My Dusty Old Guitar

I have a mental bucket list that’s a mile long. I want to learn Arabic and Ancient Hebrew. I want to learn to love yoga and be all stretchy and bendy like a pretzel. I want to travel. I want to create a home with a garden. I want to adopt a teenager. I want to get a doctoral degree in about five different fields of study. I want to do so many things and I have a busy life to excuse me from doing most of them.

What I’m finding as I get older though is that that list contains things I both really want to do and things I want to have done. I want to have written a book and lost about 50 lbs. I don’t want to write the book or learn to eat better, I just want them done. Those are the things I thought I was supposed to want. Those are the things that would impress the people I used to want to impress (and sometimes still do want to impress).

The rest of the list contains things that I actually want to do. I spent seven years studying Spanish but I don’t actually speak it. So I want to travel and do some immersion learning. I want to be able to say I speak more than one language. I also want to go back to playing the guitar. I learned it long ago and gave it up when I got bored, as kids will do. About a year ago, I bought a great guitar at a bargain price. Some folks bought it for their daughter who played it for a semester and then stuck it in the corner. I brought it home, played around for an hour or so and then stuck it in the corner. Did you know that playing the guitar can be painful on one’s finger tips? It really can.

Here’s the thing. When it comes down to it, the only person in charge of my bucket list is me. I can take off the items that I only put on there out of obligation. I can play around with the rest and decide how important they are. I practice Spanish in my head sometimes and I just acquired a new set of books and tapes to help me. I agreed to learn one song on the guitar (only three chords and only played during the chorus) and then scheduled myself to be the soloist on a Sunday so I had to do it. Those things have immediate benefits.

The other thing on my bucket list that is staying has to do with traveling. I was invited to go to England for a few weeks and I said yes. My first reaction was no, it’s too expensive. Then the money started showing up and the way was opened for it. The gift of that yes is that other areas of my life are opening up too. By saying yes and living from my bucket list in some small and some big ways, I’ve informed the Universe that I’m open to a bigger life. It seems the Universe has been listening.

Fair warning: when you start living from your bucket list, the Universe will hear your yes, too. Prepare for miracles and large living. Prepare for your excuses to melt away. Prepare for a bigger bucket.

Divine Madness

I just finished a class comparing some of the Judeo Christian Bible stories to those in the Koran. It was wonderful – an exploration of how changing a few words or details can create a very different meaning. And I loved it so much that now I’m listening to one of the many biographies of Mohammed (pbuh) the Prophet and first Muslim.

What stands out to me is that when Mohammed had his first revelation, he wasn’t very happy about it. He thought he’d been possessed by a demon. He considered suicide. Can you imagine what the world would be like if he decided to die (ending the demonic possession) rather than submit to the will of God as he understood it and bring the Koran into being? The history of Europe, our knowledge of chemistry and algebra, and our access to the teachings of the ancient Greeks would now be very different.

How many times have I gotten up from my meditation chair moments before my revelation? How many of us have felt the beginnings of a sacred call and run like hell so that the call would go to voicemail? What is it about Divine revelation, which should be our birthright that seems so awful?

I can only guess. I don’t think of myself as on the same level of the Prophet or any of the saints.  I know that I was leery of accepting the call to ministry because it would challenge my beliefs about authority and (I thought) mean that I had to be poor for the rest of my life.

The truth I have found, which I think might be common, is that I had to submit to a Divine madness. I found that the things I needed to do to answer “the call” were things that made no sense to my friends. Go back to school and do another expensive master’s degree? Why? I’d just worked my butt off to get out of debt. Give up a safe government job with great health benefits where I’d worked my way almost to the top of the heap? For heaven’s sake, I’d have to move to a place where I knew no one except my congregation. And I’d been warned about the pitfalls of having congregants as friends. It took me forever to make friends and create a home, why should I give that up?

The Divine madness wouldn’t leave me alone and eventually resistance was more painful than submission. I did have to give up the things I listed above. I did have to make the sacrifices. However, what I’ve found, and I’ll be the Prophet would agree, is that there are both tangible and intangible treasures to be found within Divine madness. Living in surrender to the flow, or in Muslim terms, in submission to God, has its own rewards.

