Keep On Keeping On. But How?!

“Keeping on” surely needs to happen in these long odd days. But the important question to me is: “How?!” How do we hold on to hope, hold on to faith, hold on to loving one another when every day brings a new outrage?

My blogging work brings me into contact with a wide range of cyberspace acquaintances and I see much anger everywhere I turn. Anger, impatience, blame, antagonism, resentment, rage. How can we sleep at night when such emotions constantly roil within us? How can we maintain our most precious relationships when we disagree deeply? How can we find positive energy to address the challenges of our nation when negative emotions paralyze us? How can we keep on keeping on?

Here are just a few possibilities:

We remember the difference between intellect and emotions.

Emotions are crucial to our well being. They function as signals, pointing us toward realities in the deep places of our soul. Emotions are gut reactions, quick feedback that are supposed to get our attention so we will recognize the importance of what is going on within us. Emotions are like a fever. Fevers are not “bad” in themselves; rather they let us know that an infection is spreading somewhere that we cannot see.

Our emotions are not “bad” either. They just are. When we use our emotions as signposts, then we can take time to stop and ponder: “What is going on here?” When we follow the path of the signal, we can figure out if our anger is coming from some unrecognized fear or some sense of helplessness or some perceived threat. Anger is a normal, necessary and healthy part of the grief process. And, of course, a feeling of anger is a reasonable response to injustice.

But still, feelings are feelings and we do well not to let them overwhelm us and take over our lives. Emotions sharpen our intellect so we can develop greater self-awareness and understand what these triggers mean to us. That’s when our emotions can fuel our actions with positive, focused energy instead of paralyzing us with free-floating, negative energy.

We remember to be active.

Strong emotions such as anger generate physical realities within our bodies; that’s why we want to yell, scream and throw things. But when we take our anger as a signal and bring our intellect into partnership with our emotions, we can get a handle; we can remember to funnel that anger energy into safe and productive channels. We might go for a brisk walk or get ourselves to the gym. We could pound on a keyboard or scribble in a journal and let words spill out of our souls (words that would be damaging to someone we love if we said them out loud!) We might need to cry and let the tears flow unchecked. Or we could march and join with others in focused protest against injustice.

Strong emotions need physical outlets and our intellect is what helps us choose which activity would be most healing in any given situation.

We remember to be still.

When anger is not named, confronted and channeled, it seethes and broods and creates a very real chemical imbalance in our bodies. Anger turned inward can develop into depression so it is vital that we make time to allow our bodies to relax and release that simmering anger energy.

Sometimes the “stillness” is literal. We sit in a quiet room and breathe, listening to our bodies. We soak in a warm bath while candles flicker. We watch trees dance or birds flutter or streams tumble.

Sometimes the stillness is metaphorical. In my Judeo-Christian tradition, there is a powerful little scripture that says: “Be still and know that I am God.” This kind of “being still” means trusting that – in some mystery that is beyond my control – things will work out. The stillness and peacefulness of having faith, of truly believing that the “arc of history bends toward justice” can give us a balance we can’t get anywhere else.

But this stillness of which I speak does not mean a “pull-the-covers-over-my-head” kind of hiding from the realities of life. Think of stillness not so much as escape but rather a passing of the baton while you catch your breath. We are in a marathon, much like the Abolitionists and the Civil Rights activists. Figuring out how to live in balance is what can empower us to keep on keeping on.

We remember to love.

Again, my own Christian faith reminds me that the Christ of our faith kept on keeping on because of love.

Love of God. Love of neighbor. And even love of enemy.

Love allows us pray for, to care about those who are oppressed, abused, endangered, enslaved. To feel deep compassion for their plight and to see ourselves as part of a spiritual community that can help carry their burdens. To become a vibrant part of the cosmic community that shares their struggles. This may be painful but numbing ourselves to the pain of the world and hardening our hearts is much more damaging to us in the long run. Love allows us to see ourselves as one human family.

Love also allows us to pray for the oppressors, the “enemies.” More often than not, abusers have been victims of abuse so we can pray and hope that they will find their way out of the vicious cycles that entrap them and endanger others.

