I instinctively rolled up my denim shirt sleeves before I started this post, a ritual that signifies getting to work, digging in, getting down to business. I think, in part, because it feels like things are a bit of a mess and there’s work to be done. Maybe you too are feeling helpless like you don’t know where to start, what to think, how to begin.
I sat in a circle of dear friends last night and there were so many tears. So many tears. So much frustration and rage and confusion. So much exhaustion. So much honesty and fear. So much beauty, too.
Whether you were startled and speechless by election results or you were unexpectedly affected by recent online announcements from voices you follow or whether you feel as though you have whiplash from the backlash of all the sides raging and shouting at one another . . . I get it.
The narrative shifted. And when that happens, it’s confusing, tiring, and it takes us some time to catch up. Meanwhile, our bodies are sore, our sleep is interrupted, our hearts are very fragile. All of this makes sense to me. If you, like me, are a deeply feeling and empathetic person, it does not matter where you land on any of these issues, the sheer weight of dissent and discord and rage is enough to make you want to wear Ugg boots and no make up for the foreseeable future.
I mentioned yesterday on IG and FB that we happened to pull up right behind a car that had “F@$k Trump” painted in huge letters across the back of the windshield. And Lane immediately begins sounding out the sentiment for all of us. “What does F@$k Trump even mean, Mommy?” she asks.
And we—right there on the corner of Avocado and Fuerte—had yet another conversation about this election, people’s very different perspectives on the very same issues, and how so many people are angry and hurting right now.
As we were talking, I wished that my 7 year olds and my 4 year old didn’t have to learn the word F@$k right then. Because now they know it. I wished all the feelings of being unhinged would just evaporate. And I wished rage wasn’t pouring down our streets for my kids to witness.
And yet, here we are. So what do we do? In times like these I turn to two people primarily: The “magnificent madman, Jesus” (a perfect term from Vincent Harding) and Maya Angelou, of course.
First, Maya. If she were still with us, I believe her word to us all right now would be: Continue, which is the title of one of my very favorite poems of hers. Here is a selection:
My wish for you
Is that you continue
To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness
To allow humor to lighten the burden
Of your tender heart
In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter
To remind people that
Each is as good as the other
And that no one is beneath
Nor above you
To put the mantel of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless
To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise
To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit
To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing
I think the soul bullies want to convince us that to continue, at this point, would be such a waste of time, such a foolish endeavor. But we cannot let them convince us to remain sidelined, silenced, small.
And then our magnificent madman, Jesus, who subversively found the third way in every conversation with people who “knew” it all. When asked to choose a side, be black and white in his rhetoric, Jesus always seemed to give a third way. Are we looking for a third way these days or are we entrenched on “sides”? The entrenching will get us nowhere, I’m convinced. We’ve got to come out from behind our barricades and start looking together for a third way.
I have a hunch the third way begins with serving. Especially serving those God has put in our lives, right here, today. And then looking up together and asking how we might continue the work of love and service in whatever way God has invited us to love and serve. Rhetoric keeps us safely distanced from each other. Serving forces us to roll up our sleeves and stand shoulder to shoulder, which somehow feels terribly, uncomfortably right, right now.
Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Do you know how honorable and vulnerable it is to start with the people right here in our homes, to serve them and cherish them and witness their lives? We can so easily look past the people around our table—the family God has assembled around us, be them blood related or brought to our doorstep—and focus entirely on the big picture. Let’s not miss out on the love in our own living rooms.
I wonder if we are to also serve ourselves: empathizing with, caring for, loving even our confused and vulnerable selves. Read beautiful writing. Stare at nature. Light the expensive candle. Gather ourselves so that we can be of some good to those who need us most.
And then wrap our arms around all the children. Every last one of them: “Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them the daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. . . . Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged form the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms” (Mary Oliver). YES. Especially the line about giving them peppermint to put in their pockets.
And as we spend time with the children, who Jesus always, always, brought to his side, we gain some kind of miraculous perspective, I’m convinced. And we will know the next breadcrumb we are supposed to follow, the next meal we are supposed to serve, the next hug we are to dole out, the next kindness we are to bestow. And we will continue. Until somehow, some way there is a kind of relief that comes from the inside. Nothing whatsoever may change on the outside. But we, my dear friends, can begin again on the inside.