Category Archives: Restoration

STANDING AT THE FORK

March 13, 2019
THE CHOICE
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
     Robert Frost; The Road Not Taken

Last Weekend:

Twenty-one men and women who are involved in doing Restorative Justice work sat in Circle for an evening, a day, and half a day. Fifteen hours. A number of us were descended from people who were the original keepers of these American lands, many descended from people brought here by force from Africa as slaves, one who came to be in America from Korea through adoption; a few more who had come to America to study and to work; twelve altogether. Nine more of us were descended from ancestors who came to America from European countries, most of them in need, escaping oppression, famine, servitude, and poverty.

We had come together to work at bridging the divide between white-skinned people who enjoy privileges we barely know we have because we take them for granted, and black and brown-skinned people who have been deprived of even the most basic human rights of respect and safety.

The United States is a country who lays claim to being the greatest, to wearing the white hats in an evil world, to being the benevolent keeper of whom we perceive as lesser brothers around the globe. The United States is a country whose hands are bloody, and whose heart is sick with the lies and corruption it has hidden, whose foundations are crumbling under the weight of its violent legacy.

I am one of the white-skinned descendants of European tenant farmers who came seeking a better life for their children. Like the majority of Americans who are seen as “white”, I grew up believing what I was taught in school was true. I and my peers and my parents and grandparents were conditioned by our communities, our religions, our cultural backgrounds to see the world through a particular lens — America was great and good; a land of opportunity and equality.

Depending on where we lived, some of us white skinned Americans grew up entrenched in views that feared and dehumanized black and brown people. Many others, my family among them, did not hold with such views, but were oblivious to the subtle ways systems we took for granted — education, housing, economics, employment — were booby-trapped, even closed to non-white people.

But no longer. Very few remain who can honestly say that they have not been confronted with an alternate reality. The truth of America’s founding legacy of genocide, appropriation, theft and plunder, of slavery, and of our continued oppression of non-white people in many insidious forms is pretty much available for everyone to know. The silence has been shattered. The truth is mainstream news now. Perhaps in part because of social media. But even still the lies proliferate as those in power and those who are afraid (of what?) try desperately to discredit these realities. But even as the lies are told, reality and truth are holding their ground.

The first question posed to the Circle in which I sat was, “So, what are YOU going to do about it?”

It is a question that every white skinned person in this country needs to be asked, and needs to answer.

Most of us who are white, if we are even willing to look at the depth and breadth of the pain and suffering, don’t know what to say.

Many of us, at least initially, shrink back from the magnitude of our nation’s crimes against humanity. Many of us are shocked when we uncover the truth of the perpetuation of these crimes by government and corporate power and wealth. Those of us who are educators and social service providers feel trapped and entangled in the oppressive and harmful rules and regulations to which we are expected to comply.

I feel very small standing before this Goliath. I feel very weak looking up at the mountain that needs to be moved. I feel very confused by the chaos swirling around me.

It isn’t enough to say, “I’m sorry.” What am I sorry for? How will that change anything?

It is a beginning, though. Victims who have suffered great harm might say they want revenge. But often this actually translates into, “I want you to understand the pain you have caused me. I want you to acknowledge the suffering you have caused. I want you to take ownership and responsibility for it.”

So I begin by listening and acknowledging the pain that I hear and saying, “I am sorry for what has been done to you”.

But then what? What can I do to make amends? What can I do to make reparations? What can I do to bring healing? What can I do to dismantle the systems that have prevented my black and brown brothers and sisters from participating in the same privileges that I have taken to be my inalienable right? What can I do to stop the suffering?

I left that Circle on Sunday afternoon heavy with these questions. Heavy with the pain. Despair had injected its venom and my stress responses had kicked in and were screaming, “Run away! Quit! Who do you think you are to do this work (teaching restorative justice in education). Who the fucking hell do you think you are to write a book for educators on creating healthy learning environments?!”

And then I took a swig of Alice in Wonderland’s elixir which packed a heavy dose of anger. Where I had been shrinking to something very small and helpless, I suddenly began to grow. I got bigger and bigger. I didn’t sleep. Through the dark hours of the night and the sunshine of Monday I sat with the questions. I walked with the questions through the new layer of snow that belied the coming of Spring. I examined my work and my motives for doing it. I will not quit. I will not run away.

