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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When Problems Find Us

by Lauren Van Ham

Invite the Wise Person out of someone.  Sometimes, we have to teach people to be where we need them to be.  - Sobonfu Some
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  Romans 12: 4-5 NIV
I was sitting in a circle with the wonderful indigenous teacher, Sobonfu Some; “In Africa, your problem is the community’s problem.  So we don’t say, ‘I have a problem.’ Instead we say, “a problem has found me.’”  Like lights sequentially illuminating a control panel, the implication of her words raced through my head and dropped down low, near my belly.  I tried a few on, just to see what it felt like….

The problem of alcoholism has found me…
The problem of bankruptcy has found me…
The problem of infertility has found me…

It feels very different to hold a problem this way.  I’m most struck by how the phrasing allows the problem both to be mine, and to not be mine.  In a culture that so often gravitates towards self-reliance or, “not putting anyone out,” what happens when I share with others that, the problem of unemployment has found me?  Or that, the problem of an autistic child has found me?

And in a society that emphasizes having “good boundaries,” and “not being a victim,” what happens when I hear from another that, the problem of an abusive partner has found me?  Or that, the problem of depression and homelessness have found me

Putting the problem within the community invites intimacy and risk (uh-oh) to say nothing of time and possible messiness.  I’ll begin with intimacy and risk.  When I have a problem; rather, when a problem has found me, and I bravely bring it to my community, I am taking a risk, hoping that this group of others will have what it needs to hold my problem (hold me?) in its collective wisdom and love.  Another outcome is also possible, of course, and here lies our BIG invitation.  It goes back to my mention of time and possible messiness.   

Consider your communities.  How well are you tending the problems that find your group?  Are you making and taking time?  When a solution is not readily apparent, is the group willing to allow for some messiness?  Is your community sharing and responding to its problem as a community; I mean, by truly tapping the collective wisdom, creativity and love of all its members?

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen teacher whose writing often compares the teachings of Jesus and Buddha says, “The Buddha of the future will be the Sangha.”  In Christian terms, this means, Jesus’s wisdom is the community.  As one body, striving for insightful, loving, skillful action, how are we making room for the problems…and for their collective solutions?

About Lauren: Lauren is an interfaith minister and lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as the Dean of Interfaith Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute and tends a private Spiritual Direction practice.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thieves Who Take Nothing

by Tom Pappas

In his charming book Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, poet Ted Kooser tells the story his Czech neighbors recite about what God does to make a poor man happy. “To make a poor man happy God arranges for the man to lose his mule, then after a while, find it again.”

There is a dynamic in play when we learn what we thought was so turns out to be nothing. Here’s my Lumunos/Facebook friend Susanna’s take: “The MRI that comes back clean. The 3am beeping carbon monoxide detector that just needs batteries. The child who walks in late and just forgot to call. Here's to all the somethings that turn out to be nothing.”  The mule is not lost after all.

Sometimes the lost mule takes the form of reclaimed time.  Last week I looked at my calendar and saw that I had missed the deadline for this blog – by 3 days. I felt terrible.  But after a closer look, it became obvious that I had been working on taxes and had left my calendar turned to February 2012. After flipping to the proper year and seeing that my deadline was still a week away, I literally felt physical relief.

In John 10:10 Jesus says The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am too willing to turn over my serenity to that thief by forgetting the second half of the verse. The mule is lost or the deadline seems to be missed, and I become anxious and afraid.  I forget that Jesus comes offering life better than we can imagine.

The “Bohemian Alps” are in Nebraska and if you know Nebraska you are aware that it’s a tall tale to consider them even small foothills. Alps they are not. Good wisdom comes from low places. It’s not a tall tale that it feels so much better to remember and believe what is promised.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Choosing to Decide

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

“It is our choices that show us who we really are. ”  This wisdom comes from none other than Aldus Dumbledore, Hogwarts Headmaster.  In many ways the choices we make do turn around and make us.

Throughout this year, you will see in Lumunos materials an invitation to think about your wellness.  In many ways, this is what Lumunos has always been about—the opportunity to see ourselves whole:  mind, body and spirit.  Wellness is about making choices:  to exercise and eat right; to value relationships; to engage in spiritual practices; to wrestle with the balance of self-care and care for others.

This opportunity to choose is our birthright.  While some people clearly have more choices than others, we always can choose.   This is the power of  witnesses like Victor Frankl or Nelson Mandela:  even in the most horrifically inhumane settings, we claim our humanity by choosing how we respond to our circumstances.  In a much more mundane example, I could say that I don’t have time to exercise or pray, but it would be more accurate to say that I am choosing not to.

To say we can choose doesn’t mean it is easy.  At the moment I am typing this blog while desperately trying not to spill soup on the keypad.  I’m working while eating, trying to shave a few extra minutes out of my workday.  Why? Because tomorrow morning I want to go to school with my son.  Most of us aren’t choosing between going to the gym or smoking a pack of cigarettes.  Our choices are much harder:  work priorities vs. family time; caring for my health vs. worthy volunteer efforts; time for my marriage vs. time with friends.  

As agonizing as these decisions can be, they are actually good for us.  From a health perspective, research has shown that the very act of making decisions helps us to heal.  In just one example, the nursing home residents who made choices about meals and activities fared much better than those who were told what to do.  Yale surgeon and author Bernie Siegel writes, “People who choose their own therapies have fewer side effects than those who silently submit to treatment because their doctors told them to.”  (Love,Medicine and Miracles, by Dr. Bernie Siegel). 

Choosing is good for our health and it is good for our soul.  As much as I struggle with these hard decisions, the process is good.  Discernment drives me deeper into my values and priorities.  And like many hard things, it pushes me towards God.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer may have said it best:

I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.  One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God…

Blessings on your choices, as you live in the midst of life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Prayer for the Subway Riders

by Angier Brock

Recently I took one of my granddaughters, age 10-1/2, for her first visit to New York City. Together we took in the city skyline from the Staten Island Ferry, fell silent at the 9/11 Memorial, and laughed and cried through Wicked. One day we made stops at Tiffany’s, the American Girl Store, and F.A.O. Schwarz. That evening I watched her ice skate (while it was snowing!) at Rockefeller Plaza. Another day we wandered for hours through MoMA where she delighted in seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a painting which has enchanted her since she was small. What a joy it was for me to witness her seeing that beloved picture “in person”!

As we moved about the city, we walked a lot and occasionally hailed a cab, but it was while riding the subway that we had our most poignant New York experience. The car was crowded, everyone wearing gloves and hats and wrapped in many layers because of the day’s freezing temperatures. In spite of how closely packed we were, a woman was slowly making her way through the aisle of the car towards where my granddaughter and I stood clutching the poles for balance as the train rattled through the dark tunnel. Ahead of herself, the woman maneuvered a walker on wheels. With each step, she begged for spare change—for food, she said—and every two or three steps, she broke into tearful sobs. Though most of the riders were strangers to one another, the moment we shared was excruciatingly intimate, for the woman’s suffering was quite real—and very close.

So real and so close that at first I wished I could shield my granddaughter from it. But there was no room to move away, no place to hide, nothing to do but to bear witness to the woman’s gut-wrenching distress. I later realized, of course, that poverty, both economic poverty and poverty of spirit, is as much a part of the pulse of that city—of any city—as its “must see” highlights. In fact, though it is not listed in travel guides, if we are to be fully human, it too is something we must all see.  

But alongside the woman’s embodiment of poverty, we also saw small acts of kindness and generosity. A few hands reached out to give her some money. Whether that was wise or not is debatable, though it was at the very least a way to acknowledge her presence among us. However, the response that lingers most vividly with me was this: a man, several decades older than the woman and of a different race, reached into the brown paper bag on his lap and handed her an orange from his lunch. That orange passing from his hand to hers remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful things I saw on our trip.

And so my prayer is for the subway riders, which is to say, for each and every one of us as we hurtle through our days. While our needs vary (and unlike the woman’s, are often hidden away, even from ourselves), are we not all beggars in one way or another? And at the same time, don’t we all have something we can share with our companions on the journey, even when those companions are mostly strangers, and even when all we can give at the moment is as small—and as miraculous—as an orange?