Limits (Not A Happy Thought?)

I don’t know why I feel compelled to write this, this morning, but I have always had the sense that we, as a species, are “too big for our britches” as my mother used to say. At other times, I think we don’t try enough to live out our dreams and challenge the limits. Mostly, though, I feel like limits just are and we get in trouble when we act otherwise. For the most part, though, a life of humility and sense of my place in the world give me a sense of comfort. To use Virginia Satir’s words, limits give us “context” within which our relational journeys take place. With that said, here’s a list of true limits to consider:

1) There are only 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year. You can only do so much in that time.  Your day may be shorter than that. You could die today. Your day will never be longer than 24 hours, no matter how hard you try or wish it were otherwise. Use it well.

2) There is only so much you can own, know about and care about. At some point beyond that, you will not know how much you have. My uncle once had cars stolen from a car lot he owned and it took him days to figure out (when asked) if they were his. There is a limit on how much your wealth and things can bring you happiness. Studies show this.(see, for example, University of Colorado at Boulder, Van Boven, 2004 and Boston College survey, “Joys and Dilemmas of Wealth”, March 2011)

3) We don’t know everything. We just don’t and we can’t.

4) Most of us can’t be perfect ever.   There are people who — for one, bright, shiny second — do something perfectly. They are, like, one in a billion or one in a trillion. And even they can’t keep it up for more than that one, brief second.

5) We age. We can slow down the process. We can alter the appearance of the process, but the process still happens until we die.

6) We cannot control nature. It’s bigger than us. We can’t stop a tsunami or an earthquake or a tornado or even just rain.  We can limit its effects on us sometimes. We can harness it sometimes. In the long run, though, we need to respect it because we can’t control it.

7) There is only so much heartbreak the human heart can handle. Everybody has some limit.  You can’t go beyond whatever limit that is for you or you will become mentally, physically, or spiritually ill. Wars are especially good at breaking those limits. If a person goes to war, there’s a good chance they will surpass their limit.

8) We need a certain amount of oxygen, a certain amount of sunlight, a certain amount of warmth, a certain amount of water to sustain ourselves.

9) Just a reminder: gravity still works. If you jump from a high place you will fall. Eventually you will stop falling, and then it’s likely to get really nasty.

10) There is a limit to how much poison you can take in without dying — physically and metaphorically.

11) All people need food, clothing, shelter, and water.

12) It takes time for healing to take place. If the amount of time it takes to heal is longer than the time a person has on earth, that person will never heal — at least in this life.


These are not political ideas, but they have political consequences. If we make policies as though we can control nature, bad things will happen. If we make policies that reduce the amount of air, water, sunlight, warmth, or food available to people, bad things will happen. If we assume we can have war without consequences, we delude ourselves. If we assume people can handle anything, we set ourselves up for failure. If we assume that we can know everything in advance, we will learn otherwise.

These are not just philosophical ideas, but they have physical, emotional and spiritual consequences and can help us choose a philosophy of life that works or doesn’t. . If we think we’re going to be perfect, we will fail at it. If we think others are going to be perfect, they will fail at it. If we expect perfection, there will be scars somewhere. If we think we can stop the aging process, we will be frustrated. If we think we can be brutal with each other and nothing bad will come of it, we will suffer loss and find out how wrong we are. If we think that everything can be fixed — at least in our lifetimes — we will discover how wrong we are and it will hurt — big time.

Much of this, for religious-minded folks, can be summed up this way: We’re not God.  We can say to ourselves, “OK, that’s God’s job. I don’t have to do it and it’s silly for me to think I can”.

For everybody, though: Why should we live in a society that expects perfection, that expects that mistakes aren’t part of the human condition, that we won’t age, and we won’t die? Why would we believe those things and not be absolutely sick in our souls? If we believe — and act on — crazy things, we will become mentally ill as a society.

In the same way, how can we expect that we can poison ourselves or the environment we live in — with this chemical or that radioactivity or that hateful word or action — and yet not poison ourselves? That’s just dumb. We can’t.

Maybe we should consider that we’re well-meaning people who don’t know everything, who have limited life-spans and limited knowledge, and because of that we will make mistakes. Maybe we should consider that we know what hurts and what makes us ill in our souls, and maybe we should not do those things. Maybe then, we wouldn’t promote those things that kill us while thinking we should rejoice over them. If we at least start there — in reality — we stand a better chance of making choices that work.










