This Little Light of Mine

(Image: “The Energy Flow of Meditation,” by giorjoe.  Source: DeviantArt)

This post was supposed to be about politics.  I made a few notes over the past couple of days with the intention of writing about politics as our national religion.  One note said, “Until politics is no longer our religion, until our party is no longer our sect, we will continue to wage a holy bipartisan war with each other.”  I had several pithy comments rolling around in my brain about the altar call of biased media, the evangelical fervor of party leaders, and the heaven or hell choice each side paints the positions to be.  I was chewing on a truly remarkable idea about the crucifixion of conscience while a herd of Pontius Pilates washed their hands and a gang of Judases counted their money.  It promised to be a jeremiad of legendary proportions.

And then I went to church.

Today we installed the new leadership council at Unity of Music City.  Fifteen people (fourteen of them women) stood on stage holding a candle and singing, “I am a light in this world.”  It was a moving and transformative experience.  Describing it cannot do it justice, for what was most profound was the energy in that moment.  Our entire spiritual community is focused on being a force for good in this new year, and I was privileged and humbled to be standing shoulder to shoulder with those who would hold the sacred space for that vision to become action.

I was, quite frankly, riding a little high.  I came home from church and checked the mail I had ignored since earlier in the week.  Inside was a present from some good friends, and they don’t yet know how perfect it was.  As I was walking into my apartment, I received a text message.  It was from my decades-long BFF who I don’t really see anymore and who I rarely talk to, but I know is always there.  The text said, “Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you.  Love you.”

Then I meditated.

Now I’m baking an apple pie.

Do I really need to close the circle of logic for you here?  I have absolutely no energy for a discussion of politics.  Not even a detached, enlightened one where I play at being observer and not participant.  Not even a theoretical one.  Not even a funny one.

In churches and schools and clubs and organizations and movements and NGO’s and various other tribes the land over, people pick up the mantle of leadership and love and duty and calling every single day.  In any given moment, a significant army are devoting themselves to be a force for good.   Those are the people I want to talk about.

Let me make one thing clear — this isn’t about burying heads in the sand and ignoring reality.  Being a force for good means you are ready to stand and march and advocate.  But I know that I know that I know that attention is the fertilizer of reality.  What we focus on grows.

So I’m not writing about politics.  I’m writing about love and intention.

There is another note I have in my journal.  My good friend and minister, Denise Yeargin, shared this with us this morning in church.  “No matter how dark an experience might be, I look up and experience the light.”

I have the choice.  I choose the light.

Let’s Ask the Atheist to Say Grace


In First Thessalonians, the Christian New Testament tells us to give thanks in everything.  The Psalmist of the Old Testament bathed in gratitude.  The Quran tells us that “any who is grateful does so to the profit of his own soul.”  The Buddha taught gratitude as the response to both a kindness and a slight knowing that both contain lessons, the latter often more so than the former.  Hindu practice hinges on living from a place of constant gratitude.  Countless examples of Native American literature emphasize again and again the practice of gratitude to the Great Spirit.

I could go on, but I believe my point is made.  Spirituality, religious identity, holiness — whatever you want to call it — exists in gratitude, regardless of which brand name you prefer.  Thankfulness is perhaps the most consistent element in the history of religious thought.

But, what about those pesky atheists?  Can they even DO Thanksgiving?

I’ve heard people ask that question before.  The assumption underlying this question is that gratitude requires a celestial being as the source of all giving to whom one expresses thanks.

I read a story this past week that came from Hasidic teachings which I will (grossly) paraphrase here.

The student asks the teacher, “Teacher, why did God create atheists?”

The teacher replies, “To teach us compassion.  When an atheist sees a person in need and responds to that need, he does so not to win favor with his God, but simply to act compassionately.  Whenever you see someone in need, you should become an atheist.  Act from a heart of pure compassion and remove any possibility that you are acting out of a selfish need.”

