In My Own Heart and Life

We tend to condemn in the system what we do not recognize in ourselves. Sins do not exist in general; they are specific, concrete, carrying their weight measured in terms of fearful accuracy. We do not sin against humanity; we sin against persons who have names, who are actual, breathing, human beings. The root of what I condemn in society is found at long last in the soil of my own backyard. What I seek to eradicate in society that it may become whole and clean and righteous, I must first attack in my own heart and life.

From Howard Thurman’s Deep is the Hunger, p. 99

Teach Me To Look

I had a martial arts teacher say when I started karate, “You can look at me. That’s why I’m here.”

She was modeling our kata, showing us, all of us who knew nothing about what we were doing, how to do the martial form.

She was permitting us to see. She was requiring it.

I wrote in the last post that I’ve been reading about painful things lately. It’s hard to read about pain.

A lot of trauma, therefore, is unseen. A lot of pain goes un-witnessed. But I know that a lot of people go unseen, too.

There may be good reason for not seeing. I have trained myself to look in side glances rather than directly. I have been trained “not to stare.”

Who wants to offend? There is a way in which we learn not to look at one another, even when we are there to be seen. Even when that’s why we’re there.

So much so that it’s the noticing that becomes shocking, the witnessing that becomes jolting.

May God and all our teachers teach us how to look.

Installations

I walked in and saw the group of you, people I didn’t know but did. It was good to see you. Good to be with you. Good to be both known and unknown by you.

When one of you stretched out that familiar arm, draped in black and pointed to the wall, I took the invitation and the smile with it and went to my seat.

The old cushion was, like every face, a reminder. A reminder of things from before. Of organ music and hugs. Of cracked pieces of crackers and juice. Of microphones and fans. Of old people and young people. Of splendid togetherness.

Starting with you for those hours and hearing my senior colleague speak to his beloved relative about what was ahead; tracking the promise in the midst of a church’s choice to call a new pastor; praying for the strength of your emerging bond as church and leader; it was all familiar and wonderful. It was all new and unknown.

It was a faith community doing what faith communities do. It was good to be with you.

What If

What if your faith community gathered together today or tomorrow and, rather than participated in your planned liturgy, decided to claim the closest Muslim community as your neighbor?

What if you contacted the leader there, let that person know that you and your people were coming to support them, to stand in solidarity, to pray in love, and to witness to the possible?

What if your church expanded its definition of an encounter with God so that you saw the Eucharist, the Mass, the body and the blood in, now, the broken bodies of the latest victim of ever-present, simmering, structured, resilient evils representing themselves as having to do with goodness?

What if your community of faith added to its solid theology a pointed plan to always claim the latest least of these by re-working agendas in order to show up, to initiate the call to worship around that black church basement, around those riddled walls of that synagogue, and just outside the caution tape and close enough to see shreds of scattered prayer rugs?

What if you believed that God believed that being present meant going and waiting, going and crying, going and replacing your order of service in your city or your suburb so that the order came from the dizzying chaos of no order and blasted hope and suffering?

What if you took seriously the deepest pains of your folk and your people and used that pain to turn outward to the folks you have yet to see?

What if those previously unseen people started to look like you, your beautiful faith community, and your spiritual family until it became completely unsettling to do what your leadership committee planned for this fiscal year?

What if you took a risk to respond to this moment?

What if you committed to doing more as a spiritual practice, to inviting others to do more, and to staying inspired to make “more” a new setting in the face of politically nourished xenophobia?

What if you queried your people and said in an authentic, your-own-voice-and-your-own-words-kinda-way, what will we do about this?

What if that question became standard in response to such tragedy?

What if you listened to their responses?

Massaging Scars

I was reading a list, something sent in the letter that holds all kinds of health articles at work. On the list was a brief description of how massaging scars helps them disappear.

It’s interesting, it’s embodied, it’s clear. There are scars on us. Touching those scars enables the skin to further heal. Touching scars enables them to fade.

I’m no medical person, but I know that a scar is already evidence of healing having happened. Scars are, in my way of thinking, the finishing touch on the healing process.

