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.

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Practicing Non-violence with 85 Billionaires on a Bus

Is it possible that western society has become so self-absorbed that we are blind to our own self-destructive behavior? While the rich get richer (apparently there are 85 that make up the 1% & they could all fit on a double-decker bus!) they seem to keep this plastic carrot hanging out there for the rest of us 99%-ers. You know the one, the carrot that says “if you work hard enough & long enough you can be wealthy like us.” And I call it a “plastic carrot” because it is a false dream. Not only is it a false dream, it is an unrealistic & unhealthy one, and a plastic carrot can’t possible be good for you!

I don’t know, maybe I’m becoming more & more contemplative in the midst of my mid-life crisis, or maybe just a little cynical.  Or maybe I’ve just never really bought into the “keeping up with the Jones'” mentality. If I allowed myself to be seduced by that plastic carrot I probably would have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and be in debt beyond belief!  So why do so many of the so-called 99% want what the 85 on the bus have?  The only thing that the 85 on the bus have that I might want is control over our systems of governance.  But, wait!  How can a handful of people with money, jets, and mansions have more control over our lives when we outnumber them by, um, 99%???  (Ok, I am being cynical now, and a bit sarcastic!).

In the last several years we have all seen, and maybe even participated in, grassroots movements working for change.  Some have sprung up after one individual stood up & said “NO!” to injustice. Some movements were in response to violence that is symptomatic of a long accepted culture of violence against women. Other groups like the CIW have been around for more than 20 years, yet are still counting their victories.  Still other uprisings have been in response to oppressive regimes, violence, terror, &/or uninvited occupying countries.  Who were the people behind these powerful movements?  Us!  Ordinary people with absolutely nothing to lose & everything to gain!  People who decided that they would speak truth to power because it was what needed to be done.

On a day when we remember Martin Luther King, Jr., one can’t help but think of non-violent resistance.  But how do we practice non-violence in the face of deadly terror or the everyday evils of oppression, violence & poverty?  How do we practice non-violence without becoming so angry & frustrated that we become violent ourselves?  I found Scilla Elworthy’s Ted-Talk answered these questions with clarity & wisdom.  She’s right, I think we are finally “getting it” as humans.  Scilla, MLK, and countless other peaceful people throughout history have come to realize this basic truth: Violence begets violence, but non-violence is a game-changer.

Whether it’s fighting oppression, violence, poverty, GMO’s, fracking, Big-Ag, modern day slavery, or any number of social justice & environmental issues, get out there & fight the good fight!  We have voices that cannot be silenced. Find your niche & practice non-violence with the rest of us.  Be a game-changer & get on the bus!

Half Time

I turned 50 in July of this year.  Almost everyone who is a High School graduate of 1981 will turn 50 at some point this year.  (I say “almost” because I grew up in the era of “Doogie Howser, MD” & other real-life proteges who earned doctorates, or played at Carnegie Hall by the time they were 12!)  Turning 50 is a milestone, no doubt.  Some days I feel my youth slipping away, while other days I laugh at 4th graders huffing & puffing after climbing the stairs to my art room!

Many anniversaries happen this year, but the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has always made me pause & reflect. “Where were you when…?”  That’s always the question, right? I was only 5 months old, so I was probably in a crib somewhere taking a nap while the rest of the country was glued to the news, hoping for the best.

And where were you when you got your draft notice?  When Pearl Harbor was attacked?  On D-day?  When VE Day was declared?  When Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed?  Bobby Kennedy?  When 4 students were killed at Kent State?  When Reagan was shot?  When John Lennon was killed?  On 9-11-01 when America was attacked?

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB  reflects on the legacy left to us by three great leaders of the 50’s & 60’s, and where we are as a country, and as individuals, 50 years later:

They warned us, all of them — JFK, Martin and John — to examine our policies and change our hearts, to open our arms and expand our souls, to stretch our minds beyond parochialism and chauvinism and domination or doom ourselves to watch the country destroy itself at its own hand.

And yet never has the country been so divided between haves and have-nots, between the affluent and the struggling, between the forces of spiritual change and the minions of control as now.

We talk global peace and continue to arm ourselves — every man, woman and child on the street — to the point of total vigilantism.

We have managed to get poorer, more divided and more doctrinaire in every arena. We have concentrated our wealth and destroyed our unions.

We have called the customs of the faith the essence of the faith. And so we have become a church in depression and disarray. We have spent our energies on the trappings of religion rather than on the heart of religion.”

In the last 50 years we have made many improvements & gained so much, but we still have a long way to go in our struggle for equality, justice, and peace in our own nation & abroad.  As I contemplate Sr. Joan’s article, US politics, and EVERYTHING (I mean it:  EVERYTHING!!!), surprisingly I am not filled with a sense of dread.  Rather, I’m filled with a sense of hope & determination.

I’m at that “1/2 time” point in my life.  Time to re-evaluate, contemplate, and make some changes to make the second half a whole lot better.

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.