Friday, August 12, 2016

HOW I'M LEARNING TO LOVE DONALD TRUMP

Marques Bovre wrote a whimsical song titled, Heaven Halve Me.i His lyrics explain how everyone gets to heaven. But it's only the part that contains goodness that gets there. Marques hopes that at least ten percent of him will get there. This set me to thinking about Donald Trump. How much of him will get to heaven? Depending on your opinion of Mr. Trump, you might figure that one percent gets there, or perhaps only 0.1%. The point is that everyone has some goodness in them, even those whom we despise.

If you believe the rhetoric of our political parties, it seems that less than one percent of all politicians will get to heaven. When you listen to news reports about the mood of fear and hate in our world, it seems that heaven will need only a small room to contain all the goodness in the human race.

It is clear that the November elections are critically important. It is also clear that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face voters who are profoundly confused and angry about the ineffectiveness of our political system. Neither candidate is trusted by the voters.

This issue has larger implications than the results of the election. The atmosphere of fear and distrust in our society pollutes our perception of reality. For this reason, many people imagine that the only way we can deal with conflicts at home and abroad is by dominating or destroying those with whom we disagree. Strategies that promote mutual respect and cooperation are seen as soft and unworkable.

In this context, Marcus Bovre's vision is revolutionary. He proclaims that no one is all bad. There is a core of goodness in each of us. His vision is not only about the afterlife. It concerns the heaven or hell we create here on earth.

Our history is rife with examples of social movements that have struggled effectively on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Movement leaders who have inspired me include: Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Russell Means (AIM), ii the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyl of Myanmar.iii

Our situation today is different from that in the '60's and '70's. Those labeled oppressors in the past now see themselves as oppressed. White working class males and their families are threatened as blue collar jobs are shipped overseas or phased out. Many, without a college education, are unable to obtain the training required to obtain jobs in the information age. They are stereotyped as stupid and racist. These angry and frustrated people are prime targets for those who choose to manipulate them for their own self interests.

I watched a televised roundtable forum with President Obama. A 50 year old steel worker asked, “How are you going to help me and my family when good jobs are drying up?” The president responded by telling him that new jobs were being created for people like him in the green energy fields. As the president shared his vision for the future, the steel worker's eyes glazed over. He knew that these well intentioned progressive programs would not be available in time to help him and his family.

Our challenge today is more complex than that of our predecessors. Today, the “bad guys” are not people. They are impersonal institutions and social structures. This is why Marques Bovre's vision is so important. We need to work together in new social movements to modify these dysfunctional social institutions and structures. Participation in such movements is not for sissies. Change agents need training, discipline and courage. This is a long term effort since the goal is the transformation of our society.

What will motivate us to live into this vision? How can we join with others in movements that challenge the fear and negativism in our culture? Some people, like the movement leaders of the past, will be motivated by their faith traditions. Others will be motivated by personal experiences that put them in touch with a flow in the cosmos that moves toward creativity and innovation.

Scientists call this flow emergence.iv Emergence is a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties. In this sense, the cosmos flows into the future, generating new forms of existence. The evolution of life and the growth of consciousness are two examples of emergence. (I should note here that some emergent properties threaten the survival of humankind. These challenge us to discern, using our developing consciousness. I will deal with this dynamic in a subsequent post.)
I have experienced this flow personally. One time, in particular, comes to mind. I was walking on the grounds of Holy Wisdom Monasteryv on a cold winter morning. It had snowed during the night. The rising sun reflected off the newly fallen snow. The forest floor sparkled like it was covered with diamonds. Everywhere I looked I saw diamonds. I was filled with a sense of hope and joy. Even now, these diamonds sparkle in my memory. I had the sense that the cosmos continues to evolve toward creativity and life even in the darkest of times.

