Saturday, November 01, 2014

Conversation with the Autumn Wind


The wind blows. It gusts with such urgency, heaving from deep inside the lungs of the earth to expel all that is left of summer. In its wake the air slowly grows cool and crisp. Leaves turn to gold and red and surrender their hold on the branches of the trees.

Something inside beckoned me away to a quiet place to reflect. I hiked to a small pond, a place of solace and respite. I sat on the soft ground, dead leaves crackling under my weight. I looked out past some trees at the edge of the pond to a log that was protruding through the surface of the water. A turtle had been resting there, soaking in the warmth of the sun. He was no longer there, but a quick glance around the pond revealed his whereabouts. He was swimming. The chiseled, angular shape of his head looked like the tip of a branch floating across the water.

The pond was full of clear, fresh water. It was darkened by the shade of the trees that surrounded it and the layer of dead leaves that had fallen to the bottom. My thoughts turned to the dark that had enveloped me for several days. It sneaked up on me from behind, reaching around to cover my eyes. It refused to speak. I hadn't been able to name it.

Sunlight filtered through the high branches of the trees, yet the water remained dark until gusts of wind rippled its surface. Small waves caught the light and spread it across the dark surface in glittery explosions like fireworks in a summer sky. As the wind died down, the pond darkened and settled again.

I asked the autumn wind to blow through me. I begged it to awaken the dark surface of my grief with ripples of sacred light, explosions of truth and meaning, of joy and hope in all that has come from what is no more. The wind spoke to me and said, "You are a turtle. You wear your fear on your back, retreating, hiding at the first sign that someone sees you, knows you."

I wanted to argue, but I surrendered instead, breathing deep, allowing the truth to reach inside me. "Yes," I said. "I am known in this place. It scares me, yet I long to know and be known more fully."

The air grew still for a moment. I sat with the tension of my awareness. The feeling's familiarity turned fear to dread. Tears began to flow. The wind spoke again. "Fear's call to retreat leads you into the dark waters of your grief. You swim in that darkness, looking up occasionally, checking to see if it is safe. I am the wind blowing through you. I am a fierce autumn wind. I have the power to break loose the hold of that which is dead inside of you, making room for the new to take hold."

"Why do I hold on to the old, dead things? Why does it feel safer than the new things I've worked hard for?"

"You cling because you do not yet trust the new things to be different enough to change you. You cling because you do not yet trust that you are different."

"Then what must I do?"

The autumn wind breathed deep and let her words ride on the gust of her warm breath. "Trust is a leap of faith. You are different. You can trust yourself. You can trust those around you, but you must have faith. Surrender and let me blow through you. I will turn your fear to trust."

I laid back on the soft ground, fists tight and teeth clinched. The warm breeze blew across me, relaxing the tight muscles in my face, my arms, my stomach. I took a deep breath, letting the autumn wind sweep through me. It blew with such strength that I feared losing everything, that it would sweep away even that which is new. I cried out, clinching my fists in anger, demanding that it take only the dead things. The gusts continued and I felt myself relax again. A deep peace and calm held me. I sat up and looked around me. The pond had a new layer of dead leaves skimming across the top like tiny sailboats at the mercy of the wind.

And the turtle was on the log, legs and neck stretched out to soak in the autumn sun.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Learning to farm


I live with a comfortable attentiveness on the farm. The routine of morning and evening chores dissolves the endless deliberation over how to structure the day into a kinetic reflex. Feet hit the floor with purpose before the head is fully engaged. My body knows what to do. There is no question. But it’s not a mindless motion, at least not after the first cup of coffee. The animals see to that. I’ve been caught off guard too many times not to fully show up for chores.

I haven’t always been a farmer. My teachers are not office-dwelling writers of books. Instead I’ve learned from those who by their nature live instinctively in the world around them. That is the art of farming: the awareness of environment, of one’s impact on it, how elements in the surrounding world influence each other. It requires an intense commitment to being present, an awareness of the vast amount of information one’s senses convey in a split second.

