2016-09-29

The Covenantal Tradition

Covenant, part 1

Hey, thanks for reading. What I write here is an expression of the tradition that informs me -- and by reading it, you, too, take a step into the stream of that tradition.

Those who gather at Unitarian Universalist congregations for worship on Sunday morning (or during another time of the week) keep alive a tradition. Our being together is not just a group of people who happen to be in a room together looking for something meaningful – something that will help us make a little more sense of our lives – something that will connect us and ground us and reveal to us the abundance of what we are and what this world affords us – something that will strengthen us to face the week ahead a little more bravely and maybe a little more cheerfully and kindly.

Those who gather at Unitarian Universalist congregations for worship are a group of people who happen to be in a room together looking for meaning and belonging, but we are not just that. We are also the current embodiment of a tradition. Thousands of years of people getting together, telling stories and singing songs and lifting up their heart’s yearnings and their souls’ anguish in prayer – millennia of people developing a practice and a shared understanding of their place in the universe and passing that down to subsequent generations -- has split into many branches, each branch still fed by the nutrients from the roots.

Every time we gather we are creating the next incarnation of who we are. We create the next version of “we” – and this “we” has a history, whether we know it or not, that gives shape to who we are. So let’s talk about that.

The Hebrew people, following the conquest of Judah in 598 BCE, were marched out of their homeland into Babylon as slaves. The period of Babylonian captivity, Babylonian exile, lasted 60 years until Persia in turn conquered Babylonia, and the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, gave the Jews permission to return to Palestine.

During those 60 years, these Hebrew slaves of Babylon began to do something remarkable, something of world-historical significance. Faced with the extinction of their existence as a distinct people, they began to collect, re-tell, and elaborate upon old stories. Fragments and snippets of legend were expanded and woven together along with oral history of the people of Israel. Most of what we know as the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – and much of the rest of the Tanakh, which Christians call the Old Testament – took form and was first brought together and written down during the Babylonian captivity. Somehow these slaves, in their desperation to know who they were, found ways to solidify their story.

A central thread running through that story is the centrality of promises: promise-making and promise-breaking. The world makes us a promise, we make promises to our world, and to each other. Promises get broken, they get repaired and restored. Our lives have the meaning that they have in and through promises – promises made to us, promises we make to others, promises kept, promises not kept, promises kinda kept.

An early episode in the story concerns Noah, whose ark carries the promise of life’s continuation into a world where most of life is destroyed. The episode ends with a promise: God promises never again to destroy all life on Earth by flood, and creates the rainbow as the sign of this "everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth."

Three chapters later in Genesis, there’s another promise.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you,...so that you will be a blessing....And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 12:1-3, NRSV)
It’s a promise. You – lonely, isolated and puny – are transformed into a great nation by the blessing of promise.

A few centuries go by, and there’s Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai, saying, “have I got a deal for you.” We are promised a land – and in return, in order for us keep our land and be a people, we have to not kill, steal, lie, get envious of our neighbors’ stuff. We need to honor our parents and uphold the exclusivity of marriage. Also, no graven images, because that way we won’t have different ones and we can feel like we’re unified in worshiping together what is holy. This is the promise we need to live by. If we live by these promises to be decent to each other, the promise to want to feel our hearts connected, then we get this promised land. Indeed, the promise of the promised land is the promise we make to each other that makes us a people.

Moses was fulfilling – filling more full – the Noah covenant; for our promise to each other is what assures us that the flood of our greed, anger, and delusions will not destroy us again. It fills out the Abrahamic covenant; for our promise constitutes Abraham’s great nation.

A few more centuries go by, and the people have their own land, and their own king, David. The promise of land that you will get becomes a promise of land that you will keep:
"And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more,...and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house....I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever....Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever." (2 Sam 7:10-16, NRSV)
That promise -- the Davidic covenant -- would seem to have been broken, though interpreters have found ways around the apparent violations. But promises define us even when they aren't kept.

This is the basic story line that emerged in the Babylonian captivity: a story about being a people of covenant: the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, and the Davidic covenant.

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Covenant."
See also
Part 2: What Makes a People
Part 3: More Than Words Can Say

2016-09-26

He Got the Optimism, Not the Humility

Going Into Labor, part 3

The story of George Pullman is of particular salience to us Unitarian Universalists. This story -- the story of the industrialist who owned an entire town, ruled over it, sparked a national strike, and then brought in the Army to violently break that strike -- is our story, quite specifically. You see, George Pullman was one of us in a very direct sense.

George Pullman was a Universalist: born, raised, and lifelong.

George’s father, raised a Baptist, and his mother, raised Presbyterian, converted to Universalism, drawn to the “God is Love” message of the Universalist minister Thomas Eaton. George's Dad often led the services when no preacher was available. The Pullmans were a devotedly, devoutly, Universalist family. Both of George’s two older brothers became Universalist ministers and were prominent figures in our faith. Late in his life, George Pullman had a Universalist church built in his hometown, Albion, New York, as a memorial to his parents. Industrialist George Pullman was born, lived, and died a Universalist.

Something of the Universalist outlook may be detected in his life and actions. He believed his workers deserved decent accommodations. He saw that education was a win-win: it made workers lives better, and made them more useful workers for businessmen like him. "I have faith," Pullman told the press, "in the educational and refining influences of beauty, and beautiful and harmonious surroundings."

Pullman had a kind of Universalist hope that different denominations could come together and worship together in one church. There is a certain idealist, utopian strain of thought in the planning of his town. Shortly after Pullman's death in 1897, courts ordered the homes sold to individual homeowners.

