Monday, March 12, 2007

Tao of Eeyore

Rev. Marti Keller

©11 March 2007

Is there anyone here that had a birthday this past week? Or maybe is having a birthday this week?

Are you looking forward to your party?

Have any of you ever had a really rotten miserable birthday? Especially a really really rotten miserable birthday party?

I have a picture of my youngest child taken on his first birthday. It is definitely one of those large framed pictures that when you are all grown up—which he is now—you wish your parents would bury. But we still have it somewhere in the basement, and it shows him with his face all smeared up and covered with icing. At the moment the photo was snapped, he was not smiling and he was not crying. He was seriously engaged in the work of eating what might have been his first slice of cake.

What his parents remember is that he cried his way through this celebration, and then the next one, and then the next one, nearly always having to be removed from the parties held in his honor. He must have been six years old, maybe seven, before he actually enjoyed birthdays at all.

I called him a few days ago in Paris, where he is a student all this year, and asked him why he always cried at his birthdays when he was a very young boy.

I could picture him on his cell phone, standing outside Sorbonne University, wearing his grown up French pea coat and his grown up French beard, and answering- “ How do you expect me to remember? I was just little.”

If you don’t remember why you always cried at your parties, I persisted, as mothers do, then do you remember why you stopped ?

“ I guess I finally realized that it would be over soon, and that I liked cake.”

How very Eeyore I told him, and he agreed. How very much like the way that gloomy donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories reacted to the world. Not exactly your party animal, apt to stay on the sidelines, not expecting much, in fact probably anticipating some small or large disaster, a realist at best, a morose pessimist by most definitions.

But open finally to trusting those small moments of almost happiness that come when you are given a piece of chocolate cake —or in his case, an eaten all down empty honey pot, but at least a gift, from Pooh.

In the chapter in the book Winnie-the-Pooh in which Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents, we can see the soul – or the Tao—the way—of a pessimist.

It is written: “ Eeyore, the old grey donkey, stood by the stream, and looked at himself in the water.

“Pathetic,” he said. “That’s what it is, pathetic.”

He turned and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked slowly back to the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.

“As I thought,” he said. “No better from this side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.”

There was a crackling sound in the bracken behind him, and out came Pooh.

“Good Morning,Eeyore,” said Pooh.

“Good Morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “ If it is a good morning, “ he said, Which I doubt,” said he.

Pooh asks him, as always, what the matter is, and Eeyore tells him, nothing.

“We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”

Can’t all what, Pooh asks.

“Gaiety. Song and Dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

After a few more moments of idle Pooh talk, Eeyore confesses that his misery this particular day—as opposed to his misery on other days—is the result of the fact that it is his birthday and there are no presents, no cake, no candles and pink sugar.

When Pooh wishes him many happy returns, Eeyore retorts, almost breaking down, that it’s bad enough being miserable himself, what with no presents and no cake and no candles and no proper attention taken of him at all, he surely didn’t see the point of making others miserable on his birthday as well.

Undaunted by Eeyore’s wretchedness, because Pooh is an in the moment make lemonade out of lemons kind of bear, he goes off and with the help of Piglet and Owl manages to scrounge up a birthday of a Useful Empty Honey Pot( after Pooh has licked it clean) and a Burst Red Balloon (popped by Piglet along the way) and a very long card. All of which Eeyore finally is pleased with and happy as could be when he figures out he can stick the remains of the balloon in the pot, pick it up with his teeth, put it back in. And so on and so forth.

He can at last see the utility of these improvised birthday offerings, and ways to use them that he has some control over. He can make his own joy on his own time on his own terms, not depending on chance or circumstance to make anything-so. Not having expected anything, he can be surprised and thrilled.

It’s not that Eeyore is an unkind or uncaring to others, and that’s what makes him the complex, human and lovable character he is. I asked a fellow staff member who I learned is as much an Eeyore fan as I am what about him was appealing to her . She told me that his phrase “No Bother” is her favorite. She said that while everyone else in the Hundred Acre Woods tended to ignore him, except when he was in crisis—like when his tail fell off and became Owl’s door knocker and that got Pooh’s attention.

Eeyore is willing to stand in the shadow of the other characters and quietly do things that are noticed rarely but truly needed. Quiet, cuddly and kind, that’s Eeyore’s true character--- not asking for much, certainly not expecting much, but always willing to help a friend.

