Saints or Sinners

The Sunday before or after Halloween is usually celebrated as All Saint’s Day by the Christian Church. If you ever pay attention to the traditional songs sung on that day, the Saints seemed to be the elite, the elect and the battle-hardened. Take a look at a few lines from songs:

“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.”

“Faith of our fathers (or “martyrs”) living still, in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword…”

“O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.”

To be an official saint in the Catholic Church you must be dead and have proven miracles ascribed to your name. When people referred to the “saints of the church” it was always in reference to the folks who had been there forever and seriously ate, slept and breathed the work of the church. In the end it took a really special person to fit those sorts of qualifications. I probably fall more easily into the “sinner” category than the “saint” category.

But, saint or sinner, we all are loved by God, we will all (in my opinion, since I don’t believe in hell, at least not in the after-life) return to our Source when we die, and we are all deserving of being honored and remembered. So, I changed All Saint’s Day to be more inclusive and called yesterday A Day of Remembrance. It’s a beautiful thing to honor the way a person (or a pet, we remembered a few of those yesterday) touched our lives with their love, their wisdom, their uniqueness. Sometimes the memory reminds us that we didn’t have all that we could have had with that person in time, closeness, or even understanding.  So the act of remembering becomes a moment of blessing what was, all of it. Perhaps then, within the blessing and remembrance, healing can follow.

These types of rituals are not confined to the structure of a worship service. Sometimes when I find myself longing for someone who has passed away I simply light a candle, set it on my desk while I work, and allow the presence of their memory to be with me… a light in my darkness. As time and the soul are eternal, I trust that as they are remembered, so are they also present.

Peace, Kaye

 

 

Why?

The Book of Job is just a miserable story to preach from. And, let me be clear, it is a story, a myth, a legend. It was ancient Israel’s attempt to explain why bad things happened to good people. The brief synopsis for those of you who don’t know the story is that Job is an upstanding, righteous, all-around good guy and the satan (adversary, or prosecuting attorney if you want to use legal terms – there was no sense of this person as the Satan we have created since) challenges God to test his faithfulness. God agrees, takes just about everything away from Job and covers his body in boils. Job demands to know why. He is convinced that he has done nothing to deserve this and so complains that God is being unfair. God, in Job’s mind, didn’t hold up God’s end of the bargain. Job was good, so God should only deliver good to Job. Well, God puts Job in his place. “Who are you to question God?” says God.  Job repents and God restores Jobs wealth and blesses him with a new family.

Why? Job wanted to know why, people through the ages have wanted to know why, and we still cry out to understand. Why do we need to ask why? It appears to be human nature. We begin when we’re about three, driving our parents crazy with our endless stings of why until, exasperated, they silence us with “Because I said so.” As we get older our whys get more difficult. At the age of 17 my why drove me to church to try to discover why my mom died.

The lesson from the Book of Job seems to enforce the teaching that God can do whatever God wants to do, no questions asked, and we should humble ourselves and accept it. Better yet, put on sack cloth and ashes just in case it really was our fault, go to confession, increase our offering, maybe even sacrifice a bull.  The Old Testament God is up there pulling strings and we should recognize that we are small in comparison to the universe and suck it up.

This answer doesn’t really works for me anymore except as a story, told to the best of people’s understanding, about why there is suffering and what to do about it. Of course, my sermons are also to the best of my understanding in this moment, not to be set in stone and open to growth and wisdom.

So, having said that, here are my thoughts of the day on the subject of suffering and why. No one is exempt from suffering… each person has something they struggles with. Therefore, suffering is an inherent part of life; there is no easy button. We can’t seem to help asking the question “why?” but inevitably gets us nowhere. Continuing to ask “why?” simply gets us stuck, like Job, sitting in sack cloth and ashes, bemoaning our fate, whining and complaining. In this state of being it’s truly hard to see any movement of the spirit. And I believe the spirit continues to be with us in the midst of suffering, bringing us hope, showing us open windows if we’ll stop looking at the closed doors; but if we’re stuck we won’t see any of it.

