Teri Orr: ‘We hold these truths…’
September 25, 2015
That the pope arrived on the eve of Yom Kipper to visit the United States kinda messes with my head. In a good way. It seems we are reaching a place on the planet when like-minded people are dropping the pretense of old, frozen thoughts and artificial divisions and are racing toward common good. A golden era of golden rule conversations. Of the pope talking about climate change and immigration and doing away with the death penalty and praising, praising the very Women Religious — the American nuns — that Rome had fought against just three years ago. All at the beginning of the Jewish New Year.
And it feels like there is a shift, a magnetic field, a force at work pulling hard to line up like-minded people who are dropping masks and made-up stories and are hungry to live integrated lives of purpose.
New notebook. New pen. Clean pages. I do this every fall. Religiously. I need to write my own name down in a book for another year. Hope I still have things to say and learn. Much to ask forgiveness for and a bit to forgive. But as I get older, it gets easier to live a more authentic life — painful really to pretend anything less. There was a time I carefully crafted multiple lives — one for work and one for friends and one for family and another at church. It was complicated and exhausting. But it was all I knew.
I didn’t trust my thoughts. My convictions lacked courage. But life can gang up on you sometimes and give you tests to fail repeatedly until you grow tired of how that tastes. And you look for and listen to those voices/people/experiences that ring true. When you start to taste that sweet fruit, honey-dipped, you want more of it.
"Inequality is the root of all evil," says the pope. And it seems so self-evident when a gentle man forcefully says that. And in the same week, Viola Davis becomes the first black woman to receive an Emmy for a dramatic role and she says, "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity." And you realize that sometimes the universe speaks the same words with many voices. And suddenly everywhere you look there are shouts and murmurs about equality and opportunity.
In Starbucks — Starbucks no less — when you’re are picking up your La-te-da in your running suit, you can also pick up Bryan Stevenson’s book, "Just Mercy." A TED speaker and a black lawyer raised in the south, he is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and fighting poverty. Bryan’s message is simple as well — to be a just society we need to treat each other with the same compassion, even, and especially, in the law. Simply with mercy and the just part, of justice.
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The pope has said, "I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner." With such honestly and simplicity he reveals our deepest truth. We all sinners. And if we come from that place, that base place, we can look at one another not with envy or pity or anger or fear but maybe with tender mercies.
Dizzy is how I often I feel these days, not in a medical sense but in a sense of over stimulation and wonder and occasionally — a touch of fear. I don’t think it is endemic to my age but perhaps. I don’t suspect my grandchildren feel the world is moving too fast or social norms and opportunities are racing to the forefront of our consciousness. I suspect, for them, the world is simply moving.
But when the morning light hits the crabapple tree in my front yard and the leaves appear yellow, I have to rub my eyes and recalibrate — are the leaves reflecting the light or have they/are they turning yellow with the fall? Or can both those separate thoughts be true at the same time? The fall down the rabbit hole can be rapid after that.
And I think of the controversial decision by this pope to name Junipero Serra a saint. As a young girl growing up in California his name was everywhere, parks and freeways and of course, tied to the beautiful missions. Nine of the twenty one he had created, oversaw and built. A day apart on horseback. Places for worship and respite. And the Spanish man, who left his country to help share God in a New World — New Spain as Mexico was once called — encountered the native peoples on the West Coast and used them to create those missions — not just their chapels for reflection but the meals that were communion. And there is controversy around this canonization and protests by many Native Americans because Junipero may have been unkind — even abusive to the native peoples to create those great missions. And then the pope’s words whisper in your consciousness: "I am a sinner. It is not a literary genre." And you think maybe that’s it Serra, now Saint, was also a sinner.
Is that the shared human experience? Do we have moments of shame offset by glimpses of grace? This time of year I am filled with questions and I am listening for answers. New notebook, clean pages, pen in hand this very Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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