She says Eeyore is perceived as gloomy but she sees him as really shy and inwardly reflective, moving slowly and cautiously through a world that can be full of unpredictability, pits and snares. Unfamiliar, unexplored woods and Heffalumps.

Definitely Not a Decider, a quality, as I will talk about a little more lately, that may be more admirable in pessimists than we might have allowed.

A little- or a lot—of self disclosure. I am sure it is no accident that a child of mine showed definite signs of pessimistic personality at the age of one. Or that his favorite film maker, or perhaps even favorite famous figure in the world is Woody Allen. It may very well have been in the family waters.

When I was in middle school I had a history teacher who wanted me to put up a sign on my desk every morning to tell him if I was feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the state of the world. Was I, he asked me, having a cheerful day or, like Eeyore, a morose day? Given the fact that the year I was in his class was also the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis and fears of complete obliteration in the middle of the cold war, with regular reports about the red terror and the atomic bomb, I can’t see that I was so much a fretful adolescent worry wart as a clear-eyed realist.

We all know jokes and sayings about pessimists:

A pessimist’s definition of an optimist is someone who knows today is so bad, tomorrow has just got to be better.

The optimist thinks this is the best of all worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.

A pessimist is one who feels bad when he feels good, for fear he will feel worse when he feels better.

A pessimist is a person who has had to listen to too many optimists.

The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being proven right or pleasantly surprised.

How many pessimists does it take to light one little candle? Pessimists cannot do it.

Only optimists light one little candle.

Essayist/philosopher Christopher Orlet has written recently about optimists and pessimists, believing that early on every thinking human being makes the conscious or unconscious decision to view the cup of life as half full or dry as the Garragum Desert.

Those whose cup is half full, he writes, are the world’s optimists, the Pollyannas and the kind of people, he believes, to be avoided at all costs, particularly at parties. In America, he tells us, they are, according to the Gallup Poll, the majority ( 64%). They are the same folks, as he describes them, who wave flags, bet on the Cubs, and get caught in thunderstorms without an umbrella.

Pessimists, by his calculations, make up about 10 percent of the American population. The other 26 percent, he says, couldn’t care less, and were probably too busy watching professional wrestling to bother filling out a survey.

Orlet finds pessimists to be if not exactly pleasant, then at least sincere. What you see is what you get, he writes, with none of the forced cheeriness of the orthodox optimist, who walks around telling pessimists to smile and to quit being so pessimistic. Pessimists, do, he believes, eventually recognize some signs of hopefulness, some benefits in birthday cake and acts of kindness, so will from time to time have a few good words for their fellows.

But the optimist simply goes overboard, he has concluded, gazing at the world through grossly distorted glasses, refusing to focus on reality.

Unitarians and Universalists historically have landed firmly in the optimist camp—the old joke goes that Universalists believe that God is too Good to damn anyone to hell and that that Unitarians believe they are too Good to be damned. It is true that our faith is basically tilted toward believing, as we say in our first principle, that people are inherently good.

That we are not only capable of but inclined always toward helping each other grow in every way, to be fully who we may be, to make a better community, to make a better world. That people can get along, regardless of their differences. That human progress is real and constant. It only takes the proper education and good will to make it so.

We want this for ourselves and we want this for our children. Each time we dedicate a child we make a commitment to support families in this vision. In one of our child dedication ceremonies, we ask ourselves to so live that our children may acquire our best virtues and leave behind our best failings. We ask that we may pass on the light of courage and compassion and the questing spirit so that the light burn more brightly in the child than it has in us.

We of course do not wish to abandon these sentiments, abandon this faith- for faith is believing in that which may not always be evident or come to pass. I would only suggest, as have others over time, that we also give our children permission to be at least occasionally what some attach as a completely negative label to pessimists--- what some sage named as realistic optimists.

Third generation Unitarian Kate Tweedie Ersley, a religious educator in our movement, in her book Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UUs, urges us, among other things, to prepare all for the negative ( or at least not so positive) side of community.

Perhaps, she suggests, as a consequence of our liberal idealism, our sunny side up theology, which makes it hard to accept mistakes and imperfections, we rarely teach about the downside of our faith tradition and institutions. Like our brothers and sisters, she reminds us, we have our squabbles, our problems and our shortcomings.

And beyond our behaviors, we have assumptions that can trip us up, blind us some, like our tendency to emphasize the intellectual at the expense of other human elements. Or, as pioneer religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs recalls from her years of teaching, that we spend ninety-five percent of our time studying good people doing good things, and skip very lightly over the bad part of humanity.

