Blessing the Hands That Vote

This ceremony makes voting a matter of the heart. Anyone can do it! Ask a friend to hold out the hand with which he or she commits to vote in the next election. Hold that hand, or anoint it with light oil, and say: “May God, who is Love (or just Love) guide your hand to vote for the common good!”

This video shows the ceremony being conducted at Mt Hollywood Congregational United Church of Christ in Sunday 10:30 worship in Los Angeles on 5-22-16. Music: “Deeper Love” (words by Jim Burklo, tune: The Water Is Wide) – see the lyrics HERE. Oil for anointing: Josie Maran Organic Argan Oil. Videographer: David Weinreb.  More about ways to bring the spiritual power of ritual to the process of voting at the website of Progressive Christians Uniting: DEEPER LOVE, and in the new book with the same title.

“It is not only our privilege and our right to vote – it is our responsibility and our honor to cast our ballots – in June and in November and in all the elections to come. We may not like any or all of the people on that ballot – but each vote is needed to keep evil at bay, to keep progressing in G-d’s plan for the Beloved Community, a Global Village of compassion and protection and inclusion and health. If we are not G-d’s Accomplices in repairing the world, then we are accomplices of those who would tear it apart.” — Anne Cohen, pastor, Mt Hollywood Congregational United Church of Christ

Mindful Service

A young man rapidly walked into the parking lot of our drop in center just as we locked up for the day. We had served 60 hamburgers and a lot of other donated food, witnessed dozens of stories, and distributed a load of donated socks to homeless people who took off their holey or decomposed ones, tossed them in the garbage, and put on the new ones. This young man, one of our regulars, didn’t make it until the food and socks were gone and the folding chairs were tucked away neatly in the back of the motor home that served as our headquarters.

He was a lost soul from the South who migrated to California to live with his brother and seek a better life. But his brother turned him on to crack cocaine, got them both evicted, and introduced him to the world of the streets instead. He got into fist and knife fights. He was in and out of hospitals and jails. But he was a hard worker. When he was straight, when he wasn’t institutionalized, he always held jobs, sometimes two or three at a time. He was helpful at our center; he brought listings for our job board in order to help the others find work. He helped with the cleaning and the cooking. He was a lost soul from the South who migrated to live with his brother and seek a better life. But his brother turned him on to crack, got them both evicted, and introduced him to the world of the streets instead.

“What, no food, Jim? I gotta eat.”

“Sorry, but it’s all gone. Our food closet is closed, too, at this hour. But in a few hours our soup kitchen will be open.”

“Forget it!” he yelled. “I gotta eat now. I’m starved. I’ve been working all day at my job, and I’m not going to wait. Don’t worry about me, I’ll just go and steal something.” He spun and raced back downtown before I could plea for his patience.

Such was the service that we provided at the Urban Ministry of Palo Alto when I was its director in the 1980’s and 90’s. We didn’t fix his cocaine dependence. We didn’t end his homelessness. But we received and honored his story. We acknowledged his experience of the meaning of his circumstances. After all, it wasn’t everywhere that a man could feel comfortable announcing his plans to rip off a supermarket.

He came back the next morning and apologized for his frustration the night before. “I went and ate dinner at the church last night, and I didn’t steal anything.” He had told me lies before, and this might have been another one. But I accepted his apology, which I needed less than his affirmation of our relationship. After a good chat, he ate some of the breakfast food we offered at our drop in center, and went off to do his day.

In my years of serving homeless and other people in crisis on the streets, there were many times when I succumbed to the temptation to use phrases like “down on their luck”, “just having a hard time”, “made bad choices” or “people like us who happen to be in trouble”. But explaining their circumstances in these terms did not honor the meanings their stories had for them. The events of their lives were rich with significance, if only I had ears to hear them. Even their lies were worth noting. Often I was able to listen for truth they told in choosing which of the many untruths they could have told. Being mindful of these meanings was a high form of service to them.

Was this young man a criminal, a drug addict, a mother’s loving son, a faithful brother, a good worker, or one of those homeless people whose “plight” was decried in the papers? A person might be defined as merely homeless, and afforded all manner of charity. The next day, that same person might get arrested for an old warrant and be defined as a criminal, one of those drunk drivers that mothers are against, one of the reviled dealers or users of dope, one of those awful wife- and child- beaters. The public begrudges feeding in jail the same anonymous people they are glad to feed in the soup kitchen. This irony is not lost on homeless people; they know when they are not being treated as individuals, that their personal stories are not heard and valued.

Mindful prayer and service to other people are one and the same spiritual discipline: paying attention with intense interest and an open, caring, non-judgmental heart.

Website: JIMBURKLO.COM Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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