Sacred Activism (Part One)

[This post, and the one that will follow (part 1 & 2), are from a homily I delivered at the ChI Interfaith Community monthly interfaith service on July 20, 2013.  It is dedicated to all those participating in the Summer Heat Richmond demonstration tomorrow, Aug. 3rd – http://joinsummerheat.org/bay/]

 

In preparing my thoughts for this talk, I asked a few friends what came to mind when they heard the word, “activism.”  It was the response of one friend that particularly struck me.  “When I hear the word, ‘activism?’” he repeated my question, “ I think of angry people.”

Check in with yourself for a moment.  Do you or does some part of you agree?

 

Photo: Google Images

Photo Credit: Unless noted otherwise, all photos in this post are courtesy of Google Images

 

Photo: Google Images

 

Photo: Google Images

 

Is activism now understood to be what those angry people do to take a stand on all those issues?   And for a moment, let’s consider a small sampling of those issues…

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At present, 9 major wars (1000+ fatalities/yr) & 25 other conflicts (<1000 fatalities/yr);

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.justseeds.org

www.justseeds.org

 

Of the 6,222 FBI reported hate crimes in 2011, 6,216 were single-bias incidents—46.9 percent were racially motivated, 20.8 percent resulted from sexual orientation bias, 

19.8 percent were motivated by religious bias, 11.6 stemmed from ethnicity/national origin bias, and 0.9 percent were prompted by disability bias;

 

 

 

 

 

 

One in six people live on less than $1 per day, and 50% of the world’s hospital beds are people suffering from waterborne diseases.

 

 

 

 

 

Indigenous cultures are in decline all over the world;

 

 

 

 

 

and social isolation is on the rise.

 

 

 

Everyday, 137 species go extinct – 1000 times the normal rate, and if the scientific global climate models are accurate, we should expect an increase in the frequency, severity and impact (economic, social, environmental) of weather-related disasters.

Check-in with yourself, again.  What’s happening inside you…RIGHT now?  Is there anxiety?  Feelings  of Powerlessness?  Outrage?  Or maybe a simple desire to escape?  And, under the present circumstances, who of us is wrong to run for cover and escape?

It’s alright.

The enormity, the hugeness of what we are part of on Planet Home can be deadening, no question.  And often, it’s in this space where we make the choice to be an Activist…or Not.

And here, is where we can see the problem: because humans tend toward dualistic thinking, we are either Activists (aka “angry”), or we’re passive, hoping and praying a creative genius to those who feel less overwhelmed and can, “go deal with it.”

 

I agreed to talk about Sacred Activism.  So I asked my friend about this, too.  He said, “’Sacred Activism?’ Now, you’re just messin’ with me.  I don’t know what to think of that.”

Sacred Activism has been coined by a few authors and peace-making historians who suggest there’s another way.  I know they’re right.

Today, there is a NEW activist who stands on the shoulders of activist ancestry.  This activist has cultivated a few unique characteristics – sacred practices, we might say – to meet life fully engaged, moving beyond anger, beyond avoidance.  The practices are interconnected and inform one another, but to describe more specifically how this New Activist is born and moves in the world, I’m going to describe three of them — one now and the other two, in Part Two:

Practice One: Begin with Love, Return to Love

Many individuals have stumbled on what becomes activism simply by doing what they love: Mother Theresa, nursing the poor, for example.  Foster parents.  Marine biologists.

We love to love what we love! 

And there’s a funny thing about love…

our love is so strong and so tender that sometimes, it gets hidden behind WALLS of defense, TUNNELS of outrage, or WAVES of grief.  It can be a long return to love.  In the year before I professed myself an “eco-chaplain,” I had already served as the Executive Director for Green Sangha; I had built from nothing, an environmental action team at the hospital where I was a chaplain and still, in the world around me, nothing was being returned to its right place.  I saw 1-person-per-car idling on the freeway, an endless supply of Styrofoam cups and plastic bags being used once and tossed.  The Goodwill store, near my house was having a SALE!  I felt mildly psychotic: We are clearing the Earth’s forests, so we can drive to the store to buy stuff, to give to Goodwill, so they can send it to the landfill. I was desperate, I was angry; blame was pointless and staying mad felt miserable, so I turned toward what I love — toward the rocks, the trees, the smells of nature.  I began to ride my bike so I could climb the hills and sweat and breathe Mother Earth’s theology. Moving from this place – from my love – I was able to see my grief as a teacher.  My grief and love became the impetus to work within corporate America – the previous target of my outrage and blame. Love dissolves boundaries and brings us into intimacy with what is, so that even when we encounter that which seems opposite to love, we may seek to love it, too.

