Social Justice

30 Days of Love: From Pinterest With Love

I have been recovering for the past twelve months from a freak accident, falling out of a second story loft. It has been difficult to write at all. I am so grateful that I finished seminary before the accident. That does not mean that I have been off of social media completely. My favorite, Twitter, has been hit and miss, at best. I used to read upwards of 20-30 news articles a day, and tweet links to them. I am now on twitter a tiny fraction of the time. There has been an upside to being forced to slow down. This past year, Pinterest taught me that I am a visual person. Through Pinterest, I can curate what amounts to a love letter of pictures, stories, and videos.

There are two pictures that informed my “pinning” from very early on. The first is of a young woman with a sign that reads, “I need inclusive intersectional feminism because I had to scroll through five pages to see the face of another woman of color.” Five pages. Coming from my own social location of a queer, multicultural, feminist, Unitarian Universalist, her point struck me. A feminist board, “Feminism/Inspiring Strong Women,” on Pinterest followed. Those pins focus on why feminism is necessary, show women heroes, role models, and those who never got credit in their lifetime.

The second picture is of a young trans individual whose sign reads, “I need feminism if it will fight for trans people and women of color.” This is another valid criticism of feminism. The trans community is shut out of many women’s events, and even discussions.  The pins on my board, “Queer Inspiration and Affirmation,” are multicultural. As a cis lesbian, I cannot heal the divide between straight women, lesbians and trans women. That work needs to be done face to face. I can, however, make a place that mirrors those of us not from the dominant culture, rather than a window looking in as most boards are.

There is one last picture that I saw recently that inspired one more board. The picture frames a just married lesbian couple jumping in the air.  I had been collecting pictures of just married lesbians on an invisible board. The joy in their faces was so infectious that I created “Brides x2," for all those who had to wait to have their relationships acknowledged by society.

The three boards are love letters to those women who do not fit the dominant cultural expectations of their time, today or yesterday. They are smart, adventurous, brave, strong, and beautiful for being themselves.

Two Lovely Brides

The P-word: What's Your Excuse?

What's Your Excuse?

A few weeks ago, stories started popping up on my feed about a fitness buff, Maria Kang, who'd posted the pic (to the right) on her facebook page, which elicited angry comments from women who felt that Ms. Kang's "in-your-face" question was demeaning to women who did not look like her. Let me state up front right now that (aside from us both being Asian) I do not look anything like Maria Kang, and I don't have children as an "excuse."  Nevertheless, I didn't care about the story one way or another.  She neither hurt my feelings nor did she goad me into hitting the gym three times a week.  Days passed and I saw more women posting things critical of her, and I still did not comment. But then I saw this story, On Maria Kang, Fitsperation, and The Problem With Fitness Privilege, and yeah, I just had to respond.  Because the author had used the P-word.

Of course, almost any kind of success comes with a certain amount of privilege.  I agree.  Those of us who can boast advanced degrees or successful carreers or recognition for some kind of achievement or another, usually came from upbringings that allow access to the resources that facilitate such successes.  Even in the rare cases of people who started with no wealth and access and got to the top by talent, if you think about it from the Buddhist perspective, it's a fluke that we have whatever talents that we have - we could just as easily have been born without them.  So that too is a kind of privilege in that it's not something that was "earned." 

So I'm not disagreeing with women who say that there was privilege involved in Ms. Kang's fitness success.  My question is: Had she been bragging about some other kind of success, a profitable real estate business, a degree in physical chemistry, an invention of some semi-needed gadget, would the reaction have been as angry as it has been?  There would have been just the same amount of privilege involved regardless of the type of success, but would folks have felt the need to point that out?

My guess is no.  Because her sucess as a real estate agent doesn't make you feel bad if you're not a successful real estate agent and you don't want to be.  It's only because the critics on some level wish they could look like her that they accuse her of lording it over them. 

I don't look anything like Maria Kang, and I don't have children as an "excuse."  But I don't need an "excuse."  It isn't that I lack the resources to get into better shape.  It's that out of the resources at my disposal, I have different priorities. I can see that she spends hours a day maintaining her body and in the number of hours a day that I have, there are other things that take a much higher priority. However, I don't see the point in being offended by her pride in her fit body. She had a goal to maintain her fitness. She devoted time and energy in pursuit of that goal and has achieved it. Good for her!  I have different goals, some of which I've achieved, others not (yet).  I feel bad about the goals I have that I've not achieved yet due to my not putting sufficient effort into them.  But I don't feel bad about not having achieved goals that weren't a priority in the first place. 

More importantly...

