late October, a friend and I went to Pipestem State Park near Athens, West Virginia.  The setting is exquisite with abundant forests, changing leaf color, and wonderful mountains. As luck would have it, there was considerable rain on our second day and so we looked for an indoor activity.   AHA!!!!!  The resident naturalist, LYNN and her dog Alice, were giving a lecture on the demise and resurgence of the American Chestnut Tree. I love chestnuts roasting on an open fire, so it was a perfect time for us to learn about this beautiful tree.

A close up of a tree

Description automatically generated

The American chestnut was at one time the most important food and timber tree species in the eastern half of the U.S because it could grow rapidly and attain huge sizes. The tree was often the outstanding visual feature in both urban and rural landscapes. The wood was used wherever strength and rot-resistance were needed.

In colonial America, chestnut was a preferred species for log cabins, especially the bottom rot-prone foundation logs. Later posts, poles, flooring, and railroad ties were all made from chestnut lumber.

The edible nut was also a significant contributor to the rural economy. Hogs and cattle were often fattened for market by allowing them to forage in chestnut-dominated forests. Chestnut ripening coincided with the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season and turn-of-the-century newspaper articles often showed train cars overflowing with chestnuts rolling into major cities to be sold fresh or roasted. The American chestnut was truly a heritage tree.

The chestnut was almost completely destroyed by a bark fungus accidentally introduced from the Orient in 1904. Within 40 years, over 30 million acres of chestnut trees were killed from Maine to Georgia and west to the Mississippi. This tragedy was the largest ecological disasters in American history.   There has been essentially no chestnut lumber sold in the U.S. for decades, and the bulk of the annual 20-million-pound nut crop now comes from introduced chestnut species or imported nuts.

The Chestnut’s beautiful, rot-resistant lumber was used for everything from furniture to fence posts, and its tannin used in the tanning industry. The loss of the chestnut, at the time of the Great Depression, had a devastating effect on the people and wildlife of the Appalachian Mountains. The economic loss from the chestnut’s demise amounted to untold millions of dollars.

Despite its decimation as a lumber and nut-crop species, the American chestnut has not gone extinct. The American chestnut has survived by sending up stump sprouts that grow vigorously in logged or otherwise disturbed sites, but inevitably succumb to the blight and die back to the ground.  It is considered functionally extinct by the USDA but the blight fungus does not kill the tree’s root system underground.

Accordingly, there are millions of sprouts that can be found in the eastern US.  Although the sprouts may only reach 15 feet or so before the blight kills them, some produce nuts before they die leading to new generations of trees to grow.

A very small number of mature chestnuts still exist, apparently immune or resistant to the blight. Some foresters have been collecting seeds from these mother trees, with a goal of producing a blight resistant chestnut tree by hybridizing the American chestnut with other species of chestnuts.  This is an 18-29-year project.

Meadowview, Virginia is home to The American Chestnut Foundation’s research farms. This property and its facilities are used to breed American chestnut trees for resistance to the blight fungus. Meadowview includes more than 50,000 trees at various stages of the breeding process, planted on more than 150 acres. The American Chestnut Foundation is based in Asheville, North Carolina with five regional offices located throughout the Appalachian region.  www.acf.org

If you have never been to Pipestem, put it on your bucket list for weekend adventures.  The beauty of the place is wondrous. The McKeever Lodge has lovely rooms and spectacular views.  There is outdoor and indoor swimming, a zip line course, a tramway up and down the mountain, four eateries, a golf course, a nature center, a recreation center plus cabins and a campground. www.wvstateparks.com

DIS—EASE

There is a natural connection between the way we live and the diseases that come our way.  Science is just beginning to discover the linkages between specific negative emotions and specific physical disorders, but already many of these connections can be made. 

Negative emotions damage the body. When we perceive a situation to be dangerous, adrenaline and cortisol are released by our bodies to facilitate “flight or fight” responses.  The problem is that most of the “dangers” that cause stress cannot be resolved by fighting or running away! I have tried both and neither ever worked. 

Modern life is characterized by a tsunami of stressful events and daily pressures coming at people from every conceivable direction. And yet the real culprit isn’t the situations which surround us – it is the emotional reactions to these events.

