A Tumble of Words and Ideas

Samuel S. Lewis State Park

After nearly a month of silence here, I find it difficult to pull out particular threads of thoughts to put down in a blog post. Or perhaps it’s more a function of the times we live in, existing as we do within so many layers of challenge and crisis and change. So today’s post will be more of a smorgasbord than usual.


I am at odds with myself. There’s a Cackler in me who is rubbing her hands with satisfaction at the way karma has finally alit upon powerful people who have minimized the danger of the coronavirus. At the same time, my internal Monk is saddened to contemplate anyone’s suffering, and wants to wish ill upon no being, no matter how brutal and selfish that being is.

Message to self: It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to experience a sense of relief when an out-of-control train that has already been responsible for the deaths of many is suddenly slowed and perhaps side-lined. I’m letting the Monk and the Cackler work together here, working to avoid feeling and expressing glee at this turn of events, but allowing myself to feel relief: This could signal a shift that could save lives in the end.

This is a moment for the type of complexity I have been attempting to integrate since I began working with the Bowl of the Heart several years ago: All of it goes in there together, painful and tender, vengeful and compassionate. We’re many-faceted creatures, we humans, and we have the capacity for myriad responses. While I want to always be appealing to my better nature, I cannot deny the Cackler her space. And I can learn from her. The quiet Monk in me was trying so hard to respond with light and wisdom that I almost missed the essential message of the Cackler–that it is okay to be relived that this bit of suffering being visited upon those who inhabit the White House may be a pathway toward mitigating the suffering of thousands.


A few days ago, I checked in with the faeries about a couple things I’ve lost. One was pretty urgent and timely. The other is a necklace I haven’t seen for over a year, a treasured piece I made myself from various shiny and dangly things I’d received from beloved friends.

Within a couple hours, I found the first, most urgent thing, but I still haven’t found the necklace, although I have been searching all the place that suddenly popped into my head.

But last night, I had a haunting, lingering dream. I kept waking up with images of the two beings in the dream, sometimes with clear recognition of their names, and then falling back to sleep, only to wake up again with their images in my brain. They were two elves, dressed in skinny suits like a 1950s boy band, with white shirts and black skinny ties. They were both dark-haired with piercing dark eyes, very Spock-like.

I woke up, feeling like they wanted to cut some sort of deal with me, like they were looking to draw up a contract. I thought if I could remember their names, I could outwit them, control them, but in the stories, magical names also sometimes backfire, and it’s perhaps best that I don’t quite remember. I do want my necklace back, but I’m not ready to sell my fate to a pair of pushy dream-beings. Still, it couldn’t help to make an offering. . . (I know, I know, no first-born children or anything like that).


I’ve started painting my nails. It’s strange, because I tend to feel like I am a little kid playing dress-up, or like I’m sort of wearing drag when I wear make-up or get my nails done. It’s like it’s territory that doesn’t really belong to me. I identify completely as she/her, and have never had any questions about my gender, but there are myriad ways to express femaleness, and the salon/nails/make-up way has not really been part of my way. I always feel like I’m in someone else’s territory when I do these things.

But I am loving wearing different colors on my nails. I change the color every weekend. A couple weeks ago, I just had to get green. I needed green nails. Today, I painted them RED! My fingernails are red. I needed flames on my fingers right now. Hmmm. I should see about getting some little flame decals. . .


I realized the other day that I almost never find feathers anymore. Perhaps I am not looking hard enough? Or maybe I don’t need them now. Or maybe it’s because we no longer have the glorious owl-perch of the poplar tree anymore.

The day after I began to ponder this, I found this woodpecker feather at the park:

This week two girls stopped outside my classroom to read my bulletin board during my prep period. When I went to say hello, they thanked me for my poster about how all people are valued in this classroom. They said they would like it to include something about how we live on stolen land. I love that they were so ready to add their own pieces, so open to ask for what they want, so intersectionally aware. We talked about how the statements on the poster are all stated in positive ways, and the stolen land piece doesn’t seem to quite fit that tone, but how that’s not quite a good answer even so. I do have a little poster in my room about the people who were first here on the land where we attend school, but I really want to add a line that will respond to their request, if it’s possible. (Or maybe I’ll move that poster out to my hallway bulletin board. One of the girls said she is going to make me a drawing of the hands of many different races gripping each other in a circle, to add put next to the sign.

