Posts Tagged With: compassion

My Complicated Relationship with Survival: Twenty Years with HIV

I have a complicated relationship with survival.

That relationship involves monumental loss, and deep love. It is the space where heartbreak and resilience live. The very space that makes me me in so many ways.

Twenty years ago today I was a 28-year-old who was far too young and far too old at the same time. On July 15, 1995, I was sitting in the health department in St. John’s, Newfoundland, listening to a doctor I had never met coldly tell me that I was HIV+. This was a time just before effective medication. HIV was still a death sentence. I knew that, deep in my bones, because I had buried friends and acquaintances and would bury many more over the years to come. We were all too young and too old at the same time. Continue reading

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Categories: Compassion | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Spiritual Practice of an Open Heart

This joint sermon was delivered at Arlington Street Church in Boston, MA, on August 3, 2014.

You can listen to an audio recording here (in my opinion, the audio recording is much better than the written word—I swear! We’re more charming in person).

Teo

We aren’t taught in this culture to be openhearted. There’s no lesson. And I came to openheartedness as central to my spiritual practice the hard way. Whether it was the violence I was growing up with, the shame and the struggle around being queer and being gender nonconforming, whether it was being 28 years old and being diagnosed with AIDS at a time before medication was available.

Every turn I came to in life there was a reason for me to armor up. There was a reason for me to not let anyone near me. Because the outside world was telling me that if I wanted to stay protected I needed to curl in a ball. The last thing I ever needed to do was leave myself vulnerable. But at the same time that the world was telling me that, there was always this soft, loving voice of the beloved telling me that that was not for me. That I was meant to be openhearted regardless of the information I was getting from the outside world. Continue reading

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What Being Sober for Exactly Half My Life has Taught Me

Teo

On Thursday January 2nd I passed the milestone of being in recovery for half my life: 23 of my 46 years. I have now been sober three times longer than I drank. Along the way I have learned a great many things (often the hard way). Here is what is coming forward at the moment, but is by no means a complete list.

Nothing is linear: not healing, not harm, nothing. Shedding damage from trauma, including addiction, has not been a process of going from point A to point B. It has been an ever-meandering route that seems to invariably circle back upon itself (often accompanied by my sentiments of “Fuck, I thought I dealt with this already!”). In early recovery everything was new and often magical; hard, but it still felt like I was getting somewhere… Then it seemed like growth came more slowly or not at all. Over the years I have found that to be the way healing unfolds. I honestly don’t know if there is a destination. What I know is that I am at home in my skin more than I thought would ever be possible. I’m wary of seeing myself as a “work in progress.” I distrust the self-help gurus who push “self-improvement.” Healing for me has come from being curious about who is actually here rather than focusing on “what I could become.” Continue reading

Categories: Compassion, Faith, Identity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Walking Faith

This reflection was originally delivered at The Sanctuary Boston worship service on April 18, 2013, three days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Teo

Take a moment and just feel whatever is holding you, whether that’s the ground, the chair…

The aim of spiritual practice is not to protect us from heartbreak—our own or another’s. It’s to provide the grounding and the renewal so that we can deliberately put ourselves in the place of heartbreak. One of the most sacred things that we are called to do as human beings is to bear witness to another’s suffering. When they cannot hold hope it’s for us to quietly hold it for them. When we can live at the edges of heartbreak and still hold on to hope then that means that our spiritual practice has purpose and passion.  Continue reading

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“An Experiment in Love”: An MLK Day Sermon

Alex

I was invited to deliver a service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, and it was remarkable to be asked not only because it’s an honor to receive such an invitation but also because for the last two weeks I’d been completely ensconced in King’s writing. Once upon a time I worked for Beacon Press, and I still do the odd freelance job for them. A few years ago Beacon became the exclusive publisher of King’s books and future collections of his work, and for a couple of these new collections, I’ve proofed and checked the manuscripts against previous versions to ensure accuracy. It’s pretty incredible to do this—sometimes I’m using the original transcriptions of his sermons, and once in a while I encounter King’s own handwriting in the margins.

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on Beacon’s latest King project—an anthology of King’s words for high school students. “I Have a Dream” is in there, and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and a careful selection of other pieces that really show the breadth and depth of his vision. So here I am ensconced in his work, and reading bits out loud to Teo every night, and hearing King’s words resounding all around me, and I get invited to deliver a chapel service in honor of MLK Day and share some of this magic with others. I couldn’t say no to that.

Whenever I am blessed with the opportunity to read or listen to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I never fail to reflect on what a tiny sliver of his vision has been handed down through popular culture in this country—how little of him lives on through mass media, textbooks, and bank holidays. And what is resonating with me right now more than anything else is his vision and grounding and message of nonviolence, which was so central to everything he did and everything he preached. It was central because it was tied to his theology and his faith. King’s full vision of nonviolence as a spiritual way of life is one of the biggest things that is pretty much missing from the way we talk about him and learn about the civil rights movement and honor his legacy in this country. Continue reading

Categories: Activism, Compassion, Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cultivating Reverance

Teo

I’ve been pondering since you read to me from Woodruff’s book on Reverence today.  Not much else to do during a hurricane, I suppose.

