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Posts tagged ‘society’

Casting into the Deep Water

Luke 5:1-11   

As human beings, do we remember that we are part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space? We often forget. Instead, we often experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. And this delusion can be a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. So said Albert Einstein, the Physicist & Nobel Laureate. And he also said that our task then is to “free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

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This is what I would call a paradigm shift—a movement away from what society conditions us to believe about ourselves.

See, most of us are socially conditioned to believe that the family we are born into is where we belong and it defines who we are. We also are conditioned to view others who look different as the other—not related to us. And, as we grow older, our personal desires [or individualistic impulses] can dominate our thinking and living. We also tend to show the greatest care and affection for those who are in our small social circles—particularly those circles in which people look similar and behave in a similar manner. We may wade in the waters of diversity and difference a bit, so to speak, or dip our toes in the water, but we won’t actually dive in to immerse ourselves in difference or diversity.

Not if we buy into the identity that society assigns us.  

And this is where we are today, is it not? We live in a world [and society] in which people are afraid of other types of people. People have a different skin color—someone else fears them. People live out their sexuality or their gender identity or expression differently—someone fears them. People practice different religions or no religion at all—someone fears them. Rather than seeing all of these human beings as part of this thing we call the universe, of which we are also a part—we end up being afraid of each other and seek isolation in our small, homogeneous social groups. And by doing that we are unable to empathize with other’s feelings and hopes and dreams and fears. We only see, hear, and feel our own. And eventually, we de-humanize those who are different.

And in the process we de-humanize ourselves.

That is why Einstein’s words are completely relevant today, about widening our circles, embracing all living beings, and the whole of nature and its beauty. In essence, we need to go much further than just testing the water of diversity, but we need to immerse ourselves in it.

We need to venture out into the deep water.

Now consider an interesting fact about water. If a body of water is shallow, it’s loud. Have you ever gone swimming in the ocean? Well, you know that closer to shore it’s tough to swim. The waves are crashing again and again, tossing you about. It’s fun, of course, to ride those waves, but not great for swimming. But have you even ventured out a bit further? If you have, then you know that the deeper you go the less you are tossed about. In fact, I have been in some oceans where the water was calm. I could swim easily. I didn’t feel the undertow. I glided across the water. It was quiet.

Image result for still waters run deep

There is a well-known phrase which I’m sure you’ll remember.

Still waters run deep.

It originated as a Latin proverb and lives on in English as an idiom.

Do you know it?

Still waters run deep.

Simply put, it means a mild exterior manner (“still waters”) may hide a more passionate or dangerous internal nature (“run deep”). For example, it can mean that someone who is quiet still contains great wisdom or a deep understanding, or that someone who seems so passive and shy is instead plotting world domination.

What you see on the surface doesn’t tell the whole story, in other words. 

Stay with the mental imagery of a body of water that sinks to great depth—it shows no flowing movements on the surface. You don’t see it moving, but it’s deep.

Let’s stay in the water and invite Jesus into our conversation. Luke’s Gospel tells a story about Jesus and the lake of Gennesaret. By this point in the story, a crowd was pressing in on Jesus. Luckily, he was able to get on a boat that was on the shore of the lake. He used the boat as his podium to teach the crowds, asking a man named Simon to push out a bit from the shore. Distance from the crowds. Jesus needed space. And after he taught them, he then engaged the local fishermen in conversation. He asked Simon to cast out his nets into the deep water.

Simon wasn’t convinced that this was a good idea. They had already worked all night long but hadn’t caught any fish. Notice he didn’t say that they had cast out into the deep water yet. He just said that they hadn’t caught anything. But eventually, Simon agreed to give it a try.

So he cast his nets out into the deep water.

Image result for cast nets into deep water

And they caught so many fish that their nets started to rip. They had to call the other boat to come out and help them haul the fish in. Even so, the two boats were so full of fish that they started to sink. The people were amazed.

See, I know that oftentimes this story is used as some kind of evangelical tool. Go out and catch people. Convert them—that’s what Jesus was telling us.

Well, I’m not sure. What I see here instead is Jesus using extremely symbolic water as an invitation to a big paradigm shift.

Because society conditions us to stay on our side of the lake, to stay in our lanes, to not reach across lines of difference.

Don’t venture out to the deep water. The self-fulfilling prophecy we are given is that we should limit ourselves before we even try. We usually ask: what can or can’t I accomplish” meaning that we’ve already accepted the boxes we’ve been given. The fisherman only saw themselves as fisherman. And so they went through their routines and caught nothing. They assumed that this was their lot in life. This is who they were. But the paradigm shift came and they were challenged to cast their nets into the deep water, into places unknown, and to discover a part of themselves that was there all along but was never fully embraced. Jesus was pushing them to stop asking limiting questions like “what can we accomplish or not accomplish” and instead to ask “What do I want to accomplish?”

They moved from “I can’t catch any fish after a whole night’s work” to “I really want to catch fish so what avenues have we yet to explore, can we go deeper?”

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The Virtue and Practice of Rest

Mark 1:9-15

It’s not popular to take a break. Is it? Really, it’s not. I mean, you’re tired, burned out, mentally exhausted at work, and so you think—I should—take a break, right? And so, when you do, to recharge, to find your strength again, are you met with approving looks and applause?

Most likely, NO. Most likely, people stare at you across cubicles with dagger-like eyes that penetrate your very soul.

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Most likely, you hear whispers around the water cooler that you’re lazy or that you not a hard worker. Eventually, you may even get a little paranoid if you even take a second of time to drink a glass of water or use the restroom. Will they call you lazy? Will they think you don’t care? Will you be punished for wanting to rest?

We live and breathe within a system we call “society” that doesn’t exactly encourage us to rest, isn’t it so? You don’t have to work in a cubicle to know that. Students are well aware. If the amount of homework were not enough, students who wish to attend prestigious universities are pushed to the limit in AP classes and are also told to participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible, not for enjoyment, mind you, but so that their college applications rise to the top. So, they don’t act in a play or dance or sing or play an instrument or a sport just because it’s fun and amazing. They do it to get into a college. They do it for someone else.

I’ll admit also that religions are not so good at encouraging rest either. How often do priests or pastors or rabbis or imams or any type of religious clergy actually explicitly encourage the members of their communities to take a break, to rest? Even from religion? Yeah, take a few Sundays or Saturdays or Fridays off. Spend time with your family, go out with your friends; or be enjoy time by yourself. Take a break, rest. Look, as clergy, we should be saying this. We should be modeling this by taking a break ourselves, by unplugging, by decompressing, by…resting. But often we don’t.

And why is that, do you think?

Because many of us mistake taking a break or rest for laziness. Because too many still equate more hours of work with productivity. And we’ve become empty in this way. We’ve lost the art of rest.

I don’t have all the answers. I will say that in my experience this phenomenon is related to our need for control and for being able to solve problems—even the problems of the world. All of us, in our own way, have a savior complex, It’s human, really, we want to help. We don’t like to see people suffer. It’s not bad at all to think or feel that. It only becomes a problem if we start to believe that without our help or insight or words or actions, whenever there is a problem, the world will just blow up. If we don’t do something about all the issues we’re concerned about, well—what’s the point? We’re tugged and pulled in a million different directions. We can’t rest. No way! There’s too much to care about, too much to be angry or sad or vigilant about! We. Cannot. Rest.

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Now before you think that this is advocacy for complacency or indifference, bear with me. I, like many of you, care about numerous issues going on around the world, I, like many of you, am saddened, angered, and overwhelmed. We should care. We should feel. But we can’t be saviors. We need to rest. And we need to rest so that we can actually help.

Now I don’t know how religious of a person you are or aren’t. It doesn’t really matter. I was raised in a Christian household and so I learned about Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel stories and also the Jewish stories about Moses and Joshua and Noah. And at some point in my life I realized that all my stressing about what was happening or not happening in the world came back to me. For every time I worried about some issue and couldn’t sleep, it was because I felt helpless. Like I couldn’t anything or solve anything. The problem was there and I could do nothing. It’s awful to feel helpless, don’t you think? And I had no answers and no remedy for sleeplessness. Until I rested. Until I rested. I took a break from my worry and from my desire to help or save or to solve and I just stopped.

And that was baptism for me. I saw the heavens tear apart and I heard kind and wise voices, saying that all of us are beloved and that the Divine is pleased with us. And after experiencing that, sooner rather than later I was back in the wilderness, back in the fray, where students are shot at school [again] and politicians and lobbyists don’t care and do nothing; where women are still treated like toys; where transgender people are shamed and attacked; where black people are devalued and criminalized; where money talks and truth walks. Back in the fray after a rest.

But something is different. Back in the fray, but one with the nature of who we are, like the animals who don’t tweet or post or gossip but merely live. Back in the wilderness where angels of rest dance on my shoulders.

