Some of you may have noticed a lag between this and my last Wisdom blog (Day One 5/22/17). I’ve had a lot to say about our recent elections and their fallout . We are at political DefCon Alpha. Current events get in the way of more general thoughts about life. As a student of history, a world traveler, a user of the Oxford comma, and a person of faith I have a whole lot to say about our Orwellian present.
But today let’s veer off the political track for a moment and let me tell you about a practice I am new at and love: laughing at myself.
One of my character flaws is that I take myself seriously. Those who love me say I take myself too seriously. To be perfectly honest, sometimes I do. Okay, lots of times. That being said, when I laugh at myself something happens. My perspective shifts and I experience a sharp drop of stress. It’s a two for one special: freedom from self-judgment and openness to self-acceptance.
So the entirety of my wisdom for today is this: learn to laugh at yourself – your foibles, your missteps, your idiocy – and don’t wait until you are my age to do it. Life will be so much easier to navigate.
I told you that one day I would reflect on the wisdom I may have acquired in my sixty-five years. Today is as good as any. Not because I sat down in front of my laptop feeling greatly wise or tremendously enlightened but because I sat down in from of my laptop today and felt just plain old.
Here’s the thing: I have learned a lot, Mostly I learned that there is a lot I do not know. I wake up every day wondering what I will learn. Partly because learning of all kinds, including emotional and spiritual learning, is an ongoing quest. I am a naturally curious person. I want to know. And I love the mystery of existence. As it is reported that Michelangelo said when he neared death, “I am still learning.”
I know that I will never know it all. I won’t know it all theologically, scientifically, psychologically, spiritually or any other way. I may never even know the best recipe for a homemade strawberry cake. It never keeps me from looking but it does caution me against landing.
So the first and perhaps best bit of aged wisdom I can share is: don’t ever think you know it all. Some of you might laugh because I do know a lot of stuff and am willing to share the information whether it is about cooking, car maintenance, sheet rocking, children’s literature, gardening, decorating, history… the list goes on. In my defense I would argue that I share information not knowledge or wisdom. And in my continuing defense I admit I am wrong if my information I have is disproved.
Wisdom, on the other hand and in my experience, cannot be shared. It is discovered through the triumphs and tribulations and even the monotony of daily life. Information and good intentions don’t insulate us from tragedy or success, failure or fulfillment. We find meaning and wisdom by living our lives. The more full out you live the more opportunity to increase in wisdom.
I, myself, get wiser when I make mistakes. That’s the kind of learner I am. I may push back, kicking and screaming, but eventually, in making sense of my mistakes, I learn. Maybe you will become wise in other ways. But if you are like me then here is some information I can pass along: try not to hate yourself when you screw up. It’s your best shot at getting wise.
Words can make things that are truly unknowable seem like concrete certainties. Words get in our way of experience when we feel a need to compress and distort our experience to fit into some preconceived, doctrinal box.
But what if we took away the words or the definitions? What if we spoke to one another about experience? Is our need for absolute certainty so great that we are willing to quash the uncertain truth that resides in us and replace it with doctrine?
We talk about resurrection as if it is something that happened once and will happen again instead of something that is always happening. We talk about it in future terms rather than very present reality. We talk about it as if it definable and measurable and dependent on our actions.
Writer Barbara Ehrenreich calls herself a ‘hardcore atheist’ but she also talks about a mystical experience she had as a teenager when she: “saw the world—the mountains, the sky, the low scattered buildings— suddenly flame into life.” There was no fire, but she saw “blazing everywhere.” She describes it as “a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heart-breakingly beautiful to let go of.”
She goes on to say she felt both shattered and completed. I love that. She describes my deepest experiences of Godde when I feel shattered and all that implies: frightened, unmoored, outside my ego as well as grounded, connected, and full.
That is how I experience resurrection. It is not a lack of certainty but a fullness of experience. I no longer have a deep need to explain or define resurrection. I only want to stand before the Mystery that gives hope and speaks the final word of love. I want to enter the Mystery that both shatters and completes me. Join me there. We need the experience of resurrection for the facing of these times.
Yesterday we said these words in our Seder meal: “Laughter and tears life and death, good and evil – these are bound irrevocably together. We bless them together for we know that with without death we would not fully value life. Without tears we would not fully value laughter. As we learn to maximize the good and valuable, let us remember the evil we would reject, lest it creep, unrecognized, back into our presence.”
Has Pharaoh crept back into power? In our day ‘pharaohs’ are the ones who live in luxury while families struggle to make ends meet. ‘Pharaohs’ are those who get tax cuts while the most vulnerable lose benefits like meals-on-wheels, childcare assistance, reproductive healthcare, social security, and disability benefits. ‘Pharaohs’ are the ones who wrangle power from the people and centralize it among friends and family.
Today I wonder how we can celebrate the journey to freedom when Pharaoh skulks around every corner working hard to corrode our freedoms. Pharaoh lives in the White House, in the Senate and House. Pharaoh now resides on the Supreme Court.