Emotions are not confined just to the mind or heart, but they are often translated into chemical reactions which occur at both the organ level and the cellular level! Apparently, the “most damaging” emotions are feelings of un-forgiveness, anger, worry, fear, resentment, and frustration.  Clearly, no one with an emotional life is immune to the danger, particularly FEAR (FALSE EVENTS APPEARING REAL!)

These negative emotions which place so much stress on our bodies come in two forms: those that arise out of present situations and those that are embedded in our deepest memories. These unhealed memories are actually concealed as false beliefs and negative images in our mind, formed as destructive remembrances.  Our immune system is the primary healing source in our bodies. Stress is the one thing things that diminishes the immune system.  Healing these memories is the only way to allow the immune system to do its job.

Reducing the emotional symptoms of stress starts with reducing the sources of stress in your life. There are a variety of stress-reducing techniques.You have to find the ones that work for you in providing relief, but they don’t eliminate the reasons for your stress.

  1. Physical activities such as running, jogging, and aerobics are a great way to relieve stress and tension.
  2. Relaxing physical activities such as yoga or tai chi can help to work your body while relaxing your mind. 
  3. Mindfulness techniques such as contemplative meditation and prayer can strengthen your emotional responses to stress.
  4. Reducing stress in a particular area of your life can help to lessen your exposure to chronic stressors.
  5. I use some mobile apps, such as Calm, that engage my mind through guided conversation which helps me manage stress and anxiety.

Over time, you may find that your resolve against stress becomes stronger and that your symptoms improve.  However, if you find that you’re still struggling to handle the emotional aspects of everyday or chronic stress, it may be best to reach out to a mental health professional. You cannot allow these techniques to mask the underlying problem.

Learning how to recognize sources of stress in your life is the first step in managing them.  Everyone has different stress triggers, but work stress tops the list for most people.

Causes of work stress include:

  1. Being unhappy in your job
  2. Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
  3. Working long hours
  4. Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
  5. Working under dangerous conditions
  6. Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
  7. Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
  8. Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn’t supportive.

Everyday life and personal relationships also have a big impact.

  1. The death of a loved one
  2. Divorce
  3. Loss of a job
  4. Increase in financial obligations
  5. Getting married
  6. Moving to a new home
  7. Chronic illness or injury
  8. Emotional problems
  9. Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
  10. Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one.

Sometimes the stress comes from inside, rather than outside. You can create stress just by worrying about things. All of these factors can lead to stress:

  1. Fear and uncertainty. When you regularly hear about the threat of terrorist attacks, global warming, and toxic chemicals on the news, it can cause you to feel stressed, especially because you feel like you have no control over those events.  Also, major fears develop over money issues and paying the bills, particularly when an unexpected bill arises and the budget is thrown off. Shit happens.
  • Attitudes and perceptions. How you view the world or a situation can determine whether it causes stress. For example, if your television set is stolen and you take the attitude that’s why we have insurance you’ll be far less stressed than if you think the robbers are coming back to hurt you. Similarly, people who feel like they’re doing a good job at work will be less stressed than those who worry that they are incompetent.
  • Unrealistic expectations. No one is perfect. If you expect to do everything right all the time, you’re destined to feel stressed when things don’t go as expected.
  • Change. Any major life change can be stressful — even a happy event like a wedding or a job promotion. More unpleasant events, such as a divorce, major financial setback, or death in the family can be significant sources of stress.

Your stress level will differ based on your personality and how you respond to situations. Some people let everything roll off their back. To them, work stresses and life stresses are just minor bumps in the road. Others literally worry themselves sick.

EGO and HUMILITY

“I may not be much, but I’m all I think about”! Most of our thoughts center around job, possessions, money, or other things we have accumulated. If we tell someone about this and believe this is our true self, we will be told about our ego problems.  Ego is often considered a liability.  Yet we must have ego in order to function as humans. The ego is the compass that helps guide us in the determination of right from wrong. It helps us make decisions in life.

