I am honored to have graduated from Nash Community College.
I am honored to have graduated from Nash Community College.
A poem for Dr. Watson, my Lit teacher at Nash Community College, who is retiring…
Yes, I will remember you,
And in my prayers will keep you,
For I know the gifts you ardently shared
In knowledge, care, and learned discourse,
Launched my drifting craft onto a different course,
Than any channel, on my own, I would have dared…
And when our prayers meld in the ears of heaven,
May our joys be increased, and our hardships be leavened.
(In response to a stanza from a poem written by her great-uncle John Charles McNeill, first Poet Laureate of North Carolina. The poem is called “Sunburnt Boys” and the stanza is:
You will not, will you, soon forget
When I was one of you
Nor love me less that time
Has borne my craft to currents new
Nor shall I ever cease to share
Your hardships and your joys. . .)
Because Lori, one of my favorite bloggers (http://loriharris.me/), is one of those people who gets off her butt and actually does something instead of waiting for someone else to do it first and then invite her in on the action…..
And because too many people in Rocky Mount are looking for something to love about this town….but don’t know where to find the people who do love it…
And because you get what you expect, and if you expect nastiness that’s all you’ll notice, but if you expect beauty and out-of-the-ordinariness you’ll find it everywhere…
And because I love this crazy place where I live, and the crazy people in it, and all the craziness I’ve done and experienced while I was here…
I’ve been honored to kick off the new Rise blog about Rocky Mount, started by the absolutely amazing Lori, and open for everyone to write for and send photos to, with this post: http://rockymountstories.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/rocky-mount/
An excerpt: “It’s the railroad tracks. It’s sitting on the deck at Chico’s, staring at the river, talking about all the things that matter in life and feeding tortilla chips to the turtles. It’s watching people fish at City Lake. It’s Charlie, the homeless man who stops in the parking lot at Good Shepherd to ask for a prayer and a snack and to tell me that God loves me and he does, too, and he won’t let nobody bother me when I walk down the street.”
Read it. And Rise Up. And Share.
“Moral” is not a stand-alone adjective. It is not a badge that you can wear. It is not a self-diagnosis, not a self-portrait that you can pull down from the wall and show off to the world, saying “Oh, here, look at me – this is what a good person I am!” And it is definitely not a cloak and hood that you get to wear just because you happen to belong to a group claiming to offer virtue as a perk of membership.
The state of being a “moral” person requires constant self-reinvention, self-reflection. It is shifting; to be moral requires taking action. Or not taking action. It always, always, involves making choices. You don’t become a moral person at the age of 14 and remain so until you are 72 without working at it. You don’t automatically attain the adjective as a result of some ritual, and you can’t use another person’s morality and claim it as your own. Being a good person, a moral person, requires conscious decision on your part, a sense of what is right and the self-discipline to work for it – every single moment of every single day.
Being a good person is so simple. Being a good person is so complicated. It is simple because all it requires is for you to do what you can, when you should, with what you’ve got – to make the world a better place for someone, somewhere, every single moment of every single day. It is complicated because being moral often conflicts with our basest human emotions – pride, selfishness, greed, self-righteousness, prejudice, and snobbery.
Make the world a better place for someone, somewhere, every single moment of every single day…
Someone, somewhere – not everyone, everywhere. Not all of us have the scope of influence to make a difference on a large scale, but that’s okay. Because we don’t have to if we haven’t been placed in a place where we can. All that is required is that we work within the parameters we’ve been given, not rail against the powers that be because we can’t do more.
How prideful is it, how pompous, to say, “I should be doing more, so I won’t do anything for now.” God might not have given you power, but if he gave you a mouth to smile at a stranger with, you’d better do it. It might not bring you acclaim in the world, but it will bring a moment of peace to a fellow traveler on this planet.
Every single moment, of every single day – You have a choice, every single moment, to make the world a better place or not, because every single moment, the world is brand new. You choose to smile or not to smile. You choose to get out of bed early or to cuddle with your dog a little longer. You choose to flick off the idiot that cut you off or to let it go. You choose to tip 15% or 20%. You choose to get up off your a— and pick the trash up from the side of the road or to stay home and generate more trash.
Each time a similar scenario presents itself, the choice that does the most good might be different. Smiling when someone you don’t like fails is not going to make the day better for her, after all, and sometimes letting someone go blithely along without correction sets up someone else down the road for danger. It is good sometimes to jump out of bed and rake your neighbor’s yard; other days it is good to be still and give your pet the extra love and attention he craves.
I can’t think of an example right now of when staying home and generating trash would be a better choice, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one – and that’s the crux of the whole morality thing right there…
It is the honest attempt to make the best choice of reactions at any moment, with the intent of making that millisecond that you are sharing with that person or animal or place the best possible millisecond ever, that counts for good. Morality isn’t a set of rules that govern every interaction and dictate your response. Morality is having a broad mission of making the world better, and then targeting every action or inaction, every moment, to reach that goal. Morality is flexible in action but specific in result – responding to the pain of the moment, trying to make it better for one person at a time, despite the dictates of those who claim authority. Even Jesus showed us that, over and over in the stories passed down about his ministry – no matter what your church or parents, social circle or political party, have tried to tell you.
Morality springs from the goodness inside, and lack of it cannot be rectified from the outside. Morality requires work, sweat, discernment, and decisions. You can’t be a good person by following others and doing what they do and saying what they say. To be a good person, you have to get off your butt, or don’t, or do something, or don’t – fully, intentionally, and reverently.
“When we know something and rest in that knowing we limit our vision. We will only see what our knowing will allow us to see. In this way experience can be our enemy.” – Zoketsu Norman Fischer (I found this quote at Brad Warner’s Hardore Zen blog.)
I hadn’t realized it has been six months since I posted here. Might be six months before I do it again. But this quote above caught me, because, as you may know if you once read my blog pretty regularly, I am pretty skeptical of claiming knowledge. Why I am is a very long and convoluted explanation (yes, I realize might be classified as a pun….purely unintentional), so I’m not going to go there.
However…..I thought it might be a good time to think about some of the things I think I know. Then I can start considering whether any of these points of knowledge are limiting me…while hoping I am not limited in my consideration by other things I think I know….this is getting more ridiculously complicated the more I think about it…
Anyway, here are some things I think I know (and hope they’re so):
That’s all I’ve got right now.
When I wrote the post Economic Distress and Religion, Rural View (click on it to check it out) back in June 2009, I was doing pretty well. I had finally gotten it all together in life – a good paying job at a nonprofit helping people, strong marriage, wonderful kids, buying a home, financially secure.
I still have wonderful kids, thank God.
And thank God that when I read that post today, when it seems that everything I worked so hard for is slipping away, I can read it and still agree with it, and that I am still proud of what I wrote back then. I was very sympathetic and empathetic to my future self, the me that is me now, even though I didn’t really think it would be me one day. Not this time.
Wonderful kids, I tell myself. I love my wonderful kids.
Back in high school I had to memorize the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Although I despise the last line and think it makes all of the powerful things he said before it seem trite, I more and more often find my mind drifting back to that poem as a reminder of how to be strong….
“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”"
And so I remind myself that I shall not complain today. I will not rehash the losses, will not mourn for the unfairness, will not dwell in the drama that is the consequence for really, truly, expansively living life.
I instead will thank the Lord that he has given me the friends, the community, the church, and the family that He has. I will thank Him for giving me strength when I don’t feel like I have any. I will thank Him that I live with the rural view of life. I will thank Him that I still have tools to build with, worn out though they might seem right now.
What is faith for me? Faith is acting as if what I believe is true, even when I can’t see or feel it.
What do I believe? I believe that the most important of these is love, and that love is one gift that I have in abundance. Even for myself, which is sometimes the hardest person in the world for me to extend that gift to.
Life is bigger. Life is grace. Life is love.
One night my husband Brad and I were on the way home from a holiday family event when we drove by some tennis courts near our house. The floodlights at the court were on and 4 people were playing tennis. Brad was on the phone with our friend Tio and suddenly shouted….
I nearly ran off the road from laughing so hard. They weren’t ninjas, of course; they were two men in suits and two women in black jilbabs and hijabs.
But here is what amazed me….that somewhere in Brad’s mind - a mind that focuses on the concrete and doesn’t care much about what can’t be seen or touched – somewhere in there is a spark of wonder that allowed him to believe for one split second, when something unexpected flashed past the corner of his vision, that this world is one in which ninjas really could be playing tennis on a cracked-up old court in the middle of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
I want to live in a world like that. I like living in a world like that. Where wonders are waiting around any corner. Where the unexpected is full of potential delight. Where amazement and awe are invited anywhere, everywhere, anytime.
