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Ed Bacon on Making Change Easier
Since some of our listening audience may not yet know who you are, would you please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am the rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California – a 4,000 member multi-ethnic urban Episcopal parish. My church has a radically inclusive spirit and engages in a progressive social justice agenda. My work is grounded in a spirituality that makes sense in a globalized, interreligious world and which leads to advocacy for peace, justice, and inclusion in the community, the nation, and the world.
I grew up in Jesup, Georgia, the son of a Southern Baptist Minister and a teacher mother. In the middle of studying for a Law degree, I realized my calling was indeed to become a minister, just not in the church of my youth. Prior to coming to All Saints, I served as Dean of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Jackson, Mississippi; Rector of St Mark’s in Dalton, Georgia; and Dean of Students and Campus Ministry at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
My wife and I are blessed with two adult children and two grandchildren.
You are a great success. Because of what you've accomplished and where you are in life, what would you tell others to Inspire them today, regardless of where they are in their life?
You carry the Divine, the Sacred, the Beloved inside you. You are loved. You are worthy of being loved by others. You can be liberated to love everyone. Your purpose in life is to be a unique instrument in turning the human race into the human family.
We have the ability to change both the course of our lives and the course of history when we become aware of the core of sacredness within us—which I call the Beloved—and begin to live with it as our guide. Whenever we have a flash of love, innocence, acceptance, inspiration, awe, or wonder, or we’re moved to tears or filled with joy, we must remind ourselves: this is the real me.
We must not let such moments pass us by. We must stop and appreciate those moments and act on them—and ask that we receive more of them in the future. In many ways, this book is my call to others, inviting them to embark on this never-ending adventure, as I myself have done.
Each of us lives the life we make for ourselves—we are in charge of our own destinies. We can and must be an active participant in our lives, trusting that we are beloved.
We all know that inspiration can change lives. Can you share a personal story of someone who inspired you and made a difference in your life or a defining moment or experience that inspired you or changed your life?
I was deeply immersed in my Law School studies when I stumbled upon the works of Thomas Merton. This was during the Vietnam War when our country was savagely divided over concerns about foreign intervention, communism, racism, and social inequality. At that point in my life, I was confused about where I was headed. And then I read Merton’s book, Faith & Violence, and my understanding of truth—and my path forward in life—was forever altered.
Because of my own background and religious struggles, I identified with the recurrent themes in Merton’s writing: finding your place in society, views on social activism, and approaches toward contemplative prayer and the quality of the individual life. I loved that he was motivated by a broadly human viewpoint—one that cared about the world as a whole and issues like peace, racial tolerance, and social equality—despite being a monk who was physically removed from society. His personal radicalism was rooted in contemplative prayer, in seeing as delusional the notion that we are separate selves, in non-violence, and he believed passionately in interfaith dialogue.
What has always affected me the most about Merton’s thinking is his deeply held belief that we are all, no matter our religion or background, vital components of the fabric of community. We are each a thread that, when woven together with all the other threads, help create a strong, supple and enduring fabric. Without the strength of this multitude of fibers, the fabric of community is weak.
Through Merton I understood for the first time that “salvation” had nothing to do with a journey to heaven after death—a way of escaping hell. I understood that inside each individual lies our true word, that uniquely personal truth that we cannot dictate, but that has a powerful pull of its own. Salvation is the discovery of that true self–living a life according to our true self rather than our false self.
I was beginning to understand that rather than being something we possess, truth leads us. I recognized that a life that is vibrant, vital, loving, and not based in fear—the kind of life I wanted to live—is a life that follows truth.
Truth is that part of the Beloved that constantly helps us grow. In so doing, it calls us to abandon the restrictive and anxiety-producing old truths by which we may have lived before. Merton’s words helped me understand that my own truth was valid and valuable, and could not be ignored. I left Law School and in time became an Episcopal priest.
You make it look easy, but I'm guessing you've experienced challenges in your life. Can you share with our listeners how that has strengthened you to reach success? In other words, how do you overcome adversity?