When we talk of privilege we need to be moderate in our use of that word lest it come to mean nothing.  There is a difference between the privilege that gives you access to the resources to help you succeed at whatever you set out to do, and "privilege" being thrown as a weapon against someone who has succeeded at something.  When people blame others for the latter's marginalization, and especially when they try to shape public policy around denying access to resources that can help folks get out of the margins, then we need to talk about privilege.  But when folks are bragging about their success in something, anything, us talking about "privilege" just makes us sound bitter.  (Especially when that talk of "privilege" is coming from fellow middle-class folks.)  Privilege isn't something that only occurs when we don't like what the other person has achieved.  If we use the word in what way, we cheapen it to mean nothing more than spite and envy.  A little mudita (happiness for the success of others) is in order.  Be happy for Ms. Kang's success, decide what you want to be successful in (with whatever amount of privilege you do or do not have) and go for it.

Economic Justice and Moral Injury

Author: 
Suzi Spangenberg

By Suzi Spangenberg

Delivered at The Church of the Fellowship for All Peoples (Fellowship Church), San Francisco, CA

On May 26th, 2013

 

The screaming. 
That's what shook me. 
The fear and terror held in those screams. 
And then the images. 
People panicking...Running...Trampling each other. 

Children separated from parents,
being pushed down...as adults,
stepping on whoever was in the way,
stretched out their arms and flung themselves forward...
not to help their children, but in an attempt to grab hold of what they believed would bring them some happiness.

As I recently re-watched the many videos which depicted the  violence that happened inside Walmart stores across the nation during last November's Black Friday sales, I was stunned that so many people were willing to camp out overnight and then get violent, trading their souls for cheap material goods. 

People who chose to ignore the Walmart workers - bravely standing outside the stores protesting for a fair living wage -  workers they had to pass in order to get inside to begin their feeding frenzy.

Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the Federal
 government, yet the majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line.

"Buy American" banners are prominently placed throughout its stores; however, the majority of its goods are made outside the U.S. and often in sweatshops such as the one that recently collapsed in Bangladesh that resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people.

Walmart has the largest percentage of workers on food stamps and medicaid of any other company in the United States. Workers cannot survive on the wages they are paid and so must rely on government aid to survive.

And while it's easy to point a finger at Walmart, the fact is, their business model is emulated and held up as a success by Wall Street. 

When did we begin to care more about stuff and less about people? 
When did greed become not only acceptable, but celebrated? 
Is this really who we are? 
What are the root causes of that emptiness? 



Theologian Howard Thurman states: "The need for love is so related to the structure of the personality that when this need is not met,
the personality is stunted
and pushed or twisted out of shape."  

I believe many of us have forgotten our interconnectedness and that the absence of love, of deep relationship, creates a void that a person instinctively tries to fill.  

As we feel less and less connected to one another, we feel more and more alone.  That emptiness, that aloneness, that need for love is what we are trying to eliminate with material things, which we hope will mask the pain of feeling this deepest kind of loneliness.  

Something is acquired, a person has feelings of momentary happiness, and then, like a drug, when those feelings wear off, there is a need to go out and get more to feel the same way again. 

People, other people,
are mere obstacles in the way of temporarily easing this empty, yet very deep need.  Unfortunately, the one thing that can fill the hole,
love,
which illuminates our interconnection,
is not something that can be bought. 

I've been thinking about other people who have struggled with feelings of being disconnected. 

Specifically, I've especially been thinking about my dad... a lot.  He was a member of the 10th Mountain Division ski troops during WWII.
He was one of the very few in his regiment to come home alive.
He returned highly decorated with a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a broken soul. He became a life long advocate for peace.

He also never spoke about his experiences during the war.

He'd tell funny stories about training at Camp Hale, located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. 
How the men, already elite skiers,
were taught mountain climbing and snow survival skills.
How they burned so many calories during training that they were each given half a pie for dessert.
They were also given free cigarettes and since my father didn't smoke, he'd trade his for more pie.

He said one night he ate 3 whole pies and he was still hungry. I believe it.

One of the few photographs I have of him from that time shows a very handsome, lean man standing on the side of a snow covered mountain with his wooden skis slung over one shoulder. He was smiling widely and looked relaxed and carefree. The photograph was made at Camp Hale before he shipped out.

Once these men arrived in Northern Italy, they did things I have difficulty imagining.
Scaling the 2,000 foot tall vertical sides of Riva Ridge in the Apennines mountains in the darkest part of night with no light to guide them,
all while carrying 85 pound packs, skis, and guns with only strap on metal crampons attached to their boots.

