Being a Guest House

Here is something I wrote yesterday:
Our grief should place us onto a similar plane of understanding. Stories of Black youth being held at gunpoint and endangered by police officers who were called to protect those particular lives are not a competition with the story of a White child who was murdered. The murder or mistreatment of a child is a terrible thing no matter their race or circumstance.

Our horrors and griefs should be taking us to the same well, where we can hold each other’s stories, feel each other’s pain, and know we are walking the same valleys.

Saying Black Lives Matter is not meant to compete with or demean your very real grief about the horror stories you hear. It’s not intended to politicize the lives of those who have died. It’s intended to shake us up and wake us up to the continuing grief of Black families, to hold in reverence the lives that have been taken simply because of someone’s race.

I see you asking, “Can’t we grieve him too?” Of course we can. Of course we should. Our hearts are meant to break open with such pain. But asking that question as a response to someone expressing their grief over one more senselessly lost or threatened Black life is politicizing both deaths.

Take a deep breath. Feel your feelings. Weep with those who mourn.


Something I notice about people in these months of pandemic is that we seem to be experiencing, as they say, All The Feels. I think we’re more vulnerable to sad stories, to outrage, to anxiety, and this makes us vulnerable to trolls, to bots, to conspiracy theories. For me, living in that fluttery place of reactivity to emotion is not healthy or sustainable, and it makes me much more susceptible to suggestion that doesn’t require thinking. Denying those fluttery emotions doesn’t help either. They’re there, and they’re going to affect me. I need to lean into them, to give them their space, ask them–like ghosts that haunt a house–what they need of me in this moment. I need to name them as they appear.

This poem, by Jalaluddin Rumi, translated into English by Coleman Barks, helps:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


“I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.

“If, underneath that fundamental search is something that’s broken — I call them potholes — is there abuse or trauma or mental illness or addiction? … [T]here are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, they tend to search for very simple black and white answers.” ―Christian Picciolini, former skinhead


“Nazis are a lot like cats: If they like you, it’s probably because you’re feeding them.” ―John Oliver


“Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons…
We who believe in freedom cannot rest,
we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
―Sweet Honey in the Rock


“The future, good or ill, was not forgotten,
but ceased to have any power over the present.
Health and hope grew strong in them,
and they were content with each good day as it came,
taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)


“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.”
― Linda Hogan


“Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.” ―Rabindranath Tagore


“Whoever you are,
now I place my hand upon you,
that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear.
I have loved many women and men,
but I love none better than you.”
—Walt Whitman, “To You”


“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
―Eleanor Roosevelt


“Shaped language is strangely immortal, living in a meadowy freshness outside of time.
But it also lives in the moment, in us. Emotion, intellect, and physiology are inseparably connected in the links of a poem’s sound. It is difficult to feel intimacy while shouting, to rage in a low whisper, to skip and weep at the same time.” ―Jane Hirshfield


“I have always been spiritually promiscuous, lying down with any God who will have me. When I drop down into these ancient texts, I feel the breath of the God of Love on my face. It makes me crazy. In the very best way.” —Mirabai Starr

In the Hall of Mirrors

I keep seeing the faces of that couple standing in iconic pantomime on their lawn with their guns. He has the white-man deadpan I’m-in-control thing going on on his face. Don’t tread on me, or on my precious grass. Don’t let the Black people come too close to my massive white palazzo.

Her face is a lot harder to interpret. Is it anger? Is it fear? Her mouth has the petulant cast I have seen on children who are trying to convince you of their fierceness. She seems to be play-acting, her hand on the trigger of her little chrome-plated pistol, her eyes darting around. Is she dangerous? Or comical? Or pathetic? Or tragically sad? Why am I so obsessed with figuring her out?

I think it’s because she is a caricature of a caricature of something that is also me. Her angry/pathetic/frightened stance there on her lawn is the ultimate caricature of the Karen–the entitled white woman who uses her social power and connections to white patriarchal power to raise her own personal power. She’s the semi-comic (and terribly dangerous) end result of the remora of white female attachment to the shark of white male power, drawing a sense of strength and protection from her connection to the perceived most-powerful agent in room. She calls the police. She calls the manager. She notifies security. She feels unsafe. She feels ridiculed. She feels powerless. So she pulls the strings of white patriarchy to increase her own sense of empowerment.

In Ms. McCloskey’s case, that shark was pretty indiscriminate, pointing his machine gun at her on his way to aim at the protesters he claimed were about to burn down his home and happiness. That’s a whole other issue to unpack–the Karens are really only marginally more safe than the masses they are so desperate to separate themselves from, the black and brown people they would disempower in order to increase their own social standing. The shark has its own agenda at all times and no one is safe if his power is threatened (as it is in these times of change and transformation).

