In a perfect world, truth would be so much easier if everything were transparent…except, its not. Transparency isn’t the norm. So much of the circumstance of every human encounter remains hidden to each participant. How much personal pain, damage, courage, experience, deception or thousands of other bits of circumstance color the reaction expressed in each encounter? I would venture to say a lot. And yet so often we behave as if we know it all and are completely comfortable in the quick judgments we throw out into the world. In the last few days, I have been part of many conversations and observed the behavior of many on the national level that were rooted in misunderstanding and steeped in unwarranted judgement. Its exhausting, pushing down the desire to quantify and qualify everything. In the war between “my truth” and “your truth” does “real truth” get lost?
If we knew more of the “circumstances” that were behind every encounter, would we behave differently? I would hope so. Would a rash of angry and misinformed threats fall differently if the other party knew the circumstances that the other party was struggling with? Again, I would hope so…even if it only meant that words, perhaps angry or harsh, were then not taken personally, or to heart, but created a greater sense of understanding and empathy instead. As Christians, (since I am one, I claim no expertise on any other faith, which is why I use my own as an example) Jesus tells us: to walk in another’s shoes, to judge not lest we be judged, to turn the other cheek, to take the plank out of our own eye before we point out the speck in another’s eye, to be merciful, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and above all to tell the truth. Truth and living mindfully of these commands go hand in hand.
The other side of the circumstance coin is the person who hides deep deception and all other deviant qualities, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I certainly have been the naive one in that equation, and I consider myself a pretty astute observer. The “truth” here cautions us to be careful, to take the time and effort necessary to not only give each person a break, but to remain cautious while the substance of what they speak is revealed, which usually takes more time than we are willing to commit to. Without trying to sound like a broken record, media, social, opinion or news, have created such a market that perpetuates snap judgments that do more to destroy the truth en-mass than any other mechanism I can think of.
In your next encounter, think of the mass of circumstance that you can’t see. Be mindful of how much you hold secret too. Truth takes time, and kindness.
None of us share the exact same gifts, nor will we produce the same fruits. What is necessary to cultivate and sustain them may be different too. To take it one step further, we are not always aware of the impact of fruit shared. Confused? Let me share a story. While a teacher at the Academy of Holy Angels, I had the benefit of working with the theater department (cheers to Gregg Sawyer) to create a one-act play about the homeless. Because I was in campus ministry at the time, I coordinated experiences about the homeless with students who were writing the play. Working with a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis, many of our students got the opportunity to volunteer and gain some insight into the plight of the homeless. On one particular evening when I was volunteering with some students, I had a somewhat confrontational interaction with a woman who didn’t like that we were there “spying” on them. I continued the conversation with her for quite awhile, and learned many things about her struggles. She was an educated woman who struggled with mental illness and alcohol. I don’t really remember the specifics of the conversation, but I think we parted on good terms having listened to one another.
Over a decade later, in my small little town 60 miles away, we had a patient scheduled that my husband had known from high school who was down on his luck and had lived in Mexico and had struggled with drugs there. He was in rough shape and needed a chiropractor desperately. He arrived for his appointment, and his companion was the woman I had met in the shelter all those years ago. I knew who she was right away, ( I never forget a face), and I could tell by the look on her face that she recognized me too, because she complimented me on my eyes, just like she had done in the shelter. Neither of us brought it up, but she paid for his visit and the one the following day. She wanted to help her friend, she said. She had at one time fallen on hard times, and she wanted to be able to give back, she said. I smiled and said something about the ripple effect. She smiled, and I never saw them again. Was it divine providence? Cause, seriously, what are the odds of that happening? What lesson did I learn? Perhaps we had influenced each other in a simple but powerful way, and God threw us together for a moment to illustrate that we should always be ready and willing to put ourselves out there, extend a hand or a word because we may never know the impact it has on someone’s life.
What would have happened if I had gotten all defensive and just blown her off? I wondered about that a lot. Bearing fruit doesn’t have to be magnanimous to be miraculous. That can’t be said enough. The alternative is true as well. The one ingredient that I know is essential regardless of the size or breadth of the fruit is kindness. I remember that woman often as my encouragement to never underestimate a simple gesture…and I hope she remembers me too.
I think this will be my last post detailing my year of clarity. I feel complete, for now anyway, and want to enter into the season of light focused only on that. It seems funny that showing you the context of all my previous posts this year will be the subject of my last. I think it’s because I needed to do the journey first, before I open up my coat and share life in my shoes. Perhaps then you can understand why I believe as I do and maybe take something away that you can use on your own journey. The bottom line, is that I can never unhear, all I’ve heard; I can’t unsee all I’ve seen; and most importantly I can’t unknow all I’ve learned. I am who I am because of it.
Also, I needed to have the strength to say to those who are reading this just to be judgmental or to find fuel for your dislike, to say stop reading, or better yet, go ahead, keep reading…because I don’t give a shit anymore. I don’t wish you ill, but I certainly don’t wish you well. Harsh, it’s true. But I think I’ve spent too much time parsing words and feelings not to offend anyone, or try to be my best Solomon in all my posts. While being fair and balanced and living as a disciple of Christ is still my main objective, this election cycle has brought out the true character of many who I just won’t waste my time or breath on anymore. I embrace that is who you are, I just don’t have to listen to you anymore. Make no mistake, I am not talking about those who have a polar opinion from mine, there are still plenty of you in my posse…I’m talking about those who judge before they listen, embrace fear, refuse to look for truth, or only enough to justify their world view and those who only associate with people who are just like them. While the number I disassociate from may be few, it is something I have never done before but need to because of the impact it was having in my life. What’s funny, is I’m sure those people will never know it because they stopped really seeing or listening to me a long time ago.