Unfortunately, when we are conditioned to expect predictable and negative outcomes, it is difficult to recognize these emergent properties. If we are to live into a more hopeful future, we must prepare ourselves to notice them when they occur. We need cadres of people who are willing to live outside the norms of the dominant culture; people who are willing to look for signs of hope where many see only fear and violence. These cadres already exist in some social justice, service and faith communities. They are also emerging in new forms.vi I believe that the continuation of such communities may be the greatest gift we can give one another in these troubled times.
The ability to perceive the diamonds of love, compassion and hope is not a skill that can be taught in the classroom. It is passed on through relationships and personal stories. In this spirit I will share a few instances where these diamonds sparkled for me. As I do this, let your mind wander to similar experiences in your life.

We recently took our four year old grandson, Gus, on a picnic. Gus, who is fascinated with bugs, wandered around collecting specimens. He wanted to bring them home and keep them in a terrarium. As he argued his case, Gus described the ideal world he would create for his bug friends. They would have water to drink, leaves to eat, rocks to crawl on and even a slide for his “roly-poly” to play on. As I listened to Gus' description of his imagined world, it sparkled in my imagination like the diamonds in the snow.

I have friends, Emmanuel, Melissa and Gaby.vii Emmanuel risked his life in Haiti, advocating for the destitute in his country. He fled to the United States to avoid being assassinated. Melissa risked her life in the escape because she loves Emmanuel. Four year old Gaby radiates love as she runs to give me a hug with an impish grin on her face. When I am with them I experience the flow.

The diamonds of love also sparkle in tragic situations. The whole world mourned when the photo of the drowned Syrian boy went viral on the internet. Many were moved when a Muslim man sacrificed his life by hugging a suicide bomber as he detonated his explosive vest.

I experienced this flow when son, Timothy, died. His friends surrounded us with love as we removed belongings from his apartment. We, in our nuclear family, are more open with one another as a result of Timothy's death. We are aware of the fragility of life. We cannot take love for granted.

When I was younger, I feared I was not good enough, not man enough, not desirable enough. My whole life was about how I did or did not measure up. I was defensive, condemning of others and cynical about the world. I studied to become a physicist. I entered the field to prove myself. I soon realized that many of my peers were smarter and more talented than I. As a result I felt like a failure,

I changed careers and became an urban minister. I followed my passion. I was in the flow. I still wonder where my life is going at times. I do not worry about measuring up. I do what I do now because this work gives meaning to my life.

I'm certain you know this passion as well. It may involve child rearing, serving others, doing a good job at work, or being a friend.

When we are in the flow, we deal with life's set-backs differently. Rather than sinking into depression and cynicism (although this sometimes still happens to me), we look for opportunities to live into the situation. We don't say, “Someone, please bail us out.” We say, “This is important. How can we make things better?”

I believe we can all live this way. We can join communities of committed people. We can share stories to help one another see creative opportunities for involvement that sparkle like diamonds all around us. We can challenge political candidates to develop programs to achieve this positive future.

As we live this way, we will feel more alive. Then we will be able to say with my Facebook friend, “Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting 'Holy Crap, what a ride!'”


i   http://marquesbovre.com/music/song-lyrics/h/heaven-halve-me/
ii  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Indian_Movement
iii Formerly Burma
iv See <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence> for a more complete discussion of emergence.
v  http://benedictinewomen.org
vi See <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence> for a more complete discussion of emergence.
vii Not their real names

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I WAS OUTED


(In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

I'm writing this reflection on Monday, January 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Yesterday, I preached at our little congregation, where I am the Lay Leader. The Scripture readingi told the story of Jesus' first miracle at a wedding in Cana.

As I read the story, I was struck by the fact that both Jesus and MLK were called to lead before they were ready to do so. I believe this is often the case in my life and possibly in yours. I would like to reflect with you today on this dynamic. How can we live out MLK's legacy when much of our life happens when we are unprepared?

The Gospel story goes like this: Jesus and his mother were attending a wedding near their home. Wedding celebrations were big affairs in those times with food and dancing for several days. Friends and relatives came from all over. The groom's family threw a big bash to show the community that the groom came from quality stock and that would be a good provider for his new wife. So running out of wine was a problem for the host.