Everyone has adversity to deal with, just to differing degrees. Life may look easy for some, but it very rarely is. To live is to face real challenges. In my case, I benefitted immensely from a loving family and a tight-knit community. But still it took me years of searching to uncover the truth of who I really was and what I really wanted from life. Frankly, that journey never ends for any of us.
I open my book talking about a period in my life when I was afraid of becoming forever estranged from my father. It was a critical turning point for me. For many years, I was a source of confusion and pain for my father as he attempted to understand why I made certain decisions.
I had been invited to become dean of a historic southern cathedral. The opportunities for transformational social action and service—as well as personal and professional development—made my heart beat fast with excitement. And yet as soon as I was offered the job, I developed excruciating pain in my chest that left me short of breath. I felt as if my soul were pinned by the rubble of a fallen building. Was this a huge mistake? Would my family hold it against me?
When I found the courage to talk with my father about this openly, sharing with him my motivation and my hopes, he reacted with generosity, giving me permission to follow my truth. His words of encouragement turned out to be one of the deepest blessings I have ever experienced.
Instantly, the chest pains disappeared. My trembling stopped. My father’s words were the passport that took me from the constrictions of fear to the force field of love. By opening his heart and allowing the flow of love to run unimpeded into me he gave me the strength I needed so I could release all the power of my own love into the world. I have never looked back.
We all have ideas on how to improve our lives, whether it be a new job, moving to a new city, or finding love, but change can be a bit scary sometimes. Can you please share an experience with us where you "stepped off the ledge" with only faith, and took a big risk, based only on your belief that you would succeed?
My experience leaving the church of my youth—the Southern Baptist fold—and finding my way back to the ministry was the closest I came to leaning over the ledge. I am so grateful that I did not choose a different path in life.
At the moment when I was teetering, afraid and undecided, I knew I needed to make a choice whose consequences would reverberate throughout my life. I had my doubts. Yes, letting go of a life-long identity is truly frightening. But I listened to my instinct, to the voice inside me that would not go away, and I knew I had to trust that voice.
I will never forget being in a psychiatrist’s office when he said to me, “You must learn to obey your Boss, the Genius within, your true Self.” I was able to do so because not only was I understanding on an abstract level that I was beloved, but I had actually begun to live that reality. I could trust myself because I knew viscerally that a still small voice inside was worthy of trust—and that voice was Love.
These moments when we teeter on the edge are not always so black and white, so life and death. We face them constantly, and we cannot always know whether or not we will “succeed,” in the way that the fear-based world calculates “success.” But when we look deep into our hearts and examine our motives, our desires, our needs, and truth as we know it—all the while believing that at our core we are made of love and are surrounded by love—we can find the courage to take the step into the unknown.
Change is frightening. It certainly was for me. So many of us would rather stay in situations that we know are not good for us because they are familiar. But when we accept a situation in which we are unhappy and do nothing to change it, we are shortchanging ourselves. Ultimately, it’s untenable. Stress will manifest physically or psychologically. Our bodies will eventually rebel, telling us we must change. So we must be courageous and empower ourselves so that we can embrace our true potential and our true calling.
How can others do what you did?
First let me emphasize that I am still on the journey. No one graduates from the adventure I’m describing. And yet there are crucial stepping stones.
For me it starts with generosity and stillness. Opening your heart to others so that their energy and love can fill you up, just as yours fills them up when you are generous. You cannot be fulfilled in life if you are closed up and full of fear. And when both our outer and inner worlds are noisy and we are busy, we become confused and detached from our true purpose. So we must find our own unique way toward stillness so that we can be in touch again with our instincts and our truth. Stillness is like accessing this ever flowing spring that is ready to refresh us from our center.
Of course, most people don’t believe they have an hour a day to sit in silence, and for many, this particular way of practicing Stillness wouldn’t work, anyway. Everyone must find their own way to “inoculate the day with Stillness” or to synchronize their being with the breath of the Universe. It might be through listening to music or going to an art gallery. It might be playing with animals or children. It might be through vigorous exercise. The point is to find your own path into it and then make the commitment to getting to that place of peace and rejuvenation as often as you can.
