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.

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Learning Lessons from Political Saints?

With the Election just days away I find myself asking the question, “Why does it seem like everyone expects politicians to be saints?”  I mean, they are not running for Pope or Dalai Lama, so why do people act surprised when scandalous skeletons are exposed in the media (Especially the same old skeletons, just in a different suit, and so close to election day.)?  And do we really think the candidates that we support are perfect? More to the point, are we so saintly that we think we don’t have a few skeletons in our own closets?
At the Conspire 2016 conference I’m told that Christena Cleveland said that “even people we don’t like have something of value to teach us; even Donald Trump.”  I wasn’t there, but I wish I could have heard it in context.  Nonetheless, this idea has stuck in my mind ever since.  Even Donald Trump?  Even Hillary Clinton?  Even that bigot I work with?  Even that racist, hot-head that lives down the street?

Although….  I think there is something deeper to be learned from disagreeable people such as Donald Trump.  In a blog post from March of this year, Christena says:

Social psychologists who study this type of existential terror have found that prejudice serves as a buffer and a way to manage the terror. When humans are feeling vulnerable (particularly about our own invincibility and mortality), we respond with prejudice towards those who are different.  This makes us feel better.***

Enter Donald Trump. His screeching, taunting, immature words reveal the tantrums of a desperate man who is trying to manage the existential terror of white men. 

Trump’s xenophobic and racist political platform provides the “prejudice buffer” that many white men need in order to find relief from the pain of vulnerability. Given the changing racial dynamics in the U.S., it is no surprise that so many white men have gravitated toward Trump. His hateful rhetoric, with which he blames people of color for America’s problems, affirms white male identities and relieves their existential anxiety by assuring that he will restore order to white male supremacy.   

So, maybe the thing to be valued here is not some random redeeming quality like “they love their family,” or “they give to the poor.”  Perhaps the lesson to be learned is simply a lesson that teaches us about our own fears, failings, and prejudices.  Hopefully some of us will consider Christena’s words, and find a way through our pride to the humble shores where everything & everyone belongs, and no one is excluded.  I know I’m struggling to get there.

I’ve thought about Christena’s words and this election a lot and have concluded that for all the distasteful comments, actions, and skeletons, I do admire both candidates for having the courage and conviction to enter this race. It takes courage and a thick skin to throw your hat into the ring of this crazy USA system of elections.  Not only does the political machine grind each candidate and their family into sausage, but the news media, and social media are merciless in their tireless efforts to belittle the opposition while making a case for sainthood for their favorite candidate.

With All Saints Day just this past week, I know we are all called to be saints, but let’s get real.  Neither Hillary or Donald are saints, but then again, neither are we (YET!).  We’re all just trying to do our best with what we have.  That’s a big enough job.

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.

A Profile of Racism In Our World

 

I began this draft back in February of 2016 when I first read Kristian Davis Bailey’s account of his horrifying experience in Israel and the West Bank.  I’ve visited this draft several times since, but was never satisfied with it overall.  That is until I awoke this morning to the news of yet another mass shooting/killing in Orlando, Florida, in the “good ol’ us of a.”  Again, I am without words to describe my horror, sadness and grief.  And, saying the obvious, “my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” sounds hollow and small.

How can I relate?  How can anyone relate?  Only those who have lost loved ones to hatred, violence, abuse, and death can relate.  I only know that today I cried tears of compassion and solidarity with the many who mourn the loss of their loved ones, their ideals, their innocence, their joy, and their belief in a world where peace and love always conquer violence, hatred and fear.  I still believe in these values and truths, but today…. I’m a bit shaken.

 

At the risk of offending just about everyone I know, I want to talk about the evils of racism {and, after today’s terror in Orlando, we can add to racism:  intolerance, hatred, homophobia, and bigotry in all its forms}.  Not as a white woman, or as a white woman with children of color, or as any label I may be stuck with, but simply as a member of humanity.  Quite honestly I have always been a bit naïve and/or idealistic when it comes to relationships, so I’ve never understood how societies continue to justify racist and unjust laws, racial profiling, and blatantly racist and ignorant speech.  What disturbs me even more is how these advanced and so-called “civilized” countries turn a blind eye to the poverty and violence such racist behavior perpetuates upon targeted groups.

Again, given the tragic events in Orlando today, I am horrified at the numbers.  The US leads the world in the number of mass shootings.  We have more guns in circulation than any other country, and there are about 40 million more guns than people in America.  Appalling!  I do not, nor will I ever, own a gun.  That means that most gun owners in the US must own more than quite a few guns one gun.  Personally, I do not feel “safe.”
Back in February I read an article on Color Lines by activist and journalist Kristian Davis Bailey.  He was on his way to a conference in the West Bank where he was one of the featured speakers on Palestinian and Black solidarity.  Of course he was racially and politically profiled and treated so horribly and unjustly that I simply have no words to add to his own detailed report on the events that followed.  SeriouslyClick the link and read the article. In Kristian’s own words he has “no illusion about what occurred” to him at the hands of Israeli border agents, nor do I.

