Saturday, December 31, 2005

Prayer that heals and brings calm

I have to journal a small success today. For about a year... now and then I would wake up or even just walk around in a pretty deep sense of self-pity over some inner loneliness that has been a dull ache over the past year.
I have been bemoaning my lack of a girlfriend or my lack of available friends.

Silence especially brings these feelings on. Especially Sunday nights these emotions and negative attitudes are the strongest.

Today I recalled a tool that I used in YWAM (Youth With A Mission) for dealing with mundane chores and long periods of silence and loneliness. I learned it originally through just internally analyzing what a spiritual solution might be to loneliness. But a few years later, I read Brother Lawrence's book The Practice Of The Presence Of God (free online copy)

So this morning, I went about quietly cooking and cleaning in prayer for the children at church and for my parents and for Aaron (my friend and housemate) to find the house church he and his girlfriend need.

I have felt sooo much peace since that action of prayer and calm. It calmed me.
I feel 100% better today and so much more empowered and not so selfish.
I need the power of prayer for others.... It's amazing how being others-focused can impact me.
It's amazing how praising God for the things I have brings me healthy balance and centers me on what really matters.... God's children (more than self-pity).

P.S. I realize that many of you don't have time to feel sorry for yourself or the luxury of dwelling on self... And I think that is actually really good but probably something we single people don't have the benefit of. And it doesn't have to be that way, I think. I think being more focused on others or children or prayer is a great tool for single people with time enough and luxury enough to be selfish.

"For the past forty years his continual care has been to be always with God... He is now so accustomed to that divine presence that he receives from God continual comfort and peace. For about thirty years his soul has been filled with joy and delight so continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to find ways to hide their appearing outwardly to others who may not understand."

From The Practice of the Presense of God (free online copy). It was written in 3rd person by Brother Lawrence -- he was a monk in France who suffered with war-related chronic pain in his sciatic nerve for 40 years until his death in 1691.

the Langley Friends Meeting

Dear Friends,
Tonight I met some Quakers (the Society of the Friends of Truth). I attended the meeting of these complex Christians and was unfamiliar with their practices. And in the silence, I read about their pre-meeting practices. I was very moved by the contemplative quiet. I was surprisingly comfortable. Even focused (well, kinda). But I felt right there. Very right.

And I remembered this poem I wrote in a very lonely time of regular times of silence being alone alot when I was 19:

SILENCE
--by me
Can you bear the silence that you hear?
If you turn off the jabber in your ear.
Does endless chatter live inside?
If you turn it off does inner peace abide?

Does music chatter in your brain?
Can you turn it off without going insane?
Is addiction to music all that remains?
When you shut it all off does the wind whisper His name?

The silence in the room you constantly fight.
True peace in your life would be a welcome sight.
But you just float along like a stringless kite.
Not even a walk in the moonlight feels right.
Even there, the quiet causes you freight.

As I look at your face torment appears
Can you bear the silence that you hear?

Anyway, tonight I found out that Tom Fox is (was?) a member of Langley Friends. I was moved listening to them discribe him--he sounds like such a dear man. They seemed so deeply moved by him. By his peaceful nature. By his convictions of peace acts. It turns out he's a baker from Springfield. He worked with the children at Langley Friends. His home wasn't actually in Clearview, VA. His lifetime home was here in the D.C. area.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Attention, commitment, empowerment and desensitization

I saw Mike Crogan's blog today and loved it. And I agree with both of his views of what makes a difference in this world much more than money-- Attention and commitment. But I want to add one... empowerment.

When I think about human suffering and ending... I usually think about stopping the suffering. I think about ways to stop it. I get overwhelmed!

I might write one letter. I might build a web site. But how do I matter in a world of millions of suffering people?
I loose hope very quickly.... then I see a picture or read a story and I am inspired again.... inspired by Compassion to take action.

I may loose hope again, but that's the ebb and flow of life. We get hopeful, we loose hope, we get excited, we get jaded, we pursue things... we withdraw.

And I wonder what it is that really stops me from making my life goal to reach out to suffering people... and I think its a lack of empowerment. Empowerment move me to action becuase it tells me "YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE. WHAT YOU DO, WHAT YOU THINK, HOW YOU ACT ACTUALLY MATTERS!"

And there are people who are amazing at empowerment. One person who has inspired me and empowered me is Bono from U2.

A couple quotes by Bono:
"Africa is a continent in flames. And deep down if we really accepted that Africans are equal to us, we would do something to put the fire out... I'm asking for your help... I really need help here. This stuff isn't even on the news. You see, it's not as dramatic as the Tsunami... Does stuff have to look like an action movie these days to exist in the front of our brain? " -- Bono

"6 and 1/2 thousand Africans dying per day. That's not a cause, that's an emergency." -- Bono

The slow extinguishing of countless lives is just not dramatic enough, it would appear. Catastrophes that we CAN avert are not as interesting as ones we COULD avert. Funny that." -- Bono

Empowerment is undone by desensitization
What I think Bono is talking about is desensitization. He goes on to highlight how years of empowerment can be powerfully undone by media desensitization.

For example, how many times do you jump inside with excitement at the chance of helping end violence when you watch the nightly news about another little girl or boy shot in a drug-related drive-by in D.C.? Does that news really empower you to action?

I barely watch local news.... because it is full of terror. It is not empowering at all. It is crippling to me. It is crippling to US.