Also, when faced with a difficult decision, ask yourself this question: is the risk of alienating someone or jeopardizing financial well-being, social standing and personal relationships really so much worse than living an inauthentic life? When we are not true to ourselves because of fear that we will be judged harshly or hurt others, we shrink into a more constricted and constrained version of ourselves. It’s hard to tolerate this for long. It is simply unsustainable.
What process, steps or exercises do you recommend that our listeners could do right now and each morning, to improve the quality of their lives?
So much of putting this into practice is simply about recognizing the choices we have and then deciding to make those choices that lead us toward love and away from fear.
I believe that making the habits of love an integral part of our everyday lives leads us on the path toward improving our lives. For example, in my book, 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind, the very first chapter, “The Habit of Generosity,” tells how we need both inflow and outflow in order to foster life and create energy. Just taking from the world and not giving is stultifying to our spirits. Giving to others, sharing the kindness of the universe with others, on the other hand, actually benefits us in the long run.
And so, how do we actually live a life infused with generosity? How do we move from recognizing its fortifying power to actually behaving with Generosity in our everyday lives? I suggest a number of different concrete steps that you can take, which amount to short range strategies.
Some examples: Notice the positive energy surging inside you when you make a gratitude list. The items on that list are things the Universe generously offered you. Or, visualize the people in your life with whom you have a strained relationship and bless them—notice how the fear subsides. Try this: during a meeting—whether at work or with a friend—express your appreciation and your regrets. This helps you become aware of the sacred in your life.
And, of course, in terms of material generosity, start small if you feel the fear of scarcity rearing its ugly head. Commit to sharing some percentage of your income (it can be minor) with others. Then increase when and if you can. But above all, being grateful for the gifts you already have is the most important first step on the journey toward integrating these habits into your life.
Each chapter, each habit, explores the simple things we can do each day to bring us closer to living the authentic, meaningful lives we were meant to live.
What's the greatest joy in your life?
My greatest joy in life is encouraging others to find the freedom to be themselves and to do what they were created to do. I have a life overflowing with the joys of marriage, children and grandchildren, music, physical beauty, fantastically creative and loving friends, the grace and forgiveness of God, a remarkable faith community, marvelous books, inspiring poetry, global colleagues working for human rights, justice and peace for all people, interfaith sisters and brothers, exercise, the simple yet mysterious act of breathing. And yet, I think that nothing compares with the experience of helping to facilitate someone else finding their path and learning how to be free to love unconditionally.
If you had to wrap up the wisdom of your life to leave as your legacy—call it YOUR BRILLIANCE—what important things that you've learned would you want to pass on to others?
I would pass on that beneath our wounds and resentments, our fears and insecurities, our neediness and addictions, we are all loved deeply and unconditionally. There is a core, a spirit, inside each of us that cannot be abused, perverted or dishonored. It is where we are better than the worst thing we ever did. That inner place is the Beloved, the Divine within us. We therefore each carry within us the capacity to love deeply, unconditionally, and fearlessly.
One of my central passions is the interconnectedness of every one of us. I am that 14 year old girl shot on a bus in Pakistan because she believes in education as a right for girls as well as for boys. I also am the perpetrator of that violent crime. That act of injustice and violence threatens the fabric of justice and peace everywhere. The wounded, misshapen psyche of that member of the Taliban who thinks that any human life is disposable threatens the humanity of all of us in the human family. And so I pray for both the healing and courage of the victim just as fervently as I pray for the healing and the transformation of the perpetrator.
As Mother Teresa said, “All our troubles stem from forgetting that we belong to one another.”
We can transform our lives by freeing ourselves from fear. In every concentric circle of human interaction, we can be instruments of bringing people together instead of drawing lines of enmity to separate us. My book is intended as a roadmap to help people navigate this journey away from fear in order to live in the magnetic force field of love.
If you had just one more thing that you could accomplish in your lifetime, what would it be?
I would love to help articulate a practical global model for love-based living that is available and accessible to people no matter their religious, spiritual, scientific or philosophical identity.