Parker Palmer for President: The only political post I will ever make

How do we “ward off the buffoonery and blathering, the racism and sexism and homophobia, the distortions and demonizing, the rhetorical cruelty, the cover-ups, the abysmal ignorance and flat-out lies that suck the marrow from our souls as the 2016 presidential marathon gains momentum”? -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”

Seriously, how do we??

I want to be an informed voter, to be aware of what’s happening in our country and to understand what the Presidential candidates hope to accomplish. But I just don’t know who or what to believe.

How can so many candidates believe they have the Absolute Truth and the One and Only Answer to all of our country’s problem? How can each of them be right and all the others be wrong? Why do hostility, distrust and self-righteousness have to be the status quo for election years?

As the media and candidates spin their stories, I sit and spin (remember those?) and I’m sit and spindizzy. It makes one want to “hole up for the duration”; to turn off the news and hide every Facebook post that is political. There are some candidates or issues that bring a visceral response—my stomach hurts, my heart beats faster, I get tempted to respond or post my own political comments (likely, equally as uninformed as the post that pissed me off).

So why do I put myself through it? Why did I stay up late to see that, ultimately, a coin toss could determine who would be the Democratic “winner” of the Iowa caucuses? Why do I engage in political conversations that cause discomfort?

I have never been very political.  I would prefer to steer away from political conversations, even with issues I agree. Too often I find myself being the devil’s advocate because, well, that side needs defending too, right? Or I get so wound up (the sit and spin effect) because I know it’s not really a listening-kind-of conversation, but a trying-to-convince-me-of-something conversation. Political conversations seem so hopeless and people become so divided.spinning out of controlAB.jpg

I don’t like disagreement. I don’t like conflict. I want everyone to get along. But I know that I contribute to this conflict as much as I want to avoid it. I have my opinions that I think are right just as much as the person who believes strongly in something different. But having a daughter with a Political Science major and a husband who loves 24/7 news does not allow me to escape the political scene.

Escape is not really a good option anyway: I want to be politically and socially aware, to be able to have an intelligent conversation and an opinion about the issues and candidates that impact our future.

“Though much of our political discourse is toxic, “politics” itself is not a dirty word. It’s the ancient and honorable effort to come together across our differences and create a community in which the weak as well as the strong flourish, love and power collaborate, and justice and mercy have their day.” -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”

Election years do feel toxic. It feels like there isn’t a lot of community that is created (except with people who are already like-minded). Community implies cooperation with those not necessarily like us, to “come together across our differences”.  But it feels like there isn’t a lot of listening. There is more holding to an opinion, standing our ground on what we think “makes America great” (even though we don’t know what that means and the candidates don’t tell us what they will do to get us there either).

revolution.

“We need a revolution of tenderness.” –Pope Francis

We need “a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.” –Senator Bernie Sanders

The word that has resonated with me during these past few months is “revolution”.  It has come from the mouth of Pope Francis and from Senator Bernie Sanders. In both situations it is a call for desperate measures, a radical change in the way things are being done and the way we treat each other.

Pope emojiPlease do not mistake me for putting Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders, or any political candidate, in the same category.  Anyone who knows me knows Pope Francis wins any contest hands down (I have Pope emojis, case closed), but it’s the word “revolution” that has me thinking.  Perhaps we all have a sense when things aren’t working, when we need to try something different.

So what can we do to bring about a revolution of tenderness during this election year when it is all too easy to see what divides us, to dwell on the differences?

Parker Palmer, in his article Breathing New Life into “We the People”, makes some excellent suggestions for managing the political angst of an election year.

    1. Value our differences:Only through the creative conflict of ideas has the human race ever accomplished great things.
    2. Listen for the long haul: Holding your differences with others in a way that can sustain dialogue over time, giving everyone a chance to speak, listen, and learn.
    3. Listen for understanding: “The more you know about other people’s stories, the harder it is to dislike, distrust, or demonize them.”
    4. Honor diversity: “Not only visible diversity but the invisible forms of “otherness” (from political persuasions to sexual orientations) that exist among people who look alike.”
    5. Act with hospitality: We have the power to resist the culture of hostility that’s gutting American politics — to act daily in ways that foster a culture of hospitality…”

*all quotes above from Palmer article 

Palmer is a Quaker, but this all sounds very Benedictine.  St. Benedict, in his Rule, states “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.” (RSB: 53) Treating others as Christ takes intention.