At this time, Jesus was not a well known rabbi or teacher. He was just beginning to invite disciples to join him He didn't yet have his act together. So Mary's request that he turn the water into wine was a big deal. If he had plans about developing his ministry, these plans were interrupted. His coming out at this time could blow the whole thing. This may be why he said to his mother, “My hour has not yet come.” Yet he acquiesced to her request, and the rest is history.

MLK Jr., like Jesus, may have been outed too soon as well. He was a young preacher in his mid-twenties finishing his PhD at Boston University and serving his first parish, Dexter Ave. Baptist Church, in Montgomery Alabama. When he arrived, the NAACP was organizing to desegregate the city bus system. At this time black riders were forced to enter and sit in the rear of the bus. If the bus was overcrowded, black riders were to relinquish their seats to white riders and stand.
The NAACP recruited Rosa Parks to refuse to leave her seat. She would be arrested and this would allow the NAACP to challenge the arrest and, if necessary, to have black riders boycott the bus system until the practice was changed. After Rosa Parks was arrested, Martin Luther King Jr. was chosen to lead the protest and boycott, not because he was so highly valued, but because his church was centrally located and because he was new enough in town that the white citizens had not yet intimidated him.

Both Jesus and MLK Jr. lived in times of great social upheaval and violence. In first century Israel, troops of the Roman Empire occupied and dominated the local population through violence and coercion. It was a time of unrest, and local zealots were fomenting rebellion.

In the United States during the 1950's, an emerging civil rights movement was challenging Jim Crow racism in the south, prompting an increasingly violent white backlash. Once again the potential for violence and class war was imminent.

Both Jesus and MLK Jr. were devoutly religious men. Both were viewed as prophetic leaders like Moses. They were expected to call down God's wrath on their oppressors and to lead them to freedom through God's awesome power and might. Both men disappointed their followers, preaching a response based on love for the enemy as the only way to wholeness.

Jesus put it this way, “To have life you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and you must love your neighbor as yourself.” When asked who was his neighbor, Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan indicating that even the hated Samaritans were neighbors.ii

MLK Jr. was powerfully influenced by Jesus and by Gandhi's teachings on nonviolence. Dr. King once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”iii He also said, “ I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daylight of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...I believe that unarmed truth and love will have the final word.iv

Dr. King, like Jesus, moved forward completely dependent on God to help him discern his next steps in organizing people in his crusade for justice. He said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing”v He followed this saying, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”vi

In my understanding, this means that MLK believed that God's grace and forgiveness extend to us independent of our actions. If we live in this grace, we have already forgiven people for what they do before they do it. This allows us to relate to friends and enemies without bitterness or a desire to “pay them back” or “get even with them for their actions.” In this respect, both Jesus and MLK were seen as weak by those who wanted to answer violence with further violence.

Most celebrations of the MLK holiday feature the soaring oratory of King's “I Have A Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963, when more than 250,000 demonstrators descended upon the nation’s capital to participate in the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” This was the largest demonstration for human rights in United States history.

In the year following this demonstration, Dr. King and other Civil Rights Movement leaders convinced President Lyndon Johnson and the US Congress to pass the the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements as well as racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and at facilities that served the general public.

A year later Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This act banned racial discrimination in voting practices by the federal government as well as by state and local governments. It is is often held up as the most effective civil rights law ever enacted. It is widely regarded as enabling the enfranchisement of millions of minority voters and diversifying the electorate and legislative bodies at all levels of American government. (It should be noted that this act is presently under attack as politicians gerrymander voting districts, limit access to polling places and require forms of identification, such as drivers licenses, which many low income people do not possess.)

