An American Lament

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Vincent Castiglia – “Lament”

When life began shuttering for all of us back in March, I found myself once again on the run and beginning to feel as if I couldn’t breathe.  If you read back to the blogs I posted back in March, the sense of darkness was surfacing, tossing and turning at night, overwhelmed by once again the feeling of drowning.  It was the sense of loss, feeling homeless, a looming pandemic, and admittedly, the humility it takes to move home, even if temporarily, after more than twenty years away.  I could literally feel it on my chest, like I couldn’t breathe.

If you’re a regular reader, you know it’s nothing new for me, the sense of having my breath taken away.  One of the most pivotal moments in my life was nearly drowning while whitewater rafting on the Ohiopyle River in Western Pennsylvania.  It was not only the weight of a raft atop me, but the weight of the handful of men in the raft, and even the weight of a life flashing before my eyes, my life as it seemed to be coming to an abrupt end in a matter of seconds although feeling like minutes.  I couldn’t breathe.

If we can ever admit, or take the time to become aware, most of us at one time or another know that feeling of drowning or being unable to breathe.  We’ve witnessed the story of George Floyd this past week, a man pinned to the ground for what we now know to be nearly 9 minutes with a knee to his throat.  I’ll never admit to understanding I know what it feels like, but I do know the feeling of oppression and the weight of the world and all powers plopped down on top of me, unable to move, breathe, or even live life fully.  It’s the point which often goes unspoken, but believe it has more to do with the fact most don’t know their drowning because it’s often in their own grief.

It takes a great deal of humility to admit something is wrong and needing help, especially for men.  It’s not a surprise to anyone, men are more prone to suppress and repress how they feel and takes a lot of pushing before it begins to spill over.  We’re much better at taking it out on others than we are on allowing the pain to be transformed within us.  If we compound years of anger, hurt, and resentment, with now nearly three months of quarantine and lock-downs, it shouldn’t shock us when it begins to reach a boil and no one willing to turn back the heat.  It becomes, sadly, a political game with each of us as pawns, pushed to stand against so-called beliefs rather than with a hurting people.

We have before us many failing institutions.  It doesn’t mean their surmise; however, it does mean change is necessary, now more than ever.  We find ourselves surrounded by institutions which have become self-serving, which naturally take an oppressive approach because they become about power, and inevitably, an abuse of power.  We certainly see it in our political system, crumbling infrastructures, waffling cities, irrelevant religious institutions driven more by politics, money, and keeping the natives intact.  Is it any wonder we find ourselves now at a boiling point with the fear of only getting worse as this political season heats up?

I, of course, can only speak of my own experience.  There is even a part of me lamenting the rush of churches reopening.  As someone who’s been on the inside, there is great value and still have a resounding faith, but like most institutions, we refuse to look at the whole.  Now more than ever, churches need to move beyond the walls and out into the streets.  The thought of closing church into the confines of a wall gives the sense of suffocation, unable to breathe.  Over time we gradually are lulled into believing the world is bad, dark, evil, or any word you choose to describe.  However, it’s no different than an individual closing in on him or her-self. 

Over time, we become isolated, self-consumed, and breakdown communication.  It doesn’t mean we can’t function in the world; we still work, gather around people, and do what we need to do, but all in anticipation of locking ourselves back up again, feeling like we can once again breathe as we “leave” the world.  Before we quickly return to get our “fix” of comfort, we need to take a look at the world and what’s happening.  Again, I must say, I’m not against any of it; however, more needs to be expected of such an institution claiming transformation at its heart.  It’s also not simply my own faith background; it’s religion in America which fears the world and change and yet paradoxically choosing death over life by not changing systemically.

There is much to lament these days.  There are the countless people killed, hundreds of thousands dying of disease and viruses, at times looking like we don’t care, inequalities we prefer to make judgment of than deal with, failing institutions, increasing debt, anxiety through the roof, thousands upon thousands on prescription drugs for depression and other mental health issues, people yelling at one another unable to listen, pain boiling over, lack of care or concern for the other, selfishness, survival over living, transactional mindsets, empty words and speeches, generational trauma, and the list goes on an on.  Who are the people benefiting from this “normal”?  Is it “normal”?  Why is there a rush to return to “normal”?  Do you see why we shouldn’t rush to once again close off from the world?  It’s understandable why we make it “normal”; who wants to confront the pain of others when we can’t deal with our own!

When we break it down, we’ve lost our ability to dialogue as humans.  We’ve disconnected from our heart and try to understand through an ego which will always try to defend and protect.  Our greatest lament is the loss of our humanity in our institutions and beyond.  People are suffering on levels requiring self-aware leaders, free of the confines of institutional boundaries of cufflinks, dress and three-piece suits, a willingness, as Pope Francis says, “to smell like the sheep”.  The more we allow ourselves to be immersed in the pain and suffering of the world, we find ourselves unable to breathe by our own hypocrisy as a fellow human on the journey.  I know; I’ve been there.  Even writing about it brings up the feeling within me, reminding me of a life once lived not my own.  We lament the institutional freedom for true freedom.

As Americans we must lament.  We must grieve in these days.  We must learn to let go of our expectations, dreams unlived, our resentments and anger.  We must go out among the ones we deemed “profane” and listen to their story as well.  It’s not only our story which we find crumbling; it’s everyone’s story.  We need to write a new story for future generations, weaving together the great parts of our tradition with their own vision for tomorrow.  It’s not going to be the same.  It can’t be the same.  It mustn’t be the same.  We need to lament, most of all, a return to “normal”.  If one does not benefit from a return, then none of us do.  We must understand the one who’s been pushed from the top, being held underwater.  They have a perspective and a voice which must be heard, whether we agree or not.  For lamenting is not about agreeing or disagreeing.  It’s about grieving a heart which has hurt, a heart which will continue to scream out from underneath the raft until it’s given its voice to speak.  As Americans, it’s time to lament…

Playground’s Parable

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Hazleton News 1 Parks have been closed throughout the pandemic but have been in disrepair long before

As a child, there’s nothing like time at the playground.  It’s a place for imagination to flow as you fly free on the swings, daringly climb to the top of the monkey bars, and see who can get the other to fall first on the teeter totter by abruptly jumping ship, followed up with belly laughs!  I still walk near that park practically daily and am simply mindful of the memories, laughs, and even tears from falling atop the bars only to climb back up, renewed and ready to go, a sense of resiliency learned at a young age.

In our day, parents never knew much of what we were doing on the playground, or so we thought.  We went unsupervised, not because we had bad parents, there just wasn’t a need for supervision.  It was ingrained in us, growing up in a small town, there was always someone watching, someone who would take care or relay the message if need be.  There was a lived reality and belief where we looked out for one another and we weren’t the center of the world; there were others sharing this space with us.  Of course, there are negative connotations as we can assess it from an adult perspective, as if someone was ready to pounce on us if there was an issue, but I suppose as a child it’s a healthy fear to have, always knowing there was a line not to cross.

At times it still feels like I live on this proverbial playground.  It appears, at times, like we’ve gone amuck and the adults have left us to ourselves, not even wanting to supervise, as if orphans in an unknown world.  Now, though, we don’t know where the lines are and no one seems to care whether we’re hurting ourselves or each other, it’s practically each man and woman for him or her-self.  It’s as we like to say, the “inmates are running the asylum.”  It’s no longer about flying free, without a care in the world, swinging back and forth, but rather pushing each other off, mid-air, to see who we can hurt the most.  It isn’t about the fun of climbing the bars, but rather stepping on one another to assume the place of power to lord it over others, all while the park begins to fade and turn into shambles, as if the memories of a war had faded but the scars remain and are always reminding us what we have lost without a sense of moving forward.