Liberal religion is characterized by an optimism about human possibility. From our beginnings 450 years ago, Unitarians and Universalists have been peoples who rejected Calvinistic conceptions of humankind’s total depravity. That optimism about human capacity is displayed in Pullman’s vision of a company town where every one was happy and productive. So what went wrong?

It's not hard to see that what went wrong was that Pride and Control took over. Yes, people can get better -- can learn, can grow -- but they have to do so in their own way. Growth, learning, and development cannot be all planned out with precise outcomes determined in advance.

Pullman believed in human improvability, but didn't believe in people enough to let them work out their own growth, awakening, salvation, in their own way -- even if they used their freedom to go backwards for a few years -- or a few generations -- and even if, left to their own devices, they drank, or listened to speeches from agitators, read independent newspapers, gathered and discussed unsavory ideas.

Pullman wouldn't listen to his workers' needs. We can’t ever be so arrogant that we won’t meet and talk and consider where other people are coming from.

For Labor Day, remember George Pullman, the industrialist whose meanness sparked the events that led to the creation of the holiday.

Remember George Pullman, the Universalist who got the optimism but didn’t get the humility – because we Unitarian Universalists today follow in his footsteps in more ways than it's comfortable to admit. When has your voice of “let’s make it better,” come out as "fix it my way or I will treat you as evil obstructionist"? When have your own ideals made you cruel? I think we do that every time we think someone else is wrong.

Then let this be our Labor Day prayer: to find the courage to talk to the people we think are wrong, and stay at it until we get over ourselves. “God rejoiced at our disobedience,” said Rabbi Kushner, “and then wept with joy that we could feel our estrangement and want to return home.” We feel the estrangement.

For Labor Day, as we consider our theme of the month for September, covenant, I ask you: Will you covenant -- will you commit -- to the labor it takes to return home? That labor, we cannot outsource to China. To go into the labor of giving birth to ourselves -- to go into the labor of giving birth to community -- we can’t get surrogates in India. It’s up to us.

My challenge to you – and to myself -- is to talk, face-to-face, with someone you think is wrong. It’s election season – it’s not hard to find them. The hard part is talking to them, and keeping a civil tongue even if they don’t.

And that is hard. Over the summer LoraKim and I went down to southern Virginia for a short visit with her brother. My brother-in-law and I did have a conversation about matters – political matters – on which we disagreed – and I failed to be a sympathetic listener. It’s very clear – to me – that he’s wrong. I wasn’t able to stay at it, get over myself, my conviction of rightness, stay pleasant. He didn’t either, but our challenge is to be better – whether the other person is or not. Next time we see each other, I’ll try again – chastened by how badly I failed at in July.

We feel our estrangement – so many of our fellow citizens, we are suddenly realizing, have such anger and fear – it’s easy for us to get angry at, and a little afraid of, them. The labor of returning home, one small step toward one small mend in one small relationship at a time, is ours to do. May we take it up.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Going Into Labor"
See also
Part 1: Labor Day, Holy Day
Part 2: Why We Have Labor Day

2016-09-23

Why We Have Labor Day

Going Into Labor, part 2

For years George Pullman had been a philanthropic supporter of fine schools – with the aim of providing business with a better quality of laborer. He wanted a happy, loyal workforce, so his town provided for all his workers’ needs. They got a state-of-the art home: indoor plumbing, gas lights, sewers – well above the average dwelling of the time. They got fine country air and beautiful neighborhoods.

The mortality statistics, indeed, established that Pullman, Illinois was one of the most healthful places in the world to live. The town created a national sensation. The press praised Pullman’s benevolence and vision.

To ensure there would be no unhappiness, Pullman prohibited outside agitators, allowed no saloons, or vice district. The hotel on the edge of town had the town’s only bar, and it was open only to visitors, not the residents. He prohibited independent newspapers, public speeches, town meetings or open discussion. He wanted his workers to have clean homes, so his inspectors regularly entered homes to inspect for cleanliness and could terminate leases on ten days notice.

Private charitable organizations were prohibited. He built only one church building in his town: the Greenstone Church. Pullman’s plan was that all religious denominations would band together and share the one building. But the various denominations would not unite, and no single denomination could afford the rent, so the church stood empty for the town’s first seven years until Pullman finally slashed the rent by two-thirds, and Presbyterians rented it.

Then in 1893 the stock market crashed. The railroad "bubble" (overbuilding railroads, and relying on shaky financing to do it) burst. The "Panic of 1893" was, at the time, the worst economic depression the United States had ever experienced. 150 railroads closed. There was massive unemployment. Pullman cut his workers' wages by 25 percent or more. He did not, however, reduce the rents he charged his workers for living in Pullman, Illinois.

The next year, 1894, 4,000 Pullman employees went on a wildcat strike: "wildcat" because it wasn’t authorized by the workers’ trade union officials, which was because they didn’t have any trade union officials, which was because Pullman didn’t allow labor unions. Then organizers for Eugene Debs' American Railway Union came in and signed up many of the striking workers, and the Pullman strike spread. Soon 100,000 railroad workers across the country were refusing to handle trains with Pullman cars.

The strike shut down much of the nation's freight and passenger traffic west of Detroit. Various sympathy strikers prevented transportation of goods by walking off the job, obstructing railroad tracks or threatening and attacking the replacement workers the railroads sought to hire. At its peak, the strike involved 250,000 workers in 27 states.

Pullman called up his friend and fellow railroad director, United States Attorney General Richard Olney. With President Grover Cleveland's backing, troops were sent to Chicago. The federal government secured a federal court injunction against the union, Debs, and the top leaders ordering them to stop interfering with trains that carried mail cars. They refused. The Army moved in to stop the strikers from obstructing the trains.

Violence broke out in a number of cities: millions of dollars in damages and 30 people were killed. The Army broke the strike. Debs went to prison for violating a court order. The railroads fired and black-listed all the employees who had supported the strike.

As soon as the strike was over and the trains were running, President Cleveland and Congress moved to make conciliation to organized labor. Six days after the 1894 Pullman strike ended, legislation was pushed through Congress declaring that the first Monday of September was a Federal holiday, Labor Day.

So we have Labor Day as a consolation prize after the Feds sent in troops to protect corporate interests and break up a strike. It was a bone to try to head off further conflict. And they put it in September, instead of giving official recognition to the more widely known International Workers Day on May 1, because they wanted to pull attention away from the more radical labor movements.

Every Labor Day, let us remember this story of the origin of the holiday.

The story of conflict between "management" (the wealthy, the controllers of capital) and people whose labor they want to make use of (whether slaves, indentured servants, or laborers) is the central and on-going story of our country. This is who we are as a people.

Labor Union membership peaked in the 1940s and 50s, and has been declining ever since. Meanwhile, the percentage of all workers whose incomes fall below the poverty threshold was 4.7% in 2000, and rose to a peak of 7.2% in 2010. Since then, it’s down very slightly, and holding about steady at 7.0% of all workers earning poverty wages. On the weekend for celebrating labor, let’s remember the 10.5 million who labor but whose pay is so low that they remain in poverty.

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Going Into Labor"
See also
Part 1: Labor Day, Holy Day
Part 3: He Got the Optimism, Not the Humility

2016-09-21

Labor Day, Holy Day

Going Into Labor, part 1

The three-day Labor Day weekend celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers. Many of us get the day off from work or classes and are glad to have a chance to gather with friends, have a cook-out. It’s a chance to have a good time. For Labor Day, we honor and celebrate: Labor.

At the same time, Western civilization happens to inherit a tradition in which labor is punishment. In the Genesis story, the original humans ate “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” and Yahweh kicked them out of paradise, and gave them labor: gender-specific labor.

The woman’s labor is childbearing. Genesis says:
“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Gen. 3:16)
The man’s labor is working the fields.
“Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread." (Gen. 3:17-19)
So labor is what we have to endure because we ate of a tree and got called out. We go out of Eden and go into: labor. Tough break.

The interpretation of that Genesis story that makes more sense to me is one offered by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in Eyes Remade for Wonder. Kushner suggests that the whole thing was a setup. Like any good parent, God knew that to grow up we would have to leave home and so put that tree there to create a pretext for kicking us out.
“We have read it all wrong. God was not angry. God rejoiced at our disobedience and then wept with joy that we could feel our estrangement and want to return home.”
The return home, however, is not easy. It is, in fact, labor.

For the most part, though, we think of labor less as the work of "returning home" and more as punishment. When we can, we avoid it -- outsource it to Asia. We outsource factory labor and telephoning labor. We even outsource the childbirth labor. Someone creates an embryo in a lab, ships it abroad for gestation in a stranger's body, then takes possession again after birth. Overseas labor – of both kinds – is cheaper. Farmed-out childbirth is an industry in India, turning the rural poor into wombs for hire.

The trend to outsource our labor was satirized in “The Borowitz Report,” which ran this fake-news piece:
Labor Day Officially Moved to China. First US Holiday to be Outsourced. Labor Day, one of America's most beloved and longest-celebrated holidays, has been officially moved to China, U.S. officials confirmed today. The Labor Day celebrations are expected to kick off Monday afternoon in Beijing with a barbeque attended by over seven million people and presided over by former NBA star Yao Ming. The transfer of Labor Day to China represents the first time in American history that an entire holiday has been outsourced, experts said.... Meanwhile, U.S. officials said it was looking 'more and more likely' that Thanksgiving would be relocated this year to India. 'At the very least, Americans will still be able to celebrate Thanksgiving by phone,' one official said. 'But they should listen closely because some menu options have changed.'"
Well, that’s silly. Whatever work we may have sent overseas, we will always have the work of living here, and with it, our celebrations.

Labor day is a holiday – which originally meant holy day. So this is about the holiness of work – whether we work for pay or not. Whether or not labor seems to us to be a pain or a drudgery to endure just to pay the pills, there is before us also the prospect of labor as the path home. A holiday becomes again a holy day when, among other things, we honor the occasion with retellings of particular sacred stories -- stories made sacred by the meaning we give them.

What are the stories that consecrate Labor Day? I'm not sure Labor Day has any widely recognized sacred stories, so let me offer a story. I offer this as a candidate for adopting and making sacred through the widespread retelling of it every Labor Day. It is a cautionary tale of industrialist George Pullman, born 1831.

George Pullman founded the Pullman Palace Car Company that manufactured railroad cars, particularly the Pullman sleeping car. In 1880, he bought 4,000 acres 14 miles south of Chicago, and got an architect to design not only his new plant for making railroad cars, but a whole town: houses for 10,000 workers, shopping areas, a church, theaters, parks, a hotel, and a library – all owned by one man. He built and owned the power plant that powered his factory and his town. The town was named after him: “Pullman, Illinois.”

Pullman’s workers worked for him, lived in houses owned by him, paid their rent and their utilities to him, and shopped in stores owned by him, strolled in his parks. His aim was to solve the issue of labor unrest and poverty.

Next: So what went wrong?

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Going Into Labor"
See also
Part 2: Why We Have Labor Day
Part 3: He Got the Optimism, Not the Humility

2016-09-20

Sh*t Your Brain Tells You

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Confirmation bias is
"the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities." (Wikipedia)
We all do this. It's a huge influence on the way our brains work. Thucydides observed, some 400 years BCE:
"It is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy."
Dante's Divine Comedy notes,
"opinion—hasty—often can incline to the wrong side, and then affection for one's own opinion binds, confines the mind."
Thomas Jefferson said,
"The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees in every object only the traits which favor that theory.”
Confirmation bias accounts for the tendency for astrology fans to notice in others and in themselves the traits that astrology ascribes. But the problem goes deeper than that. Not only is there an unconscious tendency to find confirmation for our beliefs, but there is a bias toward confirming mere suggestions. If I suggest to you that a mutual friend can be understood as being like a bull, say, or like a lion, even if you don't believe me, the mere suggestion creates an involuntary, unconscious filter increasing your attention to the person's bullish or leonine qualities (whatever you may take those to be).

Astrology was buzzing on social media last week, as certain findings of science that have been known for some time suddenly became mildly viral. The constellations of the zodiac, it turns out, do not line up with the dates standard astrology assigns to each of the signs. Last January, a NASA blog for explaining science to nonscientists explained:
"The constellations are different sizes and shapes, so the Sun spends different lengths of time lined up with each one. The line from Earth through the Sun points to Virgo for 45 days, but it points to Scorpius for only 7 days. To make a tidy match with their 12-month calendar, the Babylonians ignored the fact that the Sun actually moves through 13 constellations, not 12. Then they assigned each of those 12 constellations equal amounts of time. Besides the 12 familiar constellations of the zodiac, the Sun is also aligned with Ophiuchus for about 18 days each year." (NASA Space Place, 2016 Jan 13)
Thus, the timetable of when the sun is actually in each of the 13 (not 12!) constellations looks like this:
  • Capricorn: Jan 20 – Feb 16
  • Aquarius: Feb 16 – March 11
  • Pisces: March 11 – April 18
  • Aries: April 18 – May 13
  • Taurus: May 13 – June 21
  • Gemini: June 21 – July 20
  • Cancer: July 20 – August 10
  • Leo: August 10 – September 16 
  • Virgo: September 16 – October 14
  • Libra: October 14 – November 23
  • Scorpio: November 23 – November 29
  • Ophiuchus: November 29 – December 17
  • Sagittarius: December 17 – January 20
When this timetable took off on social media, some folks were a bit freaked out. Reactive denial was common. One typical comment: "Oh hell, no. You did NOT just turn me into a Gemini. NASA be damned, it ain't happening."

In fact, no one's astrological sign changed. The astrological zodiac is based on the seasons, not what constellation the Sun is in. Aries begins on the vernal equinox, Cancer on the summer solstice, etc. The 12 signs of the zodiac divide each season into three equal parts. The astrological zodiac does NOT, after all, represent the dates when a line from Earth to Sun would point to the given constellation. Rather, the signs of the zodiac represent the first, middle, or last third of spring, summer, fall, or winter.

Still, the folderol got me to musing about the way the brain's suggestibility introduces a form of confirmation bias. My daughter is a Scorpio, meaning that she was born in the middle-third of autumn. The Sun, on her birthday, however, is in Libra. What subtle differences might it have made through the years of her upbringing if one minor background image/metaphor I had of her had been a balance scale rather than a reactive stinging arachnid? I don't know what the personality attributes of a Scorpio are supposed to be, and I don't believe that people who happen to be born in late October or early or mid-November are any more likely than anyone else to have any given measurable personality trait. The existence of such likelihood would be an empirical finding, and numerous studies have found no correlations between any measurable personality attribute and date of birth. Nevertheless, my brain, in some unconscious way that it couldn't help, associated the image of a scorpion with my daughter -- along with associating an image of a fish with myself and an image of a crab with my spouse. Suppose, instead, that my brain had associated the image of a balance scale with my daughter. Would my own reactivity to her have been assuaged just a tiny bit by this minuscule nudge toward seeing her as skillfully balancing competing impulses and pressures and away from likely to inflict pain if threatened? Or, on the other hand, would seeing her as a Libra have made me slightly more likely to treat her as passive, while seeing her as a Scorpio helped incline me to see her as fierce?

Confirmation bias is a problem. But not having it at all would be an even bigger problem. Confirmation bias, together with its cousin the behavioral confirmation effect (a.k.a., the "self-fulfilling prophecy" that happens when your expectations influence your behavior to bring about the expected result) helps us have a coherent sense of ourselves, our world, and our purpose in it.

Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have a theory of human reasoning: that it evolved not in order for humans to better discern truth or make better decisions. (Their article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences is HERE.) If that were its evolutionary function, surely natural selection would have weeded out confirmation bias. Rather, reasoning evolved just in order for us to persuade one another. We are deeply social animals, and having a shared view of things helps us like each other and get along -- which is often more important than whether the shared view of things is true. If the objective is to produce at a conclusion that the group collectively endorses, then confirmation bias is quite handy: it keeps us focused on the evidence we can point out to each other to reinforce our consensus and bring lagging skeptics on board.

We evolved in a context of intratribal dependency and also intertribal conflict -- we really needed to get along with our own people and also really needed to be able to fight against outsiders. Tribal survival depended on being able to defend our stuff (our turf, our food, our males' access to our reproductive-age females), and, when times got tough, survival sometimes depended on being able to conquer a neighboring tribe and take their stuff. Shared viewpoints would have functioned to strengthen the bonds within our tribe, and also would have facilitated a useful hatred of neighboring tribes who had different viewpoints. We needed to have viewpoints that were a product of intratribal conversation and weren't terribly closely determined by reality -- because then the other tribe would arrive at the same conclusion, and we wouldn't be able to hate them for their corrupt beliefs. Confirmation bias suits the need with amazing efficacy.

The same process also produces our sense of self. The self, as George Herbert Mead said, is a "generalized other" -- meaning that we develop our sense of who we are by learning about others and internalizing our understanding of others-in-general. The same persuasive processes we use with each other to form a coherent group, we also use on ourselves to form a coherent identity. My confirmation bias helps me know who I am. The behavioral confirmation effect (self-fulfilling prophecy) helps me act in a way that I not only observe confirmation of my beliefs, but engage with the world to make confirmations happen. Without these, I would know neither who I am nor whose I am. As Joseph Campbell taught us, our myths -- which depend on confirmation bias to sustain -- are not only powerful, but also necessary.


It's a fool who looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart, for we are not logical. But being illogical does sometimes land us in a tight spot.


What is to be done? Some suggestions:

#1. Don't believe what you think. You were made to have confirmation bias, and to think that your own beliefs are true. Even suggestions you don't believe have a way of directing your attention and action to seek their confirmation. Now that you know this, you can partially counter it just by noticing it at work. When you notice it, say to yourself: "There goes my brain just wanting to confirm. I can't entirely stop it from doing that, but I can deliberately withhold cognitive assent from what it finds." Being a fan of a sports team can be good practice. Notice how you think the world is a better place if your team wins. Notice how you can't really believe that -- but you cheer for your team anyway, just because it's fun. Can you consciously bring the same attitude to other things that you think?

#2. Intend to cultivate negative capability. "Negative capability" was John Keats' term for "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." Work on being comfortable not knowing. As the Korean Zen master Seung Sahn often repeated: "Only don't know." Cultivate awe and wonder and mystery -- which depend on the absence of a satisfying story/explanation. Refuse, to the extent you can, to let any story/explanation satisfy.

#3. Use play to switch around your images and metaphors. Your brain is built to latch onto stories, images, metaphors. You can't help that, but you can loosen the grip of any one story by playing around with other stories. I might have countered the biasing effect of a scorpion image for my daughter by playfully suggesting that we think of as many ways as we could that she was actually a good example of a Libra. And so on for all the zodiac signs. Read lots of novels, exposing yourself to many different stories. People who expose themselves to a great multiplicity of stories are less in the grip any one bias. (Well, I think so. Or maybe that's just my experience filtered through my confirmation bias.)

#4. Plunge in. This one may seem counter-intuitive since it amounts to heightening your bias. There is, however, something true about every bias. Plunge in and see what you can learn about yourself from stories woven from random events. The lines on your hand, the Tarot cards that happen to come up, your zodiac sign -- explore what meaning can be made out of such coincidences. Pay a visit to a palm reader, or Tarot psychic, or astrologer, and let them tell you you the detailed story they make up. You actually will learn something about yourself. Even if it isn't any more true of you than it would be for anyone else, it's still got some truth for you. Suppose you were born the first third of winter. Astrology says you're a Capricorn, so reflect on your goatishness. Maybe everyone is kinda goatish, but it's still a helpful exercise to focus on how you are. It brings attention to an aspect of yourself. You can then better notice when that aspect is asserting itself. When you notice, you can then decide whether that's really the aspect that you want at the fore just then. The metaphors, images, or stories that most insidiously influence us are the ones that operate largely unconsciously. Fleshing out the details helps us be more conscious of them.

Being human is great -- and, anyway, what else are you going to be? The gifts come with shadows, though. If we know them for what they are, they can be kinda fun.


2016-09-12

Love and Death Merge Into One

Celebrating Rumi, part 3

"Like This, Here"
Rumi
If anyone asked you how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting will look, lift your face and say,
‘Like this.’
When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the night sky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,
‘Like this?’
If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
Or what “God’s fragrance” means,
Lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.
Like this.
When someone quotes the old poetic image about clouds
gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings of your robe
like this.
When someone asks what it means to die for love, point
here.
When lovers moan, they’re telling our story
like this.
"Words Swept Out the Window"
Rumi
Praise to the emptiness that blanks out existence. Existence:
This place made from our love for that emptiness,
This existence goes.
Praise to that happening, over and over!
For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.
Then one swoop, one swing of the arm,
That work is over.
Free of who I was, free of presence, free of
Dangerous fear, hope,
Free of mountainous wanting.
The here-and-now mountain is a tiny piece of a piece of straw
Blown off into emptiness.
These words I’m saying so much begin to lose meaning:
Existence, emptiness, mountain, straw:
Words and what they try to say swept
Out the window, down the slant of the roof.
Your capacity for sadness is equal to your capacity for joy, and they are the same capacity.

It’s a point that LoraKim and I sometimes make to each other when one of us is forgetting it. We do so reciting a favorite movie quote. From “The Thin Red Line,” about soldiers in World War II. Private Edward Train muses,
“One man looks at a dying bird and thinks there's nothing but unanswered pain. That death's got the final word, it's laughing at him. Another man sees that same bird, feels the glory, feels something smiling through it.”
Those with the capacity to stay with the unanswered pain, fully accepting death is the final word, are the ones who might then come feel the glory smiling through. Herein is discovered the sweetness of sorrow, the blessing of tragedy, as Rumi says:
“I saw grief drinking a cup of sorrow and called out, ‘It tastes sweet, does it not?’
‘You’ve caught me,” Grief answered, “and you’ve ruined my business.
How can I sell sorrow when you know it’s a blessing?”
And elsewhere:
“The cries of those free from pain are cold and dull:
The cries of the agonized spring from ecstasy.”
Throughout his works, Rumi articulates the yearning for union: union with the Beloved, with Reality, with all the pain of joy and sadness of ecstasy. Writes Rumi:
“The authentic human being, then, is one who is never free from striving, who turns restlessly and endlessly about the light of the Majesty.”
This yearning for union is our chief business as living creatures – yet we already have it!
“I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
Knocking on a door. It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside!”
That which we seek is given, is present – inescapably always. The seeking is the loving, and the loving itself is that which we seek.
“’Lo, I am with you always,’ means when you look for God,
God is in the look of your eyes,
In the thought of looking.”
As Rumi says it in “Love Dogs”:
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.”
The longing is itself the fulfillment. And in our very failings is our insight, our salvation.
“The way of love is not a subtle argument.
The door there is devastation.
Birds make great sky circles of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall and falling, they’re given wings.”
And death may be the final word, but that final word isn’t what you think it is. For one thing, we are the same – no, not the same as if we were two separate beings that happened to be identical. Rather, there is no separation. We are one being. That’s what Rumi means when he says:
“Even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”
Because we are all one being.
“I, you, he, she, we.
In the garden of mystic lovers
These are not true distinctions.”
So death is not possible. Rumi’s not talking about some clichéd child’s story of an afterlife, the ego’s dream of its own permanence. He’s saying that as long as there is life, that’s you. As long as there is anything, as long as there is existence, that’s you. The death that matters is the death of the ego, the death of the illusion of separation.
“Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return.”
In the union of Rumi’s yearning, the oneness with the Beloved, with the love that constitutes reality, there is the death of separation, which is the death of life as we have known it. Love and death merge into one.
“Oh, I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.
Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
‘What a bargain. Let’s buy it.’”
And in this life-love merged with death, we surrender the illusions of control to which the ego so clings.
“You think I know what I’m doing?
That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it’s writing
or the ball can guess where it’s going next.”
And yet, the ego, too – yours, mine – is itself an aspect of the glory of The Beloved. For all our sameness, our oneness, we also have our individual uniqueness.
“Our bodily personalities seem identical, but the globe of soul fruit we make each is elaborately unique.”
So we do as we are called to do, but we do not know what will come of it.
“Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right, it lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want and end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others and fall in.
I should be suspicious of what I want.”
We are so small – and yet we contain such vastness. I am so small I can barely be seen. How can this great love be inside me? Look at your eyes. They are so small, but they see enormous things. The one-ness and the uniqueness are both traps, but better to err on the side of love, says Rumi:
“If you want what visible reality can give, you’re an employee.
If you want the unseen world, you’re not living your truth.
Both wishes are foolish.
But you’ll be forgiven for forgetting that what you really want is love’s confusing joy.”
Rumi makes one more point I want to mention, and I will conclude with. The work – the yearning for submersion in the ocean of the beloved – is not for you to do alone. We do it together. All of us. Each of us. We get nowhere without community. In one poem Rumi retells the familiar tale of seeking to know about an elephant – but then he surprises us with a solution to the conundrum.
“One by one, we go in the dark and come out saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk
'A water-pipe kind of creature.'
Another, the ear, 'A very strong, always moving
Back and forth, fan-animal.'
Another, the leg. 'I find it still
Like a column on a temple.'
Another touches the curved back.
'A leathery throne.'
Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk.
'A rounded sword make of porcelain.'
He’s proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place and understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there,
And if we went in together,
We could see it.”
If we each carry a candle – and if we go in together – we can see it.

May it be so. Amen.

"Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do"
Rumi
Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Celebrating Rumi"
See also
Part 1: Celebrating Rumi
Part 2: Capacity for Sadness, Capacity for Joy

2016-09-09

Capacity for Sadness, Capacity for Joy

Celebrating Rumi, part 2

from The Mathnawi
Rumi
God has helped me understand a supreme grace –
The goodness hidden within cruelties,
The diamond beyond price hidden in dung.
The cruelty that comes from God
Is worth more than a hundred acts of mercy.
In his cruelty lives hidden tenderness.
"The Lame Goat"
Rumi
You have seen a herd of goats
going down to the water.
The lame and dreamy goat
brings up the rear.
There are worried faces about that one,
but now they're laughing,
because look, as they return,
that one is leading.
There are many different ways of knowing.
The lame goat's kind is a branch
that traces back to the roots of presence.
Learn from the lame goat,
and lead the herd home.
"Grieve Not that We Have Been Sleeping"
Rumi
I saw you and became empty.
This emptiness, more beautiful than existence,
it obliterates existence, and yet when it comes,
existence thrives and creates more existence.
To praise is to praise
how one surrenders to the emptiness.
To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes.
Praise, the ocean. What we say, a little ship.
So the sea-journey goes on, and who knows where?
Just to be held by the ocean is the best luck
we could have. It is a total waking-up.
Why should we grieve that we have been sleeping?
It does not matter how long we've been unconscious.
We are groggy, but let the guilt go.
Feel the motions of tenderness
around you, the bouyancy.
Sufi’s are known for their spiritual dancing – the whirling dervish. The Sufi Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes was founded after Rumi’s death. Rumi’s eldest son and some of Rumi’s followers founded the order to continue and sustain Rumi’s approach and insights.

Rumi was passionate about the use of music, poetry and dance as a path for reaching God. He understood music to help devotees focus their whole being on the divine so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. From these ideas, Rumi’s followers developed the whirling Dervish into a ritual form, and based the new order of the Mevlevi on Rumi’s teachings.

The dance represents the spiritual journey. The spinning, circling dance enacts and embodies the gravitational connected of the universe.
“Walk to the well.
Turn as the earth and the moon turn,
circling what they love.
Whatever circles comes from the center.”
The “seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth and arrives at the Perfect.” The dance then leads the seeker back to the world, “to love and to be of service to the whole of creation.”

