Category Archives: Standing Up

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

TO MY VALENTINE

A LETTER TO MY SIX-YEAR-OLD GRANDSON

February 7, 2017

Dear Morgan,

I suppose your class is beginning to talk about Valentine’s Day. You’re probably seeing lots of heart decorations and valentine cards and candies in the stores. Some people think the whole idea of having a special day to celebrate love with flowers and cards and candy is ridiculous. Some people think its pretty cool. I always liked Valentine’s Day because my birthday is the day before so my birthday parties were always full of valentines.

But what the heck is this day really about?

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, Emperor Claudius II ruled Rome. He was nicknamed Claudius the Cruel because of the cruel ways he abused his people and for the many wars that he started. Because of him, Rome was fighting so many wars that Emperor Claudius couldn’t find enough soldiers to fight for him. He blamed this on the idea that men were refusing to join his army because they did not want to leave their partners or families. So Claudius decided to make it illegal to get married and have a family. The people were afraid of Claudius, so no one stood up to him.

Except for a Christian priest named Valentine. Valentine was a kind man. He felt great compassion for people who were suffering because of the cruel Emperor. He helped them in any way that he could. One of the things that he did was to secretly perform weddings for people who wanted to be married. Eventually the Emperor found out and had Valentine arrested.

There are many legends about the things that happened while Valentine was in prison. One story says that he healed the blind daughter of the Prison Guard. Emperor Claudius had Valentine killed on February the 14th in the year 273. Because of the stories of how Valentine demonstrated love and compassion despite the cruelty of Claudius, the tradition of “Valentine’s Day” got started. It has evolved through the hundreds of years since he died to what we know today.

I like the story of Valentine. I like that this day is about Hearts. Morgan, did you know that every single person in the world has 2 hearts? There is the one we can see which is the heart that pumps the blood through our body. If that heart stops, our body dies.

But deep inside that heart is another heart–one that doctors cannoheart-of-lightt see with X-rays or surgery. It is made of pure Light–and inside this Heart is our True Self–some people call it our Soul, or our Spirit. It is the part of us that lives forever, even when our body can’t live anymore.

The love we feel and the love and kindness we share with others comes from our second heart, our Heart of Light that lives quietly inside the big one that is pumping our blood. When we talk about “opening our heart” to care about someone, or to forgive someone, or to be kind to someone–it is this Heart of Light inside us that we are opening.

This Heart of Light cannot die, but its light can grow dim. Think about when your Daddy builds a fire in the backyard. If he puts a lot of wood on the fire, the fire gets big and bright, right? If he stops putting wood on the fire, gradually the fire gets smaller and smaller until there are just some glowing coals of burnt wood left.  This is what can happen to our loving Heart of Light. When someone is kind to us, it is like putting a log on the fire. We feel loved and we feel warm inside. The light in our special heart burns brighter.

But, when someone isn’t loved very well the light in their heart can get very small. If someone is bullied and hurt, they might close off this special heart. They are trying to protect themselves from feeling the hurt. If they do this, their special heart can grow hard, like a lump of charcoal. They might become mean and angry, or very depressed and lonely. The love in their Heart of Light will become just a faint glow among the coals.

So what does this have to do with Valentine’s Day? I like to think about all the little valentines we give our friends and family and the special people we love as a way to say, “Hey, I know that you are special! I see the Heart of Light inside you. You are important and valuable. You are loved.” And our message is like a little stick placed in the fire to make it burn a little bigger. Our message makes their Heart of Light shine a little brighter.

This day is a reminder to us to keep our Heart of Light open so that kindness and love can come into us. When our Heart of Light is full of love, we can be kind and loving to others. This special day reminds us to keep filling up each other’s hearts with love. Just like putting wood on the fire. Valentine’s Day reminds us of a man who was willing to be compassionate and kind and to help people, even when a cruel Emperor tried to make it illegal to love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet boy.

