Posted by: MC | April 19, 2010

Spirit & Faith

“We change up above, on our surfaces, but there’s that
underlying constant that travels through all the changes. 
It’s something I don’t really have the words for.  The only
concrete thing I have, which isn’t concrete at all, is that
deep soul feeling.”
Lauren Kraakevik

It’s an overcast but warm spring day in Portland, OR.  I’m back down the street in the corner Starbuck’s where the staff have been so consistent in cheering on the EX:Change project.  Just a few minutes ago two e-mail messages clicked on to the gmail account.  They were from the manager of the store sending me two gold mine websites for finding literary agents.  See what I mean?   I come down here at least once a week just for the team spirit effect.  It’s awesome!

One of the emergent themes across many of the 100 voices of EX:Change was the ineffable presence and influence of spirit.  There’s a spirit of human connection and optimism when I come to this coffee shop.  There’s also a neighborhood feel, what Peter Frishauf  (EX:C blog, “Dayenu:  You gave us freedom, and that would have been enough” 3-30-2010) described as a piazza effect. 

“Here in New York City,” Peter said, “There is a lot of moving around encountering lots of other people.  In the subways or in the street the whole idea of the Roman piazzas shows up.  The suburbs are so isolated they had to invent the concept of the mall to have a place where people could be together.  It’s a part of what we mis-ascribe in America to a need to go shopping.  Really, it’s a need to have social interaction.  That’s the reason churches were the center of commerce in medieval communities.  Market places would form outside in the plazas and around them.  These days, the challenge seems to be learning how to get along.  As soon as people understand the joy of that again we’ll be able to get together and listen to and learn from each other without blowing each other up.”

Another place spirit showed up in The EX:Change voices’ was in references to the American Spirit.  Egan Short, a 17-year-old high school senior in Decatur, GA said, “On a national scale I still really believe in the things that the country was founded on.  Like the Constitution.  Like liberty and justice.  I don’t think we need to go back and undo everything.  This country is for the people and by the people.”  Lena Baucum, a bilingual educator in Wilsonville, OR (EX:C blog, “Groundhog’s Day” 2-2-2009) said, “There’s a lot that’s really beautiful about American culture.  When I go to other countries and they ask me what America is like I say, ‘Americans are really hard working people.’  We have an amazing work ethic in this country.  We’re not all working in the same direction, and that’s normal to some point, but I hope the work ethic and the spirit of shared humanity in that continue.”

With noticeable regularity, EX:Change voices also wove reflections on spirit with descriptions of their experiences of faith related to change.  Justin Leak, (EX:C blog, “Voices in the Change:  Health Care Reform” 3-23-2010) was finishing his gourmet burger and fries at a restaurant in Tysons Corner, VA when he said, “It’s going to sound corny, but besides gaining hope, I really count on my faith remaining constant; my faith that things will get better.  Faith is going beyond just having hope because it makes it possible to maintain the hope that change will come and things will get better.” 

Faith is an essential constant for many people.  We demonstrate it in many ways.  There’s something about waking up and getting out of bed every day that has faith in it.

Ed Kemp, Jr., my 86-year-old Uncle in Jackson, MS is not a fan of the change he associates with the Obama Administration.  After beginning our conversation by stating simply, “Some of us are scared of change,” the World War II navy pilot and retired Insurance man went on to speak of the faith that gets him through periods of uncertainty in change.  To illustrate his point and remaining true as ever to his charming character, Uncle Ed followed his brief observation with a joke.

“The main thing is not to get going too far in the wrong way, I reckon.  I don’t know.  The Lord’s in charge. 

“Just like that situation I reported last night.  The man that got to heaven and St. Peter said, ‘It’s going to take you 100 points to get in.’ 

“‘Well, I was a good man and I stayed married to the same person 50 years.’ 

“‘That’s one point.’ 

“‘Well I always went to all the church services.’ 

“‘Well, that’s another good point.  You get one point for that.’ 

“‘I don’t know another attribute.  I helped in boy scouts and all that.’

“‘That’s two points.’

“Then the man said, ‘Well, good gracious.  The only way I’m going to get to heaven is by the grace of God.’

“’One hundred points.  You’re in.’”

Before I got to Uncle Ed’s house in Jackson, I came through Texas.  In a coffee shop on the banks of the Guadalupe River, I spoke with Tom and David, two men who were preparing for a next meeting of their church’s youth group.  Of course, it’s not too surprising that spirit and faith were on their minds.  Here’s a bit of what Tom said. 

“The big constant, and I’m going to go back to the Bible, is that God is a God of Love.  To keep our lives centered on God and the work he did on the cross with his son, Jesus Christ, dying for our sins.  That doesn’t change.  It shows up in human behavior as love. I always have the opportunity to exhibit love towards you in my behavior.

We can see what happens when we’re not coming from love in our society right now.  Without love, it’s easy to dehumanize people and then mistreat them and then societies evolve into killing off each other because there’s this crazy rationalization that the others are not even humans in the first place. 