Let me quote some lyrics from Jackson Browne's song "Information Wars":
"Beyond the hundred million darkened living rooms out where the human ocean roars. Into the failing light, the generations go, heading for the information wars."

"And there's a front row seat for the precious few. The latest war as a pay-per-view. Famine and disaster right in front of you. And the more you watch the less you do."

"And in the flickering light and the comforting glow. You get the world every night as a TV show. The latest spin on the shit we're in, blow by blow. And the more you watch, the less you know."

Isn't that true? How much do we really do watching our TV? How much? Have you EVER been moved to action by your TV apart from knowing someone or meeting someone in your community circles who knows something YOU can do? Someone who empowers you! TV paralyzes us. PEOPLE empower us. PEOPLE inspire us. PEOPLE move us. And community, I believe, is one of the best tools of empowerment, I believe.

And there are ways to empower yourself against desensitization... one way is something we do at Mars Hill Church called service worship (one Sunday per month we dedicate the morning to helping others in our community).

Another thing is something that my friend Matt does, he stops on the road when he sees a disabled motorist.

I could go on about the things I know that my friends do each week.
But I think the point is that we not loose hope that WE matter. Our actions might stop a bullet somewhere someday.

What can I do?
And I want to plug the idea of group empowerment (synergy) here. Ever heard of Pledge Bank?

Would anyone be interested in agreeing together with me and a group of your friends to extend a group empowerment challenge on www.PledgeBank.com? I found this web site called www.pledgebank.com... We could commit to writing one letter to a politics- or religion-based prisoner this year if 10 other people join us. Or we could protest one injustice toward low income families in the next year. Or we could commit to blogging once a month about an issue benefiting children or hold a fundraiser once this year for children orphened by war this year (or all sorts of ideas). Here are a few pledges people have made on it:

"Libby will commit to at least one project in 2006 through the Untited Nations Online Volunteering Service but only if 5 other people will too. Target met, pledge still open for 33 days."

"Tim will Quit smoking, right at the begining of the year 2006 but only if 10 other people will too. (just 3 days left, 5 more signatures needed)"

"Andy will lobby my Employer to switch to using Fairtrade coffee. but only if 20 other people will too. Target met, pledge over."

a woman of conviction-- Sojourner Truth


For more information on Sojourner Truth click here.

Aint I a woman?
by Sojourner Truth

That man over there say
a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
or over mud puddles
or gives me a best place. . .

And ain't I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have plowed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me. . .
And ain't I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man--
when I could get to it--
and bear the lash as well
and ain't I a woman?
I have born 13 children
and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother's grief
none but Jesus heard me. . .
and ain't I a woman?
that little man in black there say
a woman can't have as much rights as a man
cause Christ wasn't a woman
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
rightside up again.

That is a speech that was given by Sojourner Truth (born a slave named Isabella Bomefree). After escaping from her slave master, a Quaker family (Issac and Maria Van Wagener)—whose home Sojourner Truth said God showed her in a vision-- bought and then freed her in 1827.

**BEGIN SNIP FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY***
According to her dictated autobiography, one day "God revealed himself to her, with all the suddenness of a flash of lightning, showing her, 'in the twinkling of an eye, that he was all over,' that he pervaded the universe, 'and that there was no place where God was not.'"

"I jes' walked round an' round in a dream," the former slave later told Stowe. "Jesus loved me! I knowed it, I felt it."

During her early years, though, her faith was confused, and at one point she joined a cult whose leader eventually murdered one of the members; for another period, she followed the Millerites, who predicted Christ would return in 1843.

Wanting to make a fresh start, Isabella asked God for a new name. Again she had a vision—God renamed her Sojourner "because I was to travel up an' down the land, showin' the people their sins, an' bein' a sign unto them." She soon asked God for a second name, "'cause everybody else had two names; and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to the people."
**END SNIP***

Another interesting note: Did you know that the 1997 NASA Mars Pathfinder mission rover was named "Sojourner" after Sojourner Truth?

I'm enjoying getting to know some of the spiritual formation of people in history who spoke out. People who protested. People who had a dramatic visitation from God, and then sacrificed their own goals for the good of others who suffered injustice and inequity of all kinds. Sojourner Truth was one of these people.

It's inspiring to read about how social reformers seem to gain this inner fire that sends them running head-long toward their hopes, their commitments, their callings, their passions and their ultimate contributions to the world that echo far beyond their short lives. These are people who's words and lives (even those like Sojourner Truth who never learned to write) echo in our consciences for centuries of time. People like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Columbanus, St. Patrick, Jan Hus, Martin Luther, George Fox, Sojourner Truth, Sadhu Sindar Singh, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

With the exception of Hus, Gandhi and King, each of these non-violent culture shapers describe some kind of mysical revelation or heavenly visitation from God, calling them toward self-sacrifice, social activism, etc. And each seemed to live rather tortured lives both before and after their revelations. And almost all of them had their lives threatened or were beaten numerous times or were jailed or were assasinated or were executed.

Do any of you, my readers, have any thoughts on the social reformers of our age? Who are they? Are they outside America generally or inside? Are you aware of our world leaders and their positions of dissent, selfless activism and social impact, etc.? Or do you think these people are from better days in social reform? Have our banal and materialistic cultures overwhelmed and silenced the voices of justice and leaders of voices for the repressed, opressed and suffering?

Or maybe you think they are overly celebrated? Is the future of social reform technologically based? Will science and business be the new justice leaders, partnering to overcome human suffering?