I would love ideas about how to include an intersectional awareness of the truth of that statement–We are living on stolen land–in the grammatical and tonal context of this. Feel free to offer me your thoughts.


Some Random Gratitudes:
1. Red-breasted hawk on a snag down Schmuck Rd.
2. My wise and compassionate students.
3. The Wheel of the Year. All comes around again.
4. Smoothie for breakfast
5. The treehouse. I spent a couple hours up there yesterday, reading and drawing.

May we walk in Beauty!


“The ways creative work gets done are always unpredictable, demanding room to roam, refusing schedules and systems. They cannot be reduced to replicable formulas.
[…]
To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out.
[…]
Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” ―Rebecca Solnit, from: “Men Explain Things to Me”


“The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” —Flannery O’Connor


“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” ―Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook


“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” ―Barry Lopez


“‘Remember on this one thing,’ said Badger. ‘The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.’” ―Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel


“Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.” —Maya Angelou


“With dreamwork, we are endlessly tenderising ourselves to subtletly. When we begin to know its dimensions, pain can no longer envelop us in an indistinct mass. It’s not that we are ridding ourselves of suffering, but rather learning its name, which is the prelude to befriending it.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa


Humility
by Mary Oliver
Poems arrive ready to begin.
Poets are only the transportation.


“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree.” —W. S.Merwin


“Nature never repeats itself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.” —Elizabeth Cady Stanton


“All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” —Kabir


Mirabai Starr said, “Poetry is a gateway into unitive consciousness. It knocks on the doors of the heart and the heart opens. Poets speak truth in a very naked way that bypasses the rational mind. Poetry evokes, rather than describes.”


Kathleen Norris writes, “Poets understand that they do not know what they mean, and that is their strength. . . . Writing teaches us to recognize when we have reached the limits of language, and our knowing, and are dependent on our senses to ‘know’ for us.”


“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories . . . water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estés


“Every seed contains the potential to save the world. Each seed can keep millions of people from starvation. Each seed is a mirror and guardian of the world’s future. Each seed is the ecology that can sustain the economy. This is why seeds are sacred…”
—His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Common Sense

This morning, I woke up from a dream in which I was helping someone to design a pamphlet titled Common Sense. It was like Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, but a point-by-point enumeration of all the reasons not to vote for a second term for this president. And now I feel burdened, like someone needs to do this, in the carefully-reasoned yet passionate style of Paine himself, simply presenting all the pieces. I have neither the time nor the internal bandwidth at the moment to do so. But someone ought to do it.

I’ve become increasingly alarmed in recent days at the worshipful fervor of the diehard followers of this man, at the increasingly cultic adulation by people who seem to be otherwise humane and caring. Every day he reveals more and more of his depravity and lack of human feeling, his selfishness and narcissism, his lying, his racism and xenophobia, his misogyny, his delight in division and violence.

I shouldn’t have read that Atlantic article about QAnon, perhaps, shouldn’t have let myself look at the polls, shouldn’t have listened to the radio yesterday, shouldn’t have let myself brood about the thing I heard someone say about how we need him in office because he is tearing down the broken system from within, shouldn’t have started pondering the cultic nature of his followers.

I’m really worried.
Someone should write the pamphlet.


Gratitude List:
1. Facts. Science. Truth.
2. Journalists
3. Compassion, empathy
4. My deeply thoughtful colleagues
5. Three-day weekend

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


We are listening for a sound
beyond us, beyond sound,
searching for a lighthouse
in the breakwaters of our uncertainty,
an electronic murmur
a bright, fragile I am.
Small as tree frogs
staking out one end
of an endless swamp,
we are listening
through the longest night
we imagine, which dawns
between the life and time of stars.
—Diane Ackerman


“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” —Zora Neale Hurston


“If you are not free to be who you are, you are not free.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes


“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all [of your God’s] children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.” ―Cory Booker


“I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise, it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine.” —Nadia Bolz-Weber


“You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal’. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?” —Elie Wiesel


