…And the Wisdom to Know the Difference ~ Brian Perry
Joyfully opening wide to the chance to live into greater serenity and love, aka the masterclass that is 2020.
Talk starts at 21:00
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Read the Opening Prayer and view song info below.
For Peace, by Maya Angelou
Father, Mother, God,
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.
Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have
with those who have less.
And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families
and our friends.
For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.
For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.
For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.
For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company.
For those who are depressed,
we ask you to shower upon them
the light of hope.
Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the
world that which we need most—Peace.
…And the Wisdom to Know the Difference by Brian Perry
August 23, 2020
Hello again. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, whenever you are watching this.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. That’ll be the through-line during our time here this morning. I’d like to drill down on that. I’m obviously not the first. I’d like to dig into that prairie and kind see what it might have to offer us into the guidance for the journey we’re all on right now. Let me start by saying thank you once again for allowing me into your space, sort of more so than usual in these virtual spaces. I’m doing my best during this time to sort of embrace what’s unique about it. Obviously I’m not diminishing any of the pain and suffering with challenges that are happening, but I’m looking at moments like these for us and thinking, “But there’s gotta come in time there were back face to face and this will have been a blip and perhaps an opportunity to have some really treasured moments in sharing this kind of a space together, with you at home, potentially in your pajamas, and watching this.” So let’s dig in, as ever it’s my hope that you can take something with you today as we make our way through this through this talk.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. What’s interesting to me right up front with this prayer is it feels really fundamental as a sort of reflection of the experience of so many different faith traditions, so have this sort of internal sense to it; and yet when Reinhold Niebuhr wrote this, and I may be pronouncing his name wrong, but when Reinhold Niebuhr wrote this, it was in the 20th century. So, this this prayer is essentially a little less than 100 years old, which is remarkable to me because its wisdom feels so ancient. So, we continue on navigating this transformational, unprecedented moment in our lives. I read a t-shirt recently online. It said something to the extent of, “Can I have precedented please, enough unprecedented?”
In the midst of all this, I keep hearing a lot of talk about how confusing this time is and I understand, I’m not trying to play semantics with that. I understand that it is confusing, that a lot of what we understood to be stable and fixed before is obviously proven to not be, as we navigate these profoundly uncertain waters; but I think rather than being confusing, we’re actually being offered, if we listen closely, we’re not being offered confusion. We’re being offered clarity in so many ways, the noise of our lives that had been in before times is gone. There may be a different kind of noise, but in the absence of that noise, I think it’s less that we’ve been offered confusion and more than we’ve been offered clarity. I think we have been given through contrast of the moment, for the conscious of the moment, this powerful in sharp relief, new understanding of what was working and what wasn’t in our lives, individually and collectively.
I hear a lot of people talking about that in their lives individually, which we’ll talk more about that in a moment coming up, a lot in our lives collectively – particularly in the United States. As we look, well clearly income inequality, that was a problem. It’s so clear now the treatment of so-called minorities in our society, that was clearly a problem. Our health care, clearly a problem. These are all things that need to be addressed, and so I think that we’re being given an opportunity in this moment to set free the notion that we’re in this great time of confusion. Instead, embrace it as a great time of clarity.
When I was touring full time, I was blessed to do that for many years. A really treasured time in my life, and I hope to get back to some elements of that sometime, but I had the great pleasure of serving a lot of high school and colleges, situations with a lot of camps and conferences during the summer, and also during the rest of the year. And very often, what we would do in those environments, was experiential education. If you’re not familiar with what experiential education is and how it differs. What we’re doing right now, sort of lecture based traditional education if you will, this kind of platform when somebody is speaking at you. Experiential education, as the name implies, is you learn by doing. The whole process is about learning by doing. OK great. There’s a notion within that learning experience of what we call teachable moments; which again, forgive me if I’m over explaining for you here, but a teachable moment essentially says, “Hey, you run up against something that’s outside of the plan that you had, what can we learn from it?” Or something occurs like, in the specific context of what I’m talking about, that when you run a group through a high ropes course or something, where we learn things that happened knowing you’re seizing the opportunity to grow, and become more of who you most want to be by looking at teachable moments.
I said all that to say, obviously a big topic of conversation these days is schools. A big topic of conversation these days is schools reopening and it’s probably no mystery to you at this point, I’m very much on the progressive side of the ideological spectrum. I can speak from that side. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t want schools reopened. It’s a question of how we do that. And in that conversation around that, what keeps coming up is what’s missing, what students are losing out on in the absence of school.