I like to deny that I have any Karen in me. I don’t remember a time when #smashtheatriarchy hasn’t been my rallying cry. I want to completely destroy the power of the patriarchy–in religion, in politics, in economic systems, in governance, in relationships. I think that is necessary in order to create a just future. Still, I cannot deny that my life has been privileged by the threads that connect me to white patriarchal systems. And those systems try to demand allegiance from those who benefit at any point up and down the power structure. I may not be explicitly accepting those connections or “calling the manager,” but I benefit in myriad implicit ways simply from my perceived connections to the shark.

My work is to keep finding those threads and disconnecting them, cutting them away so they hold no power over me and my sense of belongingness and wellbeing in the world, to find ways to connect whatever threads of power are bequeathed to me by my race and culture and education to those who were bequeathed fewer of those threads but who deserve them as vitally and as certainly as I.

It’s ugly. To call myself one of them. To see that petulant set of the lips, that situating herself in the context of the patriarch’s emblems of violent maintenance of power, and say that there’s something of me in there too, in the pathetic, comic, tragic, furious face of a white woman grasping for power. Knowing that in the system she fights for, she too is expendable, that the only way she survives in the patriarchal system is to play their pantomime along with them, to do their dance.

No, of course I am not her. But yes, I am her, in some strange and twisted distant reflection. She is a caricature of a caricature of a caricature. . .that somewhere weaves very close in the tapestry to me. If I am to participate in this movement for justice for all people, for true equality, for the destruction of the white patriarchy, I need to recognize that connection and learn to face her in the hall of mirrors.

My wise and thoughtful friend Chris of Soulence has written a really powerful piece on doing this work of untangling these threads through unconditional love and doing deep inner work. She offers a grounding chakra meditation. You can find that here.


Gratitude List:
1. Working at Radiance again. It’s wonderful to spend time with Sarah and Laura, to be out in the world, to shape the sweet river grass baskets from Ghana and feel a sense of connection to the women who made these spherical containers. When I got home, I walked into the room with Josiah, and he said, “Mmmmm. You smell like Radiance again.”
2. A day ahead to sew and poem and tidy and create and cook.
3. Cucumbers are in season. I think my lunches for the next couple weeks will be cucumbers and cheese.
4. Tomorrow, time with beloveds.
5. I’m feeling a little fired up to begin designing my courses for the fall. I’m glad to get that energy now instead of on August 15.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“Keep strenuously toiling along this path,
do not rest until the last breath;
for that last breath may yet bring the blessings
from the Knower of all things.”
—Rumi


“A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that?” ―Oscar A. Romero


“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering its a feather bed.” ―Terence McKenna


“Nature is alive and talking to us. This is not a metaphor.” ―Terence McKenna


“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
—Raymond Carver


“Her imagination was by habit ridiculously active; when the door was not open, it jumped out the window.” ―Henry James


Orientation
by Maya Stein

Just east of certainty. A little south of courage. A hair’s
width from ease. Clicks away from ready. A turn
or two from acceptance. A shuffle from faith. A set of stairs
from achievement. A riverbed from happiness. A handspan from
peace. A wink away from freedom. A few lines until the poem’s
done. A highway, a night’s sleep, a phone call, a touch, a rotation
of gears away from that certain yes that tells you where you are is
exactly where you need to be. I know, the signs can look as if they’re missing,
and the map so distant and unclear.
But I’m telling you, you aren’t lost. You’re never lost. You’re always here.

The Dwarfs Is For The Dwarfs

You remember in The Last Battle, when everyone was streaming into the little hut that was really the entrance to the next world? Remember how the one group of dwarfs couldn’t/wouldn’t see the reality they had entered? They had trained themselves to see only what they wanted to see, to find only answers that would answer the particular questions they asked. They couldn’t see outside their own perspectives when they were outside the shack, and so when they entered, they could not let themselves see the glory of the new world they were encountering.

I wonder if the American White Evangelical Movement has been setting itself up, dwarf-like, to only see things through its tiny little lenses? If you find yourself unable to accept that perhaps this leader you have been touting as God’s messenger may have harmed people, that he may actually be the racist, misogynistic bigot that people have been claiming, that he may be paying lip-service to your religion so that he can get your vote, then you may have fallen into the same pit as Lewis’s dwarfs. If you defend and minimize and sealion your way through conversations about racism, beware: You may find that you have blinded yourself so completely that you can no longer open your Eyes.

