Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Gratitudes, Then...Long Overdue

I stumbled into a SiriusXM radio show a couple weeks ago--the Peri Peltz Show--which had invited a dear friend, Rabbi Irwin Kula, to reflect on the post-election currents in our world today. [Irwin and I go way back in some collaborative teaching we did, and more...he's what the Quakers would call a 'weighty elder' for spiritual wisdom and innovation...]. The conversation that night was wide-ranging and worthwhile, and can be found here. A good thirty minutes of your time...

A paraphrase? Irwin closed his observations with a marvelous invitation to daily practice that would counteract the polarization in our country today: gratitude, curiosity, and service. These words in this blog post actually began a couple weeks ago, but seem spurred by some unexpected reconnections and invitations to remember: gratitude. I love it when the universe converges...

But first, a glimpse of what he means, my paraphrase of his words: At the end of each day, name at least one specific thing you’re grateful for. Just one. More could be welcome, of course, but just start with one. Gratitude. “My husband crafted our home that nice meal,” in my case. Or, “My dog Nala has been a constant companion today, when I was sad.” Gratitude. Second, reflect on your day for the moment when you heard yourself say or think, “Huh...I never thought about that in that way…” or “I did not know that but now can see what you mean…” Curiosity. “Whenever anyone tries to generalize about 70 million people, remember there is nothing 70 million people actually have precisely the same. Nothing.” For instance...perhaps asking “What is a vision of public safety that does not center in the police? Are there jobs police are doing today that were never intended to be their work in community safety?” Questions I’ve rarely heard asked to be asked, outside of a political soundbite and conflict. Curiosity. Finally, name one way that you made a difference in someone else’s life this day. Doesn’t need to be a big “make a difference” or “saving the culture,” but just one thing that you did that made someone else’s life better. Service. I listened to the heart-strings of a dear friend, fearful of losing one of her dear friends. I communicated authentically with a new acquaintance, when she was having a tough day. Service

Why is that going to help us? Rabbi Kula was asked. “Those three things are a direct attack on the polarization, the splitting, in our world today.

Gratitude is the psychic grounding where we can grow new stuff, and we have to grow into new sorts of human beings. Curiosity is the engine of learning, humbled when we realize we often don’t even know who we are. How may we encounter another when we need to encounter ourselves first? And happiness points outward, he concluded, citing Nietzsche and others. When there is a lot of injury in the culture, we have to repair it. Kindness is an act that can shape our lives forever, or just for that moment. It heals.

For tonight, then: gratitude

A lot of energy goes into dissecting the gifts and challenges of Facebook these days, which is of course legitimate and necessary. Facebook has sculpted much of our human imagination and fear, gaining millions into the billions for companies across the globe. I am glad the Corporate Beings are beginning to take some responsibility for ‘tagging’ fake-news and at least putting banners on things that may harm others. I know that others call this 'censorship.' I tend toward 'curation' myself, and our world is better with a bit more organization, I figure. Besides, Facebook is already the old-school platform, of course, having been complemented by Twitter and now all the rage (literally) about Parler, the social media platform (begun in 2018) to which Trump supporters, Conservatives, and Saudi Nationalists have been flocking. [If you enjoy a bit of liberal celebration over the election, you can shake your head and smile with Liberal Redneck, Trae Crowder, “Parler and Bridging the Gap.” If you’re more mature than that, skip the link and move on. :) I’m not mature enough not to post it at all.] 

In the last weeks, as my own mental discipline has been returning me to the actual Earth and her creatures, I am increasingly aware of waves of gratitude for my own little Facebook ‘bubble.’ I stayed really intentional about being connected across relationships-identities-persuasions, some of which I found easy and others I found not so easy. Here, I simply want to bow to those Facebook connections that held some semblance of hope and reality as this year’s election-season(s) unfolded. I know this bubble says more about me than anyone I will name here, but I am thankful...for so many I won't name, but for a variety of reasons, the ones I will name...all of you… So, in no particular order

Doc Gee Bee Jay...I have had my eyes opened to the connections you live into life, from the power of Greek Life to love for your Harlem neighborhood. I’m not even sure how we connected over the years, though I remember your ordination service, having traveled there from Princeton as a lilly white woman, naively entering the worlds she knew not. Spirit took care of all of us and it was a joyous day to experience. I’ve steeped in your rage as well as your gentle celebrations of all you can celebrate as a black man in America today. I learn because of how you post, both things I’m drawn to and things I realize liberals also need to hear, to allow. I am a better theologian today because you participate in expression the ways you do.