Passover

On a recent Sunday, I talked about the miracle of Passover. For those of you who don’t know, Passover is the Jewish holiday that celebrates being freed from slavery in Egypt, when Moses told Pharaoh to, “let my people go.” The name comes from the last plague that swept over Egypt. The Jews put a sign over the doors of their houses that told the angel of death to pass over them but the first born son of every other home died. That included livestock. After that plague, Pharaoh ordered them out. Unfortunately for him, he changed his mind and chased them all the way to the Red Sea. But that’s another post.

Here’s the part I meant to talk about and didn’t due to time constraints (plus I forgot). The Jews who were enslaved were the descendants of those who 300 years or so earlier, had fled to Egypt to escape a famine. Remember Joseph and his amazing, technicolor dream coat? Okay, so that’s not what they call the coat in the bible version, but I’m writing this, so hush. Joseph brought his father and brothers down, in spite of the fact that he was only there because the brothers sold him into slavery, and they were given some of the best land in the area to farm. They prospered and multiplied and began to crowd out the Egyptians and then politics happened. Eventually, they became slaves.

The thing is, that idea or practice that once was my salvation can turn into what enslaves me over time. There was a time when I prayed for abundance almost exclusively because I was broke, broke, broke. I was paying my credit card bill so that I’d have space on my credit card for food. I have never been so close to homelessness before or since. At the time, learning how to manifest money was a god-send (pun entirely intended). However, I’ve seen folks become owned by their things. I’ve flirted with the love of money myself. When the need for more money becomes all I think about, in spite of how beautiful my home is and how well stocked the fridge is, then I have become enslaved by the very thing that saved me once.

Every so often, we are advised to go through our things and release what no longer gives us joy. I’d suggest that we do the same thing with our spiritual truths and tools.

Spider webs in the Sanctuary

For the past few months, folks have pointed out to me that there is a spider web in our sanctuary. There’s a concern because it looks like we never clean (we have a service come in) and it might suggest to newer folks that we don’t care about hygiene or our building. Several people have come up to me over time and suggested that something needed to be done. I keep forgetting about it because that’s not a corner folks sit in, so I almost never look over there. I notice it at odd times and think, “I should do something about that.”

I have a few spiritual thoughts about all of this. Since I normally see the spider web, which has become more visible as it collected dust, during those moments when I peek during meditation this thing has become part of my meditation. Where are the cobwebs in my inner sanctuary? Like the dust, I become stuck to certain thoughts. I get stuck on anger. I get stuck on hurt. I get stuck on who is doing what to whom out in the world and how helpless I feel to stop it all. I think about those things I know I should be doing – helping out in the greater community, giving more time to listen to the broken-hearted and eating real food. I consider the people who connected with me around this web and how we are all connected. I consider Indra’s Web and its metaphysical meanings.

Then I consider the words of our founder, Ernest Holmes, who said, “One of the great difficulties in the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice.” And then I got a broom and pulled the cobweb down. No more musings on the cobweb.

Here’s the thing – we can contemplate our problems and the realities of life all we want, but until we take action, it’s just navel gazing. I’ve been told that it’s not the minister’s job to sweep up cobwebs. I agree. It’s my job because the spider web was bothering me. It was of no use to the spider that was long gone. I cleaned it up and moved on with my day, thankful that the only thing left behind was the inspiration to write all of this.

 

 

Out of the Rut

I sometimes forget that not everyone lives the way I do. For instance, I spend a lot of time talking about ideas and having deep conversations. Intimacy of the emotional variety is simply part of my everyday life. It surprises me to hear that there is an epidemic of loneliness because folks don’t feel they have the opportunity for those conversations.

I forget that a lot of people believe in sin and brokenness. I live with the idea that God is all around me and in me all the time. People who are deeply passionate about the “right” way to relate to the “right” God are not really part of my life. Even the folks that quietly believe there is a “true path” aren’t much part of my life. I am free of the need to be right about that one. I honestly don’t care what you call the god you relate to.

What I also know is that I have to be careful to stop living in my safe little world every so often. And so I take classes on religion out in the bigger world. I read about what the current trends and research are in culture and religion. I read about the wants and needs of the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. I read about the needs and experiences of people of color and prisoners and people in other countries. All of that is mostly theoretical though. I can read about how to ride a bike, but that doesn’t get me out on a bike, does it?