Love,

Nonna

THE PRICE FOR THE FUTURE

December 6, 2016

THE FUTURE DOESN’T COME FREE–THERE IS A PRICE

The storm that snowed-in North Dakota has now blown across Minnesota, spilling into Wisconsin. All night the wind battered at the trees and leafless shrubberies; its howls given eerie voice across chimney tops and rain gutters. I got up this morning expecting to see deep snow piled up in drifts. But the storm split at the point of Lake Superior, just miles from my home. The snow went north and south–we caught only the ragged edges.

As I move through my morning, I am thinking about a quote I wrote down the other day  from the book, The Song Poet. Author, Kao Kalia Yang wrote: “…the price for the future is the present.”

When the week began I continued to carry a heaviness that had begun slowly over the past few weeks, a heaviness that was draining my store of energy. Each morning I stretched my will long…longer, on mental tip-toes, trying to snag the edges of happiness and joy so that I might wrap my arms about them and press them into my body. But I could only brush the edges as they sat shiny on the shelf high above my head. I was weary of the effort.

But Kalia’s words keep repeating themselves in my mind–“the price for the future is the present.”

I cannot retreat. I cannot hide. If I am creating in this present what will be in the future, I cannot stop planting seeds of hope, seeds of wisdom, seeds of truth, seeds of beauty. I must water these seeds–or there will be no harvest. No hope, no beauty, no wisdom born of truth honestly faced to guide us tomorrow. I cannot shut my eyes, but must keep them wide open, searching for even the tiniest gifts of loveliness and laughter that bestow  upon us a little sip of joy. I cannot close my heart, but must keep it wide open so that the flow of love can fill depleted tanks of any who may have need among those with whom I live and move and share my being.

I stretch my will again–no halfhearted effort this time–I snag the edge of Gratitude and hold it close…for the small comforts and privileges I mostly take for granted…for the big things that I oughtn’t ever take for granted. I take myself out for a walk in the grey light of a new winter. I stand by the waterfall where the creek tumbles down the bluffs a few blocks away from where I live. I throw my arms wide and release my little prayers of gratitude, a kaleidoscope of butterflies spiraling up into the heavens.

I smile at the water. I smile at the sky. I smile at the trees. I lean lightly against a cedar. I watch a little squirrel looking for where he buried his morning snack. I listen to the birds gossip. I watch what I think is a Raven playing in the wind. I think of my grandsons. I feel my belly waking up wondering what’s for lunch and remember I have leftover soup in the refrigerator.

Holding grief and rage in equal balance with love and joy is a high wire act worthy of Cirque du Soleil.

 

 

 

 

Change Isn’t Easy and Healing is Hard Work — Part II

November 27, 2016

HOW DO WE DO THE  DIFFICULT AND PAINFUL WORK OF CHANGE AND HEALING?

…We are confronted collectively as well as personally with choosing the way of Love and Compassion and Kindness and yes, Forgiveness on a local, national and global scale. How do we do this? This is what I wrestle with in the dark before dawn.

I move through my day, practicing smiling–meeting the eyes of strangers I pass in the park, greeting them. I pay attention to the beauty around me in this moment. I watch the children playing with happy abandon.

Finally I tentatively sidle up to the latest headlines.

Sometimes I weep.

Sometimes I push back at the stress and bury myself in my work and then find myself yelling at some technological device that isn’t cooperating with me–or my husband because he’s conveniently at hand.

Sometimes I close the news feeds and immerse myself instead in reading about the good things people are doing in the world and am moved to do the small things I think I can do: donating money to a school for Native American children and to the Central Asia Institute educating girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan; renewing my membership in the Sierra Club which works so hard to protect our lands and the animals that inhabit it; signing petitions, writing to the President and donating money for Standing Rock. I check in on  the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) as they continue their stand against the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC), [MIC–an informal alliance between a nation’s military and the defense industry which supplies it, seen together as a vested interest which influences public policy; something Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke strongly against].

The other day I took a break and went to see a fun movie. Comic relief.

But it is another morning and I have again awakened in the dark before dawn, fighting the panic and the grief and the deep dread of my helplessness. None of it seems like “enough”. And it certainly doesn’t seem like enough to focus on love and kindness in a world so terrified and rattled.  Yet, I know how difficult even this seemingly small work is. I sit with this in these quiet grey hours. Slowly, with the awakening dawn I  realize that no, it is precisely this that really matters. Without it, nothing else will change much or for long.

