I Can Do That With My Eyes Closed

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I learned a neat trick.

A lifehack… actually, a lovehack.

I learned it in these dark moments.

There is a concept of “total pain” that is fitting. Total pain means being consumed by physical, emotional and spiritual pain to a degree that is unbearable. I experience total pain at times. I experienced it about four hours ago, actually.

My head is in a lot of pain which means I spend a whole heckuva lot of time in dark rooms with my eyes closed.

For some, that’s not a safe place to be considering the role fear can play in those dark places. I experience that at times as well.

In the moments outside of total pain, I do a lot of preparation for the hard moments that will come back.

I do a whole lot of prayer and meditation, affirmations and reminders. I intentionally take in the world around me, noting, close attention to the details of those I love. How they look when they laugh. How they do basic day to day stuff. How they live.

Here’s some things I noticed about some of the people I love:

My mom hums a lot and sings a lot. She often has a bubbling joy and it shines in her eyes.

My wife says “Ok” to herself a lot, right before she is going to move her hurting body over to the next task she is starting. She has the sweetest smile for me when I come in the room.

My son smiles in a very specific way right before he is going to say something funny. And he says I love you in a present, kind, authentic tone. My favorite sound.

Logan laughs, heartedly and fully. It fills the room in a very welcomed manner. It’s contagious and whoever is in the room laughs with him.

My long-time best friend Heather leans in when she is enjoying humor and looks up when she is going to drop some amazing wordplay.

My dear friend Jen does a sideways glance when she is about to drop the funny and she gets tears in her eyes from laughing hard.

Tylar breathes deep as they hear a hard truth. A centering breath and presence. They have the most amazing eye contact.

These are great attributes in and of themselves.

The payoff of being intentional in this way is rather amazing when put to use. It mitigates and eases the internal world I often must exist within. With my eyes closed and in the midst of total pain, the suffering can be shifted into an endless combination of peace, kindness, humor, strength, life.

That’s not the trick I was going to tell you about, though.

I know! Right?

You’re like “What else is he going to say?!?!”

I clearly deal in pins and needles.

My careful study and presence of mind helps me endure during times of total pain, but it does something else as well.

Loving people allows me to experience love when the people I love are not able to be with me.

Let’s take that again: My love for others creates space for me to receive love and live in it.

One more time for the people in the back: loving begets being LOVED!

In this moment right now, are you alert and aware enough to do a favor for the future you?

If so, give this next part a try before you return to the tasks and business of life.

Spend some time picturing the faces you love. Imagine them. Think about what you love about them. Get as detailed as you can. Sit with it. Remember best moments. Make a playlist of nurture and love that can hold you and be there when life gets dark and small.

When we actively love, it fills within us, it permeates our lives. It’s that “runneth over” thing…

Like a five-year old pouring his own red Kool-aid to the very tippity – toppity of his glass, sure to spill everywhere, love acts in the same way.

Love is messy.

Love gets clumsy.

Love splashes out to all aspects of our lives.

And just like that red Kool-aid, love imprints on everything that it reaches.

Imagine that.

Expectations

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

On January 29th my wife arranged a shin dig for something rather different. I had started to lose my hair from chemo and we wanted to shave it. Her awesome life affirming self invited some of our peeps over to shave my head. It was a very awesome day, actually. Lots of love and humor.

In the last few weeks I have had my nearest and dearest tell me why they didn’t shave their head when I shaved mine. Each time this revelation was presented to me, it was a bit confessional like they were getting something off their chest. “Here is why I didn’t shave my head… but I love you…”

What I loved about this is that I never wanted them to shave their head and I never knew they thought I wanted that.

It’s made me laugh to myself when I think of it. It has made me happy to know that they love me that much. And it’s also got me thinking about expectations.

They can really change things. Truly.

Expectations can pause a relationship and freeze a moment that never really existed anywhere but in imagination.

Expectations are created to get a perceived need met in a very specific way. We place these on ourselves and others. All 7 billion of us on the planet have an agenda and most are based on the same wish: to know we matter, to know we are safe, to know we are loved. Yes, there are those in the world with nefarious motives, but most are not. Most just wanna feel love.

I have learned a lot about living this season of my life. I have learned about relationship, fear, sickness, self-love, compassion, hope, anger, grief, affirmation.

I have learned about our responsiveness to mortality and fragility. I have learned we can make hard stuff even harder.

The last 16 months have been ridiculously hard for the people who love me as we fumbled about post trauma and now, post cancer diagnosis.

Sickness is made worse when there is unspoken expectation. It makes it so much worse when already it is incredibly hard.

We are scared.
We are angry.
We are hopeful.
We are moved.
We are tired.
We are all the things that happen when the worst happens.

I find it heartening, funny and real to find out my dad and my best friends all thought about shaving their head and worried that I wouldn’t feel loved by them if they didn’t.