The silence, as you walk through, may be the one redeeming quality.  As the children in charge continue to fight with one another, competing, lording, and most especially, simply surviving, it’s in the silence where you begin to cry at the reality, letting go of a world which once was and yet with some fear of what unfolds before the eyes.  Is it me who’s crazy?  Why do I want to remain disengaged from it all?  Why don’t I see the point in what they’re fighting over and trying too hard to hold onto?  It seems rather pointless.  All this while the world around seemingly speeds up its deterioration.  Is it our own inability to accept reality?  Is it our desire to hold onto memories with the fear of losing all that mattered?  I don’t know.

It seems, the one place where as kids we were able to escape, the playground, has been all but shattered.  Rust covers the bars, swings empty, police tape closing it off as if criminal to play and imagine in a time when kids need it the most, overgrown grass, dilapidated basketball courts, often used as a roller-skating rink back in the day.  Now, the wonder seems all but lost.  There seems to be a lost sense of the other, the looking out for one another, while the world burns around us.  Will there ever be a day when we recognize the other as ourselves?  Will there ever be a day, again, when it’s not all about me, my wants, my rights, and to recognize we’re given one chance at this life and there’s more than just me, a day when we help the other climb rather than step on them to get ahead of them in order to get my way?

Everything and everyone has become so transactional.  If someone doesn’t support my view or vision, we toss them.  Heck, there’s always someone else out there who’s willing to sell their soul to get ahead!  Isn’t that the way it works if you want to play the game?  We’ve lost the sense of just playing the game to play with an addiction to winning.  We’ve sacrificed what’s good and right for a gold star and a win to try to feed my own emptiness, only leaving me more depleted.  Heck, we’ve even tried to soften the blow of a sliding board as we can somehow avoid getting hurt.  We’ll go to the furthest ends to avoid the pain of loss and hurt.  The irony and paradox, it only hurts more.

It’s good to imagine in the face of reality.  It’s good to imagine not what the playground used to be but what it can be.  Heck, just a little care and concern would go a long way, a recognition there are still children who need a place to play and use their own imaginations!  Like us, as kids, they too need a place to escape into the world of imagination and dreams, not the seemingly, and all-too-real games, of a pad or gaming device!  If anything, this deadens the imagination.  A place, rather, which is illumined in the evening, where we don’t have to fear our own darkness but even play with our shadows.  How about a place which screams with excitement for their arrival, de-stimulating their minds in order to explore the vastness of their own inner life?  Better yet, a place where they can run free, risk the sting of a bee, falling flat in the mud, and get back up, a true lesson in resiliency.  Resiliency will get them further in life than winning anyway.

We need, now more than ever, a world which dreams for tomorrow.  We’ve settled for rusty monkey bars, overgrown grass, buckled courts, all while being distracted by the supposed adults and elders of society bickering with one another, consumed in their own pain, and failing to see the helpless child, screaming out, just wanting to feel safe and secure to dream and imagine a life as doctor, pilot, president, firefighter, dancer, teacher, etc.  Who wants any of that when all you see being mirrored back is anger, resentment, and a lack of care and concern for your own well-being and caring more about themselves, some unwilling to let go of failed expectations.

I don’t know, maybe we’d all be a little better off if we spent time in a park, feeling free, giving perspective, and using our imaginations for a better world for our children and ourselves.  Don’t they deserve better than we’re offering, and for that matter, modeling?  There’s nothing like the sense of freedom and flying, swinging back and forth, wind in the hair, without a care in the world knowing, all will be well.  I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but we can offer so much more.  Simply stepping into the shoes of a child for a time will enliven the spirit, not to command them to be “mini-me’s” but to be who they are, children, and us, young at heart.

Caught In Between

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Browning, Montana. Now for most people this means absolutely nothing. Unless traveling through Glacier National Park, most would have no reason to know Browning let alone even hear of it! Browning sits at the base of the mountains, and when visiting during the winter months, you’d think you were going to be blown back to Kansas as the wind whips down the side of the mountain amidst blowing snow into this small town. Browning sits within the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and is neighbor to one of the most beautiful and spectacular national parks around, even during the dead of winter.

I never knew much about life on a Reservation until I had the opportunity to visit on three different occasions, chaperoning with high school students. It’s a rather unique experience because much of life is contained to the particular space, not only because of the heritage, but also practically there is nothing in sight for hours All you see are endless fields.  Needless to say, groceries are quite expensive since there’s no competition and requires more to import into town, addictions run rampant, education is less than stellar, poverty only continues to escalate, and opportunity for long-term work and success has all but vanished beyond any visitors from Glacier who straggle through during the summer months.

So why has it been on my mind? Well, I’ve been spending this time of pandemic back at the town I grew up in and spent more than half my life. Since then I’ve not only visited Browning, but Third World countries, various places around this country, as well as Europe and Israel, so I’ve had the chance to see and experience many places over the course of my life. Yet, here I am, back where I began. I have seen, though, many similarities to some of the places I have visited, like Browning, and this town which I now find myself writing. No, it’s not an Indian Reservation, but has become similar to many other small, more rural towns in America. Like Browning there is but one grocery store with high prices. At a normal time, it’s much cheaper to drive to the Wal Mart fifteen minutes away. Most industries have all but left, and driving through the “downtown” area, a place I spent hanging out with friends in all types of weather, is vacant, dilapidated, and mirrors a war zone much more than the booming feel it had as a kid and teenager. Unless you hit the one red light in town now, there isn’t much reason to stop anymore.

Just like ourselves, when life simply becomes about survival, rather than thriving and booming, as many small towns have become, we begin to attract people who are like-minded. We begin to become depleted without much vision or purpose along with a lack of funds. Learning begins to falter in education systems unable to keep up with current trends, even more glaring during this time. Creativity seems to be all but lost as to how to move forward. We literally become stuck between two worlds, seemingly at odds with one another, when in reality we’re at odds with ourselves, more often than not. It is, after all, a small town with a big heart. However, it’s a hurting heart which doesn’t beat as quick as it used to in days past, weighed down. Like most things, it has a lifespan, but it doesn’t mean it has to end.

If you don’t know the history of Reservations, the long-term intent was an extinction of Natives. It was not some kind of gift to them but rather a way of ridding the country of a problem. They too become trapped between tradition/heritage and the guilt of losing it or sacrificing it for a new way of life, or better yet, thinking. Like most of our problems as a society, we’d rather try to get rid of it than to deal with it, but unfortunately in the process of trying to be rid of it only tends to deepen it, including the resentment and anger associated with it. We’ve seen some of the problems rear their head during this time of pandemic, consistently finding ourselves stuck and reacting, as if playing a game of whack-a-mole all with a silo mentality in a global world. It was Einstein who’s quoted saying, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” There’s much truth to the statement. Yet, we try and it moves us to the place of confinement, unable to let go despite a wanting to move forward. We see it not only in small towns but in cities and in the country as well.

