Courage in the Face of Turmoil

“Courage in the Face of Turmoil,” Susan Ryder

Matthew 6:25-29

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

Anne LamottYou would almost have to be nuts to be filled with hope in a world so rife with hunger, hatred, climate change, pollution, and pestilence, let alone the self-destructive or severely annoying behavior of certain people, both famous and just down the hall, none of whom we will name by name. Yet I have boundless hope, most of the time. Hope is a sometimes-cranky optimism, trust, and confidence that those I love will be OK — that they will come through, whatever life holds in store. Hope is the belief that no matter how dire things look or how long rescue or healing takes, modern science in tandem with people’s goodness and caring will boggle our minds, in the best way.

Thich Nhat Hanh – Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.

If Love Be There by Robert T. Weston
This day,
Setting aside all that divides me from others;
This day,
Remembering that the world is beautiful
To him or her who is willing that it be so
And that into the open, eager heart
The beauty enters in
If love be there;
This day
I will make a part of the song of life
There may be grief, but if there be love it will be overcome.
There may be pain, but it can be borne with dignity and courage;
There may be difficulty, but it can be turned to strength.
Remembering that the word is beautiful
If I will let it be so for others who I meet,
This day
I will make a part of the song of life.

Can we trust that everything be okay? Will we be okay? I am sorry to say that I don’t know. Part of the answer depends on what “everything” is, who “we” are, and what we mean by okay. And the rest depends on a future for which I have no crystal ball. Certainly there are a LOT of things wrong in our world, and it’s a very scary time right now – unquestionably these days feel like the darkest and most frightening of my lifetime. The problem is that when we get so caught up in what is wrong with the world, we can become cynical, overwhelmed, and, eventually, we risk numbing ourselves to it all. We forget that our world is also beautiful and good. So for me, the answer to the questions are found, in part, by realizing, recognizing, remembering that beauty and goodness.

Even and especially when everything doesn’t seem okay, we can trust that somethingis. Recognizing that “something” grounds us when the maelstroms of malevolence that make up so much of life threaten to render us mute and impotent. There is so much that is good, and beautiful, and inspiring in our world – even here in the United States – just look at the young people who are taking to the streets to get other young people registered to vote. Look at all the women and minorities running for office. Look around at members of this congregation – just think about all the ways we have reached out and touched one another’s lives and the community around us. We recently provided the seed money to begin a local microcredit lending program through the West Bloomington Revitalization Project. We are helping a Congolese family assimilate into our community, and supporting a scholarship program at Irving School. Our teachers are daily blessings in the lives of their students, and I recently was part of a program to help bring spiritual healing within the LGBT community. And so much more. These many “somethings” are what help my trust.

Of course it’s tempting in the midst of all this change and the insanity to feel like evil is winning. Just to name a few of the horrible things that happened this past week: after a Saudi journalist was tortured and murdered, our government looked the other way so as to save an arms deal, and then condoned the body slamming of another journalist by a member of Congress at one of his rallies; thousands of children are still separated from their parents and locked in what amount to dog kennels, while threats are made to close our southern border from those seeking asylum; racial minorities are being purged from voting rolls in order to suppress their vote, in one case, by the very man running for governor  and congressional leaders threatened to cut Medicare and Social Security to bring down the deficit – this AFTER they voted for tax cuts for the most wealthy among us. Yes, it is hard not to acknowledge that evil is winning, or has won. But we are called beyond that; we are called to become courage. To help. To sing out the hatred.

When I start to get wound up worrying whether or not “we” or “everything” will be okay – I recall Jesus words of mindfulness when he spoke about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously.” I tell myself that right now, in this moment, in this time and place, I am okay. In fact I am better than okay when compared to most of the other members of my global human family. So many are truly struggling right now and need a hand to reach out and help them. Yes, there are more people in the world who are not okay than I can help, but I will try to help those I can. Whether it’s a monetary donation, or volunteering my time and talents, I will do my best to make things better, one person at a time. And if I do that, and you do that – if we ALL do that, then maybe, just maybe, we will all be okay. So perhaps we need to ask a different question – instead of “will we be okay” or “will everything be okay,” maybe we ought to ask how we can help others be okay.

While we are responsible for our individual lives, we can’t get by on our own. We are all in this together, fundamentally bound to each other and Mother Earth across race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, economic status and nationality. Everybody matters. Our work, then, involves getting to know each other better and exploring how to empower them to live with purpose and meaning. It means widening our circles of concern to other people, including those who are marginalized. It is a powerful center of meaning grounded in the truth of the unity of humankind. But it is challenging, too. It requires adapting ourselves to difference, stepping outside of our comfort zones. We do this through the choices we make in how we conduct our lives, how we spend our time, and who we associate with. Giving ourselves to this work is not easy. I’m afraid there’s a very long haul ahead for us, and it is very tempting to bury our heads in the sand. What’s going on in Washington now will disrupt all of our lives for years to come and in ways we can’t yet fathom. That means we must learn to pace ourselves: attend to what’s within our power to affect, and pay attention. Keep abreast of news, stay informed, and look for ways to widen our circles. We are reminded, as Robert Weston put it, that there will be grief and pain in our lives and those of our fellows, but they can be endured and even overcome “if love be there.” And in bringing that love, we, too, might help create part of the song of life.

Howard Thurman reminds us, especially in the most challenging times,
It is just as important as ever
to attend to the little graces
by which the dignity of our lives

is maintained and sustained. Birds still sing;
stars continue to
cast their gentle gleam

over the desolation of the battlefields, and the heart is still inspired
by the kind word and gracious deed.

So when we start to ruminate over whether or not we will survive this, or complain about what’s going wrong and worry about our future  – let’s agree tostop it right there, in its tracks. Let’s agree to ask ourselves instead: what is ONE THING I can do?

Anne Lamott again: “I did the hate for a full year after the election. It was kind of exhilarating, definitely mood-altering — I could go from despair and hopelessness, to adrenalized, not quite on fire but hot. I was so stuck, so clenched, my mind filled with tiny rats; I didn’t even know who I would be without my hate. I felt that if I gave it up, they would win, in the paranoid sense of the word They… After I reached critical mass with my hatred last year, and realized I had lost myself, felt toxic and rashy, imprisoned and steamrolled, and was becoming them, and that this was what they wanted, I did the most amazing thing. I stopped in my tracks. I asked myself, ‘What if you have a year left on this vale of tears, this world of wonders. This funny blue marble. Is this how you choose to live?’ Of course not. I want to be a Love bug, because if you want to have loving feelings, you need to do loving things: We take the action, the kind action, and the insight follows. Wonder and service fill us, and help us pink up, like babies. Revenge empties our reserves, sickens us, and makes our skin look like hell. I believe, against all odds, that if we stick together, take care of the poor and the very old, get thirsty people water, including our own worried self-obsessed selves, we can dramatically reduce our viral load. We can be Love with skin on. We can be present in barbaric times, and at the same time be nourished by the gorgeous and inspiring things all around us.”

What’s ONE THING you can do to help change our current narrative? Anne Lamott says if we want to have loving feelings we need to do loving things. What action, service, will help us pink up, like babies? How can we be love with skin on? What ONE thing can you do?