They are reminders but even reminders can fade. The healing will be in the skin. The body will keep the memory, but the constant reminder can fade. That’s refreshing.

Jesus on the Hill, on the Tree

I’ve been sitting with the image and thought of Jesus being abandoned by the Father on Calvary. It’s been with me since I read a letter from a friend almost two years ago. It returned to me, this image and thought, in explicit form when someone else sent a text about the man of sorrows last fall.

I’ve turned to this basic question: when did the Father betray the Son? When did God abandon or forsake Jesus? Can we know the moment? Is it possible to distinguish that deep isolation within the Trinitarian community?

According to our sacred text, Jesus raises the question about abandonment while he’s dying. It is among the most sobering of sentences in the Bible.

It’s not sobering because he’s quoting it, though that incorporation of Israel’s material at that terminal time is meaningful. I’m struck by the soberness of it for its timing.

Jesus is dying. At the moments when he needs whatever this Father brings, Jesus is forsaken, abandoned, left. Whenever it happened, the chill of it crossed the chasm to make Jesus’s suffering special and intense.

Rather than be surrounded at death, he felt a startling aloneness. And as the song says, he would not come down. He did not call back that fatherly member by refusing to go forward. He kept at dying, even though the (literally) unthinkable had happened.

With Jesus on the hill and on the tree, it wasn’t his death that was incredible, though I respect the long evangelical stream that accents the dismal moment and its consequences. It really was that the Father had abandoned the Son.

What was unthinkable is that God could actually do that, enact that bruising isolation upon a part of God’s own self.

One Brief Thing About Pain

I’m thinking about spiritual pain, the inside pain not the outside pain.

I’ve said this to students and to patients, and it’s been said to me. Those pains don’t leave you. They’re there.

In a class with Dr. Butler the other week he said it, which made me write it up and throw it onto the blog. He was telling us that what happens to us, by virtue of it happening, never goes away.

Pastoral care as an effort is about learning how to recognize the pain, integrate the pain, and maybe, live with the pain. But it’s there.

You can hold it in a new way, but you won’t rid yourself of it. Of course, it may go away, and if it does, celebrate.

If it lingers, recognize it, pour a cup of tea.

Chopsticks

I walked in as normal, being greeted with a few hellos and the characteristic, “What are you reading today?”

I carry a book everywhere, even if I can’t read over lunch. My habit is acknowledged at my Thai spot around the office corner.

Usually I don’t take a menu because I order from a list of six things. I get the question what will it be unless I bring students or friends, and then the menus come for them. That day it was the steamed vegetables without rice.

My server brought my dish and a set of chopsticks. In four years, I’ve never eaten with them. They asked at first and I declined. I did this for a few visits. They stopped bringing them.

I looked at them and accepted them, saw them as an invitation. I was up for it, but the change of ritual stuck out.

I ate my lunch. I thought how glad I was that I didn’t order rice. I know how to eat with chopsticks but I’ve never learned how.

The difference for me is that you know how to eat with chopsticks when you can navigate broccoli florets and bell peppers cut in squares the size of your thumb. You’ve been taught, tutored, and educated–you’ve learned–when you can navigate rice.

I know how to eat the plate of vegetables. Four of six of my personal menu, I can eat with chopsticks. I pulled it off and had a pleasing, nourishing plate. But the educator in me thought of all the people who have tried to teach me how to use those sticks and how I couldn’t learn from them.

They were patient people, gracious people, kind people. Vivian, Gerald, Peter, Angela, Grace, and a server at a spot in the great Chinatown restaurant that Monica and Conway sent me to around the time they were wedded.

I thought about the first Chinese (not Thai) restaurant I went to with Bishop and Laurice for Laurice’s birthday, when I was introduced to hot mustard and to Chinatown and when we saw Cage. Gosh, was I ten? Did Reese turn nine then?

There are some things you’ll do without truly being educated. You can get by. You can pass. You can eat. But you’ll know that the nuances are lost on you. You’ll know that, in a different deep way, you have failed. And you’ll be okay with that failure. You’ll be okay with getting by.