We’re reading all over social media and the internet and in magazines,  hearing on talk shows and discussing across kitchen tables that we must stand up for and protect those who are being targeted for harm. We must mobilize to put a stop to the raping of our Earth and oceans. We must protect the animals and plants and trees as well as our fellow human beings.

My throat swells up with the suppressed tears of despair. How do we do this? How can I do this? How do I stand in opposition to so much and love at the same time? How do I do this without acting from the same angry and arrogant attitudes as those who perpetrate the harm?

We just elected a man who passed himself off as someone who would make America great again–hearkening to a time when we were more prosperous, safer, stable. But when was America like that? For whom was it more prosperous and stable and safe?  Have we learned nothing from history? How many of you have watched the Netflix Original documentary “13th”?

During the period of change between what has been and what will be there is a time of chaos. There has to be. We certainly can thank Mr. Trump for this at least…he has shaken us out of our torpor. We can no longer think that somehow it will all come right while we go about our lives. We have to do the work to make it so.

But then we run smack into those who also have been awakened but think that what must be made right, or the methods for doing so are deeply contrary to ours.

Some view Trump as a sainted leader, others see him as a ravenous wolf who pulled the sheep’s wool over the eyes of those angry and desperate for change. Both say they have “proof”.

Many said despite his flaws, he was the man for these times in order to save the unborn innocents being slaughtered because of our permissible abortion laws. Others said, “if you want fewer abortions, look to improving how we respect and treat our women, our mothers and families and our living children–here and around the world.”

Still others strongly claim that they have the right to choose what they will or will not do about a pregnancy. Will their views be changed with a law? Will we really stop abortions with a law? Can the Supreme Court actually overturn Roe vs Wade? Would they really even attempt it?

I propose that a deeper, more fundamental issue regarding the abortion argument lives in our overall attitude toward life. Where in our American culture do we see deep respect for all of life? Can we really blame those who see no problem with aborting a fetus when we as a nation condone drone warfare, [see the documentary National Bird] and when we raise false flags so that we can make war on a people–killing their men, women and children in order to gain access to their resources? When we dehumanize black and brown people? When we allow torture and oppression and view those of another religion with judgment? Is the problem really about having abortion be legal or illegal–or is it about our failure to respect life.

Who among us can claim a deep respect for all of life?

Even your enemy’s? Even the family member you just ripped apart with your words?

In only a few weeks post-election Mr. Trump has named to his future cabinet men and women who actively and vocally support a white, supremist nation–a white ‘Christian’ nation (what does that even mean, really?)

As he gears up to put the oil pipelines through that the public have stood against, it comes out that Mr. Trump has invested heavily ($500,000 – $1 million) in the Dakota Access Pipeline alone, as well as other companies engaged in these dangerous oil endeavors. An article published in June of 2015 presented data on over 3,300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied natural gas leaks or ruptures that had occurred on U.S. pipelines just between 2010 and early 2015. These incidents had killed 80 people, injured 389 more, and cost $2.8 billion in damages. They also released toxic, polluting chemicals in local soil, waterways, and air–damages that can’t be measured except over time. In October of this year a pipeline run by the same company trying to put the Dakota pipeline through ruptured in Pennsylvania and spilled over 55,000 gallons of gasoline into the Susquehanna River. And that is not the first time this company’s pipelines have ruptured. But if Mr. Trump has somewhere near a million dollars tied up in just the Dakota Pipeline, where do his interests lie?

If we are to know someone by the fruit of their life, it would seem that those Mr. Trump calls friends, and the money he stands to make personally by the policies he supports, his disrespectful rhetoric, the 75 pending lawsuits against him  including fraud and sexual harassment, all  call into question whether the fruit of his life is real and healthy, or artificial and poisoned.

The country is erupting with fear, hate, division. It has even affected our children and our schools where bullying and fear and the language of hate has increased in sync with first the campaign, and then spiked even further since the election. I have sat with teachers talking about the increased incidents of bullying and hate language and the fear of their young students. One teacher said that the day after the election several of her immigrant students came and tearfully said that they were worried that either their parents were going to be taken away or their family would have to go on the run…something they had had to do in their home country before coming here as refugees.

