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Jesus In the Temple

Dec. 23rd, 2014 | 09:27 am

          Matthew 21:12-12:  “Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  He said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.’” (NRSV)
           The fact that this comes from the book of Matthew says a lot about the context of the passage.  Matthew has constant themes throughout against the Pharisees.  This passage occurs in a portion of the text where Jesus is more outspoken about the injustices of the ruling elite.  He arrives into town with the support of the crowds who shout “Hosanna, Son of David.”  The community officials- both religious and political take strong objection to this.  Who is this man to claim holiness and to turn on its’ head the social order.  Throughout Jesus’ life, he counters injustice in his community- particularly when it comes to money and the poor.  He is well known for being a friend of beggars and ‘the least of these.’  What angers him in the temple can be understood from the words he quotes which come from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 which berates those with power (both financial and religious) for taking advantage of the poor.
           The people gathered at the temple wish to offer prayer and sacrifice.  The temple officials only allow a certain kind of coin to be used for offerings.  Also, while the people could bring a sacrifice from the outside, there were no guarantees that the temple officials would allow the sacrifice.  The market was set-up within the temple to allow for trade of the correct type of coin and the correct sacrifice- in collusion with the temple officials.  The result was price gouging and the people who came to give their offerings and sacrifices could end up spending an entire year’s worth of wages just to meet the obligations of their religion.
           It wasn’t that Jesus disapproved of a market in general.  It was that the market in question was within the walls of the temple solely for the purpose of selling to pilgrims and robbing them of their money through price gouging with the support of the temple officials.  Hence the phrase “den of thieves.”  Later, when the temple is destroyed in 70 CE, one of the reasons given was the greediness of the religious, political, and mercantile leadership.

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The Essentials of the New Jim Crow

Dec. 16th, 2014 | 03:27 am

So, let's continue with the breakdown of the "White Privilege" opinion piece.  Jeff Yeng next shows an image of a student being taken from the back row and locked in the broom closet.


Again, let's go back to history for a moment.  In 1676, the owning class in Northern America had a problem.  They needed poor laborers to get the work done.  To this point, there had been rebellions of indentured servants and slaves, but the violence of Bacon's Rebellion was unparalleled.  Something had to be done to quell the violence.  To this point, there were no core differences between how blacks and whites were treated who were in indenture or slavery.  Both practices were common the world over.  From colonization, the European colonizing nations had learned that "divide and conquer" worked efficiently.  The divide and conquer task took advantage of pre-existing differences and offered benefits to one group over another.  So, in the colonies of Northern America, the laws changed with the first use of the word "white."
  White people upon the completion of their indenture would be granted land, given guns and gun powder, and were given other benefits previously not granted.  In addition, non-whites (indigenous peoples and black people and later others) were prohibited from serving in public office when their indenture completed, were not allowed to marry whites, and were not allowed to possess weapons.  Overtime, whites who were poor continued to receive benefits that were not granted to people of color and people of color continued in a downward spiral.
  What does that have to do with today?  We eliminated those laws so they no longer have an impact, right?  Well, after the laws were passed, there began an effort to understand why there were such key differences between the races in the United States.  Thomas Jefferson famously suggested that it would be science that would prove that blacks and indigenous peoples were inferior to whites.  No surprise, they did.  Fields of biology, anthropology, among others 'proved' the differences between the races and made them the defining reality of racial difference.  In the last twenty years, genetics has proved that there is no biological basis for racial groups.  There are markers for skin color or hair type, but there is no "racial group" that has any marker that is non-existent in another group.
  What occurred when laws changed and created legal equality in the 1860s and again in the 1960s and since did not change the core beliefs about the nature of people of color.
  Going back to our student being taken from the closet and locked in the closet.  Historically as well as currently, people of color have been punished for breaking social conventions granted white folks, segregated by neighborhoods and reservations, and continue to have assumptions about skill and ability placed on them by race.  All of these lead to separation from the privileges of life.  All of this is then reinforced in television, books, and media.  People of color routinely play the "bad guy."  When they are represented among the protagonists, they often die before the end of the movie or suffer so that the white lead character may succeed.  When we see and hear these images day after day and year after year it becomes a part of the mental air we breathe.  We start to believe what we see is true.
  The school-to-prison pipelines is well documented and researched.  Black children are more likely to be suspended than their white peers for the same offenses.  In Texas, four teens were caught smoking pot- only the African America teen was arrested.  The imbalances are great and the result has had a horrifying impact on communities of color.  Once a teen is in the juvenile justice system, their chances of graduating plummet.  The hope of a good future quickly becomes lost.  The despair leads to poor decisions, lateral violence, and violence toward self.
  There are numerous reasons for which we lock people of color in the proverbial closet.  The simple fact of the matter is that people of color are presumed guilty far more frequently, given harsher sentences if they see court at all, and given stricter deals if they do not make it to trial.  Innocent people of color opt for a lighter sentence rather than face a system of justice that has historically and continues to presume guilt rather than innocence based on race.
  At the heart of the recent protests are the realities that people of color- black people in particular- are demonized by society and the justice system.  They are more likely to be killed by cops for minor infractions, if they committed a crime at all.  One example to think about is the question of guns.  Many white people argue hard for the right to carry a gun.  This year a group carried rifles into a Chipotle to illustrate that they could carry.  A picture of two white children carrying weapons at an arts festival has made the rounds in social media.