Such a tenderness in that…

And we could laugh together because they admitted this expectation was in the mix.

So how can we know we matter in relationship without expectation? I think it starts with knowing expectations don’t foster closeness.

The expectations we place on ourselves to know the end of the story and see it coming removes us from the best of life. It removes the mindfulness of being. It removes the spontaneous love that happens when we are present to each other.

We create something new when we are truly present with each other. We are never truly with one another if we are constantly rating our relationships based on expectation rather than being aware of what is happening in the present moment.

A healer in my life talks about skillful response rather than being reactive. I like that a lot. I have learned we can meet our needs much more skillfully if we remove expectation and see it as limiting.

If we set down the expectation we have room for other things that truly meet our need for connection:

Authenticity
Honesty
Invitation
Kindness
Vulnerability
Relationship
Love

And amazing hair.

image credit: Dax: “Some of my peeps who shaved my head on January 29th. Our son Angelo did the bulk of the shaving but he had to go be a grown up at work before we got the group pic.”

Christ on the Cushion

by Joe Nutini

When I was a child, my parents sent me to Catholic schools. This was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I received a wonderful, college preparatory education that did indeed prepare me to go to college. I loved college.  I also loved Christ. Like seriously. I was in love with Christ. From the time, I was quite young, I felt the energy of Christ deep within my heart. It was instantaneous. It didn’t require any understanding of doctrine, bible etc. It was just there.

I became a social worker. My education and the love that was in my heart because of knowing the energy of Christ (and perhaps even angels and other “heavenly” beings) led me to that path. Buddhism increased my awareness of Christ. It brought me back to Christ’s energy and love. It also brought me back to myself, to my own heart and to forgiveness.

That’s where I am right now. To get there, though, was quite the journey. The curse of being in the Catholic school, was that as I got older, conservative and literalist doctrine began to enter my soul as a poison. I will add this caveat before I continue. I understand that for some people, conservative and literalist doctrine and biblical interpretation is what “Saves” them. That wasn’t my experience. Though I respect that it is for some.

When I was quite young, I also remembered feeling like I should have been born a boy. I literally thought that my body would look like my fathers and not my mothers. Somewhere in early childhood, I also learned not to say that I felt like a boy. I just knew it was a “Sin” per the powers that be. Just like I knew that two men kissing was supposed to be “sinful”. I kept it to myself. A secret. Mom and Dad told me I was a girl, so I decided to be one.

As time went on, I became a pro at religion class. I always had an A in that class. I was fascinated by it because I had intrinsically known spirit since the time I was young. I wanted people to explain things to me. I wanted to try to understand what was happening. Sometimes, I would argue or debate with the teacher. I didn’t believe all the stories. I didn’t believe that Adam and Eve were the only humans and they populated the earth. I didn’t necessarily believe that Jesus had to die on a cross. It just didn’t really fit for me. And so, I wanted to learn more. To see what I was missing.

I received confirmation when I “came of age” as a teenager. I believed in Christ and what I felt was a certain spirituality to the universe. I also didn’t want to go to hell, if I’m being honest. Back then I wasn’t sure if there was a hell or not but the adults kept saying there was. I wanted to do the right thing by this energy that was with me through all the troubles that I felt. I wanted to make Christ happy. I did what the church told me to do. It was a beautiful ceremony and we had a party.

At this time, I also became aware of my queer (at that time we said bisexual) feelings. I had been in puberty early and it felt like torture. I didn’t understand why my body was betraying my spirit and mind. I kept it to myself. I prayed for these feelings to go away. It was a sin. The more I did this, the further and further away Christ felt. That energy, that love, that guiding force in my life started to slip away. In hindsight, I realized I had been betraying myself. When I was 13-14, I didn’t know better.

When I was a senior in high school, my best friend and I wrote a feature edition of our school paper on LGBTQ youth. The religion teachers let us give a survey out on sexuality and gender identity. Right before we were going to print, I was called to the “brothers’” offices. They basically said that, “this issue doesn’t exist here.” They meant that there were no LGBTQ people. I told them that wasn’t true. That I was bisexual. IT just fell out of my mouth. It was the most freeing thing in the world. I felt my heart fill with that energy and love again, for a moment. I was told that I was confused, wrong and that if I engaged in “homosexual acts” I could be excommunicated from the church.

It felt like poison. Every fiber of my being rejected their words. I decided to no longer be Catholic.

In college, I began reading about every religion and spiritual belief that I could find. That included new age spirituality and Buddhism. I wanted to find out what was going on. I couldn’t believe that the God they taught me about in school was the same God who created me. Absolutely not. I figured that maybe I was wrong. That there was no Christ energy or holy spirit. So, I studied, I attended various religious and spiritual services and I began meditation.