Where do we go wrong with ego? People with huge egos are generally considered those who have an insatiable desire to demonstrate their own self-importance.  Boastfulness is not an admirable trait, regardless of one’s status in life. “Conceited,” “boastful,” “prideful,” “self-centered,” “arrogant,” are all ways that egocentrics are often described by others. When in conversation, egocentrics will almost always try to redirect the conversation back to themselves, and talk about their supposed successes, accomplishments, and achievements.  Simply put, they need to look good – and they feed off other people’s validation. They are self -centered and lack empathy for others. An unhealthy egocentric doesn’t see past their own needs and desires.

Characteristics of a person with an exaggerated ego:

  1. They are always right—at least in their own minds. The person who suffers from a huge ego sees their opinion as the only one that matters. They are driven by what they believe, and facts have little importance to them.
  2. A person suffering from an inflated ego is never satisfied. They are addicted to the high they get from reaching goals and achievement dictates their behavior. They do not live in the now, but know they need more of everything.  In the words of Queen— “I want it all and I want it now.” If a neighbor gets a new sports car, they want a more expensive sports car just to show them they are better.
  3. Huge egos do not accept loss. They must be number one in everything they go after. These folks will do just about anything to succeed, even if it means hurting another person. They manipulate the system for their benefit, are disloyal, disrespectful and obnoxious. They expect the world to revolve around their universe.
  4. The egocentric has given herself a grandiose sense of self-importance and expects others to see this at all times. They will exaggerate any talents and achievements in the course of their lives. They will tell and retell stories of past events to acquire recognition and admiration. They will embellish their unlimited success, worth, and beauty so that others see their perfection.
  5. These folks suffer from lack of interpersonal relationships. They do not understand what it is to support another with their dreams, ideas, or emotions.  They are only concerned with what anyone can do for them.  Empathy doesn’t exist for the egotistical person. They are not able to accept compassion or show empathy.

How do folks develop these massive egos? Are some humans born with oversized egos? As you delve deeper into your true identity, as you strip away every false layer of your old self, you will find a smaller ego that is the right-size for decisions. Before you can do this, you must look at the reasons for this oversized ego.   The preponderance of egocentrics do not have a very positive self-image. They recognize their insecurities and attempt to camouflage these insecurities by wearing a mask– one of competence and confidence – in a desperate attempt to conceal their real state of mind. Low self-esteem can be problematic; it is a leading cause of anxiety, depression, and a number of other psychological disorders. Egocentrics are fearful of failing and do not recognize that failure has some of life’s best lessons.

Having high expectations of oneself is a healthy and productive frame of mind. However, spending most of your waking hours thinking about your achievements far exceeding anything conceivably realistic is not healthy or beneficial.  Egocentrics often have these illusions of grandeur.

If an egocentric perceives their life’s progress as inadequate – a common characteristic of such people – they’ll embellish anything and everything in order to make up for this “gap.” Should someone call them out, they’ll frequently overreact in a desperate attempt to get people to buy whatever they’re selling.

Egocentrics have a compulsive need to “match” someone else’s perceived qualities. These folks are often highly accomplished individuals; yet, their unquenchable desire to supersede anyone else remains evident. This extreme need for validation is apparent in their conversations with others. When the topic of conversation does not involve them, an egocentric cannot help but intercede in a desperate attempt to redirect the spotlight.  She becomes a 10-year-old girl, although she won’t agree with that assessment.  A conversation that doesn’t revolve around them is not worth having.

An egocentric truly believes that their way is the best way – and the only way. If an egocentric detects a loss of control – often perceived as an act of disrespect – they’re quick to become angry and defensive. Such attitudes and behaviors are most apparent in a group setting.  I can remember in 2003 sitting in a meeting of about twenty colleagues, sitting on the edge of my chair, pounding the table for emphasis regarding a marketing plan some wanted to implement.  I believed we should provide more money for direct sales in our branches and was opposed to “soft” marketing.  It was a good thing that my sales group was number one in the company, because otherwise I would have been asked to leave.

So, I have a huge ego and don’t like it. What to do?  If you can, sit comfortably and quietly in a darkened room and just ask yourself “Who am I?” Allow your thoughts and feelings to come to the surface, and don’t judge them. Just observe what comes up. Do not berate yourself but try to find the YOU that you want to be.  Then you can focus on who you are and where you want to take yourself.