So, take this week to explore what you love —

Ellie, one of Lauren's LOVES!

Ellie, one of Lauren’s LOVES!

I mean really, really love.  Notice if there’s something blocking you from it (self-created, or otherwise).   What will it take to return?  To love what you love?   Next Week: Practices 2 and 3…

Visit Here: http://joinsummerheat.org/bay/

Visit Here: http://joinsummerheat.org/bay/

 

When God Grows

Children…always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon…  It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. 


– Gilbert Keith G. K. Chesterton

 

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.

Psalm 147:4, NIV

 

As a seeker, and one who feels called to serve, I look forward to the moments when God gets bigger.  In my work as an Interfaith Minister, God expands most readily in my encounters with those who practice Faith Traditions that are different from my own.  A few weeks ago, I had the thrill of traveling, on an interfaith tour, to Turkey.  I must confess that in the 10 days we were there, my experience of God busted right outta da box.  Because there’s too much to tell, and no words for lots of it, here are four times when, for me, God grew.

 

Just before the trip, a friend of mine who is Sufi, explained to me that in Arabic, “Al” is affirmative, translating to mean, “yes,” and “Lah,” is negative, or “no.”  Al-lah.  Yes-No.  Allah.  Yesno.

 

Mevlana Rumi Mosque, where Rumi is buried

Mevlana Rumi Mosque, where Rumi is buried

Five times a day, the Muslim Call to Prayer resounds from the minarets and mosques across all of Turkey.  Whether the Call found me walking with others in the daylight, or waking me from sleep at 4am, I was eager to add my own prayers, to the millions of others, petitioning, thanking, praising God, the One who is Both, the One who is Neither, the One who holds the Inbetween.  Yes-No!  God-Dess!  Al-lah!

 

Even the smallest villages have gorgeous mosques with tall minarets!

Even the smallest villages have gorgeous mosques with tall minarets!

One hot, windy afternoon, out beyond the nearest village’s audible Call to Prayer, God grew again.  It was when we visited the site of Mother Mary’s home.  Driving up the mountain, high above Ephesus, I loved being pushed to imagine for the first time, what had happened to Mary after the Resurrection.  Where did this mother, this woman whom Catholic Christians and others revere and entrust with their prayers, where did she go?  It was then that our Tour Guide used a word I wasn’t expecting.  It was innocent, I’m sure, when he said, “superstitious.”  He said it in reference to the fountains of holy water and the wall of prayers created by those who have come to Mother Mary’s home.  How many times, I wondered, have I limited God’s bigness by labeling certain practices as….superstitious.  Without hesitation, I went directly to the fountains, dipping my hands in the holy water, touching my cheeks and throat with the cool wetness.  I thought of how many times Jesus, Mary, Mohammad, had been equally grateful for water’s refreshment.  Rummaging through my bag, I wrote my prayer on a piece of scrap paper and tied it faithfully to the wall of prayers.

 

The shrine where Mother Mary once lived

The shrine where Mother Mary once lived

 

The wall of prayers outside the shrine

The wall of prayers outside the shrine

How’s your Turkish?  Mine, like God, is growing….though not as rapidly as would’ve been useful during visits with our hosts.  Verbal language, be damned!  Connecting with these humans through facial expressions, charades of comic proportion, and – in extreme acts of desperation – bad drawings on found bits of napkin, we discovered genuine affection.  We unearthed the deep regard humans can feel for one another.  In each face, a spark of God.  Seven billion sparks of God and growing…

 

Dinner with Olive Farmers

Dinner with Olive Farmers

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IMG_1962

IMG_1963

Gifts and Playtime with the Next Generation!

 

 

Laurel and Tom

Laurel and Tom

 

And lastly?  I haven’t yet mentioned that I was on this trip with my Mom, and her husband, Tom.  Looking across ruins I had been asked, as a kid, to re-create in Sunday School using toothpicks and marshmallows; looking across ruins, whose architecture I studied and was made to memorize for The History of Theatre, as a college freshman; looking across ruins, my eyes picked out of the crowd, my Mother, the one who brought me here.

 

 

 

 

Mom, in awe...

Mom, in awe…

Ho hum, another angel-evoking creatiion

No wonder!!! (Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul)

 

God grows….