I am baffled and deeply saddened by the obvious take-away here:  In the last 100 years (and more!) 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 repression against targeted groups and minorities.  What the hell are we afraid of?  Peace?  Love?  The possibility of authentic joy?

I know that poverty is at the very heart of the violence and hatred we see all across the globe, but I’m naïve & idealistic.  I believe that there is more than just one person in every nook and cranny of the world that has had enough.  I want to believe that we can change this culture of violence & hatred into a culture of peace & love.  I want to believe this with all my heart, but today…  I am shaken.  I am truly shaken.

When The World Moves At a Faster Pace

Is it my imagination, or do things happen so fast that one can hardly keep up?  So many good and bad things are happening locally, nationally, and internationally, it’s hard to find time to reflect on any of it.  As soon as I start to reflect on one issue, or event, another one of equal importance occurs.  It’s what I call “emotional whiplash,” or just a simple case of social/news media overstimulation.  What I rail against at my teaching job (now “former” teaching job) is not unique to educational institutions; it’s endemic throughout Western society.  We are in constant motion. We go from one activity to the next with little or no consideration given to the people involved, or how it affects us.  If we are to grow and learn we must have periods of contemplation, reflection, and prayer in between the events that fill our days.  I mourn the art of “down time” that has been lost; time alone with our thoughts, our God, and time spent in conversation with the people in our lives.

As I consider the recent SCOTUS rulings I am troubled by our reliance on a group of 9 women and men to tell us what is just and right.  I am troubled by those who praise the Supreme Court when a particular ruling supports their point of view or way of life, and then damn them all to Hell when they don’t.  I am also troubled by the way so many narrow-minded members of various religions apparently feel so threatened that they find it acceptable to speak and behave in such hurtful ways.  As a Catholic I understand Christ’s message of love to be about relationship; our relationship with God, with each other, and with our planet.  That’s it.  Relationship.  And, I’m pretty sure that if I delved deeper into every organized religion out there, relationship would be at the heart of these faiths, too.  To be clear, I am pleased with the courts ruling on marriage equality, but very disturbed by their ruling on the use of the controversial drug midazolam being used during executions.  Also, while I do not need the SCOTUS to spell out for me what is just and right, I certainly understand the important part the high court plays in our society.

Fr. James Martin, SJ posted (as usual) a terrific piece on his Facebook page, and also Tweeted in response to the marriage equality ruling.  Of course he got a lot of heat and verbal abuse from several followers.  Here’s what he wrote the other day:  “How can Catholics and Christians respond to the Supreme Court decision? First, of course by remembering to love their LGBT brothers and sisters.”  I am constantly amazed by people who think they have the moral authority to pass judgment on others when they themselves clearly have a plank in their skull! eye (Matthew 7:1-5)!  He followed up with a post reminding his “erstwhile” friends about how the “un-friend” and “un-follow” buttons work.  I love this Jesuit!

But, Fr. James wasn’t the only one who got dumped on.  Imagine my surprise when I opened up my Facebook to find a hurtful message from someone who is not even “friended” on my page, and who I consider only an acquaintance.  Apparently she was “shocked” at my profile picture (with rainbow filter), and she just “felt she needed to share that” with me.  Pretty bold for someone I hardly know, and who obviously knows nothing about who I am.  When Pope Francis says that he will not judge, and Jesus himself refused to pass judgment on a woman about to be stoned, who does she think she is?  I believe in healthy dialogue when it comes to important topics, not petty “bird-dropping” online.  Sharing ideas is important to building relationships.  Compassion, love, and understanding are at the core of Christianity, and it’s all relationship.  What this woman did to me, and what many others are doing on social media, serves no useful purpose, and does not reflect the light of Christ or God’s overwhelming love for us.  In fact, this kind of negativity only tears down relationships and the kingdom of God.

It’s troubling.

The other thing I find troubling is the lack of outcry from these same people over the court’s ruling on the use of midazolam to execute prisoners on death row.  What’s even more troubling are some of the comments I’ve read below the news reports on this latest ruling.  How do we manufacture such insensitive, aggressive people, some of whom profess to be “Christians?”  The bottom line for me on lethal injection and the death penalty is this:  Don’t.  All life is precious.  All life!  Murderers need to be locked up, not killed.

As I ponder how I should respond to my “friend” (if at all), I will struggle to practice what is always necessary when confronted by opposition and hurtful speech….  I will quietly, gently hold her in prayer.