One of my earliest teachers was a stray black dog who showed up at the farm a few years before, her body pocked with buckshot and patches of skin burned from the grass fire out of which she emerged, like a phoenix rising. Lisa patiently removed the shot and tended the burns and wounds and Sadie settled into our home.

Sadie moved like an Oklahoma wind rushing through the prairie, a streak of shiny black racing through fields of daisies and tall slender Johnson grass. Her chiseled muscular body was in constant motion. Undisciplined and adolescent, her presence raised anxiety and increased chaos wherever she went. I loved her. I loved the sheer esquiteness of her running, the delightfully shy smile she would offer when I greeted her each day. Her companionship during chores was not a constant guarding presence. She popped in and out as I went through each chore, assuring me that she was always near, even when I didn’t see her.

The day she became my teacher, I was feeding the animals as I always did. Pascal the llama, long-necked guardian of the sheep and goats, stood silently in the middle of the chorus of bleats and baaa’s, goats and sheep scolding me for my tardiness. I opened the gate and pushed a wheel barrow full of alfalfa through. The herd followed, stumbling over each other to reach for mouthfuls of the sweet grass. The gate swung open wider than I needed, opening a gap between it and the wheel barrow. Pascal, uninterested in alfalfa, took advantage and bolted through the opening. He headed for the street.

My throat tightened as my pounding heart expanded into it. I was alone on the farm that day. Of all the scenarios I thought I might encounter, an escaped llama was not one of them. There had been no drill ahead of time, no lessons on llama herding, not even a hint that the llama would do anything but dutifully guard the sheep and goats.

Thoughts of what to do struggled to reveal themselves in the dense fog of anxiety. An icy wind slapped me in the face. Getting the gate closed was the first priority to prevent the goats and sheep from following Pascal. I pushed the wheel barrow with the alfalfa up closer to the barn and dropped it in the swirl of greedy goats and sheep, then ran for the gate. Sadie came flying from the back of the pasture and met me there, passing through just as I swung the gate closed. She raced after Pascal. Her presence increased my anxiety. What would she do? How would Pascal respond to her?

I closed the gate and searched to see where Pascal had gone. He turned out of the gate and headed for the garden area. The fence on the front of the garden was open, a passageway for the truck to get to the back pasture. Pascal headed for the opening, but Sadie caught up to him. I stood frozen, fearful, feet heavy and mind blank. She raced past Pascal and headed for the opening. She stood in front of it waiting for him to come to her. As he drew closer she charged him, forcing him into the fenced part of the garden. Every time he inched back toward the opening, she ran for his feet, herding him back. Defeated, Pascal looked toward the garden and searched out the patches of green grass sprouting up around the edges of the furrowed ground.

I was amazed. How did Sadie know what to do? Her quick instinctive response gave me time to think. I closed two areas of the fence that were open, shutting Pascal into the garden. He was enclosed except for the area where the fence was down, near the front of the garden, close to the street. Sadie who had been guarding the opening, ran off to dig a hole in search of a gopher.

I stood in the middle of the garden watching Pascal graze, wondering what to do. I kept glancing over at the barn, knowing that sweet grain was surely the key to getting him where I needed him to go. He loved the sweet crunchy corn and oats, so much so that we had recently taken it out of his diet to help him slim down his bulging middle. I looked around and saw Sadie some distance from the opening. I had no choice but to trust she would spring into action if Pascal tried to escape.

I ran to the barn, grabbed the bucket and dropped a scoop full of sweet grain in the bottom, then ran back to the garden. Slowing down, I walked toward Pascal, his soft, brown, searching eyes looked up from the ground and caught mine. He was curious. He looked at me, then looked at the bucket. As I edged closer, he stood taller. A knowing gaze took over his face and he started moving purposefully toward the bucket. I let him stick his head in and get a mouthful, then pulled it away and started backing up toward the gate. He followed me, eyes fixed on the bucket, neck and head bobbing for it as he walked. With one hand on the bucket in front of me, I reached for the gate behind me, opened it, and backed through, leading Pascal back in to the barnyard.