I’ve only had the experience of living in the city of Baltimore in my life so it’s the only one in which I can speak. Like small towns, it lacks a vision and is always behind the eight ball in dealing with issues. The number of lives lost to murder and homicide is staggering. There is, though, also a tension which exists. With the lack of vision on a larger scale for a city like Baltimore, neighborhoods take it upon themselves to change. You can see it driving through various locations. For those of us wanting to see a bigger picture for such a place, it looks like an experience of gentrification, and is on some level. It’s pushing the problem to other locations and often feeding into the level of crime existent in the neighborhoods. Like minds gravitate to like minds. If life is about survival, it’s about survival and we’ll go to a place where we can simply hang on for dear life but it’s not a mindset which will bring about change because it’s not even possible when in triage. Parts of cities, small towns, Reservations, end up becoming about extinction than about booming and thriving, a place to die. It feels rather hopeless.

Yet, it doesn’t need to be about blame or feeling hopeless. We often settle for a victim mindset because we’re comfortable there. There’s a sense of safety there because I can avoid looking at my own life and actions as to how they have contributed to the problem. It’s easy to blame the federal government for creating Reservations. It’s easy to blame suburbanites for fleeing cities for a “better way of life”. It’s easy to blame outsiders coming into small towns and destroying them and making them unsafe. But when looked at through the lens of a mindset, it should not come as a surprise. Rather than being in the uncomfortable place of change and letting go of what no longer works, we’d often rather settle for one or the other, past over present, tradition over change, the way it was over the way it could be. We don’t have to choose, in this regard, but rather take the wisdom of the past, the learned experiences, and allow them to be the framework for the future. Sure, there is a letting go needing to take place, even if it’s our anger and resentment for a life which hasn’t necessarily turned out the way we wanted it to be or the feeling of being overwhelmed by all which needs to be done. Change isn’t a leap but rather a step-by-step process, and before you know it, you’re on the other side of the river, once again booming and thriving.

It takes a will and desire for change, an acceptance of our present reality as it is, not in the illusion we often create it to be, and a heart freed of the hurt which has held you back. Whether it’s individuals, towns, cities, countries, or even companies, if they cling too tightly to what was and not wanting to change, you’ll always be playing from behind because life has become too cluttered. We become victims and do what we’re so good at, blame. It’s not to say we don’t take responsibility for problems which exist. If it is a problem plaguing any part of humanity or this world, we all have a responsibility. It’s not just the neighbor, the mayor, the president, Congress-men and women, or anyone else. It’s a mindset and mindset is the hardest to change. It can only be changed by a higher consciousness and this time is providing us the space to move to a deeper and yet higher place in our lives and society. We have a responsibility to one another, not just to ourselves. We mustn’t create a safe space for ourselves and forget about everyone else; that’s selfish. We must create a world which seeks the common good of humanity.

It is a daunting task but it’s step by step. In order to become unstuck we must make the conscious choice to do so, to have the desire to be free in order to move forward. This place of tension in which we find ourselves, between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, will either paralyze us or free us and our imaginations for a better world. I’ve seen both at play daily. Hunkering down in great fear will only continue to paralyze you and deepen the anger and resentment which already existed. Yet, being cautious and using time wisely, as we used to say back in the day, can bring about great change in the future. It’s a time for self-reflection for all of us as to what world we will choose to live in as we move forward and begins with not only a vision for our own lives but for our towns, cities, nation, and world.

Terror of the Dark Night

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It comes in the form of feeling trapped. For anyone who knows my story, you know I nearly lost my life whitewater rafting more than fifteen years ago now. I will never forget the feeling, the feeling of being trapped. For me, it’s the experience of anxiety. Sure, there are many other manifestations of anxiety in people’s lives. I can simply speak of my own experience. It’s the feeling of drowning, for others, death, still others, trapped in a confined place, a closet, the sense of losing it all, things falling apart around me, the loss of control. The way it becomes embodied in our lives, because it does take shape in the body, are far too numerous to spell out here. Anyone who is at least somewhat self-aware knows and understands, to some degree, how it becomes manifest.

I still remember being called by a funeral director asking if I could come to a cemetery while a body is being transferred from underground into a mausoleum. As I began talking to the daughter of the one being exhumed, I began to understand its link to anxiety and an irrational fear. Here she was, making an expensive decision, based on her own fear. This was not the first, but now going to be the third burial place for her mother’s burial. To the rational mind we’d automatically deduce she’s crazy, and on some level, it is a madness or an insanity knowing we make decisions all the time out of irrational fears. She insisted to me her mother was claustrophobic and needed to be exhumed from the ground while never recognizing a mausoleum isn’t much different, going from one enclosed “resting” place to another. It was clear the daughter was not getting much rest herself.

It is a real problem for many, even on a societal level and begins to become all the more evident the further we embark on unchartered, or as we like to define everything, unprecedented, territory with the coronavirus pandemic. Very little is spoken of about mental health during this crisis but all seems to be surfacing the longer we find ourselves confined to a particular place. Again, there is the feeling of being trapped, cornered, confined, loss of control, aggressively moving itself to the surface. Unfortunately, we all find ways to keep it locked inside, but in some ways, now being confined to places, the external world has met up with the internal world we learned to avoid. We do it through overwork, eating, drinking, gluing ourselves to phones and pads, all to take “the edge” off in order to relax. It’s always been there but the pandemic is forcing us to slow ourselves and no longer run from our own pain and fear finding themselves bubbling to the surface.

Now I am not a mental health professional but I am a self-aware individual who’s done a lot of work on himself and understands the interior landscape. I, too, like many still run at times from my own pain. More often than not it’s because I’m just not ready to look at it but know it’s there. The easiest way we learn to deal with it is blame everyone else for our problems. It’s a good indicator of someone who has not done the hard, interior work. We even see this played out on a large scale when we blame, ridicule, put down, others because of our own inability to take responsibility for where are lives are at and an underlying resentment also feeding into our anxiousness. Most successful corporations are aware of the human condition and even hire psychologists to assist in their success. Steve Jobs never hid the fact of the inception of Apple coming from biblical reference and the unsettlement within human beings to want more.

Now we find ourselves at this crossroad, however, when we can begin to turn the system on its head because it has taken advantage of the weakness of our humanity. It’s one thing as an individual to tackle our own uneasiness, angst, or anxiety which remains the great “invisible enemy” in which we are at “war” with on a daily basis. It’s there and now is beginning to surface. We need to keep ourselves busy, it appears, get back to normal and work, so we can avoid the interior reality all the more. What we seem to fail to see is the energy required to blame, to remain victim, as if someone else is still responsible for our lives. Why on earth would we want to go to our grave miserable having never lived the life we wanted to live? There is a great freedom when we finally recognize the war we fight is against ourselves and no one else.

I think about all the energy I expended fighting everyone else. It’s not to say there aren’t times for it, but generally speaking the damage it does to my health and well-being, including my mental health, is a toll all too expensive. I understand it’s a painful process entering into your own anxiety and pain, but it is a necessary one as individuals and as a nation. If we don’t stop the blame game soon, the anxiety will only continue to deepen, the pain widens, and the feeling as if we are suffocating ourselves, as respiratory diseases do, will only begin to intensify. As a country we have shown our pride, but pride too has a dark side. It is the avoidance of our arrogance and ignorance as if we know better than the world and everyone else and our inability to say we need help. How many avoid the care of a mental health professional simply out of pride? The price, your own well-being. Is it worth it?  Ask for help.

