Sacred Soil

My Advice to Experts: Stop
April 28, 2014, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Weeds

I’d love to give you a list of the 15, or even the 115 things that you should start doing right now to save the world. I’d even do the research to give the list a snazzy title that might inspire a bit of click-bait. But, I’m a realist, and perhaps a bit of a cynic. Because, if you sent me just such a list, I’d respond by picking it apart and daring, “Why don’t you make me?” But that’s my issue, I’m not very compliant when I’m told what to do.

Though, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only obstinate person in the room. I think most of us fall into that category, exhausted from the steady tide of people declaring what we should and shouldn’t do. In response, most of us either opt out, or strive to be deemed an Expert so that we can do the declaring.

On one extreme is the comfy position of non-expert, plaintively tossing one’s hands in the air. “There’s nothing that I can do that’ll really matter,” they say.  “I don’t know enough, or even where to begin.”

The expert then rises to the challenge at that other extreme– she writes that article: 15 things you can do right now to save the world and stop killing us all. Sometimes the expert will acquire degrees, or claim to have read 20x more books than others. But, that’s not required. All that expert status requires is a bit of gumption and the capacity to make declarative sentences with conviction. Someone must take a stand! And so, the expert, made bold by the need, rises up to take on the world.

Neither extreme is terribly helpful. Though, I’m not going to argue for a position in the middle. I’m not sure what that would even be, other than annoying. Rather, I’ll argue for a different paradigm altogether.

And it begins with my plaintive cry into the whirlwind: Stop acting as if you are doing this alone.

Please. Stop. You who throw up your hands in despair at your inability. Yes, if you were doing it on your own, of course, you’d never be able to figure it all out. And certainly, you’d never really be able to accomplish much.

And you, you who claim to be an “expert” or even if you pretend to be one, stop. Please. You may be right. Your analysis may be perfect. But, if you’re doing this on your own, if you are the most right person in the room, or if you disdain everyone else who hasn’t come around to your analysis…. well, then it doesn’t matter how right you are. You cannot, by your own force of will, change the world with the volume of your opinions.

But the problem with both of you is that you seem to have forgotten, we’re in this together. We are not a bunch of mere individuals acting in private spheres. We are intimately connected. So, let’s move forward as if we believed that were true. Because I do believe, if we did, we’d get so much more done.

So here’s my advice for the experts and non-experts of the world. I’ll limit it to three–though you know I could go on.

1).  Listen with compassion to the people around you. Even when they annoy you. Listen for what breaks their heart. Listen for what brings them joy. Listen for the places of hope, the places of despair. Treat these stories like they matter. Then ask, how do their stories connect to your own? Can you work together on that?

2). Believe in the extraordinary wisdom of a group of people who feel they are heard. The most sacred spaces I have known have been the places where a people have come together because they have truly heard each other. This hearing connects people, leads them away from isolation, and ignites a passion to make true and meaningful change in the world. There is no stopping a group of people who truly feel heard.

3). It’s not about you. Please, get over yourself. You are important, loved, and special. You’re just not more important than everyone else in the room. It is about us, about our shared humanity. Please share. Please trust the humanity of all of us. Let us do it together.

Indeed, let’s do this together, because there is too much heartbreak in the world, too much pain. And none of us should try to bear that alone.

Monday of Holy Week: Beauty & Judgment
April 14, 2014, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Weeds

John 12:1-12

Six days before the Passover, Judas is angling for money. He’s upset that Mary has poured out a costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, when those funds could be used for the poor. Or, rather, to line his pockets.

Setting aside his true desire to pilfer that money, Judas’ question seems worth asking. Why, when there is so much suffering, should we spend our money to fill the house with the smell of perfume?

When I was a child, my mother had this uncanny ability to rent the cheapest home in the best school district. She budgeted tightly, making most our food from scratch, urging us to eschew current fashion. We lived a fairly simple life, though I’m sure there were many places for us to save money. But, for many in my neighborhood, the calculations were different. In their nicer homes, money cushioned life. Budgets were important, but things like purchasing brand-name shoes required little, if any, thought. Many never had to question why the little label at the back of their shoe was so important.

But, I remember well, coveting that little blue label on the back of my white canvas shoes. I’d even drawn it in with blue ink. My peers were not impressed.

Judas’ question carries different weight for me when asked of my mother, vs. my former neighbors. And, that’s me being a bit judgy. And if I’m honest, I want to urge Judas to keep asking when I have decided folks are being wasteful. But, I want him to lay off when he’s talking about my mom.

I could assume a bit of moral superiority here–because we know that there’s a lot of waste in the world. But, it would be short-lived. Eventually, I succumbed, using my own money to buy a pair of name-brand shoes, with a real blue label in the back. And I did it for the singular desire that my peers would leave me alone. This isn’t just a jr. high student’s strategy–over and over again, folks make choices about what they buy not based simply on their physical needs, but on what will garner respect. Because, it’s a pretty simple equation we often forget: you’re not going to be able to earn more money if folks don’t respect you when you walk in the door.

And that’s what’s so maddening about Judas’ question. It attempts to create a clear pathway: caring for the poor is right, perfume is wrong. But, the reality is that the pathway is not so clear. The reasons we purchase things are complex–and figuring out right and wrong is rarely simple. I could give you 20 examples of how we’ve attempted to “help” poor folks that have completely backfired, and I could give you several examples of how even the simplest purchases we make undermine some of our most basic values.

And, I don’t know if Mary purchased the perfume from a locally sourced artist who created the scents in small batches, selling them at a cost that allowed a modest living wage. The text doesn’t tell us that. But, I do know that the moment was stunning–the room filled with the smell, the one who would die, anointed and prepared for his dying. It was overpowering, and beautiful. Beautiful for the wholeness of the story, beautiful for the devotion and care.

It is my hope that as we enter into this Holy Week, that we would know the scent of this beauty. May this beauty prepare us as well, filling our nostrils with the intensity of it. Because Holy Week is not a time for the judgment of right practice–but a moment to behold the enormity of this beautiful story, a story that is more complex than we can imagine. A story that will leave us forever changed.