Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Letting Go Series #3: Bigness/Smallness

Number 3 in a series. A colleague looked me straight in the eye and spoke with great conviction: Let it go, Victoria. Let it go. I have decided to take him at his word, and reflect on issues with which I struggle to let go. 

With the power of my will, I shall be healed.

This line from a feminist liturgy is good ground for today's lesson in letting go. So often, those of us with strong wills, with powerful charisma, and a steady affirmation of that charisma and expressed will, find ourselves on top. We are confirmed in our faithful leadings. We have jobs, communities, security in the sight of God and country. We are models, examples, vociferous front-men. We rock, and sometimes, oftentimes, we know it. This is not say we are arrogant, though some of us are. This is to say we are self-aware, engaged, and completely committed to the work of the moment, its power and purpose. Whole hearted, big hearted, we are there.

I have been this person. Standing in front of a community, leading in prayer, in action. Secure in myself and using all the tools available to me, I have moved mountains of perception. I have changed things, or so I have thought. It's felt good. 

But was She there? Was our shared and disparate God waiting in the wings to stroke my ego after each public offering? Many public successes, for me, have been followed by a level of self-recrimination, self-criticism, and uncertainty. The more public success, the more this backlash happens. 

I do not think this is the voice of a vengeful, jealous God who wants to make sure I am keeping the covenant, playing my ascribed role. Rather, I think this is the voice of a jealous parent, the result of a life grown in the soup of narcissism and neglect. The price of saying yes to myself, as a child, was saying no to the needs of my family, laid out before me, always demanding, always seeking to annex my will, my power. It's a lot to get over. 

But I do, every day. And there are gifts of these voices, though that might be hard to believe. Though I have the burden of learned lessons of inadequacy with the weight of my family's need, the question of if God is with the charismatic, the strong willed, is a good one. 

Arguably, God is with most folks, in our imperfections, in our leadings and mis-leadings. God is with the farmer and the physician. God is with the strong and the weak. But within a liberation theology context, the scales are tipped to the poor and marginalized, to those who don't read well on your daily teleprompter. And in a world where those in power get more of what's what, I like a theology that privileges those without, those who may not register on the mainstream cashbox of our dominant culture. 

But, then is God with ME as I struggle against these voices of recrimination? Is God holding my hand, helping me embrace a will that singes, an expressed leadership that is sometimes so large to me, I fear it eclipses the Divine I seek to honor?

But perhaps I am asking the wrong questions. Maybe it's not a question of if God is with me. Maybe we don't need to worry about if our actions are God-worthy, or eclipse or create, or magnify or lionize, or any of that prevarication. Maybe it's about an alignment of the will itself. In a previous post, I noted that it takes a strong will to be willing to leap into a relationship with a will not entirely one's one. What if, beyond this, there is a will that is seeking to align with ME? What if, the faithful following of the seeker is the whole point? If I express a will of public ministry, where I stand before many, I can be just as connected to God as if I choose a ministry of quiet service on the farm, in my family, with my friends. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, You have such a quiet nature, or, You are so powerful and out there.  It's an old dichotomy, and one I could do well to let go of-- it is a false dichotomy. The life of the Spirit is big enough to take all comers, all expressions of faith, of giftedness. I should not be afraid of either the bigness or smallness of the will in me to serve our shared and disparate God. Each will come in their own time, as the fruit ripens on the vine, so my faith will grow and express itself in new ways. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Will the True Guide Please Stand Up?

Having just read the sweet and compassionate post by Ashley W about accepting imperfection in ministry, I want to push this conversation a bit farther and talk explicitly about the guide and ministry. 
Fear of outrunning my guide has motivated me to embrace physical work in my life as balance to a strong sense of call toward prophetic and pastoral ministry among activists and religious communities. This might seem an odd juxtaposition, but at this point in my ministry and work, the work of hands is a balm and beacon to what can feel like an overwhelming mess of desire and resistance. When I work with the earth, nurturing life from soil and seed, I find lessons of patience, persistence, and humility are right at my fingertips. 

We would do well to listen to the land in discernment around ministry. When we humans haven't completely tipped the scales, verdant eco-systems sing stories of balance and extremity in a lilt only some can hear. What have I heard, when I really try hard to listen?

I hear, sometimes, about the creep of the invader. A bed untended becomes a clutch of weeds. I think it is telling me that I need to be vigilant, that I am lazy and foolish in my growing endeavors. I think it is telling me I am bad at farming. I think it is telling me that I am mediocre in my task, that I can't possibly be doing anything right in the crazy balancing act of work, land, love. 