Anxiety and pain are real and has an impact on our lives which goes unnoticed and unrecognized. If this time of quarantine and physical distancing should teach us anything, it’s the wake up call we should have anticipated for a long time. It’s not God smiting us for some bizarre reason, that too is blame. It’s not someone trying to do us in, that’s conspiracy. It’s not the world against me, that’s pride. It is, however, the world we have created and have bought into as being “The American Way”. If you still feel you’re not responsible, well, hopefully one day you’ll move beyond the stage of denial. It is after all a grieving process we find ourselves going through these days. Denial is everywhere around us and within us, avoiding the harsh reality that life isn’t always the way we dreamed or expected. It’s only when we move to the stage of acceptance where we can finally say, “you know what, that’s ok.” I no longer need to fight or blame but rather recognize and accept we are complicated people of both great joy and pain, victim and victor, winner and loser, and all the other paradoxes which make up the human condition.

Do yourself a favor. In this time of pandemic, look at it is opportunity, even our inability to gather as faith communities. We focus too much on the inconveniences of life. There are certainly economic and personal implications. We mustn’t deny it. However, there is also plenty of opportunity. We were designed for simplicity and not just from material things, but all we hold onto. Take the time to journal and write about your own pain, where life seemed to have treated you wrongly, the incessant uneasiness within yourself, the times you can’t breathe, all of it.  Go for a walk in nature and allow it to speak and allow yourself to listen. It’s the pain often making the decisions of holding you back from the life you had wanted and desired. In the end, we aren’t much different than the daughter unearthing her mother over and over again. We all just find different ways of doing it in order to avoid the most fragile part of what makes us human, our pain, hurt, and anxieties.

Use this time to go there and then you will find hope in the midst of pandemic and see just how much you’ve allowed yourself to be bamboozled by a ruthless world not because they’re out to get you and destroy you, but rather because it’s a world which hurts and acts out of the same place as your own pain, hurt, fears, and anxiety. There is already an anchor within you waiting to hold you down in the storm rather than being swept away in despair and depression. “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” It is, after all, a matter of the heart we need to learn to deal with for it is the heart which holds the pain and our head, our ego, trying at all cost to avoid, blame, and make us victim. No one can make the decision for you, not even me, all I can do is act as a guide on this journey to self-awareness. If anything, it will change the way you see the world and yourself. In the end, it’s all we can really ask for ourselves, for we need to fear the “terror of the night”.

Counterfeited Fantasy

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There’s not a more symbolic place in the United States than Disney World & Disneyland, standing as bookmarks on the far ends of the country. You know we’re in, as we all too often like to say, unprecedented times when they shut their doors to the public due to the coronavirus outbreak. If you’ve ever been you know it can be quite the magical place, as intended. It’s a place to escape the reality of daily life and enter into, in a sense, an Eden, where all seems right with the world. Of course, it’s not true. There are still overstimulated and screaming children who become overwhelmed by the choices they have and wanting to do it all, while running on fumes for lack of sleep and endless hours of walking!

It’s not, though, the point of this post. These theme parks are symbolic of more than America’s happy place or the place to escape. They are symbolic of a culture and a society, deeply rooted in our history, of avoiding suffering and a fraudulent belief we can always be happy if we just avoid the suffering and pain. If I can live Disney all will be well. After centuries of this deeply-held belief, we have been given opportunities the confront this illusion. Just within the 21st Century alone we’ve been given the chance, the events of 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008, and now once again, the pandemic having spread across the globe.

Generally speaking, a delayed response shouldn’t be to hard to believe by any of us, knowing how we’d prefer illusions over reality. Knowing this, it should also not be hard to believe so many quickly believe “fake news”, conspiracy theories, or without a doubt, our incessant need to blame others for our problem. There is no doubt we now face a “war” against an “invisible enemy”. There’s also no doubt it’s a “virus” causing extreme hardship. Sure, it comes in the form of the corona virus, but there’s a deeper war we’re being called to combat. In time the coronavirus will be resolved in one way or another. However, the deeper war is one we oft refuse to confront and it is the illusion of our “happy place” where everything is “perfect” and we’re always “right” and often avoiding the good. As Disney closes its doors to the public, we once again find ourselves on the threshold of this same door, to claw our way back to this “happy place” where we can avoid all sense of suffering and pain or finally slam the door shut on a way of life that just is not working and is tearing us apart as people.

Our lack of preparedness for a crisis, as well, should not surprise any of us. When we do all we can to live the Disney-dream, there’s no reason to be prepared and to be pro-active. Everything becomes reactionary because we’re always trying to deflect pain and suffering. If this time offers us anything, it will hopefully be self-reflection because it’s not only ingrained in a society, it’s ingrained in everyone of us throughout our lives. It’s no one’s fault but our own and the more we project the “invisible enemy” beyond us, we will continue to avoid not only pain and suffering, but reality itself. It would be great if I can spend my life riding through the darkness of Space Mountain or dress my best in the fairytale of Cinderella’s castle, but at some point we’re all pushed to confront reality and to see it’s just that, a dream, an illusion, and unfortunately, a lie. Our eyes are opened to the regrets from chasing an illusion of culture, society, and even our own lives. There’s no “living the dream” just living reality, including the cruelty and heartlessness it can throw at us at times. Yet, all will be well.

Now I’m not here to knock Disney. I’ve been there myself. I enjoyed the experience, despite long line and outrageously expensive prices! Yet, even that is indicative of the illusion we consistently face. We believe we can buy the happiness we seek out in this fantasy world. If I just have one more item everything will be right and it will take that pain away. However, as we learn at Christmas, it may take the pain away for a day, but it seems as if the more we accumulate and feed into the illusion, the deeper the pain and anxiety. We are, after all, an anxious people. Spending years working with young men and women assures me that this won’t change any time soon. We have, after all, raised them in such an environment. If there’s any glimmer of hope, many of them choose not to feed into this illusion, seeking a simpler way of life. Sure, there is a downside to it, but it is an opening to change.

I mean, who wouldn’t want Disney if we can do it. We’re always winners, we’re always on top, we’re always the best, we never have pain and suffering. It sounds heavenly and anything else like hell. However, my own life’s experience reminds me that both are intricately intertwined within me and the more I try to avoid hell, pain, suffering, the deeper the hole and the more I need to feed the illusion of the “heaven” I’ve tried to create through Disney. Ironically, Walt Disney’s original intent was the create an experience affordable for a family. The price of “heaven” has become out of reach to many average families. All of these facets are woven into the fabric of our culture, society, and religion in America, the greatest fantasyland on Earth.

So once again we are given the opportunity to allow the illusion to finally die. Will we? Quite frankly, the rest of the world already knows it’s not real. It’s only us who choose to ignore it while others around the world use it against us to feed their own. No, it’s not a pessimistic view of the world. It’s the real reality. We can only see such reality when we enter into the reality of our own lives then we begin to see how we have fallen for it as well. We want the real Eden and we settle for Disney. We want truth and yet we settle for fake news. We want honesty, yet we settle for believing only the people who tell us what we want to hear. It’s time, not only to wake up, it’s time for us to grow up into a culture and society which can serve in the 21st Century before the world continues to quickly leap ahead of us.

So much is being revealed to us in this moment of pandemic and pandemonium. It’s revealing how little our fantasy serves us when the cruelty of reality awakens. It’s revealing how selfish we can be with a sense of immortality rooted not in faith but in fantasy. It’s revealing how easily we can succumb to fear not by a virus but at the thought of a shattering illusion we believe defines us as a people, and one in which we have allowed to define us. As long as all is “perfect” in my own little world who cares about the rest. The earth is groaning along with the people right now calling us to change and to confront our own “invisible virus” as a society and culture. Will we embrace it or do what we have done in the past, feed it, eating us away not from foreign lands but right within. Quite frankly, they may be the most foreign of all lands to us as Americans. It’s a call to go within and confront our own fantasies and finally seek healing for the “invisible enemy” eating at us for centuries, since first placing foot on Plymouth Rock and from that point forward trying to destroy anything getting in our way.

