Breaking News

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.

Here’s to aging!

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.

Stories and Truth

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.

 

Our tomato

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.

In the same boat

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.

 

Football

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.

Thanks, Coach!

Duck, Duck, Goose!

The other day I realized that I was getting very anxious. I was anxious because I had so much to do and it wasn’t done yet. I had trouble sitting for more than ten minutes to do spiritual practice because there was so much to do and of course, I was late. Well, I told myself I was late.

You see, in order to fit everything into my week this week, I had a long day on Tuesday, catch up on Wednesday and then leave at 4:15 in the morning on Thursday in order to drive to Phoenix, park the car and get to the airport. I was stressed out in advance. I was stressed out because I was living the whole week at once and feeling like I was already behind… on days that hadn’t happened yet.

One of the metaphors for ministry (and all spiritual life, I think) is that of a duck. We are to glide across the waters of life peacefully and gracefully, never allowing folks to see that our feet are paddling frantically underneath the water. We’re supposed to make it look easy, right? Spiritual people have mastered equanimity. If I’m spiritual then I don’t ever have bad days. Right?

The best spiritual practice I have learned is laughter. Instead of trying to be a duck, I am realizing that I’m a goose. Once I see how silly I’m being, I can laugh and go back to my “to do” list. I can leave God’s “to do” list to God. Oh, and get a hotel in town the night before the flight.

Going to the well

I was rereading a part of the Book of John this morning about when Jesus, having been walking all day, sits by the edge of a well and asks a woman for some water. Now, the woman is a Samaritan and they don’t generally interact with Jews. Add to that that in those days, women didn’t just chat with men casually. Like, ever. So when Jesus tells her to go get her husband, and she admits she has no husband, he tells her, “You’re right. You’ve had five husbands and the one you have now isn’t yours.”

Now, I heard this story originally as a folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary. The song makes it sound like the woman is, to put it lightly, loose. There’s a bit of slut-shaming in the song. As I read the story now, it occurs to me that a woman can have five husbands if she outlives four. In those days, a woman’s worth was in her marital status and her ability to have children. What if the only reason she’s around is because she didn’t die in childbirth? What if some of those husbands divorced her thinking she was barren? The story doesn’t really say why she’s been married so many times. However, if she lost all those husbands through no fault of her own, even if her society told her it was her fault, then our Samaritan sister has been through some tough times. If she’s living with a husband that isn’t hers (maybe it’s her brother or her father) then she’s probably a second-class citizen in her own home. She has no social standing.

And she is willing to see the possibility that this strange man, who she probably shouldn’t be talking to, might be on to something. Maybe he sounds arrogant to her. Maybe he looks ridiculous (remember he’s just a stranger who’s been walking in the desert all day). I can relate to her. I’ve been to lots of retreats and workshops that promised me “living water” in the form of five simple principles or one great secret or a dozen rules. I have all the books. I’ve done lots of hours of studying. Heck, I have two master’s degrees and the student loans to prove it. I look at the time and money and wonder what the heck I was thinking! I still feel, sometimes, like that unwanted, unloved Samaritan who is just trying to find her place in the world.

If your Buddha-nature spoke up right now and promised you living water, promised you peace and joy, would you have the strength to try one more time? Would you be willing to try someone who seems like an unlikely guru? I went to lots of professionals and certificated teachers before I found the ones who told me my teacher is my own heart. Trusting that unlikely teacher has made all the difference.

The gift

I got this quilt as a gift. You can’t tell from the picture, but it’s made to fit a full size bed. I finally got it hung a few days ago, on the only wall that will fit it. I wanted to see it every day, but I didn’t want it on my bed due to my cats. So there it is. It wasn’t as hard to hang as I expected and now I can see it every time I’m in my room. I love homemade gifts like this. I know a little about how long a quilt takes to make. I know how expensive the various bits can be. Mostly, I know that the maker is actually very busy and must have carved out time for her schedule to slow down and make this. There’s so much detail! I’ve made a few gifts like this in my time – crocheted baby blankets and full sized afghans, knitted six foot scarves made out of super soft wool and cross-stitched scenes and messages that now are in their offices or homes. Sometimes, the person oohed and ahhed but never used the gift. Once, the person just said “thanks” and I never saw it again. Sometimes, I’d hear years later that the baby blanket became a favorite and is now packed away with other precious memories. These gifts represent hours and hours of work, sometimes undoing those hours in order to correct a small imperfection that only I would have known about.

I have to wonder, how often do I not see the detailed work the Master Craftsman has put into me? How often do I say thanks and move on, completely missing the huge blessings that the seemingly simple gift represents? I know how joyful it is to stop and figure out a way to see the gift daily, to find a way to display it for others to ooh and ahh over. How long did Spirit work on the miracle that is my life? How many eons were spent creating the master work that is your soul? Are you willing for it to be seen?

Part of the wall of Dumferline Abbey. Some of the stones here still bear the mason’s mark.

According to Abraham Maslow, belonging is one of our basic needs. It fits right after food, sleep and shelter. Back when castles were built by masons, each stone was marked with a code that told the builders where it went. Today, even Ikea marks what pieces go where to create a solid piece of furniture.

When I think about the best things in my life, they all have to do with my connections to people and to groups that I admire and trust. I’m part of the Centers for Spiritual Living as a minister. I’m part of CSL Prescott as the spiritual leader, one of the members of the Board of Trustees and of the Practitioner Circle. I’m the member of a family, which right now consists of my sister and brother and his family. I’m part of a family of choice which consists of soul friends.

Part of knowing I belong on this earth (which I didn’t always know, by the way) is knowing where I stand in my relationships. Lately, my primary relationship is with the Divine. My focus has been on nurturing that relationship and doing what Joel Goldsmith calls “Practicing the Presence”. Everywhere I go, I see the face of God. Every sense is attuned to the Presence – I feel it all around me lately. Did I do something to earn it? No. You can’t earn God and you never needed to. Did I do something to make myself more aware? Yes. I got serious about a committed prayer and meditation practice. I made that practice my priority, even on the mornings I didn’t feel like doing it.  And now I’m reaping the benefits of hanging out full time with the Friend who never lets me down.

It is the Universe’s nature to impart, ours to receive.  Ernest Holmes.

My role in this relationship is always going to be to receive – whether that is support, love, wisdom or lessons. So I know where I fit in. I know that I belong irrevocably to this relationship.