Monday, August 26, 2013

Attached to Outcome...It Can be a Good Thing

So if you follow this blog you know that I am looking for a job. I recently applied for a job that sounds like a great fit for me, one that I really want; I feel like I submitted a strong application but have not yet been contacted.  I have other applications in the works as well.  After the hard work of crafting the resume and cover letter, comes the waiting.  So I have been telling people that I have been practicing waiting patiently and not being attached to outcome.  Suddenly it dawned on me "why can't I be attached to the outcome?" What's wrong with acknowledging that I really want a particular position or that I am passionate about a particular place?

I have been thinking that I have to practice non-attachment - that it is the spiritually and emotionally healthy response.  In some cases probably yes non attachment is key.  For example, letting go of what happens at a workplace or other situation that I have chosen to leave.  It is key to a healthy leaving that I practice letting go completely including if they start doing things in a way that I disagree with or isn't what I would have done. Maybe even more key is that if they stop doing something that I was particularly attached to in the situation - a particular event or ministry than I can't be ranting and raving or even just feeling like I must not have been valued.  Here practicing non-attachment means that I let go, affirm that I did good work and let the place and me move forward in new ways.

Yet when I have committed to being in a place or to a task then practicing non-attachment holds little to no appeal.  Beyond it not being appealing, I am not good at it.  I realized that I am very attached to the outcome. I need and want a new job. I want to be putting my gifts and skills to work in the world and I want to support my family.  My job is a key piece of making our family work.  I am ready to dive into something new.  I want to take my passion and help meet the world's deep need.

I know there is wisdom in the "don't be attached outcome."  After all I have done what I can, I submitted the strongest application I can and I have been working hard to find connections and network with people.  So in many ways there is wisdom in letting go and hoping for the best.  Yet it just feels wrong for me somehow.  I am a passionate person - when I commit myself to something, I commit all in.  In fact it is when I stop being passionate, when I stop caring about the outcome, that I know it is time (sometimes even past time) to move on.  In fact in order for me to put my best self forward, in order to generate the necessary energy to write cover letters and network with people, particularly those I don't know well, requires that I be fully vested in the process and outcome - I have to want it!

As a spiritual practice  I deeply relate to the people in the Hebrew Scriptures who demand that God take action, get involved, not leave them hanging.  I love the Psalms because there you find the whole range of human emotion.  There are other wonderful stories as well.  Who can forget Job who basically calls God out for his suffering?  I even love Jonah who runs away rather than answer God's call to preach to Nineveh - that doesn't really work out for Jonah in the end but I love that he tries that.  The Psalms are filled with the passionate prayers of people who are clearly very attached to the outcome.  Let's look at part of Psalm 4 - "Answer me, when I call, O God, my vindicator!" (Psalm 4:2 JPS* translation) Hardly a non-attachment to outcome request;  Answer Me!  begins the prayer.  Or another Psalm 35 - here the Psalmist is being very clear with God about what is desired "O Lord, strive with my adversaries, give battle to my foes, take up shield and buckler, and come to my defense; ready the spear and the javelin against my pursuers; tell me, 'I am your deliverance.'" (Psalm 35:-3, JPS translation)  and it continues with this very specific litany of what is desired.

So I am no longer practicing not being attached to outcome.  I am leaning into my passion.  I want to see where it might take me, what courage might it give me that I might not have otherwise.  In my prayer life, I may continue to pray for patience (mostly because spinning with frustration is counterproductive) but I am going to follow the example in the Psalms and get a bit more pushy in my prayer.  I want this, hear me, answer me, I am ready, Listen to me.  I trust that I will be heard.  I may not get the answer I expect but I won't stop speaking up.  I won't stop asking.  I won't stop praying.

What are you praying for right now?  What helps you through the waiting?  What has your own prayer and spiritual path taught you about waiting, wanting and attachment?

*This is a Jewish translation and found in the JPS translation of the Tanakah.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Thinking About Original Sin...hint: It has Little to do with the Apple!