 

 

Will It Slip Us By?

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At times, some of the greatest lessons we learn come from what at the time appeared to be an inconvenience. Now I’d be the first to admit the pandemic we now face as a human race ranks higher than an inconvenience, a blip on the screen. At least it certainly feels like more knowing how it’s changing our lives, and, quite frankly, not necessarily bringing the best out of us as if we face survival of the fittest. Hopefully in the end we’ll see how irrational the fear we operate out of can be and often inhibits our ability to handle chaotic situations. When we hear stories about hoarding toilet paper and Clorox products, as if we’ve never used the products before, it should simply make us cringe, showing the little concern we have of the other in our world!

For those of us who have to consciously work at not isolating ourselves, it can be really difficult. We’re told we need to distance ourselves from one another and hunker down for the worst, similar to when growing up preparing for an impending blizzard, knowing we’d be “stuck” for possibly days. As if technology hasn’t already done a number on interpersonal relationships, we’re now told that social distancing must be the norm. All of it being fine, but are we now willing to learn the lesson of what technology has done and is doing to us. Even more so, we’re going to find our faces glued to computer screens as we’re forced to work from home and remote locations. Will we find the time to unglue ourselves long enough to renew the aged tradition of simply being with one another? There are plenty of memes out there making us laugh about not knowing the people around us because of the busyness of our lives. We laugh at the partial truth being revealed to us right now and in these moments.

We are already a consumer-driven culture and society and without a doubt it’s what we hear of the most in these days. As I write, the stock market is once again down nearly 2000 points, as if it is becoming the norm these days, businesses are closing, even Wal Mart is shutting its doors early! What’s normal is a question for another time! However, our lives seem to be driven by numbers, and in particular, these numbers. Somehow the viability, health, and resiliency of, we the people, is driven by how well our retirement plans are doing in the stock market. Maybe I’m too far away from the 59 ½ age to claim anything in mine, but it’s a daily occurrence and apparent indicator to the health of our nation. Are we just too uncomfortable with the unknowns so we cling to the numbers? This is not to say we shouldn’t be prepared for retirement, especially considering the growing lifespan of men and women. However, the almighty $$ remains our most prominent god, ingrained in our very being. There is already talk about bailouts and saving industries, quite noble of us. However, it will be simply a band-aid on a growing pandemic of our obsession with money. It shouldn’t surprise anyone we’d be hoarding toilet paper and the such knowing we’d prefer to pad wallets rather than help others in need, each wo(man) for themselves. Will we allow our own selfishness to be addressed, changing to be more grateful? Will we become conscious of the deep truth, that, in the end, it means absolutely nothing?

None of it, of course, has slowed down the insanity of conspiracy theories, an avoidance of what is, and the revealing of a dysfunctional political system. It’s amazing to believe some kind of emergency declaration was even possible! Some would say we’re overreacting, as is our nature, but it also reveals how poorly we are at being proactive and seeing beyond a decision, unable to see long-term consequences of our actions. The political system is primarily a reactionary body and whoever gets the last word, wins. It’s about winning. However, when our morality and ethical code is driven by winning and money, too many lose in the process. As we see, it is the most vulnerable of populations who become victim of our inability to plan for a future. When decisions or lack-thereof, are driven by political gain we all lose because the poor, the vulnerable, and populations we’d rather write-off lose. Will we allow this time to open our eyes to the people around us, real people who have a story not unlike our own and need us now more than ever?

Will we allow this time to slip by, getting impatient wanting to return to a life we were comfortable with prior to a pandemic? Are we already getting tired of being around the people we’re now “forced” to spend more time with? It was hard to ignore the number of posts on social media this weekend about the cancellation of religious services. It left me wondering, what are we really missing? Are we missing eucharist, the obligation, the time, the routine? There is so much wrapped up in our Sunday rituals but maybe even this time allows us to evaluate what it is we’re missing in the absence of the moments. Did we think about the people we wouldn’t see? Better yet, do we know the people we see week in and week out on Sunday? I was always amazed at the number of people who remained anonymous each week. I wonder where they are and how they’re handling all of this. Does that sense of anonymity only deepen for people who have felt invisible? It’s easy to make “church” into a tunnel-vision when it’s meant to expand our vision, to the people, the hands and feet of the other, walking in our midst.

In the end, there’s a deeper truth being revealed about us as a human race, one of which we have moved so far from it’s become unrecognizable and one we fear. It’s the fact of we really need very little. It’s about simplicity. Take it from someone who’s life had been upturned the past year, still piecing it together for the future, you need very little. We’ve complicated our lives with stuff and a rapid accumulation of it. For over a year much of my belongings have been boxed up and inaccessible but also unnecessary. The more we have the more anxious we tend to be, thinking and convincing ourselves we need more. Again, just look at the insane stories of toilet paper. The more we accumulate the more we want. It’s our deepest truth, simplicity, and our deepest fear, not having enough, as if we somehow lack. It becomes about us, as if we as people are lacking in self-worth, belief, value, etc. Will we allow ourselves to embrace the deeper truth of ourselves in we are not defined by what we have or do but by who we are?

My fear is, like too many times before, we’ll allow this time to slip by and become inconvenienced because our lives have been disrupted. It’s unsettling for everyone. We’re in this together, despite social distancing and the feeling of being isolated in our little worlds. It is a time, though, to pause and reflect about our lives as the mortality of the human race is tested. Death has a way of doing it to us more than anything else. Don’t let the time slip away as another blip on the screen. Pause, stop, reflect. What really matters in your life? Who really matters in your life? Who are the people who have become invisible in the world around you? What’s their story? My guess is, not much different than your own. Turn off the television, the anxiety, the fear of it all and ask where it’s coming from. What are the deepest fears assisting in our allowing this to slip through our fingers?

Pause, stop, reflect. Don’t let the timeless slip away without teaching the value of the time we are given.

 

Called to More

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Do you know people who never quite recover from difficult situations? We can probably all name a few who were never “quite right” after a particular loss, illness, or some other sort of tragedy, practically nailing someone to their grave long before their physical death. Yet, there are others who tend to be resilient, who are not going to allow anything in life to stop them and bounce back, using it as a learning opportunity to become better. It by no means they don’t face challenges and loss, but there is something within them not allowing them to lose hope or give up in any fashion. There is always this drive for “more” which doesn’t go away when things aren’t right, and until they reach the point of peace, there will be no stopping them.

It’s where I have often found myself. As life was slipping from my fingers in late 2018, I did everything in my power to try to contain it and hold onto the pieces without allowing them to shatter despite the desire for more shouting louder and louder within me. It’s hard to contain the voice within and makes it understandable why so many give up, but even harder to be insistent on holding things together despite needing to fall apart. It sometimes feels easier to give up on life, dreams, desires, and the rest than it is to ultimately, change, to let go. We’d rather be stuck in the same place rather than muster up the courage the inner voice is offering to catapult us to changing the way we live our lives. I dare say, not only as individuals, but as society as a whole. Fear runs so deep within us and is often utilized against us making it feel insurmountable. It takes resilient people around us to consistently remind us there is hope and possibility in the face of uncertainty and change happening at warp speed.