During those years, I was a mess until I began transitioning. Even after coming out as queer, I still felt so distant from that love I had known as a child and young teen. It felt miles away. Something that was unattainable. When I came out, it felt slightly closer. When I transitioned, my life changed. I meditated and chanted in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I attended healing arts school where this was solidified. I was invited into some native American spaces to learn their teachings.

Yet something was still missing. I could feel that I was in touch with the love of the universe again. And yet, that Christ energy was missing. It felt like an emptiness. So, I began exploring Christianity once more. I spoke with literalists who debated with me, stating that I didn’t understand the scripture or bible. So, I studied it with them, pointing out linguistic differences from my studies in college, debating meaning and syntax. I hung out with Unity and Unitarian Universalists who helped me understand and heal from some of my experiences. I met people from the United Church of Christ who explained their understanding of Christ. I met liberation theologians who, like the UUs and UCC folks, made the most sense to me intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

And then I found Shambhala Buddhism. I read the book, Shambhala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa, the person who brought this form of Buddhism to the US. He was literally saying everything that I had thought and felt for many years. I viewed a talk about “Jesus as Bodhisattva”, a concept that I had read about before but didn’t quite understand as well before.

So, I decided to take Shambhala classes. I distinctly remember sitting in the first class. We meditated for hours. I couldn’t shake this feeling that it was I who had been blocking myself from fully feeling the world. I had internalized these poisonous messages that I had heard for a good portion of my life.

I breathed in, when I breathed out, I found Christ again. It was a distinct feeling, so hard to describe. Like putting the last piece into a puzzle and being on fire at the same time. The intensity of it lasted for a moment then dissipated. A chunk of the poison left me and in its place, was this gentle love. A love that came from both within me and outside of me.

Today, I continue to work on undoing these teachings that kept me so far away from this Universal love, the love of Christ, and the love or Buddha nature within. I personally believe these are also complexly intertwined and simultaneously always available to me. I still learning, debating, meditating, praying and learning. I often wonder if these things happened for a reason…a journey to build empathy, love and relationship with others.

Hope, Creativity, and Art

by Rae Strozzo

In the midst of struggle, creativity is where hope finds vision.

We are in need of creativity and compassion in this moment.  This is a love letter to art and creativity that is so essential to all of us. Sometimes love is hard to see, and context is everything.  So first – the bad news.  

The current political moment seems so polarized and almost surreal.  We are at war now.  The U.S. is fighting itself as it has been since its creation but with a scary vigor. Fear seems to trump so much of what is good in the world if we spend our time on Facebook or watch more than 10 minutes of the news.  Shuffling through the lies to try and sort out what might be true feels like the new daily battle.  

The U.S. is fighting and exploiting other countries for the needs and greed of a few and the government and pop culture feeds it back to us as nationalism and what a “great nation” does for freedom.  All the while internally African American churches burn, Jewish community centers deal with bomb threats, and our Muslim brothers and sisters try to cope with threats, acts of violence and destroyed property.   Transpeople of color are murdered, gender expansive people commit and attempt suicide at astoundingly high rates, and lgbtq youth are homeless at much higher rates than their straight and cis gender peers.  

Walls are built to make and keep people illegal and separate, and families fear being broken up by immigration sweeps.  Our country incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and that is also to make a buck at the expense of those people’s lives and the lives of their families – most of whom are people of color.  Many of our neighbors grow up trapped in poverty and in systems of oppression that get labeled welfare, child protective services, and the mental health care system and so on, but work against the people they are created to help and against the people who work in those systems who want to help.  

Many ignore these problems and systems, and we step past the oppression because it is as subtle as “professionalism” in a workplace that really just says look/be whiter.  Or we say we are moving to a better neighborhood or sending our kids to better schools without seeing that those are whiter neighborhoods and whiter schools.  We live in “Right to Work States” that really say it’s okay not hire people who aren’t white enough, straight enough, gender conforming enough, Christian enough because as long as we don’t say it, we haven’t done anything wrong.   

Now is a time when a college education is so expensive only the most privileged can have it without the reality of mountainous debt and where public education is stifled by our system of lack. We live in a time where art and music struggle to find access points to most people’s lives and where the funding for those things are viewed as unimportant and stripped away.   We are taught to blame the poor rather than help. We are taught to walk away from people who don’t see things the way that we do. We are taught that tough love is about shunning people from families, from churches, from communities, so that somehow they will want to come back to us, but in the way we want them and not in the way that the universe created them.  

We use our limited understanding of creativity to control other people. We use our limited understanding of creativity for greed.  Succumbing to those same limits causes us to destroy our planet.  Our creativity is limited by what we think we know and it is wasted on anger, fear, destruction, and an illusion of control. We stifle vulnerability because we mistaken it for weakness rather than a place where new ideas are born.  We are strapped down by prejudice and are unable in those moments to be our fully connected and creative selves.  Empire wants us to die for lack of imagination. White supremacy wants us to hold it up out of that same lack of imagination.