I tightened the latch on the gate and backed away, watching Pascal devour his grain. Sadie raced up and sat beside me, her tail sweeping a fan-shaped pattern in the powdery brown dirt. I knelt down, put my arm across her neck and pulled her in close as we both looked out on the herd, safely corralled in the barnyard, quietly eating their breakfast.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

An Open Heart and the Will to Live (Revised)

The following is a piece I wrote a few years ago. I revised it for a project....there was a piece of the story that was really important for me to remember that was missing from the first version, so I've edited it to add that piece of the story.



An Open Heart and the Will to Live

We operate with a simple rule on the farm: If a sick animal shows us she wants to live, we will do everything we can to help her get well. The rule was at the forefront of my mind the day Lily was born. A lamb born to a ewe that was too young to be bred, Lily came into the world without all she needed to survive the first few hours of life on her own.

When she was born, she didn't take the usual first steps within minutes of birth. It is critical that a lamb stand up soon so that she can get the necessary nutrition from her mother. I waited for Lily to stand until it was obvious she was too weak. I carried her to a protected area in our barn and coaxed her mom there with some clean hay. The air was warm with the first hints of spring, but a cool breeze from the north made it clear it would be cold that night.
I prepared a bottle and brought it out to the barn where she lay. The smell of sweet, fresh hay permeated the air. I took a deep breath and reached for Lily, placing her limp, weak body on my lap. I put the nipple to her lips, holding her chin up to give her support while she ate. Her mom watched cautiously from the corner of the barn, a growing look of concern taking over her face. She took a few steps toward us and watched curiously. Then she approached my side and took position next to Lily's back side. She reached forward and licked Lily's back, just as she would do if Lily was nursing from her, an action that helps stimulate a young lamb to suck. Lily started sucking vigorously and within a few short minutes, emptied the bottle. I knew then that she had a strong will to live.
It's hard to describe that moment, to capture all that I was thinking and feeling in those few, short minutes of cooperating with the two of them to help that lamb have her best shot at life. I was new to farming, and was dealing with my first newborn without my partner Lisa's help. I wasn't at all sure I was up to the task, but Lily's mom called me to the task. In that moment, I was ordained, chosen by a ewe to be shepherd to her struggling newborn. It left me breathless, humbled.
I took Lily in the house as night fell and the temperatures dropped. I held her to my chest while I talked to Lisa on the phone. It had been a hard winter at the farm. We had lost some animals and my heart had been broken more than once. Lisa knew immediately what I needed as I described the situation. I had the basics down, all the necessary care to help keep her alive. But I was tentative and scared. Lisa affirmed all that I was doing, but quickly zeroed in on what was lacking. “You have to open your heart to her. She’s going to break it. You have no control over that. It may be tonight. It may be tomorrow. It may be ten years from now, but she will break it, so accept that and let her in.”

I nuzzled Lily against my chest, and let her rest in my arms. I prayed for my heart to open. Tears fell as she nibbled on my chin. I felt a deep connection to her. I struggled with fear that she would die. I knew the odds. If a lamb doesn’t get up on her own in the first few hours of life, she isn’t likely to live. I felt an impending sense of doom, a deep dread fueled by memories of losing animals in a blizzard on Christmas Eve. I wanted her to live but I was afraid to ask for it, afraid to believe that it would happen.

I let her sleep near me. Every few hours, she stirred and I fixed a bottle. For nearly 48 hours, I fed her and stood her up. I talked to her and sang to her. I watched her struggle to get up on her own. Time after time, she’d almost make it, only to collapse with a thud. Until, finally, almost two days after she was born, she got up. Her shaky legs barely able to pull her up, she stood and in seconds began to walk around the room. She walked circles around me while I danced and laughed. I felt the wall that I had so carefully erected around my heart come crashing down. Salvation came to both of us. With an open heart and the will to live, joy returned and lifted us to the sky.