The Ego will gain some power as you contemplate your True Self and attach those thoughts to your identity. Take a step to get away from this tendency. Volunteer or just lend a helping hand to others, forget about your Self for a while, and instead shift your attention outward to your fellow humans in need. Release your obsession with “I” and instead focus on “We.” Offering your hands and heart to others will help contain your ego.

My worst habit was talking more than I listened. I still struggle with listening. The ego always wants to be heard and can’t stand when others have the floor. The false self wants all the limelight and praise and finds it difficult to let others have attention for any length of time. One way to overcome this is to develop a new habit: listening more than you talk. Allow others to fully finish what they have to say before you respond or bring up a new topic; this way, you will learn to have a balanced relationship with others rather than one solely built on an out-of-control ego. This will also help you relax and go with the flow rather than always having to control a situation and overtake the conversation.

“Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Folks with large egos always want to have the last word, and they can’t deal with being wrong. They won’t let go until others see it their way. It is hard to remember that others will always have different opinions than you. The realization that their opinions don’t invalidate your own is a big step; others just see things from a different point of view, and they’re entitled to that. Once you can allow others to express themselves and be themselves without feeling offended, you have made a marked step on the path to diminishing the ego. Choose to be happy.

I have been told on several occasions that if you have a need to talk about humility, you don’t have it.  Humility is often regarded as weakness.  It is often confused with humiliation.  It is hard to come to grips with a humble attitude. When we fail at something that is important to us—a job or a relationship, for example—our self-esteem plummets because we tied our self-worth to those things. All of a sudden, we become bad or unworthy people.

A humble person is able to withstand failure or criticism. These folks sense their intrinsic value of being human rather than letting the world make that judgement for them. When they fail at a task or don’t live up to expectations, they try to learn from the situation, but never consider that there is something wrong with them.

A healthy emotional bond formed with others, usually our childhood caregivers, provides unconditional acceptance and love which can serve as a buffer against the effects of criticism or failure. A lot of us did not experience secure attachment when we were children. But we can compensate through healthy adult relationships, such as friends, romantic partners, or even with a higher power, which has been important for me.

Humble people have an accurate picture of themselves—both their defects of character and their gifts—which helps them to see what must be done to change.  There is no judgement here, just acceptance. This acceptance allows me to see where these defects are limiting my growth. Use a feather rather than a bat to beat up on yourself.  Kindness and compassion make your change easier. Transformation comes from positive action.

Gratitude can make us less self-focused and more focused on those around us—a hallmark of humble people. Expressing gratitude can induce humility in us, and humble people have a greater capacity for conveying gratitude. I am a believer in making gratitude lists. Gratitude reinforces humility. BE GRATEFUL FOR WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU CAN BE.

TRUE SELF

TRUE SELF

How often do you feel that a friend, colleague, or a spouse reveals their true self to you?  The real person?  Maybe you get glimpses at times when you think someone’s actions represent who they actually are. I wager that you have lots of beliefs about yourself and other people. You use these beliefs to indicate why people act in a certain way. If someone yells at you, you may forgive them because you know their life isn’t going so well. Or, you mistrust them because you feel they are angry about something you have done. Or, you might even think that their true self reflects their anger about everything, and you should have no contact with them. Accordingly, there are times when you believe that a person’s actions reflect the situation they are in or their current mental state.

I have trouble discerning the true self of others.  This is an area that is part of the “I don’t know” category for me most of the time.  There are plenty of times when I first meet someone that I decide we don’t connect, we are not on the same page, and I don’t spot anything about them that I like.  There are times when I decide to dislike someone before I meet them.  Then after a time, I grow to like them. I need the willingness to give them and me a period of adjustment, a pause if you will.

Human beings possess a host of qualities that are similar, but it is their unique combination that creates the individual and their singular true self.  Mystics are not the only ones that can be in touch with their true self. Most believe that the true self is moral and good. It is the notion that everyone is born with instincts that differentiate the good from the evil. So, when people make changes in their behavior, we are more inclined to believe it reflects their true self when they change from doing something bad to something good than vice versa. When someone has been self-serving for a long period, but realizes that serving others is the better course, we believe they have gotten in touch with their true self.