Yet, a black child, Tamir Rice, was killed by police for carrying a b-b gun.


  This, of course, is the extreme form of locking someone in the closet, but it show the basic point that the assumption of criminality frequently placed on people of color is literally taking lives before they start.  We have a long way to go.

To learn more about how this works, I highly encourage The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.  Also, Aljazeera America recently completed a documentary on the school-to-prison pipeline.

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Violence Toward: The Relationship Between White Privilege and Violence Toward People of Color

Dec. 10th, 2014 | 03:38 am


While, I will not deny that there is an element of classism here and that the artist might have done better to mention that there are actually four rows and in the fourth row, there are some white folks who don’t get attacked or pinpointed, and that there is one person of color in the middle row and no people of color in the front row.  Needless to say, a simple illustration can only illustrate so much.

Moving on.  Perhaps the simplest explanation I have ever seen for the Jeff Yang’s description of the classroom is by Barry Oshry titled “The Terrible Dance of Power.”  The history of heavy policing of people of color goes back to long before the United States was even a country.  Certainly, the use of the Doctrine of Discovery to eliminate indigenous people, the Bacon Rebellion which created the notion of whiteness as a category with special privileges to poor and indentured whites that indentured and enslaved Africans did not have, the denial of citizenship to all people of color into the 1950s, Japanese Internment Camps, and many other “policing” actions against people of color led to a narrative that people of color are inherently dangerous, trouble-makers, and not to be trusted.  Further, the race riots by poor whites between 1916 to the 1960s in which hundreds of African Americans were killed and their businesses and homes destroyed added to a history of systemic violence by those privileged by whiteness and those who are not.  The Civil Rights Movement did a lot to change the laws in the South around this, but did almost nothing to resolve it in the North or to create change in how people mythologize, frequently unconsciously, people of color.

Most of us learned the history of the United States as written by white people of power.  Manifest Destiny was mentioned not as some morally questionable path, but simply the policy of the United States.  Movies and television shows continually portray people of color as dangerous.  Just this week, I noted that the only person of color in Interstellar had to die.  Usually people from marginalized communities do in movies.  White folks get to live and thrive.  Most television shows that include a person of color have only one and in a secondary role- never the primary character.  There are countless examples.  Noah in which none of the characters were people of color in a part of the world that would have been entirely made of people with brown skin and, of course, the people threatening the characters were people of color.  The movie 300 in which the attackers are evil people of color.  I could go on, but there are people who have written on this topic far better than I have.  Type “race in film” and you will come up with some fine examples.  A favorite documentary of mine is Real Injun.

