Appreciating What is Right Before Us

June 23, 2013

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Yo Yo Ma needed his refrigerator fixed and a repairman came and fixed it. While there, the repairman chatted up Yo Yo Ma and asked him why he had left his precious 2.5 million dollar, 266 year old cello in the trunk of a taxicab. He was very pleased with himself for having a human conversation about loss with a famous person and went home. About 8 that night Yo Yo Ma called him on the phone. “Hello, this is Yo Yo. You left your tools in my house.” Our text for the day is summarized here. Yo Yo Ma has losses and so does the refrigerator repair man. Not “Get over it, “ but “Get into it.”

Perhaps as a child you chanted the ditty, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” If you did not, I can chant it for you right now. It is a top selling, anti-bullying song, showing us that bullying has a long and archaic history. I sang it as a form of self-protection when other kids made fun of my clothes or my lack of a lunch box. You had your own injuries, some larger, like being called a fag or an N word. Before we enter the hit parade of oppressions contest, let us agree that small and large injuries matter to the child. I always wanted a lunch box and never had one. (I have one now and it is an Annie Oakley lunch box.) I was never called a fag, although I was called a tomboy and didn’t really know what that meant, I just knew it wasn’t the right way to be a girl. Small and large injuries come to all people. Some of us have sticks in our eyes. Others have logs. Sticks and logs in a person’s eye can hurt. They can blind and torture and distort and make seeing the world very difficult.

This week we are going to find out what the Supreme Court thinks about equality of marriage. We are also going to live with Cuomo’s decision not to move forward on the women’s agenda we have been supporting all year. We may even live with an immigration direction, if not decision, about border control. The Wall Street Journal editorial puts it well, “no amount of border protection will be enough for some Republicans.” In other words, we are in for a week of sticks and stones, trying to break our spirits.

Michael preached last week about the rainbow door and the way we want it to open to the extraordinary injury that has increased on our own streets. Micah will preach next week on gay liberation and then lead us all in spirit and body in the Gay Pride March. Today I want to give us a bullet proof spiritual vest, a way through injury of every kind, so that we can experience the trouble of the hate unleashed all around us. We need to dive down and not drown but dive deep enough to wake up. We need to know we can be broken but not hurt by the breaking.

Let me define hurt. Hurt is when you get a disease that doesn’t have a cure or a diagnosis and you have to live with it, minute by minute, day by day, hour by hour, weekend by weekend, season by season. Hurt is when your sister beats you up, constantly, and no one will listen to you say that she does. Hurt is when you can’t forget what your uncle did to you when you were a child. Hurt is that anxiety of walking around on the street wondering if that man has a gun in his hand. Hurt is when you lose your job and your partner in the same week. Hate is when you have to look for a job again tomorrow morning, even though you looked every day last week and last month too. Hurt hurts. Having a stick in your eye hurts. It makes it impossible for you to see. It distorts what little vision you have. Having a log in your eye does the same thing. The text recommends attention to both small and large hurts. It does not recommend drowning in them or living from them. It recommends attention to the great suffering of humanity, yours, ours, and theirs. It sets up the false competition between sticks and logs and demolishes it.

The text begs the question: If I am broken, can I ever be fixed? Like most wisdom literature and ancient texts, it doesn’t pretend to answer that question. Instead it tilts us towards something like a fix without ever using that awful word fix. The antidote to suffering in the bible is not to fix it but to wake up to it. The gospel is the permission and the commandment to enter difficulty with hope, not with glue or masking tape.

I want to offer three ways for us to spiritually awaken to hate and misery. Just three? You’d think I could do better than that? Nope. I feel lucky to have three. Note that the fundamental answer is to get the problem right. The problem is that suffering blinds us. It keeps us from reaching out to the suffering of others, which is the awakening Jesus advocates. Wake up to your own suffering and that of others, your own injury and that of others, and you will be healed from the blindness. When healed from the blindness, you will begin to see. So the first suggestion is here: get the diagnosis right. The diagnosis is not that you have been hurt or even that others have been hurt. You have been hurt. You have been injured. Others have been hurt and others have been injured. Please forgo the competition about sticks and logs, about who is hurt worse. Refrain from saying what people said all the way through Sandy, “I had it bad but other people had it worse.” That is a shelf, not a suffering. The first suggestion is to get the diagnosis right, which is that you have probably suffered and it probably blinded you. Look around with your spirit if your eyes don’t work any more and see that others have too – and refrain from competing with them. There may even be people in this room right now who have never suffered. I doubt it, but if there are, good for you. Even the suffering of the mother in Thom’s performance, the kind that made her deeply want a redecoration, does that count? Is it big enough for the hit parade of oppressions? Yes, of course. You can also suffer by wondering why you have never suffered and are probably afraid some one is going to call you a pantywaist, or a shallow, or a suburban, as in SUB URBAN, or queer in the old fashioned sense of that word. Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. Attend both the log and the stick, not either alone. Get the diagnosis right: Everybody suffers, everybody loses their cello or their own tool box. Everybody ices up in their own broken icebox.

