Finding Ourselves in Others

“Why can’t we all just get along?”

We’ve all said this at some point in our lives. If you haven’t yet, good for you!  Try to avoid it.  I’ve come to think of it as a cop-out proclaimed by those who have grown weary of caring, problem-solving and compromise; the vey essence of good relationships!

I’ve used it jokingly in situations that have deteriorated from deep discussions into “us vs. them” debates.  In our nation’s deteriorating climate of intolerance, hate, fear, and finger-pointing merely “getting along” seems so unattainable.  We’re too obsessed with being right.  And yet, I still believe we can find the middle ground of a caring community, a caring nation, a more caring world.

I have to believe.  What’s the alternative?  No hope?  That’s not an option!

I think the solution is simply trying to find ourselves in others.

As a Catholic I’ve been raised on the phrase “find Jesus in the eyes of others,” and I have found that a bit challenging in many cases.  But when I try to see something of myself in another, then it becomes easier to love them and find a way to be respectful and caring.  When that happens, I have found that the other person responds to me in kind.

Last Thursday’s testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee offers us all yet another opportunity to find ourselves in the many people in that room.  It’s easy to identify with those who share our personal opinions.  We can easily agree with the people in the room who share our political leanings or with those who look like us.  The challenge then is to find oneself in someone we might immediately dismiss as (fill in the blank:  ________________).  Consider, though, the truth that when we dismiss a person and label them, we give ourselves permission to be unkind, unfair, and disrespectful.  It now becomes acceptable to violate another person’s dignity and to treat them as less than human.  History has certainly seen this model before, and it continues to be used in many parts of the world today.

The emotional and political temperature of this nation is off the charts.  Everywhere I turn there are people choosing sides and finding clever ways to prove that they have the correct opinion, perspective, or solution to the problem.  This is not helpful, and, “NO!” you can’t dismiss me simply by calling me naïve!

Personally, I believe Dr. Ford, and if you do, too, then great.  If you don’t believe her, then that’s ok, too.  Thankfully I am one of the lucky ones to have never experienced sexual violence, but I know several who have.  Given the statistic of “1 in 6 women” I’m sure I know more than I realize.  You must know some victims, too.  Ask them what they think.  Their insight might surprise you and move you out of your comfort zone.

But, this post is not meant to persuade anyone to choose a side, or change your opinion.  Our world does not need more division.  It is meant to open your heart to another way.  It is my hope that we will all find the courage and humility to find something of ourselves in the eyes of another, and find a more compassionate way toward justice, healing, and a more loving world.

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Families Belong Together-Reflections on the June 30th March

I’m a little sunburned, my feet hurt, I’m tired, I didn’t get to do any painting today, and now I have to go to work and wait on tables.  I won’t get home until at least midnight, and by then I’ll be hungry and even more tired.

But at least I have a safe home to return to with a bed, a fridge full of food and maybe even a beer to enjoy while I put my feet up.  And I get to come home to my dear mother who always puts the porch light on for me.

The migrant-refugee families at our nation’s southern border have none of these gifts.  After weeks and weeks of traveling by foot and rail these families arrived at the US border sunburned, tired, and hungry.  Instead of finding a porch light on, and sanctuary from the violence they left behind, they were met with what I can only describe as evil and inhumanity.

Imagine having your children forcibly taken away from you and then being locked up without due process simply because you were trying to protect your children from the daily violence of your own country.  Imagine the feeling of helplessness that these refugees are feeling because of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policies.  Imagine the anguish that is weighing heavily on their hearts as they continue to endure separation from their children while those who separated these families now stumble along trying to figure out how to put them back together again.

Oh, Humpty Dumpty!  Trump has had a big fall!

And let us not forget the children and the terror and trauma that they have been put through.  They have witnessed violence and experienced fear in their own country; now they have witnessed it here in ours.  Shameful.

And so, I marched with about 200 others today along US 1.  People of all ages and backgrounds coming together to address the issue of the day:  Families Belong Together.

One very angry man began shouting at us “What about American families that are being separated?”  I said “We care about them, too, but to my knowledge 1,000’s of American families are not being rounded up, separated, and detained.”  He then used some profanity and I simply shouted “Thanks!  I love you!”

