How I’m Finding Hope for 2021

What a year 2020 was. And 2021 isn’t looking a whole lot better. It’s been a shit show, and it appears the shit show isn’t stopping anytime soon. In the midst of that, I have been the recipient of important lessons and incredible gestures of kindness, love and support. I thought I’d share some highlights, if you’re interested. And I would love to hear what has been helpful for you.

Lately I haven’t felt much energy to write. (Lately, as in the last four years.) Some of that was because I felt my writing didn’t matter much and so I found myself feeling less and less inspired. My writing may not be my next budding profession, but I recently learned of someone who reads what I write and she encouraged me to keep it up. Her words brought tears to my eyes as she thoughtfully articulated what my writing meant to her. I tear up now as I think about her text. Two lessons for me:

  • Do not underestimate the impact of your actions on another, positively or negatively. Remember that with your words and deeds.
  • When someone does something that inspires or encourages you, say something. That affirmation might be exactly what he/she needs to keep it up.

These last four years have continually and painfully revealed our differences. We have felt them in this country on a collective scale. But we have also felt them in very personal ways, within friendships and our own families. Some differences I’ve encountered: the importance of character; political solutions; religious priorities; how we define “Love they neighbor”; who we see as the marginalized; what we define as true; which sources are reliable and maybe more importantly, which ones are unreliable… These differences have robbed joy, hope, community, connectedness. I know that these differences didn’t just appear, but they seem to be deepening. What continually pulls me through the awfulness and renews some semblance of hope is this:

  • Remember the humanity of the other. When I lose sight of your humanity, I lose a bit of my humanity in the process. When I remember your humanity, no matter how different you are from me, there is common ground to be found. And it is there that we might be able to build something, if you are also willing.

Convictions matter. What you believe should drive who you are and the legacy you build. But convictions have been at the heart of much of what we have seen in our divisions. And our divisions seem to be becoming increasingly toxic. Shouldn’t our convictions be making this world a better place, not worse? As I consider the work I have done and continue to do, I can see how I have contributed helpfully. But I can also see, when I take the time to be honest with myself, how I have contributed to the toxicity as well. There have been many times, exhausted or frustrated or a combination of the two, that I have deferred to behavior that ended dialogue rather than contributed to it. I can also see examples of my own arrogance and self-righteousness. Not an enjoyable picture, but an important one to see and examine. My next lesson:

  • Convictions have positive impacts and have negative impacts as well. A positive is that they provide clarity of meaning and purpose. A negative is that they create blindspots. We must continually seek to understand how we are contributing positively, and how we are part of the problem. If you can’t see both, you are more likely contributing negatively than positively.

My goal was to end 2020 with 11 days off AND two weeks of accumulated vacation time as a cushion moving forward. That cushion would provide me with a safety net if something unexpected happened. In a year of quarantine, the goal felt particularly important. In order to reach my goal, I went almost a year and a half without taking one full week off. I would take long weekends here and there, but that’s it. July 2019 was my last full week away from work. For those who don’t know, I work as a chaplain at a hospital that primarily cares for pregnant women and newborns. Note that they don’t call the chaplain for cases that go well. The grief I regularly companion others in is deep and difficult. Self-care, including time away, is essential to doing my work well and staying in my role longterm.

By September of 2020, I was on course for achieving but seriously doubting my goal. I stayed the course while finding ways to practice self-care, though noticeably limping along as I did so. Part of what prevented me from changing my plans was the fact that many of my colleagues also seemed to be limping along. It didn’t feel fair to take more time off because they needed it as much if not more than me. So I kept my eyes on the prize and I finally reached my vacation. I finished 2020 with 11 days off IN A ROW and more than two weeks in my bank of vacation hours accumulated.

The day I returned, I was welcomed with a heavy and full caseload. I noticed I not only had energy for the needs of that day, I finished the day tired, but not depleted. My time off had accomplished what I had hoped. I was not only rested, but my reserves had been refilled. Lesson learned:

  • Self-care is essential to being one’s best self. Take time in small ways and big ways to care for oneself. Self-care is about knowing oneself, tending to oneself, healing and restoring oneself.

