Friday, March 26, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 27, 2021 - Bearing Witness

I am a helper. And I often run the risk of helping too much. I want to solve things. When someone comes to me with a problem, I always want to leave them with a solution. That is both a good trait and a deep character flaw. I am reminded of a friend of mine once quoting an aphorism for which he did not know the author, but the wisdom in it merits mention even if without credit. “Weakness is merely strength in excess.”  

It’s another way of saying that you can definitely have too much of a good thing. At which point it becomes a bad thing, a weakness. My desire to help people sometimes, in the past especially, has made my strength into a weakness, or at least a vulnerability. I am less easily taken advantage of now. Those lessons were learned at a price.

But my desire to help remains. My desire to fix it all still ticks away in the back of my mind. I have been lucky though to have had some good teachers. They explained to me that it is not my job as a minister to fix things, but to bear witness to their brokenness. 

That was a tough one for me at first. I hate to think that I am stereotypically male, but in that regard, the need to solve and fix, I am firmly in that lane. 

But it also represents an easier way of being a part of the solution than my method of trying to fix something that will likely fix on its own anyway if given the right space to do so. Why tell a plant how to grow? Or dictate to a wound how it should heal? Our role as humans is to facilitate growth and healing by preparing the perfect environment for it to occur thus allowing the process to naturally unfold without inhibition. The doctor never heals, they give the patient all the tools necessary to heal themselves. 

So, recognizing that our job is not to fix but to simply provide the most healing environment possible, it makes me think on how to heal the wounds from this current experience even while those wounds are still taking place. Is there someway to get ahead of the grief curve and prepare ourselves for the future? This is all such heavy stuff right now. 

A large part of our traditional grieving process has been left to the side during this pandemic. We have not been permitted to grieve together. We have not been given the opportunity to hear the stories. We have not been given the opportunity to bear witness or be a witnesses for others. 

That is a fact which will haunt us. That will be a grief that sits under the skin. 

But we may be a balm to that grief, even while it’s still occurring. And we may be of service to the future by simply participating in the process of witnessing and bearing witness to others. 

We need to remember that each of us needs to be seen, our experiences validated, our stories taught and heard. Likewise others need platforms to express what they have been feeling. They will need witnesses. 

Participate in online social media groups that are specifically about having opportunities to express yourself in a loving, supportive environment. Check in with friends. Make sure you tell your stories too. 

Perhaps most importantly, we need to pay attention right now. We need to notice everything that’s going on and register it. We need to be witnesses for history so that our future selves more quickly learn from what we have been so slow to acknowledge. This is a part of the healing process too. 

This advice is often given but rarely taken. But find a way to do it anyway, for the advice is sound. Write it down. Write down your experiences. The process of having to find the right words to describe our experience triggers the parts of our brain which unleash healing. The process grants a perspective on all that’s occurred. And it reveals to you just how it has made you feel. Until you take the time to express it, you won’t realize the true depth of your feeling. And therefore you will not know how deeply the wound goes. 

Take the time to listen to your kids. Even if you think it’s nonsense or if they frustrate you beyond reason, read between the lines. Validate their experiences and sympathize with them. Most of us are acting out in some way right now, so fatigued we are at this whole thing and just wanting it to be over. I have certainly been doing my extra credit share of eating and drinking. There is no age range to stress or fear. Give kids the space to process what’s going on by simply having the freedom to talk about it. 

It’s worth noting that not all kids are comfortable talking with their parents about their feelings. I’ve worked with enough teenagers to know it’s a thing. A mentor or an extended relative or a family friend is often the safer ear. Don’t take it personally if you’re not the ear. Just make sure they have one. 

Try not to forget that right now everyone has a story they need to tell. In giving other people the opportunity to share their‘s, be sure to include space for your own. The more deeply we reach out toward our neighbor, not to solve or fix but to merely listen and be listened to, the faster we will get to the next blessed place on this journey. 

In the Book of Job, Job’s friends came to be a witness to his extraordinary grief. And while eventually they had much to say, that wasn’t so at first. For days they just sat with their friend and listened. They put soot on their heads and ripped their clothing and just stayed there with him in silence and grieved with him those first days and nights. Love often requires only a small amount of effort to embody itself in the grandest of ways. 

Be a witness to this time. Bear witness to others. Listen to the stories. See others. React with positivity and words of encouragement online. Place yourself in the path of receiving the same. You are human too.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 20, 2021 - Prepare for Togetherness

Back when I was an actor I noticed an odd phenomenon about the memorization of my lines. In preparation for a show it never troubled me to memorize long bits of dialogue or song. I had a little method I devised for myself of tape recording everyone else’s lines leaving space for my own. I’d play back the tape and be my own scene partner to practice. 

