December 14–Hope: So Much Mercy

So at night in my prayers I often stop
And ask a thousand angels to join in
And Applaud,
And Applaud
Anything,
Anything in this world
That can bring your heart comfort!
Hafiz*

A young man comes to Hafiz for spiritual guidance.  Feeling strong and brave, he asked the Master to tell him the truth about all of his attachments.

Hafiz addresses him as “sweetheart.”  And then he tells him that he can clearly see how much effort he has put into protecting all of the attachments of his life–like a great brothel to house all of his pleasures.

Just take about 30 seconds to think about the things you are attached to.  The Master Hafiz continues.

You have even surrounded the whole
damn place
With armed guards and vicious dogs
To protect your desires
So that you can sneak away
From time to time
And try to squeeze light
Into your parched Being
From a source as fruitful
As a dried date pit
That even a bird
Is wise enough to spit out.

Wow!  Be careful what you ask for.  So, I find myself, as I read this poem, bracing for the annihilation of the young man who asked for the truth about his attachments.  And what comes next is what Hafiz gives him.

So at night in my prayers I often stop
And ask a thousand angels to join in
And Applaud,
And Applaud
Anything,
Anything in this world
That can bring your heart comfort!

What mercy, compassion, and tenderness!  The regret of the past is a crushing enemy of the human spirit.  What if we were to offer this kind of mercy, compassion and tenderness–to ourselves–and one day, before we die, learn how to extend it always to everyone we encounter?

Bob Patrick

*I want to recommend the book of Hafiz’s poetry that these lines have come from, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy, Daniel Ladinsky, translator.  If you order it on Amazon, be sure to use this code so that a portion of the proceeds will benefit UUCG.

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December 11–Hope: American Christmas 2017

For certain ones of our public figures to call themselves Christians is not only absurd, but obscene. Regardless of your belief in the literal Christ, the metaphorical Christ has a story that is true and life-affirming. Christmastime focuses on Christ as a child. It is imperative that he comes from humble beginnings. The irony (which is lost on many) is that humility is the pathway to power. Only by overcoming the fears of the ego can we enter into communion with the true Self we were created to be. Too many in the churches these days have no interest in humility, and in turn, have no interest in Christ.

I believe in the Hindu concept of Karma. Energy put into the world comes back. While it’s important to fight for justice in order to help reduce suffering, the perpetrator of injustice will get what is due. That piece is not our concern.

American Christmas, 2017

What child is this, who when laid to rest
you snatched from his bed of straw?
The Supreme name, you’ve taken in vain,
each of you.
You shall seek, but you shall not find heaven.

What child is this, who when laid to rest,
you stole from him, gifts from the wisest of men.
You shall love the gold, your god, with all your
heart,
and be comforted only by metal.

Haste. Haste. The child grows to a man.
His innocence gives way to power.
My faith, it is this: Truth is written in
stone.
Life will damn you, for that is the law.

Lorena Griffin

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December 6–Hope: Finding My Voice

Going through airport security recently my carry on was pulled and I waited while the airport attendant went through my bag. She told me what she was about to do and that I could not add or remove anything from the bucket while she was searching. Did I have anything sharp in there? No Was there anything in there that would poke or cut her? No.

Is it my phone charger I asked – I have been searched for that before. No, she says. We saw that right away. Turns out it is the Good n Plenty I have packed – best thing for my nerves and stomach upset that I sometimes get during take off and landings. Yep that’s it. Apparently people hide other things in candy.

So, you’ve been stopped before? At the airport?

No, at the Courthouse. I’ve been involved in some protests and have had my purse examined a few times. She looks at me and one eyebrow goes up while she smiles.

I’ve found my voice I say.

Found your voice- I like the way that sounds she says. What have you protested?

I tell her about the Women’s March and the Healthcare March in Atlanta. I talk about the March at the airport when certain cultures were banned from entering the United States. I tell her about holding a sign at the Gwinnnett County commissionsee’s meetings when those awful things were said about John Lewis.

Impressive she said.

Not really. I’ve been silent for a long time and afraid to cause a stir, unsure of my footing should I stand up for something. It took many friends’ kind words of encouragement and a community of support at my church- but….. then it happened- I found my voice.

It was time to move on as another bag was coming along to be searched but as we said our farewells she said. I’d like to find my voice. Can you help me with that?

That makes me feel hopeful… finding my voice.

Sure I said. Here is my e-mail. Look me up and I can point you to some sites and connect you with some communities where all voices are heard. I look forward to talking with you again.

Lydia Patrick

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December 5–Hope: What’s cooking?

