Sunday, July 27, 2014

2014.07.27 A Nun On The Bus

Last week we heard Simone Campbell, SSS (Sisters of Social Service) speak about her vision to work for dignity and justice for all people and her experience as a practical contemplative. Campbell is an attorney, lobbyist, executive director of Network, and the author of the book, A Nun On The Bus.

To say that she is a good speaker, would be to understate it. She is all flamed up with vision and praxis. The symbolic story in Exodus about the voice of God calling to Moses from a burning bush is her biblical metaphor for the voice of God: something quite ordinary that you see every day suddenly flares up. Moses' bush-voice begins with a statement of compassion: I hear your people’s cry and their needs. I’m aware of their suffering. I know. (The verb form of know in Greek used here is the same as the form for the intimate knowing that happens in sexual intercourse.) Whoa! There follow a suggestion, just when Moses is the most turned on, something like: “So now I am sending you to Pharaoh.”

What? Not me! I can't stand Pharaoh! I'm terrified of his power. I have no voice. Moses mightily resists.

Campbell said that transformation begins at the point of intersection between a vision of total compassion (through deep listening) and an equally forceful resistance to it. Head straight into the resistance to find the dangerous truth.

What do you resist the most? What do you eschew? Who gets the blame, self or other? Who or what would be on your “mistakes of God” list? (Campbell has a list. Some politicians are on it.) Who or what point of view would you have the most trouble dialoguing with?  What do you resist accepting, trying to listen deeply to?

Confession: I scorn Christians who think Jesus the Christ is the only Name, the only, authentic access to Godde. If I head into my resistance to this point of view I discover my impotence, my fear, my vulnerability, my anger, and my limited ability to change fixed mindsets, let alone accept or love those of such mindsets. BUT. . . I do think I could listen. Hang in til you find common ground, Campbell said, and from there build bridges. She was trying for common ground with Paul Ryan—not exactly her "type."  

About ten years ago or so, I tried to set up a dialogue between my liberal parish and a neighboring parish, which was rooted in exclusive Christian theology and politics. I framed the purpose as loving our neighbor’s and received assent for my proposal from the rectors of both parishes. I even recruited dialogue facilitators. It turned out that one of the rectors failed to help bring about the dialogue, causing it to collapse. Soon this rector left the parish to start his own ultra-conservative one, taking a lot of the moneyed with him. I can only assume he never intended to dialogue. All he wanted to do, he had said, was to preach Christ— his own point of view, his own Christ. (Is there such a thing?) We had common ground in our love for Christ; it just wasn't enough to build a bridge. 

As a pastoral counselor, I sometimes saw couples and families.  I would first invite and listen to each person’s story. I tried for experience, and usually got interpretation, according to each point of view. Usually everyone was doing the “Eden thing”— blaming everyone, including God and the snake, for their own pain, powerlessness, and anger at the unhappy dysfunction. Then I’d try to find a common ground—just one thing they all could agree upon so we could go from there. Sometimes we never got to the common ground. Sometimes deep listening was blocked and the vision of radical acceptance too much of a stumbling block.

If anyone wept, I knew there was room for the vision to begin. I would follow the tears. Tears would happen at the intersection of rugged resistance (fear) and deep listening that led to broken hearts, opened hearts, radical acceptance, and yes, good old love hidden underneath bushels of powerless resentment.

Campbell proclaimed that we are all in this project called life together! 100% of us in church and society. When she and others decided on a road trip to spread the vision and help the poor, no one later remembered who thought of that idea. No one remembered, but the flame came upon them from somewhere.

The practice of justice for all is, Campbell believes, the vision and story of the corpus of Holy Scriptures. She's not a contemplative, although she has a daily meditation. Contemplative meditation stills her (like when you stop shaking a snow globe, the snow settles, and suddenly everything in the globe gets clear.) The practice daily places her on the path of compassion, and fuels her for the immediate task of, in her case most recently, meeting with Congressman, Paul Ryan, about his budget and to lobby for immigration reform.
Their common ground? All they could agree on was that they shared a passion for their country—such as the passion shared by me and the rector had for Christ.  

Campbell spoke with vibrancy and humor. She told poignant stories, saying that ideas were important but that ideas alone could keep us talking and debating forever—while people starved and children died in poverty. Congressman, Pete Gallegos from San Antonio, TX. was ready to address a group of reformers about immigration policies when suddenly his small son waved vociferously and shouted, “Hi Daddy.” Then he ran up and into Gallegos’s arms—like a veritable burning bush.

