One day at a time.

One day at a time.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wasabi and Other Spiritual Truths

I love my mother.  In part, because she's such a good sport when I include embarrassing, funny, sometimes awkward family stories in my sermons and blog.  So with permission given from a nearly saintly mother with a life turned public, here is a recent story that has some relevance for the season...

Over Thanksgiving, my parents came to visit me in my new home in Charlotte, NC.  Somehow, I mentioned that I like antique furniture a whole lot because of the character, imperfections, and stories it carries.  My parents nod their head in agreement and my mom points to a dresser in an antique store window we were perusing.

"Exactly," she says pointing to a missing handle on the dresser.  "Some people see this as a flaw, but really you can replace all the handles.  Mix and match.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  In fact, I was just reading an article about how to bring the Japanese art of imperfection into your life-- the art of wasabi," my mother says smiling brightly.

I scrunched up my nose and furrowed my eyebrows.  Wasabi?  I mean I guess that little pea colored ball of spice added to my sushi plate isn't perfect, but an art of imperfection?  I had images of wasabi sculptures in art-deco museums in Tokyo alongside wall mountings of ginger.  They would serve sake in these museums and admire the wasabi sculptures while sushi bars awaited at the museum's exit.

"Really, wasabi?" I ask.

My mother looked a mixture of amused and embarrassed.  "Oh, no! Not wasabi,  I mean, wabi-sabi."

When I stopped laughing, I learned a bit about wabi-sabi.  It's the practice of looking at imperfection from chips to cracks, as the universe's symbol of wisdom.  Wabi-sabi reminds us that perfection is not possible, nor is perfection worth seeking. In this season of decking the halls, it's easy to get lost in that picture perfect Christmas.  You know the image.  It includes family gathered, fireplace lit, tree adorned, table set and presents waiting.  I don't know anyone with a perfect Christmas.  Someone is late, something burns, a gift forgotten, travel delayed with snow and ice and then there are the Christmas tree lights that won't work because a single bulb is out.  You can lose days trying to find that bulb!

I know I've said this before and even blogged it before but it bares repeating (if not just for myself).

Yet, in truth the real beauty of Christmas is often in all the imperfect details: a baby born in a barn, no room at the inn, unprepared parents, and a host of unexpected guests.  The Christmas story is far from a perfect story, but rather a reminder of all the hope that can be had when we let go of the picture as we would have it, and embrace the imperfections as part of the beauty in this world.  Hope lies in that makeshift manger not a perfectly created cradle. The picture of Christmas is simply made holy in the surrender to all that is imperfect.

So I am wishing you all a very wasabi Christmas...hmmm.....

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mental Nutrition

Someone recently forwarded me a video of a man named Narayanan Krishnan, a well regarded and talented chef.  Krishnan returned home for a visit one day and saw a man so destitute that he was eating his own waste for food.  It was a moment that changed Krishnan's life.  He left a well paying job as an executive chef to return to his home in Madurai, India.  He began feeding the poor, mentally ill, and destitute.  Krishnan is now the founder of the Akshaya Trust, which to date has served over 1.2 million meals.  For more information see the following CNN article.

It would be enough if the Akshaya Trust was just about feeding people.  It would be enough if Krishnan was just a kind man, but there is much more to this story.  His work is also about transforming social class.  A member of the Brahmin, Krishnan was raised with the belief that his class of people should not look at or even touch the destitute-- let alone feed and bathe them.  His organization calls us all to a higher recognition of what it means to be human, and what is possible if we call our hope into action.

There's a lot of talk about December being the season of hope.  Hope takes on the image of a Christmas miracle with bells ringing and presents appearing underneath trees.  The wonder-filled faces of children become the images stamped on each commercial, carol and shopping mall.

And maybe, that classic image of the child who believes isn't so off the mark from the spirit of Christmas.  Remember when you believed in something?  Really, believed in an idealistic way that you might make the world a better place? We tend to lose our inner child as we get older.  Life is complicated and overwhelming.  We forget that we don't have to settle for the world as it is.  Krishnan reminds us that a little hope, a little belief, can change lives.  That kind of hope goes to the heart of the nativity-- a story that is still changing lives.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Holiday Mantra: Kindling Kindness

Let's be kind.  Not because Santa's watching.  Or even because God may be watching.  Not even because the neighbors are watching or because anyone is keeping a tally on kindness.  Let's be kind because it's the spirit of something greater.  It's the spirit we need in the flurry, the rush, the panic of commercialized Christmas.

I worry about the Christmas cards going out and the menorah being lit each night.  I try to get the tree up in time, the leaves raked and the greens hung around every corner.  I try to make the plans and the reservations.  To get the right holiday cheer into music, food, clothing, presents, gift wrap, phone calls, emails, presents, and adornments (not to mention ornaments), and presents.  Did I mention presents?

But what if I just let the hot cocoa get a little cold?  Let the pies burn and the yard look unkempt and untidy?  What if all that energy into being cheerful was actually used to rekindle kindness: the greatest cheer of all? What if I committed to being here with you and offering you kindness?

I think we are getting better at this.  At least this year, there weren't any deaths during black Friday shopping as parents vied for the last Tickle Me Elmo (or whatever is big this year).  And we've at least moved away from (however slowly) demanding a birth certificate from our President.  But we are still here; throwing spitballs in the Senate (while the jobless rate hits 9.8%), screaming obscenities at LeBron James for a team trade, and giving hell to TSA officials who surely aren't enjoying the pat down anymore than we are.

There are a lot of reasons for the season.  Perfection isn't a single one of them.  It feels so easy to get pulled into the frenzy and become biting and impatient.  So in the rush and the worry this year and all the excitement, which undoubtedly causes some anxiety, I am going to be kind.  I am going to take in a deep breath and be kind to myself, to my neighbor, to my loved ones and church.  It won't be perfect.  Not everything will be complete.  But there will be kindness; soul cheerfulness.  And perhaps, maybe, hope may return to us all, for a moment,  and for however brief, eclipse fear and hate.

In the meantime, I wrapping up kindness in all sorts of ways.