Monday, February 8, 2021

A Book for Our Time




See No Stranger
, a memoir by Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist, filmmaker and civil rights lawyer, is about learning to love in times of turmoil. Kaur asks us to look at others and say, “You are a part of me I do not yet know.” She knows love as revolutionary--an active, public force that can create new possibilities for our communities, our world, and ourselves. 

Kaur believes we are at a crossroads in America where we can choose to begin to birth a nation that has never been; one that is multiracial, multifaith, and multigendered; where power is shared, and we protect the dignity of every person. She knows the practice of revolutionary love leads us to wonder, grieve, fight, rage, listen, reimagine, breathe, heal, forgive and reconcile.

Wondering about others begins the practice of revolutionary love for it enables our instinct for empathy. Wonder about others even when they do not wonder about you, and protect others when they are in harms way. We can train our eyes to see others differently, to see no stranger. We become what we practice. 

Kaur’s memoire increases understanding of how important it is to sit with our pain and grieve. Kaur states, “Unresolved grief inside a person is tragic; unresolved grief inside a nation is catastrophic: It releases enormous aggression.” 

Kaur teaches how a warrior sage fights and asks, “What is your sword, your Kirpan? What can you use to fight on behalf of others—your pen, your voice, your art, your pocket book, your presence.” She goes on to describe how to protect ourselves, how to center ourselves, and who we need to stand by our side. 

Of rage Kaur says: “There are many ways to confront one’s opponents without anger. But in the case of ongoing social injustices, expressing outrage is often the only way to be heard. …perhaps it is up to the rest of us to train our ears to hear beyond hearing, …so that we can discern the truth of the pain of injustice and confront our own complicity and responsibility.” 

Kaur writes, “The more I listen, the more I understand. I am persuaded that there is no such thing as monsters in this world, only human beings who are wounded. I start to gain critical information about how we can respond to greed, insecurity, anxiety or blindness in ways that hold them accountable and fight the institutions that empower them. Listening enables us to fight in smarter ways for justice—not only to remove bad actors from power but to change the cultures that radicalize them. Listening is how we succeed.” 

Kaur believes, “To undo the injustice, we have to imagine new institutions--and step in to lead them. …When we hold fast to a vision of the world as it ought to be, we can better discern which institutions can be reimagined, and which cannot.” And, “…the labor of institutional change required not months or years, but decades.” 

At the funeral for those killed in the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sikh temple massacre in 2012, Amardeep Singh Bhalla, told Kaur, “We may not live to see the fruits of our labor in our lifetime, but we labor anyway.” 

Kaur understands “…breathing keeps us laboring.” And, “Laboring in love is how we birth the world to come.” When we anchor ourselves in breadth our minds are called to the present moment, the here and now, where work and change happens. 

For healing Kaur asks, “Let us see ourselves as part of a larger picture. …For there is no greater gift than to be a part of a movement larger than ourselves. That means that we only need to be responsible for our small patch of sky, our specific area of influence. We need only to shine our particular point of light, long and steady…” 

Forgiveness was a gift Kaur gave herself at the end of a long internal healing process. 

Kaur believes America needs to reconcile with its suppressed memories and histories of the traumas it had caused. “…our willful forgetting keeps re-creating the conditions for all that suppressed grief, rage, and shame to erupt in cycles of violence. America needs to reconcile with itself and do the work of apology: To say to indigenous, black and brown people, we take full ownership for what we did. …It is time to seek out the deepest wisdom of those who have been most silenced by the forces of history.” 

Transition is the most painful and dangerous stage, but it’s also where we begin to see what comes into the space we open up. Fresh horrors arrive daily, but our responses are smarter and our solidarity deeper than ever before. 

Kaur asks us to “Imagine the world we will birth when we see no stranger.” She admits, “Loving our opponents is hard. If we cannot summon love for all of our opponents in every moment, we have not failed. Revolutionary love is not an all-or-nothing metric. It is an ethic that sometimes feels like an aspiration rather than a reality. But the aspiration to love our opponents is itself revolutionary. It opens up space for us to let other people love those opponents when we cannot. …Laboring in love is how we birth the world to come.”

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Hope for America

The Mystery within ...
It felt good, hopeful, to watch and listen to President Elect Joe Biden's recent diverse cabinet member
picks speak of their vision for how each will work to help our next president govern. It made me wonder if the past four years of disorder in our country is meant to show us what it will take to create a system of liberty and justice for all and protect our Mother Earth.As a white American female, born in 1943, I have experienced sexism. But I also am realizing more and more each day that my skin color has afforded me privileges denied to so many others in basic respect, education, housing, and healthcare, all critical for the health of individuals and society. Realizing white privilege created these systems of inequity makes them a white problem to be remedied. The gift in that acceptance is humility.

