My Black Children’s Lives Matter

I am a white woman with two grown black children, and I am genuinely afraid for their lives.

The death, violence, and hatred that we have all witnessed this week should concern us all.  As President Obama stated with such great emotional restraint last Wednesday, “These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”   The events of this week of violence in America concerns me deeply.  More deeply than I have ever acknowledged before.  And, as Obama said, these events should concern and trouble us all.

No mother or father (black, brown or white) should have to have “the conversation” with their black son to “be careful when (not if, but WHEN!) you’re stopped by the police.  Why?  Because you’re a black man in America.”  [This “conversation” has been happening for several generations.  Watch this emotional video.]  My heart is broken and I am weary of the racial injustice that is woven into the fabric of this nation.  As I stated in an earlier piece:

[As a nation and as a people] we have learned precious little.  Not only do we still nurture hatred, suspicion, and bigotry in our children, we also continue to support and sanction state sponsored violence and oppression against targeted groups and minorities.  What the hell are we afraid of?

I will not counter the #BlackLivesMatter movement with that petty, insensitive and ignorant retort uttered by so many white people who feel uncomfortable discussing racism in the shadow of yet another murdered black man.  Feel the discomfort.  Be appalled and horrified by the violence our nation continues to suffer because of poverty, bigotry, and oppression.  And please, I beg you, stop contributing to it with hateful, inflammatory speech and insensitive remarks based on nothing but fear and ignorance.

This world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket and I am feeling ashamed to be a part of a race that causes so much division, fear, bigotry, racism, and poverty in our world.  I am embarrassed by all of the ignorant comments on social media that clearly come from the narrow perspective of white privilege.  If you have the courage, I invite you to stop and consider what it is like to be a minority in America.  Everyday of your life.  Everywhere you go.  With nowhere to hide from those who fear you based solely on the color of your skin.  I have tried to imagine this and have fallen short, even though I have heard and experienced the hatred and prejudice of white people while out in public with my black children.  It hurts.  A lot.  Imagine being hurt every day of your life for no other reason except that you are black, and devalued by society.

I cannot speak to pain of racism and oppression in this country as my own children surely can.  I cannot speak to the feelings of cultural duplicity that they must feel or the tension of having one foot in one world and one foot in another.  I cannot possibly imagine what it is like to be a black man or a black woman in this country.  Or can I?  I am, after all, a member of the human race, am I not?  My ability to empathize with someone else’s pain is not limited by the color of my skin.  When I read reports and commentary on racism, or when I watch the news in horror, do I not feel a deep frustration at the unjust system that fuels hatred and fear, and targets black men in this country?  Of course I do, and so should every other human being.

But they don’t.

The deaths/murders of two more innocent black men at the hands of white police officers this week has left me feeling inconsolable.  The ambush on police officers in Dallas leaves me feeling hopeless.  The relentless violence that engulfs our nation leaves me feeling deeply troubled, sad and weary.  If we continue to meet violence with more violence, and hate with more hate (MLK speech on “Loving Your Enemies.”), then is it any wonder that this country remains racially polarized so many generations after the end of slavery?  As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

The whole issue of racism in this country has me questioning everything.  Again.  After all these years I still do not understand it.  I do not understand how civilized people can continue to cling to a system that is complicit with racism and bigotry in an age that is groaning toward a more progressive and egalitarian society that embraces and celebrates diversity in all of its forms.

I just don’t understand anymore, and I’m afraid for our children and their future.

Grant us peace, Lord, for we are in desperate need.

Detachment; Translation, please!

Long ago I learned about AA, NA, Al-Anon & the 12-Step Program.  My younger brother was doing drugs, my mother and I did a family intervention, and soon we all found ourselves thrown in the deep end of an unfamiliar pool called “recovery.”  Scary times for all of us, and stories to last a lifetime.  Most of those stories have been told & shared among the family; some stories have yet to be told I’m sure.  Thankfully my brother survived, is married, and has two beautiful daughters!

I learned a lot from the many Al-Anon meetings I attended (both while trying to understand my part in my brother’s addiction, and later my ex-husband’s alcoholism).  One thing I still struggle with is this term:  Detachment.  What does it really mean?  Every time I think about this word I get a visual of my childhood Barbie and how I could easily detach her limbs.  No blood.  No pain.  And I could just as easily re-attach the limbs if one of my siblings happened to dismember her in an effort to upset me.  I was not usually so easily upset.  I knew how to perform “Barbie Surgery” and save her!  Twelve Step Programs talk about “detachment,” and recently I’ve been thinking about this practice again.  Unfortunately, this kind of detachment can be painful.

