Abundance 

Every time I hang out with a group of college chaplains, I seem to be on a beach and stuffing my face. Not to mention enjoying the company of my favorite people on earth. For the past three days, the Association for College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA) chaplains met at Chapman University for their annual conference. We spent one day on Chapman’s campus and one literally overlooking the white sand stretches of Laguna Beach. This was my first time at the ACURA gathering; though I had been to three previous National Association for College and University Chaplains (NACUC) gatherings (the other college chaplain association) and have experienced the same mixture of joy, understanding, and community at each one. College chaplains are people who think deeply about everything they do, and believe strongly in working together in any way possible. 
I’ve been indulging greatly the past few weeks. USC football games, Dodger Stadium visits, cooking with organic butter, enjoying all of the pumpkin and apple delicacies (yep, I’m all in on the stereotype). Even my mind has been offered abundance: on Stanford’s campus it seems like every day there is an enriching talk or workshop that gets me excited and makes me want to buy 50 more books on Medieval Buddhist Feminism or Jovinian’s ridiculous claim in the early church that everyone should be treated equal. I watched Clayton Kershaw throw a masterpiece game last night only 50 feet from home plate at Dodger Stadium in game one of the World fricking Series. There is so much and there are so many for whom to feel grateful, and I do. 


Sitting with the marvelous Rev. Jim Burklo while the sun set behind Chapman’s impeccably manicured athletic field, he asked me a difficult question. “Where are you in your faith journey?” Even though that question never has a real answer for me, I usually say “I’m thinking about this or that.” But lately I’ve been struggling with losing faith in lots of things. Will women ever feel safe walking alone? Will the victims of hurricanes and fires ever feel truly “relieved?” Is the academy really just a bunch of people arguing for the sake of arguing? 
In my courses I’ve been reading about asceticism among the early Christians. Talk about a contested topic! The desert fathers and mothers I once admired from an interfaith appreciative perspective are now poking holes in my worldview. They lived in the exact opposite way I have been living these past few weeks. Or did they also live abundantly, in their own way?
It seems simple, but the Buddha’s assertion that the “middle path” as the true way to enlightenment has always spoken to me. Moderation. We talk about that all the time these days- eat one cookie, not five. Buy one shirt, not one in every color. Know your limits. We fulfill our desire but don’t deprive ourselves. Could this balance be more difficult than absolute abstinence? 
I flew first class once as a lucky upgrade (I don’t think that happens anymore… maybe?) and after getting those full six inches added to my chair and eating an actual meal, not peanuts, in my seat, it was hard to fly the next time. Actually it was awful. Admittedly, I even thought about upgrading at my own expense. Had I not experienced it, I would probably experience mild envy but forget it every time I snuggled in to my economy seat. 
When we taste abundance, we seek to keep it. But if we strive so hard to live constantly in abundance, eventually it becomes the norm. And then we are seeking again. Moderation is not so much a practice in limitation as it is in recognizing when we are not limited. It sounds like gratitude, in a way. The presence of abundance is recognized and enjoyed. 

Is Gratitude a Privilege?

…the short answer to the above question is yes, insofar as it concerns me and the following response.

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PC: Ian Schneider

I have been feeling a need to express more gratitude lately. Perhaps this is natural, given the climate, or the weather, or just exhaustion beyond explanation. Endorphins? Maybe the fact that Thanksgiving is this week? I’m not sure, but at the same time have been feeling a sense of frozenness, an inability to make decisions or take action. For the longest time, it felt like my perfectionism was acting up and I kept telling myself I would finish certain tasks (including emailing important people back, ehem) once I had drafted a thorough, complete response read over several times. The problem is, what does complete look like? What happens when we are never “ready?”

I was thinking about this question particularly in regard to learning allyship. At my university, we’ve been talking about best practices and how we can support students who are threatened and afraid. Do we wear the safety pins? Do we make public statements? How do we show up for each other in meaningful ways? So many uncertainties and yet, there is no time to seek the answer before something needs to be done. The time is NOW. Attempting perfection inhibits change and has encumbered me from supporting those who need to be held the most. So, as a white woman, I’m going to throw perfection out the window and trying to learn as I go. Is this dangerous? Yes. My “learning opportunities” can certainly be harmful. The damage is real. Taking action can, however, take the pressure off those I’d like to support, because waiting for complete knowledge around the “how” means the oppressed are tasked with figuring it out, and I sit and wait. We, human beings, are not perfect. We are inchoate. We are unfinished. And yet, we love and are loved.

This rambling comes in thinking about gratitude, to return full circle. One of my students challenged me about a month ago to do something every night: name one thing I appreciate about someone who otherwise gives me trouble, and name three things I love about myself. Can you guess which one is harder? In reality, it depends on the day. Every night, she has consistently reminded me to report my 1 and 3 to her, and in turn I ask her back. At first this practice seemed impossible. “He just makes me SO mad!” I thought, “How can I appreciate anything?” Moreover, putting aside self-loathing sounds simple but, of course the loathing is complicated. Slowly but surely, we have made progress together. Sure, some days still seem untenable- you know the ones. This past Friday, this student was in my office and we had a lengthy conversation about gratitude and what it really means.

As I understand now, gratitude requires faith in the imperfect. It means feeling thankful despite the suffering present in the world, in my life. It also requires mindfulness: a sense of feeling genuine in the present. When I feel grateful, I am not taking a backseat and determining that everything “will work itself out.” I am acknowledging that there are in fact slivers of hope, pieces of love to hold as we march into the darkness. I am grateful for the challenges, even if on certain days, they feel insurmountable to address. Gratitude is a call to action, not complacency- this is the difference between ignoring privilege and acknowledging it.

 

On November 9th

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PC: Brandon Day

In the wee hours of Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 the world either ends or begins. This is the rhetoric I hear, the anxiety my friends feel, the way we as a country have been visioning our future for the past couple of weeks. What will be our new national narrative?

The world goes on, simply. Nothing really changes overnight, and yet everything changes in our minds: we either lose everything or make history in whatever way our nation decides. This has been a long, grueling, terrifying election season for many. What will we do, who will we be on November 9th?

The past few months I have witnessed some awful events. Recently I wrote about why Donald Trump’s comments around sexual assault and objectifying women hurt me personally, and cause much deeper harm to the marginalized and oppressed. I cannot claim that any presidential candidate has not made worrisome or downright damaging decisions. And, I can say that in these past few months, wondrous moments have also shaken me and made me believe in love as a human act, indeed an extremely courageous one.

Moving to Boston I have struggled to find and maintain community. Being alone is a part of who I am. Yet this time of great fear and hurt has given me a window into the true importance of community and dedicating everything I can to the ones that hold me and keep me. Let me give you some examples.

The Revolutionary Love Project launched in early September and we, 17 fellows, 250 ambassadors and one fearless leader, quickly got down to business. In the course of only eight weeks, we completed three huge goals (one of which will be completed this Tuesday). We took grassroots action and organized over 100 people across the country to host screenings of Divided We Fall, a documentary by our project leader Valarie Kaur about violence against Sikhs and Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. Some of these screenings happened in living rooms (like mine), and some on college campuses. Just as we reached our targeted 100 screenings, our leader Valarie went on tour with the Together Tour and reached over 20,000 people in 6 cities: Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Brooklyn, Atlanta, and Denver. Though I couldn’t attend any of the actual tour dates, I felt a surge of hope every time someone new felt inspired to take action after one of the evenings and posted about it on Facebook or Twitter. So many new Love Ambassadors spoke openly for the first time about their pain and how they have healed, and helped others to do the same. Now, each of us have been making calls (and encouraging others to make calls) to Get Out The Vote, especially in key states like Florida. We have felt the urgency to build bridges and acted upon it through love, not hate.

A few weeks ago I passed by one of the main quads on campus to find almost 50 students occupying a large sector of the grass with tents and signs seeking divestment from fossil fuels at my university. The students demonstrated a deep commitment to our earth and each other as they educated passersby on their way to class. They showed us that climate change is not an issue by itself, but a gender issue, a faith issue, a human rights issue. Hundreds of students showed their support by wearing orange. Just this past Wednesday, several student leaders of faith engaged with members of HEAT (the Husky Environmental Action Team) in an essential conversation about how our faith calls us to care for the earth and take action on climate change. We expanded the boundaries of our own communities that night, welcoming each other among ourselves.

Besides election day, November also hosts National Novel Writing Month. Writing 50,000 words in one month always seemed downright impossible to me- the time and moreover, the content pose a large obstacle. This year, an interfaith activist and professor at Cal Lutheran University started an online group for professors and chaplains in which to participate. My writing class also created a joint account, so we could all contribute to the word count. Both communities in the past five days have been ruthlessly encouraging to every member, posting inspirations on Facebook and checking in with each other individually. So far, I’m on track: it’s November 7th and I’ve written almost 10,000 words. Without these two communities I could barely write this blog post. Though unspoken, there seems to be a deep understanding that though the world feels dark and scary, we have our team and we are writing for each other. Every time someone posts that they have achieved their daily goal, I send them a silent high five. “You DID IT!” I want to scream.

Late on a Friday afternoon, several women leaders of faith crowd in my office, sitting on the floor and watching YouTube videos. We don’t speak about our fears or hopes, but we hold each other’s company. We keep each other safe simply by listening and laughing. I smile, packing my bag to head home for the weekend. We hug good bye, and implore each other to make good choices.

On November 9th, I hope we maintain the urgency that each of these communities has utilized to turn love into action. My fingernails are gone, my eyes are puffy. My heart feels weary, but not closed. The world goes on, and no matter what happens, we can care for each other if we find the courage.

On November 9th, I will recommit to practicing love with optimism and honesty. I will keep writing. I will keep imploring my students to make good choices.

The Longest Loneliness

PC: Nathan Anderson

I have felt lonely all my life. Lonely as an objective feeling, not necessarily good or bad, happy or sad. Loneliness is a part of who I am and will be, perhaps forever. I decided to reflect on my loneliness this week because it has been contributing to some deep depression and anxiety, and writing usually helps me practice mindfulness toward my own experience. So I write this week not to complain or whine (though I apologize if it seems that way) but to contemplate what loneliness really is, and wonder when we might use it to help ourselves and others. 

Yes, there have been times in my life when loneliness dug at me like a metal spoon scraping the bottom of an empty ice cream tub. I saw my classmates, teammates, and peers develop close relationships with people whom they could essentially treat like siblings. My own sister has been best friends with 3 people since middle school, one since kindergarten. I certainly have experienced deep friendship at times, yet have never truly shaken the feeling of being alone, isolated. 

There have also been moments when loneliness has made me feel special and distinct. When I was little, my parents worried that I wouldn’t recognize how smart I was. They feared I would fall into complacency with school work and sports and Girl Scouts and whatever else was on the docket, only to find myself in the throws of mediocrity. So they reminded me constantly of how smart and talented I was, compared to my classmates. They spoke about me being the best softball player on the team as if it were fact. I began to believe that my loneliness was a sign of greatness: if I were so much more talented, intelligent, and “better” than everyone around me, no wonder they didn’t understand me! I was too much for them. 

As I grew this constant distinguishing caused some deep harm. I became a perfectionist. Anytime I performed below expected on a test or in a game, my instinct was to find an excuse. My parents helped me assuage the feelings of failure. “You weren’t feeling well today,” “that was a fluke,” “its because she’s jealous of you, that’s why she graded you harder.” I found my middle school self drowning from feeling both extremely confident that I was smarter, more talented, more perfect, and terrified that I would mess up and someone else would experience the glory of getting the highest grade on a history test. And I was lonely. So unbelievably lonely. 

I used to dream that one of the most popular boys in our class would talk to me. It wasn’t a particularly sensual fantasy- in fact, what I wanted most was to be welcomed in to his friend group by association. I imagined myself standing next to him, listening to one of his friends tell a joke, and laughing, really laughing. That fantasy has never completely left my consciousness. In my quest to constantly prove my parents’ opinions of me (and my own) as a unique, brilliant young person, I found deep down a desire to simply be the same as everyone else. 

I believe everyone experiences some form of loneliness throughout our lives. The popular movie motif of the “nerd” sitting by themselves eating lunch in the bathroom feels relatable to most of us in one way or another. And yet, I believe loneliness differs from feeling “alone.”

We combat loneliness by connecting with other people. We join clubs, play on sports teams, go to church or temple or the YMCA. We join a community. Feeling alone, even among members of a community, is not so easily shaken. The “aloneness”, I believe, stems from a fear or uncertainty about one’s purpose, namely, that perhaps there isn’t one. 

Have you ever felt as thought the more accomplishments you add to your resume, the more limited you are in your ability to find purpose? That sounds and is coming from a very privileged position, one I feel the need to honestly assert. Feeling alone has driven me toward the work I do now, supporting students in their quest to find community and to state their purpose in this world (hopefully combining their skills and interests). If I’m honest, I myself have not yet fully realized my own purpose. Feeling alone in the world may posit a real challenge, but the benefit is the motivation it sustains in me to keep working. I may not demonstrate my appreciation for every person I meet that teaches me something extremely well (and given the right mindset, this can be every person), but I do appreciate them inside. I cherish connection because it does help me feel the slightest bit less lonely and for a moment, not completely alone in the world.

I know many of us feel alone, and it can be near impossible to discuss, given our circumstances. It is my hope that the quest to end loneliness by seeking out community also moves us toward recognizing how not to be alone, or at least, that being alone does not have to freeze us.