In 2016-2017 I was part of a "discipleship group" at my church, First Mennonite Church of San Francisco. Basically we gathered to share a meal, share what we are struggling with, do some reading, reflecting, etc. This is a short reflection I shared at FMCSF on June 18, 2017 at the close of this period.
Our first discipleship group was the day after the election. This was a month after I shared a reflection here in October. At that time I had no idea how my world was about to be shook around, and no idea of the beauty that I would witness through that shaking. Nor did I know the beauty I would be find on the other side.
For about three months after the election, which is when our group first met, I got embarrassingly caught up in following the news and trying to make sense of the world situation. Some of my deeply conditioned assumptions about how our global society works were shattered and I didn't know what to replace them with. While our politics drew me in initially, I ended up seeing beneath the politics an ongoing pattern of non-partisan for-profit exploitation and destruction of people and life in every part of the world, that deeply disturbed me. I was also disturbed to be in an environment at work where the connection between our business and this destruction was basically ignored. The cognitive dissonance was painful. I quickly felt that I needed to fight this evil by exposing what I could. But I despaired, because mostly people seemed to seemed to believe it wasn’t really that bad, or that it was pointless to try to do anything about it. And the consequences for others who had publicly taken this on looked grim.
Through this difficult time, at discipleship group I could leave the internet behind for a few hours and release some of the pressure that was building up. I could remember the deeper truth of belonging, beneath this chaos of clinging and struggle for control.
In February, doing preparatory reading for our next meeting, I found someone who had seen everything I’d seen, and was not despairing! I was shown another path forward. I don't have time to go into great detail here, but as springtime burst forth in bloom around me, I felt springtime inside, beckoning me out of the cold dark place I was in. Maybe I don’t need to defeat the powers of evil from the top. Maybe I don’t need to control everything. Maybe there’s a better way: a slower, mysterious way. A mustard seed. A way that "the powers that be" would laugh at, but a way that would survive even death.
Admittedly, I say this from a place of extreme extreme privilege, far from the war zones and sweatshops and mines and plantations and prisons. I can only point to Jesus, who spoke of the mustard seed on the way to the cross.
I began to be freed from the idea that I needed to take part in the war of control. So I quit most forms of media for a while, and was given time to ponder. I knew that my own way of life and my work were part of the pattern of exploitation and destruction, and I could see that more clearly now. Maybe my own clinging to money and reputation and comfort is one thread in a great fabric of clinging that casts this grim shadow over the world. Maybe I am only free to the extent that I let go of that clinging. Maybe I could live joyfully in a way that would not require me to exploit or harm the earth or other beings.
I could not impose this beauty on the world, But I could live in it myself, spending my time in community or contemplation -- growing and collecting and sharing food here in the city, listening to others, or walking barefoot on the hills drinking in sunshine and silence and green trees. I could look deeply at each thing I consume or possess or participate in, and question whether it is worth the harm that it entails. I could pay attention to and question my habits. The more I live in this place, the less I need the things I am conditioned to cling to. Months passed as I grappled with this vision and its implications for me, and this continues. Discipleship group has been a mirror to help me see what was happening to me. A circle of trust to hold me with love, so that I could allow it to happen despite my fears. And a source of encouragement as I witness transformation in others.
So things are getting more interesting. As some of you know, I’ve left work at least for the summer, and moved out of my room. Tonight I’m taking the train to Oregon, with the intent, at least for a time, to practice simplicity and presence with some people there. I don’t know what’s coming and I don’t know what I’m doing. I expect whatever comes will be painful for some parts of me. I can feel that, when I wake up in the middle of the night thinking “what the heck are you doing”. But in my clearer moments, I remember that if I would truly know beauty, I must respond to the deepest call I can feel. And maybe there’s an even deeper call underneath this one. So I cry out, free me from my delusions. Grant me the courage to be still, so I can feel your call daily. And grant me the ability to respond, with all that I am.
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