I’m doing Christmas cards this year. I usually do a few – the silly ones from card stores go back and forth in my family. It’s a fun tradition and doesn’t cost much. But this year, I decided to go big. So far I’ve written about 50 and I have another 40 waiting to be written. At some point I started wondering – will someone be happy to get this? Will they be upset there’s no gift card or check in there? Will this seem like an empty gesture? On the other hand, will this make someone’s day? Will they understand that I took the time to buy a stack of cards, find their address (and that’s been a hoot, finding snail mail addresses) and affix a pretty stamp? What if I forget someone?
At some point, I have to mail these suckers. I have to let that little bit of light shine on its own merits and let people receive my love as they choose to receive it. I’d love to put $100 bill in each card, but that’s not budgeted in my 2017 fiscal year. I’d love to write long, very personal notes in each one but at some point I have to go home, I have to write next week’s talk and I have a whole bunch of people to meet with. At some point it has to be enough that I tried and sent a bit of love out into the world.
Isn’t it great that no matter who you are, Spirit is excited to hear from you? Even a small card with a scrawled signature makes God’s day. When I send up a thank you for the parking space, I can feel God get the warm fuzzies. When I stop to listen to a bird singing or watch the sunset, it’s acknowledging the work of the Great Artist. There are so many small ways to be with Spirit over the course of the day, and they all send a bit more love out into the world. I’m sending you some now.
Every year, I celebrate Thanksgiving by hosting a potluck at our Center. We’ve had as many as 60 people, although the average is closer to 45. I buy ham and turkey and everyone brings their favorite food. This way everyone gets their favorites, made the “right” way, and we all get to hang out in a party atmosphere for the day. I’ve learned a few things along the way. First of all, I won’t try to do all the cooking myself. I do one turkey and one ham. The rest goes home with someone to be cooked and they get the bones for soup. I don’t try to do the cooking at home. The Center kitchen has two ovens and if I cook stuff there, the building smells yummy. I’ve learned that the following day is a great time to make “leftovers”, which really means our family Thanksgiving foods without any stress over presentation.
I used to think I had to do it all myself. I used to think it had to look a certain way. One of the greatest benefits of growing up is that I realized that I get to define what’s right for me and I’m not responsible for meeting other people’s expectations. What is true for the holiday is true for spirituality. I don’t need to do everything the way my mother or grandmothers did it. I don’t care about presentation for the turkey and I don’t need my spiritual practice to meet anyone else’s approval. It’s worth getting up a little early to do it my way and the end result is that I get fed and I’m happy. Sometimes, letting go of doing it “the right way” is what allows for doing it the most effective way.
One of the first “prosperity tools” that I learned was to create a vacuum. Want new clothes? Empty out your closet. Pass on those things that you don’t use. Create physical space as a means of creating space in consciousness for your good to come in. I think almost every prosperity class I’ve ever taken has had that exercise in there somewhere, if not right at the front. At few months ago, I realized that I think of giving things away as something rich people do. I don’t need to hoard stuff I’m not using, because I can always get another if I need it. So I feel rich every time I take a load of good stuff to a thrift store.
Here’s another thing that I was reminded also works. Need car repairs? Make the appointment and then tell God you need the money by that date. Create the need and then let the Divine do the heavy lifting. When that feels easy, step out for something you want but don’t need. I was offered the chance to do some traveling with friends. Buying the trip would benefit a charity I believe in and check off a point on my bucket list. It was a great deal. Do you see how I’m making an argument for something I want, as if I need a rational explanation for taking a leap of faith? I have a tendency to need to feel responsible with my money, so doing these luxurious things requires a real leap of faith for me. My faith that there is lots of good in the Universe and I can have mine is what I’m working on here. Of course, within days of saying yes to the trip, it was paid for by unexpected income. An apartment that I own was rented out, so there’s more income that I wasn’t sure about.
There is not much of a rational explanation for creating a vacuum when you are already experiencing need. It might seem irresponsible or stupid. But the thing it, it works. It’s worked every time. When I did it worried that this one time it wouldn’t work, it’s worked. When I asked for wants rather than needs, it’s worked. When I call it tithing, it works. When other people do it, it works. Give it a shot – and share how it worked for you.