A Change In The Force and… We’re Going To Need A Bigger Boat (In which many of my influences speak…)

People feed me straight lines and I think they want me to do something with them — this is one of those times. I posted on Facebook this morning that I had a sense that something had changed in the universe and my friend Cindy wrote back and said “The SCOTUS decision from yesterday probably didn’t help”. By this, she meant the decision by the Supreme Court that people could give as much money as they wanted to political campaigns or candidates and she is right. The decision of the Court changes everything about democracy as we know it — so much so that I didn’t know what to say. I have at least as much of a headache as Obi-Wan had when Datouine was destroyed, and I have yet to understand why someone would do that. I don’t think we have any idea about the ramifications of the ruling. I’d say vote based on good information, but, as John Mayer pointed out, “when they own the information, they can do just what they want”. When Billionaires own the media, and can buy unrestricted air-time during political campaigns, what real information are we going to have and how will we get it?

In the same vein, my friend Rob posted a news article about 1/3 of Texas being given power by wind generators one day recently. Though my wife supported his post, she did so because other people were knocking it as though it’s a bad thing to create electricity without air pollution. In talking to Rob afterwards, he said something like “I’m sad for the world…” when thinking about people’s responses. I replied, “It’s a sad world”.

My friends and I got into a debate about Fukishima nuclear power plant and efforts to hear about it/clean it up the other day. I wrote to Helen Caldicott and asked her what we’d have to do to get things to pre-catastrophe shape and she said something to the effect of “that ship has already sailed, but look at this guy’s site and see what he’s been doing”. The man is Arnie Gunderson and the site is

The UN says that the US has a poverty problem while the media here doesn’t talk much about it — or at least enough to suit me or them

They also said that the environment is being affected by climate change. My wife and kids were watching the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” the other night and we were saying how preposterous the movie seemed at the time, even among liberals and people concerned with the environment — especially the speed in which the ice age came in the movie. On days like this, I feel like the world is — with the American part of it going faster — digging itself into a hole that we may not be able to get ourselves out of. I actually worry that my kid’s children will not have a planet to live on and that democracy that could have saved it will have been a dead soul inside it long before it’s over.

I guess that should be enough to have anybody wake up in the middle of the night and make them feel like the universe had changed. As my friend Mark said, “Those are the days to hide under the covers until it blows over”. Boy, is he ever right — and I so love sleep. As someone who works with addicts all the time, I am sadly aware that avoidance of problems only works for so long before you have to do something to correct the original problem. Worse yet, the longer you wait, the more digging out you have to do. Besides, I’m — at heart — an optimist.

I take to heart the words of Richard Bach, “Here’s a test to see if your mission in life is over. If you’re alive, it isn’t”. And since I’m still here, I can’t believe that there’s nothing we can do. I refuse to believe that it’s too late for us, our children or their children.

To solve problems, as my friend Gordon taught me, look at the problem honestly, look at the resources you have, and do something with them, then figure out what you still need and get that — then apply it.

I’ve already spoken about the problems. Now it’s time to look at the resources we have, and I have given you some clues about what the biggest ones are — people. Cindy, Rob, Mark, Helen, Gordon, my wife and children — all make the world a better place with their lives. I don’t know that my children know yet how much joy they bring or how loving and creative and talented they are yet. They still have time to be their best selves and show the world what they can do, but they have already started and their possibilities are — with some limitations — endless.

Cindy is a pastor and a smart and kind person, Rob is computer guy — a smart guy — and a kind person, Mark is great father and husband, well read and musically literate, he, too, is a smart and kind person. Helen is busy saving the earth from nuclear radiation. She is really smart and — though I don’t know her well — because she’s also a physician, I believe she is kind as well. Gordon is — well, he’s Gordon — spiritual, wise, and the kindest man I have ever known. Gordon, besides all of this — is the most actively kind person I know. Hugs are a matter of course. A wink, a laugh, an “I love you” are just part of life. Years ago, he suggested to my Youth Group kids that they could leave a twenty dollar bill at the toll booth and tell the toll-taker to use it for the next group of people just to have fun and be kind. Gordon was “paying it forward” before paying it forward was a thing. My wife is so very smart, working on climate change in her spare time, and teaching about cultures and human rights at a local college. My children are — so far — smart and kind. Though I’d settle for just “kind”, we have been lucky enough to have both.

