How the Universe Talks to Me

It’s usually through a series of otherwise unconnected but often chronologically proximal events that the Divine chooses to send me messages.  A theme emerges.  A thread becomes spiritually visible.  A connection is made.  And the message is undeniable.

Item 1:  A few years ago, I was part of developing a new theme at the Unity church where I attend and am involved in leadership.  The theme was “authentic transformation.”  It was what I felt I was undergoing and what I believed to be core to the spiritual journey.  Every Sunday morning in my roll as “platform person” at Unity of Music City in Old Hickory, TN, I say something to the effect of “Welcome to Unity Music City, a place of authentic transformation.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we do.”

Item 2:  A year or so ago, I had the privilege of meeting Michael McRay when he was speaking at Unity of MC about his reconciliation work in Israel and Palestine.  I saw him again at a workshop for Narrative4, a story-telling reconciliation practice he facilitates.  I saw him a third time just a couple of weeks ago when he conducted a Narrative4 workshop at the college where I teach.  What strikes me every time I hear Michael is that he is a very young man (28? 29?) who is able to clearly communicate his purpose.  Michael will state in no uncertain terms “This is my purpose, and these are the ways I express it in the world.”

Item 3:  During a recent Wednesday night class at Unity of MC, the idea of purpose entered the discussion.  My dear friend and minister, Denise Yeargin, said, “I know my friend, Deb, is a teacher, and a darn fine one, but I also know that is not her purpose.  Am I right?”  And she looked right at me.  I said, “You’re right.”  It was as if the Universe was saying, “You’ve danced around this for a while now; it’s time to turn it into a declarative statement.”  I hesitated for just a moment, and then I said, intuitively, “My purpose is enthusiasm.  My purpose is to help others find enthusiasm in life.”

Item 4:  I went home that night and looked up “enthusiasm” once again.  I had looked it up before, and I knew that it meant something akin to “God within.”  But when I looked this time, I found a more definitive translation from the original Greek that I don’t remember ever seeing before.  It was “possessed by the essence of God.”  Oh, brother.  That about brought me to my knees.

Item 5:  I posted something on Facebook about a successful teacher moment.  For me, a successful teacher moment is when a student expresses some newfound enthusiasm for their journey because of something that happens in my classroom.  In the comments on the post, one of my former students, from way back in my second or third year of teaching, said this, “You’re a transformational educator . . . always have been.  Thank you for your heart, mind, and spirit!  You are one of the best to ever do it! #thankGodforTSU #freshmanhonorsenglish #myfave #abetterwriterforit”  Okay, so that totally rocked my world, but what really stood out to me was that word “transformational.”

The last meeting with Michael McRay, the Wednesday night class, and the former student’s comment happened within 10 days of each other.

And it all brings me here:

My purpose in life is to teach the transformational power of enthusiasm.  My purpose is to show how transformational it is to be possessed by the essence of God.  I do this through teaching, through singing, through my work at Unity of Music City, through my work in the classroom, through my one-on-one encounters with students, through my work as a chaplain in the pastoral care ministry at Unity, and through every conversation or thought I have.

I do this by living a transformed life with enthusiasm.

And so it is.

A Mighty Woman With A Torch

“The New Colossus” was written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 as a fundraiser to pay for the base of the Statue of Liberty.  It was engraved on a plaque and mounted inside the lower level in 1903.  One line of the poem is readily recalled by most Americans:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

But the entire poem is a mission statement, a declaration of purpose for our nation.  It begins:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning.  And her name,

Mother of Exiles.”

The first line refers to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  According to myth, it was a statue of a conquering warrior straddling the harbor which arriving ships had to pass under.  Just think Ancient Greek manspreading.

Lazarus contrasts this to the woman with the torch, this “mother of exiles,” who is putting out the welcome mat.  Re-reading these particular lines just a week after the Women’s March on Washington was especially poignant for me.

The poem continues:

” . . .  From her beacon hand

Glows worldwide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.”

Lazarus emphasizes the gentleness of the woman, the maternal nurturing waiting on the shores of this great democracy.  Her eyes are “mild,” yet they “command,” a paradoxical pair of characteristics evoking the quiet certainty of the divine feminine.

Then Lazarus hits the homerun:

“‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips.  “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Lazarus doesn’t just give us the message of the statue; she puts the words directly in the mouth of Lady Liberty.  The first-person declaration makes it even stronger, even more personal.  She tells whomever will listen that conquering heros can continue to re-tell their stories of past glories. She lives in the present, a present where people continue to strive to rise above the fate handed to them by those same conquering heros, nations too busy bragging of their greatness to care for the least of these.

She doesn’t ask for the best and the brightest.  She doesn’t apply a litmus test of intelligence or wealth or strength.  She asks for the marginalized and the hurting.  She asks for the reject and the refugee.  She asks for the victims.

We may not know the entire poem by heart, but we can still fulfill the mission.  Besides, we’re more and more aware all the time of how unwise it is to piss off a mighty woman.

Party of One, Your Table’s Ready

(Photo: Members of Nashville in Harmony, an LGBT and Friends City Chorus, lead marchers in Nashville,TN, for the Women’s March on Washington, 01/21/2017.  This picture was on the front page of The Tennessean and also in The New York Times.)

So, yesterday there was this little march.  You might have heard about it.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 bejillion women (and men) around the globe came together to stand for equality and diversity.  It was a beautiful thing.

I think it’s fair to say that most of the people who attended these marches were liberal and likely vote Democrat.  But, I know more than one Republican friend who was also in attendance, marching proudly, passionately convicted about women’s rights and the rights of all others as well.   What courage it must take in our current social climate to march in the midst of those with whom you politically disagree, but with whom you share a basic alignment of principles and core values.  (Side note: If you believe that it’s impossible for Republicans to care about Civil Rights or Women’s Rights or even LGBT Rights, then you might just be living in as solid a news silo as you likely accuse the “other side” of living in.)

I attend a church where a significant majority of congregants vote Democrat.  But, there are some Republicans in our midst.  These are people I respect and with whom I feel a strong spiritual kinship.  They are my tribe.

I’ve watched them sit quietly as statements are made from that place of assumption.  You know that place, the one where we believe that everyone who shares one similarity with us will also align with everything else we believe. It’s the place where white people feel empowered to tell a racist joke in front of other white people.  It’s the place where a co-worker tells a gay joke because surely they don’t know any of those people.  And it’s the place where Democrats and/or Republicans speak out regarding political issues with unbridled confidence and, often, smugness.  Because they assume ideological homogeneity, their tone naturally becomes self-righteous; unfortunately, what sounds like certainty to those who agree takes on the stench of pomposity to those who don’t.

These microaggressions happen constantly.  We’ve all engaged in them at some point or another, most of the time unknowingly.  It may not be a true sin of commission, but it’s not helping.  We have to at least admit, it’s not helping.

Perhaps you say, “Well, tough shit.  That’s the way of the world.”  Or perhaps you say, “I can’t tip-toe around on egg shells being constantly concerned about hurting someone’s feelings.”

Well, to the first, I say: We are the way of the world.  To the second, I say: You don’t have to if you stay focused on the principles and not the politics.

If we keep our eyes on the love and the equality and the justice, then following closely on their heels is the mercy and the forgiveness and the healing.  If we remain focused on the bigger picture, we can stop examining the other side’s every twitch and tic under a microscope of judgment.

And if we can do this, we’ll create a new kind of politics.  Politicians will begin to learn that it no longer works to divide us and to train us to demonize the other side.  Their tricks simply won’t work on us anymore, and we might just drain that big ole’ swamp after all.

But, let’s still march now and then, ’cause, you know, that was fun.