Rumi was clearly and deeply Muslim, grounded in the culture, practices, and literature of Islam. He understood, though, that the Muslim path – as well as the Hindu or Christian path, the Zoroastrian or Jewish path -- when earnestly pursued, leads to a place of universality. He wrote:
“On the seeker’s path, wise men and fools are one.
In His love, brothers and strangers are one.
Go on! Drink the wine of the Beloved!
In that faith, Muslims and pagans are one”
The light that for him was identified as the light of Muhammad, shines upon everyone, regardless of their faith tradition, bringing all who feel astray into the Way, out of the desert.
“We can’t help being thirsty, moving toward the voice of water.
Milk drinkers draw close to the mother.
Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Shamans,
everyone hears the intelligent sound and moves with thirst to meet it.
Clean your ears.
Don’t listen for something you’ve heard before.
Invisible camel bells, slight footfalls in sand almost in sight.
The first word they call out will be the last word of our last poem.”
Rumi was, we say, a mystic, but that doesn’t mean a proponent of magic, of what we would call the supernatural. It’s true that he did not have the modern scientific viewpoint. The truth that science pursues is the truth of reproducible results. The explanations science offers are the kind that allow for prediction and control. Rumi was interested in befriending the world rather than predicting and controlling it. He would, of course, have been astounded at how much predicting and controlling we can do today, but not as astonished as he was by life, love, and reality itself.

“Befriending” is too tame. Rumi ecstatically made love to this world. “Mystic” doesn’t mean that he proffered some magic, some nonscientific technology for making things happen. Nothing he says contradicts the findings of science. He is a mystic just in the sense that the fullness of our lives is not to be found in controlling and predicting.

Reasons and principles – knowledge in the form of true sentences that can be passed on in lectures and books – are important and have their place, but that place is within a larger context, and that context is made of love, not reason. Rumi’s attention, in his writings and in his way of living, is always on that larger context, and that is what makes him what we call a mystic.

The world has such sadness. Animals we are, with bodies made for pain, made for attachment and therefore made for loss. There is only so much of the grief of the world that one person can take in, before feeling the need to step back, turn away, think about something else.

You might read the article about Syria in the morning paper, or you might skip it, or if you do read half of it, you skip over additional articles and analyses of the horrors. A photograph, perhaps, captures my attention and holds me for a moment under the weight of the anguish there epitomized, but many other pictures also offer me that weight, but I glaze over them -- I slip quickly out from under them. I have work to get back to, let me not be weighed down.

There is only so much of the grief of the world that I can be present to before I need a break, before I begin casting about for something pleasant. That’s how it is for me. Is that how it is for you?

I think we notice this fact about ourselves and about each other, and we are generally sensitive to it. We don’t want to be a downer, always talking about the awfulness, oh, the horrible awfulness of it all. (We recognize that mocking, don’t we? It’s a device for pushing away the full experience of our bereavement.)

But here’s something you might not have noticed. It is the same with ecstatic joy. There is only so much we can take at a time before we feel the need to step back, turn away. Time to get serious again, get back to business.

We find ourselves pulled toward the equilibrium of the in-between, our hearts not overwhelmed with either grief or elation. Here, though, is the big truth – let this be remembered when you have forgotten all else from today: Your capacity to hold, take in, and stay with the world’s sadness is equal to your capacity for joy.

In fact, they are the same capacity.

The spiritual path is one of growing that capacity, the one capacity for being present to reality exactly as it is. When we are able to take in the woe, take it all the way in and not turn away, we perceive shining through it a jubilant beauty. When we stay with a euphoria, a rapturous happy celebration, take it all the way in and look at it all the way through, we perceive also its foundation of tragedy and pain. Your capacity for sadness is equal to your capacity for joy, and they are the same capacity.

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Celebrating Rumi"
See also
Part 1: Celebrating Rumi
Part 3: Love and Death Merge Into One

2016-09-07

Celebrating Rumi

Celebrating Rumi, part 1

Beyond Ideas
Rumi

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
Community of the Spirit
Rumi
There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.
The Guest House
Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
It has become our custom at Community UU at White Plains, that on the last Sunday of August we have a poetry service – sharing together the words and insights that come to us through poems. Last year we celebrated Mary Oliver. The two years before that we lifted up various works from the Beat generation.

We celebrate today the poetry of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, the 13th-century Persian sufi poet, born in 1207, in Vakhsh, a small village in what is now Tajikistan – or maybe in Balkh in northern Afghanistan. Sep 30 will be his 809th birthday.

Collections of his poems sell millions in the US. Bill Moyers called Rumi “the most popular poet in America,” read and loved by seekers of all religions and none. Rumi remains a compelling figure in all cultures.

At age 18, Rumi married Gowhar Khatun. The couple had two sons. After Gowhar’s death, Rumi re-married and had another son and a daughter. Rumi reached age 37, a husband and father and a traditional Muslim preacher, scholar, teacher, and jurist, as his father and father’s father before him had been. But it was then that Rumi had a transformative encounter with a wandering mystic, Shams of Tabriz.

Rumi and Shams, as one biographer writes, “have this electric friendship for three years – lover and beloved [or] disciple and sheikh, it’s never clear.” Rumi became a mystic. After three years Shams disappeared – “possibly murdered by a jealous son of Rumi, possibly teaching Rumi an important lesson in separation.”

Rumi searched widely for Shams, arriving finally in Damascus, where he wrote:
“Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!”
“Most of the poetry we have comes from age 37 to 67. He wrote 3,000 [love songs] to Shams, the prophet Muhammad and God. He wrote 2,000 rubayat, four-line quatrains. He wrote in couplets a six-volume spiritual epic, The Mathnawi”: the “the longest single-authored emphatically mystical poem ever written.” Consisting of 26,000 couplets, The Mathnawi is arguably the second most influential text in the Islamic world after the Qu'ran.