So what’s the common theme here? Who are the people who are going to make this world stop and see what it needs to do? The smart and the actively kind people out there are what we need to save us. If we’re going to make it as a species on this planet, we are going to need more smart people and more kind people doing more things. Yes, folks, to get through the things we are doing to destroy this earth (and our species along with it), to keep ourselves from being eaten by a monstrous nature, we are going to need a bigger boat — full of a wider group of people, focused on the right things. I speak about diversity and the isms all the time in this blog and this is why — because I was taught that it’s silly to throw away the gifts that people have. If we limit ourselves to White, Christian Protestant men for the answers to life’s crises, we cut our chances down to a small percentage of the world. By not having women’s ideas, we lose 50% of our chance to make the world a better place. If we limit ourselves to White, Protestant, Straight Men, we lose most of the planet’s ideas. If we limit ourselves to White, Protestant, Conservative, Straight Men, — or liberal ones — we nearly guarantee that the self-inflicted wounds of this planet will do us in — especially if we teach those same men that they are supposed to make money, environment be damned, or they are not men. If the people who “can” lead us are leading us in the wrong direction, our fates are going to get worse sooner rather than later.

Now, this is not to say that all those “other” people on the planet can’t make things worse by being greedy, or mean, or bigoted. They can. Liberals, as we’ve seen in the #CancelColbert thing recently, can make things worse and meaner with their own version of “purer than thou” and the insistence on Political Correctness. Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Atheists, gay folk, Black folk, Asian folk, all can be jerks in any number of ways. And the idea that “all women are kind” is just plain melarkey. My friend Leigh and I had a talk, some 25 years ago now, about how nasty leftist radicals could be. She pointed out that Emma Goldman once said, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”. My high school history teacher, ML Brewer would agree.

So, here’s my thing for now (and of course, I may not have it right, but here goes…): Can we stop worrying about the sexual revolution for awhile? I think, at this point, any consenting adult has gotten the right to have sex with whoever they want. If you are still fighting with people about what they do in bed, you’re too busy to save the planet. If you still want the world to care what you do in bed, you are also too busy to save the planet. We’ll have to make it without you.

Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs tells us that safety and survival needs come before things that round out life — like social conventions and relational needs. In other words, it’s not going to make a difference who you love if there’s no planet to love them on.

I’d like to see us spend time getting more people to be smart and actively kind. That means investing in education and taking everyone in the classroom seriously. It means creating engineers and ecologists to fight the toxins we continue to poison ourselves with. It means listening to people who can understand what’s going on with nuclear power and its waste and the radioactivity that’s not going away anytime soon — whether they are males from Arkansas or women with heritages from indigenous tribes in Australia. It means listening to people who understand wind and solar and geothermal power and computers or an internet that makes those things more available and more do-able.

That said, I know that “smart” or educated isn’t enough. Being kind to each other is also going to be important. In my case, I think that Christianity and the words of Christ are a key component in figuring out how to be kind to each other. Still, I know atheists and people of all kinds of faiths who know how to be kind to others. That means that pastors and rabbis and imams and ethicists need to teach the skills to tell right from wrong, helpful from not, kind from mean. That means that mothers and fathers need to actively show kindness to their children and model kindness for them to see. It means teaching people to listen to themselves and see through all the BS of “morality” and legalism and power and jealousy to see what we all experience as simple kindness. We need to create peace lovers rather than warriors so that we don’t do something really stupid to the planet and each other.

As I hope I’ve expressed here, influences come in all forms and flavors — from movies and music and books to the younger, the older, and the same age as us. My influences and people I admire are male, female, Black, White, Gay, Straight, and everything else, religious, the spiritually advanced, and atheists. What sets them apart is their kindness and the impact that kindness has on people’s lives. While I prefer and admire smart people, heroes of mine can be of any intelligence, if they are kind. Still, radioactivity, greenhouse gasses, fracking and phosphates are complex things and we are going to need a lot of people smarter than I am to deal with the complexities of them. Fighting over who can look and actually be stupidest — and we seem to do that a lot lately — isn’t going to cut it if we are going to survive.

The answer is out there and within us and I don’t think we have a lot of time to get this right.

Just a bunch of thoughts, from a bunch of different places…