So you might wonder why I am thinking about Original Sin - I have wondered the same thing.  More precisely I have been thinking that most Christian theologians (and original sin is really a Christian concept not a Jewish one), say that the Original Sin is Adam and Eve disobeying God by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.  It is the disobedience to God that resulted in humanity being driven from the idyllic garden where everything was provided for them - now they were going to have to work and work hard. Not only that, they had to be banished from the Garden lest they discover the Tree of Life and gain immortal life as well.  So all in all, one piece of fruit is said to have had detrimental consequences for all of humanity (which seems kind of unfair - I mean I didn't eat the fruit).

For me, the Jewish scholars that I have heard talk about this text and its meaning present it very differently.  Expulsion from the Garden was sad but necessary.  It was necessary so that humanity could grow up, that we learned to exercise free will.  If humanity had only stayed in the Garden perfectly obedient then humanity would have stayed in the state of a young child never growing up and becoming a person in their own right.  This interpretation makes much more sense to me.  For humanity to truly have free will then we have to truly exercise it and that means we are going to get it wrong.  Being expelled from the Garden meant that humanity is called to co-create and be partners with the Holy in the healing of the world.

Yet what I have been thinking about it is not whether or not this is true. Personally I am not a big believer in Original Sin.  I think the story was a way for people to understand why bad things happen, why life is often hard and to make sense of life's questions.  I don't think there was ever an actual garden - it is a metaphor for a deep human longing to be free from suffering.  What I actually have been thinking about is that if we are going to talk about original sin - then if really look at the story as it is recorded then the actual original sin is blaming everyone else and failing to take responsibility.

In the story after Adam and Eve eat the fruit, they hide from God.  They know they were not supposed to eat the fruit and then God goes looking for them.  When God asks them why they were hiding they talk about being naked.  Once God learns that they ate the fruit, the blaming begins.  Adam says she gave it to me, Eve says the serpent made me do it.  No one says yes I know you said not to eat it, but it looked good, I was curious and I ate the fruit. Now I wonder would God have been half as upset if they had just said "yep I know you said not to you and I did it and I am sorry.  How can I fix it?"

Maybe I have just had a little too much lately of people around me not taking personal responsibility.  I have been dealing with some maintenance issues around the home we rent and I am most frustrated not by the work I need done but by the utter failure to apologize or take any responsibility.  Sometimes I just want to hear, "Yes, we messed up, we are sorry.  Let's do this and this to fix it."  It is really hard to take responsibility, to admit we were wrong, to admit we messed up even though we know better.  Yet it can make such a difference when we do it. So often what people need is to hear is an apology and an acknowledgement that wrong has been done or a mistake made.

This is true in our personal relationships and our social ones.  The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa worked because it was grounded in people taking personal responsibility for the truly horrific things they had and doing what they could to make amends.  Sometimes all they could was to tell a mother where her son's body was located.  For some victims hearing what happened from those responsible meant they were believed, they were not alone, it was no longer their story to bear alone.  Yet over and over we run from taking responsibility in big and small ways.  Even though it is not just the victims who benefit.  When we admit that we have done wrong, apologize, and begin to make amends, a burden is lifted.  We can stop the process of beating ourselves up and begin forgiving ourselves as well.  Most of the time we don't intentionally seek to harm another person and then we can feel terrible for the harm we have caused. Yet there is freedom that comes from saying "Yes I did this and I am sorry."

So going back to the Adam and Eve story maybe we have missed something.  Maybe the real "sin" was not eating the fruit but blaming everyone else for their behavior.  Maybe it is not about blind obedience to authority or to the rules but understanding that we are responsible for our actions.  Maybe the hard work of life outside the Garden is learning by making mistakes, taking responsibility, making amends and then moving on and hopefully doing better the next time.  We are all going to make mistakes, we are going to hurt each other, we are going to get it really wrong. Every single one of us without exception will do this so maybe instead of teaching children to never make a mistake, we teach them what to do after it happens.  Maybe we teach our children to be honest, to own when they make a mistake and then figure out what comes next.  How different would our world be that instead of being terrified of being punished for doing wrong, we lived with an ethos of responsibility that expected mistakes and also expected us to live with the consequences, learn to say we are sorry and to make amends?

What is it like for you when you make a mistake?  Have you had an experience of stepping up and taking responsibility?  What happened?  How did it feel?  Have you had someone take responsibility when they have harmed you?  What was that like?