“He’s a poet of joy and of love,” says the biographer. “His work comes out of dealing with the separation from Shams and from love and the source of creation, and out of facing death.”

He belongs to the tradition of ecstatic seers which includes Sappho and Walt Whitman. It was translator Coleman Barks, a poet in his own right, who is responsible for the American Rumi renaissance. Barks began translating Rumi in 1976, prior to which the only English translations of Rumi were in a stiff academic language.

Coleman Barks’ renderings of Rumi are not actually translations, since Barks doesn’t speak or read Persian. Rather, he paraphrases and interprets from the more academic and literal English translations.

Rutgers professor and Rumi scholar Jawid Mojaddedi identifies four innovations of Rumi’s poetry: First is his direct address to readers in the rare second person. You are this, you will find that, says Rumi. Second is his urge to teach. There’s a truth he very much wants you to know. Third, “his use of everyday imagery.” And fourth, “his optimism of the attainment of union.”

The mystic is not unattainable, but freely open to you at all times. Running through Rumi’s poems, never far in the background if not explicitly in the foreground is the soul’s separation from God and the mutual yearning to reunite. The mutual yearning. We want to connect ecstatically with this world in which find ourselves immersed, this world that brought us into being and makes us who we are – and the world desperately wants that too.

Rumi yearns for union with what is sometimes rendered “The Beloved,” sometimes “God.” If the God-talk is a sticking point for you, translate it as “Reality,” understanding that reality is made of love.

From the Mathnawi:
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels bless'd; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e'er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return.
“Love Dogs” by Rumi. Translated by Coleman Barks
One night a man was crying, “Allah, Allah!”
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer for that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage,
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them. 
“The Seed Market” by Rumi. Translated by Coleman Barks
Can you find another market like this?
Where, with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?
Where, for one seed
you get a whole wilderness?
For one weak breath, the divine wind?
You’ve been fearful of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.
Now, your waterbead lets go -- and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.
It no longer has the form it had, but it’s still water.
The essence is the same.
This giving up is not a repenting.
It’s a deep honoring of yourself.
When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly, for God’s sake!
Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.
No amount of searching will find this.
A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder, and become yours.
"We Glow and Glow Again" by Rumi. Trans. Coleman Barks
“All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
But who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.
This poetry. I never know what I'm going to say.
I don't plan it.
When I'm outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.
We have a huge barrel of wine, but no cups.
That's fine with us. Every morning
We glow and in the evening we glow again.”
* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Celebrating Rumi"
See also
Part 2: Capacity for Sadness, Capacity for Joy
Part 3: Love and Death Merge Into One

2016-09-05

Doing Without Hope

Attain the Good You Will Not Attain, part 3

Mary Oliver's poem, "Wild Geese," begins: “You do not have to be good.” You only have be who you are. The poem continues: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Only then, as Zbigniew Herbert said, “will you attain the good that you will not attain.”

In the end we are redeemed only by the kind of person it is our nature to be – not by what we accomplish. The scorpion will sting. That’s not what matters. As Zbigniew Herbert’s poem said, “The informers, executioners, cowards – they will win.” Not what matters.

A line from The Lord of the Rings that has stayed with me since I first read it more than 40 years ago. Gandalf has just fallen to the Balrog in Moria. The rest of the company has escaped outside where it has a brief chance to collect itself and take stock. Aragorn soliloquizes “Gandalf . . . What hope have we without you?” He turned to the Company. “We must do without hope,” he said.

Doing without hope doesn’t always mean dejection, ennervating depression, inability to act, giving up, rolling over. Hopelessness is not always just despair. Hopelessness can help bring us into the present moment, pull us back from the sort of hope that has us living in our imagined future instead of the present. In the realm of social action, this sort of hope amounts to clinging to an image in which other people have finally stopped being so foolish and pig-headed as not to share our values.

There is another kind of hope, which isn’t about the future being different in any particular way that you or I would call “better.” “Let us gird ourselves and weep no more,” says Aragorn in the next line. “Come! We have a long road.”

It’s about acting here and now without knowing what effect, if any, the action will have. It’s about what the poet John Keats called “negative capability” – the capacity not to insist on a determinate knowable meaning. It’s about doing what we are called to do, not to make the world over in our image, but only to be who we are.

It’s about being courageous, joining the resistance with our hearts and our breath and our love and our being, and being comfortable not being able to predict what will come of it. It’s about listening deeply, speaking truth, then letting go.

Any other kind of hope is really another name for fear. What commonly goes by the name “hope” – hope for a specific result – is nonacceptance. It is fear of the world as it is, or the world as we are afraid it may become.

A hero of mine is A.J. Muste, a lifelong activist. He protested the Vietnam War outside the White House, day after day, usually alone, sometimes in the rain. One day Muste was approached a reporter. “Do you really think you’re going to change those people?” asked the reporter indicating toward the White House.

“I don’t do it to change them,” replied Muste. “I do it so they won’t change me.”

It’s not that Muste, or I, don’t want to be changed. It’s just that we want to resist the forces that would keep us from our calling, that would occlude the compassion from flowing out from us to what end we cannot see and do not control.

Yes, strategizing is a part of doing. Goals and outcomes and plans for achieving are the manifestations of compassion. It’s possible to plan for results without expecting them. Our hearts turn over to grace their labor, their sweat -- all that our hearts are and have.

Grace has its own way of shaping what our hearts bequeath it.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Attain the Good You Will Not Attain"
See also:
Part 1: Life Is Not a Utilitarian Calculation
Part 2: No Desire for the Fruits of Your Action
And see:
Rev. LoraKim Joyner, "Conservation: Attaining the Good You Will Not Attain"