Freedom from Discord

Yes, “Freedom from Discord” is the sermon I am attempting to write today, just days after the mass murder in Orlando. Like many people in the world last week, I found myself at a loss as to what I might do, or how I might make a difference. Of course I went to prayer first, that is always my first response, even when the tears are streaming. It’s what comes next, after the prayers when the reports begin to pour in: eyewitness accounts, sound bytes and video footage; social media that burgeons under the weight of shared grief and upset, updated profile pictures, and hash tags designed to capture the grief and horror of a nation – in 140 characters or less. The political rhetoric began before the bodies were even removed from Pulse: the murder of 49 people was being used as an excuse to wave banners for the candidate of choice who would surely make things right come November; while surgeons were still fighting to save lives, others were fighting to condemn people of a certain nationality, ethnicity or creed and take up the call for more separation, hate and discord. Before all the blood-stained mobile phones could be collected from the dance floor – mobile phones that showed unanswered texts and frantic voicemails from friends and mothers – lobbyists and news outlets were blaming every thing and every one except the systemic problems in a nation that is making its citizens immune and desensitized to a body count of over 6000 year-to-date (less than 1% attributed to terrorism).

It was so easy for my old addiction to outrage* to get fueled by the rhetoric; outrage is a powerful drug and I knew I had to douse that craving rather quickly and lean into my spiritual practice. Failure to do so would let the wind of discord and dissent fan that fire and it would swiftly flare up into something more destructive than discord – it would become hate. That’s how outrage operates, you know, it tells us to fear and suspect, it tells us that there’s something “wrong” here. It begins to seep into our brains and hearts and it starts to use works like “them,” and “they,” and “those people.” Fear creates an “other” that we must distrust and eventually despise because “they” look or think differently than you or I. Fear says things like, “They must be stopped” or “They have to go.” If allowed to fester, it plays the ultimate mind game: spiritual arrogance, and once that sets in, all hope of Oneness or “Love one another as I have loved you” begins to rapidly dissipate until, sadly, bullying and violence in speech and action prevails. Fear becomes so powerful that the people start to think violence and hate is justified because “God” wants it or because “God” told them to. Fear is allowed to malign beautiful, peaceful, loving religious teachings until people stop believing that God is the loving creator that breathed life into each and every living thing, thereby making us all one. Instead, It becomes a mean-spirited, spiteful deity that wants us to hate {fill in the blank} so we can earn some dubious reward after we’re dead and buried.

And so I kept asking “What is mine to do?” I reached out – to my colleagues and mentors, my prayer partners and those beautiful souls in my spiritual community who somehow can always see my highest self, even when I can’t. I searched for evidence of Love and it kept showing up and showing up – in the heroes, in acts of kindness that were small but mighty, in offers that were extraordinarily generous. It showed up in grandmas and doctors and police officers and singers and talk show hosts.

I reached out to more loving beings who helped to co-create with me a vigil for #westandwithorlando (and, yes, I used a hash tag – don’t mock me!) And at that vigil were people of all colors and backgrounds and genders and preferences and ages, there were men and women, a 2-year-old with her parents, a young woman from South Korea who wanted to tell me about the Peace Organization she works with, a beautiful Muslim woman who wanted to come and pray with us and hug us… and there was music, and prayers for peace, and tears. And there was a healing, especially my own.

I made a vow, once again, to stand for something and against nothing, and I admitted out loud that that is sometimes very difficult and so I doubled-down on my spiritual practice. I began to educate myself on what I can do as a citizen to help make it better and I shared that information. I made a donation. I quietly paid for a cup of coffee for the next person in line at Starbucks and when she tried to thank me I simply said, “I needed to do something kind this week,” to which she replied, “I’ll pay it forward, don’t worry.” Baby steps…

And to those of you who may be against everything I hold sacred, I have a message for you, another vow: You will not make me hate. No matter how hard you try, I will not hate you, or anyone else. And while I wish you could make it a little bit easier, I will persevere. And every time I falter, I will simply get kinder, and kinder, and kinder… #lovealwayswins 

*Credit to my colleague Dr. Jim Lockard for that phrase and his blog: