Sunday, May 26, 2013

Living Complete

I grew up in half-finished houses.  In many ways my family lives up to its name: We are the Morehouses, those in more houses, all of them far from complete.  In fact, our home in San Pedro is the most complete home I have ever lived in.   In large part because Frances is a doer and not just a dreamer.  She dreams one day and it’s done the next. 

 But growing up there were always bare studs in some addition, a pile of sheet rock, a box of nails, half-finished foundations, as if to call us on to work until we die.  The fact is we never finished any home I lived in until now.  It seemed to be a badge of honor for my New England family to not finish what they had started.  That sage of Concord, Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote “People wish to be settled; only so far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.”  By that standard I grew up around a whole lot of hope.

Our lives will end without being finished. There is wisdom in accepting that we are finite beings living in a finite world, and that is somehow very  freeing.  

This all came home to me when we went to see a financial planner.  She asked me how much longer I planned to work.  “I don’t know, forever?” I answered, “after all a lot of people depend on me”.  She said “Let me re-phrase that.  How much longer do you think you will be able to work?  You are at your working prime right now” she told me, “but twenty years from now, not so much.  What if you get sick?  Or lose your, er, mental capacity?”  Now she was scaring me.  But it was a real moment of theological truth for me.  I wasn’t going to work until I dropped, not that I wouldn’t try, but eventually, I just won’t be able to.  We all have to stop, even my Dad who retired at 80!  We are finite beings and isn’t that really a good thing?

If all I did was try to keep working, and made no room for the next generation, when would my ability to share wisdom cease to be more important  than just being in the way?  Our living is made complete when we step out of the way to let others finish what we have started.  That is what I have learned.  And whatever happens beyond this life now is not for us the living to worry about.  The point is to live and let live and then to steward others behind us to take our place at the hammers and nails of life.

With Grace and Grit,  John

Saturday, May 18, 2013

After Each Storm

We hardly need reminding that life is precious and fragile.  On Friday I attended the funeral for 43 year old man who died from a staph infection.  He left behind his wife and their three little children.  This family had been members of my church before moving away.  It is hard to imagine the grief his wife and children are feeling.  His widow's storm, her grief is so immense that she can only breathe for now.  Still she is surrounded with love and family and friends.  For now it is enough but not by much. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, Dave Rickard a UUA consultant  and dear friend who was just with my church two weeks ago, died suddenly.  What is it that gives us the strength and peace of mind to weather such storms as these and those so much greater in our own lives? In three words: Time, Imagination and Friends.

For everything there is a season, turn, turn, and we have turned once again.   Those who do choose to stay through real weather storm seem to be of two kinds.  The first are the young adults too young to appreciate nature’s power.  The second are the older ones who think they have the right stuff.  There are times when it is important to stay through the storm.  When what we gain by the trial is greater than the suffering of it.  All of the great saints endured some storms.  There are times when we need to struggle to the other side.  And there are times, most like this one wherein we have little choice.  Time heals but it also calls us on.  It was Hippocrates, that great Greek philosopher of medicine who wrote, “Healing is a matter of time but it is also an opportunity”.  In every memorial service I conduct I make note of the opportunity this passing has for us the living.  For those of us left after the storm has passed, there is an opportunity to share the same compassion that was shown to us during it all.  It’s more than just making us stronger; it’s about stretching our capacity for love through the tragedy itself.
I must admit that as a younger man I had less understanding of aging and death.  I do now.  I understand and I appreciate what a struggle and blessing time in body can be.  As we become older we fuse with time and trouble, Confusion is really just fusion of a body failing with a mind free to wander and remember.  And in that memory we understand the power of just living, and it is enough. (James Hillman The Force of Character)

It’s very freeing really.  Once we accept the fact that we are going to die we can get on with living in the time we have, storms and all. Here I apply what I call my “theology of persistence.”  As the psychologist Albert Ellis put it so poetically the art of love is largely the art of persistence.”  To understand the place of the Holy in our lives we have to wait until after the storms of life to find the meaning in living.  Meaning is more often found after a storm, at the end of the dark night than before it.  This is why I sign off so often with the paradox of grace and grit; grace for the everyday miracles of being alive, grit for staying alive long enough to make it mean something.

With Grace and Grit,  John

Friday, May 3, 2013

Finding Inner Peace

I am actually by nature anxious about the world. I worry that we won’t have enough to go around.  I worry about my children.  I worry about you all as well.  My entire spiritual practice is built around trying to find and hold peace at the center of my life.  I meditate, I walk, I read, and I breathe, deeply.  I have come a long way.

Recently I heard a story from my colleague Rev. Denis Paul about a boy who was very anxious.  It was his first day in first grade, in a new school.  He had hurried to get to class and had forgotten to go to the bathroom before he left home.  He knew he had to go but he didn’t want to be singled out, so he tried to hold it in.  His new teacher, kind soul that she was, saw him fidget.  Just then, without any warning he could feel his leg warm with the very accident he so wanted to avoid.  He hadn’t been able to hold it in.  He was mortified as the yellow pool gathered under his desk.  He knew he would be the laughing stock of the whole school.  

Just as he was about to raise his hand the teacher, picked up the fish bowl from her desk, walked purposely down the aisle and pretended to trip dropping the fish bowl, water, goldfish and all, at the feet of the boy.  Water went everywhere including onto his lap and all over the floor.  The teacher apologized profusely and other kids went to get towels and helped to clean it up.  Someone saved the gold fish.  And suddenly the boy, went from the potential of deep shame to heroic victim. 

It’s not so far from a scared little kid who has an accident in the first grade to being a community leader if we understand that at the center of life is peace; glory and grace be to that impulse which still beats within us. As Lao Tzu put it so poetically:  “The one with outward courage dares to die; the one with inner courage dares to live.”

With Grace and Grit,  John