None of these lessons were new, though they have taken on new meaning. And they proved to be helpful in navigating these last few years. Each one has also helped make space to see and experience God in all of this, something that has been downright challenging these last four years. Too often the focus on faith has been about victory or blessing. I gave that up when I began to take seriously what Jesus had to say in the Gospels. But to learn what it means to love God with all of my being, to set aside what I want, to love especially when I don’t want to, to care for the marginalized – the lessons of faith, the point of faith – have been much richer in the darkness.

My hope in recounting what has helped thus far is that it might inspire you to explore what has been helpful for you. With how 2021 has started, I’m guessing we’re going to need all the help we can get. In spite of what the year brings, I hope that we can all finish 2021 saying:

  • I did my best.
  • I learned some things.
  • I honored and protected the dignity of others.

Feel free to let me know how I did. Godspeed.

Go!

For too long, stop signs permeated my faith. “Don’t believe this.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t go there.” “Don’t listen to that.” And I grew up in a relatively comfortable home. I can’t imagine what a legalistic faith would feel like. These stop signs were sometimes fear-based. They were often a warning to prevent me from going where God didn’t want me to go. People who disregarded these stop signs weren’t serious about their faith. They didn’t trust that the stop signs were meant to keep them safe.

As I got older, the problem I increasingly grappled with was that the stop signs weren’t producing healthier individuals. People who followed these rules were just as screwed up, though perhaps in different ways. I began to question some of the stop signs and eventually cautiously move past them. To stay compliant to the stop signs would have been to become stagnant in my faith and eventually have it die altogether, like repeating freshman year over and over and over. There is only so much of that one can take, especially freshman year.

My Christian faith had taught me this idea that there is the letter of the law, or the rules one is meant to follow; and then there is the spirit of the law, understanding the greater intent of the law. Jesus was often cited as the example of one moving from the law to the spirit of the law. Did he break a rule by healing on the Sabbath? Yes. Was it wrong? Jesus said it wasn’t. Interestingly Christians would use Jesus as an example to shame Jews for getting it wrong. And yet this is exactly what I experienced from Christians.

When I began to venture beyond some of the stop signs, I encountered a number of people who cautioned me, who judged me, who bullied me, who shamed me. There is a lot of negativity in some religious systems. And it’s hard to not be impacted by it. It’s hard to not have one’s faith hardened by other people’s negativity. It’s hard not to have one’s faith soiled by constantly being told what’s wrong with you, with what believe or who you are reading or what you find inspiring.

I have had to learn how to be fueled by what is working. I now listen for the “Go!” moments in my life. I am still learning to quiet the voices yelling at me to stop. I try to relish the inspiration and I do my best to move past what would otherwise shut me down. It’s not that there isn’t a periodic “no” or “not yet.” Sometimes it comes in the form of “What about this?” or “Are you sure?” The difference is that the stop sign was put there by someone else. The “no” or “not yet” or “slow down” or “are you sure?” requires on ongoing engagement with my faith.

I get the purpose of stop signs. They aren’t inherently bad. But if those stop signs are the point of your driving experience, you aren’t really focused on the experience of driving. I trust my acquired skills to navigate and stay safe. Feel free to disagree. We can even have a great conversation about that. But if all you are going to do is to yell at me to stop, to tell me I don’t understand, to point out how you know much more than me, then I’m going to have to keep on going.

The Problem with Love

The problem with love is that it’s hard work.

Movies make it seem like the hard work happens until love shows up. But life isn’t like that. At least my life isn’t like that. Life is hard work. Love shows up. Life continues to be hard work. And now you’ve got the work of relationships too. So in fact, love makes the hard work harder.

I don’t just mean romantic love. All love is hard work. There are wonderful perks to love – companionship, friendship, affection, camaraderie, fun… lots of things that make the work more than worthwhile. But make no mistake, love is work. Lots of work.