However, there was always a point at which I’d be the most vulnerable to forgetting all that I’d learned. Well not all, but usually the most important parts. 

It was the second performance.

Second night performances were always the most treacherous for my lines. Sometimes my costume changes as well, if they were particularly complicated. It got so that on the second day I’d take extra precautions to make sure I wasn’t being overconfident on the heels of a good opening night.

Right now it’s possible to see a little light on the edge of the horizon. We have been through a year far more tragic than we can presently comprehend. The earthquake is still occurring, and the buildings are still falling. Even ones we had concluded were indestructible since they lasted all year just fine amid the constant shaking. But they can be felled too. 

Part of the problem is that the disease resulting from the virus can take every form from the sniffles to suffocation, organ failure and nerve damage. Sometimes the disease is all better in a matter of weeks and for some it has never left them. All ages can be affected, all levels of health can be vulnerable.  And that is the key to its most exhausting component: the unknowable. Humans are far better at coping with things that we can understand or predict than we are with the unpredictable. The devil you know.

We have existed in this limbo state for so long, simultaneously with every other member of the human race, that it will alter the course of humanity forever. The scar left from this experience will become part of the landscape. And we are still in the process of being wounded. 

But the vaccines have begun to arrive. And, for the first time, we feel a bit more confident at making the prediction that all shall be well. Now that the vaccines have been rolling out, however slowly that may understandably be, we are beginning our intake of breath prior to the sigh of relief.

But as we have already seen elsewhere in the world recently, letting our guard down too soon, being too overconfident just as we were getting good at protecting ourselves and memorizing our lines, leads to another wave of disaster before this tragedy ends. We are not out of the woods yet. And this final chapter may be the most dangerous so far. 

That light on the horizon exists nonetheless. We can see it. We believe it is coming closer. This is when we need to be a wind at the back of progress. The solution needs us. It needs our prayers, it needs our continuing and sustained signal of our desire to thrive by wearing our masks a bit longer and encouraging others around us to remain safe for this final wave en route toward us as we speak.

Togetherness is at hand, but it is not here yet. Prepare for that time. It is coming so fast it will be here before we know it. The summer is coming. And in all likelihood we will emerge into it. The pandemic will not quite yet be over, however. And there will still be precautions to take. We must be prepared to follow them as well.

Let’s prepare for the togetherness. Let’s imagine what it will be like to embrace one another again. To just sit near others and not be afraid. To hold hands. To visit everyone. Imagine how valuable togetherness will feel!

Does that ring a louder bell in the universe? Will our embrace send a stronger vibration than before? I feel instinctively yes. I don’t have much to back it up. But doesn’t it seem logical that hugging will take on a new dimension of value as this year unfolds? Would God feel it, too?

Commit to being a part of it. Commit to preserving as much life as we possibly can between now and that day. Prepare for togetherness by ensuring that there are as many people as possible left. Pull everyone you can into the lifeboats. They can take on more than we think.

Receive the vaccine when it’s your turn. Encourage others to do the same. But perhaps even more importantly, be at ease with those who break the guidelines or choose not to get vaccinated. Your anger will not change them. Create peace for yourself by staying safe and healthy and forgive them from a social distance. There will be no value to you spending the rest of the pandemic being angry with them. Preserve your peace and strength for better things.

Make a point of sharing optimism about the future with others. Depression right now is real and pervasive. Get under the skin of it. Go for a walk. I went for a fantastic walk the other day with a good friend. We were talking on headphones while each walking on opposite sides of the city from one another. We both felt better afterward. Do that.

Don’t participate in negative discussions online. Make it a mission to educate, but gently. Teach others through your example of calm and loving responses to harsh words and accusations. Love your enemy online especially. Let everyone see it. Be at ease around those whose rage controls them. They are worse off than you. They could use a bit of your strength and ease right now. You have far more than you think.

Let these last few months be a time of preparation and renewal. But still maintain vigilance on the simple steps we already know to be more than enough to protect ourselves, our loved ones, our communities. 

We will all be together soon enough. Make sure you are there when it happens.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 13, 2021 - Fantasizing Vandalism

I have been fantasizing about committing vandalism lately. I know I won’t actually do it. But I really, really want to. 

Growing up is complicated. If only that process ever ended. Much to our chagrin, we are learning from cradle to grave. We are learning and expanding throughout our entire lives. Day by day discovering where we have either been misinformed, ill-advised, generally mistaken, or ignorant altogether. It’s a lot of work.

We also face an inner conflict between our baser human reactions and our higher-minded intentional responses. Sometimes we kick when we should have caressed. That is the purview of spiritual practices. Little bits of advice on how to enhance our inner calm so that we may share that sense of calm with others. 

