Saturday, December 11, 2021

More Than Our Trauma: Healing-Centered Social Change

        For all the effort we put into social change, and all the discouragement we feel with how slow that change often is, sometimes I am amazed at how quickly and how much change is actually happening. And I don’t just mean in all the horrible, unjust ways. I’ll take it as a given that humans will continue to think up horrible ways to hurt one another and destroy the planet; that is disappointing and egregious, but it isn’t surprising. What continually brings me unexpected wonder is that so many of us keep figuring out ways to heal and grow. I feel a lot of joy that, when it would be so easy to give up, a significant number of human beings insist that there is another way, cropping up again and again throughout history and across cultures. People keep finding ways to insist on justice and compassion, using whatever tools are available. It is one of the most hopeful and fascinating things I can observe about humanity. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Gratitude is a Practice

Thanksgiving is a conflicted holiday for many of us. Despite the sacred civic myth that has grown up around it, Thanksgiving as the USA has come to celebrate it has roots in colonial violence and hides a much more complicated history. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/thanksgiving-myth-and-what-we-should-be-teaching-kids-180973655/ )  But in 1863, Abraham Lincoln was not as interested in historical accuracy, or in reckoning with the nation’s colonial violence, as he was in creating a unifying national holiday amid the terrors of the American Civil War. Over the centuries, our collective avoidance has perpetuated a lot of harm that we are hopefully beginning to address. There are, after all, good reasons why many Native communities call it “Thanks-taking.” 

  The conflict comes when people (not me) have fond memories of Thanksgiving and genuinely enjoy the traditions and gatherings. Having just passed through another year of civic myths, televised parades, football games, and comprehensive coverage of Black Friday sales, it’s probably a good moment to reconnect with that kernel of goodness in Thanksgiving. That is, gratitude is truly essential to our health, both personally and socially, and practicing gratitude is something we can all do to make life better for ourselves, others, and the earth. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

We Take Our Space in the World: Transgender Day of Remembrance

I offered a guided meditation at the close of our local Transgender Day of Remembrance as a practice to help us get in touch with our bodies and feelings; reconnect with our community and aspirations; and recommit to working together to create a world where justice, equity, and joy are the norms. 

Listening to these names and getting glimpses of the vibrant lives our trans siblings have lived, we realize the loss our communities have experienced and the deep pain that so many of us carry every day. Let’s pause to recognize and honor our feelings in this moment, whether it is grief, anger, fear, despair, hope, a mix of all this at once, or something else. 

(Bell)

Each time we gather like this, we can’t help but remember the world we live in. It is a world that makes it very clear that we are misunderstood and unwelcome. We have named that violence tonight, and we also recognize the violence that so often excludes our transgender and gender expansive siblings from families, jobs, housing, medical care, educational opportunities, and citizenship. We especially remember the harm inflicted on members of our trans family that are Black, Brown, and Indigenous, who also suffer the injustices of racism in all its forms. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

“Almost All of the Land in the World is Claimed”

Necoclí is a small town on Columbia’s Caribbean coast, known mostly for, as one travel headline put it, “Crabs, coconuts and volcano swimming.” When Tom Heyden wrote that column in 2011, he could focus on how “the town’s charm relies on its surrounding natural beauty, which provides visitors with the opportunity to relax and soak up the sun.” His descriptions include gorging “yourself on sweet, juicy mangos,” crabbing, and walking to the local volcano, where you can jump “straight into the murky, muddy crater of the volcano. … The feeling is truly bizarre as you half-float, half-sink in the midst of this active volcano, toying with the squelchy, infirm floor beneath you.” (https://colombiareports.com/Necoclí-crabs-coconuts-and-volcano-swimming/ )

“No Choice But to Keep On Going”

It sounds idyllic and delightful, and I very much wished that this was all we could say about the lovely town of Necoclí. But I would guess that, if you have heard of Necoclí at all, it is not because of the juicy mangos or volcano swimming. Beyond sunny beaches perfect for napping in a hammock, the roads that take you there also take you as close as you can get to Panama, where refugees seeking asylum in the USA must cross a dangerous stretch of jungle known as the Darién Gap.  

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween, a Holiday of Acceptance and Possibility

    Today is my favorite American holiday. It might have something to do with Autumn, enjoying the dip in temperatures without the worry of an ice storm, the steam on a mug of hot tea on the patio in the early morning, the vibrant purple of the asters against the golds and reds of the changing Maple leaves, and the simmering pot of soup on the stove. Halloween itself is pure revelry in the human condition. We return to make believe and fantasy. We face human mortality, look the skeleton in its eye socket, and make friends (or at least shake hands) with our own impermanence. We know the world is full of scary monsters, and Halloween is when we get to openly, if not playfully, be honest about our anxieties and fears, whether inside or outside of ourselves. And it’s never more true than when it comes to our own selves. We open the lid on what we are, or what we might be, with fear, excitement, or both. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Before I begin, a brief word about terminology may be useful. There is no universally agreed-upon phrase to refer to what we alternatively call domestic violence, intimate partner violence, gender-based violence, and family violence. Often, these phrases are based in a specific discipline and reflect that discipline’s approach. Moreover, definitions may categorize different kinds of violence, such as physical, sexual, emotional, financial, and social. There are also legal categories and definitions, such as battery, assault, and homicide. Then there is the question of who is included, since domestic violence can involve parents, children, lovers, ex-es, and extended family. Its affects can range from mild to severe, from temporary trauma to death. Whatever this violence is called, its effects are pervasive and destructive. And our personal and social well-being cannot be separated from bringing domestic violence to an end. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

