Saturday, November 26, 2016

Upleveling Our Badassery

Twelve years ago, when Bush was re-elected, I felt sad.  The nation seemed to have nonchalantly accepted being at war.  We knew by then that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the war that was killing and maiming so many was based on misinformation at best, and as a nation, we didn’t seem to care.  

My then teen-aged daughter fell into a depressive slump, and stopped wearing shoes as a way to denounce the way things were going.  I was disappointed by the election, but not devastated.  Four more years.  We knew what we were in for, and though I was deeply disturbed, I wasn’t terrified.   We would plod through.

Here we are in 2016, and it’s a whole new ballgame.  We watch, breath held, as the man who believes it’s okay to grab women by the genitals, spew hateful rhetoric against entire countries and religions, and seems unable to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, begins to take charge.  I, like many of you, feel terrified and sickened.  If it weren’t so disgusting, it would be kind of hilarious.  The appointments to top-level posts somehow vaguely remind me of the “Home Alone” movie series.  People who shouldn’t be left home alone with matches are now running with scissors.

In 2004, my concerns became largely personal – the national events triggered despair that my daughter felt, but my focus was directed toward personal despondency of a loved one.  I did what I could, and wrote about it here.

Maybe because of that experience, I feel convinced that despair is our biggest enemy right now.  Yes, it’s rational to feel hopeless.  But it’s also reasonable to feel great hope.

The abyss is there, and it’s real.  But standing at the edge, staring down into it won’t help.  We need to remain aware of, and motivated by, the serious situation we’re in without succumbing to the desire to curl up in the fetal position with a pillow over our head.  

I’ve long had a wish that people’s emotional size would match their physical size.  In my imaginary world, The Little People, who currently inhabit normal or even larger than normal bodies, would be physically tiny.  They’d slip into cracks in the sidewalk or down the shower drain. The rest of us would gently rescue them from the heat vent or wherever, and carefully place them into a little diorama filled with miniature furniture and trees, tiny food bits, toothbrushes, and even dental floss.  There, they would live their tiny lives together, safely ensconced in a diminutive world, leaving the rest of us to do the work of this world: to approach life with hope and sincerity, and to strive toward lives of integrity where all people are treated with respect and dignity.   

Lately, I’ve decided to live as if that is what’s happening, because in a weird metaphorical universe that parallels our own, it is true.  The angry haters aren’t happy; they are shooting their tiny pea-shooters from the miniature world to get attention from the Big People.  They seek happiness by brandishing fear and anger, and it’s our job to go deep into our compassionate selves, and see it for what it is.  Misery is something to be sad about, not something to fear.  Donald Trump is a lonely, fearful, insecure man, a man to be pitied.  He and his followers are not happy people.  Love IS bigger than hate.  Kindness IS more compelling than rudeness and insolence.  Living a life of meaning is worth it.  Let the metaphor of the diorama for the haters come to life for all of us.  Let us live lives of goodness, standing up for oppressed, doing what’s right, thinking hard about problems and trying to solve them.  

But the first order of business is to do whatever it takes to not fall into despair.  You know what works for you.   Take a walk, do yoga, hang out with your peeps.  Some of us can only take tiny sips of the situation without  becoming struck down with grief, while others have the fortitude to track the details and remain informed.  Limit your input to a sustainable level.  When you feel the pull of the abyss, link arms with someone.  Give the abyss a cheery wave and keep working.

It’s easy to look around and find legitimate reasons to despair.  But despair never got us where we want to go.  We need to do whatever it takes so that we can get up each day and give it our best shot.  Find things to celebrate.  Take care of one another.  Summon generosity for the Little People, and don’t jump into their sorry diorama.  

And most of all, we need to up-level our game.  Now is the time to bring our very best selves forward.  We don’t have time to wonder if our pants are cute, or if the gray hair is showing through.  We don’t have time to hang out in relationships that aren’t healthy, or to get caught up in distracting micro-dramas.  This is the moment to shiny-up our talents and show-the-fuck-up.  

As Hannah Senesh said, “There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.” 

Be brighter than you ever thought you could be.  The world needs us.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Dowdy Church-lady Post

I’m coming out today as a church lady.  I know - sodowdy!  I’ve been a Unitiarian Universalist my whole life, and deeply involved in my church for over twenty years.  I know where the aprons are stored in the church kitchen, I’ve been to a billion potlucks and fundraisers and most of all, Sunday morning services.  I’ve worked in the religious education program for 20 years and been the president of the Board of Trustees, been on the Social Justice committee, and done a million other things over the years.  I have a key to the front door, fer godsakes.  But I don’t talk about it much.

I tend to be moderately private about my involvement in a church, because lots of people hear the word “church” or “organized religion” and it conjures up a vision of dogmatic haters. When people bash organized religion, I remain quiet, because I get it.  I understand why so many thoughtful people of conscience are opposed to, or frightened by, organized religion.  There are numerous examples of religion peddling hate, spewing dogma, critiquing and condemning those who don’t believe in their particular thing, and generally, making things worse.  Rather than sharing love and generosity, so much of it feels small and hard and full of hate and judgment.

So I remain quiet.   

The funny thing is, I think most of my non-church-going friends have beliefs remarkably similar to mine:

I believe religion and spirituality are private matters, and I don’t really want someone telling me what I should believe or how I should live.

I believe each person has the capacity to be profoundly good, and do remarkable things in the world.

I believe life is better when we all work together, finding and tending our common ground.

I believe we can all keep growing and learning, up to the very last minute.  I can be a better person today, at least in theory, than I was yesterday.  We’re never done.

I believe we should encourage one another on our journeys through life.

I think we should find whatever we can celebrate, and do it together.

I’m not even positive I know what “spiritual” means, but for me, it’s related to getting a lump in my throat.  It involves those moments when the world reveals herself to be so tender, beautiful, and surprising that I’m almost reduced to tears.  For me, this happens in nature, or when I see a parent being particularly tender and patient with a little one, or when I have a great conversation with a friend, or when the perfect song for my state of mind arrives on the radio, unbidden.  And yes, in church when I’m in a room full of people who show up and sing and listen and are silent together.  A room filled with a diversity of beliefs about whether there is an afterlife, or a god, or a soul, but stay connected by the common belief that what matters most is how we live this life, today, and how we treat one another.  

Many people often comment, “well, Unitarian isn’t a real religion.”  Or they assume I’m not doing it right, because if it’s organized religion, it must surely involve dogma, or require a set of beliefs.  It doesn’t.  

But it offers this: I will show up tomorrow morning, and our amazing, compassionate, wise minister, Lois Van Leer, will bring us together with her words.  We’ll grieve and be furious and heart-broken, and then we’ll be called to get on with the work of justice.  We’ll sing and cry and be together, and know that we are not alone.  When I want to work on social justice, I can plug in to a well-organized, thoughtful group of people who are already doing stuff.  My voice can be amplified.

So, I’m coming out as a church lady. I’m proud to have a life-long affiliation with this denomination, where we are united in principles, but also called upon to think for ourselves.  As we often say on Sunday morning, we search for the truth with an open mind, and work to make the world a better place to live.  We respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person. 

This isn’t a plea to get others to join us, though all are welcome.  I know you’re all living beautiful rich wonderful lives, following your own conscience, and this isn’t for everyone.  But if you are interested, we meet at 10:00 am.  Show up just as you are, bring your children or don’t.  All are welcome.

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