Gallegos canned his prepared speech and shared instead how he came to change his attitudes about immigration reform: in the delivery room when his son was born and he suddenly knew he would give his life for this little child and fight FOR his freedom to live a stable life, not by fighting against another child's freedom. In that moment, Gallegos knew that he was every parent. He knew the hope and the hunger and love of every parent.
Children and parents flee across borders to the US and other countries. They run from violence, economic and physical. They run for a vision. They run for their lives. US border guards found the dead body of a woman under a bush. When they unfurled her body they discovered that it had been curled around the body of a little child. (Think Hagar in the desert with Ishmael. Then think of a God who provided them a well.) The story made me weep, broke my heart. Oh Godde!

Immigration reform is not THEIR issue; it is OUR issue. Nuns rode the bus for "faith, family, and fairness"—for ALL people everywhere, the 100%.

Do you remember when the Church added an alternative to the Nicene Creed?  We used to say: “I believe . . .”  Now we say, or should say, “WE believe . . .”

“We are all called to be a burning bush in a hungry nation,” Campbell declared.

And I would add: we are all called to be a burning bush in a hungry church, starving for wholeness, unity, deep listening, and radical acceptance.

What bus will you take to see “pharaoh”?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

2014.07.24 BOOK REVIEW: This Is How It Feels, Craig MIller

This is a book of truth, It is not pretty; the whole truth about human life rarely is. It is beautiful;  beauty can change the world.

I have just finished this terrorizing yet redemptive read. It’s a memoir written by Craig Miller, a man who suffered from OCD and depression, made a suicide attempt at 20, spent three days in a coma, and experienced an amazing inner shift of perspective—while technically dead. Life won, he says.

This memoir is so emotionally authentic it’s hard to read. Miller writes as if his soul spills out onto the page. Yes, he spares no details about the horrors of what happened to him and of his mental illness, but he does so with no remove. We are in it with him.

At first I thought: This can’t be true! and So how come I believe every word? Then I realized that I had heard such horror stories from clients and in the addictions treatment center where I worked as a chaplain/counselor.  But when you are functioning as the therapist, or the spiritual companion, you can’t plunge into the emotional murk yourself or you won’t be helpful. In fact, you’ll drown. But reading alone in my room allowed me to dive right in with Miller and swim with him. My heart beat for this boy, this teen, this young man. It ached, broke, wept, no sobbed. He prayed, and I did too.
Miller writes graphically about his suicide attempt and his courageous jihad against his mental illness. No one along the way of treatments asked him about what happened!!  His family and friends did not know how to help him. Social attitudes twenty years ago toward bullying, especially for males, were: Get out there and defend yourself, wimp! Rape, suicide, mental illness?—forget it!  Miller’s loneliness was profound, palpable, yet he pursues his search for kindness relentlessly. He is  a fighter. 
I knew that he survived and that he is now married with kids, but I had to find out exactly how he got there. This is a suspense-filled story fueled by hope, grit, and grace.

The book is structured around the three days Miller spent in a coma. During those days every single repressed memory reeled by. He came out just enough to know he was in a hospital, but sank back again into a comatose state.
This is not a traditional near-death experience. Although Miller’s brain is dead, he doesn’t experience heavenly peace; nor does he travel anywhere— except backwards into his past. Something functions without his brain. This kind of healing from trauma and mental illness would take years and years of good therapy, plus medications and a community of recovery. For him it takes three days to begin the process toward full healing. All I could think of was the New Testament phrase, predicting resurrection: “. . . and after three days he will rise . . .” God’s time is not our time.

It's true: God makes us whole as we rise, whether before or after biological death.

I will not reveal more about the transformation that happens. I will only say that this is the most profoundly spiritual book I’ve read in some time—uniquely so.

Craig Miller writes and speaks his whole truth, and nothing but, about depression, OCD, suicide, addiction, violence and abuse. His work is indispensable to treatment professionals and those with mental illness, but even more so it contributes to the mending of the world, tikum olam, according to Jewish tradition. We need more broken hearts. And we need to eliminate the fear and shame that go with stigmatization, religious and secular, attached to mental illness and suicide. Start by calling survival accomplishment.

Miller has his own saving mantra.  

I leave you with mine: The glory of God is the human person fully alive.  Irenaeus of Lyons.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

2014.07.20 Amazing Grit

Often I sign my emails, “grit and grace.” It seems to have more pep than more common words, like blessings, peace, etc. Anyway, it came to me as some kind of spiritual holism.

