It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us

I saw The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and it hit me right where I needed it to. I’m re-reading the play and stumbled upon this gem in the first few pages.

I also think that religion gets a bad rap in this country and that non-maniac-type people who are religious or spiritual have a responsibility to stand up, be counted, and gently encourage others to consider matters of faith and to define for themselves what their responsibilities are and what it means to try to be “good.” It’s not about joining a team or a church or choosing sides or learning a prayer. It’s not about man-made concepts of good and evil. It’s not about doing “enough” or “too little.” It’s not about shame and guilt. It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us. Thomas Merton said, “To be a saint means to be myself.” What if that were true? What is it that we need to overcome in order to truly be “Ourselves”? I won’t pretend at all that this play answers that question, but if it provokes the question in you, then please let it. Ponder it. Because we need you.

—STEPHEN ADLY GUIRGIS NEW YORK CITY, 2005

Guirgis, Stephen Adly. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: A Play . Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

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Ashes: On Lent and Choice

I have always struggled with the concept of Lent.

In theory, I’m a huge fan of a 40-day retreat leading up to the Spring and Summer. It allows us to become thoughtful as we end the busy holiday and New Year season, and ensure we can reset our intentions (in any given context) around the new year. It’s a period to look inward, question ourselves, and push ourselves to grow as people and as Christians.

Still, Lent also comes with a whole host of rules that even non-Catholics question. Why am I fasting today? What if I have an athletic event that day? Why can’t I eat meat? What counts or doesn’t count? If I eat meat Friday can I get away with being vegetarian on Sunday instead?

I struggled with these questions because, honestly, I don’t really think God cares that much if I eat meat or not today, or whether or not I fast. If I ate a cheeseburger right now but still tried to generally be a good person, I don’t think I’d get kicked out at the pearly gates when my time came. I don’t think that would happen to anyone else either.

As I got older, though, and returned to my faith a few years ago, I realized that I wasn’t becoming involved in Lenten practices out of fear of my Father, but rather as a thoughtful choice to better myself as a person. Lent has nothing to do with “having” to give things up, it’s a choice to let go of things in your life that you may not need, or create some healthy distance from parts of ourselves we have perhaps become too indulgent in. Lent is the opportunity to actively step back and re-evaluate what you actually need, what you can let go of, and what you can do to enrich your life.

In addition, though, Lent is the opportunity to welcome new, more giving parts of ourselves. I’ve often enjoyed hearing from priests like Fr. James Martin SJ, who invited us last year to add more kindness to our lives this Lenten season. I was also happy to hear that Pope Francis encouraged us to give up indifference towards our fellow humans.

So, this year I have a few things I’m giving up privately. I’m hoping to become a healthier person physically and emotionally, so I’m using this season to work towards that.

I’m also, though, planning on donating to and shouting out a different charity each week. I struggled with this a bit– I don’t want to come off as boastful (and, let’s be honest, I’m a teacher– I’m not giving a lot of money). Still, I want to encourage others to find charity this season, Christian or not, especially in times where resistance and power are sometimes financial.

So, this week, I’m donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center. As someone who has benefited immensely from Teaching Tolerance and been involved with the amazing work they do. As we fight to ensure equity and safety for so many students, the work they do to educate teachers and students is essential. I encourage you to send a donation their way.

 

The Miracle Is That We Are Beloved

The worst part of death is the terrible silence. It is absolute– a void so empty it is rich in its darkness.

Be it of a loved one, a relationship, or a period of our life, there is always still the silence. The pause after the final breath. The moment when any denial we had about what was happening is stripped away. We can only look down at our hands and know, ‘This is my reality now.’ I heard that silence when I hung up the phone with my grandfather after telling him goodbye, knowing I wouldn’t be able to see him before he passed. I felt it when I returned home from an ex’s, with three years of my life reduced to a few garbage bags in a now empty-feeling apartment. There is nothing we can do but look down at our hands and realize that our previous reality has shattered, and that there is a looming darkness we can only face.

It is easy to feel unworthy in those moments. Everything we held dear has been stripped from us, it seems, and we realize just how fragile we are, how human and imperfect we are as we stumble through life. It is easy to look in the mirror, see nothing but the pain and darkness of that death and feel like we will never find the love or joy or happiness we are certain has left forever with death.

And yet.

Growing up, I had a priest who once reminded us that the renewal of God’s love at Easter didn’t, you know, have to take place on Easter. “If not today,” Fr. Fred told us, “Easter will come.” Even if it was not that Sunday morning, we were reminded that at the end of it all God’s love renews, heals, saves. Even after we have beaten, spit on, and ridiculed Christ, God still decides we are worthy of His love and forgiveness. 

I am reminded of this now, on an Easter Sunday where I am in the process of rebuilding. The darkness we face after a death isn’t a completely false one. Often times, it is an important reminder of our own humanity and imperfections, of the places we faltered and failed.

The darkness isn’t the lie; the lie is that we will never find that joy again.

I know that the miracle of God’s love is not that the world is perfect or that everything is good. The miracle is that, with those imperfections, we are still beloved. The miracle is that even when we are sure we are horrible and hopeless creatures, God reminds us that we are still worthy of love and grace. If we allow them, we still have people and moments that move us to uproarious laughter and countless joy.

This morning, I send a friend of mine a quick Easter message saying, “Rejoice! His is Risen!” He replied in kind and mentioned how blessed we were that we looked inside the tomb and see that is empty.

