February 12–Love: Destroying Enemies?

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Abraham Lincoln.

I have in my notes that this was quoted at the morning service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett five years ago today.  It raised a wonderful discussion about Universalism, the belief that every human being will, in this life or beyond this life, find fulfillment, find what some call salvation. In the west, largely through Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the word salvation has eroded over the centuries to mean not sending me to hell even though I am ultimately of no worth.  The far better and holistic notion came in the early days of Christianity–salvation meant the full restoration of the human being to all that we really are.  The problem was a kind of extistential amnesia.  Salvation meant, in the most powerful sense, deep remembering.

It reminds me of an incident that happened years ago in Birmingham at a Centering Prayer conference with Fr. Thomas Keating. During a Q and A session, someone ask: “Fr. Keating, as a Catholic who practices centering prayer, I find it increasingly difficult to believe in Hell. As a Catholic, am I required to believe in Hell?” To which Keating responded after some silence: “Yes, as a Catholic, you are required to believe in Hell. However, you are not required to believe that anyone is in it.”

What if our vision, beginning today, were to make everyone we consider an enemy our friend? It would take some time, some work, and allowing that we are only half of the relationship. But, wouldn’t this, all by itself, nearly eliminate the hell we create on earth?

Bob Patrick

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February 6–Love: Habits

I am paying a little more attention these days to the habits that leave their mark on my life.  Recently, what was our last family pet, a beloved dog, passed away.  I say “last family pet” because, at 18, she was the last dog that we had (and we always had dogs) who helped us raise our children.  Her last few years were those of an elderly dog–no much activity, eating and sleeping and being present in the house.

In the weeks that follow her death, we find ourselves wondering in the morning when we get up what kind of a night she had.  We wonder as we pull into the driveway how she fared while we were at work.  I walk into the family room where her bed stayed near the fireplace expecting to see her.  I walk through the kitchen expecting to hear her feet on the floor making that little clickety-click noise.  None of these things happen, of course, because she is gone, but the habits of listening, noticing, caring, tending, enjoying, feeding, bathing, seeing and expecting are etched into us over much time.

What I am noticing is that this is more than grief.  Grief is certainly a part of the experience, but I find myself in wonder about those daily habits that have shaped my relationship toward this beloved animal friend.  It’s teaching me how much love is born of chosen habits of presence as much as anything else.  Do we really love because of some sudden magical attraction–always?  Or, is love something more that shapes itself into our lives because we choose to be present to another? We were looking recently at pictures of this beloved dog over the years.  She was a cute puppy, but my heart really moves when I see pictures of her in her later years.  That’s the face that shaped my heart, and that took a lifetime.

Bob Patrick

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February 5–Love: The Dandelions

Love the Dandelions
A traditional Sufi story

Mullah Nasrudin decided to start a flower garden. He tilled the soil and planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers. When the flowers came up, however, they were accompanied by a nearly equal number of dandelions. He sought advice from gardeners all over Turkey, and tried all of their methods to get rid of the dandelions, but the dandelions persisted and continued to spread. Finally he walked all the way to the Sultan’s palace to speak to the royal gardener. The royal gardener suggested many remedies to get rid of the dandelions, but Nasrudin had already tried them all. They sat together silently for some time. Finally the royal gardener said to Nasrudin, “Well, I suggest you learn to love them.”

from Touchstones Journal

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January 30–Justice: It’s Hard Work

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, faith without works is also dead. 
James 2:26

Why are we still talking about inclusivity and diversity when we have done so little to make them real? Why are we still looking pained about the lack of diversity in the denomination? Because diversity, inclusivity, is terribly hard, terribly uncomfortable, definitely unsettling, and often quite frustrating.

What I know about being inclusive—crossing from culture to culture, learning the language of diversity—is that it’s the work of a lifetime. It’s hard to accept people who are not like you, who don’t talk the way you do, or believe the things you believe, or dress or vote as you do. It’s even harder to appreciate them for the things about them that are not like you, to find them interesting and fun, to enjoy the learning that’s part of the experience, and to acknowledge, finally, that you may have to agree to disagree.

The truth is this: If there is no justice, there will be no peace. We can read Thoreau and Emerson to one another, quote Rilke and Alice Walker and Howard Thurman, and think good and noble thoughts about ourselves. But if we cannot bring justice into the small circle of our own individual lives, we cannot hope to bring justice to the world. And if we do not bring justice to the world, none of us is safe and none of us will survive. Nothing that Unitarian Universalists need to do is more important than making justice real—here, where we are. Hard as diversity is, it is our most important task.

by Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt

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January 29–Justice: Mirror or Glass?

We told this story as part of our service yesterday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett.

In Hasidic tradition there is a beautiful story that illustrates the moral danger implicit in mirrors.

A very rich young man went to see a Rabbi in order to ask his advice about what he should do with his life. The rabbi led him over to the window and asked him:

“What can you see through the glass?”

“I can see men coming and going and a blind man begging for alms in the street.”

Then the rabbi showed him a large mirror and said to him:

“Look in this mirror and tell me what you see.”

“I can see myself.”

“And you can’t see the others. Notice that the window and the mirror are both made of the same basic material, glass.

“You should compare yourself to these two kinds of glass. Poor, you saw other people and felt compassion for them. Rich – covered in silver – you see yourself.

“You will only be worth anything when you have the courage to tear away the coating of silver covering your eyes in order to be able to see again and love your fellow man.”

Bob Patrick

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January 25–Justice: Digging In

Justice shows up, finally, where we decide to dig in.  I rather think this last kind is a product of the first two.  1) I know because I am human.  2) I understand, eventually, because I struggle.  And then, with clarity born of the two, I decide that in this or that place, I must plant my foot, speak my voice, work with my hands, help with my heart.