I recently listened to a talk by Angela Lee Duckworth, a  psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. She has been grappling with the age-old familiar question of: What is the Key to Success?

Now just how many how-to and self-help books have been written about success, as if it were marketable? It’s not on St. Paul’s list of spiritual gifts, nor does Jesus mention it, yet success has been associated with religious faith, and so has prayer. And there is the so-called prosperity gospecertain habits, purpose-driven lives, etc. etc. make for divinely sponsored success.

Jesus failed, so let’s get over it. (That’s sassy, but you know what I mean. If it hadn’t been for Paul and the gospel writers, would he even be remembered, let alone his gospel?) Followers often mess up the founder's dreams. It could be that one of Jesus' gifts was his ability to attract followers who were really good at social media.

Success is a quintessentially American cultural value, and quest. Can-do mentality is our gift and our curse. We are effective and accomplished, yes, but so prone to compulsion and self-deceit. We don't fail graciously. Instead, we sue.

The Church too has been exploring its own success in the face of what looks like failure but probably is not, e.g. how many people come, how young are they, etc. Whoever thought of praying and asking Christ about all this? 

Dr. Duckworth has no easy answers, but she has amassed lots of statistics and studies on the question. Passion, perseverance toward one’s goals, hard work, belief in the future, being a marathoner not a sprinter—all present and accounted for. Unexpectedly, the strongest success predictors, talent, intelligence, personality, were not at all consistently correlative with regular success.

Duckworth isolated on factor that was more consistently present: GRIT.


How do you assure grit, even blessedly? Duckworth called it a mystery. We don't know why one person has grit and another doesn't. She offered an educated guess: get a growth mindset. It's possible to teach a child to believe that the ability to learn can change with effort. 

The most spiritual thing I heard Duckworth say was: Failure is not a permanent condition. Now that’s gospel! In fact, the Bible has more failure in it than success. Oh, it's depressing! Consistent, however, is human faith-grit and God's gritty grace. Neither give up on goodness nor on each other—plain idiotic, but true grit.

Once a therapist of mine asked me who my hero was. She was trying to give me an image of power my mind could call on, because I was a wimp.  Here it is. Hard to believe.


I am adding GRIT to my list of words that describe resurrection—that transformative movement from death to life—not a one-time event, but an ongoing many-times-over dynamic. 

Grit is gritty. It’s a gut thing. It’s true and truth. God must have tons of it, lest why would Godde create such a mess, and never abandon it or give up hope for its growth? 

The other word that means resurrection to me is resilience—one of the latest and greatest word thrown about in the mental health field. It is almost as mysterious as grit but not quite as instinctive. The Latin root of the word is resile, to leap back. Sprong!  

Hell, Jesus called Peter a stumbling block and both men bounced back, one to face a trial with courage the other to start a church, God help him. Both had grit, resilience and resurrection.

So in fact do these superb, determined little petunias on our brick doorstep—starting their own little garden no less. What gritty praise!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

2014.07.13 What Would One Say?

When my oldest daughter was in junior high, she did what most kids do during their growing edge years, she giggled and talked in class. She is an adult now and likely remembers this incident.


 The English teacher, a particularly stern, and I would say prissy person, did what many teachers would do: called attention to the offense and asked for a return of attention to the lesson of the day.

This should have been enough, but wasn’t. The teacher further addressed my daughter after class and said, “Beverley, isn’t your mother studying for the ministry?” My daughter nodded. The teacher’s wasn’t quite through. She added: “Indeed. What would one say?”

What would one say? The little phrase was meant as a thinly disguised moral scold. (Think Maggie Smith at her prunish best.) In our family it became cause for sibling hilarity—a perfect reprimand tossed off for the tiniest infractions, followed by gales of laughter.  Occasionally, I’d remind them that Jesus wouldn’t say such a thing. So what would he say? They’d egg me on. “Get thee behind me, Satan.” (Matthew 16:23) By then we all were laughing. “Mom quotes Jesus now.”  Ha, ha.

I felt proud to quote the gospel Jesus, happy to offer them a good example of a clear-hearted and clean response for any kind of angry confrontation—a curse really. Peter had not been paying attention in class, or if he had, he’d rejected the teaching of Jesus’ reality gospel and even rebuked Jesus for his wisdom. Peter still thought that God would eliminate the suffering part of the suffering-with-redemption equation, make an exception for someone as good as Jesus. Jesus said, NOT.