I learned that from an old 10th Mountain Division newsletter. I didn't learn it from my dad because my dad couldn't talk about the war.

Once, when I told him I was going to an anti-war protest in 2003 prior to the beginning of the Iraq War, he quietly said - "that's a really good thing you all are doing. If only everyone understood that war is the hardest on women and children..." his voice trailed off and when I asked what he meant - he quickly changed the subject.

The men of WWII were in a tough place when they came home. They were heroes of "the Good War" and culturally conditioned not to talk about feelings.
So they kept them inside.
They didn't talk about PTSD then. There wasn't a lot of information available about coping with the horrors of war when they returned home.

So they stayed silent and in my father's case, busy. He threw himself into his work and his hobbies. He didn't allow himself time to reflect or remember.  By the time he met my mom, he had gotten pretty good at doing the things that society said a man must do. He had a good job. He drove a nice car. He even got his pilot's license.

He also came home from the war with a temper and you never knew what would set it off.

He was obsessive about security when we were home alone without him. He installed many locks and would get very upset if he came home and discovered we had missed one. I remember one time I overheard him yell at my mom "You don't have any idea what they could do to you and Suzi do you?!?"

I didn't really know what he meant, but it scared me - I could tell whatever it was, it was very bad.

I knew something was wrong with my dad, I just never really knew what it was.

Now I do.

My dad was suffering from moral injury.

What is moral injury? Dr. Gabriella Lettini and Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, authors of the recently released book "Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War" define moral injury as "a negative self-judgment based on having transgressed core moral beliefs and values or on feeling betrayed by authorities. It is reflected in the destruction of a moral identity and loss of meaning. Its symptoms may include shame, survivor guilt, depression, despair, addiction, distrust, anger, a need to make amends and the loss of a desire to live."

My father, like many men who came home from WWII, didn't talk to anyone. His unrecognized injury destroyed my parent's marriage.
They divorced when I was 4.

When I was 6, my father married my beloved step-mom Cynthia. For the first time in my life, I saw glimpses of the man my dad must have been before the war. They were never apart from the time they got married until her death many years later. Even so, with the exception of Cynthia, he was still emotionally distant and even though we would do things together, I always felt like there was a barrier between my dad and the rest of the world.

Decades later, when Cynthia was in hospice, we were able to share many deep conversations.

One day I finally got up the courage to ask her about my dad- why he was distant. She grew quiet and then said "First, you need to know your dad loves you very much. When we met, we were both carrying heavy burdens. We were able to share them with each other. He knows I love and see ALL of him. I know he loves and sees ALL of me." She then told me that the war had come close to completely breaking my dad and before they met, only his incredible strength of will kept him together.

After Cynthia died, my dad and I spent a lot of time together. He still didn't talk about the war.

When he was 90 I went to visit him and he suddenly started to cry. I had only seen my dad cry once before-- when Cynthia died. I just held him and he finally cried out "I'm so glad you do what you do. I wish I'd had the courage to go throw my medals in Bush's face!"
That was all he said. But it was in that moment that I realized just how much the war had cost him.

We all can count the number of people who have died as the result of war. We can also count the injured. We can calculate the many MANY dollars spent.

But I wonder if we have ever calculated all that has been lost among the living?

How many men (and now women) return with parts of them missing - invisible parts that they cannot file a claim for?

How many people like my father lose their connection with those they love and the rest of society?

How many families never get to welcome home the person that left?

Never get to see their parent care free and smiling?

These are some of the costs of moral injury. A deeper and more final cost is that many of those suffering from moral injury ultimately commit suicide.

In thinking about my dad, and the cost of moral injury of war, I have found myself returning again and again to the definition: "a negative self-judgment based on having transgressed core moral beliefs and values or on feeling betrayed by authorities." 

Is it possible that this widespread emptiness exhibited by our out of control materialism is a form of national moral injury?

We are taught that to succeed, we must put ourselves first.   Instead of helping each other so we all can do well, of coming from a place of love in our interactions with others,
we instead are taught that we must compete to be first,
to have the most,
and if we have to step over, or on, people to get there, so be it. 

We want better cars, better homes, better schools for our kids...even when we know there are people living on the street, and schools in poor neighborhoods, such as those in Chicago and Oakland, are being permanently closed.

And the more selfishly we behave, the more disconnected we become.
Deep down, we can sense this is wrong but we push those feelings aside.

We turn away from things that remind us of how far we have strayed from honoring our interconnectedness.

and as people become obstacles to "winning" or obtaining more stuff
we step right over them...or on them...
and see them as nothing more than collateral damage as we do what we need to do to fill that internal hole.