So, you may be saying- “what does this have to do with people being targeted in the back row of the class?”  Well, if you hear and see imagery, news articles, art, history, media, and numerous social and cultural cues that tell you that people of color are dangerous, then you start to subconsciously act own those things.  The police have long been taught to police people of color communities- long before we got to today.  We somehow got the idea in our heads that passing a few laws and policing a few Southern cities would eliminate hundreds of years of political, historical, ontological, scientific, social, cultural, academic, and literary false proofs that people of color were deviant and dangerous and that white people were normal and good.

We have never taken the time to do a true accounting of the full depth of the nature of racism.  Why?  A few reasons:
1)       Doing so would require white folks to recognize that they need to give up some power, property, and privilege.
2)      It is hard to do a full accounting.  It means facing hard truths, having difficult conversations, and rewriting our histories to include all sides of the story.
3)      It would mean letting go of certain cultural norms.  Right now, society gives privilege to those who are knowledgeable in white culture.  That is, you should know music, art, literature, and history of white people.  The country as it is today requires that people of color be able to navigate white culture, but not the other way around.

This last point feeds directly into our image of the police officer beating up the folks in the back row.  Perhaps one of the most insidious ways that racism plays out is in the image of the “dangerous black man.”  Part of this fueled by the notion that being loud necessarily means being aggressive.  This, of course is not true in all white families, but even the most rambunctious white family knows how to be quiet as a sign of respect at church, school, or work.  It is a cultural standard.  In many African American communities (and again, this varies by family), being loud and animated is a part of the culture of the community.  It does not imply aggression or anger, just excitement and vibrancy in the communication being shared.

In other words, what is considered rude and potentially violent in one culture is energetic and engaging in another.  So, when in the Public Square, an African American person is speaking loudly and innocently it may be perceived as aggression by on unaware white person.  The onus is placed on the person of color to fit into the white cultural norms rather than white folks learning and engaging in the diversity of cultures and communities that have existed in this country since long before its’ founding.

All of this to say, that it is a complicated story of how violence toward people of color has become the norm.  It is well documented and not made up.  If you want to learn more, I recommend the following:

On how poor whites were given privilege over poor blacks, I suggest the book Killers of the Dream by Lillian Smith or this video.
On the history of race, the best text I have found is A People’s History of the United States

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Beginning a "Race" Breakdown

Dec. 10th, 2014 | 02:42 am

There seemed to be a lot of chatter about the "White Privilege" article that I shared on Facebook.  In the coming days, I will break down each image into the historical, sociological, and race theory behind each one.  However, before I can do that let's start with some important footnotes on the nature of neo-racism in the United States.

1)  It is important to focus the race conversations on the U.S. creation of them as we have a unique history and formation of race.  Race theory here is different than race and/or xenophobic studies in other countries.

2)  Most understand overt racism- use of foul language, denigration, and hate crimes towards people of color.

3)  There is frequently a misunderstanding between racial prejudice and racism.  Anyone can engage in racial prejudice- that is assumptions about a person or group of people based on perceived race.  That is not the same as racism which refers to a system that privileges one race over all others.

4)  Every person is effected by this racism system whether they are part of the privileged group (white folks) or the oppressed (people of color).  The result is that because we live in the water of racism it can be very difficult to see and understand.

5)  As a result of this reality, it is important to differentiate between "intention" and "impact."  (Thank you Cil Beaty for this one).  We may all have good intentions and still say or do something that has a negative impact on the world around us.  A teacher may punish a child of color harsher than a white child not because they are intentionally racist.  Rather, they do it because they have been taught from birth through implicit messages that children of color are more likely to be a problem or dangerous.  The teacher may care for that child with all their heart and still unwittingly participate in the racist system because that is all they have ever known.  This messaging comes from numerous places, but I'll cover that in a future post.