Because next to you, at your left, as is on all the tables of your Thai spot, is a fork wrapped in napkin for people who have never learned how to eat rice with chopsticks.

Sit With It

When I was in a committee meeting a little more than a year ago in Atlanta, a colleague challenged me to sit with my feelings. The meeting was an hour and a half appointment, and we were twelve minutes in. That wasn’t a great sign, his kind challenge.

It was a terrible meeting in select ways which would take months of posts to unfurl. The committee’s evaluation of me would either keep me in what ACPE calls supervisory education or the result would change my status so that I could offer clinical pastoral supervision as an independent educator. I’d be done with the learning process officially.

I was less concerned about the result for that reason actually. My job was supportive, my manager understanding. Of course, I had conceptualized a dozen directions after having thought through a list of if/then possibilities. That’s the kind of planner I am.

There was something beyond the result about that meeting. Opening to me was, in my work and in the rest of my life, something significant. I knew in my soul that what they said mattered. I had grown to trust the people I met in my process to that point.

I knew that their critique of me, their feedback for me, and their way of being with me were all represented by every previous encounter I had with supervisors and mentors through my process.

I knew that the kind challenge to sit with their feedback and to what it was doing to me was an invitation to some kind of good. I was angry about things in that meeting. I was uplifted by things in that meeting. I was exhilarated when I passed. Surprised too at first.

I celebrated and having finished the process completely one year later, the next November in the same city, Atlanta is still a second home in good ways.

So his challenge was an opening. I didn’t know then that sitting with things and then responding would be a new way for me to step forward as a pastoral educator and person. I have practiced parts of that my nature of my personality, and the committee’s work enriched that part of me. It’s really re-making me and how re-making how I’m trying to be.

Contemplation Plus Fatherhood

My friend said something to me years ago that I can’t remember. He says things I like to remember but the way he phrased his words slips me. What I haven’t forgotten is what I’ve done with what he said.

In my mind, what I’ve done is try to pull together the strands of fatherhood and contemplation. I do remember leaving that conversation thinking, “How can I be a contemplative father?”

I think back to his words, said to me on the street in our neighborhood and just outside our mechanic’s office, when I hear people say of their own child-rearing, “The years run by.” Or something like, “Don’t blink. You’ll look up and they’ll be leaving home.”

When people say this, I think of contemplative parenting. I think of my conversation with my friend. In my mental world, contemplative parenting brings together being a parent and being in the moment. Contemplation means being where you are. It means being centered and keeping your weight over that center. It means to be present.

Pulling together contemplation and parenting, it’s impossible to miss moments. Your practice is to be in those moments. You certainly don’t remember them all. Your brain does things with memories that you and I can’t understand. There are things that you lose or let go of. You forget. You will forget but that doesn’t mean you will have missed the moments.

You will have lived them. You will have participated in them. In that sense, those moments as a father (for me) will always be there (in the present), have been there (in the past), and left me available for being there (in the future). If my orientation is to be in the moment, I miss nothing. To be sure, it is exhausting, this orientation.

It’s easier to obsess about a future. It’s easier to fume over yesterdays. It is hard to be right where I am. May God continue to help me.

Seeing What’s There

I was with a group of coworkers eating lunch, and we got onto the topic of eyesight. Glasses, lenses, and aging eyes. We shared quick stories about seeing and not seeing.

I talked about single lenses, they different ones. There are lots of options for people who have different eyes in their heads.

I have a lot of experience with seeing what’s in front of me. When I remove my glasses, a necessary accessory I’ve worn all my life, I see what’s there but in very different ways.

What’s clear with them is unclear without them. Sharp becomes fuzz. Distinction turns into muddled mess, especially the further a thing is from my face.

What’s there doesn’t change. I don’t even change. My eyes are the same. But the tools I use to enrich my vision make things appear different.

My natural ability remains but I use something in order to see what’s there. A tool can change your world.

Just the right tool can turn something from mess into clearness.