Salvation
by Rumi

There is no salvation for the soul
But to fall in Love.
It has to creep and crawl
Among the Lovers first.
Only Lovers can escape
From these two worlds.
This was written in creation.
Only from the Heart
Can you reach the sky.
The rose of Glory
Can only be raised in the Heart.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Broken


Tomorrow I’m going to see a doctor. Those close to me know that I have been experiencing some joint and muscle pain pretty much all over my body for a good while now. I had to work through some things regarding insurance to get to a doctor, so I’ve been waiting a good while to begin getting some answers. In the meantime, I have had some relief from someone who has done Feldenkrais with me and have gotten a great deal of encouragement from a friend who is a massage therapist.

I honestly have no idea what the problem is. I started out thinking, maybe assuming, it was one thing, based on my experience with it as a medical researcher and as the sibling of someone who has it. The observant eyes of people who work every day with folks who have this kind of pain have helped me come down from my mountain of assuredness about what the problem is. I’m both encouraged by that and a bit more frightened. Encouraged, because what’s wrong may be completely treatable and I won’t have to take nasty drugs for the rest of my life and still watch my body slowly lock up and deteriorate over time.  Frightened, because now I’m back to uncertainty and as long as the cause is uncertain, there’s the possibility it could be even worse than what I’ve assumed it was.

Here’s the bottom line, though. Over the past few months, I’ve progressively lost strength. I’ve also lost about 25 pounds. There are days when I can barely move at all when I get up in the mornings. Other days,  I move just fine. Every single day, though, carries with it a degree of pain in my neck, shoulders, hands, wrists, knees, and ankles. I am, to put it succinctly, worn out from dealing with it and beyond ready for answers.

If you are the praying sort, I would welcome your thoughts and prayers over the next few days/weeks as I work with my doctor to sort through the potential causes for the pain, stiffness, and loss of strength. To say that I am frightened a little may seem to some as a lack of faith. It isn’t to me. I’m scared and I’m pretty sure God gets that.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

On leaving ministry for farming

I’ve been asked if I view this next step in my career/vocation as ministry. It’s an interesting question. I think there’s only a small segment of the population -- a segment with which I happen to spend a lot of time -- that would ever think to ask it. I guess when a person who’s spent her whole adult life making a living in some way working for the church or churches or those who love churches, then it makes sense to ask when she’s almost 48 years old and decides to leave theological education to become a full-time farmer if she sees this next step as yet another movement of following God’s call into ministry.

I’m overly educated as a pastoral theologian. I’ve spent the better part of my life viewing the world through one theological lens or another. I’m inclined to make meaning using theological concepts. And, on a practical level, viewing this next step as just another movement of God’s call into ministry helps justify the student loan payment I continue to make, as well as the heavy investment of my time, energy, and soul over the last 26 or so years. It’s natural to want to see ministry as one continuous thread through my whole career. Then, maybe, my life would make sense, in some grand narrative way. Right?

On the one hand, there's a temptation to use the question to point to a growing sense that the church needs as broad a definition of ministry as it can muster to accomplish the enormous task of being salt and light in the world. Certainly caretaking of the earth and environmental stewardship is part of accomplishing God’s work in the world. I don’t want to do anything that takes away from a renewed sense that ministry is something in which all people of faith participate. If calling my new work “ministry” helps accomplish a deeper awareness of Christian vocation, then I say confidently, “Yes, Of course it is.” Thinking theologically comes relatively naturally to me and I am inclined to continue considering how my work in this world is in some way connected to God’s work in this world. Certainly I pray that it always is, well, at least for as long as I believe that’s a helpful way to view the world and my work in it. And, I believe churches would do well to encourage all people of faith to consider these questions about their work. I don’t, however, think that’s where this question posed to me is coming from though.

