Friday, June 4, 2021

A Title

One of our early Jedi meetings, sometime during the bleak midwinter after I had come back down the mountain from my first stay at Light Morning, the conversation went, as it so often did, to community and helpfulness. 
I sat, discussing my pervasive sense of isolation. I shared from a deep truthfulness of myself, made possible by the acceptance and love that had been cultivated amongst us. There were tears, a new experience for me but one I was coming to recognize as signposts along the Way of having wandered into something important, fertile, and previously unseen. I spoke of not understanding this artificial notion of separation within a community. I stated that a community is known by how it shares, thereby imparting value to the giver and the receiver by connection, completing a circuit, because community is an energy. "There is no I give and you take," I said. "If you're a community, for real, there is only we have, together." 
As I looked into earnest faces, I saw acceptance and love, as always, which grounded me, and confusion, which surprised me. I laughed, which confused the three listeners back, my beloved Jedi Council. "Well, if this is confusing to you, who are enlightened ones, what hope is there even?"
This might seem like an odd anecdote to begin a missive that is, ostensibly, about my dissertation. But friends, that moment -- its truth, its acceptance, and its attendant despair -- has stayed with me in everything I do. 
Charlie asked to have lunch a few weeks later, wanting to talk more about how I see community. We had a lovely conversation, and I mentioned another thing I see as obvious: I'm not here to get my way. God didn't make me to get my way. My spiritual practice is to get me and my way out of The Way of being useful, because the Universe has a plan and I'm a significant part of it, as are we all. 
This means I have to do the work to get over my own stuff, not so that I can be amazing and stellar, but so that I can get to the work that the Universe has in mind for me. Each of us has a role to play; it's different for each of us, but discerned through being in relationship with each other. God made us unique as part of the plan; we are each an instrument, a tool of God, and he didn't need seven billion screwdrivers. 
My academic and personal path has wandered through many fields since that conversation, but my heart hasn't strayed far from the truth that I found that evening. 
This morning as I sat thinking over my most recent exploration into the intersection of ethics and public policy (last month I wrote "justice is a practice" and I knew that was true, but I didn't know what that meant yet), the events from court and the weeks leading up to it were present, more present than the writings I've been reading lately (Dewey, Mill, Rawls, Sandel, Weber) and more present than the blunt fences of my PhD program (College of Education). I thought of what Robert described as the Aikido shift that happened within me recently, where I had had my fill of injustice and was, like the true mother in Solomon's court, willing to relinquish my claim in the moment, making space for peace. The whole situation, I reflected as I hoed up weeds, was a seat at a table set with a poisoned feast. 
I made tea and sat with my notebook, wondering if justice is a practice, what, then does that look like? What, if anything, does it mean? 
I've been working with music a lot lately -- designing a symphony and also thinking about the art of improvisation, with its ephemeral quality that we so often overlook since it is so temporal, but how reflective of Kairos improvisation is, and perhaps all the more skillful the artist who can deploy and compose in that realm. 
Then I stumbled across Collinwood, in his work The Principles of Art. "Individualism conceives a man as if he were a God, a self-contained creative power whose only task is to be himself and to exhibit his nature in whatever works are appropriate to it. But a man, in his art as in everything else, is a finite being. Everything he does is done in relation to others like himself." And: The artist "understands his artistic labour not as a personal effort on his own private behalf, but as a public labour on behalf of the community to which he belongs. Whatever statement of emotion he utters is prefaced by the implicit rubric, not 'I feel' but 'we feel.'" 
And here we are, at the heart of my thesis, reconciling individual freedom and the moral mandate. Policy, I hold, is a method, ideally of justice, even though it has been put to unjust use as we have seen in personal live and in the systemic injustice that ravages human history. Justice is known through the practice of the method, I wrote last month. A community, I said so many aeons ago, is known by what we have. "I am because we are" is the Ubuntu word-concept of the revelation of the self through its relationship and participation in a community. This is The Art of Justice
Thanks for reading. 
I am because we are. 
P.S. Volume 2 will be The Art of Peace, with its final chapter being "Waging Peace."