Everything is Holy Now.

98 Ordinary

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Linda Irene

Looking for Space

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There was a romanticism about the 70's that grabbed hold of me. It seduced me, and has not let go to this day. I turned 18 smack dab in the middle of the 70's. It was impossible not to be affected by the social changes that took those years by storm. They significantly influenced me - and I have rarely wandered from center in this regard.

I said rarely.

What the Harlem revival tent didn't do for me, people like Werner Erhard and others did. The spiritual awakening in Harlem left me changed and hopeful, but it was also clear that life awaited with so much more than only nightly prayer meetings and singing Kumbayah. It was undeniably obvious, to my way of thinking, that staying sheltered in a Christian world wasn't the dream I had for my life. It just wasn't me. My heart understood the way of Christ. My mind had more to learn, however. It honestly never seriously occurred to me to surround myself with only Christians. It sounded downright dumb - even though I knew those who said they wanted that for me had only good intentions. I knew I'd end up a cat in a cage - eventually rebelling and, more than likely, revolting against Christianity completely.

Many years later, when hired by the Idaho Dept. of Agriculture as a consultant, and gained their financial support and sponsorship for an important collaborative project I'd initiated on public lands, they saw something in me that I hadn't quite identified until then. It was an important discovery.

Glen Secrist had just returned from Washington DC where he'd served as the National Director of Public Rangelands for the Bureau of Land Management under two administrations. He'd accepted a job to run rangelands for the State of Idaho because he wanted to be closer to his family out west as he neared retirement. To this day, he is one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever encountered. His friendship changed my life, and his unexpected death from cancer still seems unreal. He lives in my heart, in similar ways to the Spirit of Christ, because he lived that spirit in life which and affected me profoundly.

He was Mormon.

The Dept of Agriculture gave me a State truck to drive and put me on payroll to help support a collaborative project I started called The Idaho Roundtables. I was funded by the largest environmental philanthropist organization in the state, Global Environment Project Institute, and other environmental groups. The support from the Dept. Of Agriculture was important to me. It demonstrated my intention to be objective and balanced on all sides. I was the facilitator of these projects bringing people together who had traditionally been in conflict over the use of public lands.

Driving a State Truck with a State gas card had certain limitations involving liability and regulations. My kid couldn't drive in it, and I couldn't do anything personal in it. This was not an easy task living in the middle of nowhere of Idaho and being a single, working mother. When school got out in the Bliss School, the only thing nearby was an interstate truck stop next door. If I hit traffic coming from Boise, 80 miles away, and was only a few minutes late, my child would be sitting at a truck stop with characters of all kinds going in and out. It was not good. Also, if I did get home in time, I'd have to drive all the way home which meant going down the grade and across the river to get my own car and then back again just to pick him up. It seemed ridiculous. Sometimes I'd pick him up and take him home instead of making him wait.

Someone reported me. Seriously. In a town with a population of 100 someone reported me. My jaw still hangs open when I think of how insane it was. But these were the rules, and there was certainly no way I could defend it. I was technically wrong. Even if it was ethically right.

When the head bureaucrat of that organization wanted to pull the reins in on me with more controls and direction to show his authority, Secrist responded to him with the kindest and wisest answer I ever heard...in regards to me.

He said, "She is a free spirit, and operating out of her passion to do this work. If we rein her in and clip her wings, she'll lose the motivation she has to make something this contentious and difficult work. You gotta let her fly."

Man. If that wasn't the smartest thing I ever heard from a government employee!
He was right too.

To this day, I just don't know how to work within a confined space and not fly. I have tried many times. Each time I fell flat on my face. It simply is not my nature, but I don't think I knew this about myself until he said it. I am forever grateful for this insight from Glen Secrist. And for the freedom he gave me to execute the Roundtables around the state and other points west.

Living inside a Christian bubble was no different even if I didn't know it at the time. I had to be part of the world.

Last night, as I was writing the Call to Worship for our Pentecost service this morning, I noticed something in the Methodist lectionary that helped me understand this even more. The Methodist church supplies suggested litanies, calls to worship, topics, etc. for each Sunday of the year. Curious to see what they had for Pentecost, I looked it up - which is typically rare for me. I always prefer to write them myself when I have the time.

The suggested Call to Worship said the following:

 When the world divides us
Come, Holy Spirit, make us one.
When the world calls us orphaned
Come, Holy Spirit, make us family.
When the world leads us astray
Come, Holy Spirit, call us home.
Come, Holy Spirit, come! 
Come and fill this place! 

Something didn't sit right with me but I wasn't sure what. I knew I didn't like the impersonal tone/nature of it, but that's my common complaint. So I drafted a revised version that said things like, When the world rejects us, or abandons us, or we feel lonely, or tempted, or off track....etc. I wanted to change it to be more personal, more real. But I still struggled with it somehow - and then it hit me.