My take-away from both today’s supporters and haters:  There are many injustices in the world today, and all need to be addressed.  Human rights abuses, homelessness, war, poverty, child abuse, domestic violence, climate change, plastics in our oceans, the worldwide refugee crisis, human trafficking, endangered species, and an endless list of issues are all important causes to be supported.  Our world is wounded and in desperate need of healing, but it is impossible to take on every cause and every injustice.  Today thousands of us across the US took on this issue.  Today I marched.  Tomorrow I’ll pray, and Monday I’ll make some more calls to Congress.

Do what you can to help the causes that matter to you, but please (pretty-please!) don’t be that angry man in the car with the typical “teenager” approach to this issue.  In the end the “what about Johnny next door” argument didn’t work with our parents when we were kids; it’s not helping today, either.

Me with my sign today.

Welcoming the Children at Our Doorstep

Silence gives consent,” according to St. Sir Thomas More.

I cannot remain silent in the face of evil. I don’t know how anyone can.

This new policy (and it is a NEW policy) of separating families at illegal border crossings is pure evil. Trump, Kelly, Nielsen, and Sessions will be judged one day, but as for me, judgement day is today, and I will not be silent.  I tossed and turned again last night.  My outrage has given way to pure heartbreak and it is difficult to think of anything else.

One doesn’t have to be a witness to or a survivor of Hitler’s Nazi Regime (or any other oppressive regime) to be able to learn from history, or see similar patterns. My two take-aways from my college course “Hitler and Nazism” have stayed with me all these years, “If you tell a lie often enough, it becomes true. And the more absurd the lie, the better.”  And, “Evil is allowed to be committed when good people sit idly by and do nothing.” Trump and his staff are liars and they are committing evil, unthinkable harm.  Trump and Sessions’ “zero-tolerance” policy has little to do with party politics, it is a policy devised by power-hungry, self-serving men bent on creating a dictatorial state.  In a Forbes article from 2013 Jim Powell describes how a democracy can easily, over time degrade into a dictatorship.  He uses the example of Germany in the early 20th C and how “[The Nazis] became the largest political organization in Germany, and by January 30, 1933, with the help of a little blackmail, Hitler emerged as Germany’s chancellor – the head of government. He proceeded to consolidate unlimited power before anybody realized what was happening.”  Sound familiar?

Consider that Powell wrote this article in 2013, long before the 2016 presidential election.  Below is a list of his bullet points at the end of the article which should make any American shudder:

  • Bad economic policies and foreign policies can cause crises that have dangerous political consequences.
  • Politicians commonly demand arbitrary power to deal with a national emergency and restore order, even though underlying problems are commonly caused by bad government policies.
  • In hard times, many people are often willing to go along with and support terrible things that would be unthinkable in good times.
  • Those who dismiss the possibility of a dictatorial regime in America need to consider possible developments that could make our circumstances worse and politically more volatile than they are now – like runaway government spending, soaring taxes, more wars, inflation and economic collapse.
  • Aspiring dictators sometimes give away their intentions by their evident desire to destroy opponents.
  • There’s no reliable way to prevent bad or incompetent people from gaining power.
  • A political system with a separation of powers and checks & balances – like the U.S. Constitution – does make it more difficult for one branch of government to dominate the others.
  • Ultimately, liberty can be protected only if people care enough to fight for it, because everywhere governments push for more power, and they never give it up willingly.

The current policy and crisis at our southern border requires some honest perspective and real action if we are to protect our liberties and provide aid and comfort to those in need.  Fr. James Martin, S.J., editor of America Magazine, has issued an article full of links on ways to help turn our outrage into positive action.  Lots of other civic and faith-based groups are doing the same thing; making it easy for us to make our voices heard and come together to help the most vulnerable, refugee children at our doorstep.

How I wish I could go to the border, or go to Washington D.C., but that’s just not realistically possible.  If you’re like me, instead find a local event that you can make time for.  I just learned of one in Jensen Beach, Treasure Coast Mall entrance on US 1, 11:00am-1:00pm, Saturday, June 30th.

That’s the action part….. Now for some perspective to contemplate on prior to taking action:

At yesterday’s presentation at the Motherhouse in Adrian, Sr. Tarianne, OP read a beautiful poem called “Home” by the Somali-English poet Warsan Shire.  Listen to it and image yourself in a situation where your home is “the mouth of a shark” or where “you only leave home when home won’t let you stay.”