And so, I’m going to step out of my usual world for a bit. Although I will still have posts going out over the next few weeks, I am going on walkabout. I’ll be away from my Center for six weeks. I’ll be out of the country for part of that. It’s time for me to fulfill a bucket list dream and travel a bit. My desired outcomes include getting some rest and doing some stuff I’ve put off around my house. I want to get out the mental rut we all get into when our routine takes over our lives. I want to travel to a place where I can see how people who live very differently actually live. I’ll be in London – a city instead of the rural life I have here, and a culture very different than American culture. There will be different money, different food and a chance to ride on a different side of the road both metaphorically and physically.

In order to see things through new eyes, we sometimes have to shake up our very foundations. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We need our assumptions about life and how it has to be lived to be challenged. I understand that travel does that. I also understand from my ministerial friends that how we live is not entirely normal and that you need to stop for more than a long weekend or even a week or so in order to really shift gears.

So I thank the Divine that I have this opportunity to live life unlike I live it. I’m grateful to the folks who will be covering for me on Sundays and during the week. I’m grateful that I have no idea what I’m getting into and so can’t really set any expectations. And I offer you the suggestion that you, too, can take yourself out of everyday life in order to find out what else the Divine has in store for you.

Sacred Days

I was at a retreat all week up in Oregon. It was very, very green. It also rained every day except the day it hailed. So what was created was a sense of being all tucked in, with nowhere to go and nothing to do except the deep spiritual work. Now, I had my doubts about this particular teaching for years. For one thing, the materials are in a weird font and there’s an over-abundance of extraneous quotation marks that annoy the crap out of me. However, I have learned to that kind of things aside in order to see what might be of use, so there I was. I know and trust the facilitator Rev. Dr. Penny Macek (check her out at www.newvisioncsl.org) and she wouldn’t work with less-than-stellar people, so I was willing to try.

The first thing that happened was that they started talking about Christ. I’m not a traditional Christian. I understand the Christ in the same way these folks do – it’s the life energy and intelligence that predates any religion, but gets called the God Self, Higher Self, and Buddha nature.  I don’t care what you call it, frankly, as long as there is an understanding that Jesus of Nazareth was one of many Christs that have taken up the work over the ages. I’ve long since left behind the need to talk to Jesus as the one and only. Even he smirks when I talk about it to him, cuz it’s just funny and wrong at the same time. So I had to remind myself as we talked about the Christ over and over that it was my new understanding, not the old one I was raised with. Yes, some of the songs we sang got very traditional, but I looked past that (see how amazingly magnanimous and spiritual I am?).

I will admit – I did trip over the Jesus thing a lot, just like I was tripping over the Mohammed thing earlier in the week. I listened to Mohammed’s biography in the car and got very judgmental over how he went to war and played politics and treated the Jews in Medina. Isn’t it amazing that I can find ways to judge these amazing people? Here are two men that gave their lives to the work in ways I can’t even fathom and I’m looking down my spiritual nose at them. Not that I can channel a holy book or change water into wine (which I admit would make me immensely popular) but I can miraculously find fault with damned near anything.

What will it take for me to see the Christ Being in everyone? What will it take for you to see it? What if it shows up in your mirror, like Bloody Mary at midnight? Then what are we going to do? I’m going to stick with what I learned at the retreat. I’m going to keep going back to www.sacreddays.org to find the music we listened to and the explanations of the exercises. I’m going to keep working on my own inner critic until even that voice is the voice of God (which is female in my heart right now). I’m going to look past punctuation until my consciousness is so clear and strong that I only see God. Period.

Hold my hand

Recently, I challenged myself to play the guitar for a Sunday service. Understand, I haven’t done that since about fourth grade. Think about that. It’s been decades, although I won’t say how many. I remembered how to do the three simple chords, no problem. I was able to work hard enough over the course of the week to somewhat create calluses so that I can play the chords on the metal strings (for those of you who don’t know – ouch!!!). I could sing the song without a problem. I had the words in front of me in case I lost it and it’s not like it’s not a song I sing to myself all the time, by one of my favorite artists, Celia (check out www.celiaonline.com) Folks gave me pretty good feedback, so it couldn’t have been too terrible. It wasn’t a virtuoso performance by any means, but no one walked out and there were few actual groans.

