Many of you have probably seen this video (I’m going to call it…) “A World Made More Beautiful” before (…if you have not, click here), but even if you have, it’s worth rewatching.
It’s a powerful, humbling, helpful reminder where to look for meaning and how to find joy. An everyday promise of redemption. As simple and self-fulfilling as “random acts of kindness.”
I shared it with someone recently to make a point. He was suffering the fact that life offers few guarantees. Struggling under the harshness of the hits and hurts everyone ends up taking along the way. And that some folks get the incredibly short end of the stick. Life can too easily be unfair.
And he wondered why religious people believe or pretend their faith or practice can somehow exempt them from the bumps and bruises. And he is maddened by how in so acting, religious people often distance themselves from and blame victims of life’s disappointments.
He is right about the shadow side of religion. We want it to inoculate us, because no one wants to suffer and hurt. And, we shy away from those who are sick or suffering: it might be contagious.
Perhaps I’m being over-patient or even indulgent with religion, but why should religion be different from anything else that can be misappropriated, misused, perverted?
Despite our fears, hopes and pretensions otherwise — and no matter how many systems we humans come up to protect ourselves — there’s nothing that ultimately insulates, vaccinates or saves us from some harm. Life happens. (You may be thinking of that, other, similar, but earthier phrase: “s==t happens.”) As inexplicably as unavoidably, part of life is vulnerability, harm and loss, illness and finally death.
But, what I wanted to impress upon the man with whom I was speaking is what I believe this video so clearly illustrates: life’s hurts are rarely the whole story; from a global view, it’s safe to say they are never the whole story.
So I offered this midrash on the video: “The ‘mitzvahs’ the man in the video performs don’t make him better than anyone else. They won’t protect him from bad things happening to him. Most likely, they won’t change the world. They will, however, touch a few along his way and make his journey through this life richer.
And those interactions — connections if you will — happen for no other reason than because the young man notices… he’s paying attention, is open to being moved by his neighbor, and is willing to respond as a brother. And as he responds to noticing, almost prophetically, he notices even more.”
I was communicating with a “birder,” so I tried suggesting that bird watchers of all people should understand being able to find what can be hard to recognize… that which is fleeting, sometimes camouflaged, but all around us. And ironically, because birds are difficult to see, they can be all the more fulfilling when you do see them.
Prior to this exchange, the man had asked, “Are you sure you are a Christian pastor and not a Buddhist guru? It’s like everywhere you walk the connectedness and oneness of the universe reveals itself.”
Haha! To that question, I had responded, “Finding connections and trusting that there is a deeper unity beyond all our separations is my understanding of good Karma: not that it is going to protect me in this life or reward me in some life to come, but that it is self-fulfilling: it open us up, makes us more aware of what’s going on around us, reveals connections and happenings and integrations… and a certain togetherness that are there all along, but, for a reason I can’t quite explain, are really easy to miss…”
One can shake one’s fist and schimpf at all the that’s wrong in the world, because there is plenty — and rather than catharis, it might just make you angrier and your life that much more difficult to bear. It’s so easy to get too knotted up in ourselves and our own lives’ jumbles and shortcomings.
But if we seek out the blessings — mundane, even minuscule as they often turn out to be, there we find these ordinary, yet incredible experiences that can multiply in one’s life immeasurably. Making a bigger space for the positive in your life, and mysteriously spreading out into other’s lives too.
Is that Christian? I guess it is for me. But it could also probably be Buddhist or Jewish or Hindu or Muslim. Or humanist or secular. Because it’s just human. It’s what happens when we find a way to get past ourselves enough to notice others and the world around us, even notice the pain… Ironically, along that way we begin to notice ourselves again as we reconnect in new and deeper ways.
Yes, life can involve a lot of suffering and alienation. So much so it can feel overwhelming. And we can get overwhelmed.
But life can also bring connections and surprises and healing and joy. I guess my philosophy is that trying to see the full half of the glass makes the emptiness a bit easier to live with. And makes us a lot easier to live with too.
See you in church,