The question leaves me uneasy, perhaps because it is a flashpoint for the grief of leaving behind work/career/focus to which I’ve given a great deal of attention for a long time. When I committed to such work, I never imagined I would do anything else. I believe when we step out of what we’ve known for so long into that which is unknown to us, we often do so with a search for what is familiar. We cling to forms we recognize, and do so at our own peril. When we look for what is known, we run the risk of missing the beauty that the unknown can bring to our lives.

The answer to the question of whether I view this next step as ministry is simple. No. I’m farming. It’s the most honest answer, at least from my theological perspective. I believe ministry belongs to the church. It is not for me alone to decide whether or not my work is “ministry” per se. I don’t feel any particular need to label it ministry to somehow add value to the work I’m doing. Its value is inherent in the work itself, not the label I or anyone else gives it. Any urge to label it ministry for me is only an attempt to cling to that which I have known, instead of letting go, so as to embrace fully the graces and gifts that this next step offers. In saying no, I also don’t fall down some slippery slope of defining how one person’s farming is ministry and another’s is not. And it allows me to state firmly and confidently that I don’t think that what God was up to when I chose to follow along a path that led to ministry 26+ years ago was any more or less significant than what God is up to in my life now. Neither God nor I have abandoned the other.

My theology professor in seminary taught that from the perspective of the Christian scriptures, there really is only one call that can be identified. It is the call to follow. Period. I’m okay with that. It’s worked just fine up to this point in my life. And I have to admit there’s something really freeing about remembering that right now.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Boxes of a life

It took me a week and a half to take the boxes of memories out of the car. Pictures, keepsakes, her jewelry, recipes, all filled the trunk and back seat of my car, the smell of yellowing paper and fading photographs overpowering the new car smell for days. I waited to bring them in the house, like I thought that if I left them there, somehow, miraculously, they would find the right place for safekeeping. I'm not ready to be the keeper of the family pictures, but I guess that's a time that finds us, however ready or not we may be.

My mom is the last of her generation, nine kids altogether, eight of them already dead. There is no aunt or uncle to turn to to bring a sense of our history to my perspective. My mom has slipped from us so quickly in the past nine months that it's clear now that what I know of our family's history is perhaps all I will know. I may be able to piece together a little more from cousins, but the personal connection to the past is gone.

Questions linger. I find them coming to mind on the drive home from work and I reach for the phone to call and ask her, but as I punch in the first number, I remember that the number I know by heart doesn't work anymore, and the one I don't know never reaches her, though the phone sits near the chair where she waits, day after day, for one of us to call. On good days, she doesn't know how to answer it, on bad days, she doesn't hear it at all. I've asked most of the important questions, but it's the little ones that linger, the curiosity about that special thing she did with her fried chicken that made it taste better than any I've ever eaten, the wondering about how on earth she managed to make sure all of us kids, seven of us, went to college on the salaries of two people who never graduated high school, about where she found the courage to leave behind family and home in Tennessee and never return. And then there's the reality that she's never met Lisa, and will never likely comprehend and be grateful for the incredible joy she and our life together bring me.

The boxes sit in the corner of a room in my house, unpacked, like they're waiting to go where they really belong, what's left of my mom reduced to a few boxes, scattered between Oklahoma and South Dakota, items with stories that will come quickly to mind as I pull them out of boxes, others that will make me wonder, never really knowing for sure the story they tell.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Beyond the Impasse of Polarizing Conversation

Beyond the Impasse of Polarizing Conversation
A sermon for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tahlequah
August 19, 2012

Reading: “Praise Song for the Day” by Elizabeth Alexander

Who is tired of political ads and public wrangling among candidates? Already? We still have just two months to go before the election. We are bombarded with interviews, debates, ads, articles, all pointing to the great divide in our country between the Democrats and the Republicans. We hope relief will come after the election, assuming that at least the ads will stop and we can return to our TVs, radios, and the internet safely. But will it end there? Is our fatigue and disenchantment only with the process by which we elect our public officials? Or is there a wider problem that comes into full focus when election time rolls around?

