When is it time to engage with the world, and when to transcend our immediate surroundings?
I am seeking to have a balance in my life these days between these two opposite impulses. On one hand, I want to be engaged in the struggles of the world: racial injustice, the pandemic, the frightening and divisive presidential election. I am called to be engaged. I owe it to myself and to my children and to the world.
And there are times when it is too much.
The presidential debate last night was hard to engage with. Confronting the things at stake here, especially the prospect of unrest and violence on and after election day, is upsetting. There is wisdom in taking a huge step back from this moment, transcending the us/them mood of the election, the fear and uncertainty of the virus, the anger and weariness of racism. Taking a large enough step back, or viewing from a high enough perspective above, these things are a moment in time. This is a particular era of human history with a unique set of struggles and dangers. Life for the trees, the rivers, and the ocean, has a different scale and a different reality. What is divine in us is present in all human beings, regardless of politics or race, regardless of health or sickness.
When I am too much engaged in the troubles of the world and need help transcending them, often I turn to the Tao Te Ching, my favorite sacred text. Today I found there these words:
When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.
There is no greater illusion than fear
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.
Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.
(Tao Te Ching, verse 46, translated by Stephen Mitchell)
I am going to stay engaged: keep reaching out to voters, keep working for racial justice, stay vigilant about the pandemic. And, I will seek the transcendent wisdom in the verse above, that I can let go of the fear that does not serve me; that I can let go of enmity towards others which takes a toll on me. Embracing the divine, I can see beyond this moment in history and beyond my fear and stress.
Infinite Spirit of the Divine, be with me. Help me to know that I can be engaged in the present moment while also existing in the timeless plane beyond myself, beyond history, beyond worldly concerns.
May I have the wisdom and the perspective to let go.
May my tribe, my people, my nation, have the wisdom to see beyond the differences that divide us to the common humanity within.
In the great unfolding of the universe that is life, I am a small part. May I do what I can and recognize that I am just one part in the vast time and space of being.
May all beings exist in love; may we act in love; may we be blessed by love.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
I have a favorite T-shirt that reads, “Peace, Salaam, Shalom.” These are also the words of a favorite song by Emma’s Revolution. On the T-shirt, the word for peace is spelled out in Arabic and in Hebrew–and in English. I got this T-shirt at general assembly a few years ago, where I met Pat Humphries, who designed the shirt and wrote the song.
The implied message of “Peace, Salaam, Shalom” for me is that everyone wants peace, not matter what language they speak; and that even two parties as entrenched in conflict as the Israelis and the Palestinians can find common ground. And to take it one step further, the inclusion of the English word for peace implies that Americans like myself can meaningfully advocate for this Middle East peace.
I see this in a totally different light today. If writing “peace” in Hebrew and Arabic characters symbolizes a possible bridge between these two warring peoples, what would symbolize common ground for Republicans and Democrats today? How do the slogans “Black Lives Matter” and “Make America Great Again” have any room for agreement? And rather than seeing Americans as enlightened, democratic, and peaceful—ones who look across the world and wish for peace in other lands—today I think the tables have turned. Today I think that people in other countries might look at us and feel the need to send us good wishes for healing our violent, entrenched partisan divide. I’m not an artist, but if this message were to go on a T-shirt, it might include an image of a Republican “red” state and a Democratic “blue” state with a unifying circle around them.
The death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg this week has made politics even more distressing than it already was, and I am worried about my mental health from now until the election. I listen to and read the news every day, and I have a lot of fear and anger right now. The fact that we are a country living under minority rule is more clear than ever, and the prospect of the minority party continuing to win elections and otherwise consolidate power is alarming.
The remedy for this political distress is two-fold. First, I must do what I can to work for the change I want to see. In my life as minister, this means embracing the UU the Vote initiative that our denomination is putting forth, and supporting the Fellowship’s strong efforts toward voting rights locally. In my personal life, this means volunteering for the candidate of my choice. Second, I must take care of myself through prayer, exercise, journaling, meditation, and connection with loved ones. This way I can keep politics in perspective and remember that this is a chapter in my life and the life of the human race and in the grand unfolding of the natural universe.
On the day after the presidential election in 2016, I happened to have an appointment with my therapist. I told her how upset I was about the election and I asked her how she dealt with it. She said, “It doesn’t bother me, because I just let go and trust God.” I may have a different idea of God than this woman did, but I still find wisdom in her words. The universe is unfolding, and I have hope and faith enough to believe that I am loved, that I will be OK, and that I will still be connected to you no matter what happens. This helps me to keep going in a fearful and scary time.
