Several years ago, a well-known minister was invited to give the homily at a Union Gospel Mission. The Union Gospel Mission is an urban ministry, providing food, shelter and recovery for homeless men. Before the meal, the men are invited to “attend” a church service. For the majority, if not all, it meant, “endure.” The minister, in his own way, participated reluctantly, not quite seeing the point in preaching–or giving the “good news”–to an unenthusiastic audience. After the service, while being escorted to his car, he vented to the Mission Director, “I have to tell you, that was a complete waste of my time. My calendar is already full; I certainly did not need to add this. Although I admit that I feel for you. I don’t know how you do it, working with people where you can’t really make a difference.”
The Director thanked the minister for visiting the Mission, said his goodbyes, and added, “By the way. You may want to know; I used to be one of them.”
I’m sure that there are a lot of reasons for the minister’s tirade. We have different language for such episodes. “I almost lost it completely.” “That’s it; I give up.” “I can’t take anymore.”
And we vent…
When we are exhausted.
When we feel inadequate or vulnerable.
When we feel guilty for wasting time.
And we vent when we are afraid.
And we lose track of where we tether our identity. Our value. Our meaning.
I believe that the well-known minister, quite literally, saw himself in those men. Such a reflection (some part of us unsightly, unrefined, or broken) is unnerving if we have spent our life trying to be “somebody,” creating a persona, or an artifice of achievement (and control). Novelist Susan Howatch calls it our “glittering image.”
Sometime ago, walking through the lobby in an upscale hotel, I found myself carried along by a stream of people dressed in formal wear, on their way to an “event.” Off to the side, I watched a father fussing over his young son’s tie. The boy–maybe three or four–is dressed in a full suit replete with bow tie, his blonde hair neatly parted and combed. I hear his father say, “Okay. Now remember. This is very important. You need to be on your very best behavior.” The little boy nods his head, wanting to make certain that he makes his Daddy proud.
Somewhere along the way, we buy the notion that our very identity hinges on how well we keep that promise. I can tell you that I know this is how it happened in my own life. “Whatever you do,” the voice in my mind still whispers. “Don’t ever let anyone see how uncomfortable that suit really is.”
So, we wear it, the suit or role or label or mask (often to hide our fear and exhaustion), and eventually grow accustomed to it. Of course, my “suit” changed, as I grew older. Just like that minister, I did my best to create an image of togetherness, well-being, and success. And above all else, control.
No wonder brokenness unnerves me. No wonder I pretend I have my act together (even when I don’t). No wonder I’m tired at the end of the day.
“I always wanted to be somebody,” Lily Tomlin mused. “I just should have been more specific.”
I suppose that I wanted to be “impressive.” Maybe that was my “suit.” Somehow, I’ve assumed that making a difference can only happen by being notable (which is fueled by public opinion.) And Lord knows you can’t be impressive if there are visible chinks in the armor. After all, we still live in a world where any sign of weakness is best left unmentioned. So. We distance our self from the discomfort and stain of incompleteness (or feeling of failure), and from any resemblance to “them.”
What a dance. And it’s hard to erase, isn’t it? This gnawing sensation that there is a part of us beyond redemption. (Of course, that is the part I do my best to hide. Or pretend exists only in “them.”)
But what if? What if the reality of spirituality (of our spiritual journey, our spiritual “wholeness”, our meaning) finds a home in this sense of incompleteness?
What if it is okay that we are still “unfinished?”
What if I need to embrace a new paradigm? The exquisite beauty in broken places. There is wholeness there.
This week, a gift in the mail that made me smile big; from Mary, a SM reader. I Am You: a book about Ubuntu. Ubuntu means “I am, because you are.” From Nguni languages, it embodies the idea that a person is a person through other people. We share humanity, compassion and oneness. Nelson Mandela often spoke of Ubuntu, a recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.
Bishop Desmond Tutu would say of Ubuntu “I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.” Yes… even in, and especially in, our brokenness.
So. Here’s the deal: My identity is not tied up with any need to perform or impress or demean others or distance myself.
Being “somebody” (becoming whole and letting our authentic self breathe) is not about winning and losing. There’s something bigger here…
Here’s the good news. Instead of venting, we will give ourselves the permission to slowly unmask, and remove the glittering image we hide behind.
Instead of venting, we embrace ubuntu, and not only do we find redemption (and sanctuary and hope and mercy), but freely offer these gifts to those whose paths we cross.
Instead of venting, we can bring this self to this day. Unafraid. And without apology. No longer diminished by the broken places.
Instead of venting… we pause in the enoughness of this moment… and Grace meets us there.
Speaking of voices that remind us our connection, and the power it invites, today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day (marking his birthday, which is January 15).
This is from a march for Integrated Schools, April 18, 1959. “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” Let us continue to spill that light…
Quote for your week:
Those who hurt, are angry and have nothing left to give; they are my meeting place with God. Dorothy Day
SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s Photo Credit: “Good Morning Terry, Southeast Missouri winter light…” Anne Donze… Thank you Anne… Keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
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–Hi Terry! My name is Stephanie and I wanted to share my moment of awe! I had been in hospital isolation over the last 20 days… I had a room with a view of the Pacific Laguna Beach (pure gift) As I immersed myself in the ocean I saw a spout! My heart began to flutter! I looked more intently to find another! Sure enough 1 spout, 2 spouts! I was incredulous with Awe! I waved my hands to anyone who could see me from my isolation room! My heart was racing and I shouted Whales! Come see whales! James came in and looked and saw! I kept drinking it in and relived the awe that occurred with each breath!
–Terry: I just received your autographed book, “This Is The Life.” Thank you so very much. My family, friends and church members really enjoy your blogs and audios. I save the audios for my husband and I to listen when we are on road trips. Very inspirational.
Thank you for sharing your insights. Sincerely, Pat
POEMS AND PRAYERS
God is the comic shepherd who gets more of a kick out of that one lost sheep once he finds it again than out of the ninety and nine who had the good sense not to get lost in the first place. Frederick Buechner
A Prayer for Blessed Acceptance
Dear God, in this moment I hold your acceptance.
You love me completely, just as I am.
You see my great potential within,
and you nurture my tender heart of compassion.
In this moment, I let your acceptance be my own.
I accept others as the children of God.
I hold high their inner greatness,
always seeking to serve the highest and best within all people.
And so it is.
Vicky Thompson (Journey with Spirit)
Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.