I left our second Living Room Conversation (LRC) on the topic of “Guns and Responsibility” in turmoil. I could not escape seeing my growth challenges. I’m fairly certain my alarm system was not turned off during our first nitty-gritty conversation about an issue. I had difficulty climbing the empathy wall. This is hard!
I did remain true to my intent to express curiosity about the point of view of those on the other side. And I did feel into the “fear of the other” in the room. No one, however, expressed curiosity when “fear of the other” was named as a deeper issue. And truth be told, if they had, my feelings were so stirred up that I would not have been able to express the depth of my own “fear.”
Just before our LRC, I had read a terrifying article written by an investigative journalist, the cousin of a friend of mine. He told about his visit to an armed neo-nazi compound in West Virginia which is heavily-stocked with merchandise to be shipped around the world in the service of ethnic cleansing. I don’t understand this hate for remarkable people who I have received love and care from, often in more abundance than from my own family.
I am relying on Terry Patten’s spiritual guidance and his book, A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries, to navigate with heart these turbulent times . It is because of Terry that I got clear about being an around-the-system activist. His book, a guide to inner work for holistic change, is what crystallized for me my intention to use my gifts by participating in LRC as a way of being part of healing the polarization in our country.
My turmoil following our second LRC indicated that, in addition to my growth challenges, I had some inner work to do. That evening and all the next day these words kept coming to me (How do you want your name written in the Book of Life?) I followed their lead.
I had listened to Daniel Thorson’s conversation with Terry Patten on his podcast, “Emerge,” a week or so before our LRC. I was touched by the intergenerational dialogue that ensued as Terry served as a spiritual elder for this very young man, referring to the way our names will be written in the Book of Life. I listened to it again this morning (November 6) in preparation for writing this blog post.
Terry connected with Daniel by telling him how he had looked forward to meeting him and having this conversation because he experiences Daniel as bringing intelligence and heart to his podcast interviews. Despite his skepticism about the future, Terry sees hope as still alive in Daniel.
They went on to talk about the difference between skepticism and cynicism. A previous guest on Daniel’s podcast had apparently (I haven’t listened to it) expressed cynicism about voting because in the end it doesn’t matter.
Terry spoke about the moral responsibility to “be a yes” even in the face of the possible destruction of our planet … to bring spiritual care to our emergent future. “It matters how we live out the last years of the human experiment…bringing more care, intelligence, cooperation, love, healthy wholeness and intelligence … committing no matter what to be health, coherence, integrity, wholeness reasserting itself. It’s what makes our work meaningful. … We are in the midst of a dynamic unfolding where our creativity may or may not be consequential. Collapse is not a certainty. The possibility exists that our smallest acts may tip the scales in large ways.”
Terry went on to say that at a soul level, how we respond is a spiritual choice. He noted that cynicism leads to poor choices and …
This is not how I want to write my name in the Book of Life. How we live our lives is how we will write our name in the Book of Life. ~Terry Patten
By Sunday evening, I was clear that my turmoil related to the “Guns and Responsibility” LRC topic had little to do with whether second amendment issues are important to me or how I would like to see gun laws and regulations changed. It had to do with the kind of world I aspire to live in … and a “way of being” in response to “fear of the other.”
What became clear is that securing a stockpile of weapons and the training needed to use them properly in order to protect myself from those who might do me harm is not the life I am willing to choose. It is not my idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is not how I want my name written in the Book of Life.
Life has taught me that there are worse things than death. ~Linda A. Marshall, author of A Long Awakening to Grace
I intend to live with hope in the emergent future and resist the temptation to give into cynicism. If living in hope puts me in the crosshairs of someone’s hate, I will die with my moral integrity intact.
As I write, these words of scripture arise in my consciousness, taking on deeper meaning:
For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. … For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. ~Words attributed to Jesus from Matthew 7:14 and Matthew 16:24
I believe that though hate annihilated the bodies of the eleven Jews in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, their radiant spirits could not be wiped off the face of the earth. The descriptions of their care for others and their faith attest to that. I believe their spirits would not have been so bright had they succumbed to the temptation to hunker down in protection.
And our spirits … yours and mine … shining brightly is what matters to me. Being clear about who I am and what I value is what matters. Living with integrity with what I value is what gives my life meaning and purpose. It is not easy … living with moral integrity. Jesus was clear about the road being hard. I pray to be granted courage.
And so, I write … to find the wisdom residing deep within. I share the wisdom that emerges from my pondering to fortify my intention and resolve to be faithful to it. Sharing my writing with you may or may not be consequential to anyone else. But who knows, it may contribute to tipping the scales in ways I could never imagine.
As I write, it is election day. And voting does matter, even when it doesn’t.
My heart aches for young people like our podcaster, Daniel Thorson, and others who I hear use words like destruction, doom, collapse, and the like when describing their future. One young man, a freshman in college, holds a special place in my heart. As he looks to his future, he envisions teaching someday … maybe at Stanford … but he worries that California may be under water by that time. Thankfully, in the face of that unspeakable future, he chooses to vote. He chooses hope over cynicism.
Another intelligent, deep-thinking young 30ish man I know has no interest, doesn’t want to hear about the importance of voting, and doesn’t plan to. It is hard for me to fathom his willingness to abdicate his integrity and hand over his future to others. I worry about how many others out there are as turned off as he is. Because the truth is, even when you don’t vote, you vote. And voting matters in a much deeper way than how the election turns out. I pray for this young man and others who succumb to cynicism.
My ballot was mailed on October 20 and I did what I could to encourage people to register and vote intelligently and responsibly. I did convince one cynical person to register and vote. He tells me he has made a commitment to educate himself about the issues and candidates to be better prepared for the 2020 election. One small act that made a difference.
As I await the results, no matter what they are (by the time you read this they will already be in), I will do my best to resist cynicism. I will do my best to hold out hope for the dynamic unfolding of our emergent future and to be faithful to the ways I am called to be a part of it. Because this is how I want my name written in the Book of Life.