We all have gifts that guide the true self: a zest for life; a rational way of thinking; a certain amount of creativity; freedom from the bonds of self; gut feelings that are based on proper discernment of right and wrong; a spiritual path; and the ability to love and be loved. Our nature is determined by our usage of these gifts. Your choice and my choice can be to allow these gifts to grow and prosper; to engage in actions that feed, protect and care for them. Or, we can allow them to lie fallow.  It is amazing that these qualities often remain dormant and we function below our potential as a human being. But our gifts remain, simply waiting for an awakening.

Do I want a life filled with meaningful opportunities or do I want to be left with an unfulfilled yearning for something better?  The choice seems obvious, so why do so many choose the latter path?

I once was a partner in a firm that was incredibly profitable and prosperous.  We didn’t know why that was the case.  Some believed we had the uncanny ability to find good people in all the towns and cities where we had offices.  Some thought it was the vibrant southeastern marketplace which was our home. Others of our more egocentric brethren wondered if our abilities might be greater that we assumed.  Many believed in luck—we were just uncommonly lucky.  Once or twice, it was suggested that we do a thorough review of our business to find the elements of our success.  Our executive committee, of which I was part, voted 5-0 in the negative. We were afraid of what me might find or we would change our luck if that turned out to be the reason.

Why do folks allow their gifts to remain hidden and unused? FEAR most of the time. We are afraid of what we might find. Fear is a dominant emotion for a good may folks. Other common emotions include surprise, happiness, joy, sadness and anger. Do you feel open and willing to express all of your emotions with zeal during your daily activities? Or do you fear what others might think of you? What if I told you that other’s thoughts about you are none of your business?

I wanted to know how my emotions were dominating my life and how the chaos (my executive committee–squirrels) going on in my head was ruining my life.  I read about Thomas Merton and his struggles to find his true self. I wondered if a true self existed for me. I talked to priests and ministers, psychologists, smart women, smart men, and I read Emmett Fox, Carl Jung, William James, and the COURSE in Miracles. Finally, I looked at me. I could not go forward without knowing who I was and what I was.  I had to look at people who angered or damaged me, at businesses and relationships that had deprived me of my just rewards, and at what scared me.

As you probably surmise, this accounting did not go in my favor. I had harmed far more people than had harmed me, mostly those for whom I expressed love and affection. The failure of my business and the anticipated membership on the New York Exchange (life-long dream) was of my own making. And fears centered on my inability to acknowledge mistakes and learn from failure. My outsized ego and my sense of self importance created anger that would not go away.  It blocked joy and happiness and my relationship with God.

Luckily my way of thinking began to change.  My understanding of life and progress through it were inhibited by my usage of certain emotions and my blockage of others.  I could easily access fear, anger, and sadness in the extreme. But happiness and joy were absent. And I hated to be surprised. I had to make different choices and I needed help to do it.

I realized that I wasn’t connected to the Source. I wanted the power to transform my life and found that empowerment by connecting to God via a spiritual path. Centering prayer, solitude and silence were critical. I made a pilgrimage to the Abbey of Gethsemane, was silent for five days, went to services three times a day, and walked in Merton’s shoes.  I reshaped myself and my life. I began to take risks and embrace new possibilities.  I was generating happiness and joy from within rather than accepting external formulations of it. I freed my self from my self and made my relationship with God central to my life.

Things occur in life over which we have no control.  Many will attribute these things to fate, randomness, nature, physical reality, or coincidence. There are no coincidences. It is the Spirit that provides the answers for us in all things.  We find the Spirit when we discover and actively engage our True Self.

Love is the highest human function and where we put our True Self to its greatest use. St Francis tells us that it is better to love than be loved    That would deny the intrinsic social nature that humans have to be loved and love another. By trusting another to know one’s own self through their eyes, we free our self to union–to love and be loved.  Loving connections convey the ultimate expression of our True self.

It’s OKAY to Be Me!

It’s Okay to be ME!

More often than I’d like to admit, something seemingly inconsequential will lead to a feeling of deep frustration, even shame. This is often accompanied by occasional voices like “How stupid!” and “You should have known better”.  I was recently planting a tomato and I broke the main stem of this beautiful plant.  I used the very words, “HOW STUPID, YOU CAN’T EVEN PLANT A TOMATO!”  UH, I had already planted two. That’s the thing about perfectionism. It takes no prisoners.  I’ve struggled with perfectionism and I’m far from alone. The tendency starts young – and it’s becoming more common.