Fr. Richard Rohr’s reflection this morning also needs to be considered:

“Searching for and rediscovering the True Self is the fundamentum, the essential task that will gradually open us to receiving and giving love to God, others, and ourselves, and thus to live truly just lives. Grace builds on nature; it does not avoid or destroy nature. You are created in the image of God from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26-27). This is the basis for God’s justice: Since everyone is made in the image of God, then we need to recognize, honor, and respect the image of God in everyone. No exceptions.”

My prayer is that we may all discover and honor the image of God in ourselves and others, especially the most vulnerable.

 

A Pain of 1,000 Cuts

I’ve been away from blogging since Christmas for a simple reason; I just haven’t had the time and my focus is now on what it should’ve been on all along…. MY ART!

Certainly there has been plenty to write about and comment on, but my time this past Spring Semester was consumed with teaching, packing, planning, moving, and taking an online business course for artists.  I felt that one of my recent breakthroughs in my course work just needed to be shared here.  This week I revisited one of my earlier assignments where I had to explore my emotions.  I suddenly realized that one of my unexplored pains is critical to my artwork and my mission as an artist, so I did a bit more digging.  My “ah-ha” moment will also (hopefully) shine a light on some of the hateful, hurtful, and belittling rhetoric that seems to be so prevalent and tolerated by many in today’s society.

For anyone who does not know me personally, I am 4′ 10″.

People calling me shorty, shrimp, pee-wee, tiny tot, smurf, little-one, or any number of demeaning terms that point out the obvious in a hurtful way is painful and unwelcome.  This hurtful behavior didn’t just happen once or twice as a child or even just once or twice as an adult.  This is what I call a “pain of 1,000 cuts and jabs.”  It happens on a regular basis, almost weekly, and it still goes on.  And, no, folks!  It’s not ok, and it’s not funny!  [Sorry, Randy Newman, no matter what your intention the lyric “short people got no reason to live” is not satirical, it’s sick & offensive!  Love your work; hate this song!]

Sure, I’ve developed a thick skin about it, and I’m even guilty of making the jokes first to avoid the onslaught that I anticipate to be inevitable in many situations.  I’ve always figured that if I can make the best “short jokes” first, then I won’t have to listen to the lamest short jokes from anyone else.  Well, that attitude & practice stops today!

Part of who I’ve become as both a person and an artist is because of my tiny stature.  At 4’10” I’ve often been teased and been made to feel unimportant, overlooked, insignificant, and ignored.  This has made me feel a bit angry & defiant, too.  In most cases, however, my anger has been channeled into something positive.  My anger & defiance has led me to feel strongly about injustices in our world which then leads me to advocate for others and change the way people see these injustices.  It is this feeling of insignificance that makes me notice the little things in our fragile world, and then paint them in important, noticeable, and unusual ways.

This breakthrough may indeed be the very essence of my mission as an artist, but for now I am concerned about what this means for our common humanity.

Bottom line:  Please, stop and think before saying something that may hurt another person.  It’s not that hard.  Just walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you verbalize that thought that just flashed across your mind, and then ask yourself, “How would I feel if someone said this to me while I was feeling vulnerable?”

No matter what makes us unique, I believe that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).  And (my favorite!) “I praise you [God], because I am wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) pretty much sums it all up for me.

Examen 2016

On this last day of 2016 I find myself truly wanting to reflect on this past year with an eye toward growing in love in the coming year. I don’t usually make “new year resolutions.” If I find something that needs to be “resolved” in April or September, I certainly am not going to wait until January 1st to take action! But today I’ve encountered the Jesuit practice of “Examen of Consciousness” twice in the last hour. There must be something to this that demands my attention.

Throughout this year the daily meditations from Fr. Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation have focused on a single theme:  Love.  As a sample, here is yesterday’s reflection (I especially like the last 2 paragraphs).  Although it sounds simple enough, this theme of love is the foundation of Christianity and all major religions, and it is hard to put love into practice in a world full of violence, hatred, fear, ego, and injustice.  I must admit to more than one occasion where I purposefully avoided reading Rohr’s reflections because I just couldn’t love anymore.  My own ego and sense of righteousness got in the way of my ability to see God in the faces of others.  I was, in effect, wallowing in a kind of adolescent selfishness.