Wouldn’t it be great if love were easy? If love solved our problems, not caused more problems?

I’m not down on love. I’m just feeling the need to be clear about the reality of love. While I look at those I am closest to and couldn’t be more grateful for those relationships, I also see the effort we have put into those relationships to make them work as well as they do. The relationships that have grown and strengthened and lasted aren’t the ones that have been the easiest. They are the ones that have been mutually worked on.

Certainly in the case with my kids, I did most of the work through their childhood. But I also sought to teach them their responsibilities in a relationship and eventually expected that to occur in our relationship as well. I would not have the relationship I have with my adult kids if they did not at some point start participating in and contributing to it.

Is that to say the relationship with my kids is perfect? Hell no. They’d be just as quick to say that as me. We get annoyed or frustrated with each other. We need breaks every now and then from each other. But I would say (and I hope they would to) that the relationship we do have with each other is deep, reliable, helpful and often enjoyable. And that no matter what, we will always show up for the other when truly needed. We might show up late. We definitely show up imperfectly. But we always, eventually, show up. That is why, while love is hard work, it is worth the work.

The reason I found myself thinking about love today is as I continue to figure out how to survive this awful year, I was reminded that at the center of my faith is love. It is the center of all the commandments according to the Christian faith. It is the most important responsibility. And it’s hard, especially when there are people who are hard to love. But I know that there are always people who are hard to love, including or maybe I should say, especially me.

There are days I don’t feel very loving, and days I don’t feel very lovable. I try to figure out how to love anyway. For those I’d rather dismiss, those who annoy me, those who don’t seem very deserving, those I’d rather not hang out with, I try to love anyway. It’s hard to keep showing up. I fail regularly, which gives me the opportunity to practice self-love as I learn to do better. We know that we can’t be very good at offering love if we aren’t good at receiving love.

I wish the point of faith was to be right. Or to be rich. Or to be protected. Or to be blessed. Those sound so much easier. But since it is not, at least not for me, I am thankful for what my loving relationships have taught me and give me in order to learn to love others, to keep showing up for others. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the point where I can say I love all. But that’s the goal.

Ugh. I grimace as I write that last part. Because the problem with love is that it’s hard work.

What I’m Learning in the Midst of a Pandemic Situation

  1. Toilet paper is what Americans covet the most. This surprised me. I would’ve thought the answer would be money or unlimited data or selfie filters. But it turns out that we can’t live with the thought of not having toilet paper. When all of this madness subsides, I’m going to make, produce and sell Pandemic Bidets. I think it’s a million dollar idea.
  2. Empty nesting is overrated during a world crisis. I couldn’t be happier to have my kids home with me right now.
  3. The second refrigerator that seemed unnecessary once we became empty nesters would be very helpful during the pandemic crisis. (See #2.)
  4. I have great job security as a hospital chaplain. I don’t love this one because it is the hardest parts of life that ensure my work is valued. But it has been interesting to navigate the crisis without worrying about whether or not I have a job. My heart is heavy for the many people who can’t work or won’t have a job to go back to once this ends.
  5. More information is not necessarily going to make a difference. For weeks we were preparing for the inevitable Stay-At-Home order and learning why it was so important to practice. And yet some (or perhaps many) ignored that information and act like it is time to catch up with neighbors and friends. Hey folks, IT’S NOT SUMMER VACATION!
  6. Spend time not thinking about the worldwide pandemic. Nature is an essential stabilizer. To see the birds go on as if it is any other day reminds me that life is moving forward; that summer will come; that people will rise to the occasion; that we (collectively) will get through this. I watch those who are oblivious to COVID-19 because they remind me of life beyond COVID-19.
  7. Self-care is essential in maintaining my sanity. I learned during my stay-at-home parent days that no one was going to take care of me so I damn well better learn how to do that for myself. My mind and body tell me when I need to amp up taking care of me. Lack of motivation, fatigue regardless of how much sleep I got, excessive negativity are all indicators that I am depleted and need to be refilled. I have learned that what I need to do is do something, anything, to remind myself of who I am. Weeding the garden, making a delicious meal, organizing a closet, going for a long walk in the woods, playing with my dog, zooming with great friends are all things that help recalibrate my mind and body when the work has become too much. And these days, the work is a lot. Self-care isn’t a luxury. Self-care is a necessity.
  8. Financial health is like any other aspect of health. Sometimes a person’s decisions contribute to his or her overall health. Other times it has nothing to do with decisions made and has everything to do with things out of that person’s control. Most of the time it is some combination of the two. I’ve been learning this lesson for awhile, awakening out of my white-middle-class-fog. The lesson began as I better understood the complexities of poverty (FYI It’s not just a matter of working harder). But I see this now more than ever as we learn in the current crisis who is most vulnerable and asking myself how can I help.
  9. Laughter is still the best medicine. Practice it daily.
  10. The purpose of faith in my life isn’t to provide answers but to help hold the tough, important questions. The faith of my past would have told me what God is and isn’t doing right now, but I have become quite skeptical of that kind of belief. Instead I find faith as sort of a book binding. The pages move back and forth, can be bent and even torn. And yet there is something that prevents the pages from flying apart in all different directions. The movement of the pages, the creases and tears all remind me that life is fragile. It is important to take that reality seriously. The binding provides hope that the fragility may overwhelm but does not have to prevail. The binding is the presence of the Collective Good, of God.

