Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

from the outside ~

wikipedia chaos theory illustrationMy life has always felt more like chaos theory than organised geometry. I seem, far more often than I’d like, to be a pinball careening off of surfaces already constructed than an arrow unleashed by some omniscient archer :). But that’s the inside of things — what I feel. A recent visit w/ my elder son reminded me that who we are often bears only a vaguely familial resemblance to what we seem.

Seeming digression: I have accidental graduate degrees. Truly. I ended up in one program because of a war, in another because I was riffed from a job. And both degrees were difficult — believe it or not, I’m not much of a school person :). I love love love learning. But school is far too seldom about learning — it’s often much more about hoops. And I’m far too clumsy (and impatient) to be much good at hoop jumping.

In this conversation w/ my son, I had the rare opportunity to see myself as someone else might see me: great job (which even though university bureaucracy drives me crazy, I delight in most days :)), graduate degrees, old passports filled w/ travel to exotic destinations. <Aside: exotic places often read better than they live — another post :)> Tea sets and ethnic jewelry and waaay too many books :).

If I had to describe myself, I’d say ‘learner.’ And writer. And teacher. But I don’t think I ever identify by my degrees, or by my position — unless it’s in a professional context. When my sister occasionally introduces me as ‘my sister the X,’ I’m embarrassed to death.  Because that isn’t what seems most important to me, although the achievement of that final degree disrupted our family life for years. Yes, I worked for it. But I’ve also worked (even harder) to be wife, mother, daughter and friend. You just don’t get certificates of accomplishment for any of those :).

It can be a salutary experience, seeing yourself as someone you love & respect sees you. But it also reminds me of the catch to the Golden Rule (some form of which is common to most religions and ethical systems): if you don’t love yourself, loving others the same way isn’t worth much. I will treat you the same way I treat my own worthless self. Hmmm… Doesn’t have quite the same ring. :)

I don’t believe I’m harder on myself than others, but this whole inside/outside thing is complicated. Buddhism teaches that illusion — maya — is one of our deepest challenges as human beings. So I don’t want to delude myself that my material achievements are important. And to be honest, I’m more likely to focus on what I haven’t done yet than what I’ve accomplished. We’re all more like this than not, I suspect. But lovingkindness ~ metta — begins at home. Inside.  With recognising how far the journey has brought us.

I’m glad my son is proud of me professionally. The work I do is important to me — and doing it well is a source of satisfaction, even joy. And it’s good to stop and take a moment to remember how far I have moved from then to now. But my work is not the only legacy I want to leave behind. I’m hoping that someday, the less obvious tasks I’ve set myself — to fill this beginner’s heart with peace and understanding and curiousity at our human foibles, to still the incessant cacaphony of my jumping bean mind, to read the language that birds write across the blue Oklahoma sky — will be as evident from the outside as the pieces of paper I’ve filed in a drawer by my desk. Actually, I’ll be happy if I just get to make the journey ~

 

the Christian left, words of faith and love and hypocrisy ~

A short while ago, a Facebook page called ‘The Christian Left’ asked its members to help support a FB ad. There was an innocuous ad:

Are you a Christian? Are you a Liberal or a Progressive too?

Do you feel alone in the ‘Conservative Christian’ world?

Join us.

However, FB pulled it. “Negative user feedback.” The idea that you can be Christian — follow the words of Jesus, believe in Christian salvation, and support liberal ideology — is antithetical to conservative, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. Who seem to have the airwaves these days.

I don’t get it. My beginner’s heart hurts over this one. The same way it hurts when people justify homophobia, or racism, or Islamophobia through Biblical text. It’s the worst, most dangerous kind of cherry-picking. And it seems, to this Unitarian Buddhist who was raised in a traditional Christian home w/ years of vacation Bible school and Sundays w/ Mr. Morris (my long-time Sunday school teacher :), flat wrong.

Even if you believe in an historical Jesus, and are a devout Christian, the actual Bible was written by men (really — no women :(). It was edited, reworked, revised and translated by men. All human, all fallible. Even if you believe in divine inspiration, all of it — each word, each punctuation mark — was filtered through the infinitely flawed persons involved. Not one himself perfect.

