March 21–Everything Possible: In the Mirror

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

Self-esteem is important.  Caroline Myss, an author and teacher whose work I have followed for years places self-esteem at the top of her list of things that make for a whole and healthy human being.  As an educator, I come across notions of self-esteem that are in themselves broken and even less capable of helping a child become a whole, healthy adult. This broken notion is that self-esteem means never having to confront something difficult because a difficulty will make you feel bad about yourself.

Walcott understands authentic self-esteem.  It comes from looking in the mirror and embracing who we are (including all the “stuff” that we have routinely hated about ourselves).  At the same time, this gaze into the mirror dares–because it’s a real risk–to believe that everything is possible for this one who looks back at us.  Still. Despite the stuff. After the self-hatred.  This one in the mirror deserves a good meal, a good drink, some good company.  This one in the mirror should be honored at a feast.

Because the one in the mirror dared look, dared show up, dared smile back at the one who gazed into the glass.

Bob Patrick

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March 13–Everything Possible: Imagine

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

This is my daily prayer each day for the next month.  Thirty days.  I am going to play this music video each morning when I get up and hold it in my heart and mind as my prayer for myself because everything is possible.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, 

You see,  I believe that one of prayer’s primary aims is to change the one who prays.  If I am changed by my prayers in a beneficial way, then the influences of my life will touch others in those beneficial ways, too.  This is the interdependent web of all existence, and everything is possible.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Saturday, I sat  with many from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett in a mosque in our community listening to our beautiful Muslim Sisters and Brothers share with us their faith and their community.  Everything is possible.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you

I’ve lived a life where along the way I was told in so many words or gestures, even by silence, to be afraid of black people–and then I met them and heard their stories; to fear gay people–and then I came to love people who were gay; to fear people whose religions were different from mine, and then they became my friends; to fear whoever and whatever was different, until I came to embrace difference as just a portal through to adventure. Everything is possible, and I am not dreaming.

Bob Patrick

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March 10–Everything Possible: Perfection

I walked outside this morning before dawn.  There had been a storm in the middle of the night, and the cloud cover was still so thick that I really could see nothing, no stars or moon, not even the shape of the trees that I knew loomed out beyond me.  Everything smelled wet and rained upon.

And there was sound.  It was the sound of water dropping through and off of the trees and hitting the ground.  It was not actually raining.  It was the sound of the forest having just stepped out of its morning shower and shaking off the excess water.  I stood and listened for a few minutes.  And some words came to mind, ancient words still bearing ancient wisdom:

for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike.

I had to go and run it down.  I knew it was from the Bible.  I found it in the gospel of Matthew, part of the teaching of Jesus known as the Sermon on the mount.  I stood there listening to the recent rain trickle through the trees knowing that the trees all over my forested neighborhood were drenched as these were around my house.  Oak trees.  Pine. Willow.  Red Buds.  Wild Pears.  Magnolia–the Southern and the Japanese varieties. Holly and Maple.  They all received the rain.  None was discriminated against.  Everything is possible.  I really can allow my welcome to extend to all people, just like God sending the rain on the upright and the wicked alike.

That’s when the larger context struck me.  Jesus was speaking to a crowd who had turned the world into those two categories:  the wicked and the upright, Gentiles and Jews, God’s people and the nations.  What I hear Jesus saying and inviting us to try out for ourselves is that there is no such world, and no such God who views people this way.  There is rain.  For all the trees.  And sunshine.  Go be like that.  In fact, here’s the fuller context, and Jesus presses out the way of being in the world that he has in mind:

But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the tax collectors do as much? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional. Do not even the gentiles do as much? You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’  Matthew 5:44-48, The New Jerusalem Bible

Okay, so maybe this lullaby HAS been sung to us before.  And we forget.  And we don’t really hear what it was saying to us.  “Perfection” is allowing people to be who they really are.

Everything possible.

Bob Patrick

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March 9–Everything Possible: The Walls

Microagression.  That’s a big word for the things we say or do, intended or unintended, that demonstrate some level of hostility toward a person because of the “group” they belong to.  We can find plenty of examples in the air around us if we listen.  We might even hear them coming out of our own mouths or being expressed in our own body language if we are attentive.  My own little exploration of them in myself sees these “mini hostilities” as a kind of intersection in my inner life–where the road of attitudes that I was taught to repress crosses the road of my current experiences.  What I have long repressed and had no venue for exploring comes to some surfaces of my walking around psyche especially when I am tired and stressed by any variety of things.  Then, allow a person from a group that belongs to the “other group” come into my field of experience, and that microagression shows up.

