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David Ullendorff had just moved to a new home in Los Angeles with his wife and two young children. David and his wife were very different people in one important way: How they viewed the world. His wife believed that the world was a dangerous place and so she would take out the groceries, lock the car, unlock the house, go in, lock the house, come back out, unlock the car, take out more groceries, lock the car, unlock the house and so on. David on the other hand thought all of this was ridiculous. Just grab the groceries and go into the house. What really unnerved his wife was their next door neighbor who at Halloween seemed to have real coffins, and real hatchets and real human skulls and when he didn’t like something or thought it suspicious or out of place would video tape it.
Then one day David arrived home, pulled into the garage and leaving the garage door open, picked up his four year old son out the car, and then closed the garage door, just as it was closing, two men with guns jumped into the garage and confronted David, telling him that they would kill him if he didn’t do what they said to do. They told him to turn off the alarm. He said they didn’t have an alarm, they didn’t like that answer so they hit him with the gun. He started to bleed but he was still holding his son, who appeared to be sleeping. They told him to show him where the safe was, and he said he didn’t have a safe, they didn’t like that answer either and they then forced him towards the door and he put down his son on the garage floor, still sleeping, figuring it was safer to move the bad guys away from his son. They forced their way with him into the house surprising his nanny and his one year daughter and forced them into a closet. The men then ransacked the house looking for valuables. David was sure he and his nanny and his children would all die. Then David heard one of the robbers cell phone ring and a few words were said and then it was quiet. After a while, David opened the door and saw the men were gone. The place was a wreck but the men were gone. He ran to the garage and there was his son, still asleep. After he called the police and his wife (who had a big old ‘I told you so’ for him) he learned that there had been a third guy in the getaway car, and that the creepy neighbor seeing this strange car on the street came out and started videotaping it. The driver was spooked and called his buddies to escape.
After the event, David and his wife took their soon to a psychiatrist who spoke with the boy who remembered the incident, half asleep and said that the two men were evil robots who had come into the garage, and that they could hurt his Dad but wouldn’t hurt him, because toys don’t hurt children and then he fell back asleep. The psychiatrist described this reaction and the sleep as a “frozen fear response”. The frozen fear response is what mammals do under life threatening circumstances when faced with no chance of escape. They fall asleep, like possums, and young children and many young mammals do the same thing. (Adapted from The Moth)
Sometimes being brave is not engaging our fears but surviving to engage them another day. Sometimes courage is standing against evil. Sometimes it is being a non-conformist remembering the words of Rita Brown “The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself”. And then courage is stepping into your true self, to remember as Brene Brown said that “if you can see your path before, it’s probably not your path”. (From Braving Wilderness)
“Courage is a heart word. The Latin meaning added to the French is “to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart.” As Brown says “…today we typically associate courage with brave deeds. But..this fails to recognize the inner strength …required for us to speak honestly…speaking from our hearts is what (she) calls ‘ordinary courage’”
I believe that in order to live a fuller spiritual life – and let me say that by spiritual life, I mean any practice that leads us to peace and greater understanding – we must act in a way that goes beyond our feelings of discomfort. Courage is our heaven. Fear is the great Satan here. Fear drives people to kill, fear drives them to abandon their families, their principles, their communities, even this one. Fear keeps us from being uncomfortable. Courage rests in moving beyond fear and feelings towards the guiding principles of our free religion; compassion, trust and hope.
Courage is not the absence of fear, courage is reason over fear. By calming our fears of what will happen to us, and trusting a little more in the good will of people, we are able to open ourselves up to the Spirit of Life and Love. In fact, there is some outstanding evidence that suggests that if we act courageously or virtuously or kindly we will actually train our brains to look at the world in a different way. Dr. Jeffry Schwartz, (see The Mind and The Brain) UCLA Professor of Psychiatry recently finished research that shows by intentionally choosing to view your environment in new ways, rewrite your personal narrative, and step into action in the presence of your fears, you become more competent in whatever those actions may be, but also build your “courage muscles” so you can respond more effectively in other areas of your life. – http://margiewarrell.com/neuroplasticity-to-outsmart-your-brain/#sthash.ONIku3wM.dpufIn.
