My Way

I started playing the piano when I was about 7 and decided I’d learned enough by the time I was 14. Silly me. By 17 my mom was dying of cancer. I was a fairly clueless teenager, and her illness and her feelings about it were kept pretty private, which simply made it easier for me to remain clueless. I didn’t know how to be supportive, nor did I know how to get in touch with my own feelings about the whole thing. I didn’t even know how to say “I love you.” But one thing I could do was play the piano. At one point I asked her what her favorite song was. You guessed it: My Way. So, I went out and bought the sheet music and played it over and over for my mom before she died, and then I sang it at her funeral.

To this day, there are things about my mother that I don’t understand. Things she did or didn’t do. Things she said or didn’t say. I doubt whether she was as fulfilled in life as she could have been. And yet I take some solace in the thought that at the end, through that song, almost in a cry of defiance, she said, “I did it my way, maybe not in a way that makes sense to you, but my way nonetheless, and I’m at peace with that.”

Spirituality works the same way… or at least it should. There are probably a gazillion different ways to know, understand and connect to God. Yet many religions would have us believe that there is only one “right” way. German philospher Friedrich Nietzche asserted, “As for the right way, the correct way and the only way, it does not exist.” The only caveat to that, I believe, is that a true spiritual path cannot lead to any action that would be harmful to oneself, to another or to creation.

As a spiritual leader, I do not claim to have all the answers, only answers that make sense to me at this point in my life. I do not claim to have the right way or the only way, only to have a way that makes sense to me, but that is constantly changing and evolving. I refuse to be held back any longer by what other people think I should believe, so if what I say makes sense to you, then great, incorporate it into your spirituality. If what I say doesn’t make sense, then do it your way (just please don’t hurt me or anyone else in the process). The goal is not to be “right” or find the “right way”. The goal is to find the way that works for you to connect with the divine (in whatever way you understand it).

Let me share the last stanza (I change the male language to female language in my head):

For what is a man what has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

 Shalom ~ Kaye

Beyond Judgment

I was surprised by two things yesterday during my sermon. We were continuing our social justice sermon series and I was preaching about homelessness. My hope was to raise awareness for the issue, begin to dismantle our judgments and increase our compassion for the homeless we meet.

I began by asking if anyone had ever been homeless and two people were willing to share. One had spent a few weeks in her car or on the street after being kicked out of her house at 18 for being gay. Another had run away from an abusive situation with his mother and step-father and spent his nights staying with friends. The face of the homeless suddenly expanded… this had even happened to people we knew.

Then I asked if anyone had an experience with a homeless person that they would like to share. Many people were willing to talk about significant experiences with the homeless, from helping a man with gangrene, to taking a person into their home, to the medical professionals who looked past the stench of the person they were dealing with to wash them and treat them with kindness and respect. Now, I knew that folks at Sacred Journeys were awesome, but I have a newfound admiration for them. I probably should had just stopped preaching at that point… stories send a message all their own…but I had more to say.

The number of people who experience homelessness is the worst it has been since the Great Depression and it is expected to increase. Here are a few statistics, gathered from many sources, for you to take in:

  • 636,017 people experience homelessness in the United States on any given night in 2011
  • Homeless families comprise roughly 34% of the total homeless population.
  • Approximately 1.5 million U.S. children experience homelessness each year. On any given day an estimated 200,000 children have no place to live. 
  • On average, 26% of homeless adults were severely mentally ill, 16% were physically disabled, 15% were employed, 13% were victims of domestic violence, 13% were veterans, and 4% were HIV positive.

Individually we can’t solve the problem of homelessness, but we can make a difference to those we meet. Sadly, we are more apt to approach a homeless person with judgment than with compassion. We’ve been programmed to believe that they are dirty lazy stupid addicts who want nothing more than to take your money to go buy more drugs, cigarettes or alcohol. Seriously, it’s time we move beyond our judgments to compassion. What might it feel like to walk a mile in their shoes? To lose everything? To be reduced to begging? To experience rejection, maybe even revulsion? To be unable to feed your children? To go to bed hungry?

Certainly giving to charities who help these folks is a wonderful way to have compassion. But I challenge each of us (myself included) to take it a step further… to show compassion face-to-face when presented with the opportunity. Bring someone a cup of coffee or a sandwich and stop to talk. Or even if you can’t, acknowledge them and say, “Sorry I can’t help you today” (must be better than being ignored). Let there be a moment of sincere connection where we recognize the humanity and the divinity (the God spark) in them. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. I know, I’ve done it. And if I can, you can.

Peace ~ Kaye

Kinetic Spirituality

Who knew that so many people could have so much fun doing the hokey pokey in church? Everyone stood up yesterday and helped me with the Children’s Time, dancing the hokey pokey and talking about “putting your whole self” into God and your spirituality.

In so many ways, traditional religion has tried to regulate our joy. One way they’ve done that is by ingraining into generations of people that the way to be truly holy, reverent and spiritual is to be quiet, prayerful and contemplative. People sit in church barely moving (even to really upbeat songs), feeling like it might be blasphemous to shake hands, laugh, dance or clap. We’ve essentially been asked by the church to remove our bodies from the mind-body-spirit connection. How can we possibly be whole when we are dis-membered from ourselves?