I found a very inspiring article called “The Art of Detachment” by Eknath Easwaren where he talks about detachment in a variety of relationships.  His insight into this thing that I have always found to be an annoying paradox, suddenly clicked with me and made sense.  I think my misunderstanding of “detachment” is why I’ve always cringed whenever my mother tells me I have to “detach” from things & people that totally frustrate, anger, and upset me so.  “I’m an emotional artist; I can’t just turn my feelings on & off,” I would say to her.  That’s where I’ve been mistaken all along.  Detachment has less to do with my feelings, and more to do with “withdrawing desire from lesser things, letting them fall away, so as to harness their power to reach the heights of what a human being can attain.”  Easwaren creates a beautiful analogy to the rocket boosters used to launch ships into space.  The space ship uses the energy from the heavy rockets, but then dumps the weight so it can achieve orbit!

One of the things I learned from my week spent in family therapy at the re-hab center my brother finally entered, is that detachment from the disease of addiction was what I needed to do in order to find serenity. Well, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  An excellent prayer for anyone who finds themselves neck-deep in just about anything life throws at us!  Well, I’m up to my eyeballs in life, and yet another period of discernment, and I find myself in need of a little detachment.  Detachment from my job, my possessions, and my self-doubt.  I wonder though, could it be that the act of detaching is also linked to the act of connecting?

My mother often said that change in life is like what the trapeze artist has to do.  He or she has to let go of one bar & be air-born and detached for a brief moment before catching the next bar.  It’s scary, but you can’t get from one side of the Big Top to the other without letting go.  Sooner or later you just have to trust that the other trapeze bar will be there when you let go of the one you’re hanging on to.  HA!  Just when I thought my mother couldn’t possibly teach me anything more, I go and recall this trapeze analogy from my twenties!  Some lessons we keep learning over & over again, I guess.

So here’s what’s been on my mind:

Working for peace and justice has always been a big part of my life, and for the last few years it has become the major driving force of my life.  So, what now?  It’s not in my wiring to learn about social injustices & then just go about my daily life; business as usual.  In his article Easwaren quotes Buckminster Fuller, “We are not nouns,” he says pointedly; “we are verbs.”  Easwaren explains, “Those who keep trying to get closer to others, to understand and appreciate them more all the time, are verbs: active, creative, dynamic, able to change themselves and to make changes in the world they live in.

I need to be more actively, creatively, and dynamically engaged in being (as Gandhi so famously stated) “the change I want to see in the world.”  I’m trying to figure out what form this will take on and in what direction I am being drawn.  As Fr. Richard Rohr explains in so many of his writings and talks, this “second half of life” stuff can be painful.  Not exactly “Barbie surgery.”  Grrrrr!  Fr. Rohr says that people who become transformed and begin the journey of the second half of life tend to lose friends.  Funny, that’s what 12-step programs say, too.  You cannot engage in recovery while still associating with those who are still actively engaged in addictive behavior.  You’ll never leave the launch pad, let alone achieve orbit!

As I work on learning the art of detachment, and withdrawing from lesser things, I will keep my heart open to other possibilities.  There’s another deep and unfamiliar pool up ahead; God, grant me the courage to take the plunge!

Perfect Us In Love

“Enable us to see your image in all men.
– and to serve you in them.
Perfect us in love, Lord.”

Mother Teresa

This is one of this morning’s prayers from Saturday Week II, Liturgy of the Hours.  The idea of trying to see God in others is nothing new, and it is something that Mother Teresa lived by.  I remember a story from one of her books about a new member of her community returning excitedly from a day of working in the streets of Calcutta.  She rejoiced in telling Mother Teresa “I touched the body of Jesus today!”  The bodies she had been touching were diseased and dying.

“Perfect us in Love” seems at first to be a rather obvious prayer, yet it is not a request to be asked without understanding the depth of what becoming perfected in love involves.  Love is such a misunderstood concept in our world (I say “concept” because it is so much more than an emotion, a feeling, or an action).  As I ponder the implications of this deceptively simple prayer I realize my own shortcomings when it comes to love.  When considering faith, hope, & love (1 Cor 13:13) St. Paul said “the greatest of these is love.”  In working for peace & justice, love must be central if our work is to be meaningful, and have a lasting impact.

“Enable us to see your image in all men.
– and to serve you in them.”

Being able to truly see each others as children of God is challenging.  I do try to look into another person’s eyes & see the Jesus in them or the Divine Being in their soul.  I speak from a Catholic perspective, but I am certainly aware of other faith-based religions that encourage their members to practice this (Ghandhi springs to mind).  If my hope is to serve my God, then seeing the Divine in everyone I meet automatically puts me in a unique place where I must choose.  I can choose to serve God by serving this child of God before me, or I can choose to ignore the Divine within a person & thus deny God.

Heavy stuff for a Saturday morning.  I usually like to spend a few days on my posts, but this really struck a nerve this morning.  I will have to give this some more thought.  Comments are welcome; deep conversations anticipated!

Holy Week Reflection: Contemplation to Action

I’ve been in “contemplative-mode” these last few days.  It seems like everywhere I look social media, news media, and politics across the globe are all a-buzz with commentary, actions & petitions, and legal battles on everything from gay marriage, & the environment to sequestration, & gun violence. Some of what I’ve read is very good; some of it, not so much.  As someone who advocates for peace & justice, I cannot approach any of these issues from my initial feelings of anger & frustration, or from a position of self-righteous indignation.  I must take time to reflect or my action degrades into nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction.

