Small things with great love

seabeck

When you ride a WA state ferry, you hear a safety announcement as we depart the dock. My favorite line, “…passengers who may have special needs during an emergency, please let a crew member know.”
Well, that’s apropos. By my way of thinking, an emergency is anytime great trial and uncertainty invite the reset button, and I do have some special needs. They are clarity, grounding, tenacity… and hope.

It’s been another unsettling week. With all the elements I do my best to avoid—vulnerability, hatred, intolerance and sorrow (wondering in my heart if there is enough hope to someday fit the pieces back together). A reminder that life can be so fragile. And sometimes we feel at the mercy of.
Yes. I wanted to hit back.
Yes. I wanted to fight supremacy with supremacy.
Thankfully, I got over that urge.
What I cannot do is walk away. As if I’m not affected by the conversation necessary for our nation, our communities, our families.

Where to begin? We need stories that fortify us. Stories for self-care, to refuel our better angels. Stories to create sanctuaries of calm, mercy and freedom from heartlessness. These must be our stories; stories we must own. If we don’t own the story, it owns us. And when we are disconnected from our best selves, we pummel one another. You can count on this: dehumanizing and shaming never help.

This past week Sabbath Moment readers emailed. And I’m grateful. I believe it is because we all feel the vulnerability in our world, and we need something, or maybe just one another, to cling to. Because the news is so raw, one reader wondered, “Why talk about this atrocity from only one point of view? There’s hate on both sides, don’t you see!!”
Actually, no. There is not.
I do see violence on both sides, yes. And I don’t condone it. Because violence is never the answer.
I will tell you that when I read stories of inhumanity and hate, my psyche wishes to shut down, or I want to morph into the Hulk and dispense eye-for-an-eye justice. Maybe an okay therapeutic response, but a lousy strategic one.

Do you know the Jewish phrase ahavat chinam? “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with (ahavat chinam) love for no good reason. Better I should err on the side of love for no good reason, than I should err on the side of baseless hatred.” I need to absorb this. Because when I do see hate, I have difficulty believing that our hearts are vessels of love.

So today, I need the story of Kassie Temple.
During the Great Depression, Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Moved by her story, in the mid-1970’s, Parker Palmer began volunteering occasionally on New York City’s Lower East Side. At Mary House, the Workers lived with the poorest of the poor, providing food, shelter, medical attention, and other forms of direct aid, as well as advocating and agitating for economic justice.
Kassie Temple was one of the workers at Mary House. A brilliant writer with a Ph.D., she could have been a professor. Instead, Kassie chose to share life with the poor, helping to keep hungry and homeless people from starving, dying of exposure to the elements, aiding people who have been brutalized (as well as engaging in political advocacy on their behalf).
Palmer writes, “I volunteered for a couple of days several times a year. Of course, every time I came back, a new wave of human misery had washed over the place. So one day I asked Kassie the question that had been vexing me: How do you keep doing this demanding work, day in and day out, when you know you’ll wake up tomorrow to problems that are as bad or worse than the ones you’re dealing with today?”
Kassie told me, “What you need to understand is this. Just because something’s impossible doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”
I realize that my feelings of vulnerability—life’s uncertainty or cruelty or cheerlessness—is somehow tethered to this notion of scarcity and impossibility. So when faced with any “impossibility” or the need to love for no good reason or to stand against hatred and intolerance… in my mind or heart, I resort to, “It can’t be done. And we are screwed.”
Kassie’s story reminds me that throughout history, people, very ordinary people have taken exception to hopelessness and to exclusion. And to hate. And to violence.
Very ordinary people have taken on “the impossible” time and time again.  Good news? This isn’t a ploy. It comes from who we are. It spills from the inside out. Because here’s the deal: This capacity—for love, compassion, kindness, truth, forgiveness, justice, restoration—is within. Every one of us. These are the weapons of the Spirit.
Nelson Mandela reminded us that “No one is born hating another person…People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Let’s digest that: We are hardwired to not hurt each other. Which means that if we hate, we have to dehumanize one another.
What I do know is that an act of gentle courage has my name on it. Maybe even today.

I can debate if you wish, but that’s not why I’m writing. I do need to tell you about when I fell short, and did not trust my best self, and what I learned.
In the early 1980s (still in my 20s) I had a radio program—Cross Talk—in Orange County, CA. I interviewed guests and pontificated about life.
Yes, my guests had “agendas” –points of view to peddle or to persuade – which is all well and good. As host, I could serve up softballs, or I could question and push boundaries.
One show (and I don’t remember the original topic), the guest went off on a bluster about gay people. He used jokes (to soften his hate) but was still clear about his moral superiority and need to denigrate, telling the audience that gay people have no place in the church.
Here’s my confession: I said nothing. I ignored his diatribe and veered back to the subject at hand.
I can say that I don’t know why. But I do know.
I can cut myself some slack. But there is no slack to cut here.
You see, I didn’t want to push the envelope. Or create a debate. Or jeopardize my job.
I wanted to outrun vulnerability and inconvenience.
That same year, I stood before an audience of several hundred clergy, a training event. During Q&A I was asked the question about gay single adults in the church. I said, “We hate the sin, but we love the sinner.” Of course that is a dodge. And not at all what I actually believe.
After, two pastors (both acquaintances and both gay), came to my office and said to me, “We know that’s not who you are. And not what you believe. We want to remind you that you’re bigger than that. Now don’t be afraid to be a voice of grace, even when it’s inconvenient. Because that’s when we need it most.”
You see, I let a story (a narrative) own me. Because I gave in to a craving to find meaning from the odometer of approval.

Grace and mercy and sanctuary and justice are not always convenient. Go figure. There is no perfect time to stand up. Or to do soul searching. Or to say this is who we are. Or to call on our better angels.
“Not all of us can do great things.” Mother Teresa reminds us. “But we can do small things with great love.” And today, is my hour. To stand. To speak. To love.

Speaking of love. I’m grateful for the garden, because it gently lets us rise above life’s tragedy. It’s corn season here. Fresh picked, cobs on the grill, slathered in butter, salt and pepper and a few herbs. Mercy, that is close to heaven.
Tomorrow, the solar eclipse. Are you ready? An opportunity to be bathed in wonderment and to feel gooseflesh, and to marvel at how small we are in the perspective of an infinite solar system.
Our prayers are with those who lost loved ones in Barcelona. And those who were injured in Charlottesville. And for Heather’s family.
This past week I was with hospice workers in Oregon. Grateful for all they do, and love any opportunity I get to refuel big-hearted people.


POEMS AND PRAYERS

No one is born hating another person… People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Nelson Mandela

You Reading This, Be Ready
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
William Stafford

Dear God,
We pray for another way of being: another way of knowing.
Across the difficult terrain of our existence we have attempted to build a highway and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God lead us to our footpath: lead us there where in simplicity we may move at the speed of natural creature and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel the movement of creation in our hearts.
And lead us there where side-by-side we may feel the embrace of the common soul.
Nothing can be loved at speed.
God lead us to the slow path: to the joyous insights of the pilgrim; another way of knowing: another way of being.
Amen.
Micheal Leunig


 

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