You rarely hear anyone speak of what it all does not only to our mental health but physically as well. We create walls for ourselves trying to protect ourselves from hurt, meaning, vulnerability. Let alone how it effects the world around us, in choices and decisions we make, not out of freedom as we love to tout, but out of fear which we have come to believe to be freedom because it’s what we’ve convinced ourselves of in our lives. In our inability to be resilient and agile, we continue to contain ourselves, shove ourselves into closets, and trapped in whatever way works for us. You need not look far into the political sphere at the level of anger existing in our society, often disguising resentment and unfinished hurts as if, somehow, we have been wronged by the government, professionals, doctors, religion, or whomever, creating a culture of doubt, mistrust, and cynicism and politicians cashing in on it.

We claim a great deal as a culture and society. We love to be the best at everything in comparison to the rest of the world, most innovative, best military, best medicine, and so on. I dare say, though, not the most resilient, which makes you better. If we were resilient, we’d change as needed and be able to admit we have real problems being left to politicians of all sorts and sizes. It’s easier to blame than to accept responsibility for the world around us, as if it’s someone else’s problem. Look around us and see an infrastructure aging and failing, a landscape continuously being raped of its resources, people still enslaved in various ways, instability, and all we can do is clamp down, out of fear of change. We may not pay the price in the moment, but this too is our shortcoming, unable to see beyond the tip of our nose on decisions, lacking long-term solutions to problems only deepening around, and I dare say, deep within us.

By definition, resiliency is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”. A growing debt and a lack of care of this reality exposes our inability to make tough decisions. Our incessant need to demonize the other, whether from other countries, other political affiliations, career choices, and so on isn’t toughness in a resilient way, bouncing back. It’s a toughness rooted in fear, anger, and contempt, none of which are values able to sustain a people in a changing world. We continue to live in an alternate reality of wars among the peoples as problems only continue deepen and wounds unhealed. Who’s to blame? Well, all of us. None of us is free of blame but blame also gets us absolutely nowhere other than deeper into denial. It’s a denial that things will never be the same, as much as we’d like to hold onto the illusions of our lives, the glory days, we believe are long gone.

However, in our resilience the “glory days” always lie ahead. In our resilience we recognize at times things need to fall apart around us. You can look back through this blog where I have mentioned the mistake made in the financial crisis of 2008 was to band-aid the problem. How about after the 9-11 attacks to move too quickly out of the liminal space we were invited into because of the experience to attack mode. Even the church world, after revelations of abuse in the winter of 2002, it wasn’t to deal with lack of transparency, but rather, to clamp down, tighten things up, unable to recognize the strangling of people in the process. Institutions may very well be the least resilient and are lives are so intricately involved in all of them. It exposes the lack of faith and trust and most especially, our lack of resiliency. We’d rather be tough in less than stellar ways, allowing a cancer to grow within us, rather than to change and let go. Fear is deadly.

We still have the opportunity to do an about face and look at our problems square in the face. We no longer need to cling to illusions or delusions. We can speak our resentments of a life not as we had planned. We can empathize with the anger and hurt of the people around us. This is what makes us resilient people. Remember the days following 9/11 where everything simply shut down and quieted. We need more of them right now but not be so quick to run from the uncomfortableness it comes with deep inside us. If things need to fall apart, then we allow them to fall apart. It may feel like the end of the world, but it’s simply the end of the world as we once knew, a world no longer existent. We need resiliency more than ever, a toughness which comes from a people who don’t allow hurt and fear to control their life. We need to turn off the TV’s, politicians, and people who’d rather be politicians, and dialogue with one another about the hurt, the pain, anger, and resentment existing in our lives. If not, the world will continue to pass us by as we allow ourselves to be torn apart through blame, fear, and contempt. We like to tout our toughness, but there’s a toughness we can value, a better toughness, one coming from bouncing back, our resiliency.

 

An Instinctive Call

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More often than not, we can learn more from watching the natural world in all of its complexity than we ever can among humans. We’re too invested in our own to often see clearly and freely. There appears, although there’s not, a separation providing us the space we need to look with a “third eye” and to assess our own ability, or even lack thereof, to lead in various ways through the multifaceted social structures of the natural world. In 1903, Jack London published Call of the Wild, now a major motion-picture starring Harrison Ford, depicting such a reality after spending time observing in the Yukon and writing a story around the Klondike goldrush, sending worldwide travelers to embark in search of riches in contrast with finding what matters most, his own inner voice, witnessed through the wild.

Like humans, dogs become domesticated once out of their natural habitat and begin to live an enclosed life. Buck, an overzealous and oversized dog not only has the issue of being enclosed, but also has the energy of a toddler, wreaking havoc wherever he goes. A nuisance, as he’s treated, Buck is stolen and sold only to find himself in the natural habit of Alaska and the Yukon, both of which more ideal for an animal of such presence and stature. Once free of the contained life he lived, something begins to change. Despite his unruly wild side, Buck begins to find a pack, a team, better suited for him in a dog-sled team delivering mail throughout the Yukon and matures beyond that of the humans whom he comes in contact.

In the story, and cinematic performance, Buck begins to reveal his natural leadership capability. Over time he no longer needs to run from his wild side, his risk-taking instincts in which he was punished in the enclosed and tamed life. He’s aware of the other members of the team and the lack of care given them by their supposed leader, Spitz. Spitz stands in contrast to Buck, one of greater servant leadership, putting the team before himself. Spitz, on the other hand, ego-driven and all about himself, fighting off hungry and thirsty dogs for his own nourishment, consistently slowing the team. Of course, like any great story, it culminates in conflict between the two only to find Spitz humiliated by Buck and the other dogs who once feared him. Shear jealousy on the part of Spitz reveals his own ability to lead, managing simply to keep the others of the group in line out of fear and by holding them back, wanting to be centerstage. The irony, they were never on-time.

If there is one element missing in our world it’s true leaders. We typically settle for the Spitz’s of the world because it’s all we really know, pushing demands on others rather than assisting in helping them find and pull out their own inner authority. It seems unfounded to us when a true leader steps up who doesn’t use fear to hold back the masses simply to make him or her-self look good. That, however, is not a leader. As a matter of fact, it’s antithetical to what makes a true leader, one who leans into the fear knowing how it obstructs. Buck does nothing extraordinary to step into the role as leader of the pack. If anything, he simply seems to be aware and care about the other dogs. He doesn’t do it to show off to Spitz. He does it in such an innate way that it comes from a place deep within himself, as if he can’t help himself but to put others first, making the pack, the team, successful. It’s what the other dogs admire. Yet, they don’t know what they’re missing until they experience it through Buck. In a single moment, we know things can be better and we can no longer settle for mediocrity at best when someone, a true servant leader, begins to reveal the deeper parts of ourselves.

I dare say, we starve for such leaders today. They are a rare commodity within our institutions. We settle for a mentality ingrained in us of needing to working harder and longer while often deeply rooted in fear of the loss of work, lack of trust, inability to please or keep up, or whatever reason resonating within us. All of which are good indicators we are operating in an environment that lacks real leadership. It’s an environment lacking a courageous leader who’s willing to deeply trust while being open to change in order for the good of the people. An environment leading to unhealthy behavior and mindset lacks real leadership. Period. When we’re so invested in the culture, though, we succumb to it, feeling we have no other choice, often out of fear of retribution for “Bucking” the system. Unfortunately, there are many out there who settle for such an environment. It’s a product-based environment rather than one rooted in value, most importantly, value of the human person.