Perhaps also in Thanksgiving we should be atheists.  Rather than thanking whatever your version of God might be — man on a cloud or ethereal energy — perhaps consider who actually provided that for which you feel grateful.  Thank the farmers who raised the turkey and threshed the wheat and bogged the cranberries.  Thank the factory worker who assembled the car you drove over the river and through the woods.  Thank the furniture maker who built the couch you can potato on all afternoon watching football.  Thank the football players who gave up their holiday for your bash-’em-up pleasure.

Thank the breeder who raised the puppy who “helps” you cook.

Now, it just so happens that I believe there is a Source in the universe (though I lean  more toward ethereal energy than man on a cloud).  I have no problem thanking that Source for everything in my life.  Here’s the thing though — when I thank the farmer and the factory worker and the football player, I feel gratitude to both the conduit and the source at the same time.  If I just thank the source, well, I sorta’ skip the middle man.

We are the brokers through which Divine goodness flows from source to other people.  We show up as God in each other’s lives all the time.  I have to believe that being grateful to each other pleases God, however you see her.

So when the big feast starts, bow your head and give thanks, if that’s your preference.  Just don’t forget to kiss the cook as well.  And, always, ALWAYS, ask the atheist to say grace.  You know, just for shits and giggles.

Mything the Target

This just in: The Great Wall of China CANNOT be seen from the moon.   It’s not even all that visible from closer realms of space, and where it can be seen via a space shuttle flight, so can other human-made objects.   Trying to see the Great Wall of China from the moon is like trying to visualize a human hair from two miles away.  Besides, the terrain around the Great Wall is so similar in color to the wall itself that differentiating it from such a distance makes it even more implausible.

Up until yesterday afternoon, if you had asked me, “What is the only human-made structure visible from the moon?” I would have promptly and confidently answered, “The Great Wall of China,” likely followed by a smug look subconsciously requesting that you recognize my immense knowledge of all things.  I had heard this my entire life.  It is such a part of our collective consciousness that this “fact” had even made its way into textbooks at various times.

So, what intense desire drove me to look up this information?  My students, of course.

Last week in class, a student put forth the “known fact” that the word picnic came from the phrase “pick a nigger,” and that it was related to the days of lynching when white folks would pack a basket, grab a blanket, round up the kids, and head to a local meadow for some lynching entertainment.  I had a faint memory of having heard this before but was not up-t0-date enough on my etymological studies to be able to refute the claim.  But I are smart, and I knowed how to look stuff up.  Turns out this too is a “know that I know that I know” piece of information that just ain’t true.  Picnic derives from a 17th century French word and predates the horrible era of lynching in the United States.

Well, YOU KNOW that I had to share this with my students.  The thought of not correcting their belief in a false contention is the stuff of a teacher’s sleepless nights.  Urban legends abound; hence, the need for Snopes, not to mention universities.   Teaching people to research and ferret out the truth is at the core of what I do.

I would purport that a large portion (maybe in the 90th percentile) of what people believe falls into this because-that’s-what-I’ve-always-heard category.  Politics and religion are two areas particularly susceptible to this.  I remember when I first read Gilgamesh, an ancient Sumerian tale that includes the story of a great flood.  In several ways, this story echos the story of Noah in Genesis, including sending out a raven and a dove to see if the waters had receded.  The parallels are not nearly as interesting, however, as the fact that Gilgamesh predates Genesis by about 800 years, and it had been an oral tale long before it was actually carved in cuneiforms on clay tablets.  (Gilgamesh reigned as a Sumerian king about 1,500 years before the writing of the earliest parts of the Old Testament; his legend had been told for centuries even before it was finally written “in stone.”)

There are (many) other examples which might create the logical conclusion that the Old Testament should be approached by a metaphysical understanding at best and by a mythological understanding at least.

As I tell my students, I don’t really care what you believe as much as I care that you know WHY you believe WHAT you believe.   I encourage them to question preconceived notions, even when at first glance it might seem to shatter the foundations they once thought to be rock-solid.  What they just might end up with is an understanding of the world deeper than they could have at first imagined.

Either that or they could just say “Screw it,” and spend their summer vacation at the Creation Museum.    Their choice.