I remind everyone reading these posts that I have rules for my Facebook page and blog.  I HIGHLY encourage the use of "I" statements when talking about race or any difficult subject.

The remainder of the rules are:

1) Remember that there are people on here of all kinds of political, theological, and philosophical views. Be respectful in all communications on this site.

2) No belittling, judging, put-downs, etc. etc.

3) My mother is a friend of mine. There are teenagers who are friends or followers. If you wouldn't say it to your own mother or children, don't say it here.

4) I reserve the right to remove any post that I think devalues another person or group of people or fails the above three rules. My site- my rules.

5) On the flip-side- I love comments that are inspiring, hopeful, encourage out-of-the-box thinking, and affirms the inherent worth and dignity of all people. If it says YES to life, then it is welcome here.

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The Day After (November 25, 2014 Facebook Post)

Dec. 10th, 2014 | 02:35 am

Last night, thousands of people were peaceful and a handful were not. The anger was great, but the truth is that there are ALWAYS a few people who take advantage of these situations to cause violence. I think most everyone agrees (regardless of their opinion on the indictment) that the fact that the police were centered on their own station and almost invisible in the rest of Ferguson was a serious problem. The promise of National Guard troops protecting businesses did not happen. Most everyone in St. Louis is frustrated with that. Again, local news and Aljazeera America are covering the whole of the story. National news continues with the sensationalism of the violence.

It was heartening to waken after not enough sleep to images of Ferguson residents helping to clean up the city. There were peaceful protests at 7 a.m. and Noon. People continue to speak out for change. The Police Chief who in the night was blaming Ferguson for the violence by midday was admitting that this was a handful of criminals who were engaging in violent acts and many were not from Ferguson. It was a long day of frustration, sadness, disappointment, and more.

On the way to the Ferguson conversation, I passed by dozens of boarded up buildings, two closed gas stations, and one smoldering building. Ferguson and Florissant smelled like burning building all day- still does. The church where the meeting took place is a few blocks from the Ferguson Police department. A hundred or so folks were already gathered at the Police Department. Most notably, the National Guard finally made an appearance. There were at least two times as many police/national guard out tonight than last night. Where were they last night?

The conversation and games with the kids went well. We talked about how they were feeling and how their parents were feeling and how they felt about how their parents were feelings. They asked lots of great questions about why this was happening and what tear gas and rubber bullets are and why to use them. We talked about how scary and helpful helicopters can be. One of the teens who was at the riots last night talked about what it was like to see tear gas for the first time and how disappointed he was in the police. It all came from within them and they are some brave and aware children.

On the way back from the conversation, the protesters had doubled and police had moved forward- all with shields. I was probably one of the last few cars that could pass down the street in front of the Police Station. I decided to park and join in for awhile. I put on my clergy collar and calmly witnessed. Folks were talking to each other. A couple of young black men struck up a conversation with me on the role of the clergy in all of this. I was interviewed by a journalist who was interested in the meeting I had attended. Overall, folks were angry, but chill. Folks just wanted to be in solidarity.

There were a couple of moments of folks throwing things, but nothing severe. Perhaps most intimidating was noticing the National Guardsman on top of buildings on my way back to the car. Talk about creepy. On the way home, I noticed that more National Guard had been stationed. There were a few at the car lot that had all those cars burned. "A day late and a dollar short," was all I could think.

I'm saddened by all that happened last night. It is worth noting that all of the businesses that were burned down were national chains of some kind. It makes one think that that was intentional- that someone had a specific goal in mind and not just random arson.

So, as a city we move forward with the same message we have always had. Systemic racism needs to be addressed. We need to work on this, not just talk. We need to learn how to talk about it. Not one more unarmed black man (or person) should be killed by the police. All lives matter.

So, we begin again...and again...and again.