And it’s such a complex, contradictory text. If you want to look to Leviticus for words against homosexuality, you have to take the rest of Leviticus as well. And really? We don’t want to… But Paul isn’t much better — rife w/ contradiction, spelling out in detail sexism, racism, and homophobia. Do we want to return to a time when women couldn’t cut their hair or speak in church, when slaves were acceptable, when widows couldn’t remarry…? In other words, we choose what we will follow from both the Old Christian Testament and the New Christian Testament. And far too little of what we choose is loving, these days…

You may think a Buddhist shouldn’t worry about such things. But Unitarians — and Buddhists — believe in the unity of all belief, of all beings. Every faith is a ladder to whatever home we all return to, if indeed we return :). It’s all different rooms in the same house, I used to tell my sons when they were small. If you want to dismiss and ridicule the various laws of the Qur’an as a Christian — and I know several Christians who, cloaked in ‘religion,’ do just that — several laws in Leviticus are at least as punitive and ridiculous. Be wary, Matthew says, of the log in your own eye, hypocrite…

My beginner’s heart grieves when I hear people defend a homophobic agenda — one that preaches hatred of dear friends, family members and wonderful colleagues.  That it’s clothed in a Jacob’s coat of colourful religious belief is even darker, and far worse. I can’t imagine the historical Jesus or the Christian Jesus preaching hatred of anyone. When organisations w/ honourable pasts, and admirable names, make statements like gays are responsible for Adolf Hitler, his Brown Shirts, and the Holocaust, I wonder what  Jesus they believe in. Certainly not the one who loved all the little children in my VBS class, even the gay ones. And not the black ones, according to several ostensibly Christian churches — racist Christianity is known as ‘Christian Identity.’ One presidential front-runner’s church even labeled the Pope as the Antichrist

So when the Christian Left has its ad yanked from Facebook because of ‘negative user feedback,’ you have to wonder: who doesn’t think Jesus believed in clothing the poor, feeding the hungry and being good Samaritans? Who has a problem w/ treating everyone w/ loving kindness? What’s wrong with believing that the Jesus who likened the rich man getting to heaven as a camel going through the eye of a needle, would have real problems w/ current corporate behaviours…? And if you do believe that hatred, class warfare, racism and homophobia are Biblically sanctioned, how do you call those fears Christianity…?

‘speak truth to power’ ~

 http://irregulartimes.com/stencilspeaktruthtopowershirt.htmIt’s an old Quaker saying — one I’ve always loved. The saying hearkens back to the 1950s, although it has taken on a life of its own. It goes well w/ a poem I read today, “Albatross in Co. Antrim,” where poet Robin Robertson likens today’s poet to the unlucky albatross: The poet is like this prince of the clouds/ who rides the storm of war and scorns the archer; /exiled on the ground, in all this derision,/ his giant wings prevent his marching.

In some countries, writers are not only honoured, but actually feared. When rebels in a small Latin American dictatorship wanted the plight of citizens made public, they contacted the poet Carolyn Forché, whose subsequent poem ‘The Colonel‘ became a sensation, with its brutally beautiful images of tyranny and cruelty. Forché said she demurred initially, when asked to go to El Salvador, arguing that she was ‘just a poet.’ But the persuasive El Salvadoran urging her to come responded that poets in his country were feared. And that when Forché returned, she would write poetry that would help Americans see the truth. And then things would change.

Metta ~ the symbol for loving kindness

Speak knowledge to power. Beginner’s heart. Poets, beginners, all of us who feel that to speak up for those who lack voices (or the power to make themselves heard) is critical work. And it’s work we need desperately as the poor go unfed, and the ill untreated, and the homeless unhoused. When profit becomes more important to power than peace and kindness, we all need to speak up.

the wind, ventifacts & advice to a young teacher ~

I’ve been trying to spend time outside each day, even if it’s only to sit and watch the birds jostle each other at the various feeders. And I’ve been thinking about wind — always a presence in Oklahoma.

If I’d had this word yesterday, it certainly would have been in yesterday’s post. The word is ventifact. While the precise term refers to stones shaped by the wind, so many things are artifacts of the wind. Certainly Tree, from yesterday’s post, is :).

But the smooth polyhedron of this rose-coloured rock appeals to me. What did it look like before water or the wind cut it loose from its mother boulder, and wind pushed it around? Was it rougher? Larger? How substantial a change shaped and polished it?

Obviously another metaphor, but one I like as well as Tree. The idea that even when I feel most isolated, I once belonged to something larger than myself — what I call The Web :) — and that the forces in my life I often feel beset by may well be making me more beautiful… Well, that’s another kind of elemental magic. I’m not beset. I’m a ventifact in the making :).

It’s a thought that could only occur to me in the combination of sitting outside — and a long-time familiarity w/ rocks :) — and thinking about words, seeing them as physically connected to real life. Metaphors. Which is why, when one of my favourite former students wrote me not long ago, her heart cracked open by life and love and the growing pain of the two together, here is what I told her:

GO OUTSIDE! Take your favourite journal, a coloured marker or pen. A GOLD marker or pen. A set of coloured pencils or crayons. Find water. Sit by it. Take something special to eat, and a thermos or go-cup of something hot. Even if it’s 111 [yesterday's temperature :(]. Take your inner child for a picnic. When you get there, just sit. In your car, on a bench, on a blanket on the grass. Then draw, write, doodle, colour. And think: big sky mind. The clouds come, the clouds go. But the sky remains.  And the ventifacts beneath it…

 

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