Friday, August 9, 2013

More on Generations and Faith

As I opened with in my blog post from earlier this week, the discussion of generations and faith is a hot one at the moment.  The following YouTube video comes from Church of the Larger Fellowship, a purely on-line and virtual Unitarian Universalist congregation. They brought together two Boomers, two GenXers and one Millenial for a discussion about the generations and their experience in congregations.  They also had a wonderful discussion about rites of passage.

The VUU - August 8, 2013

What rites of passage are valuable to you?  Where do you see yourself in this whole discussion? Again how does the story change if you are not white, not middle class and not Christian or Unitarian Universalist?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thinking About Generations and Faith

So lately there have been a lot of articles talking about Millenials and why they have left and are leaving the church.  This is actually a really hot topic right now.

There are some excellent pieces from Rachel Held Evans, one of my favorite authors and bloggers.  Her post appeared on CNN and prompted numerous responses.

I love the Millenials and hope that my next job will land me straight into working with them full time.  They are bright, thoughtful and, for many of them, they are inherently multi-faith.  I find them spiritually curious, hungry and desiring of depth.  I get really frustrated when our faith communities write off the college age crowd as not being interested in questions of religion and spirituality.  I also get frustrated when people of older generations say they don't know how to be in community because they are always on-line and that couldn't possibly be community.  In my own experience I have seen the power of social media to connect people - for joys and sorrows to be celebrated in real time, I have done pastoral counseling via chat, and I have seen how young adults care for one another in these places. That doesn't mean they don't, like any of us, need in person, face to face time in community, but please do not write off social media as lacking in the community or assume that social media is their only forum for community.

Yet what this really spurred for me is thinking about faith and my own generation.  I am in GenX or the Baby Bust generation depending on who you ask.  Now a word of caution here.  I find generational studies helpful and I get concerned that they are very white, middle class focused so I also approach these studies with a healthy amount of suspicion.  Also most studies when it comes to religion focus on Christianity so it is hard to assess how it looks differently if you are looking at Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc.  We are a more multi-faith America so I keep hoping articles and studies will show us more how these generational differences look across faith communities.

So some interesting initial observations.  When I posted a question to Facebook about what people were reading about GenX and religion - nothing, no one responded.  Now understand most of my friends on Facebook are Unitarian Universalists, many of them ministers and religious educators and then I also have a number of friends who are religious leaders within other faith communities. Nothing, no one could tell me what they were reading.  Then I googled it and I found one article from 2012 that affirmed some of my initial thoughts which is that members of GenX are leaving faith later in life, they more fit the mold of leaving as young adults, coming back when their children are young and then leaving again.  It also fits that they are more likely to have changed religious affiliation and are open and flexible when it comes to faith.  When I looked at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Topic list Millenials are there but nothing about GenX. Now one UU colleague is thinking along the same lines and she posted this to her blog.  She is asking what do members of GenX want from faith community.

So I thought I would share here my own perspective on how being GenX has shaped my faith life and what I see among my friends.  Now I preface this with a bit about my own social location. I grew up upper-middle-class, in the suburbs, in California (8 1/2 years in Southern CA and the rest in the San Francisco Bay Area), I attended all Catholic schools from first grade through college, and I know that my experience cannot possibly expand to all members of GenX. So here we go.

As a GenX I grew up in a post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church.  Now for those who are not nearly as geeky about religion as I am, Vatican II was a world-wide meeting of Bishops that sought to transform the church.  A number of important changes came out of the Council including the celebration of the Mass in the vernacular rather than Latin, changes to the rules around fasting and abstaining from meat, one key document affirmed democracy (I know a little late to the party but hey it is a 2000 year old institution) and outlining the role of the Church in the Modern World.  So everything from changes to liturgy, role of lay people and the role of the Roman Catholic church in the world was transformed.  So during my childhood I grew up with Mass in English, the priest faced the congregation (rather than having his back to it), I only abstained from meat on Fridays during Lent not all year, nuns stopped wearing the full habit, and many other changes small and large were being implemented while I was growing up.  This is really important because growing up, the Church felt like an exciting and vibrant place that was changing and growing.

