"Talk is not the answer!” That’s what passes these days for a presidential quote. And, yes, I took it out of context. The president was tweeting this morning about North Korea. He was not, I’m pretty sure about this, engaged in deep self-reflection. Because, if he had been, he’d have been half right. Talking is only part of a conversation.
I was reminded of this today in a meeting that involved a composer, who talked about how silence is part of a musical composition. As a group, we were also thinking and listening, which I would argue may be more important to a conversation than mere talking. We were planning an event where we hope participants will come curious about strangers and open to what they may have to say about a shared experience.
It’s barely noon and already I’ve learned a lot. I need to talk less, listen more, think more deeply, be open to some silence and be willing have a conversation with a stranger. And, somehow, I thought the president would never teach me anything.
I tried hard to resist the whole solar eclipse thing. I didn’t want to drive into the path of totality, and I declined a kind offer from California relatives to tag along with them. I was happy to get up at 5 a.m., make a pot of coffee, help them load the car and see them off by 6-ish. But after my own second cup of coffee, my house seemed so quiet. The weekend had been full of laughter, story-telling and toddler play. Now the stillness seemed oppressive. So I jumped at the chance to head to the park with my youngest son and his wife to experience at least 99.2 percent of the eclipse. It was breath-taking, a little disturbing and life-giving in a way I didn’t expect.
The slow bite the moon took into the sun was fascinating to watch. The running commentary from my son and his wife had me chuckling the whole time. The people around us kept it all a community event and made me glad I hadn’t watched alone from my back yard. The oddly disturbing thing was to see the disappearing sun's shadow bands, rippling across the grass. I heard a scientist describe them later as looking like light rippling across the bottom of a swimming pool.
The life-giving realization struck me as the air around us grew darker and colder by the moment. I couldn’t help but think of light and dark in competition. Of the times when my own my life seems to grow darker before my eyes. Now maybe in the path of totality, the darkness was complete. But here, a few miles away, it was a sharper version of twilight, a moment when our own shadows took on an HDTV clarity. What I realized, and this might be pretty disappointing if you’ve read this far in search of soul-deep truth, is that light wins. It's darkness that comes and goes.
There is a stubborn part of me that wishes I’d kept count. But this week, for the xxxxxxth time in my adult life, I am shaking my head in sorrow and anger at the Christians making the headlines: the Christian pastor who has advised Trump that God is OK with our taking out the leader of North Korea or the Christians who marched last night at the University of Virginia in defense of white nationalism.
“They are not the only Christians at work in the world,” I tell myself and anyone within hearing distance.
If you are someone who thinks this way or has heard other Christians say what I have said, here are the words of two Christian pastors who speak more eloquently than I ever have. I encourage you to read this piece by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. If you’re in a hurry, here are two highlights:
“America’s spiritual sickness goes much deeper than our clearly troubled president. For decades, the backlash against this nation’s civil rights movement has been de-racialized and woven into the fabric of some white (and some non-white) evangelicals’ value system. Trusting pastors who have been carefully cultivated by political operatives, millions of everyday Christians have “voted their values” on abortion, marriage, and prayer in schools, only to elect people who promote policies that serve the rich and harm those Jesus called ‘the least of these.’”
“Even if we cannot convince the Trumpvangelicals that they are wrong, we are determined to let the world know that there is a better gospel. It is a gospel of justice, of inclusion, of love, of breaking every chain that oppresses and subjugates God’s children. Even if it is silenced, it will rise again like its Founder in the power of love.”
It’s not enough for those of us who are Christians who distance ourselves from those with more politicized motives. We have to do more than shake our heads, mutter to ourselves and talk to our friends. We need to find ways to say it publicly, as these two pastors have. Or as the pastors who have vowed to confront the white nationalists in Charlottesville and followed through.
Sunday, two friends and I woke up in Coos Bay at 6 a.m. and drove the 35 miles or so to Bandon, in search of a labyrinth on the beach. A local artist draws it regularly in the wet sand near Face Rock as the tide retreats. Volunteers rake the negative space. People come to walk the sacred path. Some silently, deliberately. Others blithely, taking pictures. A few hours later, the tide turns and incoming waves wash it all away.
Walking this labyrinth was restful, frustrating, heartening, irritating and inspiring. Inspiring because after our walk we spoke briefly with the artist. His blue eyes shone as I complained about people who didn’t seem to appreciate the meditative power of the labyrinth. He smiled.
“Not yet,” he said.
I hope I don’t forget the certain hope that sounded in his voice.
Here’s a link to his website.
This past weekend I attended an informal, monthly gathering of Coeur d’Alene High School’s class of 1972. The hosts were gracious, the food was plentiful, the sangria was tasty and everyone I re-met greeted me with a hug. I was moved.
I’ve never attended a formal reunion. I missed one because of work, one because we were moving into our new house, one when my husband was gravely ill. So when a friend of mine from junior high urged me to go, I went. Who knows where I will be when our 50th rolls around?
If I’m honest, I don’t have many good memories of high school. I was not as smart as some, plainer than many and from a family so disfunctional that, once I graduated, I just didn’t look back. Somehow, I managed to keep two good friends: one from fourth grade, one from junior high. Both were at the Friday night gathering and, in long conversations before and after the party, the years fell away as we caught up on our lives.
At the actual party, I struggled to remember some names, to recognize faces touched by time. Everyone was welcoming. I chatted with a few folks, listened in as those who have stayed in better touch made lively conversation. All in all, I felt like I was back in high school: awkward a lot of the time, not very good at small talk, content to observe.
But the weekend got me thinking about my own sons, who had lots of friends in high school and somehow have managed to stay close to many of them all these years later. At 32 and 30, with wives and homes and their own children on the way, they spend Sunday afternoons with high school friends, travel far and wide for weddings and beach weekends and easily share friends with each other and their wives. It is one of my greatest delights to sometimes be included in the vibrant company these young people keep.
Like most parents, I hope my children accomplish more in their lives than I did in mine. And I guess when it comes to keeping friends, they are well on their way. And I guess this weekend was a reminder that I haven’t been particularly good at cultivating friendships, but it may not be too late to salvage some.