So my goal for this election season is to be a little more Benedictine: to try a little tenderness; to be more hospitable, to be a little more tolerant of opinions different than my own.  To have more conversations where I simply listen; to be less judgmental; to try to understand why others believe or vote the way they do.  I am not an expert (on hardly anything, let alone politics) and I have a lot to learn. I have a lot to learn about treating others as Christ.

Having an attitude of tenderness and hospitality may be the only thing that can bring a revolution within, in this country or this world. As Palmer states, “Just as democracy can die a death of a thousand cuts, it can be given new life by a thousand acts of civility.”  I will do my part.

If you are interested in topics of tolerance, hospitality, listening and self-righteousness according to the Rule of St. Benedict, I encourage you to listen to the podcasts listed below. Kris McGregor of Discerning Hearts interviews Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB, PhD, Prior of Christ the King Monastery in Schuyler, Nebraska on Benedictine spirituality. I highly recommend!

HR#6 “In place of provincialism, respect and tolerance” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB

HR#11 “Instead of circling around one’s self, hospitality” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB

HR#13 “In place of self-righteousness…seeking God” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B

HR#17 “The Value of Listening and Silence” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B

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Card name: Diversity, It Takes All KindsParker Palmer

More from Parker Palmer:  Chutzpah and Humility: Five Habits of the Heart for Democracy in America

 ….and a little more from Parker Palmer! I was tickled to hear from him on Facebook in response to this blog post.

Always We Begin Again

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“Always we begin again.” –St. Benedict

I just started my 39th semester of teaching.  I love the “beginning again” that comes with the teaching profession.  Two of my favorite things about teaching are discovering new ways to share the love of learning with students and the chance to start the next semester with a clean slate. Fresh ideas, new teaching strategies, another opportunity to grow and learn and improve—and hoping a little of that rubs off on my students. I want to make a difference and help students learn.

I think I’m still learning that I will never get it just right. I will never be perfect. But I love that I can be creative each day, trying new things, forgiving myself for what doesn’t work and starting over again the next day, week or semester.

 It’s a good reminder for everyday life as well.  So often in our relationships we carry the mistakes, hurts, expectations and fears into our next day; never really giving others, or ourselves, a chance to begin again.

What if we could truly give ourselves and others a clean slate? A fresh start?

What if we really could be merciful…compassionate, gentle, loving, understanding, kind, accepting, giving, patient, forgiving INSTEAD OF cold-hearted, impatient, irritated, withholding, reluctant, hard, thoughtless, self-centered, judgmental?

Being merciful means allowing ourselves and others the chance to begin again. How do we get there…to being more merciful?

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This year, Pope Francis  has declared a Jubilee or Holy Year of Mercy. He believes we need a  “revolution of tenderness”—between nations and in our personal relationships.

revolution4“How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God,” he wrote. He believes it is time for the Church to show her motherly face to a humanity that is wounded.”

What powerful images Pope Francis brings to this word we all too often use, but do not understand or practice: MERCY. A chance to begin again.

For Christmas, I wanted to create a SoulCollage® card for my monk friends at Christ the King Priory that represented the season. I gathered images that seemed Christmas-y and tried to bring them into unity on a card.  But it just wasn’t working; images that called to me instead kept saying MERCY. So I went with it. I let the word and idea of mercy flow over me and into the creation. The process of creating was prayerful and inspired and joyful. The card and words that follow are the result:

mercy

A gesture, an embrace, a tender gaze
Lays bare every vein, wrinkle, pore and blade.
In the Light, transparent and humbled,
We are seen, truly seen.

Despite our failures and flights,
Doors of mercy open to
Eternal love made visible. 

Pope Francis believes, “The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way, the important thing is always to get back up.”

May we take this word and image, MERCY, into our year and our lives. The doors are always open for us to begin again. We are received just as the Prodigal Son was received, with open and forgiving arms. The image of the Prodigal Son, created by Rembrandt, communicates both the motherly and fatherly qualities of a God who welcomes us all home. It conveys all of the qualities of mercy that we hope to receive and can strive to give: compassion, tenderness, love and acceptance.

In our thoughts, words and actions, towards ourselves and others, we have a new day to try again to give and receive the mercy that God has given us.

Each new day is a new day.  Always we begin again.

Every Little Thing!

Little things matter. A bunch of little things can make a difference, especially if it’s all the candy we eat in the weeks leading up to and following Halloween, which bumps into the weeks leading up to and following Thanksgiving…and then there’s all the Christmas parties… you get the idea. All the fun-sized, little snacks and treats can just plain add up on the scale.  Little things matter.