Josie Jay… We connected as FB friends because of CrossFit, which you joined during the pandemic but seem to have withdrawn in these later weeks. We got to workout side by side when the box reopened, and I appreciated your tenacity amidst a third-shift job in law enforcement. You have been my link into Trump-Devotion, making me uncomfortable yet allowing me to see a side of America I have needed to see to believe. I respect your devotion to law enforcement and I bow to your religious devotion, though we are vastly different believers of the same God. I wonder about your worldview, so different from my own, and yearn for any flames of fear or hatred to wane… I respect your passion and invite you to explore it more deeply in seminary studies of the Christian tradition, centuries old, beyond your current leadership voices. God is more than the loudest speakers present today.

Deborah Klawan Haizman I have met you in person maybe twice? In the Bronx… And yet I love your “Me and Julio, down by the schoolyard” theme, with smiling pix and new locations, shared with friends. I revel in your love of family, your clear sense of belonging and being your own woman amidst so much that calls to you. As the sister of a soul-sister in my life--so connected yet not directly connected--we yet seem to align so completely in a startling number of things--family, fun, politics, books, arts, music, city life, service, and more. It was a balm to my soul to hear of your own political volunteer work, your appreciation of those of us in the middle of the country working toward a safer, more democratic world. I love your celebrations of family, of tradition, of fun and the joy of living. 

Perdita Finn & Clark Strand… Your work found me early in this pandemic pause--The Way of the Rose--and I regularly receive nourishment from the gentle community-closed-group you steward on Facebook. My devotion to Our Lady has deepened because of you both, and I have attuned my ears and words toward a gentleness of speech that I might not have been able to sustain as easily without such steady nourishment. Your sacred work has brought a community together online, which has even connected me to a dear new sister-friend from Hawaii! An artisan of rosaries, two of which will be landing in my home by January 4th, so the tracking code suggests!

CrossFit peeps -- Nicki and Jim Hagler, Melissa Matthew Mitchell, Jesse Grigsby, Marc Herbst, Cindy Rinesmith, Kirstyn Nyegard, Steve and Colleen Kandel, Megan Baldwin, Mike and Michelle Weaver, Attiga Wolfe, Wendy and Thornton Thompson, Vicki Brubaker, Lori Larreategui and so many more… This community bent on fitness and health has been my rock of sanity amidst the swirls of so much INsanity in our country today. The interesting thing is that we are a remarkable cross-section, just as we are. I know the depth of your hearts in how I experience you with your fitness journey, your kids, your partners AND I know several of us voted across our divides. Being with you several times a week has not only made me more fit--metcon, WODs, intensity of effort and such--it has made me a more sensitive and aware human being. I’m able to hold more ambiguity because I can see and feel your own life’s passions in between the ‘official’ reasons we’re together. 

Lacey Morris Vickers -- The vagaries of higher theological education obscured our connection when we both lived in the same town, not to mention the collegial connection I enjoyed with your husband. It did mean that I rarely got to encounter your voice without lots of other persons and functions in the mix. Today, these years later, your FB feed is a regular stopping place for me, as it was during pre-election months. You welcome a cross-section of folks into your listening/viewpoints, and you steward a care-full and often quite funny space for so many different folks to converge. You have a special gift in this, I've learned. I've also loved learning about your curated-life, doing what you love to do. I often laugh aloud at a discussion-strand you've started. New Year's Eve 'memes' most recently. I'm thankful and glad to know you're in this world now.

There are so many more I could name, of course, but these are the regular ‘encouragements’ and ‘windows into life’s complexities’ that made this past election season bearable. I have my own convictions and passions into which I’m living for a better country for more of us. AND I am wiser for being in the feeds of seriousness and silliness you offer in precisely who you are. I am thankful.

May all that is Holy bless you, and bless our country, together.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Hopelessness Then...Wondering

I don’t know if I can invest in the hope again, I heard myself say to him.

It takes a lot for me to profess hopelessness aloud. I may feel it, usually unaware that I feel it because I have learned to resist my feelings for so long. Instead, I’ll sense a numbness, an apathy or lethargy that I simply cannot seem to shake. I will allow it to take hold for a while, maybe even wallowing in it so to really honor its presence, whatever “it” might be. Then I create some disciplined, structured creative renewal plan to kick myself into gear, to pull myself up by proverbial bootstraps, to get over myself and get back to productive contributions to communities and people I love. But today...I don’t know if I can invest in the hope again, I said.

I’ve not written in these cyber-pages for quite a while, even as I have whisps of topics and perspectives I’ve been thinking into, feeling my way into and out of… The whole blog-project started within a felt-wave of “Do what you can do...I’m a writer and theological professor with Facebook connections to my institution’s alums and various other church-folks in my life...I’ll write, then.” I have found my voice in a more public fashion, in political-civic things of which I traditionally steer well clear. I have retained the commitment to write from rising feeling, not any intellectual or political point my mind may want to make. It’s been important for me to stay close to my body, to my energies, to rising feeling and the drive to become articulate about what I sense, feel, in these complicated days. 