The gift in humility is it allows me to put my ego aside, accept I am my most important piece of work, and opens my heart to loving all others and myself. It gives me the courage to admit that our country was founded with unspeakable violence toward its native inhabitants and built on the backs of slaves. No one person can remedy the enormity of America's problems but calls all of us to love one another and be part of the progress toward liberty and justice for all.

What if we each found the humility it will take to be a part of the remedy of America's problems?

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Debate

The Mystery within...
The jarring “debate” between president Trump and Joe Biden was very unsettling. It highlighted the giant step backward America has taken politically. In my first memoire, God Never Hurries, I wrote, "Transformation is an on-going process, and not without some backsliding." I pray America will soon take two giant steps forward with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris leading us politically. 

I needed some comfort for my angst so I searched my past posts with the word “politics”. Eleven posts came up. I found the most comfort in the following paragraph from my July 16, 2018 post, titled “Spirituality and Politics”. 

 “I see great paradoxical promise in the scary political turmoil of our time that can give us all pause to reflect on our past, present and future. Will the quest for more and more money enslave some of us while others languish in poverty? Can the over consumption and destruction of our earth’s resources become an urgent understanding for a more reasoned and protective stance; or will we continue down a self-destructive path of no return? Can we see it takes a healthy village to raise a healthy child to create a healthy future? Can we replace judgment with compassion for others’ desperate acts? Can we be open to being changed? True forgiveness of the other, and ourselves, heals relationships. It is a never-ending task. The ability to love creativity is what spirituality is all about. The potential exists in all of us. Find and nurture it. In my heart, mind and soul I see no separation between spirituality and politics.” 

 I also took comfort in understanding I can look for ways to do my small part to help bring spirituality and politics together. My second memoir, Both/and Things—The Power in Reflection, brought to mind the late priest/paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, who believed we are all on an evolutionary path toward learning how to love unconditionally. Chardin’s prayer, which is in my blog’s Comfort Messages, “Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God”, suggests taking the long view: 

"Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. Yet it is the law of all progress that is made by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow. Let them shape themselves without undue haste. Do not try to force them on as though you could be today what time -that is to say, grace- and circumstances acting on your own good will will make you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new Spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser."  Teilhard de Chardin 

Also in my blog’s Comfort Messages is a poem that I understand as Ego Training: 

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway. The world is full of conflict. Chose peace of mind anyway. Author: Anonymous

What if we could all remember transformation is often two steps forward and one step back; know the power in reflection; have a stash of comfort messages, and appreciate the long evolutionary path we are on toward becoming more empathic, compassionate, forgiving of ourselves and all others, and ultimately learn unconditional love.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Learning Unconditional Love

The Mystery within

You know how good it feels when you begin to understand you are learning to do something right for yourself and others. What if we consciously built upon those insightful moments each day? In seeking to learn unconditional love, together we can find the stepping-stones on the long winding path toward loving unconditionally. It is a challenging path but the rewards along the way are immeasurable.

 

Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer, “Trust in the Slow Work of God”, became a critical grace for me as I struggled to know what was right as I wrestled with my aging parents’ care as told in my first memoir, God Never Hurries. My second memoir, Both/and Things—The Power in Reflection highlights the priest/paleontologist Chardin’s belief that we humans are on an evolutionary path toward loving unconditionally.      

 

Getting started on that evolutionary path was easy. All I had to do was accept I am my most important piece of work. The gift of that acceptance is humility. The real work lies in putting my ego aside each day and consciously living from my heart. By opening my heart to the world, I grow closer to the goal available to us all—unconditional love.

 

Disorder is so prevalent in our time. Reordering ourselves toward unconditional love is our primary work. I pray we each search our hearts and become aware of the next step to take toward loving unconditionally.

 

I invite you to share your insights on what stepping-stones you have discovered on the path toward unconditional love. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Complicity

The Mystery within...
Admitting I have been part of the problem in the racial unrest of our time has been an eye and heart opening experience for me. 

I was born on Milwaukee’s Polish south side in the early 1940s. My grandparents’ parents emigrated from Poland. My father was a lawyer, my mother a homemaker. I was unaware of my white privilege, but remember my father’s deep offense with Polish jokes. 

I had an early childhood picture book, Little Black Sambo, that made me aware there were people with a skin color different than mine. I learned to count to ten to a song’s lyrics, “One little, two littIe, three little Indians…” and then backwards from ten until there were “no little Indian boys.” I loved Walt Disney’s movie, “The Song of the South”. I saw the movie’s black protagonist, Uncle Remus, befriending the white seven-year-old Johnny visiting his grandmother’s plantation, for the good that it was.  I was oblivious to the subtle nuance that Johnny’s grandmother’s slaves were content with their lot in life. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, the movie’s song, and Uncle Remus’ parables surrounding the antics of brothers Rabbit, Fox and Bear were precious. And when I went to school, history lessons of America’s founding only depicted brave explorers and happy Thanksgivings.

