I Seem to Be a Verb
It was an exciting and energetic time to be young. We were spurred on by the sad reality that friends were being drafted and being killed in jungles far away. There was Kent State, there were student strikes, there were demonstrations. The first Earth Day happened on the quad at CU in Boulder. Walking on “the Hill” in Boulder, one could get high on the aroma in the air. And then there was the music, of Joan Baez, , Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Remember? Peter, Paul and Mary “If I had a Hammer. . .” “Blowing in the Wind”, Bob Dylan and “The Times They are a Changin’” Cat Stevens, “Peace Train” John Lennon “All I am saying, is give peace a chance” “Imagine”.
It was all very formative. It was a time of social justice, demands for institutional accountability, the interconnectedness of humanity and our connectedness to the earth and to one another.
What was the uniform of the time? Bell bottom jeans and tie die shirts. Round wire rim glasses.
There were sayings of the time also. “Make love, not war!” “It’ll be a great day when our schools get all the money they need, and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”
There was a man of the times who was an architect, an engineer, a global visionary. He was a poet and a philosopher and considered to have unorthodox views on global issues. His thinking was non-traditional, interdisciplinary and future focused. He thought of himself as “a comprehensive anticipatory design scientist to solve global problems surrounding housing, shelter, transportation education, energy, ecological destruction and poverty. “
His name was Buckminster Fuller, his friends called him Bucky. He held 28 patents and wrote 28 books and received 47 honorary degrees and perhaps he is best known for developing the geodesic dome.
What does Buckminster Fuller have to do with anything this Sunday morning 50 years later at a little gathering on a hill in Western Colorado? Well, for me, coming of age in the 60’s, his book, I Seem to Be a Verb was a very powerful influence in my thinking and becoming. I loved that book and returned to it many times over the years. Basically, it is about how a shift in thinking can alter the course of events. When I started to think about being a speaker this morning, my thoughts again went back to this book. I looked on my bookshelves, but alas, it has not survived my many moves. I went to Amazon to see if I could buy a copy and I saw that it is out of print and a copy is now going for $449. Then, to my delight, I found it on ebay for just $36 and joined in the bidding. I bid $37 and was high bidder and then forgot about it. When I went back, someone had bid $38 at the last minute and alas, it was not be.
Nevertheless, this book made a huge impression on my young mind. I think that I was as much taken by the alternative thinking of this futurist as the individual things that he said. There is a quote from this book that has always spoken to me, made sense to me, guided me as I have lived good part of my life counterculture and not really a part of the mainstream in many ways. The quote is this. . .
“I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing---a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process—an integral function of the universe.”
A verb is a kind of word (part of speech) that tells about an action or a state.
And when we think about it, Doing is a part of most religious mandates. It is not enough to just think about things and to spout and speak.
“My Jewish Mother, may she rest in peace, used to always say, I was thinking about doing such and such and I didn’t get to it. Ahhh the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Interesting since there really is not a place called hell in the Jewish tradition.
My uncle Max would quote the Yiddish and say, “don’t ask, (as in what do you need), just DO!” In other words, when someone is need of help, don’t ask or say, let me know if there is anything that I can do. Just do!
There have been many throughout history who have been shining examples of DOING in the face of adversity. Who are your heroes? Who stands out for you? Mother Theresa? Wangari Mathai, the African woman who started the green belt movement? Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered in 1980 for speaking out against military oppression? Malala,the young Pakistani activist and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. known for her human rights advocacy, especially for the education of women and children in her native Pakistan?, or is it the doctors who volunteer with doctors without borders and risk life and limb to provide health care for those who do without?
How about Dorothy Day, an editor in the early 20th century who was a pacifist and worked for women’s suffrage? Or Susan B Anthony? Or the other suffragettes.
Who are your historical heroes?
And then there are the people in our community who do. . .
What about the teachers all who give of their hearts and souls and money so that kids are cared for and have the best possibility of learning and growing to their fullest potential? And what about the kids that work all year to put away money to be able to buy Christmas gifts for other kids who have little. And the people in your lives who can physically do little, but are present and listen to you with authenticity, wisdom and kindness?
Are not these people all shining examples of DOING and kindness?
And we are not shy of examples of doing in our community here at Koinonia. Janie and her commitment to the people of El Salvador has drawn many into ministry there. Craig, Deb, Dave, and the many people who have gone to help all speak of a very inspired experience, a gift bestowed upon them that was greater than anything that they could give the people.
The students who do Light Up the Night are an inspiration of doing in our World.
Stan and his commitment to Outward Bound has allowed so many of us to experience giving in this way.
David and Judy selflessly walked the streets and pounded on doors to better our community.
Steve who has taken the helm at Western Colorado Alliance.
Kay, who directs Marillac Clinic is a shining example of someone giving to the world based on principle and plowing ahead, regardless of roadblocks.
Doing is how we follow the mandates of our history. But it is also breaks down into simple biology. As humans we are biochemically wired to do and to give. According to Eva Ritvo MD, “ We are wired for generosity. While the brain is remarkably complex, the neurochemical drivers of happiness are quite easy to identify. Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin make up the Happiness Trifecta. Any activity that increases the production of these neurochemicals will cause a boost in mood. It’s really that simple.
But the benefits don’t stop at moods! Serotonin is connected to sleep, digestion, memory, learning, and appetite. Dopamine is connected to motivation and arousal. Oxytocin “the cuddle hormone” is among the most ancient of our neurochemicals and has a powerful effect on the brain and the body. When oxytocin begins to flow, blood pressure decreases. Bonding increases, social fears are reduced and trust and empathy are enhanced. Oxytocin is also an anti-inflammatory and reduces pain and enhances wound healing.