But little things can add up unexpectedly in big and good ways, too. The little things we do to take care of our physical, emotional and spiritual health can make a difference. The peaceful inhale and exhale of a contemplative prayer or meditation practice can sustain us when times are stressful. The little things we do for others can give comfort or show appreciation.

There are lots of little ways to make a big difference in the lives of people that we work, play and live with.

My former neighbor and friend, Deidra Riggs, wrote a book called Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are. Deidra found herself living in Nebraska, having moved here for her husband’s job, but not liking it one bit. Right where she was, was not where she wanted to be.

I started planning my escape. I wanted out. Not through. As far as I could tell, Nebraska was the very worst place to live in all the world”, she writes. Continue reading “Every Little Thing!”

We are moons, not suns.

 We are moons, not suns, except in our ability to pass on the light. ~Richard Rohr

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Just as the moon receives it’s light from the Sun, so we gather our light from a greater Source. Drawing from Divine Light through prayer, gratitude and creativity, we can grow into the fullness of life that God desires for us. By spending time in silence and creative prayerwe can hear more clearly what God desires for us.

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It takes time and intention and an open heart, a willingness to set aside our own agendas for awhile to let the light of God flow into and through us. We live from our truest selves by surrendering to the process of becoming. Continue reading “We are moons, not suns.”

Living in the Fullness of God

Seeking solitude and quiet, I was drawn to an advertisement in the Lincoln journey to fullnessJournal-Star—“This retreat in the style of Zen involves breath practice.  In contemplative prayer, we divest our minds of all thoughts and images in order to receive the pure and simple light of God directly into the summit of our souls.”  Breathing as prayer.  Experiencing God directly.  These words spoke to me; they held promise.

That was in Continue reading “Living in the Fullness of God”

Decluttering: Taking Off The Top Layer

We’ve taken off the top layer of knick-knacks, wall hangings and books—twenty years of pictures of Jessica growing up, snapshots of vacations, dozens of refrigerator magnets holding senior pictures, expired coupons, newspaper clippings and birth announcements—and loaded up two trailers-worth of boxes and furniture that we can live without for a while (and perhaps longer).  The stuff that we can live without has gone to a better home. Continue reading “Decluttering: Taking Off The Top Layer”

Benedictine Spirituality, Hospitality…and My Favorite Monks

I’m not sure how it really started, that I call the monks of Christ the King PriorymonksMy Favorite Monks”, but I’ve been calling them that for several years now. Once upon a time, I didn’t know ANY monks and now I have “favorite” monks. It was an advertisement in the Lincoln newspaper for a contemplative prayer retreat that brought me to St. Benedict Center (and the Monastery, across the street) in 2002. I am grateful to the monks who have shared their faith and wisdom through contemplative and guided retreats (dozens of them!), the Oblate program, Continue reading “Benedictine Spirituality, Hospitality…and My Favorite Monks”

Journey to birth

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Recently I shared my favorite German word–Vorfreude: Anticipatory joy. It’s caused me to consider other times in my life when I’ve had “vorfreude”. I remember the expectation of pregnancy, joyfully anticipating the moment when I would finally hold the baby we had spent months, years actually, planning for. I’ve thought about it more lately because my two young cousins, Carrie and Christy, are both expecting a child in September. There is nothing like feeling the moving tummy of a pregnant woman to trigger “vorfreude”–that excitement of whether it will be a boy or a girl, when will the baby come? what will s/he look like? and so on. It’s an infectious “vorfreude”!

Even the phrase, “She’s expecting”, points us toward a “due date”, a countdown of weeks and months where we watch the baby grow. It’s an exciting time, even if there’s a bit of worry or discomfort. The journey gives the expectant parents time to grow into their new life, to prepare, plan and reflect. How will we decorate the baby’s rooms? What kind of daycare will we need? Cloth or disposable diapers? If it’s a girl, will we let her play with Barbie dolls? How will we afford college? What values do we want to instill in our child?

This nine-month journey, a surreal, sort of out-of-body experience, realizes its potential, it’s full joy, in the birth of a baby. And all at once, the anticipation is gone and the reality is here. A reality that could not have been imagined, despite all the careful planning.

The “vorfreude” I have felt for my Benedictine pilgrimage is a little like a pregnancy journey for me. It’s been nine months since I signed up to go on the Benedictine Re-Connection Pilgrimage, planned by Christ the King Priory, the monastery affiliated with St. Benedict Center. I have spent the last 12 years growing in my faith and learning about Benedictine spirituality. On the pilgrimage, I will celebrate one year of being a Benedictine oblate as well as my birthday on the Solemnity of St. Benedict. But the idea to travel to Germany and the Czech Republic was birthed in me as a child on two counts.

