Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Our wealth is shallow

Compassion has been on my mind; specifically how we express compassion for others that keeps all parties on equal footing. It's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we know best what the other needs without having lived their experience.

Giving and helping are not necessarily the same as showing compassion and exhibiting social justice. It goes back to the Golden Rule, which is universally embedded in almost all faith traditions, including Christianity. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Not lord it over others, presume to know what they need or desire or move from a place of superiority or inferiority. I believe it means to meet people where they are as we are. To not be afraid to learn about and listen to another who may have a far different background, set of experiences and vocabulary.

Sunday, I attended another church, a local one that burns to partner with me in serving Oakbrook residents. The pastor asked me to speak from the heart about what I do to the congregation. I was warmly greeted as I always have been when I have attended smaller meetings here. Opening with a contemporary band that got us to our feet as lyrics flashed on the large screen was so opposite my typically wandering into worship, quietly taking a seat and settling into silence. As I loosened to the music, I found my body swaying and my lips moving. It really is a wonderful manner in which to worship. It was my hope to meet this congregation where they were and ask the same from them. When it was my turn to speak, I admitted that standing up front with a microphone was not, exactly, easy for an introverted Quaker. They laughed and I relaxed, telling a story straight from the heart after praying that God would give me the words and wisdom. She complied ... at least the pastor said that I expressed what needed to be said.

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After, he talked about serving the poor and earlier in life he was so excited to assist a hungry family that he bought an expensive roast and all of the fixings. When he joyfully delivered them, he noticed packaged foods and no cooking utensils. "I doubt they even had a pot to cook it in." He opened himself and that experience to suggest that we need to work ourselves out of our experience and expectation.

Last summer, when some generous soul provided me with  a boatload of fresh garden vegetables, I had the urge to give them to a family of seven that struggles. "Oh, no thanks," the father said. "We don't eat those." That had been my bias, assuming they would clean, cut and cook them.

My greatest lessons in learning how to serve others and meet them where they are have originated with the Neighbor to Neighbor group that I helped start after the 2001 Cincinnati Race Riots and Artsy Fartsy Saturdays, the arts exploration I lead for local, at-risk kids. To really meet people where they are, takes an examination of ourselves, knowing where we are and then patiently listening and getting to know the other. It is about giving of yourself, forming relationships and a bond of trust – rather than racing in with shiny new things, ideas and gadgets that may hinder rather than fix things.

I was really taken with an article in the current issue of Yoga Journal by scholar-teacher-activist Dr. Tessa Hicks Peterson:
"We find our breath, ground ourselves, push past limitations, learn how to live at that edge and find compassion for ourselves. This is the same with social injustice. We can't be afraid to face our ignorance or internal biases, our fears and apathy, our own oppression and pain; we must sit in that discomfort and learn how to find our breath and connect and build compassion for ourselves and for others, including the ones we don't understand, the ones we think are too different from us culturally, racially, religiously – even the ones we hate."
She writes about how the lessons of yoga translate into social action and justice. Sitting in the discomfort really speaks to me. Possibly living with chronic pain puts me there more often than I'd like, but I do have opportunity to reflect on myself, inner workings and motivations. I know myself, fears and most biases; though there is always room for more growth. If we can direct compassion toward ourselves first  – just like taking the airline oxygen mask before helping another – we open to being that for others. We're here to accompany and assist one another, erasing as many divisions as possible, not inflict our unexplored biases on each other.

• How do I personally experience compassion?
• What practices aid that?
• What have I learned about myself?
• How can I then apply that to others?
• How does my perspective shift when serving stems from compassion?

in our white,
supreme ways

we think we can
change the world

everybody, we
tell ourselves
benefits from
our experience,
culture and

we know it all
we've done it all

we are wealthy,
we tell ourselves
over and over
and over

until we believe
it is the root
of all

and from this
warped root
we approach others

as if they everything
to gain and
nothing to lose

how very
wrong we are

for our wealth
is shallow, selfish
and lacking wisdom

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