Is Trump and his rhetoric and methods solely responsible for all this fear and all this hate that has erupted? Some say, no, he’s being maligned and misrepresented.

Some others who also say no say that he has simply torn the veil of pretense off the ugly truths that have bided their time waiting for release.

It has also exposed the depth of naivety on the part of many who have not looked much deeper than their own mental constructs of the world and what makes their life feel safe and comfortable.

But watching closely, listening to him, it seems that he has also directly incited an irrational hate among those who are impressionable and for whom being angry and rebelling against ‘the system’ seems like a good idea.

Fighting ‘the system’ is a good idea–it is broken in many ways, on that just about everyone could probably agree. Let’s remember that Mr. Trump has benefited and profited from this system, and though it remains to be seen, many think he has every intention to continue to benefit from it–changing only that which will further benefit him and those whose ideology he shares. Would a Clinton administration, or any other for that matter, have been guilty of the same? Quite possibly, to some degree. However, none of the other candidates had as a goal to re-create America into a white, supremist Christian nation at the expense of all those who aren’t of European descent or who are not “card carrying Christians”. None of the others blatantly disregarded the evidence of the destruction and havoc we are wreaking on this planet. None of the others threatened to bomb the shit out of any country spawning terrorists–fuck the collateral damage.

Yes, our political system, our education system, our Energy system…our military policies…they all need to be re-made. But what is needed and how we accomplish it is where those who have given their trust to Mr. Trump and those opposed to him seem to have parted company. Unfortunately, the way we have parted has ripped deep gashes in the fabric of our nation–our communities–and for some, our very families.

As we’ve heard before, change begins with each one of us. Like never before, we have got to take this seriously and attend to our own attitudes, our own prejudices, our own divisive mental constructs, our own fears and grudges. Until we can each open up the flow of love from within us, we will be subject to fear and all that it spews. Until we can listen with genuine respect to views in opposition to ours, we won’t be able to make even one tiny stitch to mend the ragged rips and tears in the fabric of our communities. The thoughts we think and the words we speak will either ratchet up the fear and division, or power it down.

It is a tricky dance, loving while standing firm against that which causes harm. Loving while being reviled, or beaten or jailed–or while watching this done to others. Loving while risking the comfortable life we’ve known in order to speak up and care for those for whom this comfort and safety have been denied. Loving and supporting those with whom we may not personally agree–but realize that it is not right that they are denied basic human rights and dignity.

This is difficult work.

We have always been called to the way of Love, but now it is imperative that we respond. There are very few mañanas left to us before it becomes impossible to turn back. Love the Creator and all that has been created because the Creator is inside of all that is; love the Creator and this Creation with all your heart and mind and body and soul.  And love your neighbor as yourself. These are the two greatest commandments and within them is contained all the laws and dogma and prophets…of every religion, of every spiritual practice, of every culture.

Change isn’t easy. Healing is hard work.

Love one another.

Change Isn’t Easy and Healing is Hard Work — Part I

November 24, 2016

INVITATION TO THE JOURNEY OF CHANGE

I have lain here in the dark before dawn morning after morning. I awaken in these early hours with a weight in the trunk of my body–as though someone had opened me up and filled me with stones while I slept. It takes me some time to breathe through the panic, to move through this murky mud of despair. I focus on the threads of light woven through this dark. I bring to mind the goodness spreading through the world–the heroic actions of so many people determined to act with compassion in a world filling up with hate and fear. I bring to mind the beauty of the Earth where I live. I offer gratitude for the many blessings, the privileges and the comfort that I experience everyday: I wake up in a warm and comfortable home; I have healthy food in my fridge and cupboard; I have hot and cold water at the flick of a faucet–water that is safe. There will be no bombs falling on my city, no military marching down my street, no blockades impeding my drive across town. I do not fear for the lives of my children or my sweet grandbabies.

Finally I am able to get up. To sit on my couch and watch the dawn slowly melt away the dark.

