Monday, May 6, 2013

Trust: It’s a Daily Practice

Bethany Theological Seminary and Earlham School of Religion's Seminaries Librarian Jane Pinzino delivered the following message in ESR worship on Thursday, May 2: 

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a week-long colloquy at the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion.  It was something that I applied for although I was unsure what exactly I had signed up for.  Fourteen theological librarians from across the nation, including myself, descended on Crawfordsville, Indiana for a week of  dialogue and envisioning together, generously supported by the Lilly Endowment.  What immediately impacted me on one level was the quality of material comforts, the accommodations, the healthy and delicious meals, the fine wine, chocolates, the recreational outings, the freebies showered upon us, and then at a deeper level--the warmth and delight that our presence generated for the hosts and which they expressed to each of us and to all of us. Early in the week, I mentioned to the Center director Paul how much I appreciated the superbly gracious hospitality and his response was this, “We know that theological librarians dwell in a culture of scarcity and we want you, if only for one week, to experience abundance.”

I was quite touched by this and did my part to absorb all the abundance I could during that week.  Working together was so much fun, and we laughed and played and made jokes like, “What happens at Wabash, stays at Wabash.” The hospitality extended to us created a remarkably high-trust gathering.  Now, back home and at work I have reflected on how I might stand firm in the experience and I welcome this chance to share with you how I am approaching it.  
One of the distinctions I find is between persevering during times of scarcity versus perpetuating a culture of scarcity.  There is no doubt that we exist in a time of economic scarcity that affects all of us every day and perhaps more than we let on.  We require health insurance, we seek employment and hope to avoid under-employment, we strive to pay off student loans, credit cards, hardship is real. There is no Lilly Endowment to solve these pressing realities.  There exist significant budget shortfalls and my idea is not to develop a prosperity consciousness so as to magically dissolve these realities. Rather, an enduring abundance is from within, with my friends, my family, my colleagues. My people are my wealth. Wendell Berry writes, “Do you want an economy of grace based on generosity, or an economy of scarcity based on acquisition?” 
I seek to challenge and revoke in myself a mindset of scarcity and replace it with abundance, and I find trust at the foundation of my search.  Benjamin Franklin who came from humble circumstances said, “While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.”  Centuries later, Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor also said, “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I hear abundance calling us, put away your distrust. Come to life’s banquet.
Trust proves to be an entire life choice, as I see it, a daily practice.  To establish trust, to extend trust, to inspire trust, to restore trust.  Trust is the form that abundance takes in recreating ourselves from the inside out.  Trust is a daily practice, that begins and ends with trust in life itself.  Life has invested trust in us, and stands firm in its covenant as we move into trusting it. It works, and can only work, both ways. The comfort in Psalm 23 is the gift of trust available to each of us and to all of us, spoken in the language of the heart.  Faith is trust in life. We are trustees in creation. 
There are three channels for trust in life that I meditate upon, trust in self, trust in another, and trust in the community. Trusting in ourselves is listening within and being honest with ourselves even if we choose not to admit to others, at this time, what we know to be true about ourselves. We start by not lying to ourselves and by making and then by keeping commitments to ourselves. When I fail to keep the commitments I make to myself, I sign up for scarcity mindset, for an inward and profound sense of lack. When scarcity culture dwells within me, I am disconnected and alienated.  Why do I take commitments to myself more lightly than commitments to others?  Is it because there is no human witness?
Indeed, life is our witness. Commitments to ourselves can be small or large but even breaking the small ones has the effect of eroding trust in ourselves. So I am learning not to set the alarm clock for much earlier than I will likely get up.  Trusting myself means being who I am, and that is to listen to the human person directly entrusted to my care. Self-discovery is a move towards trust in life. When I am sick, I am responsible to my health, I am not responsible for my sickness, but I am responsible to it in an open-hearted way that invites abundance to dwell within.  Each of us has pain within, and to trust life is to become friends with that pain. A Buddhist thinker shares this insight, “Becoming intimate with pain is the key to trusting at the core of our being - staying open to everything we experience." [adapted from Pema Chodron,]  The paradox here is that our wealth lies in our vulnerability.
It is from a place of self-trust that relationship trust becomes possible, trust in another, trust in others. In the gripping words of Martin Buber, “Each of us wishes to be confirmed in our being by another, and we wish to have a presence in the being of the other . . . secretly and bashfully we watch for a YES which allows us to be, and which can come to us only from one human person to another.” And a recent thinker goes on, “The irony is that when we are standing across from someone who is hidden or shielded by masks and armor, we feel frustrated and disconnected.  That is the paradox: vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you (Brené Brown).” 