I believe there are two better questions to ask (instead of why?) that better open the door for the spirit to work. The first question is usually the second to be asked because it is easier to see in hindsight: What can I learn from this? If I look into myself, my actions, my reactions, my feelings, my fears… where are the growing edges? This is important stuff; it is how we grow in wisdom.

The second question we need to ask ourselves is how will we respond? This isn’t always easy when we’re hurting and scared. But perhaps we can take a step back, realize that life has thrown us a curve ball, remember that we’ve gotten through previous curve balls, take a deep breath and realize it is what it is. Now we ask ourselves how will we proceed in a way that will be that will be compassionate to ourselves and to others.

Let me give you an example. I think we’d all agree that knowing you are dying of cancer is pretty far up there on the list of awful things to suffer from. But we still choose how we will respond to that, and how we will respond to the people who care about us. Here are two people who chose completely different paths to this situation.

When Mona had a reoccurrence of breast cancer, she could not accept her dying because she was determined to live to see her daughter’s wedding, which was about a month away. So, she lived the remainder of her life in complete denial, refusing to talk about the cancer, dying, her feelings, everything. She shut out the people closest to her, including her significant other. These people who loved her knew how close death was and desperately wanted to have an authentic connection with her about their feelings, their relationship, how she felt about dying, etc. It never happened. She died without that type of peace and closure with the people around her.

And then there was Dan, who was diagnosed with fourth stage lung cancer. If I have ever known anyone to “die well” it would have been him. I’m sure he had his moments of questioning and struggling, but he never let it completely shut him down or cut him off from anyone. In fact, we had conversations about how he had one last lesson to teach and that lesson was how to die. Dan was never hard to approach about how he was feeling or how treatment was going. He was always completely open and honest about all of it. He had no problem announcing the latest news during joys and concerns at church and asking for prayer for himself. Taking time to be with those he loved and cared for was a priority for him. He took his wife on one last dream trip to Hawaii, got his affairs in order and sang one last rock ‘n roll song with the band he was in. Somehow he was always there when others needed him and he continued to care about how others were doing. He laughed and cracked jokes, and he struggled and cried… but I believe he was more fully present, aware and honest about what was going on, how he was feeling, and how others were feeling than anyone I’d ever known. When he finally died, we knew we had been blessed by his love, the authenticity of his journey, and our ability to share deeply of our own feelings.

The choice of how we respond to the suffering in our lives is ours alone.

One last thought and that is that we need to trust in the mysterious movement of the spirit in the midst of all things. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that the chaos and pain I went through in my life 2-3 years ago would eventually emerge into beautiful spiritual community. It simply attests to the other thing I know about God. God creates out of chaos. Out of the biggest messes of our lives can come the most beautiful things… it’s just that we usually don’t recognize how it happened until we look back years later.

~Kaye

Life Lessons in Autumn

Personally, I love autumn, and not just for the beautiful colors. Mostly, I appreciate the metaphors for my life and the things they make me think about.

“The summer ends and it is time to face another way.”  ~ by Wendell Berry

Three of autumn’s metaphors that speak to me are darkness, letting go and rest.

As autumn progresses our daylight hours continue to get shorter and shorter and we lament the loss of that light. It is true that our bodies and spirits crave the light. Our bodies create Vitamin D from exposing our skin to sunlight. We need 10 minutes of exposure everyday – through a window, clothes or sunscreen don’t count. That Vitamin D affects many, many things including our mood and energy levels.  It’s also true that many of us were afraid of the dark when we were little. I know I had to have a nightlight on to save me from the creatures under my bed and the monsters in my closet. Well, I no longer need or want a nightlight for the darkness in my bedroom, but sometimes I wish I had a spotlight to illumine the scary things in the dark corners of my soul.

The increasing darkness outside during this time of year reminds our psyches of the darkness inside of us. Some call it our shadow side. That part of our subconscious that houses our anger, fears, insecurities, mistakes, grief, hurts and more. By and large, we don’t really like to deal with the darkness inside of ourselves and so we find ways to avoid it. We become workaholics, alcoholics, food-oholics, tv-oholics, hobby adicts, we make sure there is always noise around us… anything to keep from being still long enough to find ourselves face-to-face with the darkness. How many of us have actually sat with the darkness to see what comes? But the gift of the darkness is in the invitation to plumb the depth of our inner darkness, to learn, to grow, to heal.

As the leaves die and let go of their hold on the branches, our souls recognize the metaphor as one that speaks to our lives.  Perhaps this is the cause of the melancholy and nostalgia we feel at this time of the year; a reminder that all things pass away, everything is impermanent. We typically rail against letting go because we see it as a negative, often painful thing (probably because sometimes it is). However, refusing to let go keeps us stuck, swirling around in an endless whirlpool of anger, grief, shame, guilt, hurt, self-deprecation, or desire for something that can’t be.

Approached from a different perspective, letting go enables clearing. When the leaves are gone from the trees, suddenly it opens space for you to see new things – maybe a nest that was up in the tree, maybe the stars that you couldn’t see before or a dead branch. This is an important lesson… when certain things fall away, you can see other things more clearly. Letting go of relationships that are not healthy makes room for the heart to grow. When we move or change jobs, we let go of places and routines, but clear space for new people to come into our lives with their gifts.  When we let go of things, clean our closets, live more simply, clear away things that no longer give us joy or serve our spiritual lives, we clear space in our lives for our spirits to experience freedom and grow. Our lives can be greatly enriched when we take that leap and let go.

And, finally, rest.  There are many farmers fields near me and the last of the crops are now being cut down and tilled under. We can lament the loss of summer and the passing of the fresh vegetables and farmer’s markets. Or we can recognize that the earth shared a bountiful harvest for our benefit and it now has time to rest. The lesson here  is obvious. Everything needs to rest – us included. Yet we are much more likely to push and push and push ourselves, stubbornly ignoring our own need to recoup our energies and strength. Instead of trying to produce one bountiful harvest after another in our lives, can we grant ourselves a time to rest? To give our inner land a time to be restored and recover our inner resources? It is not selfish, it is essential.

There are many gifts of autumn – deep spiritual gifts – but it is up to us whether we will chose to honor these gifts and take them into our lives. They are not necessarily easy… they require us to come face-to-face with our own darkness, our own shadow side. They require us to let go of things that no longer serve our highest good (and humans typically have a hard time letting go, even if it is the best thing for us). They require us to seek a new perspective… to be aware of what the clearing away/letting go might be offering us. And they require us to STOP, and stop in a way that is nurturing and restorative, which goes against the grain for many of us.

Embrace the gifts… they are the Divine’s gifts to you for your growth, health, healing and wholeness.

Kaye

Self-Love, Martyrdom & Selfishness

After preaching on self-love, martyrdom and selfishness yesterday, I was grading quizzes last night for my Religion class and one young woman answered the last question by saying: “[Buddhism] focuses on making yourself better for you instead of for the Lord, thus allowing you to be selfish.” Sigh. Apparently I need to preach this sermon to my class, too.

Here’s the essence of my message in a nutshell: to live a balanced, healthy life, one needs to practice self-love. The problem with this concept in Christianity is that we are programmed to believe that doing anything for oneself is selfish (read: sinful). In Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2:3-4, he says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (NIV) Nevermind when Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  We tend to just ignore the last part of that sentence as if ignoring our own needs, refusing to forgive ourselves, putting ourselves last would be the most pleasing thing we could do for God. Huh?

In my opinion one has to work really hard at being selfish. Selfishness requires a lack of concern for anyone but yourself. Everything is about you, other people are unimportant unless they benefit you, you lack compassion and empathy, you don’t see anything from anyone else’s perspective other than your own, you are prone to brag about yourself and lack any genuine sense of gratitude or remorse. Taking time to read a book, take a class, exercise, learn to meditate, enjoy a bubble bath… these sorts of things are self-nurturing, not selfish!

We need to nurture ourselves and love ourselves so that we have a well of resources to give from instead of draining ourselves dry. Constantly draining ourselves until there is nothing left is called martyrdom. Sue Monk Kidd calls it the Little Red Hen syndrome.  If you remember the story of the Little Red Hen, she did everything for everyone else all the time, until in the end she liberates herself. Finally she refuses to pander to everyone else’s needs and puts herself first. I’m sure the dyed-in-the-wool martyrs are furious with her. But, truly, martyrs only make themselves and everyone else miserable in the end. They tend to be bitter and unhappy and carry a deep-seated resentment because their own needs were never (it’s really their own fault, but they blame everyone else).