I grew up knowing that I came from both Czech and German descent. My great grandfather, Frank Blazek, came to the USA from Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1906, when he was only 16 years old, never to return or to see his family again. Years later, after his passing, his daughter, my great Aunt Rose visited her father’s home country and met many relatives. She brought me a doll in a native Czech dress from that visit. I remember wondering what this country was like, this country that I had relatives in too. I decided at age 6 or 7 that I was going there someday.

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Having German roots was important to me as well. My mother’s brother, after marrying a German woman, has lived there his entire adult life with his wife and two children, Jefferey and Jennifer. Although Uncle Joe came back every 2-4 years during my childhood, he had never brought his family until 1994, when his wife and daughter came to Nebraska for a visit. So I met Jennifer once, 20 years ago, but had never met Jefferey. This, I knew, one day I must do.

So these nine months I have been joyfully anticipating this trip. Sometimes I let out shrieks of delight when alone….or with others, whenever the excitement hit me. I’ve read about sacred sites that we will visit. I planned additional days in Germany to meet with my cousins. I’ve looked at many websites and travel books. I’ve made a feeble attempt to learn a few German words. I’ve created a packing list, bought new clothes, debated about what size of suitcase to take. I’ve corresponded with friends and relatives who live there or who have been there. I have read about pilgrimages and prayed for this journey. It has been vorfreude, anticipatory joy, of the highest order.

Until last week. My vorfreude took a temporary hiatus as we dealt with some health problems of my husband. He started having chest pains and spent 3 days in the hospital undergoing observation and heart tests. Of primary concern was Joe’s health. Could his health be remedied? How would I feel if I left on the trip and Joe was not well? The “what ifs” overshadowed any “vorfreude” I might have been feeling. Although joy seemed to be replaced with fear, this too, is part of life. We were blessed with supportive family and friends and we had the opportunity to provide comfort for each other. Thankfully, Joe is feeling somewhat better and, most importantly, heart problems have been ruled out. I am able to go on the Pilgrimage as planned. My vorfreude has returned. Nine months have passed–there’s been expectation, planning, a counting down of months…and now I can’t wait to “hold this baby!”

It has been a journey, a birthing, perhaps a pilgrimage itself, to get to this point. Pilgrimages are a spiritual journey to sacred sites where many others have prayed, often for centuries. Perhaps the pilgrim has some aspect in their life they are seeking clarity for or desiring spiritual growth or an experience of God. Perhaps to satisfy a soul’s yearning or curiosity. Perhaps the pilgrim is open for the unfolding of surprises and the awareness that is birthed. For me, it is all of these. The birthing begins. Vorfreude!

 

 

Pictures are worth a thousand words.

It’s not just a cliche. Images are powerful. They conjure up feelings, memories, ideas. They tell stories. They stand for something.

A brandmark or logo expresses the identity of a business that is easily recognized without using words. Businesses spend a ton of money developing their brand identity, not that we need the business world’s affirmation of the power of images. We already know it. We know it in our soul.

soul-picture

Continue reading “Pictures are worth a thousand words.”

Anticipatory Joy ~ Vorfreude!

Vorfreude, a German word meaning “anticipatory joy”, captures that bursting-with-excitement, overflowing-with-enthusiasm, oh-my-God-I-can-hardly-wait-for-the-awesomeness-to-come state of being. Sometimes there really are no words to explain our feelings. Lucky for us, there are different languages, perspectives, experiences and images that can bring us closer to understanding ourselves and the Divine.
Where does this bubbling-over joy come from?
Is our joy from the anticipation itself? Perhaps. Sometimes.
The Germans have a saying, “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude!” which means “The greatest joy lies in the anticipation.” How wonderful it is to look forward to something with this kind of joy!
I believe this joy can be sustained for longer than that experience we are looking forward to.
As we stand in the flow of Divine Love, we receive the anticipatory joy to live our life on purpose, with passion and creativity, born for loving God and others.
I love this new word, Vorfreude.

Vorfreude. It’s how I feel about a lot of things right now.
About a Benedictine Pilgrimage to Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic this summer.
About Benedictine spirituality and “ora et labora”, my prayer and work.
About writing and finishing a project started years ago.
About SoulFully You retreats and practicing SoulCollage®.
About contemplative prayer and photography.
About a new school year (only after a joy-filled summer, insert smiley face).
About the new babies coming into our family this year.
About “Jessica becoming”, watching my child grow into a woman.
About my family, my faith, my friends.

Yes, I love this new word, Vorfreude.
More to come. Join me for the JOY!

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