So how do we become free? We remember our history and tell those stores along with new stories as we begin again our journey to freedom. For those of us in the United States our stories are of our constitution and bill of rights, and stories of our march toward the liberation of all: the abolition movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the movement for LGBTQ rights, for immigrant rights. These are the stories we need to remember
How do we become free? We wake up for the hundredth morning and grope for words to describe what is wrong. We engage in small heroic acts of disobedience until our disparate voices come together into the cry of the people. We continue to move forward even though the way looks impossible and pharaoh nips at our heels.
We open our doors and make ourselves see the crimes of rape, violence, hatred, intolerance, prejudice, and the dehumanization of those called ‘other’ who are really our sisters and brothers and friends. And we care enough to act.
We have begun. We are marching and speaking and writing and calling and voting. We are wading into a sea and we are in it up to our necks. But our stories give up hope and tell us we will make a way through to the other side. So let’s keep telling our stories and singing our stories as we travel on the road to liberation. Let the children of today represented by the Children’s Choir of Boston sing a story for us and inspire us not to let anyone turn us ’round on this journey.
This week I had the honor of having my blog shared in an online group of fellow women clergy. I was excited until I reread what I had posted. Argh! Another political post where I talked about our nation’s need to repeat the part of our history that expresses the ideals upon which we are founded. It wasn’t bad. But was it spiritual? Did I share anything worthy of my clergy-sisters’ time and attention?
I wrestled with this a while. Some of my concerns were clearly ego. My online connection with other clergywomen is vitally important to me. What would they think? Even more important, am I spiritual enough for my cohorts in ministry?
I wondered if I am spiritual enough for myself. Here is what I rediscovered:
– spirituality has a million expressions
– whether I mention Godde or not, Godde is my ground of being (thanks, Tillich) When I act consciously I reflect my understanding of and relationship with the Divine.
– if I am not fighting injustice, concerned about ‘the least of these’ then I am not expressing my understanding, relationship, and experience of Godde.
– I would not be so passionately engaged in current politics if I didn’t name the evils of oppression, racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, ageism, and the rape of the earth and sea and sky.
Because I am a Christian I will continue to speak and act out against the policies and actions of the current administration. I may not name Godde or Christ in each post, but I have reminded myself that I am following in a Way of peace and justice for humankind.
So I may not mention Godde. I may not thump on a Bible, defend a theological precept or church doctrine (actually I don’t do those things, anyway) but I will continue to live in such a way works for a world in which the hungry are fed, the homeless housed, the naked clothed, the oppressed set free, the prisoner liberated, and the earth protected.
It is good to trust that my clergy sisters know this. I am grateful my post was shared and I am even more grateful for the opportunity to remind myself that I am spiritual enough.
Last week I, my sister, and my beloved Harry-the-dog went to the beach. Harry and I took some alone time on an isolated beach near Santa Rosa, Florida. When we reached the shore I let him off the leash and he pounded along the white sands before turning and leaping into the crystal green ocean. He swam out a few feet to catch a small wave that would push him gently back to shore. And then he would do it again. Over and over and over with unremitting joy. We spent the entire afternoon like this, the only exception when he chased shore birds keening overhead with his full-throated bark, tail lashing in delight. The beauty of the sand, the crystal ocean, the keening of birds, the hiss of waves, the warmth of the sun, the joy of my dog friend. It doesn’t get better than this.
But it could be gone too soon. The ocean polluted by plastic and toxic waste. The beaches overtaken by big-money developers paving paradise, the endangered species protected near the shore could become extinct, and only the wealthy could have access to our nation’s natural treasures – if they choose to leave them untouched, if oil rigs don’t malfunction and turn the pristine waters of the Gulf into yet another deadly slick.
These are but a few reasons I will take in all the goodness of my down time to energize my commitment to work for a better America and against the self-serving, irrational policies of the current administration.
If I should get tired of marching, I’ll remember Harry romping on the beach.
If I should get tired of making phone calls, writing letters, emails, and postcards, I will recall the public lands that are a part of our legacy as a nation.
If I should get tired of showing up at my representative’s offices to demand representation, I’ll plug into the energy of knowing who we can be, who we have tried to be, and refuse to let go.
I posted on facebook last week that I was a little tired and overwhelmed (already!!) and reminded myself and others of the importance of self-care. I am here to testify today that self-care renews us for the fight. It gives us a rhythm, like the ceaseless rhythm of the waves. The rhythm we need so that we can keep on keeping on for as long as it takes. This is not an either/or proposition. This is how we sustain our actions until we turn the tide. This is how we reset the buttons of our public discourse not only during this challenge to our very institutions of freedom, but for all the years to come. As citizens, we must be vigilant and involved on levels our generation has not seen.
So find your rhythm. Connect with your source. Prepare for the long-haul. We cannot afford to burn out.
