Happy new Year!
I’d like to introduce this year’s theme by sharing a metaphor from Alcoholics Anonymous. Fair warning - it’s a bit earthy, which is one of the things I love about AA.
AA is relentless in its commitment to keeping it real. Their model of community is so darn incarnational. It is perhaps the best model of church to emerge from the 20th century. They gather in great need, engage without judgement, tell each other the truth in love, practice hospitality for all, and because they are dealing with such serious stuff, refuse to take themselves seriously. It was AA who modeled for the institutional church, a spirituality of imperfection, which can tolerate just about anything except for pretense and fake goodery. At the base of it all is a way of seeing, born of compassion that frees its members to become more human. If that’s not contemplative action, I don’t know what is.
I am told by trusted sources (thanks Ron), that those who remain faithful to their sobriety will eventually hear a loud popping sound – like the sound we make when we put our finger inside our cheek and pop it. Try it. It’s actually quite fun. Seriously…try it.
Can you hear it?
Like the rest of us, it takes a while for most AA members to hear that sound, but eventually they do. When they finally hear it, it’s a holy and joyous occasion – one worthy of great celebration. Upon hearing the sound, they are told (usually by their sponsor with a big smile) that the great popping sound is the sound of their head coming out of their ass.
I find this delightfully playful, painfully honest, amazingly hopeful, and very funny.
I have heard the popping sound many times in my life. Sometimes daily. A long stretch without that glorious noise is the sign of serious trouble. The popping sound is stupendously good news, especially for those of us who have spent years forcibly denying, suppressing, forgetting, and numbing ourselves to death with work, play, money, food, or worst of all, fake goodness that is so often associated with us religious types. To those of us who know the path of fakery, the popping sound is a huge and welcome relief that signals the possibility that we might authentically inhabit our own humanity and perhaps be a position to call forth the humanity of others.
Theologians who prefer less earthy images talk about “felix culpa.” Felix culpa is Latin for “happy fault.” The happy fault is the joyful discovery of being forgiven, which is the massively unexpected consequence for having fallen in the first place. The terrible thing (i.e. humanity’s sin, or having our head up our own ass) turns out to be an occasion for a huge celebration.
Felix culpa is a weird celebration for sure – one that always begins with that grace-filled popping sound.
So, why this metaphor now?
As you know, each year we choose a theme to sit in. Last year we explored the theme “Community in Mission.” It was born out of a conversation with Tim Merrill and Ruben Ortiz in a pizzeria in Philadelphia. It led to the re-opening of the order. The year before that we explored, “Impossibility to Responsibility.”It made our commitment to gender equity real and concrete. This year our theme is "Contemplative Action."
We chose this theme because in order for us to be a community in mission that forms leaders to do things they never thought possible, we must continue to evolve in our vocation. Our cities are desperate for leaders who are intimately acquainted with the celebration I am trying to describe. Such leaders are contemplative activists. It’s a term thrown around a lot these days, but I can’t think of a better one and I think it’s worth exploring.
The volatile climate of our cities, stoked by social, religious, economic and political polarization on both the left and right continues to intensify. It has made this theme all the more vital. Yes, our cities need prophets who can name our faults, but finger wagging prophets telling us what’s wrong are not enough. We need contemplative activists who can show us another way.
Jesus, along with contemplative activists like Dororthy Day, Howard Thurman, and a bunch of wonderful models throughout history, show us it's possible to stand in radical solidarity with the problem itself. From that place we can call forth something more whole and more human on all sides that is not bound by the dualistic, win/lose mind that created the problem in the first place. The contemplative activist shows us it’s possible to act without “re-acting” and to do so with courage, creativity and compassion. I am convinced that it is the contemplative activists who will co-create cities of peace for all people where everyone belongs.
In 2021 we will explore this gift, but the first step is simply to hear that glorious popping sound. Without that sound, we run the huge risk of building fake goodness that leaves us pretending to be something we are not.
So, there it is. The contemplative journey begins where all good journeys begin, with that wonderful, glorious, grace-filled popping sound. It’s not just the sound a champagne bottle makes when it’s being uncorked at a celebration. It is the sound of something even more glorious. It is the sound of sweet liberation on our way to becoming fully human.
May this year be filled with lots and lots of popping sounds.
Wait, I think I just heard another one 🙂