IMG_1918

 

Where, in your world, is God getting bigger?  And when God grows, what happens in you?   Please share with me….I like hearing from you.

 

[A version of this post also appears in Lumunos, where I have the thrill of “guest blogging” from time to time.  Visit them!]

 

Why are We Here? What are We Doing?

[This post is the homily I had the great privilege of delivering for the three individuals called and ordained to Interfaith Ministry on September 22, 2012, by the Interfaith Congregation for Creative and Healing Ministries.  Thank you and Congratulations, Reverends Bob, Elaine, and Hanna!  ALSO: for another version of this post, please visit my friends at Lumunos, a very special Christian organization, focusing on Call and Relational ministry.  I’m delighted to share that, for the next few months, I’ll be joining the Lumunos blog as a guest!]

 

A few weeks ago I sat with Bob, Elaine and Hanna to talk with them about this day.  I asked them what they were hoping to have conveyed in this segment of the service, and one of them said, “In a nutshell, Lauren, we want you to explain ‘why we are here and what we are doing.’”

GRAND questions!  Why are we here?  What are we doing? 

First, Why are we here?  I have three ideas:

  1. For starters, as family and friends who love you, we’re here to honor and celebrate your sense of clarity.   Any person who comes to know his/her Right Work in this world deserves, at a minimum, recognition and more appropriately still, a ritual to proclaim it and to bless your way forward.
  2. As a spiritual community, we’re here to honor the practice of Interfaith.  I’m using the word, “practice,” very intentionally, because the word, Interfaith and how it is defined carries multiple truths for many people.  As a community, we’re here both to engage with and to celebrate the dynamic tension and stimulus invited through our Interfaith practice.
  3. Also, as individuals within the greater human family, I will boldly suggest we’re here because within each of us, there is a hunger or desire for things to be other than they are; for the Big Picture to look and feel different.

 

A day ago, I fell into a conversation with a handful of women I barely know.  We were reflecting on a local news headline that had us all distressed. Sighing softly and – I thought – inaudibly, I uttered, “We need to do something different.”  The woman across from me, put her hands to her chest, “Oh my gosh; that’s it!  We need to do something different.”  And this segues into the next question…what are we doing?

In Sanskrit, there is a phrase, “Neti; Neti.”  Translated, it means, “Not this; neither that.”  When something isn’t this…and it isn’t that, what remains?  This question actively informs our studies at The Chaplaincy Institute, and our spiritual practices as an Interfaith Congregation.  As a first step, we endeavor to better understand the “this” and the “that,” in their unique wholeness.  For example, we study the core teachings of Christianity, and the core teachings of Sikhism.  We strive to appreciate the light and the shadow imbedded in all the Wisdom Traditions.  And then, as Interfaith Ministers or Chaplains, we venture on, a little further.  Valuing the completeness of two ideas, what happens when we actively lean into the space that’s in-between? 

Photo source: mootee.typepad.com

We all have experience with this concept; most commonly, it appears when we try to resolve a conflict, but it also shows up when humans are trying to do something different.  The work of interfaith ministry is not only about this, nor only about that, but about tending the possibility, as it arises.

I won’t lie: this work is DICEY.  Doing something “different,” means living unrehearsed.  It means responding to uncertainty; it means speaking truth when the stakes are high; it means searching for justice and embodying peace, it means sitting with others and allowing our powerlessness — our inability to fix painful situations — to be the offering of suffice.  Is this work reserved for clergy?  Heck, no!  In these times, it’s all hands on-deck.  On behalf of all species, the human family world-around; our resources, businesses, cultures and support systems all in flux and varying states of innovation and break-down, we are ALL being invited to engage in this practice.  AND, we need support.

And, this is why we’re here and what we’re doing.  Today, Bob, Elaine and Hanna are heeding a deep sense of Call.  Responding to their faithful belief, their trust in the Divine, they are offering themselves as resources of support.  In co-creative practice with the Divine, these three are signing-on to companion and witness the rest of us in the holy, unpredictable patterns of life and death, joy and sorrow, coming and going, growing and grieving.

And on this day, the Interfaith Congregation is both celebrating your Call and recognizing your accomplishments.  Your studies have strengthened you to do this work as authentically as each of you – Bob, Hanna and Elaine – can vulnerably-bravely-resiliently-wisely-and-compassionately muster.