The rise in perfectionism doesn’t mean each generation is becoming more accomplished. It means we’re getting sicker, sadder and even undermining our own potential. And we don’t know the joy of imperfection.

Perfectionism, after all, is an ultimately self-defeating way to move through the world. It is built on an excruciating irony: making, and admitting mistakes is a necessary part of growing and learning and being human. It also makes you better at your career, relationships, and life in general. By avoiding mistakes at any cost, a perfectionist can make it harder to reach their own lofty goals.

But the drawback of perfectionism isn’t just that it holds you back from being your most successful, productive self. Perfectionistic tendencies have been linked to a laundrylist of clinical issues: depression and anxiety,  self-harm, binge-eating, anorexiabulimia, and other eating disorderspost-traumatic stress disorder insomniahoarding, , chronic headaches, and, even early death and suicide.

Culturally, we often see perfectionism as a positive. Even saying you have perfectionistic tendencies can come off as a coy compliment to yourself.

Can a person have high standards, motivation and discipline without being a perfectionist?  The answer is yes, unless your best never seems good enough and not meeting goals frustrates you. Doing your level best and knowing it, is good enough. Why should you beat yourself up for mistakes or feel like you can’t meet expectations? 

Striving for excellence, isn’t actually being a perfectionist.  I can have high standards, integrity, and clear goals without being a perfectionist. Perfectionism enters when that   little voice surfaces, “you are not good enough.”  That inner voice criticizes different things for different people – work, relationships, tidiness, fitness. Perfectionists can make smooth sailing into a storm, a brief ill wind into a category-five hurricane. And, because the ironies never end, the behaviors perfectionists adapt make them more likely to fail.

The trouble is that, for perfectionists, performance is intertwined with their sense of self. When they don’t succeed, they don’t just feel disappointment about how they did. They feel shame about who they are. Ironically, perfectionism then becomes a defense tactic to keep shame at bay: if you’re perfect, you never fail, and if you never fail, there’s no shame.

Where is this increase in perfectionism coming from? When you keep in mind the idea that perfectionism stems from marrying your identity with your achievements, the question might become: where isn’t it coming from? After all, when you meet someone, the first question you ask is what they do for a living. Often our accomplishments or our job correlate to our ability to pay rent or put food on the table.  Where we then signal our access to those resources with our appearance – these shoes, that physique – and other people weigh that, in turn, to see if we’re the right person for a job interview or dinner invitation, we just might set ourselves up for disappointment.  Often this happens without any real knowledge of the true self emerging. And as a perfectionist, the main focus is on achievement and appearance.

What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. Perfection is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality, and often it leads to procrastination. There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. Aretha Franklin is my favorite female singer, but does that mean I can’t enjoy Barbara Streisand?

So, celebrate your imperfection.  Look at yourself with a view of learning who and what you are.  Then honestly accept what you find. You no longer need to be smartest or the dumbest or any other “est.”  Its okay to be you. The perfect human being is so because of their imperfections.

Imperfection

ImperFectioN

ImperFectioN

There is comfort when we deal in absolutes and certainties. We seekers often think we must be certain about things. But our reality suggests that we are not certain at all and this becomes the beginning of the loss of faith!  It has happened to me.   To assist us the Church feels its job is to make absolute truth claims and feels very fragile when it cannot. So, faith and our religious organizations are crumbling beneath this impossible and false goal, it seems to me. What if the church is imperfect—there is nothing wrong with “not knowing” as Richard Rohr says—there is beauty and faith in imperfection.

I understand the need for clarity, some basic order, and identity but absolutes don’t work in God’s creation as I see it. The Church then needs to abandon this need to be perfect—but from the inside by using internal resources (leaders and parishioners) to self-correct. A beginner’s mind filled with humble, patient, wordless unknowing, combined with sincere curiosity, is how I have learned to restart my life. Only then was I truly teachable. Otherwise, we only hear whatever confirms our present understanding.  I have had to become teachable in my own life to begin my quest to be the much better version of myself. A human being that I can love.  From the bottom of a deep hole, I had to stop digging, become a beginner in life, and learn how to live at the age of 62.  The Church is not too old to adopt a beginner’s mind. In fact, many spiritual thinkers are giving new meaning to the Christ and I am hopeful that unlocking the door will allow this message to enter.