No axiom, truth or ideology ever comes to me lightly, except the love of God and the call to be a disciple of Christ. While I may be a good student, I am not an easy one. I’ve pissed and moaned and thrown many a tantrum learning valuable lessons. So let me highlight just a few of those instrumental ports of call on my journey of faith. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be like one of those infernal slide shows that go on forever…just a few tidbits. Know that there are some givens: I have a great family, I’m blessed with privilege and a great deal of comfort. The experience that follows are in addition to, or in spite of.
When I was in college, I used a January term to live in a contemplative monastery in the desert of New Mexico. During my stay at Christ in the Desert, we began our day at 2:30 in the morning to pray according to the divine office of the Rule of St Benedict, an order that balances prayer and work. Without going into depth, I understand why Jesus began his ministry in the desert, in prayer and silence. It was the hardest (and not just because I wasn’t allowed to talk) and most transforming experience of my life. I fought with and conquered many internal demons over that month. It was the foundation for everything that what was to come.
The next January term, I chose to work with the United Farm workers (UFW) movement in La Paz California. There, I saw what solidarity behind a spiritual and nonviolent leader, Caesar Chavez, could do for the powerless and disenfranchised. I was also witness to racism for the first time in my life, and how protesters gallantly withstood all the horrible words and actions taken against them, all just because they desired to be treated fairly, with dignity and pride. I worked as a laborer that month, it was hard, humbling and it refined and polished me in ways I never could have predicted.
After I started working in ministry, I received the chance to travel with the National Council of Churches to then Soviet Russia. It was a terrifying, mind boggling, heart wrenching, uplifting, life transforming experience. It was during that trip at the ripe age of 24 when I saw the impact and effects of raw political power. It was there that I learned to recognize its lizard qualities that slithered and slimed their way into the world. I was no longer the naive, altruistic girl that I once was living in a global world. I went back four years later to see how it had progressed, doubting that democracy could ever work there efficiently…I was right, it couldn’t. Not that its people aren’t marvelous, they are…there were actually more Christians there than members of the communist party. Politics, though, are another story. It is also why I despise Putin so much.
Throughout my ministry, I worked with the poor and homeless, did respite for the mentally disabled, worked in a nursing home, a drug treatment center for adolescents, was part of a team who worked with modern media and the gospel message. I got to teach, write curriculum and preach the good new of Christ. It wasn’t always easy, but I learned so much and was graced with interacting with so many incredible people. I’ve worked with prisoners and laborers, met rock stars, politicians in Washington and media moguls. I’ve eaten on clay floors and dined on Italian marble. In every one of these experiences people are often the same with varying levels of brokenness. Every one of them needed love beyond the basic dignities of life.
I’ve had the pleasure of having many gay friends who have shown me great sacrifice and commitment in being able to love who their heart chooses. When I was teaching, I was blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood far beyond my pay grade when I was rented a room in a house from an incredible lesbian woman and her daughter, also gay, and who is now an incredibly powerful pastor in Minneapolis. I will attest to the beauty and strength of all my gay friends and their families and children, and am happy to have them in my life and the life of my family and children too. It is so natural and easy to love them and support them, I cannot fathom why anyone would not (which is a bit sarcastic because traditional religion is the true culprit for all the hate).
I’ve learned to understand sexual abuse, mental illness, suicide and PTSD, all first hand from students, friends and family. I’ve had to live with structural and physical maladies that have greatly altered and challenged my life. Yet in all these times, that in spite of these challenges I was always aware of and felt God’s presence. In fact, all these challenges gave root to all of Jesus teachings for me. The Gospel doesn’t make sense in a perfect hardship free life. Personally, I’ve endured misogyny and abuse, and also great and deep love and support. It’s true, that when you most need them, in the darkest of times special people enter your life to be what you need, and then are on their way.
My latest destination on my journey is to this small little hamlet on the St Croix river. It is insular and safe, uncomplicated and many times without the challenges of the greater world. It was a good place to raise my children except I could never let them be part of the bubble that can exist here. I had walked too far for that. I left my church here, and found another that had a more open world view. And to my boys, I know I forced you to give your Christmas to a poor family, invite the fringe to all your birthday parties, serve on mission trips and study the bible, and challenge every assumption or stereotype you threw in my face. I demanded you research and listen and be open to others, and dad, more than me made you put only good things in your bodies. Hopefully you will thank me for it some day, cause I am sure proud of how you turned out. We have a wonderful business that brings health to our community and our patients are some of the best people I have ever known.
So after all these steps, this is why I refuse to stand for bigotry and hate. This is why I stand for all my LBGTQ brothers and sisters. This is why I will fight for people of all ethnicities, religious beliefs, and political ideologies. This is why I stand for truth and will never shy away from pointing out inaccuracies that so deeply penetrate our media today. This is why I try so hard to root the Gospel in the most subtle of actions and behaviors. I am who I am, never to be pigeon holed into a left or right column, or belittled by any limiting moniker. My path is one of power and love, because I am a child of God and these are MY shoes. And as a servant of Christ I will fight for your shoes too.
I’m not a tentative person…never was, never will be. While that may have caused me considerable consternation in the past, I don’t worry about that anymore. I do worry, however, about the state of the world and those who command our attention. I wonder how differently they would speak if they read these words everyday:
A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil. I tell you, on the day of judgement people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
Just saying…I’m sure there would be a lot more silence.