I was taught, she wrote, not to be judgmental, not to observe, or report on the bad behaviors of others. Consequently, because of my education, she came to believe, I grew up ignorant about bad human behavior, incompetent at observing it in others, unskilled in how to respond to it, and ashamed to talk about evil.

We may, as Garrison Keillor has often reminded Unitarians, live in a Lake Woebegon of the mind where all children—indeed all of us—are above average and above reproach.

I know as a Unitarian parent that I was not so sunny about human nature that I let my children out on the road as new drivers without preparation, even in light of research that shows us that we ordinarily and systematically exaggerate our chances of success, believing us to be either luckier or more competent and more in control than we actually are. Some eighty percent of drivers, for instance, think they are better at the wheel than the average motorist and less likely to have an accident.

I do believe that despite our outward professions, we generally have enough inner Eeyore to prepare ourselves and the children among us for the inevitable bumpy spots, the disappointments, the unmet expectations, the lost tails and the empty pots of life. We may need to just speak it more often, because words are powerful reminders.

The consequences of what one Nobel Laureate calls excessive optimism is that when a large majority of people believe themselves to be smarter, more attractive, and talented than average and overestimate their future success, they can be foolhardy. When they believe they have an illusion of control, even when the consequences of and outcomes of their decisions will be random or decided by other forces, they can be more than foolish. Their actions can be dangerous and deadly.

Cliff Bostick, a local columnist for a free weekly here, reminds us that this optimism is why some belief we humans tend to be more hawk-like than dove-like—assuming we can predict success in conflicts, leading us into cake-walks that turn into minefields.

What we need right now is a homeopathic dose of pessimism he tells us. We desperately need to hear the voices of usually not , and one never knows for sure , and better to wait, and watch, and things don’t always work out the way we presumed. To remind us that there is power and salvation sometimes in negative thinking.

And time to stop.

Next Sunday the 18th of March there will be vigils all over the country, all over Georgia and right here at the corner of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills at 12:45 p.m.. marking four years of war in Iraq. By showing up, we can call for a return to realistic optimism, insisting that this carnage cannot continue and that in the name of all children, we must find a better solution.

Sometimes living in the way of Eeyore is the healthiest and most righteous response of all.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

American Prophetess

© 4 March 2007

Rev. Marti Keller

Arguably the marker cultural phenomenon we’ve got going now is American Idol. On any Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night, there are 50 or so million TV viewers who watch to see who Simon will trash, whose singing performance is too pitchy or pitch perfect. And then text message in their vote, a kind of balloting I’ve yet to master.

I am not too proud to say I am usually among them, cheering for my favorites, puzzling over those who seem to slip on through by virtue of their smiles or their fashionable pouts. Never voting mind you, but captivated by the possibility that the bank teller from Detroit or the church choir singer from North Carolina might get picked and go gold.

So I report with more than a smidgen of generational disappointment, even judgment, that last week, when the remaining 20 young men and women were asked to name the person who inspired them and all of them selected family members—slim blond wives who said yes to much less pretty princes, mothers who woke them up and forced them to go down to audition, grandmas and brothers and fiancés, I was both predictably touched and surprisingly disappointed.

I realized the inclination was toward a kind of this is dedicated to the one I love moment, but the question as I chose to hear it, was about inspiration,. Which for me invoked both the everyday notion of practical encouragement and the loftier notion of prophetic muse.

Who was the man or woman whose vision or deeds shaped them?

Ok, I know that was asking a great deal of contestants in a singing competition as we are often reminded. But it is my fantasy that if for some reason I was ever in the hootenanny version American folk idol, that when my moment came to stand in front of the camera and name my inspiration, to make my dedication, that I would say Joni Mitchell, whose lyrical contributions were, you must agree, ( or not) often prophetic.

Not the lines about moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, which were pleasant and memorable, but the ones that foretold of paving paradise and putting up parking lots, or her native Canadian indictment of the United States, her adopted country, that had come already to inspire so much terror in others. We have all come, she sang, to fear the beating of your drums. And when she urged us to imagine a cosmic change, with bombers flying shotgun in the sky, turning into butterflies across our nation, we knew we in the imaginative far-seeing presence of someone who was convicted of a better way. The stuff of Elijah and Isaiah.

Her soaring, circular words. Her singular shining prophetic presence.