Progress of any kind does not occur in a straight line. I’d really love to think that as a religious and spiritual academic who works quite hard to practice what he preaches, I would be above things like fantasizing about vandalism. But I have to confess I am not. 

The other day I drove past a house in a town near to mine. I pass by that house fairly frequently and have taken note of their political affiliations as displayed upon their front lawn. 

Their views are strongly different than mine. And while that is challenging, I certainly agree with their right to have their own viewpoint. However, their style of displaying it seems particularly targeted not for the purpose of promoting their candidate as much as attacking anyone who doesn’t agree. This is not in my imagination, but at the time I thought it might be. 

Two days ago, I drove past that house to find a new addition to their display. A brand new confederate flag. 

I couldn’t help but need to deliberately walk myself through the reasons why not to commit vandalism. I imagined everything from quietly taking it down during the night to setting it on fire. Not my finest moment. But it’s real. I’m certainly not the only otherwise non-violent person who has felt this way.

Perhaps people think a minister should be above such thoughts. Bull. As much time as I spend on introspection and examining these ideas, I’m still very much human. I struggled with how I should respond to my feelings about seeing that flag newly displayed this week. Especially considering that we are in such a racially divisive time, their message is clear.

As I often like to do, I talked about it with my staff. Three very wise women whose advice I am committed to following at all times. I confessed to them that I didn’t know how to respond, but that I wanted to do very unministerial things. I told them that I fantasized about vandalizing it. I told them that I wanted to take pictures of it and post it on online for everyone to… what, exactly? 

Even as I said it I could already hear the advice they might give me and I was mostly right. What’s the point? Especially if my goal would be to try to change the mind of the person who displayed the flag in the first place, what’s the point? My actions will not change their mind or heart.

Strangely, it hadn’t occurred to me that my point was to change that person‘s mind, but to acknowledge the existence of such things which still pervade this world. I didn’t want to talk to that person, I wanted to talk to everybody else. 

But obviously vandalism isn’t the answer, as supportive as I might be of the destruction and removal of public monuments intended to glorify racism in this country and elsewhere. This was a person's private property and they were exercising their First Amendment rights. 

And publicly posting photos only creates more animosity, not less; which cannot be my goal. My goal is to unify. My job is to find and highlight pathways of accomplishing it.

What do we do with our rage about this time we are in? It’s not just about being disagreed with. It’s more than that. It’s that our deepest ideologies and principles are being contrasted and compared right now, and with grave consequences. Is this what the battle of light versus dark looks like? 

Spiritual teachers have had some input on this subject. When you look at their advice, you start to get a picture of what their overall goal might have been. It is always about getting along. It’s always about improving one of four relationships: with other people, with the earth, with the self, and with a higher power. 

The point ultimately is that it’s all about relationship. Imagining it, creating it, fostering it, defending it. It is never about ending, destroying, or preventing it. It is never about making a point to alienate.

Of course every religion has a line or two in their scriptures which displays a recommendation to ostracize those who oppose or offend you. Even Christianity will tell you that it’s a good idea to cut your hand off if it offends you. That’s not to say it’s an appropriate interpretation of the line, but it is vulnerable to such misuse.

I guess that’s the point, really. It’s too easy for us to misuse our spiritual texts by picking and choosing the lines which resonate most with our fear. But that is not what the masters taught. They all taught unity. 

So ultimately I decided against burning down that flag pole with the confederate flag on it. Good call. And I decided against posting photos of it online either. I openly state here that I defend their right to display it on their own private property, despite my intense personal disgust. I would hope for the same from them about their likely intense personal disgust for me. That’s not carte blanche to display anything they want, but the flag represents nothing more than an opinion. And I can tolerate that. Their opinion has no power of its own.

So I talk about it here with you. Because I don’t always know what to do either. And I sometimes wonder how to channel my discomfort. Oh, let’s just call it what it is. Rage. Yet we should never act from our rage. Better to maintain anger with integrity. Rage has no capacity for rational thought or action. It makes us do stupid things. Like vandalism. Or public shaming.

I know there are those who think these strategies are the only way they’ll ever hear. And on some practical level that’s probably true. But then that becomes the constellation under which any forward growth occurs and will eventually need to be apologized for later. Better to stick to your principles even when it doesn’t feel like it gets us very far. That is and has always only ever been the surest way forward for all. 

Pray for those who disagree with you. Wish well upon all who hate you. Give even your birthday wish to any whom you disrespect. Wish them all a measure of peace and ease, and you will better know it for yourself.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 6, 2021 - The Tea Leaves

I had my tea leaves read once in Salem, Massachusetts. I think I was in high school. I don’t remember anything about the reading I received. I know I didn’t leave thinking I had experienced either a revelation or a fraud. Just $20 worth of entertainment and a nice cup of tea. 

