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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November 21–Faith: Now

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
– Buddha

I find in many Buddhist teachings something that strikes me as “how to practice faith.” Faith is often understood as an equivalent to content–things to believe or even things required to believe in order to be included in the faith community.

Faith as belief content may be okay as far as it goes, but then what?  How do we practice faith?

Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg writes:

In Pali—the language of the original Buddhist texts—the word for “faith” is saddha, literally translated as “to place the heart upon.” Here, where faith is a verb rather than a noun, it’s about offering, opening up and recognizing that we have an innate capacity to trust and understand.

This reminds me of our own word courage itself rooted in both French and Latin.  It implies “doing or living one’s heart.”  This seems to be close to how Salzberg describes faith as a verb–to place the heart upon something.

When faith is a verb and not a description of belief content, our way of being in the world changes.  Belief content becomes a way of measuring and judging others.  They either hold the belief content or not.  Doing engages us with life itself.

We really cannot engage and practice the past can we?  Nor can we engage and practice the future.  We can only engage and practice the present–tend to, focus on, be present to, create with, respond to, contribute to, listen to, feel what is, right now.

Right now is what we can place our hearts upon.  Right now is where we can live our hearts.  A life of faith lives now.

Bob Patrick

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November 20–Faith: Trusting the Darkness

The days are growing darker as we enter into winter.  I feel the darkness speaking to us.

In darkness, edges and definitions disappear.  When I get up in the dark morning, the edges that define shoes on the floor, the bed that I have to navigate around, the bathroom door, the sink, the light switch–all places– all seem to recede and even disappear.  What is left is a huge blanket of softness, a huge field of no places, of one place–darkness.

In the light, edges and definitions are clear.  I think that we are a light oriented culture:  we value definitions and edges.  We define life by the edges and definitions.  We expend a great deal of energy working with, pointing to, and defending edges and definitions.

Consider the energy that people are expending right now defining and defending the edges of their political issues–whatever they may be.

We tend to think of light as life and dark as death.  But what if it’s the opposite?

What if the light is the place of death–the place of expenditure, the place of energy usage, the place of giving out and burning up?

What if light and edges and definitions is really where we give, give up, serve, expend and die every day and . . .

What if the darkness is the experience of re-merging into a oneness, into the interconnected web of all existence?  

What if the darkness is the place of life, where we reconnect with what restores us, rests us, heals us, re-makes us, rejuvenates us, so that we can face into the light–to give, serve and die again?

What if in order to give in the light, we have to have full faith in what happens in the dark?

Bob Patrick

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November 17 – Faith: Being More

Daily I wrestle with the feeling that the state of the world I see before me is all there is.  Daily, I doubt my ability to have an impact

Is this reality, or is this a perception of my own choosing?

I am imposing limitations on myself and the world out of fear and insecurity…

It isn’t fair of me – not to myself, not to my community, not to the world at large.  The world is so much more expansive than my narrow view is allowing for.  Humanity is so much greater than my small-minded notion of it.  Through my personal lens of first-world experience and uncertainty and compassion, I see struggle and despair and tragedy.  But I also see life and joy and potential!  And I am so much more than my fear and doubt would have me believe.

Choosing to trust what can be, to put one’s faith in what is possible…  When observable reality fails to resemble anything close to ideal, taking that leap of faith is an act of courage which we all have the capacity to take.   It takes effort to recklessly abandon our perception of limitation and live completely into our potential, unrestrained.  To fully embrace the truth that we can be more.  We must do this work.

Is there a pursuit more worthy of our effort than the creation of a world where the possible is realized?

How can you let go of your perceived limitations and be more today?

~ Christiana

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November 16–Faith: Religious coinage?

I am wondering if I didn’t grow up in a world that essentially turned things like faith, hope, grace and truth into items of transaction–almost a religious capitalism.

Each of these words, in my experience, becomes a sort of quid pro quo. They are externalized.  They become the special language of religion that tells us how to define them.  Those definitions often imply or directly indicate that if we hold faith (hope, truth, grace) in the proper way, we stand to receive something for that correct stance.

Have faith in Jesus, don’t go to hell.  Hope in God, things turn out okay.  Depend on grace and you will be forgiven.  Tell the truth (confess your sins) and well . . . you still won’t go to hell.

There’s a sense in which all of those words begin to blur into the same sort of religious coinage, owned and operated by external systems.  If we hold them as such, they continually distract us to some external motivation, a religious capitalism, a religious behaviorism.  That is the kind of meaning these words can hold for us human beings, but they don’t have to.

What if we consider faith (and hope, grace and truth) them as internal states that have always been inherent to who we are as human beings?  Don’t they then begin to help us make sense of things in a much different way?

Bob Patrick

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