The second spiritual strategy is to be able to feel while you are singing and reciting and having the diagnosis right. Yup, this hurts. Instead of “well it does hurt but other people hurt more.” Like the music and musicians we will appreciate today, as our service develops – THANK YOU – REPEAT appreciation is a good posture. Appreciating suffering is usually just about all anybody needs. We need to be noticed in our gift, like that of music, or singing an upbeat song when we are down low, and we need to be noticed in our suffering. I like to practice saying , “Ah.” Just Ah. Or Oh My. Or Ah. Oh My. I often show up and ask if I can sit around and be useless. Recognizing that another is suffering or has lost political hope or is in despair about what’s happening is really important. It is 80% of activism, which many people confuse as signing petitions and organizing rallies. 80% of activism is remembering why we’re trying to change things in the first place. Mark Carson. Jean Mentrevil. Finding out that 1 out of 3 women have experienced rape or violence against them – and that figure has stayed solid for the last 50 years. 1 out of 3. A number that is not budging. Ouch. Deep ouch.

I so enjoyed the graduation speech given at Pitzer University by Jon Lovett. While we are in recognition moment, let’s repeat a few of its key points. First he makes this diagnosis of the current condition, get ready for a word that will make you wonder if this pulpit is pure. “We are drowning in bullshit. We live in a culture of insincerity. Your call is important to us? No, it is not. We are in peak BS.” The second spiritual strategy is to get the public diagnosis right. We are really in trouble, many are suffering and the main thing we can do is recognize it. I see that log. I see that stick. Ah. Oh, My. Without this kind of recognition, the third strategy will fail and only cause more drowning. With the recognition of suffering and despair and defeat – while not competing over it – we can get ready for a response.

If you are broken, you can’t be fixed but you can be awakened. You can be hurt but not broken. Broken needs definition too. When we are broken, we lash out at others rather than extend an aha or an ah to them. Consider this slogan: “Live in such a way that the Westborough Baptist Church pickets your funeral.” While I like bashing the religious right as much as anyone, for purposes of this sermon, let me consider that slogan broken rather than awakened. Note the sly enemy. Note the objectification and externalization. It is them, not us. People who recognize suffering as a personal and a public dynamic refrain from externalization and objectification. We subjectify suffering. We internalize it. Then we are ready, from the accurate diagnosis, to attend to action.

The first requirement interfaith is to deepen your own practice of your own tradition.

We are not just looking for physical alternative energies, like wind and solar, we are looking for alternatives period. We need as much Self organizing self mapping as we need community organizing. And finally, each religion posses the whole truth.

As inner, so outer, as within so without. For example, instead of focusing on how the religious right ate Protestantism’s lunch, we might ask ourselves why we failed to love the last generation into being. Or why we let dying be taken over by the hospice movement. Or dealing with addiction be handed to AA. In other words, why did liberal Protestantism outsource its core functions? What was there about us that contributed to our own injury? The opposite of criticism and externalization is appreciation and internalization. Real creativity eliminates options. You can choose to externalize and criticize out of your blindness or you can internalize and appreciate. That is spiritual strategy three. Bring it in. Don’t get over it. Get into it.

Spiritual Strategy One: Get the Personal Diagnosis Right. You have suffered. Suffering has blinded you. It has distorted you. Others have suffered. Suffering has blinded them. We are all distorted and distorting. There is no need to compete for who distorts most.
Spiritual Strategy Two: Get the public diagnosis right. The distortions from our inner hurt selves have distorted reality.

Spiritual Strategy Three Link inner to outer and reach across the divide and join others in their blindness. Recognize the power of spirit to evict internalized and externalized oppression and injury.

You will come to spiritual strategy three and say you are just too fragile to do it. You don’t want to be broken any more or hurt anymore so you are not going to dive deeper or hit yourself with your own stick any more. You are going to coast. You are going to float. You are not going to try any more. Aha. Oh, My. I understand.

If you want to, though, just give me another minute to go into that word fragile. It is actually a beautiful word. And it seems to be following me around. It came up in my evaluation where someone said, Judson is a very fragile place and in that fragility is its strength. We are still safe to be vulnerable here. That is a good thing. It came up in a speech I heard by an extraordinary woman, where she said she thought the universe had five more years to right itself before ecological catastrophes became too large to ignore. We are so fragile, she said. Note, not fix, but right. It came up in a workshop I attended this week on healthy eco systems and boss less workplaces, where the biological concept of anti-fragile emerged. Anti-fragiles are the way evolution deepens its directions by managing the difficulties that disturb equilibrium in nature. The same might be true of humans.

Each of these versions of fragility – the vulnerable safety, the emotional fragility so many feel, even the twist of trouble being strength in evolution – reminded me of what I know about biology. I think of another biological notion, the “chaotic attracter,” meaning that changes in the cosmos attract each other to change, especially through disturbance of equilibrium. Chaotic attracters see sticks and logs, both, not either. They are actually attracted to and through disturbance.

Fragile people are not generation last but instead generation one. We are prepared to let our gorgeous fragility fully into our human consciousness. Big stuff, I know. Especially when you’re just trying to get your violin back or your refrigerator fixed. Fragile is fundamental. It lets us see and be. 

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