“Emergence never happens all at once. It is a slow stepping into the expanded capacity of your next self. You may need practice at releasing in those places you’ve grown accustomed to bracing which, like a tight swaddle, was comforting in its limits. But when the time to remain hidden comes to its natural end, you must begin to inhabit your new dimensionality. Breathe into the fullness of your gaining altitude and consider that what presents itself as fear may actually be exhilaration. As your future approaches you, worry less how it may receive you and say a prayer instead for your becoming approachable.” —Toko-pa Turner


“I was often in love with something or someone,” wrote Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. “I would fall in love with a monkey made of rags. With a plywood squirrel. With a botanical atlas. With an oriole. With a ferret. With a marten in a picture. With the forest one sees to the right when riding in a cart to Jaszuny. With a poem by a little-known poet. With human beings whose names still move me.”


“Oh what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made a personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and setting of the sun, and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and equinox. This is what is the matter with us, we are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.”
—D.H. Lawrence


Lord’s Prayer:
Translation by Neil Douglas Klotz, Sufi
O Birther! Creator of the Cosmos,
Focus your light within us— make it useful:
Create your reign of unity now-
Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.
Truly— power to these statements—
may they be the ground from which all
my actions grow: Amen.

Forget Appearances: Focus on the Real Issues

I know. No posts for a week or more, and then two in one day. I’m out of school, and all the things I have not had time to think are now finding their way into my brain.

Here’s a plea: Can we please cut out the personal insults to the president’s appearance, please? It’s too easy, too below the bar, too off-point. We have too much at stake to muddy our message with meanness.

The tuxedo pictures with the Queen? Isn’t that just fat-shaming? Yes, Obama looked terrific in a tux, but I didn’t vote for Mr. Obama because of his body. I liked him because he did his best to try to level the playing field a little. I liked him because he read and understood liberation theology. I liked him because he was well-read and well-spoken, and a man of grace and character. I liked him because he had a plan to make health care accessible to all, and he tried his best to make it happen.

By the same lights, I don’t care what Mr. Trump looks like in a tuxedo. He could look classy and stylish and debonair, and he would still be someone who enacts fascist-style policies that tear children away from asylum-seekers without any intention of getting them back together again. He could be svelte and handsome and charming and still gut environmental protections while denying the climate crisis.

PThe fake tan? Can we just stop with the Cheeto references? Let’s not make fun of people’s skin color, okay? Even when it’s self-inflicted. Didn’t we learn that one a long time ago, from some wise man, that we should judge people on the basis of their character rather than the color of their skin? And there are more than a few aspects of Mr. Trump’s character that make me question his suitability to run a country: blatant misogyny, racism, religious bigotry, classism, narcissism. . . We really need to focus on those: they’re what make him a dangerous leader.

Basic Logic 101 teaches us about the ad hominem fallacy, attacking the person rather than the issue. We have plenty of strong arguments as to why this man is at best a poor leader and at worst a dangerous one, but we weaken our arguments with ad hominem attacks on his personal appearance. We lose our focus on the real dangers he poses to vulnerable people, and we trivialize the actual pain he and his policies cause, when we make fun of his appearance. Plus, it gives people an excuse not to take our very real concerns seriously. Also, would you make fun of your rotund cousin in his tuxedo? Would you make fun of your friend who has rosacea?

I am all for the work of the sacred clown in society, making fun of people who refuse to self-reflect. When a president has his press flunkies lie about the size of his inauguration crowd, then it seems fitting to point out the size of the crowd that turns out to protest his presence in the UK. When he uses Twitter as a platform to spew wild and conspiracy-laden ideas, as well as a forum for personal aggrandizement, then it seems right to point out the ridiculousness in his tweets. But the size of his belly and the color of his face have nothing to do with the size of his crowd or his Twitter status.

Meanwhile, children who have been torn from their parents (nursing babes, toddlers, all the way up to teens) are in camps and detention centers, receiving minimal care and no education, from what I am able to gather. They’re subject to sexual and physical abuse. Reporters are not allowed to film or photograph conditions, if they’re allowed in at all.

Meanwhile, transgender people are in danger of losing human rights protections for medical care. Meanwhile, women are losing reproductive rights. