The Buddha taught that suffering is caused in wanting or wishing reality to be something other than what it is.
Yahweh responds to Moses in the desert, the bush aflame, “I will be who I will be.”
There is so much that we really don’t have any amount of control over, as hard as that is to admit. Other people’s path, their journey, is at the top of that list. And trying to change them or make them into our own image of “wokeness” is precisely the thinking that ground us up in the institution of church in the first place.
So what do we do, sojourners in a strange and free world?
I found solace in bubbles. Not those kinds of bubbles.
One morning while meditating, I came to see myself sitting at the center of a bubble, my bubble. Inside was housed all of the things I am that I cannot control — my race, sexuality, gender identification, location of my birth, the family I was born into, the people I have met, the experiences I have had, the church in which I was raised, and the time period in which I live.
I saw how I have spent my life thus far, abandoning my bubble to impose myself on the bubble, the most sacred space, of others. I joined the military to defend the life of others’ like me and their way of life.
I left my home to other countries to help those in need without working to acknowledge or understand that my people, not a generation ago, created these crisis by meddling and overturning their way of life for profit.
In my global treck to fix and salve the wounds of the world, from joining the military to a nonprofit, I found a simple truth about what motivates me: a post-colonial messiah complex. And that which was in my bubble had been left unattended, scattered about, and uncultivated for years.
So I set to the task of taking stock of what was, instead of trying to will what I wanted to be. Because perhaps the suffering around me was more about myself, and others like myself abandoning their bubbles, their true selves, to impose on others. And maybe, in cultivating what is, in seeking to be authentic and true and live with integrity with what I have been given, I can contribute something of actual value to the world.
Not from my imagination of saving and changing and making it all better, but from the humble place of centeredness, of smallness, of knowing-my-selfness.
And so I’ve begun to own what it means to be white in America, what it means to be cisgender, male, and educated. I’ve begun asking, “what does it mean to be black in America, Jewish in America, LGBTQ+, or on the outside?”
These are the sacred stories from which I have the most to learn. This is the Jesus message waiting to be discovered in our time. What is it like outside the camp of acceptance and privilege? What is the bliss of being ridiculed and rejected, of having all kinds of evil uttered against you?
And I’ve seen, I cannot abandon what makes me, me. My job is not to destroy and push away the reality of who I am or travel the world trying to fix out there what really needs attention in here. Suffering is not changed by work out there, instead, by the transformation of my interior life.
My purpose is to be a space of transformation. I am convinced that any change we want to see in the world cannot happen if we choose to simply get rid of or ignore those things in our sacred bubbles. I can’t help but wonder if most military interventions and global aid work is more projection than assistance.
The hope of all religion is transformation, evolution, redemption. Because if suppressed, the ugly head of our shadow comes back to engulf all, the seven demons return with 7 more and wreak a havoc not yet known.
It is in confrontation, exposition, and the deep spiritual work of transformation that we discover our true reality, our true nature.
I’m convinced in all the adventures I’ve taken, that the process of owning that which is in my sacred space, my bubble, and seeking integration and healing where there is currently strife, is the most courageous decision I’ve yet made. Maybe a better way to say that, is that I was more scared to sit still and tend to my sacred garden than I was to join the military.
Honesty, simplicity, ambiguity, quiet healing, apology and ownership of wrong, space for those pushed outside the boundaries of society, that is the deep work of spirituality.
As I take stock of my bubble, my sacred space, I acknowledge that white privilege is real and I have perpetuated it. I acknowledge that toxic masculinity and straight culture which I have affirmed in the past have destroyed women and my friends in the LGBTQ community. I acknowledge that my faith tradition has been co-opted and in many aspects created by empire since the time of the Byzantines. I acknowledge that my ancestors have committed genocide against America’s indigenous inhabitants. I acknowledge that I have participated and affirmed in all of the negative aspects of these cultural cues.
And I seek forgiveness, deeply, and ask for space to experiment with transformation because that is the only way forward. If we fight a war for slavery Jim Crow will find its way back in a new form. This cannot be destroyed, only transformed. I seek transformation.
And so now, I believe in this inclusive orthodoxy, in which the stories of those who have been silenced is my gospel, and affirming my neighbors who have been oppressed my sacrament. To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.
The truth is, I have no enemies. And yet, I have made myself an enemy to so many over the course of my life. But I have been forgiven, accepted, and affirmed by those who should have put me outside their life, outside their camp. I believe this is called grace.
And I don’t want to waste this grace afforded me. With it, I seek the transformation of all that I have inherited that is tearing us apart.
As Timothy MchMahan King said in his book about addiction, “Grace points to the possibility of a redemption that is not just recovery but the opportunity to grow deeper and become stronger than we were before.”
And then, perhaps I will know the bliss of a pure heart, and then perhaps here outside the cave, I will see god.
“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” ― Lao Tzu
This is an excerpt from my most recent book, you can learn more here.