You may not own anything to anybody. But to some you may be indebted

 Downtown in Omaha, Nebraska: Still standing and built on many visions of the future.

What The Second City improv theatre was for Tina Fey of the Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock fame, for some of us a life in and with church may be.
     "It was like a cult," she wrote in her biography, Bossypants. "Studying improvisation literally changed my life," she confessed. "It changed the way I look at the world."
     Then this statement: "What has your cult done for you lately?" For her, she gained a worldview. She also found a husband.
     On reflection, there is much that I am grateful to a variety of spaces, times, and people groups I could name as chief influencers of the world-according-to-me. What follows is a goulash of reflections with a dose of personal spice. It won’t be conclusive, but it was exhausting to mix it up!
     In my early years the family was the obvious influencer. Consider my sister, Izabella. She tried to scare me, and my brother Jan with ghost-will-get-you-tonight craziness, as she made noises that suppose to have been ghost-like. Such memories are etched in my head. They shaped my aversion to treat reality as something predictably obvious, and those reminders still keep me scared of my 60-years old sister!
     But seriously, it was the push into the in-between world of freedom and restrictions that made an impression on me. All at once it was administered by both my mom and dad, and - to make it equal - dad and mom.
     My father was a churchman. He dished out from an assortment of thou shalt not or thou shalt do directives which he had to offer. Actually, there was plenty of wise counsel, too. Spiritual life was frequently referred to. But, for instance, he also spoke about determination and hard work (later in life, he repeated a couple of times that I achieved what he only dreamt to accomplish; this could be considered as a compliment, I guess?). A post-World War II Poland's reality builder and economist in him often reminded my siblings and me that we should value every penny that comes our way. Don’t just spend it. Keep it. Save it. Oh, well …
     My mother, on the other hand, took me to enjoy theatre plays. As I frequented many a theatre, I was told - You will get somewhere when you embrace the Big World. I think she meant that living with and within the surrounding culture would bring best out in who I was. So, I tasted eclectic music and Niemen, the country's iconic musician, composer and singer topped my personal contacts. My journalistic pursuits established a life-long friendship with Bogdan Loebl, a poet known for blues lyrics. Even today, music serves me best when I merge it with literature. It is most satisfying when a hardback with poems is in my hands. As I was meeting different culture-animators I was also learning not to take myself too seriously.
     Then, enter the church itself. The early days were submerged is issues of a Protestant minority keeping its head above the sea of Roman Catholicism. We had a common enemy to deal with, but also had to carve out our own identity and social acceptance. The impact of those days showed itself richest when truth was expressed freely. My convictions were established as I learned to respect diversity of opinions. To top it off, a carpet became most useful when walked upon. Sweeping stuff under it was hardly a way to live.
     Later, as religious communicator, I was always dealing with labels. Being involved with my faith community's corporate public image, I had to be aware of the conservatives, liberals, sectarians, cultist, fundamentalists, and pagans ...
     From my experience, unless you closed your eyes and plugged your ears, you may have actually discovered that your religiosity would often be measured by how many religious words you used in your speech. But it was the warmth of an embrace that my brothers and sisters shared with each other made a difference in my childhood.
     It was in my church milieu where I also learned the meaning of Christian hope. It started with my grandma. On her deathbed she concluded, in a frank friend-to-friend conversation, that Jesus knew timing better than she did. Second coming will happen in His time, not mine, she said. [My faith community taught me to capitalize He when referring to Him. Several theologians also taught me to stick with the Gospel, and not an interpretation of it.]
     My church also gave me such concepts as, "do unto others," "love your neighbor," and stand up for the rights of the poor and everyone else who is treated unjustly. It also helped me discover a “1 out of 7” approach into time management. Sabbath day was created for me from the outset of our human history, I learned. That’s what I got from the Holy Word. It works for me. God loves to rest, too.
     Moving on, some other lessons from many a wise life-sojourner include not accepting mediocrity in any shape or form, using imagination, acting creatively, being bold and using risk as the currency that actually has value. Ignore the company of naysayers, became a commandment No. XI.  
     Today is not yesterday, was another gift of knowledge I cherish from encounters with assorted gurus. The wise members of various and diverse clubs taught me not to mistake my future for what is over already!
     My faith community introduced me to my wife, Grazyna. [Ms Fay, I resonate with your story about the improve days!] The gift multiplied and we were awarded a life of wonder and pride with Michal, our son. 
     So, my own family life teaches me to keep on refining the journey I am on. Live to the fullest, take one day at a time; practice generosity and affirm people in their own quest to life's fullness; engage in healthy living as the best investment in healthcare; and of course stand-up to the Big Pharma and the capitalist greed.
     To say more will require another cup of tea. 

Insa-dong, Seoul, Korea: Aroma and meaning in one cup of tea.


  1. Most enjoyable Ray. I like the transitions of life that you illustrate and how they impact. Sometime you should share some thoughts on “unlearning” – what do you do with lifelong education (vis-à-vis the things taught from childhood or perhaps “indoctrinated” from childhood) that you wake up to understand have no basis. Do you continue them from a cultural perspective (these are things I always did or my family always did) or do you leave them behind and move on? It is an interesting nuance on your current block.

  2. You are raising a good point. To start with, I could mention what created a "silence effect" in my present behavior when I think that "doing" stuff is more à propos than "being." It haunts me often. Another, was an admonition to "stay" in the middle of the road, I was also told. It's safe there. Actually, this is what I would be "hearing," and quite often: be bland, boring, embrace what is ersatz. Thus questioning religious recipes and making conscious choices about them made me quite often drawn to the other end of the yardstick. Yet, though the negatives are there, much of who I am was coming to light in the experience I was afforded by my various sojourners, or call them cultist, if you like.

    Yes, there will be a moment for another cup of tea, or another spontaneous beverage to have...

  3. There's a lovely teahouse in San Francisco called "Samovar Tea" that you would relish as a great space to unpack truths and insights over wonderful, peaceful cups of tea...