Tuesday

“The great and mighty go their way unchecked. All the hope left in the world is in the people of no account.”   Ursula K. Le Guin, The Finder (2001)

This morning I received an announcement from Minneapolis based Mixed Blood Theater in my inbox. A one time member it has been awhile since I read what they are up to so I explored their website. I found the following under their [Community] Engagement page.

Mixed Blood’s Cedar Riverside neighborhood has long been a home for immigrants and refugees, including one of the nation’s largest concentrations of African and Muslim immigrants and refugees in the U.S. today. Mixed Blood is working on multiple fronts to engage with its neighbors:

Health Care — In partnership with Hennepin County Medical Center, Q Health, Cedar Riverside People’s Center Clinic, and Riverside Plaza Tenants’ Association, Mixed Blood uses artistic endeavors to help health care providers improve patient-centered care for the residents of Cedar Riverside

Education — Mixed Blood resident artists teach drama classes to neighborhood youth and host performances and workshops for teachers who serve the schools that Cedar Riverside children attend.

Safety — Through Mixed Blood’s work, Minneapolis Police officers and young adult Somali men, change places to gain knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity of the other’s experience and perceptions. One recent participant entered the police academy and is currently an intern for Transit Police.

Performance — Mixed Blood hosts plays by Somali writers and directors as well as story circles with Somali elder women.

Assembly — In a neighborhood choked for common space, Mixed Blood’s auditorium and rehearsal hall provides a steady place—without charge—for meetings, performances, trainings, and social and political events.

Hope rekindles in me when I know things like this are happening.

Here in Duluth (where I live), there have been several campaigns during the past 10 years with town hall meetings, billboards and other lectures and plays to raise awareness of Race and Racism. Next week there is another community discussion on Anti-Racism sponsored by a local TED TALK style forum held once a month on a variety of issues. Last month it was on Restorative Justice, which is the field in which I work.

Are there still mountains to move? Yes! Does it take too long? Yes! But with each swing of the pick-ax, with each bucketful of mountain dirt removed, that mountain shrinks a little more. With each white-skinned soul that wakes up, each heart that is turned to love and justice, each step taken to right the wrongs, we are closer. There may be thousands of star fish stranded on the beach at low tide, dying in the hot sun, but for each one that the small boy throws back into the water, one more life is saved.

Before Trump won the election, as I read the various articles about his campaign and those who followed him, I turned one day to my husband and asked, “As terrible as this sounds, do we (mainstream, white America) need this to happen in order to fully wake us the fuck up? To blow us out of our comfortable slumber where we expect some vague “they” to solve the problems we abhor?”

We talked a long time. I cried in anger and frustration and it took me days to rise back out of the funk I sunk into.

And then to the shock and dismay of the majority of Americans, Trump won. But what I have seen happen in the years since is exactly what I asked my husband that long ago June day in 2016. We are being dragged out of the poppy fields of Oz and waking the fuck up. We are being driven to action. To our shame, it has required these awful times for the wool to be stripped from our eyes and the rugs to be rolled up exposing the garbage that has been putrefying there to motivate us to care deeply enough to do more than read, think, shake our heads and cluck our indignation. Now we are arguing and debating, screaming in pain and reaching out to one another to do something about it all. It is chaos out there. Confusion. Pain. Just like cleaning out a house, it is messy and ugly and chaotic and layered — it has to be before it can be put back together. We have to expose the wound before it can heal. Every ugly inequity, every lie, the destructive and violent acts — whether against a culture/race, against women, against children, against our economy and our environment, or to the detriment to our health…hell, fill in the blank! Truth is exploding out of long perpetuated lies and suppression. But in my opinion, the biggest whopper of all is the myth about our great and noble, innocent, America.

