Friday, March 25, 2011

Holes Everywhere

Throughout the month of March, I have been speaking and teaching about the spiritual power of brokenness.  Despite a thriving stock market, there seem to be holes everywhere. It almost as if we have a cross between an elephant and a kangaroo, a giant beast of misfortune, stomping big holes around the world. The Middle East is on fire with protest. Totalitarian governments are responding by shooting their people. And we are of course ever mindful of our sisters and brothers in Japan, so many thousands who have died in the Tsunami and the dreaded cloud of radioactivity that threatens the very life of the Rising Sun.

What amazes me most about the Japanese is how courageously they are living their lives even as they stumble from one hole to the next in their brokenness. Hanging on a stand in the chancel of our church are a thousand paper cranes, once folded by our children for our partner church in New Orleans, which now stand as a silent prayer of strength for our Japanese brethren.

The Japanese know, as the Buddha so long ago taught, that our brokenness is our first reality. The many holes these brave people are falling into and climbing out of is life. And yet, we live our lives not in the holes, but around them.

The Buddha would agree. Reality is an illusion. What we suffer is only a momentary sensory hiccup in the true emptiness of the universe. If we see the holes we fall into as illusions, we are suddenly free from trying to get out. The holes will vanish in time.

All of this is true in a sense. As the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich reminds us:

"Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well"

We live and die, and eventually we cease suffering, we cease from falling into the holes of our lives.   Falling gracefully, we are released.

With Grace and Grit,   John

Friday, March 4, 2011

Further Brave Living

Much has changed as we live farther into this new millennium. The revolution in Egypt made possible by social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, was a hopeful sign that technology can aid us in our dreams for a better world. But technology can also work against us as evidenced by such threats as identity theft. Ten years is a long time in a world of accelerating change. Gone for many is that sense of buoyancy, the faith in our ability to change the world for the better, even the security of our homes and investments, if we were lucky enough to have them seem threatened. In its place is an all too familiar litany of woe: unemployment well over ten percent, a post-terrorist world that makes us fearful to travel, a new sense of frugality born out of disaster, world hunger, violence as real as ever and a planet that is growing ever warmer.

While it is true that for many of us our faith in what we held most dear has been shaken, there is still much to believe in. The difference is that we have to believe with more courage than we did before. I still believe that we are created equal even if it seems our economy has made some more equal than others. I still believe that God calls us to act with compassion and justice, even when it seems that our actions are thwarted by institutions too large to care. I still believe people want to do the right thing, even when instant news tells us continually about those who do wrong.

As Angela Henderson our intern minister so bravely reminded me, all of our nostalgia about how great it was a generation ago, she reminded us that it wasn’t so great if you were a woman, or gay or African American. It took courage to live in those simpler days as well. The world may have been simpler but there were fewer opportunities for entire classes of people to make a difference. While the world is faster and more complex than ever, individuals can make much more of a difference. The revolution in Egypt began with a handful of people sharing their dreams through the internet.

However, it wasn’t the internet alone that made the revolution in Egypt possible. It was people going into the streets with other people. Hopeful change may begin with social networking but, ultimately, it takes the courage to go out and be with others that creates a better world. Now more than ever, we need to exercise our faith by joining with others in community centers and places of worship. We need to look into the eyes of those we first met online.

It takes courage and effort to create good in this brave new world. I am reminded of what an elderly Buddhist monk once told me: “Life is hard. Stand up straight. Breathe deeply. Walk with courage. And touch others with love.” This is what it means to live bravely with faith in a world ever new. Be ever brave. Walk on together.

With Grace and Grit, John