What would one say? Do you think, in spite of Jesus’ cross and all the preaching about suffering in most religions, we still just can’t bear it to be part of God’s desire and design? OR is it that we can’t forego dualistic thinking? OR maybe it’s the redemption part we can’t tolerate: Okay for Jesus, and other spiritual celebrities, but not for mass humanity? 

Here is a paraphrase of a quote from The Rt. Rev. Samir Kaffity, Retired Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem...............

 Christianity began as a vibrant faith of the victory of redemption and joy in Jerusalem.
It then traveled around and up the coast of the Holy Land.

It crossed the Mediterranean Sea, to the Aegean and landed in Greece,
where it became a philosophy.

It left there and crossed the Adriatic Sea and on to Rome,
where it became an institution.

It continued westward across Europe, and crossed the North Sea to Great Britain,
where it became a culture.

And finally this great religion crossed the Great Atlantic Ocean,
and lapped upon the North American shore,
where it has become an enterprise.

What would one say?  Is Christianity an enterprise, a business, a product to be perfected for consumption, to be twisted into the latest desirable shape? I wonder if the oomph has gone out of Christianity, the gutsy vibrancy of Jesus and other founders, the capacity to be direct without superiority? 

Are churches today embarrassed to offer the profligacy (so, so close to licentiousness) of divine grace, cheek by jowl with profligate violence—and call both truth?

It doesn’t make a bit of sense to do so, you know. I want to holler NO—Godde is Love.  Just how inclusive can Godde’s Love be? I wonder. 

If the junior high school teacher’s attitude seeped into the literary material she was trying to get the kids impassioned about, it would be dry, and they would be rightfully bored, no matter how much attention they paid, nor how hard they studied, nor how enterprising they were. 

What would one say?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

2014.07.06 Faith It!

Freedom is not the same as choice. Nor is it the same as independence. But is it connected somehow to faith?

The other day I was deliberating, obsessing really, over a relatively small decision about whether to offer my opinion or let it go for fear of offending, when I heard myself say to myself, “Just faith it!”

Faith it? An immediate “Greek” chorus of English teachers chanted in my head: “Faith is a noun, dear, not a verb.” Alternatively, this might be a Spirit-nudge cutting through my mental murk—obviously not god the grammarian. But should I have faith to say what I thought or faith to shut up? I was free to choose. 

I hate freedom.

And who is really free anyway? (The last word is "immigrant.")

Choice is overrated, mostly because our fat affluent culture offers so much to consume that it’s overwhelming and stressful, and partly because choices that seem free are bound by inner and outer limitations—like unconscious motivations, what your mother and Mother Church always said to do, and other people. Still, I had to choose something, and I wanted God or Jesus or the powers to tell me what to do. I had choices BUT I wasn’t free.

As reported in Bondings 2.0, June 17, 2014, by newwaysministryblog, Britain’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols addressed the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence. He highlighted war-time rape and sexual degradation as “a most fundamental denial of human dignity and a most gross breach of a person’s human rights.” Duh.

I would have stopped reading— BUT I saw the next word, which was BUT.  ("But," I knew, could cancel everything that preceded it.)  I read on: “But . . . in his speech, Nichols offered a different definition of sexuality than is usually promoted by Catholic bishops.” 

After defining human sexuality as a vital component of our humanity, blah, blah, he continued: “A fundamental aspect of the Church’s teaching about sex is that sexual acts must always take place within the context of  . . .  (Yeah, yeah, we know it’s the context of Christian marriage.) 

BUT, the Cardinal did not say Christian marriage, he said “authentic freedom.” Authentic freedom. For any two people?  Not just Christians?  Outside marriage?  Just for love and not just for procreation?  The moral context of sexual acts is now about freedom, according to this cardinal, and, I would add, many theologians and ethicists.  Morality unbound like Lazarus.

I love freedom.

But, how did this help me? I’m not exactly sure, BUT this came to me: “authentic freedom” is spiritual freedom, faith freedom—the authentic freedom of the soul in Love, the soul in a moment without tight rules and contexts of practice, the soul at risk from without, willing to take risks from within, a soul who can faith it.

That’s how I stopped deliberating, praying, trying to fit my decision into some acceptable safe cubby.  I faithed it.

I don’t know if offense was taken or not.

Only after my faithing, did I remember the biblical wisdom in Galatians 5:1 :"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."  It doesn’t say choice; it does imply faith.

P.S. did you know there is a car named SOUL? A Kia. KIA means "killed in action." Ill let you interpret that any according to your mood or your spirituality.  BUT I doubt if this little car authentically free.