Love even helps us pray for those who misunderstand, who make mistakes, who lose their balance, who forget how to love neighbor because they are so wrapped up in themselves. But there is another important angle here and that is honestly recognizing ourselves as being guilty of this same bentness which we so dislike in some neighbors.

The biblical “love your neighbor” challenge also adds this: “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Then there is the challenge to “judge not lest you be judged.” And the classic plea from the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others.” Not to mention the Golden Rule which is articulated in almost every other faith tradition: “Treat others they way you want to be treated.”

All these admonitions demonstrate how my neighbor and I are deeply connected. Often what I see in my neighbor is what I refuse to see in myself. If we can grow to truly see ourselves as one human family – the good, the bad and the ugly – then our greater maturity allows us to recognize the timeless wisdom of Pogo the Possum: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Love of neighbor along with love of self gives us patience and grace to forgive – both the other and ourselves.

A good balance between head and heart, healthy activity, restorative stillness, the power of love: here are some ways for us to find positive energy to heal the heart of our nation. Here are some strategies to help us keep on keeping on.

 

Other writers also continue to remind us to tend our souls and keep our balance during these marathon movements for justice.

Jim Rigby, a progressive pastor in Austin TX

In Justice Movement, We Cannot Neglect our Souls by Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry.

Father Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation

 

And one of my favorites, Parker Palmer

Find him on Facebook

 

 

 

 

“Keep on Keeping On” image by Sarah

Speechless

It’s been months since I’ve written an Intersection blog and I’m feeling a bit guilty about that. There are several good reasons but there are even more bad excuses. At least something inside is finally strong enough to nudge me to write. I guess something inside me is needing to get out, to find expression. Maybe that’s what writing does for us: it frees thoughts and feelings that are locked within us and allows them to take on a life of their own.

I have to admit the things locked up within me have been mostly negative. As I watch the antics of this president and his minions, the ineptitude of this Congress, the unfaithfulness of the American Evangelical Church, I realize I have been made speechless. As I listen to the cries of the children and their parents at our southern border, I realize there are no words for such unspeakable wickedness and callousness.

But I am also coming to realize I have no excuse for remaining silent. It took me years to find my voice, to find my way into a pulpit. So now, having a voice, having the power to speak and the privilege of a platform creates a certain responsibility. Therefore I will remember those who have no voice, whose power to speak has been thwarted. I will honor those whose pain remains locked within them and whose cries for justice suffer a grievous stillbirth. Continue reading Speechless

They Rise (guest post from Rev. Don Underwood)

“All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.” (Cormac McCarthy, The Road)

Is it possible that something holy and profound might grow out of this moment?

The most extraordinary thing about the Christian faith is not that we believe in a transcendent God, or that life does not just end at the grave, or that failure and sin can be overcome by something we call grace (or love). It is the fact that all these beliefs are rooted in the dark moment of the Cross, in the deadly betrayal of a follower, in the cowardly lack of leadership by a politician, in the pitiful cheers of ordinary human beings who, for reasons inexplicable, cried “Crucify him!” Had we been there, we would surely have experienced the chaos and the hate and the cruelty as some kind of prelude to the end of times, or at least to some kind of dystopia that would not be worth enduring. Instead, we look back at that moment when all of humanity hung on the cross, and we proclaim it as a beginning rather than an ending. That is why we willingly descend into the season of Lent; ironically, it is our great affirmation that hope rises from the ashes.

I’ve been hearing the voices of children this week. I use that word carefully, because they are not children if judged by maturity or ability or even wisdom. The voices of some are stronger and more insightful than any of their parents, any of us. But they are children in the best sense of the word, undeterred by political and social realities, their sensibilities and love-for-life not yet tainted by the cynicism that has become pervasive in the world around them.

They rise. They speak. And they do so with the expectation that they will be heard.

Depending on where you stand, you may or may not like some of their policy ideas, but that really isn’t the point, is it? What is the point, you say? The point is that they stood at the Cross on that day, in the midst of the thunder and the bedlam and the death; they were witnesses to the cries and the agonies and the endings; they were schoolmates to the one who betrayed them.

And now they rise. And they say we can do better.

We can create a better world, and we will, for the simple reason that we breathe the same air and we need one another. Out of the grief and ashes, they remind us of grace and beauty and hope.

