Monday, April 24, 2017

The Long Road—Resistance and Resilience by Reverend Tom Capo 1/22/2014


Story
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed coffee grounds. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes, she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me, what do you see?" "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," the daughter replied.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich flavor. The daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?"
Her mother replied: “Each of these objects had faced the same adversity—this case, the boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting in the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.”
"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or coffee grounds?"
And as many of you know my friends, Unitarian Universalists are all about coffee.

Sermon

            This quote about resilience is from the American Psychological Association:
“…Think of resilience as similar to taking a raft trip down a river.
On the river, you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differently along the way.
In traveling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan, a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you.
Perseverance and trust in your ability to work your way around boulders and other obstacles are important. You can gain courage and insight by successfully navigating your way through white water. Trusted companions who accompany you on the journey can be especially helpful for dealing with rapids, upstream currents and other difficult stretches of the river.
You can climb out [of your raft] to rest alongside the river. But to get to the end of your journey, you need to get back in the raft and continue.”
            I have been thinking a lot about resilience, and I’ve been thinking about a lot about resistance.  Here we are, in a time of significant shifts in our national leadership, when some of us might feel like the progress that has been made in reproductive rights and social justice is now facing dramatic change.  Many of us might feel it is “roll up your sleeves” time now, resisting these changes with body, mind, and spirit. 
            The story that Donna read earlier asks us each: “are we a carrot, an egg, or coffee grounds?”  I think we all aspire to be coffee grounds, but sometimes we’re mushy carrots or hard-boiled eggs.  The changes we experience affect us differently along the way. 
            However maybe there is another way to think about the resistance we might feel called to show and the resilience needed to get navigate this time.  A way to experience resistance and resilience as intertwined, as interconnected.
Before we move forward I want you do something.  Partner up with someone around you, preferably someone you don’t know or don’t know well.  Decide who will be person A and who will be person B.  Okay, now person B, place your hand on person A’s shoulder.  And person A, sit up straight, put your feet flat on the floor, and close your eyes.  Now, all the A’s take a deep breath.  Attend to the sensations in your body.  Pay attention to the air coming into and out of your body.  Notice the thoughts and emotions that are flowing through you.  Focus on where you feel relaxed and where you feel tense.  Now person B, gently begin to push against person A’s shoulder.  Person A, notice what happens in your body, notice the reaction of your mind and emotions.  Person B you can stop now.  And person A open your eyes.  Now let’s switch.  Person A, put your hand on person B’s shoulder.  And person B sit up straight, put your feel flat on the floor, and close your eyes.  Now take a deep breath.  Attend to the sensations in your body.  Pay attention to the air coming into and out of your body.  Notice the thoughts and emotions that are flowing through you.  Focus on where you feel relaxed and where you feel tense.  Now person A, gently begin to push against person B’s shoulder.  Person B, notice what happens in your body, notice the reaction of your mind and emotions.  Now person A stop.  Everyone take a deep slow breath and bring your attention forward. Please stay with your partner.
What did you notice? 
When we perceive a force pushing against us, we generally have two choices.  To resist it or give into it.  What I am going to suggest today is that there is a third choice, to use it, to allow that force to become a source of your resilience. 
The image before you is a dojo.  A dojo is generally associated with various forms of martial arts.  American author, coach, and consultant, Richard Strozzi Heckler, wrote  “…the dojo is a place of learning where one practices what is being taught.  This [approach] is different from the conventional classroom where students sit passively taking notes or listening quietly to a lecture…[the approach] points out the difference between academic knowledge and an embodied knowledge that allows people to take actions that sustain and enhance their lives.  In place of [academic] learning … the dojo students practice what is being taught and over time begin to embody the subject matter.  It lives in their body, it is who they are.”
            So today, I asked you to push someone in this church.  Probably you don’t want to go and tell your friends that your minister told you to push someone sitting next to you in church.  But as you sat there, it may not have occurred to you to use the energy of that push.  Most of us make an almost automatic choice to resist.