I’m pretty particular about who is allowed in my home. I have an apartment attached to my home that I rent out and only once did I allow someone to handle the rental. They did everything legally and right, but I wasn’t satisfied. The tenant’s energy and mine weren’t a good match. Something just didn’t feel right. I know we weren’t a good match because the tenant left after about six weeks. I bless her being there and I bless her leaving to go on to whatever is hers to do or be. And I’ve learned my lesson; who is allowed in my home must be a decision made consciously and by me. I don’t discriminate in terms of color or gender or creed, but I do prefer to pray the right person in, which generally looks like the right person getting me the application first and actually being able to pay for the apartment.
There’s a Rumi poem about a guesthouse. I welcome in those who show up, but I also remember that these are my thoughts and my own beliefs I’m welcoming in. A basic tenet of our philosophy is to watch what you believe and see if it’s true. If you can’t tell, another way to think of it is to ask yourself, “Does this belief make me more free?” We will always find evidence to support our beliefs so we may as well choose the ones that prosper us. Who we welcome in to our homes, our heads and hearts, will determine the quality of our lives. Make sure you are paying attention. Love them all as they come, and be aware of whom you offer a lease to.
I’ve just started listening to Brenè Brown’s new book about belonging. She refers to this as an increasingly divisive and divided world. She cites the current political and social chaos as part of the issue, but also talks about how it feels unsafe to say who you are and what you believe in. Everything in me wants to argue with her about whether this world is really all that divided. Yes, it’s what’s in the news these days. Who can be surprised by that? We are wired to focus on what’s wrong so that we don’t get eaten by T. Rexes and so we pay lots of attention to those voices who Rawr loudly and point their tiny talons at the “problem” people.
Before the internet gave the megaphone to a small group of malcontents, those unhappy people were mostly ignored. Downside; minorities could be ignored and abuse continued. Upside; terrorists didn’t get their egos stroked. In truth, nothing has changed except that we are more conscious of the things going on around the world than we’ve ever been. With so many different voices speaking up, it’s bound to create some chaos.
Out of chaos comes a new creation. Yes, things look grim these days. The news has not been about how many puppies were born safely yesterday. Nor has it been about how many lives were NOT lost because we can treat depression more effectively, because there’s a push towards greater acceptance of minorities and less acceptance of racism and even that the number of truly poor people in the world is dropping drastically. Did you know that peace is breaking out all over in record numbers? Seriously, google it. Just because we are now more aware of the problems in the world doesn’t mean that there are more problems in the world. It means we are waking up. We are, more and more of us, “woke”. We are learning that what isn’t pretty can still be beautiful.
When I was about to be ordained (several years ago now) I did an informal poll of ordained ministers about what to expect. The vast majority of the ministers I know are female, and I don’t know how much this affected their answers. However, what they answered with one voice was that I’d find my “give a damn” falling away. Not that I’d become uncaring, but that it might feel like my ability to be concerned about other people’s opinions would get dulled. I’d have a lot more confidence about what I want and how I choose to do my life. That might be a nicer way of saying it. The actual answer was pretty immediate and blunt. My middle finger would be getting a lot more exercise. In the most spiritual way possible of course.
I understand that this is a sign of aging in most women. We lose the need to please that has been trained into most of us. One of the great joys of my life is seeing that the younger generation of both men and women are, to paraphrase Wayne Dyer, “independent of the good opinions of other people.” To some folks, it might seem like the younger generation is rude or uncaring. Of course, the “younger generation” has seemed that way for decades if not centuries, so this is nothing new. However, I’m excited to see people standing in their truth, unwilling to be held hostage to the “nice” that was trained into me. The type of nice that had me doing things I didn’t want to do for reasons I didn’t agree with.
So here’s to aging. Here’s to an end to the etiquette that tells me I must sacrifice and martyr myself on the altar of “nice”. Here’s to standing as the proud Adult Children of God that we all are and respectfully declining to be nominated for the Doormat Council.
This weekend I talked in my sermon about the sexual abuse I experienced in childhood. As I sit with the choice to talk about it now, I feel like I should clarify a few things. First of all, it’s the least important or even interesting thing you can know about me. Yeah, it happened and no, it doesn’t define me. I don’t consider myself a victim or even a survivor. I’m beyond it and into my own life. If you’ve been there, if you’ve been victimized in any way, you can get beyond it too. Whatever you were told it meant about you is pure ignorance. What someone else does to you means absolutely nothing about who you are and what you can do.
On the other hand, while I don’t accept the Truth of victimization, I don’t think folks who report abuse are lying. There’s a big difference between truth and Truth in my world. Rarely does a victim of abuse actually like about having been abused, and yet in our society often doesn’t believe the story. Rarely is a victim told the Truth after abuse about their perfection, how they are still and will always be the Beloved of the Beloved and how they can absolutely heal and have a wonderful life. Society believes the big Lie, that an abuse victim is damaged for life. Weird how we got that all turned around huh?
