Two Fields

On the corner of the block where my parents live, the retirement community has placed this sign (one of many around the campus). Love, Peace, Protection. May it be so.

It’s exhausting to be always repudiating.
And it’s distracting to need to.

Whenever the president comes out with another of his racist rants, like he did yesterday, derailing a conversation about police brutality against Black people by ranting that more white people are killed by police than Black people, and then repeating it over and over again, it feels like he’s pulling out the smoke and mirrors. There’s a fire somewhere, and he wants to focus your attention on this one instead, because he knows this will dog whistle his base, and he can gaslight the rest of us later. Now, you’ve got to get out the fact sheet, explain that yes, more white people are killed by police each year, but that per capita, the number of Black people is higher, and percentage-wise, a vastly greater number of those white people were armed, compared to the Black people killed by police. But he does not feel obligated to listen to the entirety of such a sentence. Perhaps he is unable to make sense of more than a simple clause at a time.

You can respond to him in several ways:
You can agree with him and defend his position, in which case you declare your own racism.
You can agree with him and remain silent and hope no one asks you for you opinion, so no one knows your racist tendencies.
You can disagree, and repudiate his racist speech, and offer the deeper explanation, and risk giving him the negative attention which to him is better than no attention, and probably distracts from something else he doesn’t want you to focus on.
You can disagree and keep quiet because you don’t want to offer him any kind of attention or risk drawing the focus away from other issues, but that risks leaving the racism hanging in the air, unchallenged.

I can’t let these things hang in the air. When people say in conversations, as they actually do, “He’s really not racist,” I want these things to be there in the conversation, too. The thing is, a lot of white people WANT to absolve the president of his white supremacy and racism because the things he says are not so different from what white people living in a white supremacist system have thought and said for centuries here. This president and his handlers (read: Stephen Miller) have been on a campaign (beneath his constant cult-of-personality campaign which lies beneath his never-ending presidential campaign) to normalize racist speech, this sort which makes you sort of double-take, makes you have to explain it. It’s not subtle enough to be under the radar, but it begs you to explain and educate about why it is racist. And by then they’re off on a new thing.

So perhaps it’s important that we don’t all pile on the social media outrage pile at every racist statement he makes, as long as we’re keeping our eyes open for the real issues his handlers are trying to distract us from, but the pieces do need to be stitched together. Sometimes we need to stand up in the crowd and shout that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes. This Emperor is so very, very naked. He thinks his lies and bluster will clothe him, or at least convince enough people in the crowd to get him crowned.

I know that some of the people in the crowd will not see, no matter how you shout or startle them, but there are others, here and there in the milling crowd, who are beginning to question, to wonder, to ask themselves if what he’s telling him to see is really there.

Keep standing up, Friends, in whatever way you are called to stand up.
Speak out. You’ll know your moment.
Look at the institutions and groups and clubs to which you belong. How are they using their funds and their power and their social capital in ways which either include or exclude others?
Tear down the broken structures.
Build new and just systems.
Keep your eyes and ears open and aware of the whole field, not just the outrage of the moment. Focus on the thing that is yours to do, and use your outrage, but don’t let outrage distract you from the whole picture.
Remember that overlaying this field of wrongness and brokenness on which the president and his minions play, there is also a field of goodness, and bravery. It’s a field of rightness, of possibility and justice and hopeful living. Play on both fields–Stand up to the evil on the one field wherever you have it in your power to do so, and walk in the sunshine with your beloveds on the other. Talk with others about what you want the world to be. Envision. Create. Give yourself to Goodness.


Grateful:
For time with beloveds (with safety precautions), to laugh and look into each other’s eyes, to hear the weaving of beloved voices, to feel the threads of connected hearts.
For those who step up and call out the truth on the field of lies.
For the sweet playfulness of kittens that melts my heart.
For the lulling rhythms of insect-song and frog-song, and bird-song.
For shade and breezes.