Spirit of Life and Love that knows no boundaries and no political parties, hear my prayer.
May my country be healed of the bitter divisions that separate us in this season. May people of good conscience listen to the divine within and exercise their power and their vote for the common good. May we be wise enough to see through misinformation and lies. May we be forgiving and patient enough to listen to those we disagree with. May we find purpose in working with one another for the world we envision, and may be find perspective in our connection to Life, Love, and the great mystery beyond ourselves.
May it be so.
Salaam. Shalom. Peace.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
I try to take one day every week as a Sabbath day. It’s a very old idea, found in Judaism as a day set aside for God. Many Jews celebrate Sabbath (or Shabbat) from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday; many Christians see Sunday as the Sabbath day, a day of rest. My Sabbath practice is a spiritual practice also, but a personal one. It feels like a good idea to have a day to myself (sometimes I call it my Drew Day). One approach is to think of it as: I won’t do anything today that I have to do.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the park on my Drew Day and deliberately took the Little Boy inside me out to play. This took the form of playing Frisbee golf on the course at Deerfield Nature Park near Mount Pleasant. I allowed myself to romp and run, to laugh and have fun. All of us have an Inner Child, and I think it’s good to let that child out sometimes. Just as there’s a part of me that is the Responsible Drew and part of me that is the Emotional Drew and part of me that is the Minister Drew (among others), the Little Boy is part of me.
A year ago, I had another day when I deliberately took care of my Little Boy and went to a baseball game in Midland. This was shortly after I had moved to Mount Pleasant. Going to baseball games with my own father when I was a kid was a favorite memory. My parents are in their 80’s now and it’s not their responsibility to take care of me anymore. I have to take care of myself. So when the Little Boy within needs love and joy and fun, the Ideal Parent that is within me takes care of that Little Boy.
I love this quote, although I can’t find who said it: “I am the only one who can make my well-being my top priority. I owe it to myself to take care of my body, mind, and spirit.” Showing love for myself is of primary importance to my emotional and spiritual health. This means keeping a Sabbath day every week if I can, and this means recognizing that I have an Inner Child which is my gateway to innocence, joy, and creativity.
As Pema Chodron says, “Be kinder to yourself. And then let your kindness flood the world.”
May we all find spiritual practices that nourish and sustain us.
May all people know that they are loved, and may that love begin within ourselves for ourselves.
God in all things, help me find the ways to keep myself healthy in mind, body and spirit, so that I may spread love to everyone with no exceptions.
May it be so.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
Minister on Vacation
There will be no Minister’s column this week.
Is this the strangest back-to-school year ever, or what? A friend told me about dropping off their child, a first-year college student. None of the social events and social mixing that normally happen for new students was occurring: no meetings with residential assistants, no meals in the dining hall, no room mates.
My wife is a teacher in the local elementary school here in Mount Pleasant. The desks are all spaced six feet apart, the kids and the teachers wear masks all day. They can’t sit close to one another--or to the teacher--to look at the same books or papers. To limit interaction and contact, the kids stay in the classroom to have lunch and music and art.
Central Michigan University professors in this congregation tell me about teaching one group of students in the classroom, while addressing another group who are connecting by video. The cases of coronavirus reported on campus are alarming the whole community and causing city residents to blame “those college students” for gathering in large groups to party.
When the season changes and fall is in the air, like it is today, my heart and spirit are in back-to-school mode. I remember waiting for the bus with my sisters and the neighbors. I remember getting my picture taken in the driveway with my first day of school outfit on. It did not include a mask! I remember my years of teaching elementary and middle school and the excitement of the first day.
We all want something to be normal in this crazy year. We want something to be safe in this scary year. The change of the season is reassuring somehow. The students – some of them – are going back to school on yellow busses. Some others are choosing to stay home, and some cities are choosing to hold off on school until it is safer. It is not normal, but life goes on and we are all part of the new normal. This is how September is this year. We can only live in this year, not some September future, past, or imagined.
God of little children holding onto parents’ hands, God of teachers and professors trying to keep themselves and their classes safe from disease, God of seasons changing and first wind of autumn, hear my prayer.
May the young ones be safe. May the adolescents be safe. May the teenagers and college students be safe. May the school boards and superintendents and college presidents have wisdom and compassion to make the right choices for the well-being of all.
May laughter ring from school yard playgrounds and may college students roam campuses and throw Frisbees with the joy of another school year begun. May all be safe and loved and happy.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
**I will be on vacation next week. The minister’s column will resume on September 16.**
Rev. Andrew Frantz
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