Last evening I watched a documentary that briefly summed up what is happening to our Earth around the globe. The massive dead spots in the oceans. The rate of ice melt in the Arctic and how that is effecting the currents in the Atlantic Ocean–the North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) circulation that effects the Gulf Stream–which regulates the temperatures in Europe. Scientists are concerned that the NADW will stall and shut down, an event which  within a matter of a few years would plunge Europe into an ice age. The deforestation happening around the world is screwing up our oxygen levels, as well as causing droughts and deserts and death and suffering to millions of species of life. The plankton being killed in the oceans lowers (and in some cases eliminates) oxygen in parts of the ocean, which suffocates to death all the marine life in those areas. I watched footage of the atomic bombs we set off repeatedly in the not so distant past, both on land and in the oceans, and was reminded of other testing that has gone on more recently deep inside the earth and oceans. How can anyone think that this does no harm to the Earth? The film showed the increase in volcanic activity around the globe; the increase in earthquakes even in places where we have never experienced them in modern times. Some of this is thought to be the result of the explosive weapons experiments and also from the fracking we have been doing; our incessant drilling and mining and exploding of the Earth to get at what we want to “support our way of life”.

The film also showed the natural phenomenon that is contributing to the environmental upset the Earth is experiencing. We are moving into a new region of the galaxy which is exposing us to new levels of energy; the magnetic field around the Earth has been shifting and the Sun is dramatically increasing its solar activity. While it is true that this is disruptive for Earth and contributes to environmental changes, it is made clear in this film, and in other documentaries and relevant articles, it is what we have done, and are continuing to do to the Earth that has weakened her. We have made her vulnerable to destruction in a way she would not be if we hadn’t messed things up. When we are warned of an impending hurricane, those living in the target area prepare. They do not ignore the warnings. Preparing well will hopefully see them through the storm safely. Similarly we have been warned about what our reckless, irresponsible treatment of our planet would do…and we have denied the warnings, lied to ourselves that it couldn’t be true despite the evidence. We’ve continued our abuse of the planet and those that live here–plants, animals, birds, insects, marine life, soil, water and air. And people. All for money and “our way of life”. And that mostly for a very small percentage of the 7 billion people who live here.

I have heard some Christians say that the chaos and the destruction of our planet is  evidence of “the end times” as laid out in Revelations in the New Testament. If this is so, why, when it has always been within our power to choose to be responsible with this planet we have been entrusted with, why would we think it is “okay” to do what we have done despite the warnings and evidence of the destruction it has caused? Why do we think it is okay to continue to do it and then blame the results of what we have all chosen to do on God? Shifting the consequences of our irresponsibility onto those deemed immoral, those who do not honor our idea of the “true God”–saying it is “God’s judgment”? What we and this Earth suffer will be the consequence of our own collective choices to do what we have done to the Earth we were given, our own greed and irresponsibility, our own refusal to fully embrace and live in accordance with the greatest commandments outlined in every religion and spiritual practice on this planet–to Love our Creator, His creation, and to Love one another. If the end of this world as we have known it has come upon us–it has been by our own hand. We always have had a choice. We still do.

In the book of Micah in the Old Testament, chapter 6 verses 7 and 8 it is written: …“Does the LORD take delight in [the sacrifice of] thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? No, He has told you, O man, what is good…And what does the LORD require of you? To practice justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God.” Which brings to mind a well-known passage in the New Testament: 1st Corinthians chapter 13 verses 1 – 13. Here we are admonished that if we do all the “right things” that are considered by us to be righteous–from speaking in tongues, to studying all the holy texts, to having faith to perform miracles, to helping the poor and doing many good deeds, even sacrificing our comfort or our very life for what we believe–but yet, do not embody love, do not know love, do not open the flow of love to others and all that God has created…we are nothing. The passage goes on to describe to us what exactly this love looks like in action: patient, kind, not envious or self-seeking. It does not dishonor others in how we treat or speak of or to them, or even think of them. This love does not anger easily or hold grudges. It does not delight in evil, or the pain of even our enemies. This love always protects–everyone and all things created. This love always trusts, hopes and perseveres. The passage ends by saying that faith, hope and love yet remain–but the greatest of these is love.