"We Are Enough"

“How amazingly unlikely is your birth”

Attempts to calculate the improbability, or the inevitability, of any particular human life surface every so often. A decade ago, in 2011, Dr. Ali Binazir posted an entry on the Harvard weblog that became a bit of a rage. It was a thought experiment that assigned probabilities to key moments leading to your existence: your parents meeting, getting pregnant, getting pregnant with the particular egg and sperm that led to your particular genetic makeup, and, working backwards,  that happening with each set of your ancestors. His conclusion was that the probability of any one person existing is something like 1 in (10)x(2,685,000). For everyone who replied that the probability of existence for something that actually exists is 1, Dr. Binazir emphasized that –

Sunday, September 12, 2021

“One is called to live nonviolently..."

    Twenty years ago, Holly and I were living in the woods. I had left my position at a university in 2000 because we wanted to live close to the land, and we had some friends with property where we could all learn together. We were young, and we were enthusiastic and optimistic, though not so much about society in general as confident in ourselves. We believed we could help change the world, with our bookshelves full of Foxfire anthologies, Back to Basics, The Encyclopedia of Country Living, and essays by folks like Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Aldo Leopold. This wasn’t a complete leap of faith; all of us came from families where we grew up with some combination of gardening, camping, backpacking, building, or farming. We weren’t against technological innovations, but we were trying to be intentional about our lives and livelihoods. We wrote poetry, painted landscapes, and hosted literature-themed dinners. There were some hardships and frustrations, but, looking back, it was idyllic.

On September 11, 2001, we were working on the cabin. I was in the front yard, prepping lumber for a window repair. We got a call to turn on the news, that the US had been attacked. We spent the rest of the day listening to NPR on a little battery powered radio. The news did not slow down over the weeks and months ahead. Congress authorized US forces to be used in response to the 9/11 attacks on September 18. By October 7, the United States and United Kingdom invaded Afghanistan in an operation they named Enduring Freedom. 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

A Shattered Vision: Residential Schools, Forced Assimilation, and Shifting our Collective Consciousness

          It’s not a secret that I love studying history; I believe it is a vital discipline for understanding and transforming the world. And as shocking and terrifying as human cruelty has been throughout recorded history, it’s also heartening to observe, time and time again, the movements opposing oppression that have always existed. This is also important to remember if you are tempted to excuse the complicity of people in the past by insisting that they were just products of their time. By studying history, we also become more aware of our own responsibilities and possibilities in the present.


A Legacy of Failure, Cruelty, and War

One of these important historical moments in US history, when there were multiple and large movements to either oppose or work for social justice, followed the American Civil War. Optimism that Reconstruction would bring about true and lasting healing and change in a nation ravaged and traumatized by the horrors of slavery and war, combined with optimism that there could be a change in the government’s policies regarding Native peoples. President Ulysses S. Grant and the events that took place in his administration are a good example of these trends.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Shedding Light on Residential Schools (Part 1)

          Last May, we learned that “the remains of 215 children” were found near Kamloops in southern British Columbia, victims of the system of residential boarding schools. In June, 751 more unmarked graves were “found near the former Marieval Indian Residential School” and, one week later, “the remains of an additional 182 people” were found near “the former St Eugene's Mission School.” In July, 160 “undocumented and unmarked graves" were discovered “near the former site of the Kuper Island Industrial School.”  (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57325653 ) These kinds of schools were sponsored by the governments of both Canada and the United States and on July 14 in the US, a solemn procession of hundreds of cars accompanied the “disinterred remains of nine Native American children who died more than a century ago while attending a government-run school in Pennsylvania” back “to Rosebud Sioux tribal lands in South Dakota”.  ( https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/07/15/native-american-childrens-remains-returned-home-army-cemetery/7977437002/ ) 

Monday, July 5, 2021

“A True Civic Education”: 1619, 1776, and the Practice of Freedom

          Growing up in the 1980s, July 4th was the All-American holiday and family affair. We had a barbeque, drank strawberry soda (because it is red!), played baseball at the schoolyard, cranked out homemade ice cream, danced in the water sprinkler, took turns standing (sometimes with shoving) in front of the box fan to cool off, and shot off fireworks as the long daylight finally faded into darkness. There were some vague ideas about history, but July 4th was never really about history. It was more of a feeling, and more than the feeling of eating too many hot dogs and potato chips. We were meant to feel proud about our nation, which popular belief assured us was the best nation on the planet, without ever providing any actual reasoning for the conclusion. Why were we the best? Because we just were. We had the best military, the best democracy, the best food, the best athletes, the best entertainers, the best everything. And if someone didn’t believe it was true, then they didn’t deserve to be here. Because the USA was for the best people in the world, and loving the USA uncritically proved you were worthy – you were part of the elite and wonderful nation of being the best and shared in its best-ness.  