American people have done some great and noble things. And everyday great and noble people live and work and write and make art and teach and fix cars and dispose of our garbage and save our lives on operating tables. But the other side of that truth is that these United States were founded on genocide and slavery, both of which have been perpetuated into today even though disguised by other names and practices. The absolute dishonoring of life in this blatant way has allowed us to do the same in all the other categories where we are complicit in the destruction of life — whether of the minds, bodies or souls of people — especially our children, or of the Earth, or of animals, or of cultures.

It is a hard choice to leave safe havens and walk straight into the war.

Because of my white skin, my European ancestry, and the privileges accorded to me because of that heritage this debt and the responsibility for it is laid as equally upon my shoulders as those directly responsible, past and present. My attitudes and past actions have sprung from a heart that as long as I can remember desired to bring healing and restoration and equality. But since most of our current destructive systems were developed and are still perpetuated by white people, systems that have benefited me, I am complicit simply because my heritage makes me a member of this mainstream culture who wields the power.

It has been said, “to whom much is given, much is required.” My white skin has inherited a measure of freedom and privilege. The question I am confronted with is “What do I do… and what will I do with this privilege to make a better world for everyone — especially for my brothers and sisters who are Indian, who are Black, who came or are coming  from countries torn by war (a war probably supported by my government), or who came because they had little to no opportunities to better their lives. Within my small world, within my sphere of influence, within the possibility of what my personal strengths and gifts and resources are… what will I do with this privilege I carry in my skin?

“Fear lives in the head. And courage lives in the heart. The job is to get from one to the other.”    Louise Penny, The Long Way Home

A group of educators and I were recently discussing the idea that hurting people hurt people. Healed people, heal people. There is a lot of information out now about how stress and trauma affect the brain and our behavior. There is also a lot of information about how to heal our trauma, how to manage our stress, how to move from mindless reflexive reactionary behaviors that ultimately perpetuate harm, to responses that allow us to remain compassionate and kind even in the face of someone else’s negative behavior.

Those of us who have the privilege of being able to do our own healing work have no excuse for ignoring it. I don’t have bombs blowing up in my city. My children are not starving. I am not fearful every day that my son might be shot or arrested for just existing. I have all I need at my disposal. I need to do whatever self-work I need to do so that I might be able to be a source of healing and help in our world — whatever that might look like based on my gifts and skills and sphere of influence.

That is the beginning.

I will do what I can do today to make a difference for healing, for change, for equity in my city, my state and my country. And tomorrow and next week? I will know what to do as I listen, as I pay attention, as I choose to keep my heart and my mind open.

I am standing at a fork in the road of my journey. A choice lies before me.

I choose the road less traveled. It is the one my heart knows it is meant to walk. The one that disappears in the undergrowth and I can not see where it leads. I fear it will not be a comfortable or easy journey. I fear there may be land mines and monsters. But I also know it is where love flourishes. It is the only path that will allow those of us who travel there to attempt to heal and re-create this suffering world.

I hope I find you there. We can walk together.

 

 

 

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CREATING A NEW WINESKIN

May 5, 2015
(I wrote this 3 weeks ago while traveling to Chicago on the Megabus. I thought I had posted it. Today I began a new post and then realized that I had NOT posted this from 3 weeks ago! Eeeek!)

NEW WINE INTO NEW WINESKINS

My husband and I are preparing to embark on an exciting, but no doubt difficult adventure. We are going to do a 21 day Intense Detoxification program that includes a nutritional component of very healthy green juices, herbal cleansing teas and soups; body work to aid in eliminating the toxic waste that has accumulated and gotten stuck in the organs and tissue of our bodies, and self-care through walking, resting, meditation, stretching, detoxification baths and so on. It’s not difficult once you piece the information together and line it all up on a calendar, but that has taken some research and work to accomplish. Of course, then there is the doing of it.

Fortunately for us we have been making changes in our diet and lifestyle over the years, so we don’t anticipate that it will be traumatic, nor that we will have to radically change anything once we have completed the 21 days of detoxing and reintegrated into normal eating habits. There will be a few minor adjustments to our diet where we have grown lazy, or where we may notice sensitivities that weren’t apparent in our customary day to day diet. Also, and maybe because of those changes we made over the years, although we are having some difficulties, we are not in the midst of a scary health crisis. I don’t wish to wait until that point.