Do you, like me, wake up every morning wondering what fresh new hell has occurred while you were asleep? Silencing women. Confirming the unqualified and the racist to two important positions in government. Nudging us to the brink of nuclear war. Climbing in bed with Putin. Refuting the supremacy of law. The catalogue is longer than I have either the time or interest to list. Suffice it to say that in a short three weeks we have been subjected to seemingly unending ‘series of unfortunate events’.
Many of us are calling our senators and representatives. Keep it up.
Many of us are writing letters, postcards, and emails. Don’t stop.
Many of us are going to town hall meetings. Show up. Speak up.
Many of us keep marching. Rest those pups and keep on walking.
Many of us are meeting together, making connections, and multiplying our energy. Keep on keeping on.
There are times when we may become overwhelmed, fearful, or exhausted but we can’t lose hope or give up.
We can’t give up because:
we believe that our beauty and power are expressed in many ways
we believe in sharing power and in each one having a voice
we stand with those who cannot stand for themselves
we speak for those with no voice
we care about the powerless, the homeless, the ill, the impoverished, the marginalized
we care about our planet and its future
all those things are worth standing for whether or not we prevail
There is no failure when we live into what we believe.
In Chaos Theory there is something called ‘the butterfly effect’. The most popular example is of a monsoon in China caused a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened.
Here’s our takeaway: Small acts make a big difference.
Do you think your phone call to a Senator’s or Representative’s office doesn’t make a difference? Think again. What will a postcard matter? More than we can imagine. Showing up at a town hall meeting? Ten thousand butterfly wings flutter.
We are not corporations. We are not the power elite. We are teachers, preachers, plumbers, administrative assistants, veterans and veterinarians, dog-walkers and retirees, hair dressers and waitresses. We are moms and dads, grandparents, sisters and brothers. Our individual and collective actions, however small, will change the climate in Washington.
Today we pack our belongings – enough to last for three days. Not so much meager as essential. Take only what you need. Underwear, shirts, a pair of jeans, portable phone charger, black sharpie, metro pass, ID, gas money.
In the morning we load up the car. We will wipe the sleep from our eyes and suck down coffee as we face early traffic. It will be a long drive. And we will laugh and sing, pray and cry. Mostly we will feel both our connections and our shared fears.
I am not afraid of dying so much. And perhaps I am being over-dramatic but a friend called this morning and asked if I were sure I wanted to go. There could be violence, he warned. And this, too, is new for a seasoned marcher like me. This march may be more like Montgomery and Selma than the peaceful marches for women’s rights, against the war, for civil rights, for gay rights that I have been a part of… this might be different.
I am not so much afraid of dying but it doesn’t mean I do not want to live. The Way in which I follow, the one whose life is my roadmap lets me know there are things worse than dying. Not standing for the disenfranchised, whether or not I am one of that number, is worse than keeping ‘safe’. And what is ‘keeping safe’ any way if I abandon my core principles.
My dad was a soldier. He put his life on the line many days for many years. He, too, taught me that it is important to live in service to something greater than yourself. And he taught me that being brave and being afraid are intricately entwined. He even went so far as to tell me that if I wasn’t afraid then I would not proceed with caution and that was just plain stupid.
No matter the outcome of this testament to the values we hold sacred, the standing together matters. I will stand with you, my friends, and I will stand for you.
There is a song from my younger days that the Staple Singers sang. It keeps running through my head and it is important for our time as well. I’ve posted the lyrics here. It is my invitation to the nation: come go with me. Go to Washington. Go to your local march. We cannot wait to stand and be counted.
If you’re ready come go with me
Will be tolerated
Peace love all between the races
Love is the only transportation
To where there’s communications
If you’re ready come go with me
The boat is after
The ever here to there
No wars will ever be declared
No economical exploitation
No political domination
Take your evil
Come go with me
You better get ready now
I’m waiting on ya
BANKS, HOMER / HAMPTON, CARL MITCHELL / JACKSON, RAYMOND E.
Can gratitude be taught? As my beloved mentor, Ben Kline would have replied, “Well, yes and no.”
When I was small I learned the ‘magic words’: please, thank you and you’re welcome. ‘Please’ when I wanted something, ‘thank you’ when I was given something, and ‘you’re welcome’ when I was thanked by another. The ‘thank you’ I learned to say was polite but it was also the first seed of expressed gratitude sown in my psyche.
While I didn’t always experience gratitude I was taught the practice of gratitude. I learned to accept the value of a gift freely given. There were times when I had physical responses to gifts: a warmth, a fullness, a knowing that this was enough. A peace, even. Through the lenses of my experience, I have come to recognize gratitude as a spiritual event.
Today, I practice gratitude even when I don’t ‘feel’ it. I say grace at every meal. Sometimes I take a moment to center and open to the gift. Sometimes I pray by rote. The practice keeps me open to the possibility of the experience. And the experience reorients me to God, to the world, and to myself.
Can gratitude be taught? Well, yes, we can teach the practice of gratitude and no, we cannot teach the experience of gratitude. But in teaching the practice we lay the groundwork for the experience.