Through Others’ Eyes

Through Others’ Eyes

I am at the IDEC (the International Democratic Education Conference) in Boulder, Colorado. This is a uniquely structured, “unlike any other” conference of educators and students that is hosted each year in different locations around the globe. I am here seeking inspiration, to learn from my global kindred, and to be among people who envision a future in which every child and adult is affirmed as a beloved, respected individual.

My home-base group includes people from the UK, Mexico, Japan, and multiples US states. Photo by International Democratic Education Conference 2013.
My home-base group includes educators and others from the UK, Mexico, Japan, and multiple US states.IDEC 2013 includes participants from 36 countries. Photo by International Democratic Education Conference 2013.

One of the features of the conference this year are home-base groups. Each day, we meet with the same small group to reflect on our experiences of the day.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of two reflections shared by two women this afternoon: one from England and the other from Japan.

Having spent some time observing people on Boulder’s Pearl Street (a closed street area of shops and restaurants) a woman from England characterized Americans as a people of openness and generosity. Describing the interactions between people and a street performer she said, “What a wonderful culture!”

I confess I felt pride in my homeland as I listened to her. Yes, despite our problems, we are a good people. However, I was quickly reminded that we’re also a people who are capable of unleashing violence on others.

Today was the 68th Anniversary of the nuclear strike against Hiroshima, a fact which was not in my consciousness. It was, however, on the mind of a Japanese woman in my group. She lamented the destructiveness of nuclear weapons and the danger of nuclear power as evident in the Fukushima disaster. I detected no anger with Americans; she never mentioned us. However, our role in this human tragedy was not lost on me.

Her sadness with the evils humanity can wreak were superseded by her passion for changing the world. A young woman, I felt hopeful listening to her speak on this disgraceful anniversary in human (and American) history.

Human beings are messy. The same people — my people — who are open and generous are also capable of great evil. The truth is that humanity is imperfect and fragmented. Yet, at IDEC I feel hopeful; it doesn’t have to be this way.

And so this evening, I simply pray that we find the holy within each other that we might realize we are One. When we do, we will be reluctant to harm one another. When we do, I am convinced that God will dance a jig of joy!

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 CEB

Freak Accidents & God

Freak Accidents & God

Yes, the photo is gross. Without the photo, however, you would not grasp the severity of the burn on my toes. The unofficial medical diagnosis (via emailed photos) is that I received a second-degree burn.

I am en route to the International Democratic Education Conference in Boulder, Colorado from my home in eastern Oregon. I chose to drive the scenic route, taking my time. So, why when I am intentionally focused on God’s creation would God allow this to happen? Why Would a loving God allow my foot to get burned in a freak accident when I have trails to hike? 

The short answer is like the major accidents, like hurricanes, like all manner of trauma in the world, God did not cause me to burn my foot. God did not cause the cheese on the microwave pizza to slide off the crust as I moved it to a plate. God did not cause bubbling cheese to land on my bare foot in a roadside motel. That is not the God that I perceive and experience.

My foot twenty-four hours later after a day of driving AND my insistence that I put on my hiking boots long enough to walk a trail at the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Photo by Tim Graves
My foot twenty-four hours later after a day of driving AND my insistence that I put on my hiking boots long enough to walk a trail at the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Photo by Tim Graves

Sadly, that is what too many people perceive as God. Too many religious (and even too many atheists) define God as capricious, arbitrary, and a chess master with us as pawns. God in this view is all-powerful and all-knowing. The trouble with that God is that you end up blaming God for cancer, bad weather, and for scalding cheese.

For me, God is all-knowing only in the sense that God knew it was a possibility that, given the free-will I possess, I (and those who designed the cheese and microwave) that events might lead to a second-degree burn on my foot. God who loves each atom as much as each human being encouraged decisions that would lead to good. Sadly, free-will led to blisters.

In the moment of pain, in that time when I screamed out in my motel room, dancing with bubbling cheese on my foot, God felt my skin burning. Waking to the blisters on my foot, my disappointment at what this might mean for my planned journey, God also felt my worry and frustration. But the loving One who is in each of us (and each teeny speck of Creation), the loving One who is in the connections between us, and the loving One who lures us — never forces us — doesn’t allow bad things to have the final say.

Just as in the Christian narrative through which I come to the Divine, even something as heinous as a crucifixion does not stop the power of love from changing the world. God uses what happens for good. God does NOT cause bad things to happen. The distinction is significant because it speaks to the nature of love.

The Divine One continues to speak to me as I continue my journey, albeit driving in my slippers instead of my hiking boots. Extravagant & relentless Love is like that, it sticks with us, it empathizes with us, and it helps us and encourages us to see the unfolding realm of God no matter what challenges befall us.