So the rule for me is that I will share my story if it will help someone else see the Truth beyond the story, beyond the truth of the facts. It’s the biggest and most healing Truth we can tell about ourselves or anyone else. If you have never been abused by another person, perhaps you fell for the Lie of unworthiness due to an illness or financial problems. Perhaps you believed you were broken because of your sexuality, of the body you live in that doesn’t look like the ones in the magazines or because you had trouble learning to read. It doesn’t matter WHY you came to believe in your brokenness. What matters is that we now wake up to Truth. There’s too much going on in the world, too much good to experience, to waste time on a story that has been spiritually Snopes’ed and found to be untrue.
In the Buddhist tradition, it is said that suffering is caused by attachment. The truth is that all things change, so if we are addicted to a certain form (the way a relationship has always been for instance) we are going to suffer. We heal ourselves by becoming aware of these addictions or cravings and then applying compassion. We release the addiction to the form and rest in the eternal rather than the changing. The Buddha is eternal. Our own Buddha-nature is eternal. Our physical bodies and the bodies of our affairs (money, relationships, jobs) change.
The summer, we managed to grow a real, live tomato plant. It’s the first time there has been fruit from a plant I planted in this home. I have planted thyme (haven’t tried to harvest anything) and other herbs, but they generally only do okay at best. Mint, which is an invasive weed, I managed to kill. But this year there was a success. Okay, so it’s only one small tomato, but it counts.
How silly would it be to mourn the plant that is fading with the summer instead of focusing on what it has given us (about a bite of tomato each)? I’m not going to roll the planter inside my home to save the plant, because it’s way too heavy and my cats would get into it. I can celebrate what it gave me and release this form, taking with me only the awareness that it is possible in God’s universe for me to participate in growing a plant. I have discovered part of the unchanging reality of my true self, my Buddha nature. I can let go of the form now.
I never liked working in groups in school. I wanted to be in charge of earning my own grades. I didn’t want some other person, who was obviously never going to be as smart as me, messing up my GPA. Yes, I’m talking about elementary school. I had issues.
Most days now, I’m an adult. I recognize the Oneness of all beings and I get that life on this planet is a group project. We sink or swim together. There’s a thing called the Bodhisattva vow that says that souls are innumerable and the Bodhisattva vows to row them all to the distant shore. I don’t vow to row anyone else to shore, but I’ll take an oar and help. If we’re all just walking each other home, as Ram Das says, then I’ll walk next to anyone. I don’t think I do the Universe any favors by thinking I need to carry someone else. After all, that other person is just as much a part of God as I am, right?
Having said that, I’m discovering the joy of working together with other folks who are walking home at the same rate as I am. Yesterday, a group of us went outside after service and weeded the labyrinth. With so many working on the project it went pretty fast and it gave me time to catch up with folks I usually don’t get to have conversation with on Sunday. I also just got back from a gathering of ministers in North Carolina. It’s a beautiful place and the Center there in Asheville is impressive at a lot of levels. My ministry only started being successful once I recognized the power of the group consciousness. I started enjoying ministry when I realized that part of my job was to do lunch with colleagues and share the joys and challenges with them. Those connections make my career possible.
So today I’m up for the group project this teaching Universe has assigned. Today I work with and walk with anyone who sincerely wants to create a world that works for everyone.
My brother called to tell me about his son and their football team. They have this coach – Coach Vito – who just sounds really impressive. All the local teams came together for something called Jamboree, where they play short games and spend a full day on the field. No score is kept in the entire league (my nephew is still six) so it’s really about learning to play the game.
However, Coach called the whole team over at the next practice and asked how everyone thought they’d done. I picture them remembering that they had fun, so it must have been good. The team members talked about their successes and how it all went. They decided that based on their playing, they had done well.
And then Coach gave feedback. He said there was one thing he saw their team (and their town’s teams) do that he didn’t see from anyone else. What he noticed is that their team helped other people up if they fell. They have been taught that no matter what team another player is on, if they see someone go down, they are to give that person a hand up. Coach complemented the kids and said that was exactly the kind of people they should be.
Now, this team may or may not face the right direction. They may or may not bring the ball with them when they run for the touchdown. But by all the gods and goddesses of autumn, they are learning to play the real Game.