That is a lot, especially acknowledging that it isn’t even close to giving voice to all of what is up in the world right now.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I firmly believe this.  All of these situations are things that were set in motion by people.  Logic suggests that if people created it, then people can also dismantle it. So there is hope. If we can be vulnerable enough to hope, then we have a place to start to vision something different, and that means creativity can come back to us and with its divine purpose intact.

Hope is where real creativity comes in.  Creativity, as it meets compassion, produces healing and love. This is where the arts are a healing force. Creativity as it is connected to love gives us the capacity for participation in beauty. It is the ability to turn the wound into a foundation for solidarity and into an olive branch for the “other side.”

As it is said, those with the capacity for great anger hold the capacity for great gentleness. So too those with great creative power towards greed hold that power for generosity. Those with great creative power toward destruction also hold great  power for creation. All of us hold creative power.  It is the link that bonds all of us to each other and to the universe. Creativity is what makes us human. It isn’t just a painter or a musician who holds creativity. Creativity is our mirror of the universe. It is our tether to the divine.  

Artists are a part of the priesthood of the creative and have a connection to the creative energy of the universe. When artists share their work, they open that connection to and establish that link for others.

The creative process and the artistic result aren’t just for the artist. Art is about completing a cycle and about helping other people and the culture it is a part of change, grow, and evolve. Art is a sacred reminder that we are ALL part of the creative flow of the universe. That is its purpose. Art reminds people that they have things to express and to express them. Creative expression is divine language no matter how it is spoken.

The teacher who makes a place for a struggling kid to learn because they take the time to rethink how they teach is a part of that energy.   The police officer who figures out how to stop violence without using it has that energy.  The activist who rallies support while seeing the other side as people and not just an opposing force is a part of this creative energy too.  

These are just examples. All of us have a link to what makes us our best selves. That is our link to the creative energy of the universe. We have been given this gift. But it isn’t about our minds and not even about our skill sets. It’s about our willingness to get vulnerable and listen to what our higher selves are telling us.  To listen to what our souls are telling us. To listen to what the universe is telling us.  

The path that is uniquely ours in life is lit by love and compassion as motive. Come to life with love and compassion and the steps to take become real.  The creativity to make things happen in our lives and in the lives of others becomes real.  Art is made in song, in paint, in photograph, and in every kind word, in every loving action. Listening to the creative energy of the universe and using that energy for kindness and compassion can heal a lifetime of wounds.  

True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art says, “Thinking goes as far as the mind understands. Then what? Art.”

Change for the good of all goes only as far as our ability to create compassion.  Then what? Art.

They’d Had a Tough Week

by Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons,
Designated Conference Minister

It had been a tough week for Jesus and his posse.  As Robert Brown observes in Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes, the realm of God wasn’t “exactly appearing overnight.”[1]

In a sobering moment, King Herod Antipas arrested Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer, and beheaded him.

After fleeing north to escape Herod, Jesus asked his closest friends, “Who do people say I am.” And then more pointedly, “Who do you say I am? ” Peter nails the answer with, “You are the anointed one, Son of the Living God.” Jesus used the moment to clarify for the group what Peter’s answer meant. 21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.[2] And then, if that wasn’t scary enough, Jesus adds, “If any [of you] want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow [after] me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? [3]

“Jesus’ followers had never seen crosses dangling over the stomachs of princes of the church, writes Brown, “but had seen plenty of crosses used as instruments of torture and very, very slow death.”[4]

How does one hashtag that? Yes, it had indeed been a rough week for Jesus and his followers.

One might think that being on a mountain with Jesus, and seeing him shining in all his glory accompanied by the Lawgiver, Moses, and the Proclaimer of Justice, Elijah, both dead for millennia but now somehow alive, would have captured the attention of John, James and Peter.  But they were exhausted. They’d had about as much ‘rough week’ as anyone could bear. So they laid down into as much sleep as they could find. There was a time for staying awake with Jesus but this was not it. This was a moment for surrendering to tired, and their feelings of enough.

After the mountain-top-experience in which Jesus took on the physical identity that is the real Son of God’s due, Jesus and his three climbing companions descend into the reality of a man whose soul is pierced through with the pain of caring for his epileptic son, the seizures of whom have thrown him into the fire to be burned, and rolled him into the water leaving him nearly drowned. His last hope had been Jesus’ followers waiting at the foot of the mountain for Jesus to come down again, but they hadn’t been able to cure the boy of his illness.

What is a few moments of Jesus shining with God’s glory when your cousin and best friend had been set up to be murdered, when your child faces the possibility of death everyday from his illness?

Being God’s anointed, the Son of the Living God, doesn’t mean much to anyone but the anointed one if all you do with it is enjoy it on the mountain.

Being on the mountain with God’s anointed and witnessing the glory of God doesn’t mean very much to anyone but you if all you want to do with the experience is relish the perks of having had the vision.