Maybe there are more lessons I have learned. I am sure there are more to be learned. But that feels like enough for today. The rest of today will be my own restorative work so that tomorrow I can do the hospital work of how to provide the best possible care under our current circumstances. Godspeed, friends.

Moving Forward Five Years Later

Almost five years ago, I began this blog with the post, Why I Left the Church to Start a Church. It’s a good time to give an update on that church. First I am struck by how much that post still reflects where I am. If I didn’t have my community of faith, The Other Church, I’m not sure what I would do to replace it. I have outgrown the organized church. Or maybe a more accurate way to say it is that my faith has outgrown the organized church. I need a space that allows doubt, questions, anger, and disappointment along with hope, joy and peace. And I need the room to go where I need to go, not where the church tells me to go.

Lots of people inhabit this space, “spiritual but not religious” you might say. Many have deep questions of meaning and purpose. As I have sought to provide a safe space for exploring these questions, I have learned several things about that space. I thought I’d share some today.

  • Being vulnerable is hard. In our social media culture, we are more comfortable with our filtered photos than our messy lives. Vulnerability is an invitation to be honest with self and others. For people who carry deep pain, that invitation can be particularly frightening. Unless they are willing to face their pain, vulnerability will feel like too big of a risk.
  • It is easier to be told what to do or believe than to decide for oneself. Believing what someone else tells you to believe removes accountability. It lessens the need for reflection. The parameters have been set and one simply has to move within those parameters. To pick those parameters for oneself can feel scary. My observation is that for most of us, we only do so when those set parameters no longer make sense.
  • If one can avoid hard work, most of us will. Numbing is a quicker fix than feeling the pain. Fighting or blaming is easier than listening. We are a culture of immediate gratification, and we are dying because of it. We refuse the work before us, or we pour ourselves into work that brings little or no change. Maybe that feels safer. Maybe that’s just who we’ve become.

Shortly after my initial post almost five years ago, a church-of-sorts was officially launched along with a website and social media platforms. The tools were developed to find others who were interested in going on this journey with me. In this carved out space for exploration of faith and meaning, I found a group of people. We are learning to be more vulnerable. We are exploring what we believe individually and collectively, and what we will do with those beliefs. We are learning to do the hard work, encouraging and helping each other along the way. We don’t do any of these things perfectly and we fail regularly. But we keep trying as we also do our best to love and care for one another.