It shows up as a thought.  It shows up as an attitude.  It shows up as a glare.  It shows up as irritability that I can pass off as “just being tired.”  If such a microagression should come out of my mouth, I have learned quickly to try and take it back by calling it a joke or by not saying what I really meant to say.  Those bells cannot, however, be unrung, and no person who is the object of a microagression is fooled by those attempts.

I try to work on that inner repression by creating some inner conversation with myself.  I look any and all groups who suffer hostility in our culture, whether I can identify any one of them as an object of microagression in me or not, and I begin to ask “is it possible that . . . ” questions.  When I do, that seems to diffuse the repression and release some new way of seeing “the other group.”  In fact, asking myself these questions seems to make otherness less of, and sometimes, no longer an issue.  My issue.  Because microagressions spring out of our own issues–never the person or group toward whom they are aimed.

Is it possible that this person of mixed racial background has an interesting family history like I do?

Is it possible that people speaking a language that I cannot even identify have some fascinating, joyful, sorrow-filled, amazing stories to tell?

Is it possible that a woman has a voice, a perspective, an expertise about ANYTHING that I could learn from?

Is it possible that someone who must fast on certain days or say certain prayers or dress in a particular religious garb has a mystical experience that I could appreciate?

Is it possible that the person taking political views that I KNOW are wrong could help me hold my own views better if I simply listened and showed genuine interest in listening?

These are just a few.  The way I am seeing microagressions is that they become emotional walls that keep me at a distance.  What I really want is to be able to extend my hand and my heart toward every human being I encounter.  I cannot do that with these walls in place.  So, I need to practice bringing down the walls.  I’m trying that with questions.

Is it possible?

Bob Patrick

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March 8–Everything Possible: Prayer?

We are a culture, if not a world, constantly torn by binary (either this or that) thinking. Just listening for the we/they or us/them language is one way to check for binary thinking. Binary thinking has the immediate capacity to make a lot of folks feel safer.  It implies that there is a clear line demarcating something, and that taking a side or taking a position clarifies what was heretofore fuzzy or unclear.  I watched students struggle recently with an ethnicity question on a school mandated student-survey.  It wasn’t that there were only two choices of ethnicity.  It was the simplistic notion that every student would be either one ethnicity or another. “What am I supposed to mark?” asked a student whose family I knew to be multi-racial.  In fact, almost none of us is ever made up of just one ethnicity.

Binary thinking walks right into our Unitarian Universalist meeting houses as well.  The latest copy of the UU World arrived at our house last week, and I’ve been enjoying a new article each night this week.  In particular, I have enjoyed the Spirit section as it takes on the general topic of “prayer.” If you don’t receive the paper copy, you can check it out here, online.  A topic like prayer must be for theists, right?  People either believe in God or they don’t.  The article written by a humanist on a love based ethics must be for atheists, right?People either believe in God or they don’t.  The article on Dharma must be for Buddhists, right?  The opening article on the Call to Prayer and the several times daily call to prayer in Islam must be just for Muslims, right?  Actually, all of the articles in the Spirit section are about prayer, and they all hold a marvelously done non-binary position.  They ask us to consider how prayer–in it’s multi-varied forms–changes the one who prays regardless of where those prayers may or may not go.

We might believe in God, or Goddess.  We might believe there to be no such Divine beings. We might not know what we believe about that.  We might hold a “maybe” position on that, and we just might not think that it matters much.  The Dalai Lama encourages a daily morning practice–upon wakening–of acknowledging gratitude–for another day of life, for the ability to make a difference–for opportunities to practice compassion.  In my own experience, waking up and just being able to say “I am grateful for another day” makes a shift in my disposition.  That little prayer, in other words, changes me.

Everything is possible–including that theists, atheists, mystics and agnostics may all gather in community and pray together.

Bob Patrick

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March 7–Everything Possible: I will love you still

It’s a typical teacher and teenager scene, or a typical adult and teenager scene.  Something has gone wrong, and the adult is making an inquiry (however harshly or gently):  “What did you do (say)?”

Nothing.

“Nothing” always means something, and in my experience, it most often means:  “I can’t tell you what I did or said, because you will find me to be wrong, and I can’t live up to your expectations, your demands, your view of this situation right now.  So, nothing.”