Biblically speaking, there were only seven women recognized as prophets or prophetesse :Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Chanah, Abigail, Chulda and Esther. In the most traditional sense, prophets are those who are believed to be speaking on behalf of God or other spirits. Another more expanded but accepted definition is that a prophet informs a religious community about what they are doing wrong, how they are deviating from the path expected from them, Urging them to change their ways.

When I think about our Transcendental Unitarian prophetess Margaret Fuller, it in that same sense—a charismatic woman with a bold, brilliant and critical mind. With, as she wrote, a thirst for truth and good, not love of sect and dogma. A kind of an idol for her own time, not blond and singing, but dark haired and scribbling--- hundreds of words in articles, essays, speeches and journal entries over her tragically brief life.

. I will admit I knew very little about Margaret Fuller when I was first asked to serve on the selection committee for the Fuller awards program of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation. I knew she was one of our famous women, who was part of the circle of Concord Massachusetts intellectuals who were considered seminal figures in the 19th century philosophical, literary and political renaissance in New England called the American Bloomsbury. The group that included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott.

What I soon learned as I joined the group of lay and ministerial colleagues whose wonderful task was to solicit and select scholarly, creative, and justice-seeking projects by contemporary women was that she is a significant and under-recognized prophetic voice from our liberal religious heritage. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony wrote of her, she possessed more influence on the thought of American women than any woman previous to her time.

With her famous Boston women’s conversations, her editing of the Transcendental journal, The Dial, and later her book Woman of the l9th century, Fuller urged women to develop their potential to participate equally with men in the world.

Being a curious and diligent funding panel member, I gathered more details about Margaret from the biographical sketches available in collections of Unitarian and Universalist women’s writings like Standing Before Us.

She was born to Unitarian parents in Cambridge in 1810. Her father was a liberal politician and a supporter of equality for women. He educated his already precocious daughter at home for several years, instilling in her principles of independence and moral courage which he derived both from his own progressive beliefs and study of Greek and Latin writers. She knew both languages by the time she was six years old.

It has been written that Margaret reached adulthood as a formidably intelligent, socially eccentric, not conventionally attractive but by many accounts electric and sensual young woman who was either intensively disliked or intensely admired, but who could not be ignored.

One of her contemporaries described her as not beautiful, but more than beautiful. A sort of glow surrounded her and warmed those who listened. She has been called the sexy muse for her male colleagues, and was undoubtedly the model for Nathanial Hawthorne’s adulterous Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter.

In the 1830’s and 1840’s, Fuller as editor of the Dial became a member of that famous Transcendentalist circle and club, in fact the only woman, besides perhaps Elizabeth Peabody, with any regular presence among them.

In fact, if there was a prophet, mentor and muse for her it would have been Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose home she stayed in for a length of time on several occasions, staying up at night for intimate bedside talks—more intimate than his wife preferred. She took long walks with Hawthorne by the river banks. With the aging Reverend William Ellery Channing, she read German philosophy and theology.

Theologically, Transcendentalism- a commitment to finding the divine in the human endeavor in concert with nature was consistent with Fuller’s conviction that religion was in her own heart, writing that in terms of religious institutions, she belonged nowhere. I have pledged myself, she declared, to nothing… I have my own church where I am by turns priest and layman.

Like other Transcendentalists of what one later critic called the old New England sort, she believed herself to be a child of God, and if a child then, an heir—a very condensed way of saying as Caroline Dall, a fellow female Transcendentalist wrote, that the spirit within her was the breath of creative spirit and therefore in its reach, its possibilities and its final destiny.

The constitution of the Transcendentalist community to whose principles Fuller covenanted to adhere was ethically demanding. They collectively vowed to promote what they saw as the great purposes of human culture—to establish the external relations of life on the basis of wisdom and purity; to apply the principles of love and justice to our social organization; to substitute a system of brotherly co-operation for one of selfish competition;

to secure for the young the benefits of the highest physical, intellectual and moral education possible; to prevent what they saw as the exercise of worldly anxiety by the competent supply of necessary wants.

To diminish the thirst for accumulation- to guarantee physical support and spiritual progress.

As lofty and challenging as these commands for human betterment were for all of the members of this club, the barriers still existing for women around access to formal education and vocations made it even more daunting for Margaret and the few other females in the circle. While the transcendentalists asserted there was “no sex in souls”, the outer world had many boundaries.

In still Puritan Boston, Margaret Fuller was refused admission to Harvard. Only partly daunted by this educational wall, she was able to procure all the books that Harvard Divinity School was assigning. At 28, she set up reading circles for women in her home and in Elizabeth Peabody’s foreign language bookstore, many of them the wives of those transcendental intellectual giants who had gone to colleges through the front gates. Charging substantial tuition to these women, equivalent to Harvard’s in some instances, she achieved an admirable degree of economic independence, at the same time inspiring in them a desire to learn and converse, vs. the customary needlework and idle gossip which Margaret forbad.

Do your minding, not your mending, she demanded, as she lectured (something largely off limits publicly for women of her era) on art, mythology, faith, education, and women’s rights.

It was said of her that her conversation was seldom heard equaled. In fact, Emerson thought her the most entertaining conversationalist of her time.

. Some of the money she earned went to pay as an unmarried woman to board with a married couple, since living alone was not an acceptable alternative. Some of the rest of it she used to finance her own private anti-slavery campaign and other causes.

While her reading and discussion circles were truly legendary and have been transcribed and used as the model for similar teas and conversations among Unitarian women today, the best documentation for her prophetic social witness comes from the pieces she did, both news and critiques, for the New York Herald Tribune.

She was hired by famous editor Horace Greeley to write literary reviews in l844, the first American woman to hold such a position. He called her the most remarkable and in some respects the greatest woman America had yet known.

Not content to remain a reviewer, she took a trip to what was then the Western frontier, describing in a book called Summer on the Lakes the lives of the settlers in Illinois and Wisconsin and the destitute survivors of the native tribes they had displaced.

Moving from arts and literary critique to social witness and critique, she explored the dark corners of New York, producing stunning reformist exposes of conditions in the prisons, asylums, alms houses and institutions for the blind .

Among her most radical and far-sighted observations were about the plight of women prisoners when in the 1840’s authorities began jailing them for prostitution and public drunkenness. Few women reformers would come to the aid of women in jail because reformers wanted to avid risk their own status as respectable middle-class ladies.

One woman, our Margaret Fuller did, noting in print that there was a need to help discharged females, becoming one of the first to argue that economic and social forces brought women into prostitution.

She said she had always felt great interest in these women, who she wrote were trampled in the mud to gratify the appetites of men, and wished she might be brought into direct contact with them.

At the Bellevue Alms House, Fuller found people who received decent physical care but sat staring in what she described as vacant boredom. She called for books and education to help them find jobs. The conditions at Toombs prisons she found barbarous, the air in the upper galleries unendurable. Fuller’s articles on asylum and prison reform all stressed the same theme—kind care begets good results.

Like all prophets, who look at the world through their own human-ness no matter how ardently they invoke the divine, Margaret had blind spots—failing to see basic physical conditions beneath the holiday surface of mental wards that cried out for change—and having an attitude toward Irish immigrants who came fleeing the Potato famine that was at best condescending, at worse hate-provoking.

She warned her readers that the Irish were foolishly romantic, extremely ignorant, blindly devoted to the church, lazy and ungrateful.

Margaret was not yet 35 when she wrote three especially harsh and damning columns on what was deemed the Irish Character, columns defended at the time because at least she called for tolerance and patience in educating them, rather then for violence and deportation.

Intrigued by the Italian revolution, she went there as a foreign correspondent, met and perhaps married a young Italian nobleman and bore his young son. On a visit home to America, their boat shipwrecked off Fire Island, New York within sight of shore. She was only 40 when she died.

I would like to imagine that a searching and sensitive a soul such as Margaret would have continued to evolve in her understanding of the conditions of new immigrants, of those she saw as Other. That even this blind spot in her prophetic nature would have been opened up to enlightenment.

No matter, Margaret Fuller remains more than a distant historical figure to me—she was and continues to be a prophet for a new generation of Unitarians. Through our Women’s Federation and its Margaret Fuller funding program, she has inspired us to do our own work of honoring contemporary female workers for peace and justice: advocating for young women in the sex industry, providing a forum for Transylvanian women to talk about their private lives as wives and mothers, interviewing African American women in our own liberal faith communities.

Her life may have been pitchy in places—off key, off the mark, but for me at least

she is still ---an American Idol.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Amazing Grace Reflection for Vespers

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta

Feb. 21, 2007

Every Friday of our married life, or just about every Friday of our married life, my husband and I have taken ourselves to a bargain matinee. A twilight showing of some film or another. At least 40 times a year over going on a quarter century, nearly 1,000 by my calculations, some meriting Oscars and other awards. Others so bad as to warrant our slipping out the back door.

What once was a really really cheap date, four or five dollars apiece and a split box of chocolate covered raisins—is now double the price. In fact, you have to get there before noon in some theaters to get any kind of a discount at all.

This is the slow season for movie openings—just before the Oscars-- so we have actually skipped a few Fridays. But not this one.

This is the Friday when Amazing Grace opens, a film being billed as the first hit of the year, the first epic, the big screen retelling of the story of 18th century British abolitionist William Wilberforce and his role in overturning slave trading and then legal slavery in England, with no need for bloodshed, many years before we battled this out during the Civil War. The movie is being timed to the 200th anniversary of the end of slave trading.

It is also, at least parenthetically, the story of John Newton, a former slave trader himself, who had what he called his experience of amazing grace, of turning away from sin, that led to the writing of the words of the most popular hymn in the world now, unveiling it at a New Year’s Day Anglican church service in l773.

I once was lost and now I’m found, he wrote, was blind and now I see.

As someone who did not grow up in the Christian tradition, I don’t recall hearing or singing Amazing Grace or even hearing or considering the word grace, except as it related to words spoken over spaghetti at Girl Scout camp, until I attended a Judy Collins concert in l971.

She sang it a capella, she sang it in that vibrato-less soprano, she sang it in a way that pierced my soul, even if I did not know what soul meant.She sang it at a time when we were just coming out of the civil rights movement era and were smack in the middle of the war in Vietnam. There was blindness all around us, and wretches and leaders, it seemed to me, so lost as to never find their way back to righteousness.

I did not know then that the final breathtaking stanza” when we’ve been here ten thousand years “ had been a modern day addition and taken from another hymn altogether.

I didn’t know that Amazing grace is considered to have been the anthem of the Cherokee Nation during the Trial of Tears in l838 and l839.

That most of the recordings—the most covered song in history- 3200 or more—had been made in the years following Judy Collins’ crossover version.

That a survey of British teenagers in the mid- 1970’s found that the majority thought that Amazing grace was a love song about a girl named grace.

That Amazing Grace was sung at the funerals of Richard Nixon, Sonny Bono, and John Kennedy Jr.

There was a time in our Unitarian communities when it was not very OK to include Amazing Grace in our worship services. Like the joke goes about how we don’t sing very well because we are always looking ahead to see if we agree with the words there were a lot of trouble spots in that hymn.

We had—and still have—trouble with the word wretch, since we are inclined to believe the inherent worth and dignity means that we are all and always good.

We had—and still have—trouble with the phrase the hour I first believed, because we are not inclined to conversionary moments, or born again phraseology.

Many of us either don’t “believe” in grace—which some might define as an otherwise unearned and unexpected gift or boost from a supernatural source—or don’t have a clue as to what this might look like at all. We tend to believe that we make our own lives and create our own salvation, our own wholeness, our own peace.

Charlene Spretnek, a writer on women’s and eco-theology, defines grace in a way that makes spiritual sense to me anyway. When we experience consciousness of the unity in which we are embedded, the sacred whole that is in and around us, we exist in a state of grace.Experiencing grace for her involves the expansion of consciousness of self to all one’s surroundings as an unbroken whole, from which negative mind states are absent, from which healing and groundedness result

Sometimes the consciousness of grace come on suddenly she tells us, and so intensely that the moment is never forgotten.

More frequently are experiences are less spectacular but still amazing— when we are singing together, creating art, poetry, dance—being in conversation that blurs all boundaries of separation

Seeing the humanness in the person who is hungry or sick or naked, as Howard Thurman has described.

Seeing the humanness, the connection between the slave in a boat’s hold and the trader who holds him in bondage. The grace that leads us home to a place of justice and compassion.

Last Sunday there was a coordinated worldwide hymn sing of Amazing Grace, on a commercial level marking the premiere of the movie by the same name, on a spiritual and moral level a chorus of grace praising God for the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago, praying for the remaining work of racial healing and equality, and pledges to bear witness to and free the 27 million some slaves that live across the globe today.

Slaves like a young woman named Abak, who was just a baby when her parents were killed during a raid by a militia group in Sudan’s decades-old civil war. Who survived this horror only to be abducted herself, taken away to the North of Sudan and held as a slave for ten years, never paid, never allowed to go outside, forced to clean the house and serve every member of her captor’s family.

This hymn sing and the movement it hopes to inspire is nothing less than an attempt at amazing change.

It is not too late for us to lift our voices as well.