For those who don’t know about the act of tea leaf reading, or tasseography as it is formally known, it’s a style of fortune-telling that interprets the patterns left in the bottom of a cup by remnant bits of tea leaf. The same could be done in a cup of wine, coffee, or any beverage which might leave behind a trace of its former self. Those residual contents offer patterns that may be interpreted using a combination of traditional meanings and the reader’s own intuition.

My grandmother always advised us to trust our intuition. And I certainly believe in it. I also believe in the existence of psychic phenomena. I don’t, however, believe it exists everywhere it is reported as such. This means to say that some tea leaf readers I would imagine are exceptionally gifted, just as there are those who are not. Noting the small but persistent percentage of those who are actively seeking to swindle, most are not crooks, they’re just sitting on various points along the wide spectrum of talent. Most may not give you any news of value, but they’re mainly harmless. Some, however, could change your life.

My faith includes a belief that we all have intuition. I get the sense that most of us feel that way. Having a gut feeling and following it is part of mainstream culture. But still, we don’t give it very much stock because while we recognize it likely exists as a reality of human existence, we simply don’t know how to process the implications. 

Let’s then consider the implications of having an intuition. Where does it come from? Do you believe that some people have a stronger intuition than others? Have you ever had a gut feeling and it proved to be correct? Even once?

I would bet that the vast majority of us could be described by the above. So much so that we might be audacious enough to consider it an established fact that humans possess the ability of intuition, of knowing something without benefit of any of our five recognized senses. We each of us have a sixth sense. A belief in even one experience of having an accurate gut feeling reveals that you may agree.

So now what? Much of traditional religion would have you be extremely cautious about the origin of the inner voice you hear. Unless that voice agrees with them and their doctrine, it could only be from the devil. Better not listen to it. Better to listen to them only. 

But religious professionals are better kept in the lane of advisers than authorities. If your inner voice is speaking in favor of the teachings of love and unity, then its origins are irrelevant.

Traditional religion has put quite a bit of shoulder into the effort of demonizing the practice of tasseography and other modes of divination. Tarot cards, runes, palm reading, have been tarred with a brush they haven’t deserved. All because church leaders preferred that they alone be the sole arbiters of our experience with the divine. And sadly, it often had less to do with the saving of our souls than it did about the acquisition of our funds.

So if we believe in the existence of human intuition, and we consciously decide that a religious body does not have the sole authority to dictate to us what is and isn’t good in the world, is there a way we might now explore that idea? Isn’t this all just another form of prayer? I would argue that if there are physics to prayer, then it would be the same physics as that of divination.

Are you curious about the things you might learn if you were to explore forms of divination like astrology, playing cards, or tea leaves? Which form might one choose? Should we learn to practice it ourselves, or should we seek recommendations for reputable readers? How should we go about it?

The answer is: Follow your intuition. What forms of divination are you attracted to? I personally always liked the Tarot, but there are too many things to memorize, so for me, it wasn’t a good fit for personal practice. I was attracted to numerology early on. It can be simplified to nine basic meanings, one for each of the single digits 1-9, but can be understood as far more complex with greater study. And numbers are simply everywhere.

It raises a similar question to that of organized religion: Which one is correct? Which version has a better grasp of objective truth? The answer is the same as for organized religion: All of them have their benefits, all of them have their pitfalls. Both are usually human. 

Which language does the Universe speak? It’s either all of them or none of them, right? So let’s make a leap of faith that the answer is all of them.

I guess the question isn’t so much, though, about what language Source uses to speak to us as it is what language shall we choose to listen to It. I think God will speak to us in any format we select. But we do need to pick at least one.

The principal criterion of a good form of divination is that there should be a degree of randomness which prevents us from placing too much bias on the answer to the question we are asking. It should also have a glossary of traditional meanings but still leave room for the use of intuition. You are also free to create your own from scratch. But dig deeply into your intuition to create it.

We will better hear the strumming of the cosmos if we pick a language and study it. Learn its definitions and traditions. Find groups who practice it and let your intuition guide you towards those who have integrity. Learn to speak it with ease and fluency. 

My faith believes that love is always being propelled at us from the Universe in the form of subconscious inspirations, ideas, comforts, and advice. There is always water behind that faucet. We just have to choose a method to turn it on and be one with it. We need to practice listening and get great at it. We are encouraged to find ease and rest in the presence of our intuition. It is the voice of our divine spark.

Our intuition is a gift. Allow that small quiet voice inside of you to grow. Be in support of its development, in yourself and others. There will always be a benefit to greater listening.