So how does trust live between persons, or among a group of people? “We may be deceived if we trust too much, but we live in torment if we do not trust enough (adapted from Frank Crane).” I am reading a book for a team-building initiative entitled, “The Speed of Trust,” by Stephen Covey.  And although the book is geared towards operating a successful business, it is useful for other organizations as well including the interpersonal organization of one-on-one relationships. And Covey offers guidelines which I have edited and pass on to you in the form of ten commandments for building a trusting relationship: listen first; talk from the heart; demonstrate respect; right wrongs; show loyalty; improve behavior;  practice accountability; clarify expectations; keep commitments; extend trust.
Relationship trust is all about consistent behavior, something that the children in my life have taught me. A child subject to much inconsistent behavior is an insecure child. A while back I taught high school for a couple of years. I did my part for the youth of America, an experience unlike any other. That first year, the students walked all over me, complained about everything, were so ungrateful, hated my class, and I was utterly exhausted and finally late in the year I took a couple of days off on personal leave and left worksheets with the substitute.  I was running on empty, deep in scarcity mindset.  When I returned to school the following week, I heard a voice in the hallways, “Ms. P is back.” with enthusiasm? Huh? And some students came into my homeroom, as though happy to see me, and demanding “Were you sick? What was wrong with you? I know you must have been really sick because you never miss school.” To my great surprise, my absence had been felt. Somewhere along the way, that difficult year, I had earned a degree of their trust although I had not known it, and they were counting on me in ways I did not even perceive. “To be trusted, I learned, is a greater compliment than to be liked (adapted from George MacDonald).”

The third type of trust which I meditate upon, a community’s trust is something as a historian of Christianity that I have long researched in the life of Joan of Arc, the medieval warrior. A 17-year-old girl managed to run away from home in a farming village, earn the trust of the king and his top military brass to the great extent that they gave her a horse and allowed her to lead an army into battle against invaders who had refused peace negotiations.  And Joan won this abundance of trust in a very short span of time, a matter of months. It would be as if one of our Earlham College students went to Washington, gained a personal audience with the President and then proceeded to resolve the crisis in the Middle East, which some of our students in fact would be prepared to do. So this is what I understand about community trust from Earlham and from Joan of Arc. Joan of Arc full of herself even though she was fully herself; she did not self-aggrandize or attribute victory to herself, in the frame of medieval piety--she fasted, prayed and confessed her wrongdoings.  She heard the sufferings of her people and longed to serve them, and in her service, she led, calling attention to the goodness in others including her enemies, and she delivered hope for a better day.  Her generosity was her vocation and her vulnerability was that of a non-combatant in battle. The city of Orleans was under siege, on the brink of starvation, deep in despair and together with Joan, the city was liberated and they rejoiced. They rejoice in that event down to the present day. Scarcity was replaced by abundance, and trust and hope show themselves to be closely knit sisters.

File:Jeanne d' Arc (Eugene Thirion).jpg
The community itself took a chance on Joan; and extending trust always does involves risk, for misplaced trust and especially broken trust hit at the core of our vulnerability. And Joan was a person of trustworthy and truthful words, her words were like passwords to the heart of her community.  More importantly about her words, they were chosen from listening, listening within and listening without.
Moreover then, what I have learned in my brief time here as member of a Quaker community is how trust is built by listening with the intent to understand, rather than the intent to reply. This is truly a daily practice. Life speaks to us on its own terms, in a language we all understand, it is the same language within each of us, calling us to the abundance of trust within ourselves and throughout our lives.  “Living is meeting,” as Buber put it.  Faith then is placing trust in God, or in other words, living into trusteeship for the life placed in us.
Today is a new day.
I vow to let go of my fear of lack
I vow to let go of comparing and contrasting.
I vow to let go
 to find the freedom and abundance
That already exist in my heart. (adapted from Buddhist teaching)

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