In yesterday’s post, I observed the 13th century origins of the English word Hope, and how the English roots seem to be specifically Christian terms for salvation from hell by God.  I suggested that as Unitarian Universalists, we might re-shape this future hope into a present concern for the worth and dignity of all beings, the search for truth and meaning, and the struggle for a justice that means surviving and thriving–for all beings.

There’s more.  Linguists list a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root for the word hope.  PIE is the reconstructed language that linguists believe lies behind most of the languages spoken in the Indo-European countries and those which extend from them.  They have reconstructed the word kwep as the root of our word hope.  Kwep means ” to boil” or “to smoke” something.

That’s an interesting idea.  Smoking and boiling is what we do with food preparation.   To hope for something in that context is to take the actions necessary to prepare food for ourselves, our family, our community.  I’m imagining preliterary cultures who used this word to describe the things they did every day to take care of themselves.  To kwep (hope) was some set of actions one did today so that shortly (enough) there was nourishment for the village.

It can be how we treat folks today so that shortly enough there is dignity for the village.

It can be how we search together today so that shortly enough there is truth and meaning for the village.

It can be how we engage in the world today so that shortly enough there is justice, equity and compassion for the village.

Our village.  Our world village.

So, let’s talk about hope.  Let’s talk about what we are cooking today.

Bob Patrick

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December 4–Hope: Where do we start?

Hope is one of those words.  It is an Old English word, both as a noun, hopa,  and a verb, hopian. They enter the stream of our language in the 12th century as what seem to be entirely Christian theologically based words at the time.  The noun represents an expectation in God or Christ about future salvation.  The verb means to have that theological expectation of mercy and salvation from God.  I also would add that the 13th century was the period just after the work of St. Anselm became popular in Western Christianity–known as the substitutionary atonement theory of salvation–that the blood of Jesus was payment for original sin against God and that nothing else could satisfy this eternal debt.

We are Universalists.  We maintain that whatever an after life might include, it most certainly includes everyone.  It does not include eternal punishment.  If there is an eternal life, that life draws everyone into it.

I think we have to redefine hope.  Any concerns we might have about a future expectation of salvation are satisfied with a present confidence that dignity and worth belong to each person.  Our sense of hope then, becomes a present reality.  Hope is a reflection of that worth and dignity–perhaps not yet realized by some.  Hope is a life of action toward the realization of worth and dignity for all beings, freedom to search for truth and meaning, and a justice in which everyone has what they need to survive and thrive.

Bob Patrick

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November 30–Faith: Unseen Things

It strikes me that faith is called upon for unseen things more often than we sometimes think.

The doctor says to take this pill.

Someone says to you that what you thought you understood about them was not true, and here is the truth.

You hear the words and see the gestures of someone talking to you but inside yourself the message you perceive is different.

You feel the emotional atmosphere in a room change.

Someone you love has made you angry, sad, scared, and you wish that you could turn off all of those feelings, maybe including the love, but you cannot.  It seems bigger than you.

The tricky, wonderful, scary thing about faith is that it does ask us to trust things that we cannot see.  Sure, we can refuse to participate in relationships and experiences that ask that of us, but I think when or if we should try that we risk becoming something less than human.

Crime studies show that very often people who are attacked on the street or alone in their homes have a sense that something is dangerous and that they should run or beware. So, to the degree that we diminish faith as an intuition, we leave ourselves more open to harm.

Parents simply do not get to have children without fear, anger and sadness.  Those experiences come with any sort of thing that resembles a loving relationship. So, the degree to which we refuse to lean into the unseen is the degree to which we should refuse to enter into loving relationships of any kind.

The truth is that we cannot ever really know another human being.  We can have glimpses, and what we see can always be enlightened.  Other people, like us, are always changing and evolving.

To live and to love requires trusting unseen things–and that’s not necessarily a religious statement.  It’s a fact of being human.

Bob Patrick

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November 28–Faith: Face to Face

I’ve seen some ugly “conversations” on social media.  I notice that we tend to be quicker to say things on social media than we do face to face.

Is this about personal cowardice?  Do I not have the “fortitude” to say what I really think in person?  Does social media turn us all into trolls?

I don’t think it’s any of that–quite.  A powerful set of studies focused on an unexpected but noticeable rise in teen depression, thoughts of suicide and actual suicide during the period of 2010-2015.  Through a series of cross studies, the research identified that there was a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on cell phones (and social media) that exceeded 2 hours per day and teen depression, thoughts of suicide and actual suicide.  Through another set of cross studies, researchers found that less time on cell phones produced a drop in those experiences, and that actual face to face time increased feelings of happiness.

