Mashed Potatoes and Biological Straws

Mashed Potatoes and Biological Straws

Some mornings I quite simply have to kick my sorry-ass heart out of bed. There’s really no other way to say it.

I usually laugh while doing it. The humour of the moment is not lost on me, the ridiculous picture of my mind convincing my heart to behave…well, there goes my lifelong mantra that doctrine is nothing more than an intellectual expression of my heart’s journey: If I Live it, I Believe it.

If you’d spent a little time with me in my earlier years, you would have heard a lot of words about what’s wrong with this world. Laced together with anger, tenderness, conviction, blame. Not your best guest at Christmas Dinners. Very sincere to be sure, but nonetheless, a royal pain when the main point is to have another round of Mom’s mashed potatoes. I’ve seen enough eyes roll to carry a train across a Continent.

We all have profoundly formative experiences in our youth that set a course for the decades that follow. For me, repetitive physical contact with desperately poor people–combined with the callous and cold response of super religious people–became the coordinates of a child’s heart’s calling. In the years that followed I travelled to war zones, refugee camps, drought stricken villages, orphanages, garbage dump communities and shanty town cities across the world where too many people wade through open sewer and compete with rats for scraps of food.

I’m grateful for this schooling. I received it then as Gift, and today I continue to experience it as the generous education of my heart. And hopefully as the years have gathered I have learned to both honour that gift in how I live my life and to nurture that gift with the wisdom and grace that can come to us with time. It’s not been a straight, level road.
During the early youthful days of travel my mind gathered enough stories and statistics to sink any arguments trying to float social theories and theologies that sidelined the poor. And I gave it my best with all my passion. Not a good strategy for getting on next year’s Dinner list. And probably not the best strategy for inviting people into meaningful engagement with the poor and our own hearts. But we are who we are, as silly as that sounds, and as I was taught in High School, ‘Wat die hart van vol is, loop die mond van oor.’ What fills the heart overflows at the mouth.

I used to be quite desperate to convince people to care about those who live on the very margins of existence. And I belonged to a religious system that seemed to be wired for love. Some of the biblical texts that made up my childhood lessons: How can we say we love God if we do not love our neighbour? Love does no harm to its neighbours. Love your neighbour as you love yourself. Those who love the Poor lend to their Creator. Love is the fulfilment of the Law.
Just to name a few.

Yet arguments don’t excite me anymore. Stories and statistics remain important to me. But they’ve taken their place inside the beautiful invitation that speaks gently to my core. Every day I pray for my heart to be True. The source of that prayer remains a Mystery. I am grateful for its persistence being well aware of my ability to live isolated from the cries of our precious world. When I approach my heart with careful ears, listening with great intention to the blood it pumps, I experience an expansion in my consciousness, an expansion in generosity, kindness, welcome, humility, courage. And when I block my ears, my heart contracts, rather than living its true content.

Do we really believe that Love is sufficient for this world’s ills, including my own? Can it rid the world of poverty, racism, oppression, military invasions, mass school shootings, child detention centres, environmental destruction, nationalism, imbecilic leaders, slave trade and cell phone upgrades? Or Healthy Super Foods packaged in toxic plastic? Or John Lennon’s Imagine remixed for elevators? That’s my short list. After dessert I can tell you the rest.

Does Love have its Limits? I think not. Rather, we limit our capacity to be love.

Maybe I’ve just been taken off the invite list again.

Hear me out on this one: we have within our collective heart the seeds of all for which this world truly longs. And no seed is the same, no heart is identical to another. That’s the beauty of it. Each heart carries its own unique medicine, its particular salve. And so rather than trying to replicate our convictions in others, we invite out of others the possibility of living true to the nature and purpose of what beats inside our diverse thumpers. Some hearts have been given the song of the sunbird, bringing joy and laughter to this place we call home. Some carry the long and calming note of the oboe reminding us that all will be well, all will be well. Others carry the cry of a mother for her harmed children, the call of the coyote who announces a great light in the very dark of night, the prayer of fire which burns away all that does not serve. All of it together a great symphony of Love.

On my first day of University, too many moons ago, I sat with 400 other students and recorded our Professor’s opening statement to the semester long course: We humans are nothing more than a highly evolved biological straw.

We put things in the one end and they flow out the other end.

A heart that loves or a highly evolved straw.

Whether or not we believe we are nothing more than a highly evolved straw we all too often live as though we are, don’t we? We have conceded our hearts to the logic of power, bombs, false history, injury, hatred, convenience, doctrine, fear, isolation. While we are outraged at kids being stuffed into cages at our borders we live on the graves of a million slaughtered indigenous people who were in the way of our national freedom story. While we wrest an unjust racist government from power in a freedom movement that proclaims ‘no peace without justice’ we then become unjust toward those who formerly oppressed. We’re against killing so we kill millions to prevent killing. We carry our injuries and scars like trophies while living a victim identity, blaming all around us for our unhappy lives.

We destroy entire nations on our proclaimed path of peace. We fix our identities in structures that guarantee our beliefs or worldview, dismissing those outside the gate with our prejudice, rancour and deceit.

And what does Love do? It Loves. It’s not a strategy, a power play, a means to an end, a closed group, or the answer.

It. Just. Loves.

Back to my sorry-ass heart. And yours. There is nothing more precious we can offer this world. And the only way to offer it up is to be true to it. A demanding and costly path to be sure. A treasure of infinite mystery and grace.

Yes, please, another serving of mashed potatoes. Oh, and did I mention I think we should correctly label each end of the straw? Wat die hart van vol is…