Dr. King lived 3 years after these milestone accomplishments. These were years in which his rhetoric and actions shifted. He began to lead and speak to the racism, poverty and militarism that threatened to destroy our democracy.vii

On one occasion Dr. King said, “Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation you must solve this problem.”viii

Dr. king began organizing to address racism in the North. He also organized a Poor People's March on Washington to emphasize that poverty as well as racial discrimination are cancers that destroy democracy. He warned about the decay of our nation stating, “If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.ix

At Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before his assassination, Dr. King delivered his “Beyond Viet Nam” speech. In this speech he opposed US involvement in the Viet Nam war. He said, “When ma­chines and com­puters, profit motives and prop­erty rights are con­sidered more im­port­ant than people, the gi­ant triplets of ra­cism, ma­ter­i­al­ism, and mil­it­ar­ism are in­cap­able of be­ing conquered.x

The response to that speech was swift, certain and severe. Both liberal media and black media turned on him. The White House turned on him. He had worked with Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, but now [Johnson] turned against him.

The last Harris poll taken in Dr. King’s life showed that almost 75 percent of the American people thought he was irrelevant and almost 60 percent of blacks thought he was irrelevant or obsolete or persona non grata. In the last year of his life, the NAACP came out against him, and Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young of the Urban League. Ralph Bunche, the only other Nobel Peace Prize winning black, came out against him. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the powerful congressman, came out against him. [Supreme Court Justice] Thurgood Marshall had no respect or regard for him.xi

As I speak of these last years of MLK's life, I am reminded of the last year of Jesus' life. He too shifted or intensified his course of action. He left Galilee and moved toward Jerusalem. The writer of Luke puts it simply and eloquently saying, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.”xii

As long as Jesus preached and healed in the backwaters of Galilee, he was lauded as great teacher. But when he challenged the entrenched hierarchy of chief priests and lawyers at the center of political and religious power, they marked him for elimination. His disciples and followers abandoned him leaving him at the mercy of his enemies.

Both Jesus and MLK were killed in the prime of life. Both lived courageously in the face of danger. Both left a lasting legacy demonstrating that love can conquer fear and violence.

Finally, MLK's critique of the United States applies today. All you have to do is substitute “Iraq and Afghanistan” for “Viet Nam” in his Beyond Viet Nam speech to see this.

Racism is alive and well in the United States. Evangelical activist, Jim Wallis, points out that a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey has revealed a devastating truth: While about 80 percent of black Christians believe police-involved killings are part of a larger pattern of police treatment of African Americans, around 70 percent of white Christians believe the opposite … that they are simply isolated incidents.xiii During this election season, political candidates receive applause when they characterize all Muslims as dangerous people who should be forced to leave our country or even should be attacked and killed.

Finally, MLK's critique on poverty still holds true. A recent Oxfam reportxiv states that just 62 individuals have the same wealth as 3.6 billion people – the bottom half of humanity - and that the richest 1% have now accumulated more wealth than the rest of the world put together. These statistics are mirrored in the United States.xv

What does this mean for us as we celebrate MLK Jr.'s life and legacy?

Author Tavis Smiley puts it well. He writes, In many ways we honor him (MLK) on the cheap. These monuments and holidays and postage stamps and his name on schools and streets are a beautiful thing and he deserves that. But King would much prefer that we deal with the triple threat he spoke of—racism, poverty and militarism—and try to save our democracy. So there’s work to be done. He’s a shining example of what the best of America looks like. I believe that the future of this democracy is inextricably linked with how seriously we take his legacy. I regard that legacy as one of justice for all; service to others; and a love that liberates people.xvi

It's one thing to laud Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a single holiday. It's another thing to live into his legacy.

MLK and Jesus were both given the opportunity to act before they were ready. The were both challenged to live authentically rather than settling for the status quo. This was when they were most completely alive and engaged with that life force that courses through the cosmos.

Like Dr. Martin Luther King's life, each of our lives can make a difference. We can each leave a legacy of justice for all; service to others; and a love that liberates people. A friend once put it this way, “What if the Moral Universe is in need of your unique way of interpreting and living your human experience?”