“We don’t get along very well, even in America right now.  You’re a Democrat, I’m a Republican.  Either of us can get into this whole, ‘You’re an idiot’ philosophy instead of, ‘We’re humans.  We live in the same place.  We should get along.’  We all come from the same place. (laughs)  The source of life is one in the same.  We can’t lose that perspective.”

Last April, I sat having coffee with Lauren Kraakevik in a living room on Clinton Street in Portland, OR.  At that time, Lauren was 23 and had just gone through another bout of graduate school applications.  Her aspiration is to become a nurse midwife so that she can help women in developing countries give birth and gain confidence in their power as women and mothers. 

“I don’t know how to explain this,” Lauren began.  “As we change – as we grow as individuals, as people, as a culture and as the world there’s that essential core of being that remains constant.  The fact that we are humans, we have life, we are people – that’s what stays the same.  I guess what our core is can mean different things to different people.  Call it the value of life or call it God or call it – I don’t know.  I guess I would call it God or Faith.

“We change up above, on our surfaces, but there’s that underlying constant that travels through all the changes.  It’s something I don’t really have the words for.  The only concrete thing I have, which isn’t concrete at all, is that deep soul feeling – the fact that right now as I speak of this constant, I can feel it.  I feel it tugging.

“I was thinking about this last night.  I was driving up Highway 43.  It’s a beautiful road – just gorgeous.  The first time I’ve ever driven on this road was yesterday.  It was so beautiful.  I was just driving and looking.  I was awed.  I get the same feeling looking at creation out the window right now; really acknowledging the beauty of nature, of life, of being here. 

“It’s important to me that I can feel connection to the constant. And so quickly, too.  As I was driving yesterday, I realized how privileged I am to feel that and I’ve always been able to feel it.  There are plenty of times I take the world for granted.  But I can be in a horrible mood and all of a sudden look around me to see what is here.  I see other people walking down the street or the trees or the mountains or something.  And then its, ‘Oh yeah.  That’s right.  This is beautiful.’ 

“And it’s really always there.  Your soul just singing – just praising whatever made all this – whatever brought this about which I believe is a Creator God.  It’s nothing more than a feeling, but it’s there and I can’t ignore it.  I don’t know why that’s a part of who I am, but I’m really grateful.  Really, really grateful that I can change my mindset so quickly.  Well, I don’t change it.  Whatever that constant is does the changing.”

It’s been a year since that morning coffee and our conversation.  In the meantime, Lauren has lived in Alaska, returned to her hometown of Chicago, turned 24 and, lucky for all of us, continued to pursue her dream.  The spirit and faith of one American voice among the many spirited and faithful in this country we all share.

This time last year, I also had the joy of meeting Paris Mullen in a coffee shop in Seattle.  Paris is, by my assessment, the quintessence of a scholar and a gentleman of the new millennium.  He is not a midwife, but his words picked up Lauren’s aspirations and gave a metaphor for faith in the change of our time and the creativity and strength of our country.

“The overall resounding theme of this time,” Paris said, “Anything (laughs) – have faith that anything is possible.  Regardless of longstanding laws, spoken or unspoken, written or unwritten, anything is possible.  It can happen.  You may not see the change you want in your lifetime, but I’m telling you it is completely possible.  We need the drum major to keep on beating the drum and, for every person, you are the drum major.  I take that from Dr. King – he used that metaphor. 

“Anything can happen.  I can’t, I can’t, I can’t say that enough.  Many said that we would never have an African-American President.  Look what happened.  Around him there are a lot of other firsts as well.  In his Cabinet, in the White House there ethnic and gender firsts.  Everything is so turned upside down right now, and in good ways. 

“Change is messy.  It’s kind of like birthing a child.  I’ve never birthed a child, but I don’t know that the process is ever neat.  Still, it is a beautiful thing when you’re birthing something new.  Yes, it’s messy and it takes lots of concentration and lots of faith.   There are many things I’m sure a woman doesn’t expect in the process of having a child.  There’s science to it but there’s also art.  It’s flawless, like nature.  It just does its own thing.  One woman’s body is different from another woman’s body.  Not all pregnancies and births are the same.  There’s always that spirit of, “We can’t really know” – that trust factor in it all.  That’s the beauty of it.

“That’s what we have now in this country.  There is a lot of new birthing and a lot of “we can’t really know” factor – a lot of presence of spirit.  Yeah, maybe it’s kind of messy, but the product is the child.

“When it comes right down to it, there’s no certain script.  It’s all improvisation and faith.”


  1. I’ve read a few of these now, and for some reason it always speaks to me in a voice I need to hear on that particular day. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Good to read. Right… Let’s take care of the baby. And take her to the piazza to meet everyone. Dayenu.

  3. I love these readings. thanks Mary for sharing them with us. It is great work you have done. You are a women with a lot of passion for life.

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