I’ve not known how to write about the hopelessness I feel, reading the news-media headlines, hearing the hyped anxieties and unconscious traumatic-responses (for some) and enraged certainty of (anticipated) triumphalism (for others). I don’t even know what the last blog-focus was, to be honest, and it was weeks ago now so I’m not going to return there. I have been struggling to keep a commitment to ‘crossing the bridge of the divide’, of insisting upon the humanity of all involved, even as the triggers are so ready all around us, in each of us, for our worst selves to explode any bridges we might attempt.

There comes a time, apparently, when it’s important to name that hopelessness
has triumphed, at least for now. I do not have it in me to extend a hand to any Trump Republican who thinks the election was stolen. Recounts, handcounts, over fifty law-suits engaged with only 1 court victory for Trump’s claims--with a huge number of those judges appointed by Trump himself, btw. I do not have it in me to ‘consider the best of the other’ when this ‘other’ population resorts to violence, intimidation, death threats, lynching threats, and hysteria about Democrats eating babies. I simply do not have it in me…

...which ruptures a self-image I’ve carried and honed for a long time. I’m no longer as amenable or compassionate, innovative or willing as I used to think I was. 

I’ve been a true-believer about the Sacred and its work of reconciliation, holding irreconcilable opposites together in a patient tension until some better and unperceived Third Way could emerge from the fierce devotion held between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ I’ve held (and continue to hold) learning/teaching spaces for this Work to unfold within those training to become religious-ecclesial leaders today. I make jokes about my expectations of ‘success-rate’ in this work, of course. If 10% of a class finds the doorway into an experience of non-dual awareness, even for just a moment, I consider the class a raging success. I don’t anticipate raging successes in my work there, but I’m persistent and trust the Universe to open portals as students are ready. And not a moment before (which would do damage to the student). Sometimes, though, I realize I’m in a grief-pocket about this… I mean, why bother with the depth and challenge of this journey when sunlight-Christians--those who find ‘faith’ to be only the positive, and ‘doubt’ to be a sin or weakness--really don’t want to bother? Sometimes it does feel hopeless. Thankfully, though, I’m well-trained in that this Sacred Work doesn’t come from me anyway. It comes from Spirit, Source, however you may want to name...so I steward my gifts as best I can and make jokes about the 10%.

A bigger chunk of hopelessness rests in another part of my body, another part of my Sacred Work in the world: circle. I devoted the last seven years to being-in-circle and holding-circle-spaces well and good for awakening, deepening consciousness, journeys with one’s own shadow (both ‘negatively perceived’ [wound stories] and ‘positively perceived’ but not claimed [hidden gifts yet to blossom]). Here’s another grief-pocket I often find myself in, I now see: I thought I had found a community of practice that would be my home for a very long time. I had finally arrived at a woman’s Shangri-La, a community with an expansive vision to create anew and be created anew after centuries of silencing and such violence on our bodies we can’t help but jump at sounds even in daylight. And for some blessed, short years, it was that. Until, as per a now familiar pattern, I was reprimanded for advocating for our (supposedly shared) values at (admittedly) some structural-administrative expense. Everyone really did the best s/he could do AND wounds were sustained all around. This community of practice became what it always has been--a fragile and very human collective with its own shadows and frailties inflicted upon those (perceived to be) moving outside of its norms. Human being, living in a living-breathing-active community? You're gonna get wounded. You just are.

So today I had a conversation with a fellow I’ve met before, a Circle-y guy whose poetry and listening-ways I enjoy…I heard myself say, I don’t know if I can invest in the hope again. Can any of us, really? Maybe we human beings really are simply too far gone to be anything but the increasingly isolated, anticipatedly-violent, traumatized-grief stricken wounders that we are. We refuse to imagine it could be different. We refuse to exercise our spiritual-heart-muscles to see another’s pain with compassion. We hide from the suffering of others. And now some of us are obsessively focused on an authoritarian reality-show TV host-cum-politician duping millions of us that he’s going to save us. Save us from what? From whom? Ourselves?

Not even Donald Trump can do that…(she says satirically, feeling it wise to be explicit about satire).

[On a lighter note that I both feel and don’t feel: Autocorrect keeps altering my spelling of human wounders to wonders. Maybe it really is up to you, literally. You have to intentionally put the ‘u’ in wonder. Wondering forward then, shall we?...]

ENACTING Beloved Community

This is a phrase that undergirds the work of C. Anthony Hunt (or here ) as well as a curricular goal of one of United Seminary’s Immersion...