During the Advent and Christmas seasons I’ve also been getting daily reflections from Loyola Press and Ignatian Spirituality.  Here the author Vinita Hampton Wright shares the 5-step practice of the Examen.  I like Rohr’s simplified version from today’s meditative practice, too:

Practice: Examen of Consciousness

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), founder of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits, proposed a daily exercise which he called the Examen of Consciousness or the Daily Examen—a simple exercise in discernment. Rather than focusing on what went right or wrong, how you failed or succeeded throughout the day, this exercise encourages you to reflect on moments when you were aware of God—when you were present to Love—and those times when you were forgetful or distracted.

Center yourself in silence and an awareness of God’s presence. Recall the day—or, on this New Year’s Eve, the entire past year—with an open spirit. Notice the emotions, sensations, and thoughts that arise as you review recent events. Let your attention settle on one of these instances and look for God’s presence within it, whether you were aware at the time or not. Pray from this memory and within this present moment.

Release the day (or year) with gratitude and rest in God’s love.

If I am truly honest in my necessary Examen of 2016, I think I may need all of January 2017 to reflect on this past year in order to make a plan for the new year.  Hopefully I’ll learn new habits that will allow me to love others more fully, more readily, and more joyfully.

Happy New Year!

May we all find ways to love ourselves and others as God loves (1 Cor. 13).

Reflection: A Las Posadas Communion

Last year I did not attend any of the Las Posadas nights here at St. Francis.  Mostly I think I was too stressed and withdrawn to want to be around happy people; my sprained ankle was a good excuse.  This year is different.  I’m different.  Although the stress of this missionary work is still high, my attitude and approach to it has changed.  My center and focus have begun to stabilize, and I am experiencing the serenity from having turned things out of my control over to God.  It is difficult to “let go & let God,” but, Oh! the freedom and peace that follow!

For those of you unfamiliar with Las Posadas, it is a nine day prayer and celebration beginning on December 16th, and ending on Christmas Eve. Click here for more detailed information.  Las Posadas is celebrated throughout Mexico and here in the American Southwest.  For at least 10 years I’ve been reading Tomie dePaola’s book The Night of Las Posadas to my First Graders in Florida, introducing them to this Hispanic Christmas tradition.  We would then make little construction paper donkeys with fan-folded legs, paper clips on the hooves, and a string to make it go “clip-clop” across the tile floor.  I brought this art lesson with me out here, and the kids loved making their little donkeys!  But, never did I imagine I would ever get to participate in the beautiful tradition of Las Posadas.

Unlike the book, here in the middle of nowhere we cannot walk from house to house knocking on doors every night for nine nights.  We’d freeze before getting to the first door, and the total distance travelled over the nine nights would be greater than the 80-90 miles Mary & Joseph initially travelled to get to Bethlehem!  So this community has improvised their Las Posadas (as it improvises with just about everything here!).  Nine nights; nine homes.  Each night members of this small parish gather at someone’s home and the prayer begins.  A small group gathers outside the front door reciting the words of the Holy Couple, “Let us in; my wife is weary and cannot walk; I request lodging from you.”  The group inside responds with “No!  This is no Inn, and you might be a crook!”  This back and forth continues for several verses, all sung in Spanish.  When those inside recognize the Holy Couple, their tune changes and Mary & Joseph are welcomed into the home.  Once inside the host family chooses Christmas carols to sing, grace is said, and everyone begins to eat what the host family has prepared.  The building of community happens at celebrations like this.  I have always said that holidays and traditions have two common factors in every culture, food and people.  And of both factors it is understood:  The more the merrier!

As a Catholic I was brought up to believe that when we receive the Eucharist at mass, we are partaking in the Body of Christ and we, as a faith community, become one flesh in Christ, nourished to do the good works of faith we are called to do (CCC 1331).  I participated in two nights of Las Posadas, and I am feeling blessed, humbled, and nourished for the experience!  The consecrated Eucharist is sacred and treated with great reverence in our churches and cathedrals.  Sharing the prayers and songs of Las Posadas with the members of this community is also sacred.  These last two nights have been for me a Communion in the Body of Christ that is just as sacred to me as the Communion received during Sunday mass.  “Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism” (CCC 1396).  I certainly feel renewed, strengthened and deeply incorporated into this part of Christ’s Church.