A long time ago I began to wake up to how arrogant my “righteousness” was–how bereft of real love I was. My heart was closed. I wasn’t able to allow love to flow…like a garden hose turned on full strength, but twisted and kinked so that the flow was cut off, the water unable to make it through to give itself to the thirsty ground. Love was something I had a mental construct of and worked to behave in accordance with–but it wasn’t something that filled me, or flowed from me freely. I was the “noisy gong, the clanging symbol” of 1st Corinthians. I made a commitment at that time that I would take myself on a journey to learn this love. To open the flow and heal my heart .

I thought it would be easy. Just a series of decisions and choices.

The journey has been rigorous. Like climbing a mountain. Like deciding to walk across America for a cause with only a few necessities in your backpack, trusting that your needs will be met along the way. It brings to mind Jesus’ description in Matthew 7 of such a journey: “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate [path] is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many. For the gate [path] is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Or as I wrote recently to some friends, “Change isn’t easy, and healing is hard work.”

At one time I arrogantly thought that verse referred to the “few” who chose to be Christians–“born again”. But then I finally had to reckon with something else Jesus described in this same chapter: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ In a later chapter he describes judging the nations and he welcomes into his kingdom many who are surprised and amazed because they had not even known his name (in other words, were not Christian nations?) But he says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” But those who are being sent away cannot believe it–they consider themselves the ‘righteous’. But he says, “you did not help those who were hungry and thirsty, you did not care for the stranger in need, or ill, or in prison–and thus you did not do this for me.”

The tricky part is reconciling the good deed with a true flow of love from the heart. It’s all about motivation, I guess.

If the will of the Father–the Creator–by some referred to simply as “Source” is to Love, is to care for one another and for all things that have been created–why do we spend our energy and money and time fighting about whose dogma, whose vocabulary, whose story of creation is “right”? Part of my awakening those many years ago was noticing how truly loving and kind, merciful and humble were many people I knew or knew of who were not of the same religion that I believed at the time was the only one that was “correct”. There were so many who were far more “godly” than I was. I began to see how foreign really living the tenets of even my own religion was to me, and to many who I knew within my church.

And so I left the familiar shores of my life, and set out on my journey–to become this Love that I saw written into the very fabric of the world. This Love to which every spiritual practice calls their followers.

I have watched this call to Love going out from all corners of the world. I have read of children and young adolescents starting programs and movements to practice Kindness and Compassion. I have watched a group of people from many nations and from different religions craft The Charter For Compassion and gift it to the world, beginning a movement within the Faith community to create unity and peace. I have watched as hundreds of blogs and other internet sites have sprung up to post quotes and articles ranging from the esoteric to the scientific about the effects of kindness, of positive thinking, of compassion, of joy–all things that we’re admonished to practice within the texts of all the major religions. I have watched the movements to protect the planet and all its creatures grow in strength and numbers. I am watching the increasing awareness of how interconnected everyone and everything in this world and throughout the universe truly is. I have watched what used to be obscure information about the science behind this interconnection and the power of our thoughts and words to create become mainstream information. I have read with hope and relief of the inventions and experiments going on that can not only replace our unhealthy sources of energy, fuel and food with those that are healthy, but also ways to heal the damage we have done.

And yet, despite all this Light, we still are bowing and acquiescing to the Darkness–to war and separation and greed and “the way it’s always been done”. We are still renting rooms in our hearts and minds to Fear–and submitting to his bidding.

Each of us have experienced situations where we have had to struggle through a personal challenge to choose the way of Love and Compassion. Of real, true forgiveness. [And, by the way, by forgiveness I do not mean ‘acceptance’ or letting the one who has done harm think it is ‘no big deal’, or that ‘it’s okay’; it’s about letting go of the hurt that we’ve nursed, releasing the debt we harbor.] But now we are being confronted collectively as well as personally with choosing the way of Love and Compassion and Kindness and yes, Forgiveness, on a local, national and global scale.

How do we do this? This is what I wrestle with in the dark before dawn.

To Be Continued…