This story’s meaning is all about God’s glory – the anointed One through whom that glory broke into the world, and the ones who witnessed God’s glory in the anointed One – coming back down the mountain and into the lives of families like the family of the epileptic boy, or the martyred John the Baptist. God’s glory only means something if we do something with it.

Those few moments of glory give meaning and reliability to the words that accompany them – words from God. Did you catch God’s words about the experience? “This One is my beloved; listen to him.”  Did you hear what Jesus said? “Rise up and fear not!”

Four other SWC pastors and I were at the ICE  building in downtown Phoenix [5]
when Guadalupe Rayos reported for her check-in appointment and was detained on Feb. 8. She was deported the next day. She was the test case for our new immigration rules for undocumented non-violent offenders. That was a tough week for the Rayos family; I saw it on their faces. It was a tough week for every family who has an undocumented loved one with a traffic ticket.

Earlier that morning the SWC announced that it joined other faith communities in filing an amicus brief in the Eastern District of New York on behalf of two Iraqi refugees denied entry into the US.  Ahmed Darweesh is a husband and the father of three children. He worked for the US military and his life was in danger in Iraq due to that relationship. The wife and son of Hader Alshawi, the other plaintiff in the case, were threatened because of their perceived ties to the US. Both men had been granted legal entry into the US only to arrive and be detained and threatened with deportation. That was a tough week for Darweesh and Alshawi and for every refugee awaiting entry into this country.

Next week the SWC becomes a friend of the US Supreme Court because we have befriended Gavin Grimm, a Texas High School student denied access to school facilities because he is a transgender youth. This week was a particularly tough week for Gavin and every trans high school student because rules protecting them and granting them access to facilities appropriate to their expressed gender were rescinded by the President.

Pastors all over our conference, and throughout our beloved United Church of Christ, have shared stories with me that everything they say seems to be heard as political speech. Maybe the examples of people having tough weeks sounded political or even partisan to you.

“Empathy seems like an act of defiant resistance,” wrote John Pavlovitz in a recent blog , “and in many ways, it now is. Maybe homeless refugees and sick children and the working poor and black lives and fewer guns and universal healthcare are indeed now ‘Democratic talking points,’ he continues. “And if they are, then you should take a long look in the mirror, let your knees hit the floor, and ask Jesus just why that is. Maybe some repentance is in order.”[6]

Before anyone accuses any preacher of being political because she or he proclaims those talking points, remember that those very same talking points are in every sacred text known by humanity.

“When Did Compassion Become Partisan Politics?” asks Pavlovitz.[7] Yes, when did compassion become partisan politics?!

You see, beloved, the people whose stories I shared with you a moment ago are at the foot of our mountaintop experience here this morning, and they’re waiting to see what we will do with the glory of God we’ve experienced. As dark and terrifying as things might get, in the deepest, worn out, tired, lost, scared and confused moments of our lives, God’s voice still breaks into human experience inviting us to listen, to rise up, and to fear not.

NT Wright, in his book Simply Jesus, invites us to

“suppose, just suppose, that the ancient prophetic dream had glimpsed a deeper truth. Suppose there were a god like Israel’s God. Suppose this God did after all make the world. And suppose [God] were to claim, at long last, … sovereign rights over that world, not to destroy it … or merely to “intervene” in it from time to time…, but to fill it with … glory, to allow [us] to enter a new mode in which [we] would reflect [divine] love, [divine] generosity, [the Creator’s] desire to make it over anew.

“[That] might mean a living God really had established … sovereign rule on earth as in heaven and was intending to [put] an end to the fantasy of human sovereignty, of being the master of one’s own fate and the captain of one’s own soul, of humans organizing the world as though they were responsible to nobody but themselves.

“Perhaps the real challenge of Jesus’s transformations within the material world is what they would imply both [spiritually] and politically.”

In the transformation/transfiguration story of Jesus on the mountain, “Jesus seems to be the place where God’s world and ours meet…where God’s new creation intersects with ours.” What if the gospels are not about “how Jesus turned out to be God.” What if they are about how God is becoming more and more “ruler on earth as in heaven.”  Isn’t that, after all, how Jesus taught his followers to pray? “Your kingdom come, will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” [8]

Sometimes whole churches get caught up in their own moments of glory – past days on the mountain top – as if those glory days were an end in and of themselves. Like Peter sometimes congregations want to enshrine them, build booths of veneration to them, and never let them go.

But in today’s texts Jesus and his followers are new players in the old, old story of God’s encounters with God’s people.[9] And so are we! Moments of glory like this one today are only valuable if in them we are transformed in ways that bring God’s presence, God’s glory, God’s compassion into the time and space of suffering and marginalized ones, in ways that heal and bring hope.  The story of Jesus’ transfiguration/ transformation invites us to spend our lives stepping into both God’s glory and human suffering in ways that connect one with the other in healing hope-filled ways.