Fast forward to the early sixties. I was newly married, and sympathetic to Martin Luther King’s nonviolent struggle for equality. But the truth is I was more concerned about my own immediate life. After the birth of our first child, we built a modest home of our own on Milwaukee’s south side. Of the lots we looked at we chose the most expensive one because it was within walking distance of both a grade school and a middle school. 

The assassinations of President Kennedy, 1963; Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, 1968; combined with the violent 1967 riots in Milwaukee’s inner city, made for very scary times. Then came a plan to bus children across town to integrate Milwaukee’s schools. I could not believe putting my then seven-year-old son on a bus across town to be a solution to hundreds of years of discrimination and violence. And maybe it would have been the only way to eventually end segregation and poverty.

My husband and I borrowed money from both of our parents, sold our Milwaukee home, and built another house in Grafton, WI within walking distance of a grade school and middle school. We were part of the white flight to the suburbs that exacerbated the plight of Milwaukee’s poor.  

Three years later, in 1975, my husband died. I became the sole breadwinner. I pieced together before and after school care for my three children and returned to my former work life with the USDA Forest Service in Milwaukee, commuting daily from Grafton. 

The USDA Forest Service, of all Federal agencies, had the fewest minorities and women in their workforce. To comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Forest Service developed Upward Mobility Training programs to provide women and minorities qualifying experience for advancement. I was in the right workplace at the right time, albeit a challenging one. I began as a Clerk-typist, then advanced to Human Resource Assistant, Human Resource Specialist, and retired as a Public Affairs Specialist. 

Political conservatives saw the Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission it established, as a violation of their belief that fewer government policies would create a strong economy and produce gains that would benefit the historically disadvantaged. I personally know that to be seriously flawed thinking.

I have come to know facing my own vulnerability and complicity to be very freeing. Only then can I find compassion for myself and know compassion toward all others. Only then can I appreciate the late John Lewis’ invitation to be “good trouble, necessary trouble.”  

America will only become great when we all share the role of Good Samaritan to those who need quality health care and education, living wages, adequate housing, safe drinking water, and compassionate care for the incarcerated. What if we each asked to be shown ways to contribute to those ends?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Virtue in Government

The Mystery within...
As is my usual practice after dinner, I had my television tuned to a PBS station while cleaning up the kitchen. A documentary on China’s long history was playing. A word attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, regarding successful government, caught my attention. The word was virtue. So when my dishwasher started humming, I went to my computer and goggled Confucius and virtue. An October 2010 Los Angeles Times article by Daniel K. Gardner, East Asian history professor, came up.

I encourage you to check out Gardner’s article for yourself, which got me thinking about some of the more graced teaching in my life relating to virtue in the Eight Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount that you can find on Wikipedia. It is the invitation to be blessed in life through humility, mourning, gentleness, hungering and thirsting for justice, being merciful, having a clean heart, working for peace, and enduring persecution because of a thirst for justice. 

A few days later this quote from Confucius found me, “When walking in the company of two other men [I’ll include women] I am bound to be able to learn from them. The good points of the one I copy; the bad points of the other I correct in myself.”  

There are no perfect people or governments but people and governments can strive to be virtuous. Unbridled capitalism and a ‘me first’ attitude is desensitizing us to the cry of the earth, and the needs of the poor, hungry and sick. 

This worldwide pandemic can be the wakeup call for us to understand how intricately we are connected to one another and the fragility of Mother Earth. It can prompt us to understand we are designed to be here for one another and to protect the environment. 

There are minds and hearts out there that desire a virtuous government. Support them; encourage them; vote for them. 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Transformative Trouble


The Mystery within...
I hope we never go back to the way things were after this global pandemic ends.

I want the compassion I feel for “essential workers” at the low end of the wage scale to be felt by those who can make a positive difference in their wages and work environment.

I want everyone, everywhere to have clean water, air and wholesome food and that we all contribute something to that end.

I want us all to understand nature’s beauty and delicate balance to lead us to consider what is necessary for our life and reduce what is frivolous.

I want everyone to have a hot shower and a warm bed to crawl into at night.

I want anger or indifference (mine and that of others) to be transformed into work for peace and harmony knowing how intricately everyone and everything is connected.

I want this pandemic to be an eye opening and heart opening experience for us all.

Life is paradoxical. Adversity mutates and evolves. There are so many critical issues of social justice at stake in our world, our country, and our local communities that beg us to stop and reflect on the needs of others and Mother Earth.

What do you want to evolve from this pandemic?  

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