confessions

[a poem by Rachael Barham]

confessions

I say it because I’m with friends
and a couple of glasses of wine and laughter
have loosened my heart
and my tongue:

“Sometimes when a friend asks for prayer
I think, I can’t.
What if there’s no point in praying?
What if there’s no God?”

The smiles and nods
tell me I am not alone.

“But other times
I find my heart rises
to God and to love
with no regard for doctrine or doubt.
Yes, I can pray.”

(I wonder.
Would I have confessed
the first, the moments of uncertainty,
without also confessing the second,
the moments of faith?)

“And then I message back “Praying” 
and feel victorious!”

The laughter lasts a while –
laughter of recognition and relief,
laughter full of unspoken stories,
of relationships with friends
and families and childhood churches
whose belief appears to be
single, unwavering,
that illusive benchmark I suspect
I may never again reach
(though in truth I never did;
I just pretended
–  to myself above all).

Beneath the laughter
there is also pain,
misunderstanding, distance.
The pain of leaving
and the pain of holding on.
The pain of the inner struggle
to find and walk one’s own road
with love and courage,
the new road, now road,
but one that connects
at some crossroads miles past
with the old, well-worn.
Yes, continuity and discontinuity, both.

I say it because I’m with friends
and I need the healing balm
of laughter and confession mixed,
for this truth not to be so serious and heavy,
weighed down by years of silence and taboo.

I say it because I need to hear out loud
that I am not one.
My belief is not single.
Uncertainty and faith
dwell side by side in me.
(Perhaps less disparate than they at first appear,
different ways of approaching the same mystery,
two sides of the same dark coin?)

I say it because I need to balance
the complex victory of “Praying”
with the equally complex victory of “I can’t.”

Most of all I say it
to lay down any claim or need
to be champion of the faith
– that burden is not for me to bear –
and to take up instead the only burden
(at once heavier and miraculously light)
that is truly mine:
the burden of being myself.

– Rachael Barham – (from her blog)

more than free speech

[In response to conversations regarding free speech on campus, a president of a small college offers a response]:

On campuses, however, we must strive for something more than free speech. Our mission requires that we seek what I refer to as constructive engagement. It is not enough for individuals to speak freely. We must also find myriad ways to put a range of views into conversation with one another. It is what we do in classrooms every day. It is what we do on debate teams. It is what happens across every campus, far more than critics appreciate. It is what happens in the lives of college students much more frequently than in the lives of most adults, in part because college campuses and social networks tend to be more diverse than “real world” neighborhoods and social clubs.

This emphasis on constructive engagement is why, at Union College, we have launched an initiative to create the conditions for hearing and learning from diverse perspectives. One key element is an explicit and stated goal of understanding. Another is that speakers must take unscreened, sincere questions from the audience, and they are expected to respond respectfully. And finally, speakers must have evidence and reasoned arguments to support their views, given that both form the foundation upon which knowledge and wisdom rest. This is not the place to bash those who think otherwise with literal or figurative personal attacks, to privilege heat and fury over light and insight.

With this approach, and especially in the small, collegial community that is our distinctive liberal arts college, we commit to exposing our community to a range of perspectives. Success is not measured by how different the speakers’ views are from those most prevalent on the campus, but rather by the number of people who understand, and perhaps even reconsider or change their views as a result of the experience, regardless of the direction of change. As an educational institution, that’s our goal in the classroom. We expect nothing less of the speech that occurs elsewhere on campus.

– David Harris (in Inside Higher Ed)

the person we’ve all been

Not to know yourself is dangerous, to that self and to others. Those who destroy, who cause great suffering, kill off some portion of themselves first, or hide from the knowledge of their acts and from their own emotion, and their internal landscape fills with partitions, caves, minefields, blank spots, pit traps, and more, a landscape turned against itself, a landscape that does not know itself, a landscape through which they may not travel….

You see it too in the small acts of everyday life, of the person who feels perfectly justified, of the person who doesn’t know he’s just committed harm, of the person who says something whose motives are clear to everyone but her, of the person who comes up with intricate rationales or just remains oblivious, of the person we’ve all been at one time or other….

Many of the great humanitarian and environmental campaigns of our time have been to make the unknown real, the invisible visible, to bring the faraway near, so that the suffering of sweatshop workers, torture victims, beaten children, even the destruction of other species and remote places, impinges on our imagination and perhaps prompts you to act.

– Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

see what God sees

What happens really in the soul’s union with God in terms of liberation and healing? It is an exercise in seeing how God sees, the perception of what is little and unimportant; it is listening to the cry of God’s children who are in slavery in Egypt. God calls upon the soul to give away its own ears and eyes and to let itself be given those of God. Only they who hear with other ears can speak with the mouth of God. God sees what elsewhere is rendered invisible and is of no relevance. Who other than God sees the poor and hears their cry? To use “God’s senses” does not mean simply turning inward but becoming free for a different way of living life: See what God sees! Hear what God hears! Laugh where God laughs! Cry where God cries!

– Dorothee Soelle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance (2001)

listening to the signals

[Johann Hari continues with what he would tell his teenage self who was being led to believe an overly confident story about chemicals:]

You aren’t a machine with broken parts. You are an animal whose needs are not being met. You need to have a community. You need to have meaningful values, not the junk values you’ve been pumped full of all your life, telling you happiness comes through money and buying objects. You need to have meaningful work. You need the natural world. You need to feel you are respected. You need a secure future. You need connections to all these things. You need to release any shame you might feel for having been mistreated. Every human being has these needs, and in our culture, we’re relatively good at meeting physical needs—almost nobody actually starves, for example, which is an extraordinary achievement. But we’ve become quite bad at meeting these psychological needs. That’s a crucial reason why you—and so many of the people around you—are depressed and anxious. You are not suffering from a chemical imbalance in your brain. You are suffering from a social and spiritual imbalance in how we live. Much more than you’ve been told up to now, it’s not serotonin; it’s society. It’s not your brain; it’s your pain. Your biology can make your distress worse, for sure. But it’s not the cause. It’s not the driver. It’s not the place to look for the main explanation, or the main solution. Because you have been given the wrong explanation for why your depression and anxiety are happening, you are seeking the wrong solution….

No, I would say to my younger self—your distress is not a malfunction. It is a signal—a necessary signal. I know this is going to be hard to hear, I’d tell him, because I know how deep your suffering cuts. But this pain isn’t your enemy, however much it hurts (and Jesus, I know how much it hurts). It’s your ally—leading you away from a wasted life and pointing the way toward a more fulfilling one. Then I would tell him—you are at a fork in the road now. You can try to muffle the signal. That will lead you to many wasted years when the pain will persist. Or you can listen to the signal and let it guide you—away from the things that are hurting and draining you, and toward the things that will meet your true needs.

– Johann Hari, Lost Connections