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Non-indictment of Officer Wilson (from Facebook post)

Dec. 10th, 2014 | 02:34 am

My feelings are deep this evening. Let me offer some thoughts:

Not a single police officer has been convicted of the killing of a person of color in the United States. Every 28 hours an African American is shot and killed by the police. The rhetoric has too often been that somehow people of color are more violent or dangerous. Too often white folks perceive everyday normal communication by African Americans as angry or aggressive because it does not fit the standard European communication styles that have been inherited. Too many children are in the school to prison pipeline. Too often people of color receive the most that can be sentenced while white folks get the least. We cannot just say people are equal and think that will do it. We need to have an evaluative process that continually questions and transforms our systems of justice and governance.

That a police officer could shoot a person 6-7 times and not have that considered to be extreme force is saying something. I am absolutely sure that the Grand Jury followed the letter of the law. What I am not sure of is whether that law was just. Too much bad blood exists for us to think we can just move forward without change.

So, we begin again...and again...and again...practicing, communicating, working together to find healing and wholeness for ALL people in our country regardless of their culture, community, language, or background. Let us strive for more restorative justice and less punitive. Let us strive for a world transformed by our care.

I will continue to march and protest and foster conversation. Tomorrow I will have the privilege of facilitating a conversation among children who live in Ferguson about their experiences and about race. I will preach on Sunday about what is next. I will continue to educate and create space for learning about race in my congregation and beyond. I will do what I can do. What can you do? What will you do?

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Ferguson, St. Louis, and the North

Dec. 10th, 2014 | 02:31 am

   On August 1st, I moved to Florissant, Missouri which borders Ferguson.  Ferguson and Florissant share the same school district.  Nine days later, Michael Brown was killed.  It felt like Oscar Grant all over again (from when I called Oakland home).  I had already heard stories of racism in St. Louis long before I arrived here.  So, in many ways it was sadly not a surprise.  I struggled to find what I would say to my congregation as my first sermon was the Sunday after the shooting.

   I talked about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his warning that things needed to change with the police.  I talked about the importance of believing people when they tell you a story.  This was particularly directed at white folks who, because of racial privilege (not to be confused with class privilege) did not experience the world and the government in the same way as people of color.  I shared the story of a Chaplain friend who routinely gets pulled over at the same place in Indianapolis for no other reason than she is black.  I shared the story of an African colleague who was pulled over while driving an elderly white parishioner home.  The officer kept asking her if she felt safe and if she was ok.  I talked about the difference between systemic racism and personal racism and the more insidious ways that racism plays out today.  It did not matter if Michael Brown had broken some law.  He was unarmed and shot nine times- overkill at best.  Even if the officer needed to shoot him to protect himself the distrust in the police was something that needed to be healed.

   Then the news reports started coming out.  I watch Aljazeera America for most of my news.  I catch some print media online and watch the first 5-10 minutes of the local news.  The stark contrast in reporting was immediately noticeable.  What the members of my congregation and colleagues were reporting matched closely what I was hearing on Aljazeera and not at all matching what I was hearing and reading in popular news sources- including the oft liberal loved MSNBC.

   For example, often reported was the looting by protesters.  The stories that did not make it into the news?  That while a small handful of people did attempt looting, a number of protesters locked arms and stood in front of the stores to prevent looters from getting in.  There is video footage of this.  The stories of Ferguson residents who took items during the looting to protect them and dropped them back at the stores the next day.  One man stole the key box to a car dealership and returned it the next day so that the cars wouldn't be stolen.  Where were these stories?

   Similar to what happened in Oakland after Oscar Grant was killed, almost all of the people who were arrested during the riots were not only not from Ferguson, but not from the St. Louis area.  There are always people who will take advantage of a situation for their own gain.  Yet the news continually reports it as if it is the people locally and not a broader problem.

   As an Interim Minister, part of my job is to learn not just the history of the congregation, but the region it is in.  One parishioner gave me the book "Never Been a Time:  The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement."  It relays the history of the post World War I race riots the North and focuses on the most hideous one in East St. Louis.

