Category Archives: On Being

Lumpy crossings going up the hill of harmony

Finding where we connect with those who seem so different

I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.”- William Butler Yeats

This year to celebrate the Judaic-Celtic connection, instead of drinking green milkshakes and Irish whiskey, my love and I watched The Secret of Kels and listened to Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast with Pádraig Ó Tuama.  Mr. Ó Tuama is a poetic theological social healer.  He is the leader of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization. It is a refuge for people around the world. It is a space for people to share cups of tea and listen to one another while learning how to ask themselves the right questions.

When Corrymeela was founded in 1965, they were told the name meant “hill of harmony.” It was 10 years before someone pointed out the Irish word roughly means, “a place of lumpy crossings.” Once we are able to stay centered in an uncomfortable interaction, harmony will arise.  This is a role model we could really benefit from in America right now.

Mr. Ó Tuama illustrated how two groups, seemingly at odds, sat for two days within the heart of Corrymeela before this kind of breakthrough occurred.  A man that considered himself a “fundamentalist” Christian asked those he referred to in the room as “homosexuals” if his words had bruised them. He was told they had.

“Are you telling me that it’s painful for you to be around me?”  the man asked.

He was told that it was.

Mr. Ó Tuama noted that this man “chaplained himself”. That is, he was the one that brought himself to ask that question and was transformed by the answer. No one else could have pointed this out, it was something he had to come to on his own.

This same “fundamentalist” mentioned that he loved a political show on the BBC. Mr. Ó Tuama told him “My partner produces that.” That opened up amazement, curiosity and the capacity to ask the question mentioned above.

This exchange changed not only the “fundamentalist” but Mr. Ó Tuama who said he wanted to see the ways “in which I’m the perpetrator of real hostility and lack of understanding and lazy thinking. I want to be someone like him, who says, ‘Tell me what it’s like to hear the way I talk because I need to be changed.’ ”

This podcast went along splendidly with the animated masterpiece, The Secret of Kels.  The film is a mythical legend about the creation of the Book of Kels, a book that is the most prized treasure in Ireland. It is a Gospel whose illuminating illustrations were started in Scotland and finished in Ireland while the Vikings were ransacking villages for gold. The film suggests that the boy monk who becomes one of the book’s illustrators, is helped by a girl who is the spirit of the forest. The girl is the feminine. She is what would be considered pagan. She is the Goddess, she is the earth and life itself.  Within in this tale, the boy of faith and the girl of nature are able to steal one of the eyes of the serpent of darkness. The eye is a crystal that allows the illustrator to see the miraculous in the ordinary.

This symbol suggested to me that when face our inherited fear and see through the eyes of our ‘enemy’, we can gain a perspective brings light to the darkness of our hearts.

There was a art historian named Sister Wendy Beckett who talked about cultivating the “Gaze of Love”.  That is, placing your love into your eyes and seeing the world that way.

At a time when we are in a place of lumpy crossings with one another, perhaps we can cultivate this “Gaze of Love” to see those whose political, religious, cultural, philosophical and orientation are different from our own. We might even be able to join in a conversation over a cup of coffee or a mug of tea.

“Are there human connection points where quietly you can say to people, ‘Can you help me understand this?’” And maybe then you’ll participate in this fantastic argument of being alive in such a dynamic way that it’s great fun or really enlivening. And you can have a really robust disagreement. And that is the opposite of being frightened of fear because you can create that.” – Pádraig Ó Tuama

We can help one another up the hill, even if we disagree.

 

Thanksgiving for living signposts

“E pluribus unum”- out of many, one (the motto of the US).

“Devise means for removing the Inconsistency from the Character of the American People,” and to “promote mercy and justice toward this distressed Race.” -Ben Franklin (His last public act was to send Congress this petition asking for the abolition of slavery and an end to the slave trade. Feb 3, 1790)

 Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving cartoon

George Washington was the first to call for a national “public thanksgiving and prayer”, but each state celebrated this holiday at various times. In September of 1863, in the midst of our Civil War, Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote to President Lincoln urging him to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday to unite the country. Lincoln listened and by October, issued a proclamation that set aside the last Thursday of every November as “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

This week, Julia and I drove out to Iowa from New York to celebrate Thanksgiving with her mom and family. On the way, we listened to episodes of a podcast called On Being with Krista Tippet. People have been trying to get us to listen to this podcast for a long time. I bring up the show because as we strive to avoid talking about politics around the family table today, it is important to explore within ourselves the roots of why our communication has broken down.

ON Being

To explore what has divided us in the hopes of uniting us, I will share some quotes and thoughts from two of the On Being Podcasts we listened to. 

Vincent Harding

Vincent Harding was a leading figure in the civil rights movement as well a close friend and occasional speech writer for Martin Luther King Jr. He said that “the phrase “civil rights” never adequately described King’s vision or the human transformation that it stirred.’ The movement, he reminded us, “was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired in biblical words to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society.”  The question for us now, is “how to carry on democratic conversation that in a sense invites us to hear each other’s best arguments and best contributions so that we can then figure out how do we put these things together to create a more perfect union. To develop the best humanity, the best spirit, the best community, there needs to be discipline, practices of exploring. How do you do that? How do we work together? How —to go back to our conversation —how do we talk together in ways that will open up our best capacities and our best gifts?”

Isabel Wilkerson

Author Isabel Wilkerson, reminds us that that there were 246 years of enslavement here in America, that is 12 generations of enslavement. “You think about those cotton fields, and those rice plantations, and those tobacco fields, and on all of those cotton fields, and tobacco plantations, and rice plantations were opera singers, and jazz musicians, and poets, and professors, defense attorneys, doctors — I mean, that’s — this is the manifestation of the desire to be free and what was lost to the country…we’re so very divided, and there’s such a focus on “other.” And “other” can mean all kinds of things. And so people will often say, “Why is it that those people do that thing?” The only answer to that question is, “Why do human beings do what they do when they’re in that situation?” And it calls for radical empathy in order to put ourselves inside the experiences of another and to allow ourselves the pain, allow ourselves the heartbreak…”

People’s concerns go beyond the economy now. When the chief political strategist for the White House is a member of a white supremacy group, and when CNN broadcasts the question posted by a member of the alt-right asking ‘If Jews are people…”, we have to wonder what Benjamin Franklin would think of his beloved America? We short change ourselves when we try to suppress our diversity.  “By the people, for the people,” is the America I hold in my heart.

Vincent Harding suggested that when we find we are “operating in a situation,” that is, “very, very dark all around,” what we need are “some signposts, some lights that would in other peoples’ lives help them …Live human signposts.”

Fortunately there are many  signposts for us.  We can also rise above our differences to shine out for one another as we gather round a table of gratitude for what we have and what we can share. As a beloved community, we can be a light to the world. 

I am Thankful for you!