I grew up going to Mass every week (you only missed if you were sick), we were expected to participate.  I also grew up with contemporary liturgical music. I grew up on the Songs of the St. Louis Jesuits - Be Not Afraid, On Eagles Wings.   Yet over time, as I moved in high school and certainly by College, Pope John Paul II and the conservative Magistarium sought to put the Vatican II genie back in the bottle.  We had statements closing even discussion on women's ordination, condemnation of the LGBTQ community, and a crackdown on use of contraception and abortion.  For me, during my College years I really came to question whether I could remain in this community - not just over these issues but over a whole system where one man along with a small group of men could make decisions for millions of people around the world without having to listen to their voices.

Growing up when I did, we are the first generation not expected to do better than our parents and that has certainly played our for me.  I am part of a generation that stopped expecting to go to work for one company and stay there our whole careers. I have had multiple careers and worked for multiple organizations.  Most of my friends have as well.  If faith communities are still operating on a model that people will come, settle down, raise their kids and stay there until or maybe even past retirement, it is defunct model that has been replaced with mobility, two income households and apprehension about whether we will ever be able to retire.

As a young adult I left the Roman Catholic Church, became an Episcopian.  I was active in the Episcopal Church but I was one of few young adults.  Even then decline was evident and the congregations were talking about their hey days from the 1960's and 1970's.  This was the 1990's when the Millenials are just being born so we can hardly blame the decline on them.  I became a Unitarian Universalist in 1999 when our daughter was born.  Even then we were among the youngest adults there.  In one seminary class I learned from a colleague's class project that I was the youngest person they found that has served on a search committee that wasn't a youth.  I was 33 when I served on that search committee.

So as I reflect on my own life and religious journey I see that the decline in participation in faith community was happening before the Millenials.  Life circumstances are changing the way people are relating to faith communities particularly with two income families, mobility and career change. This article points to some of these larger trends. So as we look at generations and faith it isn't just about how faith communities may be failing to keep up, lacking in authenticity, and out of touch but is also shaped by changes in our larger social life.

What impact does work life have on faith?  Well I have lived in multiple places since graduating from college, moved back and forth across the country three times.  I live thousands of miles from my family although we live within a couple hundred miles of my partner's family.  I have friends around the world and definitely throughout the United States.  All of this impacts faith because mine is not a story of settling into a place, having a job, finding a faith community and staying there.  Most of my friends have made multiple moves as well.

What about the faith lives of my friends?  Of my close circle of Georgetown friends, about seven folks, most of us met through campus ministry at Georgetown and attending a late evening weekday Mass together.  Two of them have left church and religion entirely.  One was confirmed at Georgetown and is still active as she can be given that she lives in a rural area.  Another two went back to the Church at the request of their children.  One is Unitarian Universalist like me and another has no religious affiliation.  All of them are liberal in their faith beliefs particularly when it comes to sexuality.

A picture of my family: a very end Boomer or the Jones Generation as they are sometimes called, a GenX and a Millenial

Right now members of my generation have children ranging from tweens to young adults.  How has our parenting shaped their faith?  We very intentionally raised our daughter within Unitarian Univeralism. Right now it is not looking good that she will continue down that path.  She indulges us as we explore a variety of faith communities.  Of course, her experience is that both her moms are religious leaders - she may not be the best example.  What is clear is that she is a person who regularly speaks in a theological voice and constantly engages in questions of ethics and justice even without attending one particular faith community. As this liberal, open-minded generation raises the next, what will their faith stances look like?  What will be important to them?

As for me, what do I look for from faith community?  I look for authenticity, openness in terms of sharing and openness to a breadth of spiritual and religious expression.  I want an embodied faith, not just a reasoned one.  I want to experience the Holy not just talk about the Holy. In the words of the Faith Formation 2020 I long for a faith that makes sense and an expressive, embodied spiritual experience.

What are you looking for?  How has your generational experience shaped your faith?  If you could create your own faith community what would look like, sound like, smell like?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fear of Rejection and Faith

I recently found this wonderful video shared by a friend of mine on Facebook.  It is from Jia Jiang and it is a talk he gave on how he learned to embrace rejection.  I recommend that you watch the video - for his story is amazing and it really speaks to the powerful hold that the fear of rejection has over many of our lives.

