Living Well


545The other night, Roger and I took the opportunity to go see “Wicked”, one of our favorite musicals. It is, in some sense, a prequel to the well-known “Wizard of Oz”; and tells the story of the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba – how Glinda became the ‘good witch’, and Elphaba became the ‘wicked witch of the west.’

The show is dazzling in every way – sets, lighting, special effects, costumes, and the incredible musical score. We had seen the show before; and I know the score very well, having listened to it countless times, and sung one of the songs a few times in performance. So I was ready to experience it all again, looking forward to the special moments I remembered from the first time we saw “Wicked.”

The house lights went down, the orchestra began, and we settled in for a special evening. And while the cast and crew and everyone involved provided a magnificent performance, I found that I was drawn into an element of the story I hadn’t pondered the first time I saw it.

I have been dwelling in a deep soul-place, of late. The swirl of questions have, in part, been about the nature of being human – and my struggles with how I live with my own limitations, sharp and painful emotions, less-than-desirable responses – and how these things measure up against my longings, my prayers, my dreams and hopes. So from this deep place of reflection, I began to experience the story unfolding before me on the stage.

Elphaba was born green and possessed special powers. She wanted nothing more than to meet the Wizard of Oz with hopes that he would “de-greenify” her, and help her to find a place of acceptance among her community and within herself, and a useful purpose for her powers. In the meantime, Glinda – beautiful and self-centered – sought to help Elphaba fit in; not for Elphaba’s sake, but because it helped Glinda to elevate her status and sense of herself as all good.

We know the ending of the story in one sense – Glinda becomes the beautiful and revered ‘Good Witch’; and Elphaba becomes the terrifying ‘Wicked Witch’. But really, who was good and who was wicked? Were Glinda’s beauty tips, her underhanded maneuvers to get rid of a suitor by encouraging him to dance with the girl in the wheelchair to ‘please Glinda’, her willingness to sacrifice what was right with what was expedient and self-serving – were these things good? Was Elphaba’s desire to fit-in, to find a community, to tell the truth even if it meant being ostracized, to ‘defy gravity’ by rejecting the impulse to conform – were these things wicked? Did the community of Oz help to characterize Glinda’s goodness and Elphaba’s wickedness by seeking the easy way – scapegoating Elphaba for all that was happening that was ‘bad’, and assigning all their hopes for restoring order to Glinda?

It is a story told again and again. I came away from the performance energized by the wonderful performances, the energizing and inspiring music, and grateful for a night out with my husband. I also came away with a powerful framework for reflection. How is it that we, as people in community, define one another? How do community’s values, needs, fears, define each of us and our sense of self? What is good? What is wicked? I’m grateful to the ‘art meets life’ moment that watching “Wicked” provided for me. ‘I have been changed . . . for good.’


Living Well

How to Make Peace in the World

jooYears ago, while on vacation, I happened upon a framed quote that captured my attention. I stood and looked at it for a long time, trying to burn the image and the words into my memory. I was at the beginning of my vacation and, hoping to stretch my vacation dollars, decided not to purchase the quote – concerned I might find something else later in my vacation and be out of spending money before I got there. (Yes, yes – I can get controlling about this)

As you might imagine, when I got home from vacation and was thousands of miles away from the store that was selling the framed quote, (and I had some money left over), I realized that it felt important to me to purchase it. So, thanks be to the internet, phone calls, and international mail service (yes, it was in another country), I ordered and received this important treasure.

You see, the quote is an old Scottish blessing – and I love things Celtic. But more importantly, the words – for me – simplify the enormous challenge we all live with. How is it that any one of us can have any agency and influence toward bringing peace to the world? I’m not a politician or in the military. I don’t work for an NGO in another country. I’m not a doctor or a member of the UN. But, I learned, I have a daily opportunity to help bring about peace in the world. Here’s what I learned from the wise ones in Scotland:

If there is righteousness in the heart,

there will be beauty in the character.


If there is beauty in the character,

there will be harmony in the home.


If there is harmony in the home,

there will be order in the nation.


If there is order in the nation,

there will be peace in the world.


So let it be.

I have come to learn it is my daily, hourly task to cultivate righteousness in my heart. I will do it differently from anyone else. This is not self-righteousness, mind you. This, to me, is daily tending the garden of Love within, planted by God and nourished by the choices I make to cultivate that Love.

Each of us has this garden of love, of righteousness, within. So go – cultivate your garden – and make peace in the world.

Living Well

What is truth?

On Saturday night, when the news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal bleeped on my cell phone, I sighed deeply and my heart sank . . . heavy with grief. I knew what today and tomorrow and the next day and the next day . . . would bring. There would be, and has been, a flurry of responses on social media. As I write this, I have not yet seen the news – though, of course, the responses I see will depend on which news outlet I choose to watch or read. We are in the post-trial time of outrage, grief, sadness, fear, and judgment.

truthI have been wrestling all day with my own heart response. I am sad beyond words that the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the ensuing media coverage and trial, have once more highlighted how much work we still have to do – as a nation – to understand and address the fear and misunderstanding and violence that continues when we are faced with people we call ‘other.’ I am deeply grieved for the loss Trayvon’s family has to live with.

But my deeper grief is this. We are obsessed with right and wrong; good and bad; victim and offender (I could go on to say red and blue; liberal and conservative . . . ). We have left it to our legal system – with all of its confounding complexities – to determine guilt and innocence, as if that is what is needed here. When all is said and done, we are left with gaping wounds in the body of our communities that cannot, and will not, be healed by a courtroom verdict. And we will never know the truth of what happened that night . . . in part, because, as Pontius Pilate knew so acutely, truth is a slippery thing that is understood differently by the various parties in an emotionally charged situation.

The Martin family will never have Trayvon return to their fold. George Zimmerman will have a very difficult, maybe impossible, time finding a life of freedom from the shortcomings of his own humanity, and the forces and influences in his life that I/we may never know about. Our legal system did nothing to help us discover how it is we are to live in relationship with people we don’t know and understand.

What might have happened, if instead of providing a safe courtroom for the trial with all the attendant public media presence, we could find a way to create a safe space for Zimmerman and the Martins to speak privately with one another about the fear and grief and loss that they each have suffered; and determine how they are to move forward in a way that is healing rather than divisive and terrifying?

At this point, it seems to me, there are no winners here – most especially our nation. We continue to divide and divide and divide; to judge; to be fearful; to build walls; to close doors. I pray, fervently, for the Martins in their continued grief; for Zimmerman and his loss of freedom; and for myself – that I might look into the very dark places in me where fear and judgment reside. I pray that God, in some way I can’t even imagine, will bring us to a new day through this horrible situation, and help us to find the courage and wisdom to sit with the ‘other’ – whether it is the person who looks different, or prays different, or thinks different – and listen. What might we discover? I fear that until we learn to do this, we will endure countless more horrific losses of life and freedom.