We may feel a moments triumph as we score a "great deal" at Walmart, but soon after, that internal "hole" becomes larger and we need to keep seeking more and more to fill it, causing us to become even further disconnected.

It's a horribly cycle and one that exacts a heavy price.

Vets commit suicide, and as a society, some may argue that we do as well - whether actively or passively as the stress of living in such a disconnected way takes it's toll on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I am grateful that my dad did not choose this path.
I am grateful he had moments free from anguish thanks to Cynthia's wisdom and love.

And most especially on this Memorial Day weekend,
I recognize that many do not have those anguish free moments and my heart aches for them...
and my heart aches for all the families of veterans who will never again know their loved ones without injured souls...
and for all the families who grasp for things over people,
and everyone who suffers as a result. 

So, what can we do to address this issue?  is it possible for us to even reach those in the 1%, like the CEO's of Walmart, whose decisions are negatively affecting the lives of so many? 

Is it possible to come from a place of love when experiencing people as callous and unfeeling?

I would answer, "Do we have any other choice?" 

Tich Nhat Hanh, in his book "Reconciliation" talks about the need to look deeply at those we perceive as being the cause of our suffering. 

He explains that we are interconnected, so if we hate them, we hate ourselves. 
The only solution is to expand our heart.

He also offers a healing practice that I have found, after some initial resistance and struggle, to be extraordinarily helpful.  
I recognize that this may be a challenging exercise  for some of you, so do what you can--it's a starting place.

I invite you to place yourselves in a comfortable position and as you are able, allow yourself to really focus and contemplate on his words:

<<RING BELL>>

"In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer. 

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer,

to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love. 

I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and their hearts are overloaded with pain, anger and hatred. 

I pray that they are transformed to experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer. 

I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred and anger in myself toward them. 

I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them." 

<<LONG PAUSE>>  <<RING BELL>>




My deepest hope is that we can all learn to recognize our interconnectedness...

and as we channel that love, we are able to inspire others to do the same...

that we fill that emptiness more fully and perfectly than any material thing ever could. 

May it be so.
Namaste. 
Blessed be.

If It Doesn't Get Better, Then What?

Today was National Coming Out Day, and all through the day my social media feeds were filled with references to it - some funny, some touching, and some inspiring.  But along with the stories of coming out, there were also the obligatory critiques.  (At least in progressive circles it seems like critique is always obligatory.)  In particular, there were criticisms of the "It Get's Better" campaign. 

As someone who identifies as a straight ally, my personal reactions to the "It Gets Better" campaign have run the gamut.  I found the first few videos to be extremely touching.  Then the criticisms startted coming in, raising valid points that I had not considered.  It gets better if you're cis- but not necessarily if you're trans.  It gets better if you're middle-to-upper class, but not necessarily if you're poor.  It gets better if you're white but not necessarily if you're a queer person of color.  It gets better if you're attractive, but not necessarily if you don't conform to the normative standards of attractiveness.  "It gets better" glosses over a whole lot of stuff.  The criticisms are valid, and important to make.  They opened my eyes at the time when I first heard them and I think they're still important now. 

But today, when I saw yet more critiques of "It Gets Better," I remembered something.  The campaign was created in the context of teen suicides.  LGBTQ teens commit suicide at a rate three times higher than for straight teens, and the point of the campaign was to give queer teens hope so that they could hold on.  So that they might choose to live long enough to get help, long enough to get through.  That is the reason why the campaign, with all its flaws, exists. 

So my question is, if "It Gets Better" is not the right message, then what is? 

I'm talking about this issue as it pertains to the LGBTQ community but really this is relevant to a larger issue among progressives in general.  There are any number of campaigns created by liberals trying to address important issues.  And for most all of these campaigns, there are progressives pointing out what is wrong with them.  The campaigns often don't go far enough, aren't inclusive enough, lack a systemic frame, and ultimately buy into the same mindset that we are trying to dismantle.  Oft times what is presented is a "kinder, gentler" version of something that is still at its root oppressive.  I get that.  I'm not trying to defend that.  But the question still remains, what do you tell the kids who are being bullied right now?  If it doesn't get better, then what?  What kind of hope do you offer to encourage them to hang on while at the same time working to address the systemic violence that is driving them to suicide in the first place?  After all, if we are encouring LGBTQ folks, including teens, to come out, then we are encouraging them to risk abuse. 

And on a more general level, when we offer our critiques, what postive alternatives to we also offer?