The difference between Plato’s belief that reverence was not a stand alone virtue (rather, it came about through practicing other virtues, primarily justice) and Thucydides (who in contrast prizes reverence as a cardinal virtue to guard against human arrogance) felt important the minute I heard you read those words.

Cultivating reverence as a means of counteracting human arrogance resonated with me. How do I/we work for social justice without sliding into self-righteousness, arrogance, bitterness, rage and/or hopelessness? After all, there is so much to be done, so many people marginalized in very real and harmful ways. I have been challenged as naive for believing and teaching that the most sustainable way to create change is by cultivating a practice of self-care that grounds us in compassion and interconnectedness, in purpose and in the larger perspective. My first introduction to activism and leadership through this lens was with Off the Mat into the World. I began to understand that I kept getting called to a spiritual practice as the foundation from which I could seek social justice, but articulating exactly what was happening has eluded me more often than not. It struck me today—cultivating reverence—that’s the thread that weaves through my spiritual practice. Reverence as a “profound adoring awed respect.”

I come back to my mat, my connection with the divine, to mindfulness, to spiritual conversations—all as ways of opening my heart. Being a target, fighting for survival, bearing witness to others fighting much harder battles all serve to tighten my body and armor my heart. Engaging in activism from that tightened, hardened place led me down a path of anger and resentment. It brought me to the conclusion that I knew THE way forward and anyone in my way was the enemy; seeing social justice as a battle in general where I could easily tell those on the side of good or evil.

I need an actual practice where I can cultivate reverence. A practice that calls me back to my higher self over and over again. A practice that cracks my heart open wide. A practice that allows my heart to break because of what I have experienced and what I witness in the world. A practice that opens my heart time and time again to joy, to feeling loved and cared for without question. A practice that lets me find my strength through softness and flexibility and that lets me know I can be wrong without shattering.

Cultivating reverence need not be tied to any religious or spiritual belief. It’s an intentional practice that we put in place as a touchstone serving as a reminder of our higher selves and our connection to all beings everywhere. A practice where we make time to heal, to breathe. Where our bodies and our minds find comfort.

Categories: Activism, Compassion, Faith, Reverance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Go Ahead Call Me Naive

Teo

I bear the physical and psychic scars of a life spent on the razor sharp edge of survival. I still have to play hide and seek with whole pieces of who I am long tucked away safely out of reach from whoever might be swinging at them. My brain and my body not always knowing today isn’t those yesterdays.

Say I am naive. Tell me I don’t know how it really is. What the world is really like. As if I haven’t felt their fear my body might bleed, toxic puddle between us, my soul bleeding instead—an acceptable penance. I still hear the priest who held the life preserver I might have exchanged for the razor meant for my wrists. “No, child, there is no place in heaven for your kind, I’m sorry.” In my dreams with my eyes wide open I still see the fists and the belt. Watch the parade of their agents. Hear my own whimpers. Like I don’t know what the sweat on my skin feels like as I wrestle love apart from it’s weld with violence. Go ahead, tell me how it is while out of the corner of my consciousness I hear a debate about the cost of government funded health care. You think I don’t know Paul Ryan wouldn’t spend the forty grand a year it costs to keep a queer trans man with AIDS alive? Go ahead, tell me I am naive because my anger isn’t the first thing you meet.

Then let me tell you: my faith is my rebellion. Standing ankle deep in compassion anchoring my open heart while I bear witness to my pain and yours. My radical act—choosing love and hope over my cultivated fists or sharpened tongue as agents of change. Believing I am wanted and loved by the divine is my heresy. Speak your truth, it’s ok with me. I can hear the divine over the thunder of my heartbeat simply by touching my forehead to the floor.

Call me naive audio

Alex

You’re the one who gave the lie to the idea “if you’re not angry you’re not paying attention” and showed me that love and compassion are the real signs of attentive awareness and connection to the suffering and injustice in the world. You gave me permission to be my open-hearted self, to shed the ill-fitting armor of self-righteousness. You taught me that inside every angry person—no matter how vicious and hateful—lives a scared and hurting small self.

Right before I met you I was reading about Howard Thurman and his role in bringing the practice of nonviolence to the U.S. civil rights movement. I realized that I had never understood what nonviolence was. It is so often painted as passive resistance—a lack of violence—when in reality it is anything but passive; it’s actively choosing love and compassion and practicing lovingkindness toward those who are complicit with the forces of hatred and intolerance. Practicing nonviolence doesn’t just mean refraining from acts of aggression and force, it means finding love and compassion for those who would destroy you with hate.

The universe laid out pebbles for me to follow that led me back to staking a claim for myself as a person of faith—a faith grounded in love and interconnectedness. And then I met you, and one of the first things you told me was that you believed that the energy you bring into a room is the first and foremost way to make a difference in the world. My armor cracked and I found my feet solidly on the path of love, the path leading me back to my authentic self, back to wonder and hope.

Being hopeful and loving isn’t a sign of a sheltered, charmed life. It doesn’t mean a person isn’t paying attention. Choosing a path of love, compassion, and hope in the face of struggle and injustice is far harder than taking the easy road of bitterness and anger. That’s why it takes faith. I’m so grateful to be on this path with you.

Categories: Activism, Compassion, Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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