It was the words, 'the world.' I suddenly realize this terminology has always bothered me about religion. All religions I'd been involved in. Why was it the world's fault that we are divided? This litany took no responsiblity for our part in how we felt. We were victims of the world. So,not only were we victims of something, but the verse's composition made it sound as if the world was separate from us! THe world was a 'them' and Christians were a 'us' - this was against everything I stood for, and has always been opposed to how I experience the world. Just this morning, the pastor said in mid-sentence, "when you became a Christian, and "when we are Christians, we..." As if to infer that we are special, or different, from the rest of the world. This is not ok with me. It's divisive. Some of us may be different in certain ways, but who isn't? From what I'd seen of Christians in recent years, I certainly didn't want to be identified as one of them. Where was the good news in this message?

Of course, the pastor meant well. It's simply part of his vernacular, his training, just like the wording of the litany is unconsciously divisive. They don't mean it to be. It's a cultural language that developed over a very long period of time, creating more and more division and contributing to the self righteous attitude that many experinece from people who call themselves Christian. I'm certain Christians do not want to be experienced this way - nor do they understand how they are. But, unfortunately, it's how it is. One bad apple, as they say. Or one church. Or one sect. Or one denomination.

The singer/songwriter, John Denver, took the EST training in the mid-seventies when I did. The workshop had deeply influenced him, and he wrote the following song after his experience. From when it was released, I related to it. His EST experience is communicated beautifully through these words, because EST primarily taught us that we are responsible for ourselves, and this is it. We don't have to look outside of ourselves for the answers, the answers live inside us - but that did not mean it's all about us. It meant what we took it to mean, but we are accountable - whether we liked the outcomes or not. For instance, if I was raped, I may or may not have contributed to it happening, but either way, it was only me who could deal with how this would affect my life. I also took it to mean- for me - that God is at the center of my being, God was my ground. It was in the relationship I had with God and myself that directed or guided the outcomes and choices of my life if I was listening, and not reacting or listening to superficial and misdirected influences that were all around me. But, ultimately, I could not take myself out of the picture either. We were co-creators in my life.

On the road of experience,
I'm trying to find my own way.
Sometimes I wish I could fly away.
When I think that I'm moving,
suddenly things stand still.
I'm afraid cause I think they always will.
And I'm looking for space and
to find out who I am, and
I'm looking to know and understand.
It's a sweet, sweet dream,
sometimes I'm almost there.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle and
sometimes I'm deep in despair.

All alone in the universe,
sometimes that's how it seems.
I get lost in the sadness and the screams.
Then I look in the center and
suddenly everything's clear.
I find myself in the sunshine and my dreams
And I'm looking for space and
to find out who I am,
and I'm looking to know and understand.
It's a sweet, sweet dream,
sometimes I'm almost there.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
and sometimes I'm deep in despair.

On the road of experience,
join in the living day.
If there's an answer
it's just that it's just that way,
When you're looking for space
and to find out who you are.
When you're looking
to try and reach the stars.
It's a sweet, sweet dream,
sometimes I'm almost there.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle and
sometimes I'm deep in despair.
-John Denver

Growing up reading the Bible, it was always obvious the people within those pages were seeking God. The Bible was a collection of stories of people who wanted to know God, please God, feel God. They didn't seem all that different from me, other than the crazy things that happened to them - which I often prayed would not happen to me.

That said, they all were asking the same questions and revealing the same feelings as the words in Denver's song, Looking for Space. They were looking to try and reach the stars. They sometimes felt like they were almost there. Sometimes they flew like an eagle, and sometimes they were deep in despair. If there was an answer, it was found in accepting what was - not what wasn't. Sometimes they felt alone and separated from God, and sometimes they didn't. The only thing that kept them connected was faith in something bigger than them, something that connected them to that. And, lastly, they were always trying to learn, know, and understand. Questioning and seeking understanding was at the core of everything being human was. This was the main question of the 70's, and it was the main question of humankind throughout history. It is the fundamental reason religion exists in the first place.

When Christians were outraged at these workshops, I was baffled by their reaction. It wasn't as if people were being told not to have religious experiences or maintain their faith. They were simply have more expansive experiences and learning to see life in new ways. How could this be a bad thing? Of course, I understood that sometimes we can be influenced by evil or bad choices, but this is part of having discernment and knowing where we are weak, requiring strengthening. It never worried me that I might lose my spiritual nature or ever consider there was any other God but God. How could I? God was all that is. What else was there?

It's never been any different. Not now. Not then.

As the song says, I'm looking to find out who I am. When we understand what it means to be 'in Christ,' and we look to what that really means through the actual behavior and words of Jesus, we will usually find it's just that it's just that way. It is just that way because the complexity of God, nature, and life is that much bigger than we are. If it wasn't, we'd miss out on the wonder and awe, the reverence and the holy. It's allowing it to be that calls us to it's mystery. On the other hand, we could see 'it's just that it's just that way,' as meaning we are meaningless cretures who happen to feel, and our lives are simply a drop in the bucket of time.

You can decide which lens you prefer. I know which one I choose.

Memorial Day Rambling
A Practice Note