All this is more than supposition, beloved. We are not following cleverly devised myths, wrote Peter. We are in relationship with the powerful and majestic person of Jesus – the Child of the Divine One – who is trustworthy and gives us the strength to do what God has always invited God’s people to do: make God known in the world. That’s how this season of Epiphany comes to a close. And on Wednesday Lent begins, a season reminding us that there are tough weeks ahead of us, weeks filled with crosses and costs. “It’s time to listen, rise up. There isn’t any reason to be afraid.” Amen.

[1] Robert McAffee Brown. Unexpected Eyes: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes. P. 118ff

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 16:21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 16:24–26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Robert McAffee Brown. Unexpected Eyes: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes

[5] Immigration and Customs Enforcement

[6] http://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/02/19/when-did-compassion-become-partisan-politics/

[7] Ibid.

[8] NT Wright. Simply Jesus.

[9] Audrey West http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=27

An Open Letter to All the Strangers

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

To the strangers who have crossed my path:
I have been racist.
I have been prejudiced.
I have been wrong.

I dismissed you.
I didn’t know your name, but I acted as though you were less than me.
I felt a surge of anger that wasn’t about you yet landed on you because you were nearby.
I stopped listening to you the moment you did not agree with me.
I was judgmental of you before I ever met you.
In my effort to dispel stereotypes, I forced one on you.

I forgot about your humanity because I was afraid to be vulnerable.
I had told myself stories about you and then I believed them as if they were true.
I acted like I knew something that I didn’t because I was threatened by your knowledge.

I slammed doors in your face if you dared to interrupt with a knock and a message.
I decided I mattered more and determined you mattered less.
I lied to get my way and you suffered in the process.

I averted my eyes when you clearly just needed to be seen.
I honored fear more than love.
It took mass destruction and brokenness for me to realize you are human and vulnerable, just like me.

I resented you.
I demonized you.
I even sometimes hated you.

You deserved better from me.
You have been the stranger that I have encountered all through my living.

While I cannot find each one of you to say I wish I had done it different,
I will see you in all the strangers that cross my path.
And I will be open and loving as I should have been with you.

Your Friend,

Dax.

Still

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

There’s a quiet that comes over me lately. It’s not something I am used to as, until recently, I likely only experienced it a few times in my 38 years of life.

The first time I experienced it I was in 1991 as a kid at camp. I did not want to go to camp, it was my first year of trying it out. I anticipated two things: I would be rejected constantly and/or murdered in the woods. The fear of rejection came from seemingly endless lived experiences of rejection. The fear of murder came in equal parts having viewed Psycho and Sleep Away Camp.

I was neither murdered or rejected. Yay!

Camp was one of the experiences I cherished the most in my life. It was safe and wonderful. We sang by campfires, for the love of endorphins! The night was chilly so we huddled up and just enjoyed the way our voices sounded with other voices. My voice had never felt more full than when it was joined with the person next to me as we experienced the belief that love does exist and it is ours to have, it is ours to give.

That stillness was a result of action. We were very brave to go to camp when we didn’t know if it was safe enough. The opening of our hearts and willingness to risk was met with wonderful connection and peace.

I have chased that feeling to no end.

Yet, that stillness is with me a lot lately. I was going to tell you that the stillness is not a result of action, but I am rethinking that as I write.

The stillness comes for me on the heels of moments in which I was not attempting to invoke it.

It just arrives in moments that I really need it. What I am recognizing in this moment, though, is it has a lot to do with a decision I make regularly to turn toward life rather than away.

Life. I have a friend who says this to me when I ask how he is: “Oh, you know, livin’ life on life’s terms.” I hear that in some recovery work I do. He says that with a lot of honesty. He is one of the people that taught me about the vigilance needed to remain sober. He truly lives life on life’s terms in a visible way. That’s the turning to life rather than away from life.

I’ve been away from you a bit. I had a pretty steady flow of participating in life through writing and sharing with you for the last couple of years. I recently, though, have a lot less words for life, especially when my life has moments of feeling unrecognizable.

Here are some words to put to it and we’ll see where we go from here.

Headaches
Bone Pain
Exhaustion
Fractures
Fear
Insecurity
Cancer
Laid off
Loss
Brokenness

Anyone feeling the desire to turn to these words? I haven’t been. And yet… need overwhelms wish, so would you mind turning toward these words with me? It’s much easier for me to turn toward life on life’s terms when I see you are with me and when I see I get to be with you. I wonder if that might be the same for you, too.

Since June 2016, I had been having headaches. Headaches were a part of life for me since I was little so that wasn’t new. Migraines were especially bad after a traumatic brain injury I recovered from in 2003.

These were different, though.

I had been adjusting to having a chronic health condition I learned of in February 2016 and, as many readers know, I was also recovering from some pretty awful trauma as well. I chalked these headaches up to that.