Without much humility, religion has cried “wolf” too many times in history and later been proven wrong.  These mistakes could have been avoided if the requirement for perfection had been abandoned. Twisting one line of Scripture to prove a point was an unjust usage of the word. The biblical text was not allowed to change us as much as many Christians would have preferred but was used to exclude and judge other people. A new way of thinking is required. I want to be part of the whole.

I choose to believe what Richard Rohr says: “God’s presence was poured into a single human being, so that humanity and divinity could be seen, then and now, to be operating as one in him—and therefore in us! But instead of saying that God came into the world through Jesus, maybe it would be better to say that Jesus came out of an already Christ-soaked world. The second Incarnation flowed out of the first, out of God’s loving union with physical creation.”  He loves me and He loves you and He loves all of creation.”

When I realized that God loved me and I was like everyone else in the Spirit, I was united with everyone and everything, even a blade of grass and it was okay not to know, I began to see myself and the world differently. I was loved and I could love even with all the imperfections that abound. I see that it truly is as St. Francis said about loving: “It is better to love than to be loved.”

I want to be loved but loving someone else and that blade of grass is much better. And all love is unconditional. At one point in my life I detested the phrase “I don’t know.”  But not knowing is preferable and my burgeoning faith keeps me in love with God and Christine and the blade of grass.

NUTTY BUDDY

NUTTY BUDDY

Nutty Buddy is an ice cream cone topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate, and peanuts.

The “Nutty Buddy” was originally created and produced by the Seymour Ice Cream Company, located in the Port Norfolk section of Dorchester, Massachusetts and named after its owner, Buddy Seymourian. Seymour Ice Cream ceased operations in the 1980s.

The official Nutty Buddy is no longer produced commercially in large numbers across the United States. Its former manufacturer was the Sweetheart Cup Company, which was also the manufacturer of the machines that produced the cones; Sweetheart went out of business in 1998. One of the last manufacturers of the Nutty Buddy is Purity Dairies in Nashville, Tennessee.

Purity Dairies is a dairy company and ice cream manufacturer that provides products throughout Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, and Virginia. The company is owned by and operates as a subsidiary of Dean Foods and their products include milk, cultures, ice cream, orange juice, lemonade, tea and water, and it is one of the last distributors of the Nutty Buddy ice cream cone.

Please do not confuse the Nutty Buddy ice cream with nut butter.  Nutty Buddy Nut Butters are artisanal nut butter that is always gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, soy-free, and free of refined sugars! Organic coconut sugar, which is unrefined and has a lower glycemic index than traditional refined sweeteners, is used to sweeten the butter. Nuts are dry roasted to emphasize their naturally sweet aroma and maintain the mineral-rich nutrients your body needs. No palm oil or artificial additives are used at all- it’s just naturally delicious!

My favorite way to enjoy nut butter is spreading it on toast with banana & cinnamon or just eating it straight out of the jar! There are endless options when it comes to nut butter: make a nut butter & jam sandwich, savory pasta, sweet cookies, and more. Anyone can make a nut butter if you can grind the nuts. I love Almond Butter and you can grind your own at the Roanoke Co-op or Fresh Market.

Nutty Buddy is also the name of a well-known athletic cup that was invented and patented by Mark Littell after he learned that nearly 50% of his athletes refused to wear athletic cups because they said that the only available cups were uncomfortable and restrictive. He created a premier athletic cup with a patented design that is anatomically shaped to conform to the male body providing unprecedented levels of comfort and protection. After all, the most important thing is to “protect the boys”. The patented Nutty Buddy has won multiple awards for its comfort, design, and protection and has become a staple for athletes all over the world. Nutty Buddy’s safety gear protects the boys while playing baseball, softball, ice hockey, field hockey, lacrosse, football, martial arts, paintball or other contact sports. Nutty Buddy is now expanding their market into the law enforcement and military fields by creating the world’s first ballistic cup!