The first sentence of the Christian Bible states simply, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Then follows the synopsis of God’s creation of the world, the sun and stars, the plants, the animals, and man, all within 6 days, followed by his rest on the 7th. Simple story. Short. Pretty cut-and-dry. And a major, dividing, contentious source of debate.
The two sides that I know of boil down to this: either the creation story is true and factual exactly as it was written, or it is a sophisticated theological statement of the attributes of God that is true but not factual, constrained as the writers were by the scientific knowledge available at the time and driven by the need to clarify the identity of God against the other belief systems present in the area at the time the story was written down. I’m not getting into the debate in this post, nor explaining either side of the argument. All I’m thinking, after a discussion tonight with an awesome group of people, is this….
If you are a Christian and have an opinion one way or the other……Why not believe it….either of the its?
I am not asking here why you believe one way or the other is wrong. I am asking this - why wouldn’t you want to believe that one way or the other is right?
Why not believe that God created the earth in seven days? Maybe seven 24-hour days; maybe seven 1000-year days; it doesn’t matter. Why not let the wonder of a God that can – with nothing more than a command - build an entire planet and inhabit it with millions of lifeforms seep into the mundane realism of your existence? Why not believe that the God of the impossible did the impossible in a way so divine that we can barely grasp the possiblilty? Why not attribute to God the power to do something he wanted in the way that he wanted at the time that he wanted and to do so outside of the constraints of science and physical history and timeline rules that he himself created? Why wouldn’t you want believe in that kind of magic, that amount of wonder, that possibility of the miraculous?
Why not believe that the purpose of the creation story is to proclaim the truth about God’s glory and power and majesty, using metaphor and poetry and symbolism instead of hard, cold, emotionless facts? Why not believe that our science and our histories and our ability to reason, gifts given to us from God, are not incompatible with, nor belittling of, the simple story of creation that reads like an ancient myth? Why not believe that the ideas about God present in the story are radical enough within the context of the time it was written to make the creation of the story itself a miracle? Why would you not want to believe that God loves his creation enough to help us attempt to understand him within our own feeble limits of knowledge and wisdom and language, even though his power and actions are far, far, far, far beyond our ability to comprehend and we insult his might with the smallness of our concept of him?
We believe something about everything. That this is true, and that isn’t. That this is good, and that this other thing is bad. That mine is blue, but yours is red. Belief….our foundation of our faith, or of our lack of faith…the way we understand the world we live in and who we think we are. But let’s open ourselves up some for a moment, and pretend that the other point of view might be right, and ask ourselves, “Why do I not want to believe this? What is it about this different point of view that offends me so deeply?”
Ask this: Why do I not want to believe…..insert the story or law or person of your choice here. What would hurt me, if I believed the opposite way of what I do? What would challenge me? What would I have to change or discard or let go of or accept if I believed that other way instead?
What would I have to give up if I accepted this explanation? My belief in justice? My feeling of control? My hope for mercy? My trust in logic? My knowledge of science? My sense of myself? My lifestyle? My friends? My plans? My life?
Maybe I don’t want to believe that the creation story is a literal description of exactly what happened, because that would challenge my belief in science and make me have to question my belief in a rule-bound, comprehendable, and predictable universe. Furthermore, people might think I’m crazy.
Maybe I don’t want to believe that the creation story is a theological statement wrapped in a metaphor, because then I would have to dig deeper into the other stories I have accepted at face value and see if there is a deeper meaning that I missed, or if I can even maintain my faith when I know there are facts that I have not been given. Furthermore, people might accuse me of being politically correct.
When I take a look at some of the things I believe, and then turn around and try to figure out what makes me resistant to believing the opposite, I start to uncover things about myself. Weaknesses, like things I do or think that I know are wrong and wish I could hide. Fear, maybe that science won’t have all of the answers when my loved one is sick. Resistance, like to the idea that I am not nearly as in control as I wish I was. Strengths, like that my faith is stronger than my ability to understand. Hope, like I, so small, might be worth so much to a God so large that he would make the ultimate sacrifice for me.
And even though exploring this question – “why would I not want to belive it?” – won’t make us change our minds about what we believe or where we stand on any issue, it might – just maybe – make us change ourselves for the better.