I will end with two questions for your reflection:

  1. When in your life have you been challenged, before you felt ready, to step out onto a path that was consistent with your authentic self? What was that like, or what might it have been like, to make that move?
  2. How has (or might have) that decision affected your attitude toward others; your ability to face difficult life circumstances; and your passion for life, peace and justice?


iJohn 2:1-11
iiLuke 10:25-37
iiiIzquotes.com/quote/102490
ivhttp://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-acceptance_en.html
vThinkexist.com/Martin-Luther-King,-Jr.-quotes
viYoganonymous.com/15-significant-martin-luther-king-junior-quotes
vii“MLK's Final Year: An Interview with Tavis Smiley” <http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/157350>
viiiDelivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on 4 November 1956.
ixSpeech was delivered by Dr. King in support of the Memphis sanitation workers' strike, just two weeks before he was assassinated in the same city as part of his Poor Peoples Campaign.
xhttp://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/
xiHistory News Network | MLK's Final Year: An Interview with Tavis Smiley http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/157350
xiiLuke 9:51b
xiiihttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/watch-survey-reveals-truth-about-white-christians_b_8990914.html
xivhttps://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/bp210-economy-one-percent-tax-havens-180116-summ-en_0.pdf
xvHttps//en.m.wikipedia.org/wealth-inequality
xviHistory News Network | MLK's Final Year: An Interview with Tavis Smiley http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/157350

Thursday, December 10, 2015

DUFUS - Changing Times - Part I


An arch of colored balloons towered above, and hundreds of booths spread out before us. People of all kinds milled around - old and young - black, yellow, brown and white - able bodied and wheelchair bound - LGBTQ and straight. It was like a county fair. “PARTY TIME!” I shouted as I grabbed a miniature rainbow flag and a bunch of silly buttons. The 2015 Boston Pride march and celebration was in full swing.

They're coming! They're coming!” someone cried; and we rushed to the parade route. Soon I was standing in the street, cheering and “high five-ing” the marchers. For several hours I lost myself in the dancing and commotion.

As we left the parade, my wife nudged me and said, teasingly, “Chuck, you looked like a Dufus out there.” She was right. Here I was, an older, overweight man, in shorts, with a rainbow flag in my teeth, dancing around on the street. I didn't care. I had been part of something wonderful.

Besides,” I rationalized, ”I'm not the only Dufus in history.” “Some pretty important people acted this way when they were transported beyond themselves.”

President Obama became the “Dufus-In-Chief” during his eulogy for slain pastor Clementa Pinckney who was gunned down by a deranged man during a Bible study on June 18, 2015.i The President broke with tradition and led the congregation in singing Amazing Grace while he swayed to the music.ii

Speaker of the house, John Boehner, acted like a Dufus when Pope Francis addressed the US Congress earlier this year. Mr. Boehner wiped tears from his eyes numerous times during the Pope's speech. The following day he announced his resignation with the following statement: “Speaker Boehner believes that the first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution and, as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all.” Critics said that Mr. Boehner resigned as a failure because he couldn't even unite his own party.

Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, was a Dufus by the standards of Roman Catholic Saints. As a young woman, she experienced a dramatic call from Jesus, whom she loved with all her heart. She responded by committing her life to the destitute, providing them with a place where they could die with comfort and dignity. Early in this ministry, her connection with Jesus evaporated. Her faith based work for the poor was driven instead by her extraordinary willpower. For nearly fifty years, she thought of herself as a hypocrite when she talked about the love of God.iii

Dorothy Day also stood outside the mainstream. She, a writer and founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, was a misfit and embarrassment to the Romana Catholic Church. As a young woman, she was attracted to both socialism and anarchism. She was active in the women's suffrage movement and was friends with leading members of the Communist party. A pacifist and anti-war activist, she lived a Bohemian life style in Greenwich Village, had several love affairs and an abortion. She became pregnant again and raised her daughter as a single parent.

She said of her friend, writer Eugene O'Neil, "(He caused) an intensification of the religious sense that was in me." In March of 1926, Dorothy Day encountered a local nun who helped educate her in the faith. She joined the Roman Catholic Church and soon challenged the hierarchy to live more like Jesus.iv

Dorothy Day's life of special solidarity with the poor inspired many: Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk; Cesar Chavez, President of the United Farm Workers Union; Robert Coles, the Harvard University medical professor; and socialist, Michael Harrington. Harrington, inspired by his experience in the Catholic Worker Movement, later challenged the nation with his classic book, The Other America. This book, in turn, served as inspiration for President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty.”