Then came the bone pain and that was severe. I noticed it when my wife gently touched my shin and I about came unglued. I felt like she had hit me with a hammer. My body felt brittle and breaking. It actually was breaking with these tiny fractures in cluster areas. I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life and it felt like it was worsening.

While I denied this being something to worry about, my doctor didn’t. She had an inkling. She followed that inkling and then the news of cancer, specifically Multiple Myeloma.

What?!
Nope!
Ridiculous!

Winter 2016 we added the word cancer to the list of “What the heck is happening?!?!”

My first thought was that I was going to go through yet another name change and call myself Job because, I was clearly living someone else’s story.

Worry.
Self-pity.
Deep sadness.
Isolation.
Incredible fury.
Loss of self.
Loss of function.

Yet, still a call to turn toward life and not away.

Speaking of Job (well, in a homograph sense, anyway), I lost my job in January 2017. Laid off after 16 years of work was astounding and hard. I was too sick to know what to do.

That level of insecurity makes the body and bed at odds so sleep becomes impossible. As the bed invited rest, my body refused and the tossing and turning of unrest took over in nearly every part of me. With some help and support, I was able to secure another position in the company I love. People showed up. We developed a plan to be able to live within significantly decreased means we are still implementing.

What is turning toward life for me?

Answering my phone when I feel isolated and scared.
Answering a text from someone when loves me and who I love.
Answering an offer to heap love onto us.
Answering my wife when she says “What are you thinking?”

That’s what turning to life is, allowing life to continue and my participation in it is necessary.

Dear ones, I am so tired. I have never known this level of exhaustion in any other aspect of my living. It’s beyond measure. We have to create so much room now for rest that it can feel isolating. Rest, though, is a turning to life. I just have to keep standing back up after it.

I think about death a lot more than I ever have. I was very aware of mortality before all of this. I had a belief when I was younger that I would suddenly just die and I expected that to happen when I was young. I would just be dead.

As I healed and grew into who I am today, I just figured I would be alive until I am 92. I never thought I would be sick. It never entered my mind.

Sickness and death has become an intermittent pre-occupation for me this last year. I am afraid of dying. I am afraid of my wife experiencing that loss, of my precious son losing another parent (that alone infuriates me more than anything else). It comes and goes, my pre-occupation with it. When it goes, it leaves behind that stillness I was telling you about.

You can likely see why I am rethinking my original thought that the stillness that rises in me and washes over me happening without action on my part. It does take action. It just isn’t immediate.

The stillness comes from choosing to turn toward life when life is really not palatable. The frequent, often difficult, turning to means we get to experience a stillness that cannot be crafted. That stillness comes from the absolute refusal to believe the pain of life is more true and more available than the absolute love and nurture of life.

The stillness.

I want to take your hands and show you, pass it to you.
It’s like your hands and feet thawing in front of a fire when you come in from the chill to the bone cold.
It’s the covering up with your coziest blanket knowing the moment you are in is for rest with nothing else you have to do.
It’s like feeling utter exhaustion and realizing how amazing it is to truly rest.
It’s warmth when all your body can do is respond to cold.
It’s comfort when you forgot how good it feels to truly just be.
It’s your best nap. It’s the best book you read. It’s the song that expresses that thing you just didn’t have the words for.
It’s living life on life’s terms and realizing that was the best thing you could have ever done with your sacred life and heart.
In the stillness, clarity comes.

If I can share anything that would be true for me since all of this pain flooded into my life, it would be this:

We do not have to do anything to die. Dying needs no assistance at all; it will come when it comes. Death has a 100% success rate. It’s got this — it really knows what to do with zero coaching.

Life, though, must be nurtured, loved, grown, tended, guarded, celebrated, wanted, welcomed, received, given.

Death comes unbidden. Life comes only by invitation.

And I really love life. Still.

Love and Politics

by Amanda Petersen

Love has many different definitions and ways of looking at it.  As I look at some of these definitions of love one consistent appears.  Love is about expanding.  Expanding compassion, expanding perspective, expanding One’s heart, expanding circumstances, expanding vulnerability, expanding risk, expanding complication etc. etc.  In order to love there is some invitation to expand.

It is taking a world possibly built on safety, security, and knowing, and being thrown into the unpredictable, vulnerable, and stretching space.  This is the case whether one loves themselves, a puppy, partner, God, or a total stranger.  And this may be the challenge of why so many would rather not love.  Love is messy and it takes the person into uncharted territory.  How can one do something they don’t even understand or know about?

The conversation of love comes up a lot at Pathways of Grace.  The most consistent way it is brought up is in regards to the current political climate.  Some wonderful hard questions are coming up.  “How do I stand up for what I feel is important and right without making those who disagree ‘the Other’?”  In other words “How do I love?”  It also comes out in others ways.  “How do I stay with my faith community and stay consistent with where I believe God is taking me?”  “How do I take care of myself when it will disappoint those around me?”  “How do I get started with a relationship with the Divine?”  All of those questions hold a piece of “How do I Love?”