     These were riots of white people who looted and burned down black people's businesses and homes.  (The destruction of 'Black Wall Street' in Tulsa has had increased historical retelling).  Hundreds of African Americans were murdered- exact numbers are hard to know as many were tossed into the Mississippi River.  African Americans began moving across the river into St. Louis and the white flight to the suburbs began.  The racism did not end and the violence against African Americans did not end, it simply became institutionalized.  It is worth noting that NO white people were held accountable for the murders and lynchings.

   Having lived in Alabama for two years, one thing that I learned loud and clear is that while the South was forced to address the systemic racism that lived in Southern society, the North was not.  Somehow Northerners got it in their had that they were better than Southerners because they did not have slavery.  Slavery and racism are not the same thing, of course.  Southerners learn the whole of their history because folks are watching them.  Northerners do not.  The fact that there were dozens of race riots by whites in the north from 1915-1925 seems to be left out of the story.  We do not teach that the Supreme Court literally voted who was white and who was not during those same years.  Somehow, white folks did not have to deal with an integral part of the history that has led to the neo-racism that we live with today.

   So, you have communities of people who know the history- predominantly people of color- and folks who do not- predominantly white folks.

   Then, yet another, young unarmed black man is killed by a police officer.  People are grieving, angry, and hurt.  The speak out and they march.  The police respond not with containment and space, but with a lock down.  All of the false messages of the dangerous black person spread by television, movies, and news living in their minds.  A perfect storm appears.

   What is happening here is not an accident.  It isn't a surprise.  However, it can be responded to and healed.  No matter what the indictment decision is, we have a long road to healing and wholeness.  It will take white folks realizing they do not and cannot fully understand the experience of people of color.  It will take black folks being willing to stay at the table and share what they have experienced.  It will take all of us trying new things.  Most importantly, it will require restorative justice and a reevaluation of our laws and justice system and all systems that prevent us from seeing one another as we are:  imperfect humans.

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Rally for Secular Government: Importance of Diversity Across Systems

May. 5th, 2014 | 06:43 pm

*These were the written words I spoke at the Rally for Secular Government.  I frequently go off script, so if you were there, some of this may different from what you heard*