Being made wrong can happen in a number of ways.  We can be made wrong by someone who doesn’t understand the situation and jumps to the wrong conclusion and puts that on us.  We can be made wrong by being in the wrong place at the right time.  We can be made wrong by association (you go to that liberal church–everyone there is going to hell).  We can be made wrong by how our bodies look, the color of our skin, the length or color of our hair, the types and number of piercings, the types and locations of tattoos.  We can even be declared wrong in a situation where we genuinely did something that we ourselves deem to be wrong, but somehow that doesn’t make the declaration feel okay.

Being made wrong under any circumstance–even when we know we were wrong–never helps.  It alienates.  It becomes a verbal and existential exile from any sort of community, whether that community is the relationship with one other person or a large gathering of people (as when whole religions or groups issue a decree–if you hold this position, you are not one of us; as when someone declares–you are either with me or against me).

So, this lullaby is radical:

I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company.

You can be anybody you want to be,
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still.

Lullabies have been shown to have therapeutic effects on babies, especially those prematurely born.  The hypnotic, gentle refrains calm the infant, help the baby to sleep, and increase appetite and immune systems, and this happens regardless of the lullaby’s content.  The content, though, of many lullabies can be sad and even dark.  Many think that these kinds of lullabies serve to allow the mother to express her concerns and fears while also helping her baby sleep and grow.

This lullaby of ours, then, is radical on more than one level.  It allows those of us who sing it to declare a bold, counter-cultural message to ourselves, to our community, to our children and our teens, to our neighbors and to strangers:  be who you want to be–and know that I will love you still.  I will love you still.  These are words we all need to hear–again and again.  Feel free to share them.

Bob Patrick

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March 6–Everything Possible: Imagination Required

Becoming a parent is an overwhelming, life-changing “thing.”  This “thing” is a job, a role, a calling, a duty, a responsibility, an art and craft, and while there are plenty of self-help books and no end to those who will want to give advice on how to raise one’s own children, there really is no true training or preparation for doing this thing that you will only begin to understand once you have finished doing it.

Our theme song this month is a lullaby written to a child, to children that imagines this message:  You are free to be exactly who you are without having to worry that I will withdraw my love and deep compassion for you.  

Some part of me reacts very strongly to the notion that we would need to say that to a child or to anyone else, and the other part of me knows just how powerfully social, cultural and religious traditions impose themselves on parents and the expectations of what a child is and who that child is allowed to be.

I am watching various folks on social media declaring that because they are Christian they will NOT (apparently yelling this) be allowing their children to see the new Disney version of Beauty and the Beast because it includes a love relationship between two males.  The implication of these declarations is that if children are allowed to watch they will somehow be susceptible to becoming gay–as if this is a disease.  These parents are afraid, and frightened parents retract and become inflexible about the things they fear.

The reality is that some of those children already are gay, and their parents simply don’t know it yet.  Some of their children, one day, are going to fall in love with someone whose religion or skin color or politics don’t line up with the parent’s expectations.  Those children are going to have interests, abilities and experiences which do not match what their parents want for them or which make their parents afraid because . . .

. . . their parents simply did not imagine.

Whether we are parents now or not, it’s never too late to bring this message, this beautiful lullaby to those in our lives today.  You are free, dear one, to be who you are, and you need never fear that I will withdraw my love and deep compassion for you.  Everything is possible, because I can imagine that, for you.

Bob Patrick

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March 1–Everything Possible: A Lullaby

Our hymn theme for the month of March is a song written in 1983 by the Rev. Fred Small. He wrote it in response to a request by Janet Peterson, cellist for the women’s music group, Motherlode.  It is said that she wanted a lullaby that she could sing to her nine-year-old son about the freedom to live and love as we choose.

You can listen to the group known as The Flirtations sing this beautiful lullaby.  The Flirtations was pro-LGBT group raising awareness of HIV and AIDS during the 1980’s and 90’s.  Just reading the comments on their youtube page of this song indicates how beloved this song became to many people over the years, especially people losing friends and loves to the AIDS epidemic created in this country by a nation and a government at the time unwilling to see some groups of its own citizens as real people of worth and dignity.

We’ve cleared off the table, left overs saved,
washed dishes and put them a way.
I’ve told you a story, tucked you in tight
at the end of your knock-about day.
As the moon sets its sails to carry you to sleep
over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me,
may it keep you good company.

Oh you can be anybody you want to be,
you can love whomever you will.
You can travel any country where your heart leads
and know that I will love you still.
You can live by yourself,
You can gather friends around,
You can choose one special one>
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.