As The Other Church community moves forward, know that there is always room for one more. And in our next steps of moving forward, I have decided to shut down the church’s website and social media platforms for now. At this stage, I do not see these tools helping us with the work we do. We are not meant to be a community that is watched, but rather one that is engaged. We all need a community of people who know us, love us, challenge us and accept us. If you have followed The Other Church, I want to thank you. If you have supported The Other Church, a double thank you to you. Now go find a place for you that will embrace all of you. And if you want to be part of mine, you are always welcome.

Godspeed.

Tough Love

I have been the recipient of tough love on several occasions. I am referring to the experience of being told something I didn’t want to hear because it was hard to hear. But as the pain ebbed, I could see that I needed to hear what was being said. It is that moment of truth you initially push aside because it hits a little too close to home; a truth that challenges the narrative you have chosen to believe; a truth that feels like a mirror being held up too close to reveal a flaw you would rather not see.

Rarely does a tough love moment work the first time its message is conveyed. Its effectiveness usually requires multiple supporting messages and a recipient willing to listen or at least unable to ignore. One of my tough love moments was about money. And in hindsight I realized how that moment had been years in the making. I didn’t enjoy my tough love moment. But I was changed by it, for the better.

Initially I didn’t believe any logical and loving person could vote for Trump. When he was elected, I was shocked. When I realized some of my friends and family voted for Trump, I couldn’t really talk about it. I was so incredibly uncomfortable with the thought that one could believe Trump deserved the office of President. The only argument I heard that made any sense was the struggling coal miner who believed that Trump might revitalize the coal industry. I didn’t believe Trump would actually do that. But I could wrap my head around it.

I still can’t comprehend how a logical and loving person supports Trump. I’m not saying that a Trump supporter can’t be logical and loving. I am saying that a Trump supporter has a malfunction going on in both logic and love. That is my tough love message. Trump is a malignancy and in order to support him, you must deny the damage and ignore the hurt he is causing.

It doesn’t matter how he advances your convictions, who he puts into power for you, or what you gain. Nothing is worth the damage this president is causing at the expense of others. Without love, we are nothing and we gain nothing. And so we need to cut out the fucking cancer. If you are a Trump supporter, put forth a decent candidate for 2020 who represents you without decimating decency. Put forth a candidate who is able to argue his or her ideas rather than relying on cruelty towards another. Put forth a candidate who serves more than his or her own ego. Put forth a candidate with integrity. I believe with all my heart that Trump supporters need this tough love moment.

I am aware of a paradox here. While I articulate my belief that Trump supporters need to do better, I am convicted of the reality that I too need to do better. I must move past my disbelief and discomfort and have the conversation with my family and friends who support this president. I need to speak and listen, which will not be easy. I propose, if you are also willing, that we try to give each other room. Thank you for reading this far. Now tell me what it is you are fighting for. Tell me what the tough love message is for me. It might be difficult to do, for both of us. But isn’t it time we choose something other than division or superficiality?

I have one final thought to share. It is not only our convictions that reveal who we are, but it is the substance of our lives: the quality of our relationships, the sense of peace versus fear we carry, and the love or lack thereof that we give. I hope my life is about love, whether I am standing up for the marginalized, or listening to someone I completely disagree with because love never fails.

 

The Jekyll and Hyde of Christmas

The Christmas season brings pretty lights; attentiveness to others as we purchase our gifts; familiar music; nature brought inside through our decorated trees; ornaments that remind us of Christmases past; food, drinks and laughter in our many celebrations; traditions that have been followed for generations or recently established; and moments of hope that maybe, just maybe, Peace On Earth and Goodwill Towards All might be possible.

The Christmas season also brings long, dark nights; budgetary strains as we buy more than we can afford; short loops of annoying songs that we can’t get out of our heads; messy pine needles everywhere; traffic; unrealistic expectations; gatherings we would rather not attend; obligations that strain, tax, and sometimes nearly break us; and moments where we think humanity is just fucked and there’s nothing we can do to change it.