May 3, 2014
           I am an ordained minister who believes in the separation of church and state.  This is not to say that I believe that there is no place for religion in government or politics.  This is only so far as the religious traditions across the diaspora call us to be ethical, compassionate, and connected.  Our politicians need to be grounded in ethical understanding, compassionate towards the other, and connected to their world and the people they serve.  That said, that means they need to be able to communicate within the religious, philosophical, and ontological views of the people the serve- ALL OF THE PEOPLE THEY SERVE.
           I am a Unitarian Universalist.  As a minister of my tradition, I must share with you that I do not speak on behalf of the congregation that I serve.  Today, I speak as a representative of my religion and my own views.  However, we believe in the “independent search for truth and meaning” and we believe in letting individual churches make up their own mind about what to believe and think.  Our churches house Christians, Buddhists, humanists, atheists, Jewish people, earth-centered religionists, and much more.  We believe that it is in the unity of our diversity that we learn and grow- that religious and philosophical diversity in community and communication helps us to imagine a future transformed by our care and thought.  We respect the diversity of views within our community because we recognize that that rich tapestry enriches us all.
           In addition, Unitarians before us such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and deist Thomas Jefferson taught us, we believe in the democratic process.  I grow weary of politicians and clergy who look to the past and say- “well that is what the forefathers intended.”  The white men who founded this country did the best they could with the knowledge they had.  They were revolutionaries.  The dared to think outside the box.  Many of them were well read in Hinduism and Buddhism.  They were not monolithic Christians speaking only for their side of things and they were not perfect.  The words were not “to form a perfect union.”  The words were to form a MORE perfect union.  They recognized, through the humility taught to them by their Unitarian puritan heritage, that there was always room for improvement.
           We are here to recognize that there is MUCH more work to do.  However, for the democratic process to work we need to be mindful of all voices and perspectives.  That diversity ensures our survival.  We have learned from the natural world that biological diversity helps us adapt to a changing world.  We need biological diversity, philosophical diversity, political diversity, and more.  When we fail to be compassionate of one another’s views, we fail to recognize the important information that comes from that diversity.
           I am neither a fan of Bill O’Reilley or Bill Mahr for the simple reason that the way they present their views are in the form of conversation stoppers.  We cannot be in the business of stopping conversations.  We need to be in the business of deeply listening and hearing one another.  As a society, we are TERRIBLE at this.  We do not teach listening skills to our children and youth.  We do not model it well ourselves most of the time.  Yet, for compassion, acceptance, and understanding to be possible, we need to be able to listen deeply.  Not to what WE think the other person is saying, but to what they are actually saying.  If our politicians are so focused on defending their religious point of view, how can they hear the diverse voices of the people they serve?  If the people here gathered are so focused on our point of view and perspective, how can we hear the diverse voices of the people who serve us?
           As a natural humanist who does not believe in God, per se, I believe reason combined with deep interconnection are key to living an ethical life.  As Rev. William R. Murray writes, “Humanistic religious naturalism promotes an ethical life in which one thinks and acts from a larger perspective than one’s own egoistic interests, a life that affirms the worth and dignity of each person, a life filled with wonder and reverence for the extraordinary magnificence of the natural world and human creations.  It includes gratitude for the gift of life itself and the capacity to enjoy it.”  We need each other to survive lest we end up like Tom Hanks, stuck on an island making friends with a volleyball.
           Our world is filled with enough harshness.  We need compassionate listeners who are willing to be wrong and to engage in the messy world.  We need people, who like Jesus, ate with the poorest and the least of these.  We need people who, like Buddha, are willing to sit with the suffering of everyday people.  We need people like Dorothy Day who tried new ways of being in community to help heal the world.  We need people like Einstein, who transcend their sins for the betterment of all people.  We need risk-takers who are willing to be imperfect and open to possibility.
           There is a wonderful series on Aljazeera America called Borderland.  In it, a young woman name Alison Melder, joins five other United States citizens as they learn the history and backgrounds of three immigrants who died in the Sonoran desert.  Alison Melder is a Republican from Arkansas who believes strongly that, in her words, “illegal immigrants take American jobs and should be deported.”  Alison is an example of someone who, through compassion, came to a deeply ethical and complex realization.  Visiting the home of the place where an immigrant lived, she comments, “Rules do not understand human suffering.”
           “Rules do not understand human suffering.”  A thought created from engagement and reflection and an openness to listening and being with the other in their suffering.  For secular government to work, it needs to be deeply engaged in the ethical struggles that face us today.  Whether you attend a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, free thinker group, or keep to your own path, the simple truth is that we need people who are willing to, like Jesus, be AMONG the people- open to transformation and change- WITHOUT forcing our religious beliefs on them.  Pray if that is your practice.  Meditate if that is your practice.  Engage in serious and reasoned thought if that is your practice.  However, we risk failing as a people if we let our individual perspectives inform our government.  Religious and philosophical freedom in accountable and interconnected community- that is what we need.
           Francis David once said, “We need not think alike to love alike.”  So, let’s get government focused on the needs of the people and accepting the religious diversity that makes this such an amazing place in the world.  Let’s not think alike.  Let’s not believe alike.  Let us instead open our loving mind and thinking hearts to a world transformed by our care- hand in hand, day by day, breath by breath.  May it be so.

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Jul. 29th, 2013 | 09:50 pm
mood: contemplativecontemplative


I wish I had a bottle of humanitizer
I could pump some into your hands
Eliminate the germs that separate us.
Of course, it is hubris to think
that my hands or ears or mouth
lack infection.

None of us remain untouched for long.

Apathy, numbness, rage, hatred.
Germs that go on the offensive
preventing the salves from seeping
into our woundedness.
Barriers so deep that neither
pain nor joy break through.

Germs that leave us flat as a pancake.