So what was the point of this somewhat amateurish performance? Besides trying to impress my congregation with my miraculous ability? Well, that’s a longer story. Ever since I was a kid, I refused to do things in public if I wasn’t good at them. I never played sports. I never did much of anything. Well, theater stuff, but I was good at that. When I sang, I’d go hide and sing where no one could see me. Yes, I see the problem with that – it didn’t occur to me until years later that folks could definitely hear me, and seeing me was not the issue.

Yesterday I got up and played the guitar even though I didn’t feel ready. I had adrenaline zipping through me at a prodigious rate. It’s been a long time since I had stage fright, but there you go. Now, it wasn’t enough to just do one song on a Sunday. I chose Easter Sunday. I was doing one of the big talks of the year and I asked to do the music. Yes, I asked. Theoretically, our music director could have said no. If I was really bad, I’d trust him to say no and save me the embarrassment. The whole point was to challenge my belief in perfection and do something I didn’t expect to just carry off effortlessly.

The good part is I could fake strumming when I could tell my fingers were playing the wrong chord.   I think we managed to turn the microphone on my guitar waaaay down. And I had the sense to do this in front of a crowd that is loving and forgiving and knows me anyway. What surprised me was that my ego was so involved in remaining calm and spiritual during this growth experience. It bothered me that there was so much adrenaline running through me. It bothered me that they were taking so long to figure out the microphones. It bothered me that I felt I’d let the sermon preparation slide a bit in order to get the music ready. I was not able to float through the whole thing on a cloud of serenity.

In meditation that morning, I saw a child who was doing something for the first time. She was scared, but clinging to a trusted adult’s hand. The whole experience was one of fun and fear at the same time. This is how I think maybe it’s supposed to be. As children we are supposed to have a trusted adult teach us how to feel fear and do it anyway to find out if the fear changes to fun. I’ve decided that is part of my Higher Power’s job description now. If I’m going to be spiritual and live on my growing edge, then God/Goddess/The Divine has to hold my hand.

That way, if I fall flat on my butt, at least I know someone will help me up. And laugh with me afterwards too.

Meditations on a pencil sharpener

I have an electric pencil sharpener behind my desk. I love this thing. I love having a really sharp pencil for balancing my checkbook and writing out ideas. In both cases, the eraser comes in handy, but I like having the sharp point to make my numbers and ideas clear and easy to read.

I noticed as I was sharpening some pencils today that if I push too hard, the whole thing stops. There’s a level of pressure that is right between too hard and not hard enough that is perfect. It lets the machine do its work, shaving off the next level of wood and lead. Push too hard and the machine will dig too deep and break the pencil. Don’t push hard enough and nothing really gets sharpened. Isn’t it the same with creativity? Push too hard to make “art” or deep change and you end up jamming up the works. You try to go too fast and everyone feels pushed and stressed out. Don’t work at all, and you end up with no results. Eventually, the project gets boring because there’s no forward motion.

I also noticed that my pencil sharpener is a Boston product. To me, the town of Boston is my past. My family is mostly from New England and the Boston mindset (and accent) feels like home sometimes. There’s so much good back there. Of course, if it was really for me, I’d be living there. It’s not a bad place, just not my place to live all the time. When I’m in my creative mindset, when I’m living the life I’m creating, it’s important to know where I belong and what is now a part of my past. The outer layer of wood on my pencil has also served me well at some previous point. It’s not useful now because it’s covering up the lead I need to write my next chapter with.

Today I dumped out the reservoir of pencil shavings. It’s important to consciously let go of what no longer serves us on a regular basis. That might be the clothes in your closet, the relationships you’ve outgrown or the mindset that has been leading you into confusion and unhappiness. All of this benefits from regular evaluation and release.

Finally, I notice that this is an electric pencil sharpener. What a great metaphor! No matter what tools I am using, the energy behind the tool is something outside of me. As I create my world, as I sharpen my own consciousness and bring forth balance or new ideas, I’m powered by a greater energy. I don’t need to provide that power. It’s there for me to use whenever I use this machine. It will wait for me to be ready. I never feel guilty for not sharpening something in my office. The pencil sharpener is there for my use when I’m ready, as are the pencils and every other physical and metaphorical tool I have.