Even some of our most revered religious figures played the role of Dufus, standing outside socially accepted norms of their time:

  • David, the renowned king of ancient Israel, threw off his robes and danced in a frenzy of ecstasy while leading the procession carrying the Ark of the Covenantv into the Jewish capitol, Jerusalem.vi
  • Jesus refused to play the role of a respected teaching rabbi. He hung out with unsavory characters, including skid row bums, prostitutes and the hated tax collectors.vii Some called him a glutton and a drunkard, and others thought him a traitor to the state.
  • The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was an Indian prince raised in royal opulence. He, a skilled leader trained in the arts of war, was expected to succeed his father as emperor. Overcome by his compassion and concern for the poor, he abandoned his young wife and child and disappeared into the forest to live as an ascetic. Judged by cultural standards, he was a failure as a leader, husband, father and son.

Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Counsel, had a wonderful, almost bawdy sense of humor. In the 1940s he, an archbishop and the papal ambassador, was at an elegant dinner party seated across from a woman wearing a low-cut dress that exposed a good deal of cleavage. Someone turned to him and said, "Your Eminence, what a scandal! Aren't you embarrassed that everyone is looking at that woman?" He said, "Oh no, everyone is looking at me, to see if I'm looking at her." Later, as Pope JohnXXIII, he visited a Roman hospital called the Hospital of the Holy Spirit. Shortly after entering, he was introduced to the sister who ran the hospital. "Holy Father," she exclaimed, "I am the superior of the Holy Spirit." "Well, I must say, you're lucky," said the pope, delighted. "I'm only the Vicar of Christ!"viii

These Dufus stories are interesting and even entertaining. But they are more than this. We live in times of great change. Consciousness itself is shifting. With this shift, our images of the transcendent, our God images, are also changing. Some say this shift is as profound as that which occurred during the first Axial Age (800-200 BCE) when all of the major world religions emerged.ix

Established institutions - political, religious and social - are now less trusted. Voter involvement is decreasing. Many of the remaining voters are now attracted to outsiders who criticize politics as usual - people like Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right. Church attendance is declining, particularly among the young.x Dominant social/moral values are less well defined as evidenced by; increasing tension regarding same sex marriage; abortion; death penalty; relations among people of different races, religions and cultures. In addition, we are challenged by human crises: global warming; inequitable distribution of resources; increasingly violent military conflicts.

These shifts have deep social implications, because our world is profoundly interconnected. Each of our actions produces unintended consequences that are difficult to predict. As the influence of old moral and faith traditions declines, our more regressive instincts resurface. Personal and collective decisions are based more on individual and tribal concerns than for the good of all. Localized suspicion of those who are different generates ripples of fear, distrust and violence in the whole. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and subsequent distrust of Muslims are only the latest indication of such dangers. World leaders gather in Paris to address global warming, a crisis which threatens us all. This unprecedented gathering is necessary because many political, business and religious leaders have too long denied or ignored the crisis.

Even as I name these issues, I remain hopeful because we each contain a bit of that mysterious life that courses through the cosmos. For some, this mystery manifests itself through the faith traditions that have inspired and energized people for centuries. For others, this mystery inspires, motivates and energizes in ways not completely understood. Regardless of our personal circumstances, we each have the potential to step outside our boxes of convention for the sake of our authentic selves.

Our challenge now, as in the past, is to nurture this potential. If you are inspired by traditional faith traditions and practices, engage these with intentionality and passion. The Apostle Paul, speaking to Christians, likens this type of commitment to that of an athletic preparing for competition. He says:

You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 - The Message)

If you are no longer grasped by traditional religious rituals and practices, you are still implicated as a member of the human race. You too are challenged to work for peace, justice, and health for the earth and all its inhabitant. In many cases, your task is more difficult than that of traditional believers. You have no set of proscribed practices to rely on. You must either adapt traditional practices to your new circumstance or develop totally new ones. You will be challenged to find or develop communities of like-minded individuals to support you. In many respects, your journey resembles Dorothy Day's life of special solidarity with the poor. She associated with communists, socialists, anarchists, artists and intellectuals, most not part of religious organizations, to achieve her goals. Your challenge is to proceed as an explorer into uncharted territory, drawn by the prospect of discovering new possibilities for yourself and humanity.