I think that there’s more than one layer, there’s the actual education process, and what’s most effective in the structures that we have. Also, there’s the process of the moments that you get from socialization, like we saw in the spring, the opportunity to go to your prom or your graduation. I’ve been hearing a lot of truly heartfelt lamenting, gnashing of teeth over what our students are missing. It sounds like the gnashing of teeth I’m hearing from the adults in their lives, and all the things they’re missing out on.
And I get it, it’s true. It’s intense and we need to change it as soon as we can; however, surely one of the things that children should be taught in schools, by their parents, by the village, one of the most important lessons is how to accept, endure and rise to the profound uncertainties of life, the reality that life ebbs and flows in that what you thought was certain one day could be gone. Surely, surely engraining that, integrating that into our children’s way of addressing the world, they that is surely a valuable thing to learn, right? Well you’re welcome. Because 2020 has brought the mother of all teachable moments. This is as big as it gets for teachable moments. This is the biggest opportunity we have to really offer that lesson in a meaningful way to our children, and to each other. So what does that look like for God to grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference?
I’m not big into playing that out. I’m gonna use a little bit lighter stuff than I usually do. It’s fun with this video stuff. One of the things that’s fun is that I get to kind of play with it and look back and go, “That worked, that didn’t work.” I can kind of redo if I want. But as a result, everything you’re seeing is fresh and I’m just it’s just coming from my heart and head.
So, I live in a multi-generational home, which is a fancy way of saying my folks and I live together. And their reasons for that. They’re my reasons, it’s life happening in my world. In my parents generously taking me in, that’s been a tremendous gift and has given us a lot of quality time together. And obviously something that I’m by, it’s been a minute, a few more minutes than we expected. But that’s where we are. And let me tell you a little bit about my parents. There are reasons I’m telling you all these stories. My parents are extraordinary people. I think by objective measures, they’re extraordinary people. Both are retired in their mid-70s. Both had very successful careers, my mother in education, my dad in the corporate world, HR world. And by successful in our house, that that’s about impact, it’s about reach. It’s about the difference you made in people’s lives. That’s how we define success. They both have very successful careers. I think that my siblings and I had hoped that when they came time to retire, when it came time for them to retire, that perhaps they might still do some leisure. But if I had the define my parent’s version of retirement, in two words, it would be relentlessly active. These people do not know the meaning of slow down and lounge around. And I know from conversations, that’s because fundamentally they feel so blessed to have lived the lives they’ve lived and feel called to service.
So, I can’t turn around in our house without them being out feeding somebody, or building a house for somebody, or responding to some disaster, or going to some class within an interfaith group where Jewish people, and Muslims, and Catholics are coming together to learn. These people are extraordinary. And they are very, very active people.
I’m a reasonably active person, and they make me look lazy. And all that is until COVID. And then, despite the fact that we are all active, relatively healthy people, they are also in their mid-70s. All three of us have pre-existing conditions. And so overnight, we found ourselves in a situation with a sort of a big Scarlet C on our door that says, “We can’t go out for the foreseeable future.” It’s changed my work life, my personal life. It’s just not safe for us yet. So that’s some huge changes for my relentlessly active parents. I learned very early on that I’ve been locked in a home with a couple overachievers for the foreseeable future. We’ve done pretty well. And I said all that to kind of bring that up, we’ve done pretty well.
