I’m giving up thinking for Lent…The type of thinking I’m referring to is the compulsive, problem-solving mechanism that always looks for something wrong to fix. It’s the apparatus that plays life as a chess game in which the mind plots three moves ahead of the present moment…In this pattern, which I call “Game of Thoughts”, shifting worries compete for the iron throne of attention.
What if I responded to the news from a place of love? Not love as syrupy sentiment, but love as the strongest and only transformational agent. Love, not only for those being hurt by current policies, but love also for those creating and supporting the policies, for their healing and freedom. What if, in my own small way, my work is to subvert and disrupt the status quo with unapologetic, irrepressible, unconditional, indefatigable love?
Making space for the mesmerizing glory of an old farm house or a chirping chickadee also makes space in my heart to hold the pain of a world I cannot fix and people whom I cannot save. Inviting joy and wonder into my life is not a betrayal of the suffering. Rather, it’s the life-giving inhale I need in order to exhale compassion and service.
The choice before us is a matter for the heart. What will we do with our judgment? Whether it’s a personal mistake or a political policy that hurts the most vulnerable among us, judgment is always lurking, ready to make enemies within and without… We might discover that the idiot over there bears some resemblance to the one we judge within, and find a way to have some compassion for both.
It seems that we as a species are in a "shoulder season", a time of transition between seasons. We vacillate between what we are becoming and the lesser angels of our past. We are both a fearful, bigoted, selfish lot, and a generous, welcoming, evolving people. And, of course, each of us individually is somewhere on that spectrum, often vacillating between the poles.
We live in a noisy culture. It's little wonder that so many of us feel on edge and don't know where to place our attention, our vital life energy. And this is an essential question. As my spiritual director recently told me: "Love is infinite, but your energy is finite."
We can see thoughts as apparitions. They come and go but have no inherent substance. We are free to believe or disbelieve them, act on them or ignore them.
What do we do with our agitation and anxiety? Do we find ourselves barking uncontrollably on social media or with friends and family?…The way forward is to shift from projection to introspection.
When I was a child, my grandfather and I were inseparable. We listened to records together on his stereo: Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves. We built bird houses, solved crossword puzzles, gardened, and hosted "radio shows" during which we sang and interviewed grandma and our dogs. The dogs were actually the better interview as they played and wrestled with each other. Grandpa and I did everything together. And I loved him dearly. He was a good man, if ever there was one.
When he died, I inherited his records. Midst the ones I knew well, I found two that I didn't recognize. There were comedy recordings, which were blatantly and offensively racist. I destroyed them.
How could I reconcile my amazing grandfather, whose love and upright values formed me...the very best of me...with these grotesque recordings?
This sent me on a journey to face racism in my own heart and mind. Eventually I started to see ways in which my skin color gave me inherent advantages others did not have. For example, the house I live in today would not have been possible to buy if I had not inherited my parents' house, which they were able to buy at a time when people of color were being denied access to affordable mortgages.
In the name of preserving Southern heritage, some are clinging to symbols like the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate generals. Nostalgia wafts through the air for a bygone era of gentility and civility...for magnolias, cascading weeping willows, and mint juleps.
Wafting through the air with that nostalgia is the stench of slavery. We cannot ignore that an economic system was built on the backs of slaves. We cannot ignore the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow that still oppress and diminish opportunity for people of color. The structures of racism, and their deleterious effects, did not end with the Civil War or the Civil Rights Act.
When we destroy racists artifacts, whether comedy records or statues, we are affirming that we wish to be a different people. Our nostalgia for an historical figure or a beloved grandfather goes not excuse us from facing racism and its symbolic toxicity. Isn't any nostalgia for those symbols infinitely less precious than the tearful healing and hope sparked in people of color when those symbols are taken away?
My grandfather taught me fairness, but that pristine fairness did not fully embrace people of color. The best way I know to honor the legacy of my grandfather that I still feel in my heart is to stretch his values to include more and more people, until I finally become the man he hoped I could be...and more.