Embracing the Dangerous and Sacred

By Suzi Spangenberg

Delivered at Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Fremont, CA

On 6 May 2012

(Winner: Mission Peak Sermon Contest )

 

Indulge me here, as you are able, please stand up or if you can’t, you can also do this
from your seat.
Now streeeeetch as far as you can.
Feel that?
Now…hold it.
Take a breath, let it out and stretch a little bit further.
Not so much that it hurts.
Just so that you feel it.
Now,
Mark that feeling.
Really take heed of it.
Make sure your body really remembers it.
Ok…now go ahead and take your seats.

I want to tell about my name.  When my parents decided to marry, my dad was an atheist and my mom Catholic.  To get permission from the church to marry, my dad had to agree to raise any children they had in the Catholic Church.  My dad agreed, but only if he was allowed to name the kids.

Now my dad had a unique sense of humor.  It took several friends intervening rather forcefully to get my dad to agree not to name my brother Anthony Scott Spangenberg.  They convinced him that the initials would have set my brother up for a lifetime of pain.  So, my dad relented and named him Scott Russell.

10 years later I came along.  My dad, in his infinite wisdom decided to buck Catholic custom and not name me after a saint. To ensure that there was no mistaking his intention, he chose to spell my name S-U-Z-I.

Paragraph 2165 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: In Baptism, the Christian receives his name in the Church. Parents, godparents, and the pastor are to see that he be given a Christian name. The patron saint provides a model of charity and the assurance of his prayer.

So not naming me after a saint was no laughing matter.  Every year in Catholic School I was grilled about my name.  Every time I fill out a legal document, I am asked, “No, what’s your LEGAL name?”  One day I will have to calculate just how many hours I have spent saying “That IS my legal name!”  Thanks, Dad.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote:
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggling, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.  Beautiful people do not just happen.

When I read that quote to a friend, he said "Oh, I wish that were true because then we could all be Brad Pitt" and I replied "Or the Dalai Lama".  He just looked at me and then said "Honey - you go with the Dalai Lama...I'm sticking with Brad"

The thing is, my friend immediately identified with Kubler Ross's statement.  He recognized that the LGBTQ community has certainly experienced defeat, suffering, and loss.  I don't know any member who hasn't struggled on some level.  We know the defeat of trying over and over to secure the same civil rights as straight people in our society.  Not special rights.  Equal rights.  We have suffered when we have been separated from partners in hospitals or until recently, partners who served in the military.  And we know loss - oh how we know loss. Whether it is the loss of a friend when we start to figure out who we are, the loss of a family or job when we come out, or the more permanent losses that we experience as a result of violence or illness, loss is something that most of us know altogether too well.

Perhaps that is why there are so many beautiful people in the LGBTQ community.

Last year, in preparation for a Day of the Dead service, we were asked to bring in icons representing those we have lost.  Along with photographs, I also brought, a small address book.  Remember these?  For those of you who are younger, this is an address book.  Before cell phones we used to carry these in our pockets or purses and they contained the names and numbers of  important people in our lives.  This particular phone book is special - I got it when I first moved to Berkeley for college and used it for several years afterward.

When I started college, I was 16 and didn't know I was bi-sexual.  I just knew I was different from the other kids at my Catholic school.  I know that someone was looking out for me when an apartment opened up next door to Bill-my future best friend.  Bill took one look at me and saw through my punk rock facade.  He recognized the confused, naive, lost queer girl that I was even though I didn't recognize her myself.

Bill took me under his wing, brought me into the community and introduced me to his friends.  They snuck me into clubs so I could dance, helped me with my homework, nursed my first broken heart, and pretended to like the Thanksgiving turkey I cooked which was so dry, it could have been used for kindling.  We all learned to love and support each other. For the first time in my life, I got to experience what it was like to be truly accepted for who I was.  We were a family.

I didn't know a lot about politics then.  I started interning at a radio station and crewed with the news team as part of my internship.  When Dade County, Florida overturned a recently passed civil rights ordinance that made discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal, we covered the protest marches.  You may remember that the legislation was overturned as the result of the “Save Our Children” campaign by Florida Orange Juice spokesperson Anita Bryant.  Her involvement sparked a long boycott of Florida orange juice.  In fact, I still have trouble buying Orange Juice from Florida.

Shortly after that, CA State Senator John Briggs introduced the Briggs Amendment, which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools.  At a press conference at San Francisco City Hall he called the city a "sexual garbage heap" because of “homosexuals”.  A week later, a gay man named Robert Hillsborough died from 15 stab wounds while his attackers gathered around him and chanted "Faggot!" Both San Francisco Mayor Moscone and Hillsborough's mother blamed Anita Bryant and John Briggs.