There, too, is the miracle. The story of Easter does not run away from the notion of death itself. Christ is still crucified on Good Friday and mourned for those three days. We all have parts of ourselves that die as we seek renewal. God’s love doesn’t make death disappear. The resurrection is not a wiping-the-slate-clean reaction of naivety. When Christ looked down and showed us His hands after the resurrection, they weren’t magically devoid of scars. Christ still bore the wounds of His past and crucifixion, even after He rose.

Easter is not about easy fixes or magic healings. It is when we acknowledge both death and the imperfections that came before it but do not stay in the darkness with the decaying forms of our past. The tomb is empty. We don’t have to cling onto those parts of ourselves anymore. Instead, we decide to walk out of the darkness with Christ and rise up better than before.

So, as this Easter comes, I am eager to walk forward in the miracle of God’s love. I look down at my hands and see the reality that they are still weathered and broken from the last part of my life.

This is my reality now, and that is okay. It is good. It is blessed. I have no need to dwell in these past pieces of my life. Instead, I stand up and walk forward out of the tomb and towards light.

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God Meets Us Where We Are: On Running and Meditating

It’s been a crazy few weeks, and I know I need sit down to make some space to actually write for myself. EdWeek often takes up much of my writing time and brainspace.

Fortunately, over the break, I was able to carve out a piece to submit to OnBeing, one of my favorite programs ever. This weekend, they published my piece! You can read about running as moving meditation on their site. An excerpt:

A few months later, an acquaintance learned I was a marathoner and asked, “What do you think about while you run?” Without hesitation, I responded, “I meditate.”

I surprised myself. While I’d always considered myself a mindful person, I often had trouble meditating. I would get distracted by my phone, or bugs, or the wind, or how thirsty I was or how hot I was or a million other things. Running was not the zen, silent space I imagined I could meditate in. With my feet pounding and arms pumping, how was I finding inner calm?

I’m excited to push forward in my running, spiritual, and writing goals in 2016.

On Being and Learning Again

I’ve felt… off-balanced lately. A little lost, a little weary and wary. Occasionally, like most folks, darkness comes in and you cannot help but question why it’s there and who causes it.

And while it’s scary, I’m lucky. I’ve seen the other side of darkness enough to know that “Easter will come,” things will brighten. I have family and friends who love me and make me laugh, a job I cannot help but find joy in, a partner who holds my hand the whole time and says, “I got you. It’s okay. We’ll be okay.”

Last night, and in the past few weeks, I have been struggling with the concept of “Enough.” In the NPO or education world– it often feels like I don’t do enough for the people in my life– my students, family, friends. Sometimes I feel like I’m too scared to take on the big challenges because I have this nagging need to take care of myself and do things that make me happy too.

So, on a whim, I found out that Fr. Greg Boyle, one of my favorite writers, priests, human beings, had been interviewed by On Being, one of my favorite podcasts.

I’ve read and listened to so much of Fr. Boyle, and what he shared wasn’t necessarily new to me, but just hearing it reframed again was so essential– I was immediately snapped back to myself. I know what I need to be doing. I know it will take time to get there. I know I must be eager, yet patient in God’s timeline.

I think, sometimes, we want to glance over reflections or lessons we think we’ve “already learned.” Yesterday, I didn’t want to reflect on body image because I thought, Well, I’ve written about that before, shouldn’t I know better?

We are so quick to forget our own flawed perfection means sometimes the lessons need to be restudied and relearned to gain a new, revolutionary potency in our minds. It doesn’t mean we’re silly, merely that we have the fantastically human ability to form and reform new and better connections with things as we grow.

So, with a renewed heart for the work and what it looks like for me, I’m coming out on the other side.

I highly recommend the linked podcast (I always choose the unedited version), and a few favorite tidbits below:

On perceptions of the communities we serve:

So you see how they love one another or there is nobody in need in this community, for example. But my favorite one is — it leaped off the page to me — and it says, “And awe came upon everyone.” So that the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship. And so that means the decided movement towards awe and giant steps away from judgment.

So how can we seek really a compassion that can stand in awe at what people have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it?

On doing the work:

Question: …what more can I do other than shrugging my shoulders and writing a check?

Fr. Boyle:  Well, don’t stop writing the checks!… but we must obliterate the illusion that we’re separate…How do we dismantle the barriers that exclude? How de we dedicate ourselves, in our own way… how do you participate in the birth of a new inclusion, where nobody is left out?

And that takes humility! …Humility asks the poor on the margins, “What do you need? How can I help?” 

Hubris says: “here’s what your problem is and here’s how you fix yourself.”

On mutuality in “service”:

I’m not the great healer and that gang member over there is in need of my exquisite healing. The truth is, it’s mutual and that, as much as we are called to bridge the distance that exists between us, we have to acknowledge that there’s a distance even in service. A service provider, you’re the service recipient and you want to bridge even that so that you can get to this place of utter mutuality. And I think that’s where the place of delight is, that I’ve learned everything of value really in the last 25 years from precisely the people who you think are on the receiving end of my gifts and talent and wisdom, but quite the opposite. It’s mutual.

On the work as Christ did it: 

I haven’t found anything that’s brought me more life or joy than standing with Jesus, but also with the particularity of standing in the lowly place, with the easily despised and the readily left out, and with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.