I find the Christmas story interesting: a seemingly insignificant event; a couple so ordinary no one would give even the very pregnant Mary shelter, with the exception of one innkeeper who offered the use of his barn for her pending delivery; the shepherds, not considered important in their society, receiving a heavenly choral performance; a star to guide those who are curious, aware, persistent and wise; an announcement that God is with us in the form of a newborn baby; an event that at the very least continues to be marked by the dates we use today.

Is it ridiculous in 2018 to believe that this story still matters? There seems to be little of the Christmas story evident today in American Christianity. Humility, curiosity and wisdom are not attributes I hear my non-religious friends use when describing their encounters with the Christian faith. Religious people often seem to have no need for God anymore because they have things figured out. Instead they look for others who are like them and who believe what they believe. They are too good for a manger, too important for the shepherds, too busy for the star-led journey. If God With Us was meant to evoke some change in humanity, shouldn’t there be more evidence that God is in fact with us?

And yet there is a part of Christmas that never seems to go away completely. Something, or someone, persists in this underlying thread of hope. Perhaps there are enough of us who long for more humane humans to keep this dream alive, which is what I have come to believe is actually the Christmas message. We don’t achieve peace through power. We don’t extend goodwill through domination. We work towards peace and goodwill by being better humans.

“Keep Christ in Christmas” I see on billboards and read in social media rants. Jesus didn’t demand, bully, demean, undermine. He did hang out with the marginalized and the forgotten, focusing on their healing and wholeness. He seemed to care about the humanity of all with special attention to those whose humanity had been stripped away. If we are to keep Christ in Christmas, it seems that what we are in fact to do is to care about the humanity of all.

The Hyde of Christmas demands, requires, insists that the holiday and its message be interpreted and practiced a certain way. The Jekyll of Christmas evokes mystery and wonder. Hyde is noisy. Jekyll whispers in the silence. I realize the Jekyll and Hyde illustration has limitations, but it helps me understand how one holiday has seemingly contradictory realities. And it helps me see how we are all both Jekyll and Hyde.

Interestingly for us in the northern hemisphere, Christmas happens on the shortest of days. When darkness dominates, a season of lights offers hope. The collection of small lights reminds us of the impact made when many come together. It is still night with dawn far off, but for those of us who long for more humane humans, we come together this holiday season hoping that maybe we aren’t fucked after all.

Merry Christmas.

Does the Waiting of Advent End on Christmas?

The church historically has celebrated a season called Advent. For most of my life, I thought Advent was simply a month leading up to Christmas with a wreath of candles to light each week. But it turns out that Advent is more than that. It is a month of expectantly waiting, sort of like the woman who is 8 months pregnant and doing that final month countdown.

A lot of emotions and activities make up the four final weeks leading up to the baby’s birth, especially when it is the first child. The month is exciting but it is also nerve-wracking. I remember wondering if I was ready. What kind of mother would I be? Were we financially stable enough? How would our lives change? There was a lot of discomfort in my waiting, in addition to the excitement.

This Christmas I managed to get my shopping done early. I’m not sure how I did it. Thanksgiving weekend arrived, and I decided one quiet evening to organize my list. Next thing I knew I had made a substantial dent in my list. That inspired me to plan a little more, stick with my plan, and voila! Two weeks later my shopping was done and most of my wrapping complete!

I then unexpectedly found my mind stilled somewhat, no longer being bogged down by the usual preparations. While enjoying the space I was inhabiting, my nephew reached out. He was feeling down about the lack of peace in the midst of the season that proclaims “Peace On Earth!” I couldn’t argue with him. He was right. For a couple thousand years we have celebrated the arrival of the Christ child, the event meant to mark the arrival of God With Us. I couldn’t help but wonder… Is God with us?

I went to my bookshelf and found Richard Rohr’s Preparing For Christmas. On the “First Sunday of Advent” Rohr writes that we “live out of a kind of deliberate emptiness” because “perfect fulfillment is always to come, and we do not need to demand it now.” That immediately caught my attention because the general tenor of the christian faith feels like an ultimatum. Each side has the truth and demands obedience to it. Rohr says that the Christian faith, and Advent specifically, is about waiting.