Reverend Don Underwood, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Plano TX

 

 

 

Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Florida; Photo credit CNN

Political Pastors

Martin Luther King Jr. changed America. His stirring sermons stirred the pot for revival that spilled out of churches and eventually swayed a nation. Voting rights. Workers rights. Civil rights. Equal rights. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was both a Baptist minister and a political game changer.

Clementa Pinckney stood tall for liberty and justice for all before his brutal murder at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in South Carolina. State Senator/Reverend Pinckney was both a passionate pastor and a passionate politician.

William Barber continues the legacy of King. His leadership within the NAACP, his Moral Mondays efforts and now the renewed Poor Peoples Campaign are inspiring thousands upon thousands of people to become committed to a moral revolution in America. Reverend Barber is both a zealous pastor and a  political activist.

In an era when we frequently discuss and debate what it means for America to function within the parameters of the First Amendment, 2dbb9186aaf3996a953dd8e78a9c1e3emany religious people continue to strike a healthy balance as they live out their faith in the public arena. In a time when our divided society argues about the separation of Church and State, many religious Americans – motivated by their faith – continue to make significant contributions to the shape and meaning of our national politics.

But some pastors are out of balance. Continue reading Political Pastors

Thank you Oprah. I Feel Like I’ve Been to Church

The speech Oprah Winfrey gave at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards could be a tutorial for preachers stepping into a pulpit.

She began by sharing her personal story of epiphany.

Oprah was “a little girl watching from the cheap seats, as my mom came through the door bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses. ” But in a moment of bright hope, she watched a beautiful Black man applauded and celebrated by the world. She had no idea this could be any sort of reality until that moment of enlightenment.

It changed her forever. That experience opened up within her a space for dreaming and becoming that did not exist until that moment. She saw a light which darkness would never be able to overcome.

She named the evil…

Continue reading Thank you Oprah. I Feel Like I’ve Been to Church

Responding to the Cues

My adult son and I see the world quite differently. I’m fascinated to think about how that is true of parents and children. We bond early, grow together, learn from many of the same sources, but even in their young days, children develop an interpretation of the world around them that can differ dramatically from their parents. Never mind when they launch and begin to engage society without us; a myriad of other influences play their own roles in the shaping of each unique human being.

Our differences are fascinating but they are very normal.

Differences are not a problem. But sometimes the way we respond to our differences can create all sorts of relationship problems.

I can’t change my son; those days are long gone. He can’t change me; my opinions and belief system are my own responsibility and I’m not going to change my beliefs just to create an artificial peace in our family.

But we keep learning how to talk to each other. And how to listen to each other. And how to respond appropriately to the cues that come to us as we communicate with each other. Continue reading Responding to the Cues

Truth Will Out

Years ago, as a brand new minister, a woman in my church told me she had been sexually assaulted. I did not believe her. I knew the man she was accusing: a kind hearted, hard working regular guy. I just couldn’t believe he would do something so horrific so I took his word over hers.

That terrible mistake still haunts me.

It took immense courage for her to come forward and tell me the things she had experienced. The truth was painful and embarrassing and humiliating.

It took an immense cowardice for him to deny it. His lying was a self-serving, self-protective survival response. But it didn’t save him from the truth.

Truth will always come out. Continue reading Truth Will Out

When Women Were Objects

The stories keep coming. This politician and that corporate mogul face the accusations of numerous women who say they were touched inappropriately without their consent. This sports star and that news personality face public censure because of sexual harassment or violence against women.

The stories are not new. What IS new is that – finally – the stories evoke outrage in the American conscience.

Surely the women-as-objects paradigm is as old as time. Across the ages, across the globe, social systems evolved based on the premise that “might makes right” and physical strength justifies domination. Women are not the only people to find themselves on the bottom of this perverse hierarchy, but women and children are the most common targets throughout human history.

Within my own Christian religious tradition, patriarchy has been the norm. Our own Scriptures offer multitudes of examples of this cultural norm. Not because our religion created male dominance but rather because any religion can incorporate any kind of cultural expectations and baptize them with religious justifications. Continue reading When Women Were Objects

How Long, O Lord?