We all have Dufus potential. At our core we all experience compassion for those who suffer and a yearning for peace and justice. Even though we are just regular folk, we can inspire others to be more than they think they are. We, like the Dufuses of the past, can live our lives with authenticity and integrity, not taking ourselves too seriously. We, the ordinary ones, can live extraordinary lives.

I will speak more of this in my next blog post - “Changing Times - Part II.”

i   http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/rev-clementa-pinckney-killed-charleston-church-massacre-article-1.2262261
ii  http://time.com/3938544/amazing-grace-obama-funeral/
iii http://www.biography.com/people/mother-teresa-9504160#a-new-calling  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/aug/24/wasmotherteresaanatheist
v  The Ark of the Covenant contained the stone tablets of the 10 commandments that Moses had received from Yahweh. Furthermore, Yahweh was said to dwell between the Golden Angels carved on top of the arc.
vi  2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 David had just become the ruler of a divided Israel. To unite the kingdom he moved the Ark of the Covenant to the new capitol, Jerusalem.
vii Luke 7:31-35
viii The humorous stories of saints are directly quoted from the article by Rev. James Martin S.J., Huff Post, Religion, Nov. 1, 2012
ix  Reference Karen Armstron A New Axial Age – www.adishakti.org/_/a_new_axial_age_by_karen_armstrong

Monday, September 28, 2015

CARRY ON HIS LEGACY


A tribute to my son, Timothy Pfeifer Part 2i

Not long after my son, Timothy, died, I shared my grief with a friend. During a pause in our conversation, he said, “Now you have to carry on Timothy's legacy.” I sat bolt upright. “That's wrong. I'm supposed to pass my legacy on to Timothy, not the other way around.”

My friend's statement continues to challenge me. What has Timothy passed on to me? I now realize that much of Timothy's legacy is my legacy. I passed my conscious and unconscious values to him. When he died these values were handed back to me for my conscious development and growth.

One thing I admired in Timothy was his brilliant mind. But more than his brilliance, was his ability to act with authority and perseverance. During the Madoff investigation, he chartered a plane to fly his team into an airport in eastern Europe that didn't accommodate commercial flights. If I am to carry on Timothy's legacy, I need to acknowledge my personal authority. I too am intelligent and creative. I carry Timothy's legacy forward when I use my abilities with greater hope and confidence.

Timothy and I both enjoyed people. He deepened my appreciation of this fact through his photography. His subjects were more than a girl on a New York subway platform or a peasant on a street in Mumbai. They were people with hopes, dreams, fears, hurt and joys - people like me.

When Pope Francis visited Washington DC, he noticed a small girl in the crowd who who was a cheerleader in the Special Olympics. He smiled broadly and stooped down to greet her. This was not the Pontiff blessing a handicapped girl. This was one human being embracing another with no agenda other than to enjoy the moment. My heart swelled in recognition. In all of our differences, we humans are more alike than we care to acknowledge.

I spend time in a local coffee shop where I am the de facto welcoming committee. I nod and engage people in conversation. It has gotten to the point where I now recognize so many people, that I introduce them to one other. My coffee shop emulates the Boston tavern, “Cheers” where everyone knows your name. It is special to know that Timothy and I share this interest in people.

Timothy detested stereotypes. He once challenged me saying, “Dad, you see everything as black or white. People are much more complex than that.” He was correct. We raised our children to honor all people, even those with whom we disagree. When I was director of Madison Urban Ministry (MUM), I developed cooperative rather than oppositional strategies for dealing with community problems. Even in this, I stereotyped people as good or bad - for me or against me. I was still trying to manipulate people to achieve my ideal for Madison.