And you CAN change, right now! If you follow the path of the Jesus the Wandering Teacher, your path is the path of redemption and transformation. Open your eyes! And open your eyes again. And allow your inner self to be transformed. It might be very difficult. It might be terrifying. It might hurt like nothing you have ever experienced before. But that is the Way of the Christ, Friends. The snake may experience fear and pain and difficulty when she sheds her skin, but shed she must. And you must, too, in order to grow.


Gratitude List:
1. Grades are Done
2. Today I can nap whenever I want
3. The way the morning sun streams through the branches of the sycamore tree
4. All the many ways we can participate in the Resistance. We don’t all have to do it in the same way, but we all need to do something.
5. Summer

Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly–in Beauty!


“The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”
― Arundhati Roy


“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” —Dorothy Day


“‪You are the only one of you that will ever exist. So, what’s the kindness that only you can bring into the world?‬” —Jarod K. Anderson, the Cryptonaturalist


“I don’t have any rules, because I’d only be breaking them.” —Iris Apfel


“If you’re afraid to write it, it’s a good sign.
I suppose you know you’re writing the truth when you’re terrified.”
―Yrsa Daley-Ward


“A good book is never finished….it goes on whispering to you from the wall.” ―Virginia Woolf


“The poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” ―Gustavo Gutierrez

Getting to the Next Story

The Bird Watcher

In last night’s dream: I am trying to find my way to the second floor of the building I am in, but the stairs are really hard to negotiate. They a metal rail stair/ladder that starts four feet off the ground. If I can scramble up onto them, I’ll have to squeeze through a tiny little hole in order to get to the next story.

(Huh. Getting to the next story, eh?)

After I search all over, I finally find an elevator and stand there waiting with some others, and it suddenly hits me–within the dream itself–that this is a constant pattern in my dreamtime: I am very often trying to find the next level, the next story, and I am thwarted by challenging climbs and claustrophobic entrances. Occasionally, there are broad and wide staircases, or hidden safe passages, and there’s the occasional elevator that might just take me anywhere.

I wonder if I am experiencing a period of disjuncture between my heart and my head, unable to find my way safely between the two? That’s got a dream-worker’s reasonableness to it, and I will definitely explore that as an ongoing theme in my life with such a powerful symbol recurring again and again and again.

Or perhaps I feel myself and my world in a time of transition between one thing and the next, and the route from point A to point B feels particularly treacherous and difficult.

That last certainly suits my sense of the times. Here we are on this level where we’ve always done things a certain way (which has for so many, been tragic and deadly), and we need to make it to that next level. We need to climb and crawl and wriggle into the next story. In the case of our national dream, people’s lives depend upon it. We must get to the next story, and we’re going to have to help each other reach that ladder way up there, and when we get to the top, each of us is going to have to deal with our own discomfort and anxiety as we wriggle through the birth passage into the next reality.

Can we do it?


Gratitude List:
1. All the anti-racism resources for learning and growth that are floating around social media right now. Quite a lot of the books on the lists were already on my list to read, but I will make extra time for them this summer, and I am going to compile some lists to post in my classroom.
2. I don’t like taking allopathics if I can help it. I have, as usual, been trying all the herbal and other remedies and therapies for my allergies, but every once in a while, I just need something huge to calm down my body’s hyperactive response to defend me from tree pollen. I’m glad I have that option. My body has definitely shifted out of crisis mode for the moment.
3. The hospitable strangers of the Swann Street Siege. While a twisted tableau of faux faith was occurring down the way, Rahul and his neighbors–whatever their belief system–were acting in the way that The Good Teacher asked humans to act toward each other, harboring people who were frightened and harmed, feeding them and tending their injuries, and managing the boundaries of their homes to keep their guests safe. Hospitality has been a sacred trust between humans in many cultures around the world since first we knew ourselves human.
4. I am grateful for statements and resources being offered by institutions that I love and belong to. Mennonites as a group got it so wrong in the 50s and 60s, holding back, not speaking out (except for individuals). To read the Mennonite Church USA statement yesterday, supporting those who are demanding racial justice and explaining why All Lives Matter is tone-deaf and inappropriate was satisfying. My school has put out a statement of solidarity and a list of resources. The church I attend has formulated a statement of support as well. Yes, we have to put our feet in the story, too, but statements are like signposts for people to follow.
5. Lots of windows. I am on a critical lockdown at the moment, keeping the house closed and not venturing outside while the trees are in the height of their pollen-producing time. Still, I can look out and watch the squirrel with the excessively long tail, the chonky chipmunk, and all the wingfolk flashing by.

May we walk in Beauty! And Solidarity.