I met new people, shared faith, laughter, good food, and great joy.  A real sense of communion in the Body of Christ!  This experience will certainly sustain me throughout this Advent and Christmas season.  Thanks, St. Francis parishioners.  Last year perhaps I did not feel worthy to enter under your roof, but your love and hospitality have healed me!

Merry Christmas, and may peace & blessings be with you and your community!

Post Election Depression/Finding the Courage to Seek Common Ground

I did not vote for Trump.  And is there anyone out there who truly knows me and is still somehow surprised that I did not vote for him and his brand of hatred and white privilege?  I won’t say who I voted for, as keeping my vote private is something I do whenever I find the options limited and opinions on all sides highly volatile.  Suffice it to say I did not vote for Trump for many reasons, and all of them have to do with the division, racism, bigotry, and hate-speech he has brought to this campaign, and no-doubt will bring to his presidency.  Sorry.  I will pray for him and his conversion, but I won’t hold my breath.

I work with Apache and Hispanic children.  My own children are part black, part white, and part Cherokee.  I’ve worked with migrant workers in Florida.  I’ve been friends with and have worked with many undocumented workers, some of whom are trying to gain citizenship through legal channels, while others I know are prevented from applying.  I have many friends who identify as LBGT who continue to work for equal rights and simple respect.  I also have family members and friends with disabilities.  All of these “groups” have been verbally and viciously attacked by Trump’s insensitive and hateful rhetoric.

I understand the concerns of white Americans who struggle to find work and struggle to put food on the table for their families, but so do many American people on the margins.  Hunger, poverty, and unemployment affect all Americans, but people of color and people with disabilities are still hit harder than white Americans.  It’s a fact.

Our nation has taken some very courageous steps in the last 60-70 years to create a safe place for all.  I truly see the election of Donald Trump as a huge step backwards.  I also see his election as a serious threat to the very liberties, freedoms, and protections we all claim to hold so dear.  Even as I write this Trump is busy filling administrative positions with ultra conservative white men who are known for their racist, sexist, and homophobic views.

In an effort to sort through my own emotions over the future of our nation, and remain true to my faith and my integrity, I’ve been quietly reading and contemplating on the many wise and thoughtful post-election reflections of some of my favorite teachers.  Teachers I respect for always shedding light on darkened places, always opening hidden doors to a better way of being, and always bringing the issues back to a Christ-centered, love-centered whole:  Fr. Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, Sr. Jamie Phelps, Christena Cleveland, and other wise and mystic voices from the past.

Mostly they all say the same thing.  We need to find common ground, and we need to be inclusive, not exclusive.  As Rohr says, “Everything belongs.”  While this is true, when dealing with political realms there is only dualistic thinking at play.  So how do we hold both, yet continue to move forward?

I think those of us who have expressed our fatigue with the “hate-speech,” the “us vs. them” mentality, the negative social media posts, and the news media bias must make a deliberate and conscious effort to eliminate these things from our own speech, attitude, and postings.  I also think we have a responsibility to lovingly point it out when we see the fear, anger and hatred being perpetrated by our friends and family.  This isn’t easy, but then Jesus never said it would be.  He was put to death.  The worst that could happen to me (I think) is that I could be “unfriended” or “unfollowed.”  That’s what tissues and hugs from real friends are for.

My ex-husband is fond of reminding me that we met while I was out with my college Poli-Sci friends, and we were all engaged in a heated conversation about politics.  We always laughed at the irony of my later declaration, “I hate politics!”  It’s true; I do!  But it is really the game playing and the dualistic nature of politics that I hate.  Like it or not, we all have to be engaged in politics if we want to affect change in our world.  Now more than ever we must stay on top of what goes on in Washington, and in our state and local governments.

Our planet, our water, our air, our freedoms, and our very lives are at stake.  We can no longer afford to just relax and let others do the dirty work for us.  We all need to snap out of our “post-election depression” and seek common ground, get involved, stay informed, make our voices heard, hold elected officials accountable, and work hard for justice for all, not just a select few.