In a recent Lenten reflection on the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Fr. John Dear, S.J. writes about many examples of Archbishop Romero’s actions and includes stories from the new book Monsenor Romero: Memories in Mosaic by Maria Lopez Vigil (Orbis, 2013).  I have not read the book yet, but I was struck more by one of Fr. Dear’s thoughts:

“It’s important not to love ourselves so much that we’re not willing to take the risks that history demands of us,” Romero said in his last homily, one minute before he was assassinated at the altar. That’s an important lesson for all of us — laypeople, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes included. History, and the Christ of history, demand we take risks on behalf of suffering humanity and creation itself. Romero shows us we do not have to be afraid. We, too, can go forward, do what we can, speak out as best we can, and try to make a difference.

When I consider what is taking place inside the Supreme Court this week, or in the Oval Office, or the “back rooms” of Congress with the lobbyists from Monsanto, or what is happening in war-torn places like Aleppo, Syria, or in ordinary places like the kitchens & living rooms of activists, I am overwhelmed with humanity and a sense of humility.  I can read one article and feel angry that such things could happen or that such people could act this way or that.  Then I read another article about something else and I am filled with joy, delight, or a feeling of hope in the basic goodness to be found in people here in the US & around the world.  But then I read yet another article, tweet or news report about more acts of violence involving drones or a handgun and I am filled with despair again.  I either have to stop reading all of this, cut myself off from the world, or I have to adopt a healthier way of responding to it; without fear as Archbishop Romero’s example suggests.

Burying my head in the sand is not an option if I am to “move forward, and try to make a difference”, so I must develop a healthy alternative to riding this emotional roller-coaster.  As an activist & advocate for peace & justice there are many amazing examples of men & women who can inspire me; Archbishop Romero, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Fr. Thomas Merton, Fr. Richard Rohr, those I marched with during the CIW march last week, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, and countless others who make headlines only as “protestors”, “occupiers”, or “insurgents”.  I believe it is necessary to feel angry, hopeless, or frustrated at first when faced with injustice, but then I have to reflect, contemplate, and/or pray about how to respond to it in a positive way.  If I don’t reflect and pray first, then I am no better in my reaction than those who perpetuate the injustices that outrage me.

Words are important.  Activists take action against injustices, they do not just react.  There is considerable thought behind their actions so that their efforts do make a difference and affect a positive & just change.  That, I believe, is why non-violence is the key to successful activism.  When we react to injustice without thinking, our words & actions can appear or sound aggressive or violent.

Simplicity is important, too; it is also sometimes the most challenging thing to put into practice.  I like reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily reflections (the Center for Action & Contemplation).  His insights are often simple and obvious, but always rooted in love, contemplation, & non-violence.  Fr. Dear’s reflections are also a call to fearless contemplation, non-violence, and action (Pax Christi).

As Christians around the world enter into the Triduum of Holy Week my prayer is that we all reflect on the Passion of Christ, the injustices and pain present in our world today, and how we can respond to God’s call to action on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized of our societies.  I hope I don’t ever have to be as fearless as Archbishop Romero or a Syrian freedom fighter, but if I am called to take a great risk, I trust that God will be in it with me.

Control Freaks!

 

I’ve been noticing a trend in recent days.  There seems to be an overabundance of people with control issues, and people who abuse their positions of power.  I will forever be amazed & perplexed by people who think they can tell others what to do, how to think, how to feel, where to live, how to do their jobs, and how to live their faith.  It really is remarkable!

Every day elected officials all over the world make decisions that affect our lives and the very homes and towns we live in.  Administrators and others in charge of infrastructure, food and water, the very land that sustains life, have the power to help or hurt the environment and our health.  Spiritual and religious leaders wield great power over our souls (or so they delude themselves!), and we allow it.  We allow it when we don’t get involved or voice an opinion.  We allow it when we follow blindly and never seek out truth.  We allow it when we participate in complacency.

Activists throughout history have affected change simply by understanding that unjust laws are in and of themselves acts of violence, and we have a moral responsibility to oppose them through acts of non-violence and civil disobedience (thank-you Gandhi & Dr. ML King!).  The shared joke between my mother & me is that she breaks the rules while I’m more of a rule follower.  These days, however, I’m feeling more than a little rebellious and counter-cultural toward some of these power hungry, self-righteous, manipulative, miserable tyrants!

For me some of the “tyrants” in my life are elected officials, corporations (those connected to our food & water), and a few people I work with or interact with on a regular basis. Identifying people and corporations (corporations are NOT people!) in this way is not something I recommend; in doing so I become the self-righteous one! I cannot simply label people or corporations as disagreeable, negative, or evil and leave it at that. I must take the next step. I must find ways to change unjust laws, affirm just laws, and change my patterns of behavior. The goal, after all, is to find peaceful paths to a more just world, and ultimately my behavior is the only behavior over which I have control.