Monday, April 29, 2013

Disasters We Create

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When I was struggling with agonizing questions and problems surrounding my aging parents care needs I had a heightened awareness to everything around me.  I suspect that was because I felt my life was at stake.  Within that awareness, comfort and answers came to me through everyday experiences.  I found much relief in the natural world, but I also found it in a variety of other ways such as a look, a word or phrase, and often from a National Public Radio program.  One such NPR program was a sociologist’s analysis of the Challenger Disaster.  I summarized the high points of that program for me in my memoir as follows:

Events leading to the tragedy showed how historical decisions created a layered inflexible bureaucracy that compromised the integrity of the original mission.  Everyone got all tangled up in the rules.  Production concerns created debate between engineers and top managers, and engineers were not involved in policy and production decisions.  Intuition and common sense were disallowed (just look out the window and see the ice); they thought pressure would force O rings in place.  Push mute button on a conference call between managers and engineers for an aside managerial conference.  The pilot was not part of the launch decision.  And point the finger of blame away from yourself. 

That analysis was a great metaphor for the problems I had with my father over my mother’s care and also for the difficulty I was experiencing with my church.  What if we used the Challenger analysis as a template showing us what not to do?  Would respectful dialogue been seen as essential in all endeavors?  Would women have half the voice and participation in what affects their lives?  Could common sense rule and simplify life?  Would we be able to look at ourselves and see where our complicity lay?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Oh Happy Fault

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I dedicated my memoir, “God Never Hurries,” to my crone friend, Rosemary.  Humility graced her.  She taught me how freeing it can be to admit to being wrong.  Sometimes she would say, “This is what I know and believe today, but ask me tomorrow and I may know it a different way.”  Rosemary learned to say those words after reversing a previous belief that she had come to regret.  From that day forward she left the door open on the tenets she held.

Thinking of being wrong led me to recall a quote from Jim Crace’s novel Quarantine:  “…for everything that God has made is weak, blemished and imperfect by design.”  What if our mistakes are designed learning opportunities and that’s what God had in mind when we were gifted with free will?  Shame, blame and guilt would have to take a back seat to learning a whole host of worthwhile things, not the least of which is humility.  What if it is our mistakes that evolve us into more wise, kind, tolerant and humble beings?

May God bless us through our mistakes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Praise It!

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I heard that Alex Haley, the author of “Roots” once said, “Find the good and praise it.”  His words took me back to a church reform conference I had attended in Detroit.  Years later I briefly summarized the high points of that conference for me in one paragraph in my memoir, God Never Hurries as follows:

…We were asked to presume everyone’s fallibility; accept the premise that we can all be wrong; work for global standards for basic human rights and responsibilities; let justice reign to support economic order; respect all of life; live tolerantly and truthfully with an equal share of rights among men and women; understand holiness as compassion and inclusivity—embracing the marginalized as Jesus did; share our unique piece of wisdom according to our life, and then let it go to blend into a bigger whole; God’s living word is in our life’s stories—tell them and write them down.

That’s quite a to do list.  If you read that paragraph again you might be amazed to see that most tasks can be individually accomplished.  What if we all did our individual part, and where we can’t get the job done ourselves, support those who can.  I trust eventually we would have much to praise.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Holy Wholly Holy

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John Carradine as Casey:

            I’ve got nothing to preach about no more.  That’s all.  I ain’t so sure of things.   My heart ain’t in it.  All that lives is holy.

Henry Fonda as Tom Joad:

            A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just a piece of one big soul that belongs to everyone.  Find out what’s wrong and see if something can be done about it.

Carradine and Fonda spoke those words in a 1940 film based on John Steinbeck’s prize-winning novel, “Grapes of Wrath.“  It is the story of an Oklahoma family who lost their farm during the Great Depression/Dust Bowl in the 1930’s and their grueling trip west to California in search of work.  Their roles showed how personal hardship created an opening to understanding and holiness.  They touched my ecumenical soul and led me to ask, what if common people really do have common sense?

Carl Jung said that we respect what we regard as holy.  What if we could see the intrinsic holiness in everyone?  Could it moderate our egos and allow us to be much more respectful and accepting of all people regardless of whom they are or what they have done?  What if we could see the inherent  holiness in our planet’s resources, plants and animals?  Would our respect and care for them grow?

Maybe the first step is to know our own indewelling holiness regardless of our failures and shortcomings and therefore know this holiness exists in all other people and all things.  Like Steinbeck’s Casey and Tom Joad, the privilege of that experience often comes through graced hardship.

Theologian Richard Rohr, “People who don’t get it teach us how to love.”

Monday, April 1, 2013

Nun, None or None of the Above

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I once thought I wanted to be a nun, but that was not my path.  In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article last spring Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist said, “You are crazy to mess with nuns.”  Brave, tough, admirable, saintly and crafty were adjectives Kristof used in praise of the women he call “the first female feminists earning doctorates or working as surgeons long before it was fashionable for women to hold jobs.”  Instead, my path led me to leave the church of my birth at age 60 with no desire to formally join another religion.  For me it has been a good choice, broadening my spirituality, infusing me with a blessed freedom, and leading me to explore a variety of spiritual practices that speak to me.  Does that make me a none?

What if there was an Ecumenical box to check when asked to state a religious affiliation?  How many millions of people, who currently know they are none of the commonly listed faiths, would check that box when asked to state a religious preference?  There are pages and pages of beautiful related words in my thesaurus for ecumenical such as universal, heaven-wide, galactic, all-inclusive, cooperating.  When Kristof titled his article, “We Are All Nuns,” I suspect he understood their ecumenical nature and that we are all one family. 

Many years ago I had an aha moment when listening to the wise Sr. Joan Chittister talk about how the church might have done its job too well in taking over the care of the poor, sick and disenfranchised, thereby relieving the rest of us of the responsibility.  I suspect Kristof knows we all are called to be nuns when he cited the “median age is well over 70 of the 57,000 dedicated women who work tirelessly for a more just world.”  What would it take to walk in the sensible shoes of a nun?  What if each and every one of us lived more simply and sustainably, and shared a fraction our time, talent and treasure when and where we could to relieve others’ suffering.  Could all of us together do the job each in our own unique way?  Are you a nun, none, or none of the above?