And to my Facebook friends who are upset or offended by my rainbow filter profile picture:  Thanks for being respectful and loving by not posting anything hurtful!  I noticed that, & I love you all!!!!

PS:  I sat on this post for more than 24 hours & I’m glad I did, since it has given me time to find a podcast worth sharing.  My mentor, Sr. Helene Dompierre, OP, once gave me a book by Fr. James Martin, SJ.  I forgot about that until I came across it today while packing.  What an insightful and joyful man he is!  In December of 2014 Krista Tippett spoke with him on her show “On Being,” and I think this 50 minute discussion beautifully sums up what I believe, and what I aspire to become as a child of God.  Enjoy!

Human Rights Day

Today we celebrated Human Rights Day.  When I consider the words with which we communicate, I often pause at the matter-of-fact way we toss them about.  “Celebrate.”  By its very definition “to celebrate” something means to put it high above everyone or everything else; to publicly praise, applaud, honor, commemorate, or otherwise observe in a joyful way a noteworthy event or anniversary.  Whether it is an accomplishment, a birthday, anniversary, prize, or victory, for me a celebration is a time to reflect on what’s been achieved.  So, can we really “celebrate” Human Rights Day, or is it more appropriate to say that we “commemorate” or “recognize” December 10th as Human Rights Day?  Either way, today is a day to stop & consider how we participate daily in support of human rights.

Perhaps I’m being a bit cynical, and I welcome any gentle nudges in a more positive direction, but, have we really made great strides in the area of Human Rights in the last year?  In the last 50 years?  I am so happy to be a part of a group advocating for Human Rights and Dignity in the field (CIW), and great strides have been made this year by the members of the CIW as well as by the businesses that have recently signed on.  Wal-Mart is a new Fair Food partner (although they have a long way to go on other human rights abuses!).  Many other companies and farms have become partners of the Fair Food Program over the years.  This is progress!   So where are Publix & Wendy’s on this list of supporters?  OK!  Perhaps I’m not cynical, just demanding & impatient?

As Americans, however, I think we have become too indifferent in our response to human rights abuses in our own country and around the globe.  With this year’s high-profile murders of unarmed African-American citizens by the police, the inhumane treatment of children & families at our borders, the human trafficking and other forms of modern day slavery that take place in our country & around the world, I wonder if we have made any progress in improving human rights.  Oh!!!  And don’t get me started on this week’s CIA Torture Reports, and the latest on Brazil’s human rights abuses! (still processing this disturbing information!).  Heartbreaking and unbelievable; I am simply horrified by all of it!

While I ponder human rights abuses and our necessary response to these atrocities and injustices, I will also consider how to actively engage others in recognizing the human rights abuses that have become a part of every-day society.  Please share your thoughts on how you address these human rights issues.

As this years Human Rights Watch slogan suggests:  Celebrate human rights, not just today, but every day!

#Rights365!

A Great Hope in Common

Last weekend was Assembly for my Florida Chapter.  Each year around this time Adrian Dominican Sisters & Associates from each of the eight Chapters gather for a one or two day Assembly.  Topics and issues discussed vary each year.  This is my third Assembly & they just keep getting better & better!  A week later I am still trying to process all the wonderful things that were said, the amazing people whom I call family, and all the issues before us that hold both promise and peril.  Our theme this year is “A great hope in common.”

I’ve been busy at school & at home, so I haven’t been attentive to my blogging community for the last month.  While catching-up in my Reader, I was struck  by Carol Hand’s blog post that expresses so perfectly a truth that I’m sure is true for many of us who blog about peace, social justice, and our world.  Although we are bombarded with negativity each day, there really is more beauty and more good in the world than some would have us think.  And, borrowing from this year’s theme, we really do have a great hope in common!  When talking about peace & justice last weekend I tried to encourage the members of my community that “a struggle only feels desperate & hopeless if we feel alone in the struggle.”  We need to remind ourselves & each other that we are not alone.  There is great hope and great promise!

Three peace & justice issues that we in the Florida Chapter are focused on are Immigration Reform, the Environment & Climate Change, and Capital Punishment; Pax Christi posted on their blog a piece about this last one (actually several posts on this issue!).  I am so proud of one of our sisters, Sr. Pat, who holds vigil on the steps of her local courthouse every time this state executes someone in our names.  I respect all life and, like Sr. Pat, I do not want people killed in my name or anyone else’s!  It’s bad enough when lawmakers support legislation that I do not, but to take a life in my name is beyond reprehensible.  It gives me great hope knowing that so many others feel the same and continue to work for an end to this horrible punishment.  Our judiciary system is flawed & humans are not infallible.  Over and over again people are being exonerated of crimes they did not commit.  Thanks, Wobbly Warrior for your efforts on this issue!

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 Peace to all of you who work with so much passion to make our world a beautiful place!