I think that is why it felt so wonderful to dance the hokey pokey yesterday. And then after the sermon on “Kinetic Spirituality” we passed out rhythm instruments and danced to “Twist and Shout.” People were dancing in the aisles! We closed the service by singing and marching around the room. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure people could fully engage in some of this craziness, but even some of the most stoic people told me how much fun they had. Personally, I think it is because they could put their whole selves into the experience, mind, spirit and body!

I know our lives are filled with challenges, up-hill climbs, hurts and struggles, but it is the one great life we’ve been given and we should celebrate it. Let your movement initiate a movement of the spirit. Dance, sing, run, jump, play, laugh… without hesitation, ambivalence or reservation. Put your whole self into it! And wear your dancing shoes to service, I think we need more kinetic opportunities!

Peace ~ Kaye

 

One Year and Counting

Just before our first service a year ago I was playing Bebo Norman’s song, “Here Goes” all the time:

Here goes nothing, here goes everything, gotta reach for something, or you’ll fall for anything. Take a breath, take a step, what comes next God only knows, but here goes.

It’s the same song that is playing underneath the video for our community (see our pictures page if you haven’t seen it yet). Sometimes a song can inspire us in ways that nothing else can.

For our Anniversary Service yesterday we held a rock ‘n roll service and played and sang some great music from “Here Comes the Sun” to “My Sweet Lord,”  “Jesus is Just Alright” and “Barbara Ann.” Plus, instead of preaching on a scripture reading, my message was about the words to John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” It may very well have been the best energy I’ve ever felt in a worship service, and I can’t imagine another place where that could have happened without eyebrows raising and tongues wagging about whether that was really appropriate in church.

I guess that’s why we’re trying to be a community instead of a church. We’re trying to be spiritual instead of religious. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing that God is not a part of… I know, that’s a double negative… if you need it more plainly, God is in everything. Really. Everything. Secular music can make your soul sing just as much as religious music. Non-biblical readings can evoke as much awareness and understanding of God as Biblical readings. I can preach just as well in blue jeans as in a suit, and I’m convinced that God doesn’t care either way. I can’t, however, preach as well in a robe and stole, it feels sort of suffocating in an authoritarian sort of way, but I may just be weird.

After a year I feel really good about the community we’re creating. People tell me they’ve never experienced anything like it – and they keep coming so they must mean that in a good way! Looking at our religious backgrounds, we’re quite the eclectic group, but we all seem to have one thing in common… the old way (and that means different things for different people) wasn’t working for us anymore. And all of these folks are looking for a place to bring their questions, a place where they can think and learn and grow. I’ve determined, sadly, that this just isn’t for everyone. Some people prefer the glitz of the mega churches with the big screens, paid musicians, coffee shop in the church, and a preacher who will tell them exactly what to believe. It’s just the same old stuff in a prettier package, but I suppose it is easier than thinking.

As for us, we will keep thinking. It may, in some ways, be harder, but I firmly believe it is more spiritually fulfilling. Engaging at this level truly develops a deeper personal understanding of the divine. So… here goes nothing, here goes everything… what comes next God only knows!

Virtual community

My sweet, wonderful dog Daisy passed away last night, a casualty of the heat. Barely able to see through tears, I posted a picture of her on Facebook to say goodbye. There is something cathartic about grief when it is shared. We want to cry and lament, but I had to ask myself, why on Facebook?

This morning I could hardly stop the tears from leaking out of my eyes. But, as the day wore on, I found myself checking back to that Facebook post over and over again. By the time of this writing, there were 33 responses. I read them all, I gave thanks for each person’s compassion, and I felt so much less alone in my grief. Finally, my sore eyes got a rest and I could even eat something by 1 p.m.

It took me a bit to understand, but Facebook, and other social media, creates a community. Sometimes it’s goofy, sometimes way too political, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes informative, but always caring and supportive when needed.

Oftentimes religious communities get caught up in the orthodoxy and orthopraxy (right thought and right action) of what it takes to be a community. They say you need to believe in certain things (like the virgin birth or the second coming of Christ); you have to behave a certain way (wear skirts, evangelize, tithe, never divorce, be straight); and you have to adhere to the authority of the church (even if you disagree). If you do all of these things then you can belong to that community and receive support. But oddly enough, none of these rules and regulations ever actually contributes to what makes a loving, supportive, compassionate community. In fact, I’d suggest that orthodoxy and orthopraxy are more apt to inhibit true community because they foster a Big Brother atmosphere (for those of you who remember George Orwell’s book “1984”) – someone is watching you and judging whether you are living up to the community’s expectations. For the record, companies, schools and families can behave the same way. Very manipulative and very sad.

It seems that, if we all  simply acted out of our shared human experience, we could create true communities almost anywhere. All it takes is a little love, a little empathy, and the ability to look beyond our differences to that which connects us. Today, I am ever so thankful for my virtual Facebook community and my Sacred Journeys community.