But then, in these thick beds late in the season, gathering last gleanings of harvest with students, we witness the giant carnivores, grown fat on my neglect. Mantis' as large as my hand, spider mama's that fascinate and terrify small children, these animals have thrived in this unkempt eco-system, have kept the squash bug away from these precious last yellow fruits. 

And then, we see the tomato hornworm, half desiccated  from the hatched eggs of a parasitic wasp, hanging loosely on a tomato plant. My students marvel that this was something alive once, this creature that destroys crops brought low by something so small, so intent upon its insides for survival. My overwhelm and needful neglect, as well as a commitment to not using chemical pesticides or herbicides, has made for a powerful teaching space and a vibrant world of life, in this late season. 

Sometimes, I try too hard. If the fat mantis, the successful wasp, can teach me anything about ministry, perhaps it is to wait, and see the fullness of life, in time. Despite a weedy bed full of our invasive friends-- thistle and hops, pigweed and stilt grass-- a deeper life grows and thrives, with its own lessons, its own fascination and value. 

And so I ask, will the True Guide please stand up? Is the guide in me, or is she the land? I temper my internal leadings with land-lessons, in hopes of moving forward with integrity and responsibility. I pray we can find our leadings both within and without, as we explore our ministries for the healing and building of justice-love for all creatures, and the glory of our shared and disparate God(ess). 


Friday, October 5, 2012

all about love, or why I am not a hippie

The other night I was sitting in a room with colleagues before starting an evening responsibility monitoring students and helping get students to sleep. I work at a boarding school, and I have the good fortune (and sometimes deep annoyance) to live on a dorm with my family rent free, in exchange for weekly night duty and monthly weekend duties.

So we were sitting together, before the formal meetings started, discussing the love life of a colleague in the room. He shared with the group that he and his fiancé are being married in a week at a small ceremony. We all congratulated him, and I went on to say how awesome that was, because we are all here for one reason, right? To make more love in the world.

There was a slight dip in conversation, and then laughter, when I repeated it. I thought this was an easy statement—who could deny that love is the highest good? And then, as I looked around to the bemused faces in the room, looking at me as if I had said something off-color, I heard from one colleague—I don’t think ______ would agree with you. I turned to this colleague and they said, I don’t even know what you mean.  I repeated the sentiment, asking, What else are we here for?  They looked at me blankly, and I had head enough on my shoulders to say, You have some work to do on love, colleague. And laughed.  It was obvious that they were uncomfortable, and somehow I had said something wrong.

The next day, walking by this colleague in the hall at school, they smiled and gave me a peace sign. I laughed and said, How’s the love in your life today?

This series of exchanges struck me on a number of levels.

First, it was amazing how uncomfortable folks got around me! And how quickly I realized I had said something I shouldn’t have. And how, if I made a joke of it, it would be all right.

Second, sharing a couple’s move toward committed relationship is always a moment to re-affirm our own loves in the world. I would no more look blankly at the disclosure of a colleague about this great leap forward than laugh derisively if a student came to me in pain or need. It felt an opening of vulnerability, and I didn’t understand the response I got to moving closer to that openness, saying yes to it and sharing that I thought he was participating in the most important thing in the world!

Third, why did my colleague flash me a peace sign in the hallway the next day? 

Throughout my time working at this school, and honestly throughout my life, I have had the term hippie used, primarily as an insult, in my general direction. I want to stress that I have never self-identified as a hippie. Maybe it was because in high school, fellow students would yell Fucking hippie!  at me in the halls and cafeteria. Maybe it’s because I grew up thinking that this boat had sailed, that there were no hippies left. Maybe it’s because I never EVER listened to the Grateful Dead.

Obviously, this term carries with it a weight of shame and judgment. And yes, some of the external markers of my life point in the direction of hippie—radical leaning, farmer, feminist, don’t shave, rarely spend money on physical appearance (though I love to get a pedicure and massage, and a fancy haircut), extended nursing/attachment parenting, interested in ending the money economy…..

But that’s really not the point of this post. I am not going to argue myself into calling myself a hippie. I am writing this to talk about how my expression of the highest good of LOVE prompted my colleague to both laugh at me and then flash me the hippie code—the peace sign. And no, they were not being in earnest.
What I want to write is that this conception of love—this stereotyping of love as an escapist fantasy is such a complete hijacking of what love means. It’s appalling.