When I am face-to-face with others, there is something about who they are that communicates to me.  I have to assume that the same is true of me to the other person.  This “something” that comes through in face-to-face communication is lost in social media.  With the loss of the “something” that is essential to you, I find it easier to be less of who I am.  Bad things are said.  Violence is done–all in the name of staying connected.

I am using technology and social media to write this.  I will continue to use technology and social media, but I am becoming clearer that it is not a substitute for face-to-face time.  Faith is a verb.  It’s what we do in relationships. That kind of faith changes things–for the better.

Bob Patrick

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November 27–Faith: Learning from each Other

As a trusting relationship, faith is constantly asking me to stretch beyond my own comfort.  My comfort, if I am being honest, is ensconced by being white, by being a man, and by being straight.  Two of those three things (whiteness and straightness) are clearly social constructs, and the third (being a man) has a ton of social constructs thrown onto it.  If you can check off those three constructs for yourself, then you can live however you want to and this culture of ours will support you.

And those three social constructs have done and continue to do a world of harm.  In a culture where the power over others is held by white people, by straight people, and by people who are men, the level of ignorance is no deeper than among those very same people, and the amount of knowledge and wisdom (potential for growth) is held in the hearts, minds and experiences of the very people that they hold power over.

Those who are oppressed ought never to have to explain the injustices they suffer to those who oppress them.  One the converse, there is no better moment to learn than when they choose to speak.

I have learned so much when People of Color speak about their experiences. I have learned so much when women speak about their experiences. I have learned so much when members of the LGBTQ communities speak about their experiences.

When I listen to their experiences, I realize that I have had some of those VERY same experiences.  As I listen, I also notice that they struggle at times over the very same models of holding power over others that we who are white, straight and men take for granted.  I think that I am learning that our only way forward is, of course, in trusting relationships.  It’s the enigma of faith.  How can I be in a trusting relationship with people who have hurt me or who are beginning to act like I used to act?

If it were clear how to do that, it wouldn’t be faith.

Bob Patrick

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November 23–Faith: Gratitude

Faith means trust.  Faith is better a verb than a noun.  Faith is acting in relationship to others placing our hearts into the action, acting on and living out of the places where our hearts are.

Recently I was told, again, that my complaints about the current President’s racist actions toward immigrants would be better served if I would just pray for him.  Too many want to send “thoughts and prayers” to Puerto Rico rather than the full force of US aid like we did for Texas and Florida–all American communities.  Isn’t the only difference the amount of brown skin involved?

But “prayer changes things” the popular saying goes.

Prayer does change things.  In my experience, prayer has the power to change the one who prays.  One of the most immediately effective forms of prayer is gratitude.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, despite a corrupt, racist and dangerous man in the office of President–and all that that may mean to us–we can exercise the power of gratitude.

There may be much in our lives and families that we would complain about.  But, for today, let us find what we are grateful for.

There may be much in our communities that we would change.  But, for today, let us find what we are grateful for.

There may be much in our nation and world that we would like to transform with a magic wand (or ask God to make go away). But, for today, let us find what we are grateful for.

And then, let us give thanks for these things.  Let us feel in our bodies, minds and relationships what gratitude does.

And tomorrow: decide which of those troubling things we want to work on–and do it. “Pray” is also a verb.

Bob Patrick

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November 22–Faith: Distributed Trust

I have written here that faith is trust.  I have also written that faith may be more useful to us as a verb than as a noun:  to place one’s heart upon something, to engage in life in the present moment.

I recently heard a discussion on the radio about what is happening to our experience of trust in this country.  It will be a shock to no one that the consensus was that trust in large institutions is crumbling: government at any level, churches, charitable organizations, schools, etc.

But, it’s not, some argue, that trust is disappearing.  Trust is changing–from giving our loyalty and openness to institutions to extending ourselves in relational ways.  They call it “distributed trust.”  We see this happening all the time.  When we review a product online and see that 75 other customers have given it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.  We are more likely to purchase that item trusting the experience of people like us.

While our ability to trust external systems of power is crumbling, our willingness to trust relational experiences seems to be growing.  There real potential for spiritual practice there.  If I can pay attention to the business ratings of 75 people whom I don’t know but whose experiences I will heed, perhaps I can choose to lean into a live person in the moment and ask about their experiences.

Especially those who seem to hold different views.  For instance: Tell me more about what you think of immigration policies.  I have a number of people in my life whom I care for deeply who are immigrants–some documented and others not.  I’m looking for our best solutions.  What do you think they could be?

And then listen.  I stand to learn whatever the response is.

Bob Patrick

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