See, rest…it’s not laziness or indifference. It’s wisdom. It’s strength. It’s restoration.

restWater

I know a lot of you are upset, sad, scared, angry with the way things are going right now. I am too. But please, for your sake and the sake of all the people and things you care about—don’t neglect rest. Take a break, a step back. Gain perspective. Gather yourself. Find new strength. The problems and issues will be there when you are done resting, believe it. But you will be back in the fray with new energy.

 

Alternative Wisdom

Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20

wisdomChineseThe most common type of wisdom in society is what we call conventional wisdom. This is the mainstream, what “everybody knows.” It is society’s understanding about what is real and how people should live. Conventional wisdom includes ideas that are so accepted they are not questioned. These ideas tell us now to live; we are socialized into conventional wisdom as we grow up.

Example: we are told that life is about reward and punishment, i.e. “your reap what you sow” or “get what you deserve.” Though this idea is prevalent in secular culture, it also exists in religion, i.e.: “God will reward or condemn you based on what you’ve done.” Obviously, conventional wisdom leads to social separations, because it claims that some people’s roles in society are more important than others.

A person’s self-worth or identity is based on how they measure up to society’s norms.

At the end of the day, conventional wisdom can lead to us thinking that the reality as we have labeled it is actually the end-all. This of course can close our minds to new realities and ideas.

There are many examples of conventional wisdom. Here are a few:

The Earth is flat. The Earth is the center of the Universe.
You have to make more money. It is always best to pursue promotions and jobs that pay more.
You should buy a house.
You should do tons of cardio exercise to lose weight.
Keep taking antibiotics so you won’t be sick.
In Hollywood: a movie can’t succeed unless it stars a famous actor.

What examples of conventional wisdom can you think of?

To bring this home, consider that many people’s image of God is based on their acceptance of conventional wisdom. God, for them, is the enforcer and the one who gives legitimacy to religious behaviors and viewpoints. It’s the idea that people must satisfy God…

conventional-wisdom-quote-minh-tan-halifaxNow let’s switch gears to alternative wisdom—a grouping of ideas and perspectives that are not afraid to ask questions, to challenge convention. Alternative wisdom confronts the so-called norms of society and asks why we consider these norms to be our reality. For example, conventional wisdom says that a person’s worth is determined by measuring up to social standards. Alternative wisdom says that all people have infinite worth that is intrinsic and not based on merit. Likewise, while conventional wisdom says that our identity comes from social tradition, alternative wisdom says that identity comes from centering in the sacred, and in our humanity. And finally, conventional wisdom tells us to strive to be first in line for everything, no matter what. Alternative wisdom says that the last will be first and the first will be last.

Can you think of your own examples of alternative wisdom?

More specifically, in Jewish and Christian Scriptures, there is most certainly a blend of conventional and alternative wisdom. If you look closely enough, I’m sure you can find various examples of both. To bring this conversation to its center I would like to hone in on alternative wisdom as it was for Jesus of Nazareth. For Jesus, parables were storytelling methods of imparting alternative wisdom. The parables were not black and white. They asked questions. Typically, wisdom teachers like Jesus, Socrates, Buddha—they focused on a “wise” way and a “foolish” way; a narrow way and a broad way. Instead of telling people how to live or which rules to follow, wisdom teachers made observations about life and spoke from experience. This is why Jesus periodically referred to nature.

Jesus of Nazareth, unlike other religious leaders and teachers of the time, and unlike many of the churches and religious leaders of today, did not spend so much time interpreting scriptures. Instead, Jesus taught and modeled experiential living—the daily experiences people have.

Rather than focusing on written words, Jesus focused on the experience of God.

Jesus and others invited people to see something they might not have otherwise seen, to look past conventional wisdom and conditioned culture to something beyond, something that could transform a person. For example, the idea that a person’s purpose in life is to follow certain rules so that God will be pleased and then, when they die, God will allow that person to go to heaven—this is not the alternative wisdom of Jesus. Instead, Jesus flipped this convention on its head, saying that those who were thought of as the lowest and the least religious would be the ones better off in the end. Jesus’ wisdom portrayed God as Giver of Compassion and not Judge. Further, when Jesus spoke of death, it was not a physical death, but a death of that conventional self—dying to the societal norms that trap us and living into a new reality of transformation, resurrection and enlightenment.

Friends, don’t buy into conventional wisdom. Be different, be weird, defy the conventions.

Ask questions about why we do this or that. Seek alternative wisdom—based on what you see in nature, what you actually feel within yourself, and your own experiences. Seek and develop alternative wisdom, as this will help you see the bigger picture and enable you to get to know yourself better, apart from all the social conditioning and convention.

Give heed to alternative wisdom, which gives assurance that we are truly alive.

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