March 2011 Ordination, Laying-On of Hands. Photo: V. Weiland

Each of us, responding to our hunger for greater connectivity, more intimacy, deeper understanding has arrived here today to bless your way forward.  Thank you for your courage; thank you for saying “Yes!;” thank you for inspiring the rest of us to ask if there’s, perhaps, something out there that might just be refreshingly, soothingly, soul-shiftingly different.

To close, I bless you with the words of Rumi and his poem, Always You:

First when I was apart from You, this world did not exist, nor any other.

Second, whatever I was looking for was always You.

Third, why did I ever learn to count to three?

Photo source: ignitionjournal.com

Blessing Bicycles: worship and tongue-tied reverence

 

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the the future of the human race.

-H.G. Wells

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments.  Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man.  And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became.  Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others….

-ElizabethWest, Hovel in the Hills

Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.

– SusanB. Anthony 1896

 

A good friend took me to task after my March post, “Lauren!” he emailed instantly, “You forgot Bicycles!  ‘Bike,’ begins with ‘B’!”

 

Gadzooks, it does!  How could I blog about Boys, Births and Bees and fail to mention my true love, the B-i-k-e???  Worry not.  I was simply waiting for May, National Bike Month.  I figured a month devoted to the two-wheeled machine would help couch my enthusiasm.  The honest truth is:  I feel self-conscious about my love for the bike.  It’s just so….extreme.

 

I say “the” bike, because, while I love my bike(s), it is the act of biking itself combined with all that a bike might represent (freedom, whimsy, courage, speed, economic brilliance, strength, efficiency, community, fun) that renders me breathless and tongue-tied.  It’s not unusual, when trying to explain what goes on for me with a bike, to begin weeping and just shrug in surrender.  Once upon a time, I felt this way about singing.  And I think it IS this way with our yogas — the practices that unite us with Spirit, God, the Great Mystery.

 

Direct experiences, those so sacred they don’t readily lend themselves to description, are a blessing in today’s communication-laden world; and our “divine charge,” if you will, is to embrace them.  So, to celebrate National Bike Month, I partnered with other cities across the U.S. and called upon my friends at the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and the City of Berkeley to create Berkeley’s First-ever Blessing of Bicycles.

 

Blessing of Bicycles, 5/5/2012

I began my thoughts with the quotes above and the words of Martin Buber who wrote, “God made so many different kinds of people: why would God allow only one way to worship?”  Those gathered, instantly got it.  Looking around the circle of cyclists – racers bedecked in their sponsor-graffitied spandex, and fathers pedaling their Extracycles with toddlers in tow – heads were nodding in consensus.

 

Renee Rivera, ED of the East Bay Bike Coalition, reminded us that while we were gathering to bless our bikes that, in truth it is our bikes that bless us.  Are we, on our rides, awake to the blessings they offer?

 

Renee Rivera & Mayor Tom Bates

I was transported, in that moment, to a workshop I’d facilitated two weekends before where I’d invited participants to use magazine pictures to collage an image of God.  The workshop was nearly over, with ten minutes remaining, when in walks Jack. Jack, I’m guessing, was in was, his mid 60s and looked about 49.  He was vibrant, with twinkling eyes and an enormous smile.  “Is this the ‘Million Faces of God’ session?” he beamed.

 

“Yes, it is,” I welcomed him, “Perhaps you’d like to see if there are a few pictures on the table here that describe your image of God?  I don’t want to rush you, but the rest of us are about to share.”

 

Resting his bike helmet on the floor, Jack set about to find an image in the first magazine he saw.  And then, while others shared ornate collages with intricate, twisting descriptions of God imagery and theology, Jack asked if he could speak next.   With a soft, pleased delight he offered the back cover of Bicycling magazine; it was an ad from New Belgium Brewery, where a young woman is standing near her cruiser bike and a frothy stein of beer.  Technicolor trees and birds swirl about.

 

“This picture,” he said somewhat shyly, “is an image of God.”  And then gaining confidence, “I bike everyday and from my bike, I see people and things I wouldn’t see in a car traveling at speed.  I go more slowly on my bike – slow enough to smell, appreciate.  I can make eye contact and smile at the world going by.  And this beer…(he sighs)… Well, I don’t drink except at communion on Sunday, but this glass just reminds me of the Eucharist and ties it altogether.”

 

Thank you, Jack.  I really couldn’t say it any better.  The words I would use are different, and they might be reflected in some of the interfaith blessings you’ll capture if you watch the video link below.  The late Carl Sagan, in his own way, offered a bike blessing with these words, “If constellations had been names in the 20th century, I suppose we would see bicycles.”