People of faith have endured violence since the beginning of time. Maybe the main reason for this truth is that people in general have encountered violence for all of our existence; people of faith have never escaped that human reality.

The massacre at Sutherland Springs TX takes our breath away and we find ourselves grappling once again with the epidemic of gun violence that infects our nation. The mass murders of these people who were worshiping within their sacred space evoke our anger, our confusion and our deepest indignation.

Continue reading How Long, O Lord?

When Respect is a Cultural Construct

Countless words have been spoken, tweeted and typed about the recent national anthem protests. My two cents: respect is a real and solid attitude but the ways we demonstrate respect is fluid. The signs of respect are a cultural construct.

When I was growing up in White Southern Christianity, it was disrespectful for women and girls to wear pants to church. In some traditions, for many years, it was disrespectful for women to attend church without a head covering – a hat or a scarf or a veil. Even today, in many Black churches, it continues to be a sign of respect for women to wear hats and men to wear suits.

In my current church culture, women aren’t expected to wear head coverings but men still remove their hats. Other signs of respect include standing, bowing and kneeling. I usually stand, I rarely kneel and I never bow. Is that disrespectful?

In my Southern culture, it was disrespectful for men to wear their hats at the dinner table; however, that was not true for the women in the room. Now, men wear their ball caps and cowboy hats in diners and restaurants all over the South.

In my world, it was disrespectful to call an older person by their first name; we called our elders Ms. Daisy or Mr. Smith. I still do that out of habit and respect when I greet my Meals on Wheels friends but now I call other people who are old enough to be my parents by their given names. Am I being disrespectful?

When I attend Rotary meetings, I am happy to stand, place my hand over my heart and recite the pledge of allegiance because I still believe in the ideals behind those words (even though I have never actually seen my nation live up to its promises!) But then I remove my hand and stand silently when the rest of the room recites the pledge to the Texas flag.

Tim Tebow knelt on the football field every time he scored a touchdown. I understand that to be a sign of respect for his God even in the midst of a very secular setting. Was he scolded for using the NFL to flaunt his personal beliefs? Was he chastised by fans because he was praying on NFL time?

Colin Kaepernick knelt on the sidelines whenever the national anthem was played. I understand that to be a sign of respect for the ideals of the Constitution and a protest of the ways America continues to fall short of its ideals.

Was he scolded for using the NFL to flaunt his personal beliefs? Was he chastised by fans because he was kneeling on NFL time?

The answers to the above questions are either “yes” or “no” depending on which “side” one is on.

Maybe part of the controversy goes back to religion. Secular folks criticized Tebow’s public religion and his seeming disrespect of America’s secular spaces. Religious folks criticized Kaepernick’s public protest and his seeming disrespect for America’s civil religion. (See Charlotte’s blog: Yes, Civil Religion is a Real Thing.)

Ironically, both situations can be seen as positive examples of the First Amendment in action.

The freedom to express one’s faith.

The freedom to protest.

Too many different “sides” in this controversy have disrespected the various embodiments of our Constitutional guarantees demonstrated in Tebow and Kaepernick. The signs and symbols have become more important than the actual, core values of America. That is why this has become such a divisive maelstrom.

Signs of respect are cultural constructs.

And over the years, those signs, those symbols of respect evolve as cultural traditions and expectations change.

But a person’s core attitude of respect and true patriotism can only be discerned by behaviors deeper than superficial signs. Not by kneeling or standing, not by words we mouth or decorations we wear on our lapels. But rather by the ways we actually participate in our national life together. The ways we understand our role as Americans and live that out as citizens within a shared and equitable society.

Let’s go deeper. Let’s be wiser, America.

Let’s stop hyperventilating over superficialities and find the ways we can work together to truly help America be great and kind and good and committed to her promises.

And let’s stop judging one another. Instead of accusing and demonizing, let us strive to presume good intentions of our fellow citizens and find our way to common ground. Let’s build something great together with mutual respect and courageous conviction.

 

Here are two excellent pieces I recommend.

David Frost’s blog on “Two Christianities.”

Dale Hansen’s challenge concerning the hypocrisies of the current anthem kerfuffle.

 

Image credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She serves as national president for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.