Waiting can be about delaying action. But waiting can also be about readiness for a future purpose, like the 8-month-pregnant woman. The posture of readiness and preparation is what I think Rohr references. Rohr goes on to say that only God can bring perfect fulfillment, Peace On Earth. For those of us who long for that reality, we are to wait by preparing for what we hope will come. And we recognize our limitations in doing so.

Problems emerge when someone determines for others what those preparations are. Imagine if my Christmas preparations were to include telling my family how they could make Christmas perfect. My list would be my view and interpretation of perfection, and admittedly a bit self-serving in that I would gloss over meaningful things that are not necessarily as meaningful for me personally. I suspect we would all end up miserable.

Instead I need to focus on what I can bring to our family’s time together that is meaningful. And I need to give my family space to bring what they feel is meaningful. If one chooses not to prepare? Then so be it. Each of us has a choice when it comes to what we want and if or how we will prepare. And even if we all fully prepare, will it be perfect anyway? No. Because life is not perfect. No family is perfect. No holiday is perfect.

And so a paradox emerges: Christmas can be both wonderful as its meaning is experienced, and imperfect as the full reality has not yet come. Rohr says we are called to full consciousness, and forewarned about the high price of consciousness. In other words, the more good or God or peace we experience, the more aware we will become of the absence of good and peace, and our limitations of experiencing God.

When Christians assume the waiting is over because Christmas has already come, we miss something significant. Actually we might miss the whole kit and caboodle. Consciousness may have begun, but the cost of that consciousness becomes too high. And so we insulate ourselves from what is difficult or those who are suffering. We try to convince ourselves that the waiting has ended, though perhaps secretly, deep within, we know it is still not right.

As my nephew so rightly proclaimed, Peace On Earth has not yet come. And so we wait.

Chatter

“Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you . . . remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business . . . even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . ”
Frederick Buechner’s words resonate deeply. The chatter is exhausting. Maddening. Deadening. We are a culture of chatter; chatter that chirps day and night, chatter that chips away at humanity – yours and mine. 
I do not even realize the toll it takes until I am so tense every muscle aches, or so utterly depleted that I want to sleep for days.
“Unclench the fists of your spirit,” Buechner says.
I do not think this means to abandon one’s convictions. On the contrary, this is what might enable one to live out deep convictions without losing one’s mind. Or all of one’s friends. What a novel idea.
Once in a great while, I meet a person who embodies what Buechner names. I know it almost immediately – faith, integrity, grit, a calmness that resembles the eye of a storm, and love. He or she embodies convictions without shaming another. He or she inspires change, not demands it. He or she has a full life with relationships that have been tended to and meaningfulness that goes beyond work.
The chatter pulls us further away from what so many of us seek: peace, salvation, purpose. We long for an affirmation that we are on the right path but spend most of our time criticizing the “wrong” path. We fear wasting our lives, yet we waste so much time. We want to be part of something greater than ourselves. But we put much of our energy into breaking things apart.
I think it is scary to ease the chatter. What will the silence bring? What do I not want to hear? What if I hear nothing at all? And so we chirp away. We speak even when we have doubts. We speak regardless of who is listening. We speak until we cannot stand the sound of our voices anymore. And we speak some more. Until eventually our souls wither or something shatters, forcing us into silence. Then, if we have an ounce of consciousness left, maybe we just might hear the collective sigh of heaven.

America’s Beatitudes

Blessed are the powerful, for they will dominate the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of others, for they will be filled with self-righteousness.

Blessed are the theologically merciless, for they will be merciful to themselves.

Blessed are the sure in heart, for they will think they are seeing God.

Blessed are those who wage war, for they will call themselves children of God.

Blessed are the powerful who consider themselves persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of The End That Justify The Means.

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