Somehow we’ve come to a place in our civil discourse when issues of great importance to us become issues of either-or. Either you are pro-life or pro-choice. Either you are Democrat or Republican. Either you are for marriage equality or you are for the “traditional” family. And where we stand on these issues becomes the litmus test for whether or not we belong in certain groups or whether or not we can be in relationship with certain people. After a while, under the influence of a steady stream of narratives that demonstrate this either-or thinking, we begin to think the divide can’t be overcome. We throw our hands up in frustration, unable to find a way beyond the impasse of polarizing conversation. Many of us say with the poet, “I know there’s somewhere better down the road. We need to find a place where we are safe.” We’re looking for solutions, aren’t we?

People sometimes throw out suggestions when conversations reach the point of heated intransigence. “Can’t we all just agree to disagree?” A nice thought, perhaps, but in most cases, even if we think it’s a good way to end, it leaves us feeling less than satisfied with the outcome. It’s an attempt to bridge the divide, but that bridge comes up short. It ends the conversation, but those on either side of the issue return to their respective camps unmoved and unchanged, assured of their rightness and the other’s wrongness and without much hope for any movement forward.

The problem, at least in part, I think, is that we believe the only way forward is for one group to win and the other to acquiesce. Imagining a world in which our viewpoint is no longer the dominant one seems less than satisfying, so we feel compelled to fight for the cause. Sometimes we’re even spurred on by a sense of righteous indignation. The other side represents injustice. We have to fight for justice! We are convinced of the rightness of our opinion. To move to any common ground with the other is to surrender ethical high ground, to let go of things we value highly.But as long as winning is the motivation for engaging others in conversations about things that matter, we will surrender any real possibility of solving problems, of achieving true justice, all for a chance to be right.

Frances Kissling, long time president of Catholics for Choice, has been engaged in the abortion debate for over thirty years. Much of that thirty years has been spent as an activist, advocating a pro-choice position. However, in recent years, she’s shifted away from the role of activist to one of seeking relationship with those on the other side of the issue. This new pursuit has changed her. In an interview with Krista Tippett, host of the NPR program On Being, Kissling was asked, “[W]hat goes wrong in our culture as we try to navigate this issue of abortion? Where would you start to talk about that?”

Kissling replied,
I think … I always had an approach to abortion that was somewhat different from that of the mainstream choice movement in that politics never interested me very much. You know, the idea that abortion was about getting the right people elected, that there were extremists on the side of those opposed to abortion and rational people on the side of choice never quite fit for me completely. I think that, since I did this work as a Catholic, even though many Catholic venues were closed, I probably talked to more people over the years who were opposed to abortion than most folks in the choice movement. And while I certainly think there is a twin absolutism between those who think there is only one value at stake, the value of women's identity and rights, or on the opposite side of the spectrum, the value of the fetus, that for most people, including me, both of those values exist and the abortion issue is one in which one mediates those values and others.[1]
This assessment demonstrates how most of these issues aren’t as black and white as we’re led to believe. A person who is pro-choice isn’t for killing babies, as the opposing side likes to portray. Likewise a pro-life person isn’t necessarily anti-women, as they are often portrayed. Kissling believes more people hold both values: the value of women’s rights and the value of the fetus. In the process of mediating those values through the issue of abortion, they often get pulled to one side or the other.

Psychologist Ken Gergen describes a relational process he calls “bonding.” He believes as social creatures we are pulled toward “the co-creation of shared realities, and the comfort, reliability, and trust that accompany them.[2]” He posits that the loss of security from the erosion of shared realities in our contemporary world may be what intensifies our need to bond with others who share our view of reality. The drive is enhanced, perhaps sped up, by the ease of access to likeminded people through the internet and social media.