“Even If It’s Painful”

          This kind of upbringing felt ubiquitous here in the Ozarks, and I suspect it is one of the most important reasons for why there is such outrage over the 1619 Project. 1619 was the year the first enslaved Africans were brought to the Virginia colony, and the Project makes the point of reframing US history from a perspective that does not ignore the role and reality of slavery, or the impacts and contributions of Black Americans. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Racial Wealth Gap and Supporting Black-Owned Businesses

    Earlier this year, a reader suggested we share an "article with links to more than 150 Black-owned businesses" and pointed out that - 

"The events of last summer (BLM protests and COVID-19) saw many people rally to support Black-owned businesses. Sadly, since summer ended, people forgot to keep sharing and supporting these businesses."

    I appreciated Emma sharing this. Last March, ProPublica published an article about "How the Pandemic Economy Could Wipe Out a Generation of Black-Owned Businesses" by Lydia DePillis, which points out the real and ongoing impacts of racial and economic injustice on Black entrepeneurs.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Getting Free: Reflections on Religious Abuse and Trauma

CW: abuse and trauma, including: religious and spiritual abuse; racism and racial violence; and sexual and child abuse. 

My Own Path

          Several years ago, I was in a small group at an ecumenical Franciscan retreat. We were sharing about our personal journeys, grieving the difficult and celebrating the beautiful ways our lives had unfolded.  It happened that I was the only person in the group that grew up in a conservative church, and so, when my turn came around, they had questions. It is not a conversation I have often, but it wasn’t uncomfortable, and I shared freely. It was only about halfway through their questions that I realized that the group had become increasingly quiet, and that some of their jaws had almost reached the floor. I was confused, because I was not sharing anything unusual for people who grew up in my religious community. I knew I was not sharing happy stories, but I didn’t expect them to be shocking. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Our Whole Selves: May Day, Mutual Aid, and Community

           Yesterday, we paused to celebrate International Workers’ Day. It commemorates when, on May 1, 1886, “more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history.”  (https://archive.iww.org/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday/ )

    It is difficult to overestimate the importance of workers and the labor movement, not just in our economy, but in our communities. The eight hour workday changed not just our factories and offices, but also our homes and free time.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Dismantling Supremacy, Claiming Liberation

 “What He Had Been Trained to Do”

           This week, we witnessed the opening days of the trial of Derek Chauvin, and I’ve been asking myself: what does it mean to work for justice in the shadow of the United States’ history of police violence, White supremacy, and systemic injustice? We have felt anew our grief and outrage for the murder of George Floyd, even while we are reminded again that we live in a society where many people refuse to concede that a person in authority can abuse power. They refuse to agree that all people, including law enforcement officers, should be responsible for their actions. In their minds, all police violence is justified, especially if the officer felt fear for their life – and especially, to put it plainly, if the victim of police violence is not White, and especially if the victim of police violence is Black or Indigenous.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

"We Can Get There"

           A Franciscan sent me a little booklet in the mail last week – “The Salvation of Zachary Baumkletterer” by George Mavrodes and printed by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in 1976. In its brief 31 pages, we learn about how Zachary, our mild-mannered hero, becomes convinced that the most responsible course of action he could take to oppose global poverty and injustice is to model his lifestyle as closely as possible to the conditions of the very poor: owning only one set of clothes, for example, and eating a starvation diet. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t acceptable at all in his comfortable, middle class professional circles of society.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Beyond Toxic Propaganda: Education, Memory, and a Better Future

I originally offered these reflections on February 6, 2021 for a podcast of the Community Christian Church. They are lightly edited. 

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Wisdom Lesson: 

“If it is love that you truly desire then set out at once on the task of Seeing. This requires calling things by their name, no matter how painful the discovery and the consequences. If you achieve this kind of honest awareness of the other and yourself, you are likely to experience terror. Think of the terror that comes to a rich man when he sets out to really see the pitiful condition of the poor, to a power-hungry dictator when he really looks at the plight of the people he oppresses, to a fanatic, a bigot, when he really sees the falsehood of his convictions when they do not fit the facts… That is why the most painful act the human being can perform, the act that he dreads the most is the act of seeing. It is in that act of seeing that love is born, or rather more accurately, that act of seeing is Love.”              -Anthony de Mello, The Way to Love