I have been frustrated with the health issues that I have been developing over the last few years; issues that regularly get blamed on the aging process. Screw that! From what I have read and what makes sense to me is that the reason we experience these things as we age is because our body is wearing out from too many years of overloaded systems. Bodies, like houses and cars and tools, if ill-cared for, or subjected to environments and forces that are difficult to “weather”, will wear out and deteriorate faster than those well cared for and maintained and kept in optimal condition.

With our stress saturated lives and all the unnatural things in our soil, our water, our air and our food it would be difficult to maintain a toxic free body even if our lifestyle and diet deserved an A+ for health consciousness. Recently I began to study more about the symptoms of toxicity in the body, and what to do about it. I am “textbook”. What I am reading and observing in the people around me is that indeed, much of what we attribute to aging is about bodies loaded with natural and unnatural  toxins that it can no longer deal with. Eating “better”, or exercising more by themselves aren’t going to do it. If they could, I would be in much better condition than I am. So I’m going to do something about it. I told someone when I was turning 50 that I refused to “get old”. “Not gonna do it,” I said. Now I’m 60. Still not gonna do it. At least not in the traditional way and just gradually wear away. Or rapidly wear out.

As I was preparing my lists and calendar and reflecting on the benefits I expect to experience from this detox program I thought of a proverb that I am familiar with; “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (New Testament). Old wineskins have been stretched to the limit as wine fermented inside them and then dried and became brittle. Reusing them would risk causing them to burst from the pressure of the fermentation process of the new wine.

Perhaps this is a bit of a stretch, but it made me think about how often we do this sort of thing–we try to improve a situation without first attending to the underlying cause of the difficulty–digging out the roots, cleaning it up, repairing the foundations.  We “look for love in all the wrong places” because we don’t know how to love ourselves, or are unwilling to do so. We look to the approval and rewards that others will give us to bolster our self-worth without believing in ourselves–so our sense of worthiness is fleeting and can evaporate quickly. We might go buy new clothes to feel better about ourselves, but without attending to the body we are putting them on. It’s like getting all new furniture without cleaning the house. Putting perfume on without taking a bath. Like the ruptured wineskin, the new situation or relationship or purchase is spoiled because we haven’t attended to the underlying issue that is problematic. We haven’t prepared a new wineskin.

I realized that my bafflement with why I would still have some of the health issues I do when I have done so much to improve my diet, my exercise, my attitudes and thinking was directly related to not having helped my body clear out the garbage left from years of bad habits, poor food choices, chronic stress, anxiety, negative thinking, etc. Having developed congestion in body organs sometime past, they can no longer do their job efficiently or thoroughly, and so the toxic waste of my cells, along with the toxins introduced into the body, accumulate and begin slowly to wreak havoc. Despite the positive changes, my body cannot adequately deal with what has fallen into disrepair, and the hidden stores of toxic waste. I have made new wine, but my body can’t utilize it efficiently until I clear away all this old stuff, creating a new wineskin, of sorts.

Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made! I am amazed to realize that our bodies have, in a sense, the same service functions we see played out in the world around us. Plumbing systems, garbage collection systems, super highways that all these cell workers travel on to take care of the business of keeping our bodies functioning at as optimal a level of health and well being as possible. And like those systems out in the world around us, they can develop blockages and traffic jams. Consider what happens to a city if the garbage collection system goes offline or the dump site is full and overflowing! If the superhighway gets congested and the emergency vehicles can’t get through, what then? If the sewer system backs up?

I am learning another level of what it means to love and care for mySelf, honor mySelf–this body that is the house where my eternal, divine spirit dwells. I like to think about the intelligence of these cells in my body, how they have specific purpose and yet somewhat a life of their own, too…choosing at times to do things that are not in the best interests of my body as a whole; or playing the hero and going above and beyond their job description to keep me going. I think about how these cells are me, and I am part of them, and yet, we are also separate. And then I think about being a cell in the body of the Creator, and the Creator being part of me, we are combined together. And I think about the Universe…maybe it is a cell in the great body of an even greater Creator…  how far does it go? Infinity…