There are girls who grow up strong and bold,
there are boys quiet and kind.
Some race on ahead, some follow behind,
some go in their own way and time.
Some women love women, some men love men,
some raise children, some never do.
You can dream all the day never reaching the end
of everything possible for you.
Don’t be rattled by names, by taunts, by games,
but seek out spirits true.
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
they’ll give the same back to you.

As I ponder these words and begin to spend a month reflecting on them, I am struck by this powerful message:

You can be whoever you are–and I will love you still.  I will love you still.  That brief but strong affirmation addresses that insidious fear that is far too often implied in relationships within our culture:  that if we do not behave in ways that measure up to the expectations of others–they will withdraw love from us.

From another perspective, it is this:  when we truly love another, we honor them for exactly who they are.  We do not require them to become someone else for us.

Bob Patrick

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February 21–Fire of Commitment–Finding Faith

It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.

James Baldwin

There is a certain kind of torment that becomes what I would call faith.  I don’t know if James Baldwin would have used that word, faith, but he describes it well for me. Baldwin, an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and what I would call social prophet, addressed the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies.  He was born and died in the 20th century (for more on the basics of his life, look him up on Wikipedia).  The kind of torment that leads to faith are those very questions that take us to our core and then, once in the depths of who we are, realize that our very souls (deep core) join us, as Baldwin says, to all the people who are or have ever lived.

Those places where we realize that we do nothing singularly, become nothing all by ourselves, take no actions that do not come with responsibilities and consequences for all those within our reach are what I want to call true human faith.  This is not the faith of religious rules or dogma.  This is not the faith that someone has handed on to us or that we can even read in a book (though the influence of others and their writings may have a hand in this kind of faith).  This kind of faith emerges from within us, always, as a kind of clarity about uncertain things.  This kind of faith, while it cannot be proved as a certainty, provides us with enough light and other qualities that allow us to walk in a new direction in a new way.

I have shared with many in my circles of the various experiences I had as a child, teenager and into my early adult years around race and my own whiteness in a time and in a country which made it clear to me that I enjoyed a life not available to people of color AND that my privileged status required things to remain the same.  Those experiences created waves of torment for me, some of which continue to this day.  Those experiences, their insights, the feelings that come with them are in my soul bells that cannot be unrung. What has emerged in me is way of seeing my life and the lives of all others around me differently, as connecting me with all other people who live and who have ever lived.

As this is not a perfect or perfected faith in me, I suspect that I will continue to search for the best ways to live this kind of faith until my last day.

Bob Patrick

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February 20–Fire of Commitment: Fired Up and Ready to Go

I know that I need to be present with my Beloved Community now more than ever before in my life.

The level of danger and tension in my World, Country, State, County, and Neighborhood looms as large to me as the barely-remembered beginning of the Cold War. It’s energizing- this danger and tension- and a call to service that I feel I’ve been preparing (and being prepared) for my entire life.

The astounding level of effort on the part of so many that has gone into a new learning experience for my Minister and my Congregation- Sabbatical- has been energizing for me, and a call to service that I’ve spent two years preparing for. Covenant Groups and the Pastoral Care Team grew out of that effort.

We have a new Choir Director, who I had the pleasure of getting to know during the interview process, and whose joy in leading us is irrepressible.

New things are happening. Worship leaders and associates are taking new approaches to our times together. Different voices are being heard, and we are learning different ways to be together.

This is a time of learning and growing I want to be present for.

There is a chant that I want to share with you. I hear that it became popular at the beginning of the biggest movements for social justice of my adult life.

Fired Up! Ready to go!

When I see challenges to the First Principle- to the worth and dignity of every human- I get fired up! I am ready to go!

When I see opportunities to be in the Worship Service, participating in the Choir, and I can look from the Choir into the eyes of my Beloved Community- I get fired up! I am ready to go!

Outside of my Beloved Community, there are times when I have to remain anonymous, and that I truly regret.

However, in the Sanctuary, the beat goes on.

Fired Up! Ready to Go!

If, like I was for awhile, you’ve been absent, and wondering what you might have been missing, I hope you hear the beat.

Fired Up! Ready to Go!

If, like I did for awhile, you’ve had some issues, worries, or wounds that kept you from entering the Sanctuary, I hope they fall away. I hope you hear the beat.

Fired Up! Ready to Go!

If, like I did for awhile, you’ve been wondering how you might find your way back to your Beloved Community after a long absence, I hope you hear the beat.

Fired Up! Ready to Go!

– with Love from a “Signer of the Book”

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