The response was immediate and strong.  Weeks later, 250,000 people attended the 1977 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, the largest attendance at any Gay Pride event to that point.  Shortly after that, Harvey Milk was sworn in as a San Francisco City Supervisor - the first openly gay man in the United States to win an election for public office.  What is important to note is that Milk, who won by a landslide, did not focus solely on gay causes.  He advocated for larger and less expensive childcare facilities, free public transportation, and the development of a board of civilians to oversee the police. He opposed the closing of an elementary school-- even though most gay people in the Castro did not have children.  He advanced important neighborhood issues at every opportunity.  He recognized that we ALL needed representing.

When Supervisor Dan White murdered Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, we covered the press conference when then supervisor Dianne Feinstein made the announcement.  I will never forget the sight of normally hardened reporters in tears.  I called my friends -- my family--, and we all took part in a candlelight vigil march through the City.  It was my first, but by no means, my last.

Harvey Milk is in my address book.

A few years later, When LaDean got sick, we were all shocked.  He was young, ran daily, and was vegetarian even before it was cool.  He went so fast we didn't have time to process it.  One day he had the flu, the next he was in the hospital with pneumonia, 3 days later he was dead.  We grieved together, never realizing that LaDean was just the beginning.

Suddenly, men in the community, my family, were dying.  My family and friends were dying and no one outside the community seemed to care.  Sue Hyde, from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said, "An entire political movement grew up around the silence of the Reagan administration. The AIDS activist movement took as its call to action 'silence equals death' because literally the silence of the Reagan administration was resulting in the deaths of thousands and thousands of gay men in our communities across the country."

Once again, it took people organizing to form a movement and demanding change before any took place.

LaDean is in my address book.
And so many more.
Every single male in this phonebook is dead.  Every single one.

The devastation of those early days of AIDS cannot be overemphasized.  Yet, as we grieved, we somehow survived.  We all found ways to do it.  Now, no one talks much about AIDS.  Medical advances have made it possible for those diagnosed with HIV to live a full life.  Yet, we can usually identify each other - those who went through this time.  It's in the eyes.  You see it in the eyes of those who have experienced loss or great struggle.

I saw those same eyes in Sonora when I spoke with a woman who months earlier had been deported with her young children and did not know where they were--ICE deported them to a separate location.  Alone.  She was afraid that they would become victims of the sex trade - the predators wait at the border for unaccompanied children.

I saw it in the eyes of Javier, a 72-year-old widower who was deported after living 71 years in the US.  He had cancer, and no means of even contacting his family to tell them where he was.  When I offered to let him use my phone he told me he didn't know their telephone numbers - they were all in his phone, which ICE had kept, along with his wallet, money, and identification.  He was afraid that stopping his medical treatment would mean that he would die without getting to see his children and grandchildren again.

And yet...they both were volunteering at a makeshift aid center --doing what they could to assist the newly deported.  They were helping others with the kind of compassion that comes from real empathy.  Their ability to practice loving kindness at a time of great loss was a profound and beautiful act.  They both expressed that they felt better when they were helping others.  By helping others, they were also helping themselves.

That interconnectedness, that is something we as UU's know well.  It is one of our principles:  As UU's we commit to affirm and promote our respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  So when a family is torn apart because of our immigration policy, the ripples stretch out and affect us all. When a queer kid is bullied to death, when a transgendered person is brutally murdered...those ripples affect everyone too.  Not just those in the community...everyone.  Because we are all connected to each other through the good and the bad.

It's that connection that compelled white UU ministers to leave the safety of their homes and congregations and answer the call of Martin Luther King, jr. in Selma to march in the Civil Rights Movement.  It is that same connection that compel straight UU's to rally for marriage equality and an end to bullying.  It is that same connection that compels us to speak out against an Immigration policy that tears apart families and destroys lives. And that connection holds true for love as well.  For every loving act we do, the ripples spread out and affect people we may never know.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said  “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”  He also said "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

Sometimes it's so difficult to know which battles to take on.  Sometimes after years of struggle we win a battle like we did for marriage equality in Maryland and after celebrating, our inclination may be to get off the activist train and take a well-deserved break.  You should!  Recharging our batteries is important and taking the time to practice good self-care is critical to any long-term movement.

However, after those batteries are recharged, it's important to get back on that train.  As long as civil rights are denied to any of us, they are denied to all of us.