The title of this post is an homage to bell hooks' book by the same name—All About Love: New Visions. Though it’s been awhile since I read this book, I remember her writing so eloquently about the connections between individual transformative love, love that seeks to be free from oppression, from misogyny and racism, and the transformative power of a world love that is required of us if we are to survive as a species on this planet.

When I speak of love, I am not talking about the avarice spewed in the media, the drug-hazed sentiment of the 1960s, or the lonely pining of the unpopular. I am talking about the power of justice love, where right meets right, where power bursts the bounds of human limitation, human evil. I am not telling my colleague, when he shares he is committing to another—good for you! now your life is perfect! What I am congratulating him on is his commitment to struggle and growth and the potential for transformation in the heat of what happens, when we are brave enough to stay. And this staying is good for us as individuals, and when it is right, it is good for the world, it builds the kin-dom. It changes things. It would do us well if we were more honest about what we do when we love, what we embrace and the power we have together that we do not have when apart. 

And love is not simply something we do as couples. We love as neighbors, as friends, as adversaries seeking common ground, as teachers, as students, as children, as parents, as activists confronting injustice, as ministers and musicians and every other thing we can think to do and be, with love. 

And it is a religious experience, this love that will change us. The faiths I have engaged hold love at the center of their call and challenge. How does invoking love lead us to think of hippies, instead of Jesus, or Gautama, or Goddess?

Ultimately, I would like to think I could invoke love and not evoke derision from my community. Ultimately, I would like to honor the elders who embraced the hippie label, and know that I stand in a stream deeper than any one moment in time. The threads of liberation that were nurtured in the time of the hippie were not newly born, and love is not a concept that belongs to them. Love belongs to no one, and is available to all of us, when we are willing to say yes, and stay.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Letting Go Series, #2: The Gifts of the Spirit

Number 2 in a series. A colleague looked me straight in the eye and spoke with great conviction: Let it go, Victoria. Let it go. I have decided to take him at his word, and reflect on issues with which I struggle to let go. 
My experience of Quakerism, in the 16 years that I have attended meeting, lived in and out of Quaker community, studied, worshipped, and struggled, has taught me that gifts of the Spirit are many. When I am able to really see people acting in their power, in their complex faiths, I see such a diversity of gifts expressed, arrayed like so many stars against our sacred sky. It can be humbling, exhilarating, and joy filled. 

But what happens when these gifts don't have a home? As I continue to grow in my understanding of myself as a minister, a poet, a farmer, a parent, I realize that there needs to be a home big enough for these parts of me to thrive. Thrive by way of challenge, by way of acceptance. Thrive because these gifts are not a joke. They are hard won. 

They are part of my own personal revolution. 

I feel stalled, just now. I feel like the space to grow into these gifts is clamped down. The way is shut, as opposed to open. Sometimes I am brought under by a sense of not being seen for these gifts. Sometimes my ego is so blasted because no one is walking up to me, saying, Hello, minister! Hello, poet! I see you for who you can be, I see your gifts and say, yes!

This is really not how the Spirit works, surely. This is just some adolescent fantasy-- like being singled out on the dance floor to dance with the cutest, most popular person in the school. This preoccupation with recognition is my biggest limitation, maybe. It makes it hard to listen.

Is this my problem? Am I not being attentive enough, still enough? Have I outrun my leading? I am wracked with insecurity, when doors shut and I feel stuck. I want to run from the discomfort, the hurt of not feeling at home. I want to rail at God(ess). I want to name myself ruler of my own fate. I want to embrace the arrogance that so often leads to worldly recognition and spiritual lack. I second guess my feelings, I second guess God(ess), I twist and turn on my own pin. I try to dissect myself out of the truth that is staring me in the face. The voice that is beckoning me. That has been speaking to me for as long as I have had ears to hear. 

I used to think this was Jesus' voice, when I was a young person. And then it was the voice of an imagined parent. Now I hear this voice as a marriage of my own internal compass and the worldwork energy of the earth. God(ess) in the machine. Life in the moment. Metta listening. Pulse of the earth. Spirit in motion. 

And what is She saying to me now? I am still trying to listen. Sometimes I hear a faint voice, chanting, Follow, follow.  But mostly I hear the struggle for self within me, the recrimination, the powerful witness. Mostly I know that I must let go of the desire to be seen and valued for these gifts. For spiritual gifts do not lead to ego-stroking and popularity, they lead to wholeness, to sweetness, to the great unknown and the power of will that is required of us in order to let go into a will that is not solely our own.

I pray for the strength to listen, the humility to let go of my attachment to external recognition, and the power of will required of me to follow faithfully, in time.