 

Happy May!  If you haven’t done it for awhile, dust off your handlebars and go for a pedal – ride to the park, the market, visit a friend.  And if cycling doesn’t do it for you, then lean into the practice that rapts your attention – is it gardening or hiking?  Meditation, cooking, music-making or prayer?  Fall in love.  Do it now.

 

Bikes & Cyclists, duly blessed

You can watch highlights of Berkeley’s First-ever Blessing of Bicycles here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6TH26PQUbs

Please NOTE: the video is 13 minutes long and I would recommend advancing to the following highlights: 1) minutes 1&2 –  curious individuals gathering, 2) minute 3 – Mayor Bates offering his whimsical blessing, 3) minutes 5:30-11:30 – clips of interfaith clergy extending blessings.

 

 

 

 

 


Living Compassion, a homily

[This homily was offered at the inaugural (now monthly) service for The Interfaith Congregation for Healing and Creative Ministries]

 

Living Compassion

Happy Summer!  Right now, we are in the season of transformation.  In this time of long-lit days, cornstalks stretch high in the fields, grapes grow heavy & plentiful on the vine, and humans gather on porches and patios to tackle projects and share new ideas.  It is a time of empowerment and inter-relatedness, and I’ve been asked to share some thoughts about “Living Compassion.”

What do the World Religions say of Compassion?  Truly, the sources are many, but to keep this succinct, I’ll offer just a few:

Buddhism: “The Great Compassionate Heart is the essence of Buddhahood” (Gandavyuha Sutra)

Christianity: “…be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” (1Peter3:8)

Judaism: “The world stands upon 3 things: upon the law, upon worship and upon showing kindness.” (Mishnah, Abot 1.2)

Sikhism: “Make your mosque of compassion, your prayer mat of sincerity.” (Adi Granth, Var Majh, M. 1, p. 40)

Chief Seattle, of theDuwamishNation: “Our God is the same God, whose compassion is equal for all.”

Are we getting this?  I imagine I’m quite literally preaching to the choir.  Fundamentally, we agree with these texts and teachers…

Hinduism: “When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of another as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union.” (BhagavadGita6:32)

And this experience of spiritual union, of inner peace, our True Nature – call it what you wish – is something for which I imagine we strive.  These sacred texts and plenty of other others reiterate what we might label as, “The Golden Rule,” and yet, for me when compassion is presented in this way, it’s just too theoretical.  The operative word here isn’t “compassion,” but “living!”  This implies active embodiment.  And since it’s all too easy to say and make plans about what I’m going to do the NEXT time I encounter another who deserves compassion, I want to invite us to live compassion in this moment, right now.

Place a hand on your heart, and call to mind a few activities that made up your day today. You may have been chipping away at a long-term goal.  You may have been addressing an immediate task.  First and foremost, did you bring compassion to yourself in this process?  Did you speak kindly to your perceived sense of being inadequate or failing?  Did you take the moment to celebrate an accomplishment, or to nurse a hurt feeling?  Did you firmly guide yourself away from self-destructive tendencies and back into the game when part of you rebelled, threw a tantrum, or gave up?  This is living compassion; in this way, our life becomes a sacred text for ourselves and in our relationships with others.  And it’s NOT simple!!! It demands vigilance, and tough love, and it’s essential in our pursuit of health, wholeness and peace.

To close, I want to draw upon the strengths of the season at hand.  Just a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the solstice, the longest day of the year.  Hafiz, the Sufi poet, reveres the sun thusly,

Even after all this time 
The sun never says to the earth, 
“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with 
A love like that, 

It lights the Whole Sky!

Did you know that since it was born a star, our sun transforms 4 million tons of itself – every second – into light?[1]  No self-empowerment issues there!!!  And talk about inter-related!!?? This outpouring of sunlight creates the photosynthesis upon which our lungs and stomachs depend!

The Sun's Generosity! Credit: NASA/European Space Agency

Like sunlight becoming the earth’s vitality, does our living compassion toward ourselves grow inter-relatedness with others and all of life?  I believe so…and I invite you to think about it.  As you go about your lives in the next days, notice what feels heavy in your heart.  What in this world brings fatigue that is yours to tend and transform?

May we set about to penetrate each moment of our lives with compassion.  And may we find therein wisdom enough, space enough and love enough to light the whole sky.  May it be so!



[1] Swimme, Brian.  The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story, pp. 40-42. Orbis Books, 1996.