The balance between selfishness and martyrdom is self-love. In that place of balance, you take others into account, you do for others, you care for others, you give to others… but not at the expense of your own wholeness. Not at the expense of your balance and your health. And in that place of balance, you care for yourself, and nurture yourself, but not at the expense of the relationships around you. Not at the cost of losing compassion and empathy for others. Not without complete regard for others.

In the end, Jesus has it right… love God, maintain your spiritual connection to the divine, and love your neighbor as yourself. Which means you have to practice loving yourself first! Be kind and compassionate to yourself so that you can best understand how to love others. We can’t truly give what we haven’t fully experienced. Living this balance is up to each of us.

Peace ~ Kaye

 

Support for LGBT folks

OK, so you believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks are people of sacred worth. You’d like to see the world grow a little (ok, a lot more accepting). While the religious right is screaming “abomination!” you want to counter that with something supporting that won’t get you arrested, but you just aren’t quite sure what that would be. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions.

First, my thoughts… I want to thank you and commend you for wanting to be supportive of LGBT folks. For the first 42 years of my life, when I identified as a straight person, I had much more power to fight for the rights and equal treatment of LGBT people. Once I realized my true orientation (I guess I’m a little slow) as a lesbian woman, I lost most of my power. It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever experienced. The LGBT community needs straight allies. The majority always has to stand up for the minority if anything is ever going to change. So, thank you in advance for anything and everything you do.

What most people don’t realize is that in many ways LGBT folks fight for themselves on a daily basis.  One situation after another presents itself and we internally process questions like these:

  • Can I be myself fully in this place, job, situation? Is this person, are these people safe?
  • Do I want to risk holding my partner’s hand for fear of stares or rude comments?
  • Can I come out to my health care providers? Will they still care for me?
  • What will my kids experience?
  • What will other parents think/say?
  • How do we fill out forms designed for husband and wife? Or mother and father?

For LGBT folks it sometimes feel like we never get to stop “coming out” and so find ourselves vulnerable in many situations. Here are some simple and even subtle ways to help LGBT folks know that you are a safe and supportive person.

Display a rainbow – I found rainbow cord at the fabric store and handed out pieces of it yesterday (I’ll bring more next week since we ran out)… or buy some yourself… tie it to your purse, your key chain, your lanyard for your job, your door knob, just somewhere visible… it is a subtle, but clear, signal that you are safe.

Be aware and inclusive of the language you use. For example, ask people if they have a partner or significant other instead of a husband/wife. If you are designing forms, make them friendly to non-traditional families of all sorts. If you’re talking with kids, don’t assume they come from a “traditional” mom and dad family (with divorce rates as high as they are this seems unlikely in many ways).

Pay attention to the language you use. A friend of mine plays in a band and one of the songs they sing is “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. It’s a great 80s dance tune, except for the line that talks about “the little faggot with the earring and the makeup.” It just made me cringe every time I heard it. Finally, I mentioned that to my friend. The next time they played the song, I braced myself for that line, but it never came. They had taken it out. God bless their little pea pickin’ hearts!

Here’s another idea. If you are a teacher, parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle of younger kids, buy books that expand a child’s awareness of different family structures. Try The Family Book by Todd Parr or 123 A Family Counting Book by Bobbie Combs.

“That’s so gay” is a phrase that used to mean something was stupid or bad and can now be very hurtful to kids (or adults) who are gay themselves, or who have friends/family/parents who are gay. There is nothing wrong with using this as a teaching moment to explain why it may be hurtful and shouldn’t be said. Or if it was meant hurtfully, then it is time to draw boundaries around what is acceptable and what isn’t. Silence, ignoring it or excusing the behavior simply allows it to continue.

There are many, many people who experience bullying, violence, disapproval and harrassment for being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Thank you for being a safe place and for slowly helping to change the world.

~Kaye