State of the Union?

State of the Union?

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?

Why Are We So Angry?

Why Are We So Angry?

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.

What Season Is It?

What Season Is It?

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.

A Personal Reflection after Charlottesville

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.

Are You a Love Dog?

A friend recently asked me what my favorite poem is. How do you choose just one favorite? Yet, this poem instantly came to mind. It’s from the Sufi mystic Rumi:

One night a man was crying, Allah! Allah!

His lips grew sweet with the praising, until a cynic said,

“So! I have heard you calling out, but have you ever gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that. He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls, in a thick, green foliage.

“Why did you stop praising?”

“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs no one knows the names of.

Give your life to be one of them.

Are you a “love dog”? Becoming one requires a radical shift. A recent experience reminded me how radical the shift is.

A reporter from our local newspaper interviewed me about the rise of religious intolerance and also about my new position as Executive Director of the Marin Interfaith Council. The next day I went for an early morning walk. Passing a neighbor’s driveway, I looked down and saw the newspaper and jumped back. My face was on the front page…Yikes!

I knew the article was coming, but I didn’t know it would be front-page news. I became anxious. I wondered which part of the interview was included. I replayed the dialog on my mental turntable. Had I said anything stupid or inappropriate? And why did my face look so wrinkled in the picture? My mind was racing.

I breathed. I stood still. What was going on?

I hated to admit it, but it was ego. I wanted to look good. I wanted to project competence and goodness. My ego works hard to maintain its fabulous self-image and was ready to defend itself.

  • What identity do you maintain and project?
  • What’s the self-image you are ready to defend?
  • Are you willing to let that go in order to find a deeper Life? In order to be a “love dog”?

My friend Nancy McCranie is a Presbyterian minister in Texas. Nancy is funny, smart, and a delight in countless ways. When it comes to officiating weddings, however, she doesn’t mince words. When couples first come to her, Nancy says, “Let’s get one things straight from the start. You have a choice to make. You can have a happy wedding, or you can have a perfect wedding, but you can’t have both. Which do you choose?”

Our choice is just as stark. You can marry ego or marry the Holy, but you can’t do both. The journey of waking up to reality is radical, uncomfortable and non-negotiable. It is to become your fullest, truest Self. And here’s the catch. If it really happens, it’s going to seem like a death.

In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr writes:

There is a necessary suffering that cannot be avoided which Jesus calls “losing our very life,” or losing what I and others call the “false self”. Your false self is your role, title, and personal image that is largely a creation of your own mind and attachments. It will and must die in exact correlation to how much you want the Real.

You can save your life, or you can lose it, but you can’t do both. You can have a nice, well-defended ego, or you can look at yourself in the mirror, or on the front page of the newspaper, and simply stop defending your ego.

That’s the spiritual path. Surrendering everything: the comfort of approval, people-pleasing identities, cherished stories that keep you safe but small; the beliefs, self-image, God-images to which you are attached. Let it all go.

And what remains when you let go of everything?

In the surrendered emptiness, you come home to your True Self, to that Indescribable Being-ness that you are. At home as your Self, in your Self, everyone and everything finds a proper place.

Let yourself howl and moan and whine for the Source of your deep longing and discover you already are what you’ve been yearning for:

This longing you express is the return message.

The grief you cry out from draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs no one knows the names of.

Give your life to be one of them.

NOTES: To read the newspaper article referenced above, click here.

This blog was based on a sermon I preached recently. Here is the sermon: Matthew 10-24-39, revised, internet version.