I have a favorite tree that I like to sit in.  Going there is a form of meditation for me.  I like to climb up into the trees branches and look out over the Bay.  It is one of my favorite places to sit sipping a cup of coffee while I watch the sun set.  The birds’ fly around me and my cares just melt away.  I feel like I am in a sacred and safe world.  I love it.

Sacred and safe.  There is nothing wrong about sacred and safe spaces.  We need them.  We need them to balance out the challenges and realities that we face as we work to create a more just and sustainable world.  We need sacred and safe spaces.  We all do.  And it makes sense that we would want to remain in a safe space.

But what happens when we don't leave those safe spaces?  What happens when we choose the comfort of the sacred and safe over the discomfort that often arises when we actively work to counter oppression and create a just and sustainable world?

Like our muscles that become tight and then atrophy with disuse, so do our spirits.  If we do not stretch ourselves, then we become disconnected from our humanity.  Because spirit is not about closing up - it is about breaking open our hearts and minds and embracing all that life holds not just the safe and sacred but also the dangerous and sacred.

And by danger, I don't just mean the danger that comes from risking arrest for a cause you feel is just, I am also speaking of the danger that comes from opening your mind to people, ideas, painful truths, ugly realities and your own prejudices and privilege.  Because facing these things is dangerous - and probably one of the most sacred things we can do.

Each time we stretch just a little bit, it helps make it easier for the next time...by stretching just a little bit; we can accomplish things we would not have thought possible.  We very well may begin to like that feeling – of being stretched – and especially appreciate learning that we are a lot more flexible than we ever thought.  We can begin to experience interconnectedness in ways that we could not have imagined.  Our capacity for growth is boundless.

And in learning to like that feeling, I also learned what a gift my father gave me in my name.  He helped prepare me for a lifetime of stretching.  Of learning to be comfortable saying "THIS is who I am"

So by all means find your sacred and safe space.  Go there.  Re-charge.  Delight in it.  But don't reside there.  Come out of that space.  STRETCH yourselves.  Reach out.  Remember that feeling of being stretched earlier?  Reach for that feeling.  Embrace the dangerous and sacred.  And remember...to stretch yourselves - a little bit...each and every day.

Meditation on Energy

Author: 
Kat Liu

(This guided meditation was originally written for UUs observing Earth Hour, with the intent of adding a deeper, spiritual dimension to just turning off the lights for an hour.  It has been adapted here for Climate Justice Month.  In the U.S., nearly 50% of our electricity comes from burning coal.  That is why the meditation focuses on coal.)

 

We are the generation that stands
between the fires;
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
the flame and the smoke that consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
but the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different,
all of us bearing
One Spark.

- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

 

Turn on a light. 

Picture the light that you have just turned on.
Picture it connected via wiring to the other light bulbs, electrical outlets, appliances… in your home.

Follow the wiring out of your home, along the utility line, to the power lines outside.

Feel the energy that is flowing, coursing, towards your home and your light, available with the flick of a switch.
Follow the transmission lines as they run for miles.
Realize that not all of the energy traveling in those lines makes it to your home, some of it lost in friction… heat.

Follow the transmission lines…. all the way back to the power plant.

See the smoke pouring from the smokestacks.

See that the smoke consists of: carbon dioxide which causes global warming, sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metals.

See the water used to cool the power plant – thousands of gallons gushing by - heated by the burning coal and then dumped back into the water supply.

Feel how the water by the plant is warmer than water elsewhere.

Think about how that affects the plants and animals.

See the coal sludge – solid waste suspended in water to make a toxic slurry – stored precariously behind artificial dams.

Remember that these dams have broken, burying the neighboring communities in toxic sludge.

Picture people living near the power plant – who lives there? What is in their drinking water?

What is in their air? In the ground that children play on? Maybe it’s your children.

Picture the coal being delivered to the power plant. Where does it come from?

Follow the trail in your mind to Appalachia.

Picture entire mountain ranges removed in order to extract the low-grade coal below.

Picture the debris that had been mountaintops being dumped into nearby streams.

See the heavy metals and other poisons leaching out into the water supply.

See what happens when it rains and there is no top soil and vegetation to hold the water.

Hear the sound of the explosives used to blast off the mountain tops.

Picture people living here. What is in their drinking water? What is in their air? What would it be like to live there? Maybe you do live here.

Think about the coal within the mountain – how long it’s been sitting there, and how it came to be there.

Think of the plants and animals that lived 300 million years ago, their bodies first becoming peat, and then over the millennia turning to sedimentary rock… the coal that now powers your home.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the energy that will power the lights when you flip the switch in the room where you are sitting now.