In the process of bonding, the “I” slowly gives way to the “we.” In other words, the narrative that I tell about my own life and how I see the world gives way to the narrative of the group, which holds up those things on which we agree. Slowly, as we take on the narrative of the “we,” what we hold individually becomes less and less important, particularly if it isn’t the same as that which the group holds in common. We lose sight of the values we share with those whose narrative of “we” is different from our own. It’s the “enchantment of ‘we’” that pulls us in that direction.[3] The sense of belonging takes on a transcendent importance to us. We express our satisfaction with it by saying things like, “These are MY people. We really click.” Or, “Our connections run deep.”

Bonding is important. But when it’s done at the exclusion of recognizing what we hold in common with others, it can become dangerous. If we allow the transcendent importance of the “we” to take on a certain absolutism, we run the risk of creating a fundamentalism, a sort of rigid outlook on life, one which can never be touched by the other, which never shifts or changes.[4]

This, I believe, is the danger we face in our culture today. It’s the danger of allowing our sense of belonging to one group to become so important to us that we can never find any value in the other. And while we fight for the values of the group to be upheld, ironically, we surrender values that are important to us as individuals.

After thirty years of engagement with one of our culture’s most polarizing issues, Kissling says,

And the polarization that exists on the abortion issue in which people have called each other names and demonized each other for the past 30 years speaks against — it definitely speaks against any level of trust that enables people to come to some commonality, and so that you really have to start with this first idea that there are some people — not all — who see some benefit in learning why the other thinks the way that they do. And, you know, some of it's the simplistic stuff of humanization that the person becomes a real person, not an extremist, not evilly motivated, you know, that perhaps for some people you can overcome the epithets that we have charged each other with. And that, I'm a very strong believer in.[5]
Do you see a value in understanding how people who differ from you think? What motivates them? How were their values formed and shaped? What are the stories they tell about how they arrived at the positions they hold so dear?

There’s a lot of risk involved in asking such questions. But, I wonder, what we would discover about our own positions if we took the time to ask them of someone who thinks differently than we do. Kissling encourages people to risk in two ways: one, to find what is good in the other’s position, and two, to acknowledge what is troubling about our own position. In doing so herself, Kissling and others found themselves engaged in a dialogue in which the issue of abortion shifted from whether or not it should be legal to a scenario in which is legal, but efforts are made together, people on both sides of the issue, to make it less necessary for women to seek abortions. In a sense, then, people on both sides of the issue let go of the either-or and arrived at a place of both-and. No one changed her or his position necessarily, but they were able to find a perspective in which both views were valued.

The Sufi poet Rumi says,

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
Doesn’t make any sense.
Do we dare imagine such a place? That field beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing. Who will we meet there? And what will we create together? Is it a place where both-and solutions might exist? I’ve seen this movement. I’ve seen it with theological students moving to work together, regardless of theological position, to ensure their community is hospitable toward all people. I’ve seen it in communities where Democrats and Republicans who differ greatly on issues related to welfare and how much government should be involved in meeting the needs of people who struggle financially, work together to build community gardens and make access to healthy, safe food possible for everyone. The world needs more both-and solutions.

What are you willing to do this week to hear what’s good in someone else’s view? Where are you willing to risk acknowledging your own uncertainty about your position? I believe if we will take this challenge, we take one step closer toward dwelling in that place of both-and solutions. Let us dare to be people who let love beyond all that bonds only with those with whom we agree cast a widening pool of light that leads us to a way forward.

May it be so.


[1] Frances Kissling, “Listening Beyond Life and Choice: Interview with Krista Tippett,” On Being, 2011. http://www.onbeing.org/program/listening-beyond-life-and-choice/transcript/504. (Accessed on August 18, 2012)
[2] Kenneth Gergen, Relational Being (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 175.
[3] Gergen, 179-190.
[4] Gergen, 175.
[5] Kissling.