So, if giving allows us to secrete all these chemicals at once, we owe it to ourselves to give [and do] as often as possible!“
Don’t you think that it’s pure genius that we can get such benefit and pleasure from doing for others? What an amazing reciprocal system! How did that happen?
Personally, I never tire of hearing the verse from Micah. “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” To do, to love and to walk. . . They are simple and peaceful words.
The Talmud, the Jewish book of commentary on the Torah say that the world stands on three things the Torah (knowledge and law), service and acts of loving kindness. Again, learn, serve and do!
It follows up with, “You are not obligated to complete the work , but neither are you free to desist from it.”
And Jesus said , 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' Again DO. A verb
Our inspired speaker, Greg Moore the Director of the Homeward Bound spoke of each contributing as we are able to give. He recognizes that we live in a community that is rich in gifts. As each of us finds our verbs, the community grows richer.
Years ago, I read an editorial by Jim Wallis in Sojourners magazine, a magazine that bills itself as faith in action for social justice. It was called Eczema, migraines and hangnails. The premise was that this world was such a mess that there were just too many things to worry about and that each person could not take on everything. If we did, we would all have eczema, migraines and hangnails. So, he said, we had to split up the causes, the tasks and the worries. Well, I think that there may be more things that are awry today than 30 years ago, which again highlights the importance of each of us doing what we can do and calling that good.
So what are your verbs? Each in our own way
Learn? Give? Walk? Build? Serve? Sing? Garden? Guide? Teach?
Our gifts are human to human. They may be large or small. And they are = real. Remember the butterfly effect that came out of chaos theory a few years back. The thought that a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world could cause a tornado on the other side of the world. Whether I fully believe that or not, it is a nice thought to contemplate. Sometimes I feel that as a country, we are living the dark night of the soul. I want to believe that doing kindness makes a difference. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. And my friend Bucky Fuller said, “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”
And that is only half of the story.
We live in a world that too often tells us the things are either- or... Perhaps it is more often both- and.
The first part of the definition of the word verb is that it is a part of speech that tells about action. The second part says that it describes a state or a state of being. And perhaps I am both.
Meditation has traditionally been quite difficult for me. It is hard for me to slow down physically or in my mind. It has always been a “should”. I am slowly making my way through a book by Daniel Harris called “Waking UP” He also has an app with daily meditations. Some meditations are instructive, and some are more about sitting in quiet space. His teachings are that we don’t really have to get anywhere. Perhaps we are already here, and we just need to learn to notice. I am trying to sense and intuit that. It is very difficult to get in touch with the wordless.
I read the words as I try to understand.
As CS Lewis said “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.
In Zen Buddhism there are four Zen dicta, ascribed to Zen’s legendary founder which are always quoted to illustrate the essential Zen spirit.
All of these are a stripping away of distraction and an arrival at the core of being. Bucky says, “Ninety-nine per cent of who you are is invisible and untouchable.” A sense of BEING!
In Exodus God tells Moses that “I am who I am” a state of being.
The 46th Psalm says, be still and know that I am God BE, a verb
So, I ask you. . . how do you “Be Still?” How do you rejuvenate? Get in touch? Recharge?
Do you practice meditation? Do you watch your breath come in and out of your Body? Do you watch a sunset, or a sunrise or smell the rain? Do you listen to or play music? Do you create Art? Do you listen to or read wise words? Do you pray? Do you read or write poetry? Do you feel the power and the energy of a spirit within you? Do you bring up images that invoke peacefulness?
Our young friend Lewis, who has moved with his family to Death Valley, recently went on a hike with his family to an oasis in the desert where there was a beautiful waterfall. Those of you who know Lewis, know that he loves snails. When his buddy, the snail went on to the Great Garden, if was one of the saddest days of his young life. So, can you imagine his great elation to find many snails at this desert Oasis. Can’t you imagine the deep delight in his young developing spirit?
How do you get in touch with the Spirit of gentleness, your soul? With the real you? With your loving, kind and wise nature? With the rejuvenating Peace that passes all understanding.
But then for the one of most difficult parts of being human. How do we balance and integrate our doing and our being? That is an inside job, and each of us would do that differently, each in our own way. I would posit that it is the balancing and the integration of these two states of verbs that spiritually allows us to be who we are. How do we each live our uniqueness and the fullness thereof ? A quote, “Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren't any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn't be here in the first place. “ Yep, Bucky again.
For each of us that balance is different.
For me, this prayer by sums things up quite well:
Get up off of your knees. Come out of your churches your mosques, your temples. God can hear your prayers for peace, justice and hope in this broken world just fine while you’re out creating peace, working for justice and giving hope to this broken world. .
When are we finally going to realize that humanity is the solution to inhumanity? When will we finally understand that we are all drops of the same ocean, hurting together, healing together, hoping together?
Don’t just pray for hands to heal the hurting, Don’t just pray for arms to help the helpless. Pray with the arms that are helping the helpless. Don’t just pray for feet to respond to need. Pray on feet that are responding to need. Don’t just pray for someone to do something. Be someone who does something. Don’t just pray for answers, Be the answer.
Buckminster Fuller said something else that has always made sense to me. He said, “God, to me, it seems, is a verb, not a noun, proper or improper. What do you think?
Sue Polan Koinonia August 18, 2018