As a spiritual director, I have no answer for the questions other than keep showing up and lets listen to your inner wisdom together.  The energy of love I have observed isn’t in the answers but in the willingness to expand into the unknown of Love.  Somewhere in the willingness to show up to love, God’s love mixes in and does something amazing and beyond whatever the individual could dream up.  The Universe’s love mixes with the desire to love and something beautiful comes out. Love may not be about answers but the willingness to explore.

Right now I am seeing the need to come together and wrestle with the messiness of love.  To be open and allow the something bigger of God to mix in and open our hearts to expand in ways we never imagined.  A place of unpredictability, vulnerability, stretching and Divine Love.  If you are looking for ways to expand in love this week try coming to Dinner and Conversation on Friday or Quiet Places with Sandy Kenger on Sunday.  If you are looking to have a place for someone to hold space as you show up to Love we have amazing spiritual directors and other practitioners.  Pathways of Grace is committed to providing a safe place to practice and explore what it means to be a loving presence in the world.

This week look at your own “Love” life.  Spend time showing appreciation for those who gave you the space to learn to love and expand.  Take the time to connect with the Source of All Love with a heart of gratitude that the expansion of Love is endless.

Please share your thoughts on how you love.

Searching for a life where all is well?

by Amanda Petersen

The foundation of Pathways of Grace is “All is Well”. Every workshop, decision, and person who walks through our doors are imagined from a place of All is Well. Why is this important? Because as I have traveled this entrepreneur path, there are many out there that preach that all is not well. People need to be fixed, my business isn’t making enough or attracting enough, I need more and they are going to show me how to get more. There are some who encourage looking for problems so one can be the master of solving it.

Friends, I have to tell you this was really tempting at first. Yet as I traveled a bit down this road, I began to feel this method was all fueled by lack. As a contemplative this is a big red flag. How does a contemplative do business? Well, that is a long story, so I will condense it down: one begins with the phrase “All is Well”.

This gets quoted from Julian of Norwich often. Yet many people don’t know the full story. This was her 13th showing (or vision) while she was very ill. Before the quote, she is pondering, why does there have to be sin in the world? Why doesn’t God just fix the world and make it nice? How often has that question been raised?? Here is the quote, first with Julian’s thoughts.

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.

Then Jesus’ reply.

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'”

Life is imperfect AND all is well. The great mystery of life. All is well because life is more than circumstances. The world is Loved even in the messy, horrible and scary circumstances. Each person is Loved also.  This doesn’t negate the pain and suffering of circumstances, yet it does negate the mental sorrowing caused by thinking that if only  life were different and there were no suffering. It also invites the question, “If all is well, then God show me how?”

I say all this because as Pathways of Grace offers more workshops and encourages you to seek spiritual direction or coaching, I want you to know this was all planned from a place of All is Well, not a place of “you are not enough”.  All is Well even as you are searching for meaning or going through trauma or looking for a healthier lifestyle. When you walk into our workshops or see one of our amazing spiritual directors or coaches, you are greeted by someone who sees you are enough and you are Loved.

That is the gift we wish to share this year. All is Well in a world or a life that is also a mess. Practice saying “All is well” this week as you look at your calendar, world events or your own life. Let me know how it goes!

You Don’t Need Fixing!

by Amanda Petersen

A joyous New Year to all of you!!

I have had the pleasure of having a couple of groups with the purpose of looking how to be intentional with the New Year. Both were different and yet the same elements appeared.

  • Looking at what is important in one’s life.   
  • Looking at topics like core values, gratitude, lessons learned etc.
  • Doing something that gets one to notice those elements in their life.

Life evaluations can be seen as finding what is wrong and fixing it. Yet with the majority of people I journey with it is more a time of affirming and deepening the elements that enhance their lives. The gift of doing something intentional around noticing the elements of one’s life is that it affirms one is living a life.

Now that may sound obvious, but is it? Sometimes the externals of life seem to take over and one day just blends into the next. Taking time to remember what is important and then stepping back and seeing how one is folding that into the dailyness of life does something to reassure the soul all is well. Occasionally one may find there are important elements that are being left out and times of evaluation allow the person to fold them back in again. That is not fixing what is wrong as much as giving a life affirming yes to what is right.

Isn’t this the contemplative life? Taking the time to lovingly looking at life with truth and grace? Choosing to participate in the abundance of Love?  Being conscious of the choices one makes?

If you haven’t yet stopped and contemplated your life as you get out the new calendar, I highly encourage you to do so. Gina’s Personal Mission Workshop or Quiet Spaces on the 8th are a great opportunities to do just that.

Share your favorite way to notice your life as you begin the New Year.

Whatever the future holds, may you always know you are held in Love.