Isn’t it great that Spirit shows up in such beautiful, mundane ways? God is in my pencil sharpener as much as the majestic mountains and all the miracles we all recognize in our daily lives.

Pride and Pruning

I just spent a little over an hour working outside the Center pruning bushes and cleaning up a bit. I was there helping our Saturday morning volunteers. One of them drags around an oxygen tank and I know at least one is an octogenarian. I lasted an hour. Tops. They were working when I got here and are still working. Yikes! I bow to their superior stick-to-it-ness.

I find that doing physical work is good for me, no matter how much I might avoid it. It’s good for me when I get too stuck in how hard it is to do all the mental work I do. It’s also good for me when I get too puffed up with pride, thinking about how I can do things better than other people and start thinking that means something. What Spirit was pruning from me out there was the unhealthy kind of pride. Healthy pride says I have intrinsic worth. Unhealthy pride says I have more intrinsic worth than you do.

I doubt very much those bushes out there are comparing themselves to each other and noticing who I left lopsided or where there are still stray flyaway branches. I know they aren’t comparing how they looked before to how they look now and lamenting that they can’t afford a better hair dresser… uhm, gardener. Emerson once wrote:

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower, there is no more; in the leafless root, there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. There is no time to it. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

When I get stuck in unhealthy pride, I am miserable. Nothing I do will ever be good enough. Nothing I say will ever be wise enough. I know this is something most of you already know, but the answer will always be to go back to God (by whatever name you use). Get back into this moment. Remember that you are like the other plants, no better and no worse, that exist in the Divine Garden. You are there for a reason that is all yours. Physical work, as much as I might try to avoid it, helps me get back in the present.

Maybe today was about pruning my unhappy pride as much as helping out our volunteers. I’ll probably come up with a hundred and one excuses to do other work on the first Saturday of other months. But in the future, I’ll be aware that spending an hour with the landscape is worth the time.

Reaching out

 

I’ve heard that the biggest issue in America today is loneliness. I don’t know – maybe it’s actually homelessness or the fact that we are still at war or that bookstores and libraries are closing. Still the loneliness thing seems to be attached to all the other issues, so we may as well see what we can do about this one.

I’ve started several groups that meet on a regular basis to offer mutual support. Sometimes the groups really take off. Sometimes they take off after the third or fourth attempt. Sometimes I’ve found that the reason they didn’t take off is because there’s already a group and so I join that one.

I meet with a group of eight female ministers once a month for lunch. It took a few tries to get this group going, but we did it and have been meeting for several years now. I don’t know what I’d do without these women. They have heard me celebrate big and little victories. They have heard me lose it over big (and little) tragedies. They have remained in principle and unmoved by my story, although they are always wonderfully compassionate and loving to me (they just don’t buy my story – it’s a good thing). I’ve heard them in the same types of circumstances. We laugh together about the crazy gig called ministry that we all love. It is more than worth driving an hour and a half each way to eat salad with these beautiful souls.

The thing is, this started as a semi-professional meeting. We met because we were all ministers in a particular philosophy in a male dominated profession. We do share best practices, new books and trainings and what to never try again, but mostly we share our lives. This is the big secret. There is a lot more professional development and worth in creating the connection than in finding out which fundraiser works the best.

Because of this group, I answered the call to be a Regional Support Representative for our region. Our region is five states, with about thirty Centers. I did it because 1. They asked me and I didn’t think “they” even knew my name and 2. I wanted to pay the good I got my from minister friends. Now, I don’t get to meet with all the ministers or Boards in my region on a regular basis. We certainly don’t get to do lunch together more than once a year, if ever. But I can call, and send silly emails, and that’s a connection. They all have my number. I know before I took over, I sometimes thought my RSC was watching me and would call just as I was losing perspective. And she usually said exactly the right thing or pointed me in the direction to find the right thing myself.

Here’s another secret. I’m massively shy. I don’t reach out easily. I’ve gotten myself into hot water more times than I care to say because I let myself get isolated. I get why loneliness might feel like the biggest issue in our country right now. And I’ve learned that the best way to heal my own loneliness is to reach out to someone who might be in the same boat. In that way, neither one of us is lonely anymore. So it’s really a self-serving spiritual practice. I’m not nice as much as smart. And I offer my trick to you as a cure of any loneliness or isolation you  might be feeling.