One squirt from that flimsy plastic pump
will help for awhile.
We might laugh or sing or dance for a time,
but what we need are portable gallon bottles
carried by imps and angels
offering humanitizer to everyone and everything.

Humanitizer only works if it is available to all.

So, we pour some on each other’s hands.
Slowly the jokes at one another’s expense fade.
Then the rhetoric of enemies or other.
The one line defenses- gone.
We notice feelings in ourselves.
We see and hear and recognize one another.

Oh, look- it is working!

Next we begin to feel-
uncomfortable, unsure, fearful, alone, anxious.
The breath feels tight, the head light,
the stomach all in knots.
We tremble, we look away.
We even cry a little.

Then, as if by magic, we see one another’s tears and embrace.

We pause, we breathe.
One more dollop of humanitizer.
We watch the sunrise- the silence fades.
That buzzing in the ears is gone.
So is the fogginess in the brain.
We pause, letting the humanitizer soak into our souls.

The weather report says chance for showers- and all is well.

And we stomp puddles into the horizon.

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Culture, Communication, and Shame

Jul. 24th, 2013 | 10:45 pm

  I remember feeling a sense of relief.  I'd lived in Tucson for a few months or a year?  I really don't remember.  I do remember realizing that suddenly, communicating did not cause anxiety.  I grew up and went to college in the Midwest- a land where indirect communication is normative.  You can speak directly about a lot of things, but generally, if you are upset with someone it is not generally considered polite to be direct about it.  In some instances, that works great.  Rather than saying, "wow, those jeans make you look fat" one might say, "why don't you try these black pants- you know black is super-slimming."  Actual conversation and not the kindest, but between option A and B, I'll take B.  However, when real disagreements arise, there is an entire system of saying one thing and meaning another that can work really well- if you know the code.  My problem was I didn't always pick up on the code.

  In Tucson, folks are, for the most part, direct.  My theory is that in places where there is a wide variety of cultural communities, directness is necessary because not everyone can understand the subtextual language for each independent community.  Tucson is very diverse.  You have Native Americans who have lived there for generations, people from every nation below the Rio Grande you can imagine, multiple languages, transplants from the rest of the country seeking warmth, students, and more.  If you don't say what you mean then you are not likely to be understood.  Also, there is a culture of patience when miscommunication happens because everyone has experienced it at some point or another.  The same held true in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Cleveland Area.  In this world, I personally thrived and I met other transplants from the Midwest and the South who felt the same way.

  In less metropolitan or diverse communities, it is not necessary to learn multiple forms of communication or find a common communication style because people generally know the language and how to make their way in it even if it isn't comfortable.

  After study and experience, I have an untested hypothesis about some of the differing styles of communication- what is considered healthy communication in some regions of the United States is considered shaming communication in other parts.  What is interesting is that it doesn't come up much unless the conversation being had is one that triggers shame in some way.

  So, say I come to Kyle and say that I think I misunderstood what he said.  "I'm sure you have good intentions, but when you said X I noticed I was feeling angry because what I heard way Y.  I don't think I heard you properly.  Can you say again what you meant?"  Now, in about half of the communities I have lived in, as long as I have some kind of relationship with Kyle, then this would be considered appropriate communication.  In about half of the communities I have lived in, this would be perceived as rude.  Also, if Kyle did not hear the "I statements" as me taking ownership of my own thoughts and feelings (which is subtextual for communities that do not communicate this way), then he may feel anger, confusion, or shame.  What I am learning is that this kind of direct communication is utilized in some cultural communication styles as a form of shaming.  It isn't what is being communicated.  It is how it is being communicated.

  I am still learning how the different styles work, but I am getting clearer in how miscommunication and confusion can happen between regions and particularly how this can play out in politics, religion, and the public square.  I'm interested in further thoughts and stories of how differing communication styles have been met with discord or harmony.  Still early in thinking about this as I combine what I know about interculturalism, shame, conflict, and anthropology.  Glad for any thoughts and direction on the subject.

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