The patented Nutty Buddy Ballistic Cup is essential protective equipment that is required when entering a hostile environment. It is designed to protect the groin against bullets, fragments, and other impacts. The Nutty Buddy Ballistic cup follows the same anatomical design as the original Nutty Buddy. This design allows the cup to shape to the body to deliver comfort, and in addition, there is a “tail” that resides between the legs to center the cup during activity and provide protection under the groin area.

I bring this to your attention for several reasons. I find it fascinating that there is such a vast array of items that use the name, Nutty Buddy.  But there should be no confusion about the product that our community is fearful is going to be rationed.

Several ladies were talking in our Grille (at my senior residential community) about the lack of Nutty Buddys in the display freezer.

Alice was sitting in her motorized chair talking to Eloise.  “I have seven of them in my basket. I’m going to put them in my freezer.”

Eloise replies, “We won’t have to use them until next week. I have five in my freezer. That’s one for you, one for Maggie, one for Janet and a fifth one if Joycelyn shows up.”

“Great! We can use mine next week on Friday.”

“Don’t give up. I was told that another box was found in the central freezer.  Since I have the last seven in the cooler, they’ll probably bring out more. We’ll need to check tomorrow and the next day.”

“Let’s just get five at a time. We don’t want to create suspicion.”

Alice gets this devious smile on her face and says, “maybe we can corner the market and have a Nutty Buddy auction.”

They smiled and departed. 

This truly happened!!

Or maybe I just imagined it!! Nope! You can’t make this stuff up.

THE VALUE OF A BUSINESS

I am part of a microcosm that supports big business. I utilize Facebook as a convenient communication apparatus to keep up with friends and family both near and in distant places. Amazon is for stuff ranging from cat food to books and is a source of entertainment with the Fire Stick and Alexa. I have an iPhone, although it is a 5s.  I use Netflix for TV watching and Google plus Google Chrome for surfing the net.  I feel I should be using local businesses and I truly felt good about buying Virginia Diner peanuts at Northwest Hardware. BUT when the guy behind me got upset because the cashier was taking too long, I insisted he go ahead of me.  He was a bit embarrassed but moved ahead of me anyway. It was aggravating. This doesn’t happen at Amazon.

Which takes me to Christmas and the Hallmark Channel.  The town of Hollyvale, North Dakota is very typical of a Hallmark location and the Christmas Spirit in the digital age is a moving topic. What strikes me about this program and others is how business-centric they seem to be.  Though there are other types of plots, a common theme is that there is some business, or a town filled with businesses that revolves around Christmas and is enjoyable for the townsfolk but relatively unprofitable.  The characters have to find a way to make the business viable, in this case by helping Kate Harper, a national news reporter, find her Christmas spirit and draw people to the town. You can’t turn this plotline over to a soulless corporate operator who will lay everyone off and destroy the essential character of the town.  Typically, this involves teaching someone the true meaning of Christmas and the special value added to a company by longtime employees who put their hearts into their work.

A FAANG company would maximize profits by automating the bakery and relocating production to a central facility in Illinois. The ski lodge would be renovated, and new management would be brought in.  Of course, the toy store would close.

But the characters in this movie find a way to generate some minimum profit that’s enough to keep things running while providing steady jobs for devoted employees and special memories for customers. Plus, they find the Christmas Spirit for Kate Harper by reuniting her with Jack Brewster, her special friend, and her estranged father.  And that’s the happy ending. I cried a little.

The goal is to create a sustainable business that meets the needs of the various constituents without making anyone wealthy, just happy.  Too me, this is a noble goal.

I asked myself a question—what does this storyline mean? One possibility is that the Hallmark movies are a “true” reflection of our culture and of natural human values. We know that capitalism drives resources to their best use and this does not benefit everyone. Is Shareholder driven capitalism bad for people, even unnatural.? The role of business schools, as well as CPA, CFA and CFP training programs, are to indoctrinate young people in this unnatural value system just as the role of military boot camp is to get young people to overcome their natural instincts and run toward the fighting.

I suppose another possibility is that there are many folks who think about shareholder-value capitalism as synonymous with democracy and do not worry about the discriminatory aspect. I have come to believe that the role of Hallmark movies is to indoctrinate people in the unnatural part of the capitalist system. I like the idea of a small town filled with people who have a common purpose such as finding the Christmas Spirit or peace on earth or love for each other.