Leaders know what they know but also know what they don’t know. They rely on the expertise of the team to shore up in the weaknesses of others in order for the whole team to succeed and avoids our reactionary nature to blame everyone else. When we have a need to believe we are the true expert in all, we suppress others for our own good, as Spitz does in contrast to Buck. When we fail to recognize our own limitations, we incur a debt in our lives and the places we are expected to lead. We see it incurring at rapid rates when we separate from that inner authority for the simple reason of trusting so many external authorities who may have positional power but are all but void of inner authority and lack real leadership ability. It’s a sad state of affairs in our institutional worlds, worlds which have become so consumed with holding on and control, power rather than the good of the people. The debt continues to incur and the price will be heavy.

We always have the option to change. It’s the way we break the cycle of insanity we’ve come to expect in our lives and workplaces. It begins, though, with learning to lead ourselves. It begins when we begin to expect more of ourselves than what any job or employment often demands of us. It must begin with our own examination of fear in our lives. Fear is a powerful factor and can be harnessed to invoke change rather than succumbing us to being backed into a constant corner, taming our own inner authority often squelched by so many who feel they know better for us than ourselves. It begins with us, each of us, wanting more out of our own life. When we find ourselves working ourselves to death, lacking balance and variety, having no sense of adventure out of shear exhaustion, we’re not leading ourselves in a healthy way and nor can we lead others. It all begins with one step, a seeming risk, one choice a day changing the trajectory to a healthier and effective life. We may fail and it’s ok. We won’t have the fearful regret and it becomes a learning experience enabling us to grow. Paradoxically, we’ll actually be able to work smarter and better simply by taking charge of our own lives and learning what it really means to be a leader, pulling the best out of others rather than pushing down. We need leaders now more than ever.

Family Dis-Unity

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“Does our party choose us?” This was a question posed by Ezra Klein on a recent On Being Podcast with Krista Tippett entitled, “How We Walked Into This and How We Can Walk Out”. It’s a conversation based on his new book, Why We’re Polarized. I highly recommend listening to the extended version of the interview for greater depth and clarity of the points he’s trying to make in the book. Ezra’s primary point is in regards to the volatility of the political parties as they stand, and in some ways, their undoing all at the same time. However, based on so many environmental factors, family, geographic location, urban or rural, socioeconomic background, and any other, it can be seen to be birth that chooses our political affiliation. I dare say, not much different than most religious backgrounds, we find ourselves “born” into a particular sect of religion, and, as it often goes, ours holds the undeniable truth, both religion and political party.

The current addiction to contempt and hysteria, as he points out, is due to the fact all this hurt being carried is currently stacked in an entire political party (all) and round-the-clock media coverage of national politics stoking flames, despite feeling powerless. He rightly makes the point, our greater focus of politics is best served local, despite being sucked into a national amoral, reality television program unfolding now for decades. Our entrenchment continues to solidify a Party ego, difficult to infiltrate and resulting in heartless politics. The political machine has found ways to manipulate “family” members into believing we’re needed for the good of the country as we know better than anyone. Any signs of disloyalty to the “family” begins to shake the party’s core, sensing dis-allegiance to orthodoxy as sin and quickly excommunicating any dissenters from the holy of holies and cast into the bowels of hell.

Sound familiar? “Crucify him, crucify him!” Despite all the talk, God has been all but crucified by the “families” long ago, and often to replace themselves, believing they know better. The immediate reaction is to blame and exaggerate a “family” victimhood, lost in our own blindness and pain as it feels as if we’re losing control. No one listens so we simply yell louder and louder, feeding the addiction to contempt and hysteria. The demand for reform is silenced by threats of doom and fear, less than patriotic, the demise of the family name and a threat, unfortunately, to something that is already dead. It’s so easy to point fingers at one another, talking past one another, because in the end, it’s about the family and protecting what the family holds dear, often an illusion of safety and security fed by an ego desiring to protect and hold tightly. It’s right there in front of our faces, plain as day, and yet fear runs deep. We know what it means to be cast aside by the family. The voices of the mob have a way of penetrating even the most solid of people.

There are some, though, who intentionally separate from the bickering parents, if that’s what you want to call them, still children themselves consumed by their own wants and needs, throwing tantrums. Separating, though, seems nearly impossible. Our identity is dependent on the “family” name. It is, after all, all we know. The thought of leaving and being without seems as if it means the end of our lives or at least the end of all we know. How will we manage? We are left with not much choice as we find ourselves suffocating by an identity outgrown and a fear no longer satisfying. Our affiliation needs to be shed for our own good, and once we do, we begin to see differently, acting more independently, seeing the dysfunction on new levels. After all, being born into something has deep impacts on our lives and when we choose to separate, our natural inclination is to run back into the darkened cave where we have felt comfortable, welcome, safe, and secure. It’s a place where everything has a place, including ourselves, and best to not ruffle feathers for fear of excommunication. The addiction to contempt and hysteria, upon separation, sparks a glimmer of light, begins to bring tears much more than anger, sadness more than hatred and a general grief for a world in pain.

Leaving is, though, a rare occurrence, to step away or speak up in such a way, in such a profound way, because it has been ingrained in us to believe we must fear what we do not know and we’re safer on the inside of the “family”. It has been ingrained in us to mistrust anyone who believes differently than us. It has been ingrained in us to believe that “father” knows best for everyone and to never question that authority even when we’re feeling pushed into a corner. “Father” seems to endlessly disappoint. He seems to not follow through with promises. Deep within the family members, anger and contempt loom large in the heart and the patriarch uses it to retain power. Loyalty and obedience are the name of the game and mustn’t be challenged in any way. Then you step away and you begin to become aware of a life unlived, confined by an authority no longer sufficing, an authority not your own. Stepping away only seems to elevate the yelling, the call to coerce and manipulate, all to maintain the codependent family dysfunction as to not to expose the hypocritical, bankrupt ethic holding it together by a thread.

Maybe in the day we live the political parties do choose us. We gravitate quite naturally towards people we want to think like or who feel like we do. We certainly know they do everything to pull in the masses with endless promises and rabid fear. Here are a few things we miss. The political family as we have known them are already dead. We just don’t know what they will look like in the years ahead. The natural inclination is to go to the extremes to retain control and power, holding onto what has already passed thinking it can return. As is typical, the family members most hurt are the vulnerable and both parties do all they can to manipulate the vulnerable to retain their power, hallow promises of better days. People, though, do not always know they are the vulnerable. I have seen it in both urban and rural areas I have lived. In reality, the vulnerable of both areas are looking for the same, this elusive American dream, promised for decades but never fulfilled. Is there any wonder there’s contempt and fear, anger and grief?

The systemic problems we are born into are hard to escape. They encompass all aspects of our lives. The easier way is simply to succumb to the status quo sold under the illusion of change and greatness. The pain exhibited in this country is hard for any of us to explain. Our environment is indicative of the pain running deep to our core. Highways collapsing, mountains shredded, turbulent seas and rivers, unruly weather, all being manifested by the crumbling infrastructures that have served us well and now have become self-serving. As we move towards being more driven by data and numbers via technology, the pain is only going to deepen. In self-serving systems we lose a sense of our humanity, now playing out on the national stage for the world to see. Here’s the other point, everyone else knows. The world knows we’re vulnerable and the more we try to project strength only weakens our viability. We can try all we want to band-aid crumbling infrastructures and cling to dissipating structures, but all it does is expose how disconnected we have become as a nation, disconnected from our humanity. More often than not “families” need to fall apart in order to be reordered, even if it means extreme amounts of chaos. It’s one thing to experience such a collapse in our own lives when we seek change but it’s another when it’s large institutions and structures. The “family” will do everything in its power to cling, especially the patriarchal figures who haven’t grown up themselves and still cling to the greatest fear, death and letting go.