Energy extracted from what used to be the lifeblood of animals living 300 million years ago.

Energy extracted from and refined in the neighborhoods of other humans living now.

Precious energy.


Closing Reading:


I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk easy on the earth.
Plant trees.
Live in harmony with all creatures, including my sisters and brothers.
I will restore the earth where I am.
Use no more of its resources than I need.
And listen, listen to what it is telling me.
(adapted from M.J. Slim Hooey’s prayer, p. 109 in Earth Prayers from Around the World)

GA 2013 Public Witness

Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 04:30

My Coming Out Story (2012)

I am coming out to love again. As most of us in the LGBTQ community know, coming out is a continual process. I first came out at the end of a short marriage to a man. I could no longer live the straight life. I was almost thirty and was deep in the abyss of depression.

The minister of the UU church and the gay and lesbian group at church were enormously supportive. With the church group I worked on the No on 22 campaign. Unfortunately, California voted to pass proposition 22, to define marriage between a man and a woman.

After a couple of years I met my beloved. We were classmates then friends and our relationship evolved into an abiding love. We entered into a domestic partnership and had a commitment ceremony in 2002. Her mother and sister attended. Mine did not, not wanting to condone my lifestyle. At the time, I was not out to my father.

In 2007, I decided to heed the call to ministry. While waiting for the following fall semester, marriage equality resurfaced. Prop 22 was struck down, allowing a window of time to legally marry. My beloved and I worked for marriage equality, I with the faith community and she with the Asian and Pacific Islander community.

The week marriage became legal, my beloved and I were in line the first day licenses were available. We were mentioned in UU World, pictured on the front page of the local paper, interviewed for another paper, and filmed for a documentary show in the Philippines. We joyously married that Saturday with our UU congregation in attendance. My mother and sister, once again, did not attend. My father, however, was happily in attendance.

The passage of proposition 8 did not nullify our marriage. The significance of that became real when my beloved had an aneurism in January of 2010. The weeks of surgery, coma, recriminations, familial homophobia, friends’ internalized homophobia, and need for blame landed squarely on me, especially when I made the impossibly difficult decision to take her off life support after hesitating in fear of her family. Three major strokes after an aneurism had to be enough. The loss was devastating.

***

This past month I have started a ministry for LGBTQ folks in Los Angeles, starting small with a twitter feed and a meet-up, to honor her, and the relationship we had. There needs to be a safe place for people to go when something so devastating happens and other LGBTQ people will understand as the regular church may not be able to. Conversely, the LGBTQ community can come together with the regular church community in celebration.

So I am coming out to love again. I have begun to trust that love is possible with a wonderful woman I began dating this summer. I am honoring my beloved with a ministry to bring together the LGBTQ folks in LA to get to know one another, and build community.

The Wisconsin Tragedy

My first meeting with a Sikh profoundly changed my life for the better. I was new to the city, and he was the first person that I had met wearing a turban and an elaborate curved dagger. We were both volunteering at an event for the homeless and struck up a conversation.

I admired his knife, or kirpan, but also thought it strange that he could carry a sheathed dagger on his person, in full view. I had moved from Arizona, where guns were the norm, but knives were unseen. He then told me of its significance. 

He told me that he would fight to the death for my religious freedom. Mine. He would fight for the religious freedom of every person at that carwash. I learned later that a person carrying that dagger will fight to the death on behalf of any oppressed person. The caveat caught me up short. The dagger is used only after every peaceful means has been exhausted. The pacifist in me was honored to have met him. 

I left that carwash with the determination that I, too, would fight for freedom of religious expression, if only through peaceful means. It was not until reading Frantz Fanon more than a decade later, in seminary no less, that I could understand that sometimes, in some cases, violence is justified. 

I mourned in the days following 9/11 for the Sikh man, Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was shot to death in Arizona because the turban he wore. There is no doubt in my mind that it was a hate crime. The European American male killer mistook him for a Muslim. 

I mourn, too, for the members of the Wisconsin temple who were shot, and their friends and loved ones. Again, a dominant culture, European American, male has used an indiscriminate high-powered weapon manufactured for maximum lethality against fellow human beings. 

A kirpan is no match for an automatic weapon. Would it have made a difference if the killer knew that Sikhs value religious freedom as much, if not more, than other human beings living here in these United States? I think not. Intolerance has become more blatant, and normalized, as evidenced by the incendiary voices given airtime in the mainstream media. A culture of intolerance that has been allowed to flourish makes the deaths in Wisconsin all the more tragic.

Mother's Day Proclamation

Author: 
Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

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