So much to tell. And so much to live and hope that you remember. It's so easy to get caught up in it all and forget who you are. My prayer over the last few weeks of insanity has been, first, for grace, and second, that I would remember who I am, in order to act out of that place of being. I did not always succeed. It's dangerous how quickly our brain and our spirit interact with our tongue and our body - a miracle of creation and science, to be sure, but also a curse that enables you to act or speak as an impulse of the moment. I am grateful for the grace of my fellow human beings.
I just spent a week in New Orleans for my work's biggest event of the year and the culmination of most of my efforts this year. Nearly 3,000 leaders in Christian community development gathered in NOLA for our national conference. Amazingly, I came out on the other side of it in one piece. It was maybe the longest week of my life and definitely the most exhausting. By the end of it, I felt very much like I feel after flying overseas for 20 odd hours. No major life decisions should be made in these moments.
It was really incredible to see 3,000 kindred spirits from all over the US and different parts of the world come together for a few days to consider how we might further change the world, how we might transform our communities. Do we all agree on all things? No, no we don't. And that's good, because how does a community of same-minded people grow. But I think I can safely say that we do all agree that this isn't how it's supposed to be, and something has to change.
I sat in a session where a pastor shared that we must also remember to care for our own souls in the midst of this change-the-world work. The next morning, writer and attorney Michelle Alexander spoke about mass incarceration, our incredibly inept penal system, and how it has become like a "new Jim Crow." I sat, speechless and captivated, as she spoke, stating, "The criminal justice system operates more as a form of racial control than a system of crime prevention." And later that night, an American Jesuit priest, came on stage - looking a bit like Kris Kringle - and shared about his 20+ years of work with gang-involved youth in Los Angeles.
How do you begin to process all of this?! How do you go back to an office and a desk and a quiet home after hearing all of this? It changes you, and it plagues you. And it becomes increasingly difficult to keep working behind that desk and keep living, having learned and heard and experienced all of that. Not to mention the fact that this is all wrapped into my work. And I experienced all of this while in a half-present state of mind, impaired by my exhaustion.
We slipped out into the city for a night. In search of beignets and jazz.
Well, at some point, you have to go home. And a huge part of you is exceedingly grateful for the normalcy and silence of home after this kind of experience. Because you need the familiar, the routine, the rhythm of making coffee in the morning and walking to the library, to begin to ponder the harder questions of what this all means.
On my last day in New Orleans, I took a gloriously solo streetcar ride to The Ruby Slipper for breakfast. After several straight days amidst thousands of people, I was aching for some time alone. This is one of my favorite spots in New Orleans. Their name was inspired by a powerful sense of homecoming when they returned to New Orleans after Katrina. "There's no place like home."
I found this blessing from John O'Donahue that has resonated with me this week, upon coming home with pockets full of all we have seen and heard, considering my own Personal Legend.
When the light around you lessens...
When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself...
Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world,
Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,
Know that you are not alone
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.