There is no need to look very far to know the political landscape is going to face change. As older generations begin to fade and younger generations step forward, values change as well as the dynamics. At the core there is still that desire to serve and many will abuse it and simply seek power. It’s in our fragile human nature, especially an ill-informed and immature one. It is, and should be, sad to watch if there is any semblance of awareness in your life. I’m tired of being told what I should believe. I’m tired of being told I’m something I’m not. I’m tired of being judged if I believe differently. But I’m not tired of pushing forward, attempting to look it through a third lens, critiquing all sides which aren’t very different in the first place. Maybe we are born into a particular party, but I would challenge anyone, if you have never once found yourself questioning the “family” and seeking truth in a different way, well, none of this will make any sense in the first place or it will be quickly about blaming the other side while rationalizing your own. It’s what gets us into these problems. If we soon don’t return to a sense of decorum and dialogue, actively listening, the problems will only deepen. The most important point, though, is trust. There is very little. It is key to the healthy function of any system. The patriarchs clinging to power will always believe they know what’s best and many will always believe anything they say because it’s what they’ve been taught to do, don’t question. Yet, they are just as fragile and vulnerable as the rest of us, maybe even more so because they have much more to lose. When you’re whole identity and life has been wrapped up in one identity, one way of life, one area, one particular reality, it’s hard to change because everything depends on it and it’s hard to trust otherwise.

No one, and I mean no one, can claim to contain truth in its entirety because truth cannot be contained in such a way. Truth has become associated with facts and knowledge, but as we’ve learned, they don’t always stand the test of time. Truth reveals itself when there is openness and dialogue, when there is freedom and love, when there is understanding and reverence. When contempt and hysteria rule the day, there is very little room for truth and logic. The shouts of crucifixion and demise will only continue until we reach the utter darkness of Friday. It’s inevitable. None of us knows what it will look like but we can only hope for the glimmers of the repentant one or the one who’s eyes were opened in that very moment, recognizing that all the yelling led to the death of an innocent one because of blindness and leaders who cared more about power than the people they were to serve. All they could do was fill their pockets, have little remorse, and hope their “problem”, the one who threatened their “family” was finally out of their hair. Little did they know it was just the beginning…step away, allow your eyes to be opened, embrace the life yet unlived, the unknown, and cross the threshold from blame and victimhood to wounded healer. It is, after all, what the world needs now, is love, sweet love.

 

Huddled Masses

A few months back at the farm we had a woman that easily could have been referred to as “the chicken whisperer”. She seemed to know chickens better than anyone, and, at times, seemingly better than human beings. They were literally, “her girls”, and they followed her when she arrived. She knew when to feed, when to sleep, the snacks that they’d like from the farm, such as fruits and vegetables, and certainly what they shouldn’t eat. Joking aside, I learned a great deal from her and began, since then, observing “her girls” most afternoons when I delivered their afternoon snack. You learn who’s in charge, and they let you know it, who the weaker one’s are, making sure they have food as well, when they lay eggs, how they go to sleep, and basically, the intricate structure of community that the chickens share, just as we do as human beings. We can learn a great deal watching and observing.

Then there was today. This community of chickens encountered their darkest of days. A dog broke free and literally massacred all but about seventeen with a few of them probably hanging on with their last breath. It was one of the most difficult things I had witnessed here on the farm. You are always aware that there are predators close by. The hawks make themselves known on a daily basis as they fly overhead. You are fully aware, just from education and experience, that there is a brutality to the animal kingdom just as there is with humans as we know all too well. There’s an animal instinct in all of us, that, thankfully, as humans we learn to tame, at least for the most part. We know that if we too act on those instincts that there are consequences to our actions in order to be held accountable for preying on the weak and vulnerable.

It was obvious, in witnessing all of it today, that despite that brutality their sense of community remained intact. The lone survivors found themselves huddled around their dead comrades. We practically had to lure them out in order to give them assurance that they were ok. In some sense, it too was an instinctual reaction, in some sense “playing dead” in order not to be next, but in witnessing it, there appeared a reverence, of sorts, for those who lost their lives so tragically, as if “huddled masses yearning to be free” while we stood by helpless. As we cleaned up the dead, the others seemed to be simply frozen in place, not moving at all or at times huddled together, as if frozen with fear. There are reasons we call someone “chicken” when they refuse to face their own fears. Today, though, it wasn’t that skiddishness that you often witness from them when you walk into the yard. It was a different feel, and by simply watching and observing you can learn a great deal from them in our own dealings with hurt and suffering.

As I said, you know who’s in charge. There’s no doubt in this community as well. There is one rooster, reddish brown and tall in stature, who has a presence about him. He’s sure to make the hens aware when food has arrived but is also the one who warns them of predators. For a bird that cannot fly, he was found in the opposite yard. When I finally arrived, the dog had his eye on that rooster, alpha preying on alpha. What would it do to the eco-structure of that community? How does such a prominent figure in the community carry on if he survives? It was by no means his fault that others died, but at the same time, and I read into the rooster, how does he once again lead when his leadership seemingly appeared to fail? How does he once again walk with such prominence in the community that has literally been decimated before his very eyes?

There’s a certain even flow to the life of a community, even for chickens. There aren’t always warnings when something is going to change or when “predators” arrive, and often unbeknownst to us, changes the eco-system for months or years to come. The cycle of life and death is always working itself out. At times it’s like the changing of seasons where the change seems to happen so gradually to where one day we awake to bare trees, but at times it also comes in the form of traumatic experiences, like today, where we’re thrown off kilter much more quickly, bringing up within us all different kinds of feelings and emotions because the chickens weren’t just a part of their own community but also part of a larger community that feels the pinch in their absence. It’s too easy to simply write it off as “well, that’s just the way it is”; that doesn’t take away the felt loss in that absence and the silence that now looms over the scene.

I am a believer, now more than ever, that the world beyond humans has a great deal to teach us about ourselves. If you had asked me six or seven months ago about the same experience, I’d probably say just the same, well they’re just chickens. There obviously is truth to that and all that unfolds, whether we like it or not, but when you allow yourself to become a part of their world and they yours, something begins to change. Observing and watching them, at times just standing there for several minutes, begins to open something within yourself and who you are as a person. There begins to be a bridge between what appeared to be two worlds and see that it is but one. You begin to see that you are a part of their community just as much as they are of yours because there is just one.

The tragic events of the day may have been avoidable, but it’s also the reality of the world in which we live. It’s always the most unexpected events that cause us the most pain but also have the most to teach us and in forming us for the future. We can be “huddled masses yearning to be free”, remaining attached to the dead and living our lives in fear but we also have the choice to take steps, one at a time, out of that fear and begin to live our lives again but now in a new way and a part of a different community. It will never look the same but what we carry with us is always there if it truly is of something beyond ourselves. Picking up the dead, while surrounded by life, reminds you just how fragile it is and the fact that you have but one chance at the life that is given. We can learn a great deal by observing and watching the world around us. We often become that world if we aren’t aware, simply conforming to it all because “that’s just the way it is.” In those most critical moments, though, standing over what has died, we are given choice and we are being given overwhelming freedom, to step out and encounter a new world, a world now less confined by fear but rather an overwhelming sense of love that transcends humans to a world and an earth and a universe that isn’t separate from me but one. We can learn a lot about community by observing and watching, even in the face of such trauma and tragedy.