            So here we are, post-inauguration, post-woman’s marches, looking at Monday morning with perhaps a little more dread than we might usually fee after a big weekend.  Looking at the strong possibility that we may now have a federal government eager to take away women’s rights, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gender fluid rights, and take away medical coverage for millions, disempower public education, register Muslims, dismantle protections against polluting the planet, de-fund the National Endowments for the Arts, and privatize social security.  Now while you might not have a problem with all of those potential issues, there is probably one or two that keep you awake at night, that seem to drain you of the energy you need to march, rally, lobby, educate, petition, and stand with our marginalized brothers and sisters, and frankly just live your life with all its joys and losses.  Where will you find the energy you need?  Some of us might meditate, pray, listen to powerful speakers who inspire us; we might take better care of our health; we might spend times with friends and fellow congregants at this church that support us in our work.  And I do encourage you to do all the things that help you build resilience.  
            But what happens when the pushes just keep coming?  When it feels like an irresistible force?  Many people that each push flattens something in them.  Peace of mind, emotional or physical health, joy.  How do we balance resistance and resilience?  Can we balance resistance and resilience?
            Here is my answer: Social Justice Judo. Social Justice Judo aligns your physical, mental, and spiritual energy with whatever is pushing against you, absorbing and transforming that energy to add to your resilience. The irresistible force directs it energy toward defeating or destroying you. If you counterattack you're imposing your body energy against the oncoming thrust. Judo redirects your opponent's energy instead of meeting force with force. As the attacker pushes against you, they find you stepping to the side and allowing their momentum to throw them forward. You are like a tree that bends to the wind instead of resisting unyieldingly and being uprooted and blown down.  You become…resilient.
            This process keeps you from becoming exhausted from resisting.   And each time the force thrusts and fails, you feel empowered.  Each time the opposing force thrusts, you learn more about them and learn more about yourself.
            Here is one Judo move.  A few years ago I was involved in starting a grassroots organization in Cedar Rapids based on Saul David Alinsky’s work. He is generally considered to be the Founder of modern community organizing.  The first step in the process is one-on-ones, getting to know people and getting to know their values.  The discussion leads to finding common values, which leads to developing common goals, and thus together making changes in governmental policy or laws; in our case we would be working on policy and law changes in Cedar Rapids and Linn County.  In one of my conversations, I met a factory worker.  We got to know each other and then started talking about our values.  One of his core values was “live and let live.”  He was kind of libertarian in his thinking.  Now it probably wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing, but I asked him about marital equality.  He said he was against it.  Then I wondered out loud, how can you be against someone having equal rights, the same rights you want, and espouse live and let live.  He said he had never thought of marital equality in that way.  We left with him being a supporter of marital equality.  And both of us feeling energized and empowered by our conversation.
Here is another Judo move.  While attending a rally for marital equality in Iowa, I was invited to talk with Bob Vander Plaats, the president and CEO of The Family Leader, a socially conservative organization opposed to marital equality.  I think they asked me to join in the conversation at the Pizza Ranch, because I was wearing a clerical collar and they thought I was an evangelical minister.  As Vander Plaats began talking about his campaign supporting the rights of people opposed to marital equality, I raised my hand and asked, “So you feel you are fighting for a majority of Iowans?”  “Yes,” he said. “And you believe that the rights of the majority should be the law of the land.”  “Yes,” he said.  “What about the ‘Tyranny of the Majority?  You know, when the majority imposes its will and either disregards or oppresses the will of a minority.  Didn’t the forefathers of this country oppose that?”  He looked deeply confused.  Not sure what to say.  Another person, energized and empowered by what I had asked, said, “what about that?”  And another asked, actually a member of the local Unitarian Universalist church got up, and said, “Marital rights are human rights aren’t they?”  At that point an aide removed Vander Plaats from the Pizza Ranch and any further discussion.
So now let’s be dojo students and embody the subject matter of Social Justice Judo.  Face your partner.  Person B, put your hand on person A’s shoulder.  Person A, sit up, feet flat, eyes closed, and take a deep breath.  Attend to your body, mind and emotions.  Now person B, gently push and person A, use the energy person B is giving you.  Person A now open your eyes.  Its person B’s turn.  Person A, put your hand on person B’s shoulder.  Person B, sit up, feet flat, eyes closed, and take a deep breath.  Attend to your body, mind, and emotions.  Now person A, gently push.  Person B use the energy that person A is giving you.   Now everyone bring your attention back up here. 
            I encourage each of you to go out and find a way to do a little Social Justice Judo.  Create new moves and come back and share them with us.  We will practice them here together.  We will embody new ways to be both resistant and resilient.  This church will be our dojo. 

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