In AA they call this “fake it to make it”, I am sure the UUs in that church were not feeling love but they acted as if they were, and I believe their depth of compassion towards others and themselves grew that day.
We here could do the same. We here could move beyond our fear of change, and trust in the love which is at the center of this church. Becoming courage is believing in one another and the principles that our faith stand by on the front of that order of service. These are not just words, these are what we believe.
However, another dimension to becoming courage is not so evident. We are not alone. We are not alone here. Not alone in our families. Not alone in our faith. Courage rests in not being alone. Either in the face of injustice or in the face of uncertainty and change.
When our BLM sign was stolen yet again, we heard from many in support of our cause (although I find it curious that there is no other institution who has put one up), in fact, many more including some donations to continue to do this work. We have also heard from those who disagree with our position. David and I have had some very respectful conversations. Indeed, one of the reasons we proclaim BLM is to encourage honest dialog about race across differences. In a country that is increasingly polarized this is not only a moral demand but a spiritual one. We need to encourage people to come out of their echo chambers and hear from those truly different from us. We do this to encourage others to engage in saving our world. Get it? En-Courage?
The blogger Dan Woog has been reporting on our sign. His last post about it being stolen again, garnered 66 responses, on all side of the question. And unlike most blog comments, this was civil and engaging as our own Steve Axhelim wrote:
“So this is why we engage our first amendment rights. To provoke dialogue even though we may not like it or agree with it. This is what will keep us free. As a member of UU Westport and a former board member, I could not be more proud of my church and the great leadership of our Social Justice Director David Vita, and our Senior Minister John Morehouse. We will hang the banner again and again and again….”
Becoming Courage is not always so public. I was reminded recently of a story I heard not long ago of a woman who had lost her beloved husband of 50 years. Her daughter had bought her a trip to visit the great gardens of Britain by train. Her daughter couldn’t go. Our UU was afraid. Who would help her if she got lost? How would she manage? Who would lift her bag onto the luggage rack? Her daughter smiled “Someone will lift your bag for you mom. You will see.” She finally swallowed her fears and told herself she could do it. Sure enough, the first leg of the train she couldn’t lift the bag, being a UU she kept telling herself she could do it all by herself but it was too much. Just then a man, perhaps a little younger, offered to help. He even sat down and they chatted all the way. It wasn’t a romance but she suddenly understood the world was full of more people who want to help than not. And for those of us who are more vulnerable than others, I want to say that becoming courage may just be in living another day. No judgement here. This is your journey. We are all here to help you along it.
It’s tempting in the midst of all this change and the insanity of the world – the crisis in North Korea, children dying, thousands of children coming across the border to think that evil has conquered us. But take courage my friends, the world, while suffering, is also blessed. And more blessed than we might imagine. As a free faith it might be tempting to retreat into the safety of our own beliefs. But we are called beyond that, we are called to become courage. To help. To sing out the hatred.
Becoming courage is the work of our liberal religion, especially because we depend on one another to help us discern meaning. That faith is embedded in the three laws of geese. Canadian Geese make the perilous journey from north to south and back each year. Thousands of miles with nothing more than instinct. How do they survive and manage to keep going? First, they care for the fallen. If a goose falls the entire flock goes down to help. That was what happens in a community like ours. When we falter someone else takes up the load. Shared leadership is the sign of a liberal and progressive faith. Finally they honk encouragement from behind. No one of us is courageous alone. All of us need one another. We are courageous by simply coming here. Invite your friends.
David and his family eventually moved from their home in Los Angeles after the robbery, more to accommodate a growing family then for anything else. To this day though, David refuses to close the garage door before getting out of his car. He refuses to look under his bushes. He refuses to live in fear, even though he is sometimes afraid. He has become courage, of the heart. And he is happy.
Our spiritual identity is not forged alone but together, love is the spirt… As Rilke wrote “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives our princesses who are only waiting to see us act, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something that needs our love. Perhaps.