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


“The measure of your greatness is the measure of your magnanimity, your willingness to carry people in your heart. If we are encapsulated in our self-image, we are puny. A great being has stature, something cosmic comes through. Think of people who have really dedicated themselves to service. If we’re great enough, then we have room in our heart even for a person who has hurt us. So we can counter resentment, which can degenerate into hate, then to cruelty and even to war. As a dervish would say: “Shake yourself awake! You have been invited to the divine banquet! Don’t you realize that the divine being is present in you?” In fact, the whole of creation is an act of magnanimity. Rumi certainly put it right when he said, “Would the gardener have planted the seed if it were not for the love of the flower?” —Vilayat Inayat Khan


“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
—Mary Oliver


“Arm yourself with love and knowledge, and let’s work together for justice.” —Regina Shands Stoltzfus


“To be strong does not mean to sprout muscles and flex. It means meeting one’s own numinosity without fleeing, actively living with the wild nature in one’s own way. It means to be able to learn, to be able to stand what we know. It means to stand and live.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes


“Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest, and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy. For when we betake ourselves to the extreme opposite of the ego, we can behold a situation from the aspect of God.” —Abraham Joshua Heschel


“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” ―James Baldwin


“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible—and achieve it, generation after generation.” —Pearl S Buck

Truth and Lies

Winsome Chaos: I pulled random words from my word pool tickets to label photos and objects.

Why are poetry and fiction so important in human cultures? What is it about the imaginative telling of a thing that thrills listeners of all ages, makes our minds sit up–criss-cross applesauce–and hang on the smallest word of the storyteller? Nonfiction and biography, the “true” story, is also compelling and engaging, but there is something about fiction, about the fantastic, the imaginative, the made-up, that sets fire to human imagination, across times and cultures.

Ursula Le Guin, in her profound introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, wrote of truth and lies in storytelling: “I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie. Psychologically defined, a symbol. Aesthetically defined, a metaphor.”

In his famous essay, “Of Truth,” Francis Bacon discusses how the human mind bends toward the lie, how earlier philosophers spoke of poetry’s vinum daemonum, wine of the devil, the lies that draw the reader down the delicious pathway of imagination.

In my own estimation, Madeleine L’Engle got most deeply at the heart of this in her discussion of the differences between truth and facts. “Truth,” she said, “is what is true, and it’s not necessarily factual. Truth and fact are not the same thing. Truth does not contradict or deny facts, but it goes through and beyond facts. This is something that it is very difficult for some people to understand.”

“Tell all the truth,” said Emily Dickinson, “but tell it slant.”

More steps in the creation of meaning: Finding the deep truth within the fictive or poetic “lie.” Seeking new and startlingly relevant meanings in the strange juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated facts and ideas. One of my students added the word “speaking” to her word pool. “Is it okay,” she asked, “if I put this word with a photo of a woman with a zipper across her mouth?” Yes, oh yes, please–that’s the point here. And in that little “lie”–the woman, unable to speak, labeled “speaking”–you may have told a deeper truth than any of us can express in straight talk.


Gratitude List:
1. People who let themselves cry. There’s a priestly quality to profound and honest tears in public gatherings. Suddenly everyone has just a little more permission to be human, too. Feelings are invited into the circle.
2. A day off.
3. The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., the way his words continue to echo their challenges today. Will we listen to the challenges as well as the inspirations?
4. The deep truths that make themselves available in poetry and fiction and art.
5. Red cardinals in the sere winter landscape.

May we walk in Beauty!

Leaping Spirits of Trees

Gratitude List:
1. Today is not yesterday. Yesterday I never quite came out of the fog. This morning I already feel crisper than I did at any point in the day yesterday, so hopefully that was just a blip. I feel ready for this one.
2. Homemade cookies. MCCL kids, for making those kits: Thank you!
3. People who are anchors. You know who you are. My life is so much better for your presence. Thank you. (Actually, maybe you don’t know you’ve anchored me. It might be the kind thing you said, or the story you told, or the little quote you posted on social media, or the way you talk about someone you love, or the way you genuinely look people in the eye when you talk to them, or the way you take a deep breath and stand up straight when you have something hard to do: I notice, and I am inspired and anchored just by being near you.)
4. Also, people who are speaking and living truth. Especially in times when so much truth is being so cynically bartered for power. Thank you.
5. For the trees, for the “leaping greenly spirits of trees” (even when you are no longer green, your spirits still leap greenly: holy, holy): Thank you.*

May we walk in Beauty!
*e. e. cummings reference