All doing lots of projects. I’m trying to learn new skills that allow me to work remotely. And that’s been a fun process. And there’s a few mechanisms we’ve been using for entertainment during this time of being at home. One of them I’ll share first – I’m going to share both of them. I’m laughing at myself because I can’t blame but share this. So, what’s emerged is that Friday nights, my mother typically does a zoom game night with some friends of hers. And my father and I take the night to have a movie night. Back in the day in my 20s and 30s, if I found myself in the Atlanta area and my Dad and I had a night to ourselves, a movie night looked like a Chevy Chase movie or something – slapstick comedy goofiness. My Dad’s tastes changed now to movies that look like Hallmark. And I decided a while ago to just embrace that and give him this moment, this couple of hours to enjoy his Hallmark movies. And yes, they’re growing on me, but I’m hoping that will pass. They’re decidedly pleasant, of course. And I say all that to say this. We were watching a movie a few Friday nights back, and the movie was sort of a While You Were Sleeping type movie. Remember that movie? I think it was the early 90s, Sandra Bullock film. But in essence, the female protagonist and the male protagonist, the love interest because it was romance… shocker. She accidentally hits him on her bike and he gets hurt and gets amnesia. And so, the movies about her trying to help him remember his life. His life has been totally reset. He’s been removed from his life. It’s not at all what it was like. He wakes up at a hospital bed with a totally different life. Sound familiar? And in the midst of that, he’s trying to connect the dots try to pull in pieces that are disparate now and don’t make sense and trying to understand who he is going forward. Now that he’s going into a new life and there’s this wonderful moment where he’s struggling with this, and this love interest in the movie says to him, “As you remember who you were, you get to decide who you want to be.” As you remember who you were. You get to decide who you want to be. I know, a hallmark movie. That’s some deep stuff. And it’s super relevant to where we are right now, to the journey we are on right now together, is we realize more and more with every passing day that what was before is forever changed and where we are going? We don’t know yet. But as we begin to remember who we were we get to decide who we want to be. What parts of our lives serve us, which didn’t, what parts of our culture serve us, which don’t. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. So how do we navigate that process of building a new life, of reentering life? How can that Serenity Prayer be a guide?
So, there’s another thing we’ve been doing in my house, and a lot of houses here from what I see on TV, puzzles. We are puzzling our brains out. The dining room has become puzzle Central. And there’s a kind of forever and ongoing puzzle on the dining room table, that will come in and putter around with periodically. I’ve gotten in the habit of doing an in between class sessions on my computer.
Anyway, we were doing we have one such puzzle that has confounded us. It’s been sitting on our table for like six weeks now. It’s this thousand-piece puzzle. It’s it. It’s like a watercolor painting of a San Francisco scene. They’re tiny little pieces. And this puzzle maker, who apparently is of the devil, created like four shapes and that’s it. So, you can’t even use that sort of puzzle trick of going, “Oh, I need a puzzle that looks like the shape.” You have to just kind of figure it out for the different hues of color. It’s like you’re working with this profound problem. It is just totally overwhelming. Sound familiar? I know parallels in Hallmark and in puzzles. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, I guess I can. In any event, I have this moment that I feel like, is a really good analogy for the process of applying the Serenity Prayer, with the puzzle. I was working putting around this little tree part, which was reasonably easy. I could see a few pieces to put together there, sort of like figuring out how to go to the grocery store right now. I could figure that part out.
Okay, cool. But the thing I realized, as I was working on that easy part, was that I had this dread in the back of my head, I had this thing that I was really afraid to do, and it was the sky. I mean, when there’s only four shapes, and the pieces are tiny, and the sky is nothing but shades of blue. How in the world, and it was a huge part of the puzzle, easily a third to half the puzzle, of sky. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I realized in the midst of that, I was resisting that.
I was pushing back on that. I was going, “La la la la.” I can’t see this part that’s coming up. And then finally I went, “You know, what I need to do is accept that I’m gonna have to do the sky. And it’s not going to be any easier when I get to it.” It just it is what it is. And when I accepted that, it changed my relationship to it. The courage to change the things I can. So, I took that puzzle I went, alright, I accept that there’s this sky. That’s overwhelming. I don’t know how to navigate. There’s no easy way to do it. And I gathered up all the blue pieces, and I set them all aside. And then I just looked at them and I went, is there anything else I can think to do? Nope. I just need to start taking piece one piece at a time and just play with him. Just start seeing if I can get a rhythm. And lo and behold, the sky began to come together and is now fully together. I’m moving on to the street, which is a whole other thing. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The Wisdom is in that acceptance piece. And then the engaging piece is taking action, right? That’s the discerning between those two, what does that look like? And I hope that meant forward for you. I thought it was really interesting. It’s so simple because I’m trying to puzzle together my life right now. We’re all trying to puzzle together our lives.
And what does this look like in the context of life? And here’s hoping the power doesn’t go out in the midst of the storm. I think what I’m learning, is that the learning around courage, that the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, is about recognizing what I’m resisting. What am I pushing back on? What don’t I want to look at? That’s where I’m being called to accept.
And the courage to change the things I can is where I’m being called back, to let me grab it here, back to here, back to my power again, once again to this space, the only space that I have influence, which is you know, inside this thing. It’s not out there. It’s not out there. It’s in here. So, getting back in here is where that courage to change the things I can lose and the wisdom to know the difference, which we’ll get to. But in the context of this, what I’ve been seeing is this. I’m gonna put it in the context of a couple of things. One, one of my best friends, is extremely educated in health and nutrition. And after becoming traditionally educated, she educated herself in what in communities like this, a lot of people embrace alternative therapies in health and wellness, and it’s been traumatic for her. I’m not being overly dramatic. It has been traumatic for her watching how this is being handled, the health pandemic in particular. And she’s been just raging against it, driving herself nuts. I understand this because I’ve been doing the same thing. Being at home, I’m consuming vast amounts of news. And I’m deeply informed from a wide variety of sources, about all the layers of things we’re facing. And so I find myself ranting around the house, “Why are they doing this and why are they doing that, and why aren’t they doing this? Why aren’t they doing that?”
It’s not useful. It’s not good for my blood pressure. And it’s exactly what I cannot change. I said to my friend, I think it’s time for you to accept that you cannot change this. Are you in the room? Are you at the table of with the decision makers?” And she was like, “No, of course.” I said, “Do you have access to those people?” No, she did not.
Okay. Whether you’re being called to accept what you cannot change, accept what’s happening in this moment, on that level, you don’t have power over the courage to change the things you can. Well, on another level, you do have a power, I do have power. Regardless of how I’m feeling actually, even better, informed by how I’m feeling. Again, the confusion, the angst, it’s not confusion, it’s clarity. If I accept the things I cannot change, there’s a sky it’s going to need to be put together… resisting, it’s not going to help. There is a life that’s going to need to be reassembled. From employment, personal life to health, resisting is not going to do that. Being angry at what’s being done, that could do that. But getting back in here and going, as I said to my friend, what would you be doing differently? What would you be doing differently if you were in charge? Great. How can you start implementing those changes in your life? How can you start communicating the value of those changes to people you love, who you feel like you can talk to? How can you bring those into this space where you have power. The courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. There’s a woman by the name of Lulu at Unity Birmingham, where I’ve had the opportunity to serve some as well. She said something, we were talking very early on in this, and she said over the phone, she said, “I don’t know what I would do without some kind of way with a capital W, not some kind of way, some kind of practice. I don’t know what I do without that practice right now.” Well, that’s the gift that people like you and me have brought into our lives by the foundation that we came into this with. As Melanie keeps mentioning, as I’ve mentioned in the times that I’ve been able to serve you during this pandemic, It’s critical to come back to our core to come back to our foundation and what that looks like to me and in many spiritual traditions, is to get quiet, to get still. Be still and know that I am God to get still so that you can listen so that you can feel and hear what you are resisting. You can feel and hear what you have the power to impact and influence. You can feel and hear those things. When you create the quiet for them to emerge. That’s where the wisdom to know the difference lives.
And so ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change’ is a call to move away from the suffering that you’re feeling in the presence of pain, and instead accept what is so that you can learn from it. The courage to change the things that can be changed is about getting in a space where you can ask, “What is mine to do?” and respond to what emerges in the small and big ways and start putting those pieces together a little bit at a time. And the wisdom to know the difference is entirely about getting yourself in a place to be a listener, to be a better listener… to what you’re being offered in this time, not of confusion, but of clarity, this time, yes of tragedy, also of opportunity, this masterclass of a teachable moment that 2020 is.
When we will get to the after, what will we have learned while we were in it? God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to release that resistance. The courage to change the things I can to act where I can, in the new clarity provided by that which I was resisting, but that which I think is possible, and the wisdom to know the difference, to the quiet spaces that I create in my life, to be able to listen more deeply to the gifts life is offering me. I’m going to share one more song with you to kind of tie this up with a bow. I hope you found something useful in this. I hope you found something entertaining in this and let me get my guitar. Thank you again for listening and opening yourself to this. I hope you found something in it for you. Like I said, I’m going to wrap this thing up with a poem and a song by a guy named David Wilcox.
Brian Perry is a singer-songwriter, speaker, author of “The Myth of Certainty…And Other Great News,” life coach, storyteller, voice-over artist and that guy who writes on the back of his car. Sharing his unique insights to ignite powerful shifts in perspective, his life’s calling is to help others find their power within and step into the fullness of their passions and most radiant selves. To learn more, visit http://yesbrianperry.com.
This service was originally aired on August 23, 2020.