Timothy invites me to rethink my understanding of personal and social interactions. I now realize that we humans are subject to psychological, spiritual, and cultural forces beyond our control. Our engagements are more like a dance than a tug-of-war. Social action from this perspective is a different animal. It requires discernment as well as rational thought; emotional engagement as well as analysis; a feeling for the thing as a whole as well as recognition of the individual parts; empathy with all involved rather judgment of others through stereotyping and demonization.

As I engage life in this way, I find am able to relate to people; accepting my authentic self with all my strengths and weakness. This stance of humilityii reinforces another characteristic that I share with Timothy. Neither of us would play political games - games that forced us to be inauthentic. Although this insistence on authenticity may have cost us in our professional lives, it reaped long term positive benefits. We were more consistent in our actions and reactions. People could trust us because “what you see is what you get.” We did not have to pretend.

I remember a time when I, as director of MUM, confronted the director of the United Way at a public meeting. People thought I was crazy, because MUM was funded in part by the United Way. I challenged her and her agency to fund unpopular programs that addressed intractable community issues; like racism, sexism and economic discrimination. To everyone's surprise, she engaged me in a dialogue on this troubling dynamic. She knew I was not trying to manipulate her. She was able to respond from her authentic self. We connected at a deep level; as we acknowledged our community's inability to stand with the oppressed. Timothy's actions have fortified me to remain authentic and to grow in self confidence.

Timothy enjoyed life and lived it full-out, packing 80 years of living into 45 years of life. He lived outside the box: dressing extravagantly; giving fun and silly gifts to family, friends and co-workers; painting his toenails purple; and decorating his office with science fiction kitsch. He refused to be categorized politically or spiritually. This life-style caused him some anxiety and emotional pain and perhaps contributed to his death. Even so, his will to live full-out prevailed. Timothy passed this legacy on to me. He stated it best in a card given to his second cousin which read, “The world is yours - Take it! Share it! Love it!”

I have lived much of my life like Atlas, shouldering the cares of the world.iii I have toiled like Sisyphusiv, struggling to promote social change, often seeing my efforts undone by forces beyond my control. I can hear Timothy saying even now, “Dad, you take things too seriously. Lighten up! You care for the world. Now love it and enjoy it.”

Although Timothy espoused no religious or spiritual tradition, his advice reminds me of the admonition of the first commandment of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It states, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” I tend to translate this as, “God is God, and you're not.”

I can't force humanity into my mold. My puny efforts are entirely insufficient for this task. Furthermore, I am not separate from the world. I am part of an amazing and complex dance that has been going on for more than 13 billion years. My opportunity is to attune myself to this cosmic flow of life, not because I need to improve on the flow, but because I am more alive when I do so.

I will close this reflection with a homely example relating to Woburn United Methodist Church. Our little congregation of 35 people recently conducted a “Worship Without Walls” service on our minuscule front lawn on Main Street. I had imagined this service as a recruiting effort for new members. The night before the service I had this insight: Our “Worship Without Walls” service is not a project that can fail or succeed. It makes no difference how many people attend. We, in our little church, are participating in something beyond ourselves that contributes to LIFE. This is why we do it.

Immediately the pressure was off. I relaxed and enjoyed the experience. The first commandment was no longer a judgment about how I should live my life or how we should conduct our service. It became an invitation to allowing something beyond ourselves to flow through us.

Timothy, I miss you and always will. Through my memories and your legacy, you continue to live in me. I thank you for that. Blessings my son.

i Thank you Keith Johson for prompting this reflection.
iiSr. Joan Chittister defines humility as the ability to accept ourselves as we are. This implies we not only identify our weaknesses without shame, but we also identify our strengths without pride.
iiiIt seems significant that a statue of Atlas stands outside Timothy's office in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.
ivSisyphus committed crimes against the Gods. As punishment he was condemned to an eternity of hard labor. He was consigned to rolling a huge boulder up a hill. Once he had succeeded, with huge exertion, to attain the summit, the rock rolled back down the hill