Of course Jiang is not the only one to make this important point.  In his address at the service of celebration at William and Mary, Varun Soni made a similar point about that those who are most successful also have a very high failure rate.

My favorite idea in Jiang's video is that rejection is simply someone's personal opinion and opinions are one thing human beings have in abundance.  So all of this has me thinking about how rejection and our fear of it, relates to faith.  See I am in the midst of a job search and overcoming my fear of reaching out, talking to people, asking for their help is so hard because I am so afraid of bothering them and maybe even more deeply that they will say no and that the no is really a rejection of me. Job searching is a lot about rejection - sometimes the overt kind - thank you for applying we had many qualified applicants blah blah blah and that indirect kind, the you never hear anything at all.

So what do faith and the fear of rejection have to do with each other?  Well if faith is the belief in something that we cannot prove or touch or feel or see.  If faith is connected to things like love, hope, compassion, beauty and truth.  Then faith teaches us to persevere, to risk, to take the step not when the fear is gone but to do it even though we are afraid.  True courage requires faith; it is not about not being afraid, Jiang didn't say he stopped fearing rejection, he stopped letting the fear of it stop him from doing things.  In his case he faced his fear by asking people for outrageous things he was sure they would say no to (often they said yes!). Again true courage is not because we are not afraid, it is doing in spite of the fear, if we are not afraid than no courage is required.

Fear itself is not the problem, the problem is when we let the fear run our lives.  It is allowing the fear of a thing to keep us from reaching out, like in my case asking to talk to people about my search and what I am looking for.   It is the fear that you are bothering someone if you ask for their help - so we don't ask.

Having faith is also not the assurance that things will all work out because they may not.  Faith does not guarantee us a failure proof life.  Having faith, taking risks means that we are more likely to succeed at something if we keep trying then if we let the fear hold us back but as Dean Soni pointed out the most successful also fail the most often.

It is interesting that in much of fiction a character will try to get rid of fear - to be fearless.  Yet in every case these attempts to become fearless fail because fear can be a useful tool - it can help us protect ourselves and others.  One episode of the TV show Charmed, Piper writes a fearless spell.  Being fearless she takes on a demon by herself, taunting him without regard to the consequences to herself or her unborn child, now she had her sisters and her husband and even her deceased mother to help her out and teach her the lesson that being fearless is not the goal.  In the series Divergent by Veronica Roth, one of the groups is Dauntless and one of the characters is constantly trying to become fearless - yet the character must learn is that it is not about not being afraid, it is about being afraid and doing what you believe is right any way.  Our heroine does not lose her fear, she works with it and seeks to embrace it in balance with her other gifts.  Another great example is Harry Potter.  Harry is afraid a lot of the time yet what makes him a hero is that he does not let the fear master him.  The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare also has a character seeking to be fearless or who is often seen as fearless.  Again and again, this notion of fearless is knocked down as not the goal of courage but rather a detriment to it. Often these characters long for fearlessness because they fear loss of control and their need for others.  The fears are connected - loss of control, rejection, failure - at the end of the day they are all similar - useful tools, horrible masters and they keep us separated from one another.  Parker Palmer continually reminds us to embrace our fears, to ride the monsters all the way down because there we will find our deep connections to one another and our compassion for one another (Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation).

Once I saw this video I realized that I was procrastinating about reaching out and asking to talk and network to some people.  I still have more to do.  Yet somehow realizing that rejection is just one person's opinion put my fear of it in perspective.  So now to have faith to keep moving forward, and to keep trying even though I will fail, people will say no and yet I only need to get one full-time job and only one place to say yes. It is also helpful to remember that those who are looking for the right candidate to join them can also be fearing rejection, afraid of the 'no' as well. Being a religious leader has taught me that when we lean into faith and pay attention to where are souls are called and connected then we will find that 'yes' beyond the fear.

What keeps you going?  How do you make fear a useful tool rather than a paralyzing master?  In what do you have faith and what sustains it?  What are your worst fears?  Are those fears useful tools or horrible masters? What would it mean to embrace your fear and make it a tool?