“We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.”
―Ursula K. Le Guin


“Each of us has lived through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather superstorm or spiritual superstorm. When we look at each other we must say, I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.” ―Maya Angelou


TS Eliot:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”


“Authentic spirituality is always about changing yourself. It is not about trying to change anyone else.” ―Richard Rohr


“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” ―L.M. Montgomery


“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” ―Jorge Luis Borges

Protect Each Other

These days demand such centeredness within ourselves and our intentions.
There are malicious forces out there actively working to discredit and destroy.
Check out the organizers of the protests before you go.
Wash your hands.
Go to the protests.
Sit in the streets.
Wear your mask.
Social distance as possible.
When white people in the crowds incite violence, don’t trust them.
Protect each other.
Learn how to tend to eyes that have been pepper-sprayed.
Destroy white supremacy.
Amplify black and brown voices.
Admit when you’re wrong.
When you make a mistake, own it, and do better.
Stay on message: Black Lives Matter. No more police brutality. Justice for George Floyd.
White Supremacy is an evil beast, and it isn’t going down without a fight.
And when the marches and the protests are over, we still have more work to do, to overcome our own internal biases.


Gratitude List:
1. The people in the streets
2. New schedules. More spaces in the schedule with my name on them.
3. Books to read
4. People who do the right thing
5. Cool mornings mean cats are snugglier.

May we walk in Beauty!


“Sit quietly,
and listen for a voice
that will say,
‘Be more silent.’”
—Rumi


“All wizards, including writers, are extremely
careful about their spells.” —Ursula K.Le Guin


“We have always needed good art to sustain us, to strengthen us, even to console us for being born human. Where better can we learn to see through the eyes of others, to gain compassion, to try to make sense of the world outside ourselves and the world within ourselves? —Lloyd Alexander


“Language is the house of Being.” —Martin Heidegger


“And the women said feel the way we became campfire
how we ghost storied into this dangerous beauty.”
—Kelly Grace Thomas


“So often we armour ourselves thinking we are sparing others the burden of our pain, but the truth is that we are depriving them the opportunity to nurture. Our vulnerability is what brings out compassion in others. As Rumi says, ‘Where lowland is, that’s where water goes. All medicine wants is pain to cure.'” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa


“At the end of my life, with just one breath left,
if you come, I’ll sit up and sing.”
―Rumi


“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” —Helen Keller


“Run from what’s comfortable.
Forget safety.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Be notorious.”
—Rumi


“The soul of the Soul of the Universe is Love.”
—Rumi

Black Lives Matter

blm1 blm2

It was heartening to see so many people gathered for the vigil in Lancaster yesterday.  I couldn’t hear the speakers very well–my ears have trouble sorting sound–but I caught bits and pieces, and I could see that people were deeply moved by the speeches.  Afterward, a young black woman stood up on one of the benches and gave an incredibly powerful performance of poem.  I was glad to see colleagues and students there, as well as many folks from Mennonite churches and the local peace and justice organizations.

Black Lives Matter
Don’t let that threaten you.
That doesn’t mean that yours doesn’t, too.
It’s a way of saying that black people should get an equal portion of protection and peace at this great big banquet table.

It means that a traffic stop should be a traffic stop.  Routine.  “Oh yeah, Officer, I forgot to put my inspection sticker on there.  I’ll do it as soon as I get home.”  And a “There you go, Son–just a warning this time, but you go home and fix it up right now, or next time I’ll have to give you a fine.”

Not a broken-tail-light, I’m afraid you’re going to shoot me, so the demon of terror-of-young-black-men pulls my trigger and kills you in front of your lover and a child.

When that has become the routine, it’s time for some big words on a page, easy to read, easy to speak, easy to call out at a rally:  Black Lives Matter.

Of course yours matters, too.  That’s a given. We know that all lives do.
Let’s just focus on keeping the black lives alive for a while, okay?
Then when it looks like all lives truly DO matter here,
then we’ll go back to saying that all of them do.
When it’s true.

Gratitude List:
1. Communities rallying to say to stand up for Black Lives.  Please don’t let the momentum stop here, don’t let Philando Castile and Alton Sterling become quiet footnotes.  Say their names.  Believe so deeply that all lives matter that you can walk with those whose lives are threatened and anxious because of the color of their skin.  Black Lives Matter.
2. Good conversation with a dear friend.
3.  Looking forward to several days with my college friends.  They ground me and help me to re-situate myself in the long timeline.
4. The way the light shone over the ridge as I was driving home last evening.  The sparkle on the fields.  A different sort of evening sparkle than we get in the hollow.
5. Exploring semantic implications.  Words.  Meanings.

May we walk in Beauty!