This final dimension of the work of social justice is morally both personal and necessary.  The dignity of the human person means that our work in social justice must be a personal choice.  Choosing to dig into and engage in social justice work requires my own human experience and that includes the experience of my needs and my struggle to understand your needs.  I also find that any work I do in social justice is going to become a long term commitment if it includes my sphere of influence.  I may have a concern for housing issues, but if my health or physical abilities preclude me being outside on a challenging building site, I am very unlikely to be able to sustain a commitment to helping to build housing.  If I am a nurse and near the hospital where I work there is a community health clinic where I can invest some time in an issue that matters much to me, I am more likely to sustain that commitment.

Social justice is not some separate concern or a special kind of activity apart from our every day lives.  It very naturally arises out of who we are and our experiences of life. It challenges us in the face of another whose experience is new or unknown to us.  When we recognize these experiences, the work once someone else’s becomes our own.

Bob Patrick

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January 24–Justice: Hidden in Reaction

Justice shows up–sort of hiding at times–in what we resist and in what confuses us. Because I have not experienced everything, because I don’t have all knowledge, because being human also means living with limitations, there are things that you need and want for yourself that may puzzle, frighten or anger me.  In each of my reactions to these unknowns, justice is waiting on me to grow into a place where I can bestow that kind of bounty where it belongs.

These are the places where I (and my fellows whom I observe) stumble around issues of social justice.  None of us like to be wrong, and none of us except people with deeply distorted psyches want to be found causing harm to others. Because I have not experienced everything in human experience, I am always going to be left with a blindness to those unexperienced things. When something in my blind spot is raised to the light, I and most people I know are inclined to react, deny, argue and reject because . . . we don’t want to be wrong.  We don’t want to be found causing harm.

Learning and growing in this regard is born first in the invitation to simply pay attention to our own reactions, to our own denials, to those things we would reject out of hand. We can choose to come back to those things and consider what blindness they are attempting to show me, what human experience I know little or nothing of.

When we begin to see, we then have our next steps in the human work of social justice.  I could not see you and your suffering before. Now, I can.  Now I choose to speak, to stand, to take actions for the dignity of others whom I once was unable to see.

Bob Patrick

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January 23–Justice: Naturally

Justice shows up naturally.  In everything that I want and need for myself, I know in some respect what you want and need for yourself.  I can even make the assumption that the things that I need and want for a life that is worth living are very similar to what people in different places in the world want and need for a fulfilling life of their own. I know this because that very basic sense of justice is built into us as human beings.

This form of common justice does not require heavy thinking or in depth studies of any sort. Just start asking what kinds of things you need for the life you want to live.

Do I need healthy food and clean water?  Do I need housing adequate for me and my family?  Do I need health care and preventative care?  Do I need an education?  Do I need work that pays a living wage? Do I need communities that are safe to move about in?  Do I need friends and associations that are supportive and meaningful?  Do I need freedom to express myself in various ways?  Do I need freedom to move about the world where I want and need to? Do I need dependable transportation?  Do I need reasonable work hours and schedules?

Your list will be made up largely of the things basic to a human life that any of us would want to live–or, to put it negatively: without these things we would be unhappy living that life.  We might even find living life impossible.

This basic sense of justice is natural. It is inherent in us. If I can see you, I have a basic sense of what you need, of where bounty is appropriately bestowed.

Bob Patrick

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January 22–Justice: How it shows up

Justice as a human movement toward every one having what they need to survive and thrive shows up in interesting ways.  Rumi calls justice “bestowing bounty in its proper places.”

Justice shows up naturally.  In everything that I know I want and need for myself, I know in some respect what you want and need for yourself and what people living in so called “shithole countries” want and need for themselves.  I know this because that very basic sense of justice is built into us as human beings.

Justice shows up–sort of hiding at times–in what we resist and in what confuses us. Because I have not experienced everything, because I don’t have all knowledge, because being human also means living with limitations, there are things that you need and want for yourself that may puzzle, frighten or anger me.  In each of my reactions to these unknowns, justice is waiting on me to grow into a place where I can bestow that kind of bounty where it belongs.

Justice shows up, finally, where we decide to dig in.  I rather think this last kind is a product of the first two.  I know because I am human.  I understand, eventually, because I struggle.  And then, with clarity born of the two, I decide that in this or that place, I must plant my foot, speak my voice, work with my hands, help with my heart.

Bob Patrick

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January 16–Justice: Democracy

Tending to our American democracy is more difficult than any of us imagine. At its core, democracy as we practice it is founded on inalienable rights–life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence affirms, but the first amendment to the Constitution also insists that this democracy requires some basic freedoms: of religion, speech, the press, and the right to assemble and to call on the government to address grievances.

There is an inherent tension in those two claims.  The claim to an inherent right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness affirms individual freedom, but the first amendment binds us to community work which no individual can be free to ignore–if democracy lives.  Freedom of religion means not only assuring that my religion is protected, but that your religion or your choice of no religion is protected as well.  The right to speak, to assemble, and to publish–especially grievances that the government must address–require us to engage with one another.

When Republicans and Democrats speak as if the other must be repressed or as if they are the only two political stances, we damage democracy.  When Christians or any other religious or anti-religious group work to ensconce their religious views in law, democracy is damaged.  When a President or anyone else seeks to use his/her power against a group of people because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their country of origin, their religious affiliation, or their ability to publish freely, democracy is in danger of failing.

When a people choose democracy as their way of being together, they bestow a bounty into the proper place–the hands, hearts and minds of the people. To have a democracy requires the constant work of justice.

Bob Patrick

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