Why That Picture?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about why I called the blog “Green Eggs and Ham.” Today I’m writing about the picture that appears at the top of my posts.

I took the picture in the Adirondack High Peaks of New York. There’s a trail that runs below Wallface Mountain through a gap called Indian Pass. It’s a rugged trail, winding through a jumble of boulders fallen from the cliffs of Wallface over the centuries. Coming around a bend, one confronts this view. The trail doesn’t go under those boulders. It bends to the left.

But, to go through that passage, under that massive boulder, you would have to bend down. You would have to go down and come back up. That jagged hole is a door. You can’t see but a hint of what’s on the other side. It’s probably more of the same. But you don’t know until you go down, in, back up and out. Something might change. Something might be different. You might be different.

That pass below the cliffs of Wallface is a harsh environment. The birch trees you can see in the picture look like claws clinging to the rocks, sending their roots to find earth and nourishment. If you look closely, life is everywhere. Moss, lichens and other small plants cover the rocks. Life is persistent, adaptive. The spaces between the rocks provide shelter for hidden creatures.

That’s all I’ll say. You may see something else.

There is always more.

Why Green Eggs and Ham?

Two things occurred to me this week regarding this blog. One, I have not posted anything in six months. Two, people might wonder why I named my blog “Green Eggs and Ham.” I don’t know that I ever expounded on that when I began this endeavor years ago.

I am Sam. Well, what else can I say? That’s my name. Lines from the old Dr. Seuss book pop into my head now and then, especially when a situation requires me to supply my name. Sam-I-am was the character who pursued the other guy through the rain, on the train, in a park, in the dark, in a box, with a fox… and on and on until the poor guy relented and tried the green eggs and ham.

Toward the end of the book, Sam-I-am says to the other guy:

You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may I say.

And the other guy says, wearily:

If you will let me be,
I will try them.
You will see.

So the guy tries green eggs and ham, and discovers, much to his surprise, that he likes them. And he will now eat them in the rain… and all those other places repeatedly mentioned in the story.

So I thought, years ago when I began writing this very irregular blog, that I would be like Sam-I-am, although hopefully not so annoying, and invite people to try some new ideas, sharing my perspective which I hope is open and inclusive, contemplative and gentle, yet applying some critical thinking and spiritual perspective to the events of this increasingly frantic and fractious world.

The Franciscan priest and contemplative teacher, Richard Rohr, has pointed out (as I imagine have other wise teachers) that in order to transcend dualistic thinking and come to unity, first one must discern, identify, categorize, and judge, in order truly to see what is. Then, through listening, humility, prayer and contemplation, to come to a new, more unitive perspective.

I hope in this blog to offer some of that work from my own experience and location here in Central Upstate New York. And maybe, I hope, you will say, “I do so like green eggs and ham! Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-am.”

The Pandemic & Fear

The extra time I’ve had due to normal routines being mostly halted during the pandemic I have put to use working on some of my family history. I have a couple of big boxes of letters from my mother’s side of the family that I’ve been arranging in chronological order (from the late 1930s on) and transcribing so I’ll have a record of family events and their response to larger events in the world. Amid the mundane news of children’s doings, various visits, and thanks for holiday gifts are some fascinating insights into how previous generations experienced the world.

In 1965, I had a bad case of pneumonia that kept me out of fifth grade for almost a month. In a letter from my grandmother’s sister-in-law to my mother, my great-aunt, Jo, expresses her gratitude that I have recovered. She then goes on to reflect on her experience of pneumonia and other diseases and how the population lived in fear of them.

Pneumonia used to strike terror in every home that it entered. Today, because of the new drugs, there is no need for terror. I wonder if your generation can ever know how great was the anguish which was created years ago by many diseases which today are non-existent or from which fear has been abolished.

I read those words written by my “Auntie Jo” Irwin just last week in the eighth week of the shelter in place order in New York, about the time we heard that more than 80,000 people had died so far from the pandemic. The fear known by previous generations has not been abolished, it has taken new forms.

And I realized my great-aunt’s limited perspective, living an affluent life in Cleveland, OH. She appears not to have been aware that, in countries around the world in 1965 – and today – there is still great terror in the face of killer pandemics. Ebola has killed thousands, and is still active in Central African nations. Polio still infects children in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. And now a new virus has struck fear around the world.

Above all, I pray we may have compassion for those who are least able to have access to medical care, who lack running water, who don’t have the resources to treat those who are ill. Even though we are afraid, I hope our main response is one of love, of caring, and of working to bring hope to everyone who is affected.

A Time of Rest

A friend’s blog pointed out some words from Isaiah that can help to ground us during this time of enforced inactivity. Isaiah said to a frantic, panicky people who sought to fight or to run away from trouble, “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

This is not an invitation to egocentric introspection. Some people dismiss Lent because it seems overly focused on navel-gazing. That’s not what this is about. The invitation to “returning and rest,” to “quietness and trust” is to a renewal of confidence that we find our lives in the One who made us, that in life and in death we belong to God. When we stop, rest, empty of our own need to be in control, we return to the source of life. We open a little more to the wind of the spirit moving in and around us.

Such a returning is not a retreat from life. It renews our courage, purpose and hope. We return to the “new command” to love one another as Jesus loved us grounded in trust in God. And, if we are not able to gather in sanctuaries with lilies, trumpets and fancy hats this year, we will still be able to live the resurrection. We will be able to celebrate it as we carry the strength and courage we find in our returning and rest into our call to love our neighbor. And, after all, that is where we need resurrection most of all – in reconciliation, forgiveness, peace, compassion – the power of Easter every day.

The No Peace Deal

All I can say is that any “peace deal” that does not return stolen land to the Palestinians is no peace deal.

Israel continues to bulldoze Palestinian people off of their land, continues to steal this land just because they can, and continues in this occupation to destroy the lives of people who struggle to survive.

This is not peace.

This is the brutality of oppression.

My heart breaks.

Twisted Words

The eighth commandment, narrowly put, urges us not to bear false witness against a neighbor. Its concern is with being truthful, trustworthy, using words honestly.

So it is with horror and incredulity that I hear, over and over, Republican leaders repeating over and over the claim that Democrats are “trying to overturn the results of a democratic election and thwart the will of the people.”

This is an illogical claim.

In the unlikely event that the Senate removes the President from office, Mike Pence will become President. The Constitutional process of succession will be followed. We will not go back three years and “undo” the election. Ms. Clinton will not become President. We will not have to vote again the ballot from 2016.

What is happening is that Congress is working to determine whether the President’s behavior has broken the trust of his office and is a danger to the integrity of the rule of law. This is a necessary process to hold people in power accountable for their actions.

The words these Republican leaders are using are twisted. They seem to believe that if they say them enough they can convince people that the Democrats are trying to undermine our government and destroy democracy itself. By their logic, the President could commit any crime with impunity and an attempt to hold him accountable would be unpatriotic.

That’s ridiculous.

I am not in a position to judge whether the President’s actions qualify for removal from office. That is the responsibility of Congress. However, I would appreciate it very much if people would be honest in the language they use and to stop framing their arguments in such exaggerated terms.

Being honest and straightforward is a sign of maturity and spiritual humility. We could use a lot more of that these days.

Now What?

So the House has passed articles of impeachment and the Senate is quite unlikely to remove the president from office. What do we make of this? How do we respond?

The warring versions of reality so evident in the hearings are a symptom of our illness. Such passion to control others, even their perceptions of the world.

Though I am glad for elected representatives who cherish the Constitution and our form of government, I don’t think anyone can “win,” no matter how “right” they may be.

Letting go of attachments and giving up striving and the illusions of our false selves, seeking peace that we can rest in and share — that seems our only help.

Loretta Ross, a wise woman I am fortunate to hear from now and then, said it this way in her recent Autumn 2019 writing:

What is needed is persons with quiet
souls who cling to Holiness as the trees
cling to the earth.
Climb on God’s lap and rest. And a multitude of persons will find God’s rest near you.
– From The Praying Life copyright Loretta F. Ross http://www.theprayinglife.wordpress.com

May we find a spacious peace within, a space of hospitality that may heal our divisions.

Seeing Color

Recently I read these words from African-American theologian, Cornell West. “Martin Luther King, Jr., called us to be love-struck with each other, not colorblind toward each other.”

When I look at the back of my hand, I see skin that is a light brownish pink, with darker brown spots (because I’m getting old), and fairly thickly covered with black hair. On my face, there is a scar on my chin and a small one at the corner of my lower lip. A couple of teeth are chipped. My skin is starting to wrinkle and is beginning to sag under my chin. There are white hairs in my eyebrows.

All these details tell bits of a story that you could not begin to read if you were blind to the colors and contours of my face and hand. And the hidden face of my spirit is marked with signs of my experience that you would not know unless you spent time with me and began to learn my story.

So when I read or hear people claim that they “don’t see color” or that they are “colorblind” I wonder what they mean. Are they trying to avoid seeing the particularities of real people around them? Do they really mean that everyone looks the same to them?

We’re not the same. We’re each unique. And I cannot truly relate to you, deal with you, honor your existence if I can’t really see you.

I wonder if the claim to be colorblind is an attempt to deny reality, to avoid seeing the often painful truth of the experience of others and the history we share. And I wonder if the defensiveness I hear in the use of that phrase, “colorblind,” comes from a fear of making mistakes. We’re all so afraid of making mistakes these days, afraid of asking questions and appearing ignorant; we’re so quick to judge. But we are, all of us, human, limited. We need to let down our guard and learn to accept ourselves and each other in all our imperfection.

I have to confess that my reaction to the terminology “people of color” is not positive. It seems like a term made up by “white” people and seems patronizing. We are all some color – many shades and hues. I’m a color – that light brownish pink I see when I look at my hand. In some ways, my skin color defines me – but not completely, just as your identity is partly defined by your color. We are all much more than color, but we are also each a particular color.

We need to truly see each other, and to understand that the history of the divisions, prejudices, and privileges that are part of our appearance and identity are complex. They are on our skin and they are in our spirits. We will never know or understand unless we can see each other truly.

The Only Thing That Matters

Long ago, in a class or workshop on spirituality somewhere that I’ve forgotten, I heard words I still remember, that ring true across the years. Someone quoted a saying from Saint Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian monk from the 18th Century. He is remembered as saying, “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.”

From time to time, and especially in these contentious times, those words come back to me. I think of them in relation to the wisdom that the only person I can change is myself, and the odds of that are around 51-49.

And then there’s Jesus: “Take the log out of your own eye before you go looking for the speck in your neighbor’s eye.”

And then there’s Murray Bowen and Rabbi Edwin Friedman, who taught us about our place in the emotional system, where the only way one can have an effect on the system we are embedded in is to work on our own self-differentiation and emotional health.

So when I hear news of partisan bickering or Tweets from the President and I am tempted to criticize, correct, explain or weigh in on the issue, I stop and remember that it is just possible that I will only add to the noise and anxiety. Maybe if I respond with a peaceful spirit, listen, and approach others with compassion – maybe my own peace will be healing and bring a blessing. Maybe if I don’t react, I won’t add fuel to the fire.

I do not mean that I would hold myself aloof, but that I would engage with others with peace and compassion. It might be the only thing that matters, the only thing that helps.

Thinking About Suicide

The following is a version of my column in the Rome Sentinel on Saturday, October 26.

The Bible is honest about the human condition. The writer of Psalm 88 gives voice to those who feel there is no reason to go on living.

“My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the Pit. I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead, like those you remember no more. You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them.”

In 1982 I was a youth minister in Knoxville, Tennessee. Jim Henderson was an elder, a leader of the Hall’s Crossroads Presbyterian Church. One day Jim was at home alone. He had had a satisfying career, lived in a comfortable home, loved his grandchildren. But he had never told anyone at church of his struggle with depression, worsening since he retired. That day, he put his pistol to the side of his head and pulled the trigger. Jim didn’t succeed in killing himself, but destroyed his left eye and lost half the sight in his right. Everyone at church regretted they had not talked about suicide and depression before, as they embraced Jim and Marie as Jim recovered from his injury. No one blamed him, shunned him, or judged him. They loved him and supported him and his family as he found help to deal with depression.

Among adults eighteen and over in the United States, it’s estimated that at least ten million people reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year. That’s only the number who reported having such struggles with wanting to die. The vast majority of gun deaths in the US are from suicide.

On Saturday, November 16, at 10:30 AM Lori Robinson will speak on suicide prevention at First Presbyterian Church in Rome. Lori is a retired Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, trained in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. Probably more importantly however, Lori is a 2 time suicide survivor, losing both her father and a very good friend to suicide within 11 months.

Have you ever been stunned when someone in your world takes their own life? Or tells you about a person they were close to who committed suicide? Those affected by suicide respond with confusion, fear, and despair. We struggle to make sense of it. We are shocked by unexpected, self-inflicted death. Guilt is common for survivors as they struggle to understand.

For a long time, people who ended their own lives were judged harshly, looked upon as having done something unpardonable. Their families felt they could not talk about what happened. But there is nothing in the Bible that condemns suicide. To the contrary, God knows our weakness and despair, and hears our cry.

People often believe suicidal thinking is shameful, a belief that isolates and silences those who have something important to say and need someone to listen. Lori’s presentation will provide help to talk openly and give a hopeful message to people who are considering or who have considered suicide, people who are concerned about someone else who may be considering suicide, and people who want support in thinking about how to reinvent their lives and start again. We are learning to provide support for people who struggle with depression. Come join the conversation and help to provide hope and healing.

I hope you’ll join us on November 16 at 10:30 AM in the dining room. A pot-luck lunch will follow. Join us whether you can bring food or not. There will be plenty!