David Weiss – July 3, 2021
NOTE: This post, which is, of course, open to everyone, is really aimed at my companions in The Revolution of Love Ministry and Movement (ROL) that Margaret and I have been active with since last December. ROL is based in the LA area but with an online presence. ROL describes itself as “an inclusive, diverse global ministry and movement focusing on the inner work of self and the outer work of service through the teachings of nonviolence, spiritual psychology, and philosophy.” ROL has DEEP commitments to anti-racism and other social justice issues. Founded eight years ago by RevFelicia Parazaider, an ordained interfaith minister, we’ve found it an inspiring community to be part of. If you’re curious, this is the ROL Facebook page and this linktree includes a variety of links, including one to the weekly Sunday service.
Serving up Last Week’s Leftovers
If, like me, you’re going to miss ROL’s service on Sunday (ROL is taking a one week break from its weekly online service), here’s a little scrap to tide you over until next week. Margaret and I had a long rich conversation after last week’s service, one of those “wish you were here” talks, and—lucky for you—I’m about to write you all a short postcard that will leave you feeling like you were right here with us …
Rev Felicia used this image to frame her talk. It looks both nifty and complicated—and it is. Okay, it’s not rocket science, per se, but it is a schematic for terra-forming—for remaking the world—from inside ourselves all the way to our communities, social systems, and how we situate ourselves in the world. So, yeah, complicated. Yet simple. Let’s go.
Caveat: I am NOT Rev. I have a gift of words. Not so much the bright eyes, big smile, hearty laugh, or nails to die for. That’s Rev. Well, that plus a heart of gold, a mind of steel, and passion to change the world. Me: words. Still, words are cool.
Transformation: that’s our goal. Sure, our ultimate “goal” is a world where all (from eco-systems and creatures to individuals and communities) have the opportunity to flourish, but there is no 30-day or 30-year plan to achieve that goal. We may never “reach” it (in fact—spoiler alert—it’s quite possible things will get worse). So our practical goal is to be as fully engaged in transformational work as we can be. To be actively creating pockets of authentic community here and now, to be fostering change in ourselves and others, to be undoing the biases and the systems that drives injustice today.
One of the early books of feminist theology was titled The Journey is Home—because when you’re engaged in work that will last a lifetime and more, you want to make sure that the work itself is sustainable and hospitable to life (after all, YOU will be spending your life there!). Thus, while transformation surely does have moments of intense focus and hard work, it also has moments of respite and joy. And in both moments we are fulfilling our vocation: to be fully human in ways that are life-giving: moving us closer to justice and experiencing glimmers of joy. That’s transformation. But how do we engage that work?
By practicing Justice and Compassion. These twin energies function like the engine of our work. Think of a bicycle. How do we get the wheels to turn and carry us forward? We pedal. We get the most energy when we use both pedals. You can bike using just one pedal, but it’s pretty awkward, hardly the most efficient way to generate energy. We have two pedals; we’ll get the most energy if we use them both.
Most of us are either right-handed or left-handed. In a similar way, when it comes to these pedals, most of us have a “preferred” pedal to lead with. These aren’t hard and fast descriptions, but you can think of Justice as involving fairness, principles, intellect, logic. etc. And Compassion as involving empathy, solidarity, feeling, intuition, etc. In our society we also tend to slot Justice as a masculine virtue and Compassion as a feminine virtue, (and so we give Justice the last word), but that’s bullshit.
Here “bullshit” is fancy theological jargon for naming when society-culture-religion makes it harder for us to be our most whole and most powerful selves. The simple truth is that most of us (whether by temperament, interest, encouragement, or training) lean into the work of Transformation more easily from Justice or from Compassion. It doesn’t really matter—in fact, it’s probably wise to trust your preferences and act from your strengths … while also working to gain skill/ability with the other pedal. They both drive the bike, and we’re most balanced when we use both pedals—even as we tend to push harder with our own preferred pedal.
The actual practice of Justice and Compassion happens in our individual and communal lives. Connecting to BLM events, labor causes, or peace work are all examples of Justice that I’ve seen on the ROL FB page. Doing midweek seva check-ins or lifting others up in prayer at service are examples of Compassion. There are countless opportunities for Justice or Compassion, and while they can sometimes seem mundane—almost too ordinary—don’t take them for granted. These are perhaps the primary places where the energy that powers the cosmos intersects with human choice. When you “dabble” in Justice or Compassion, it’s like dipping your toe in a river racing with whitewater rapids. You are “channeling” the very Hope of the Highest and there’s no telling where it may carry you next.
Which is why having a Spiritual Container is so important. It’s about honoring the sheer power of the energy that we’re capable of hosting. Get this: when we practice Justice or Compassion they move like sacred energy pulsing through our attitudes and actions and flowing out into the world. That is some serious shit going down. Through us. As CS Lewis notes in his Narnia Chronicles, Sheer Goodness is absolutely GOOD, but it is absolutely not safe or tame.
Imagine being a turbine used to generate energy on a river. The turbine only works if it’s strong enough, not to stop the water, but to draw energy from the water as it runs through it. In order for us to channel the universe’s energy into this world as Justice and Compassion we need to have strong Spiritual Containers.
We fashion them in a variety of ways. Lighting a candle at the start of service to signify that this space-time is set aside for holiness. Breathing to slow ourselves down and bring ourselves into the moment. Attending to our land acknowledgement, path acknowledgement, and mission are all small but powerful ways to weave a Spiritual Container. They “rehearse” the radical openness and humility that helps us safely carry the power of sacred energy. Establishing a rhythm of inward work like meditation, prayer, self-reflection, therapy, art, or music in our daily lives helps restore our inner strength and invite its roots to go deep. Just as importantly, having connections with like-minded people, persons with whom we can communicate with honesty and respect help ensure that we never imagine we’re on our own. This is holy work. It’s heavy work. AND it’s communal work. The strongest Spiritual Containers bear the marks of many hands and hearts.
Finally, Accountability. If our Spiritual Container is what “channels” the energy of Justice and Compassion toward Transformation, then Accountability is the crucial practice of seeking and welcoming input from beyond ourselves to help keep us “on target.”
We all carry crap in our lives: wounds, baggage, biases, bad habits. We can probably all name some of our crap. Odds are, our friends could name even more of our crap. Because some (most!) of it, we’re not even aware of. No surprise there. Even the wounds that knocked us several ways sideways likely left scars and triggers that we don’t know about. And the nasty thing about systems (white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, xenophobia, capitalism, nationalism, consumerism) is that they WORK precisely by shaping us in ways we’re unaware of. And we were born into those systems. They’ve had easier access to us than the fluoride in our drinking water.
Which is why Accountability is NOT about feeling guilty or like failures. It’s about being grateful when someone else helps us clear away the crap that stops us from being our best selves. Granted, there are some who do that graciously and some who do it with an edge (usually because our crap has caused them pain). No matter. Accountability—especially when our Spiritual Container has been well-fashioned—is a gift. It helps ensure that our best intentions to bring Justice and Compassion to bear in the world actually do that. We need strong selves and humble egos to do the work of Transformation. Accountability is where we prune back our egos so that our strong selves can also be our best selves.
There you have it, a whirlwind recap of sparkling conversation Margaret and I had after last week’s service. There’s probably a few points in here where Rev winced because I didn’t quite catch her meaning, but I’m betting there’s also a few places where her eyes lit up, her smile blossomed, and maybe she even clicked those nails that scare me. Hopefully this little serving of leftovers gave you something to nosh on while ROL takes a week off; maybe it even sharpens your appetite for some fresh food when we gather again in a week.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.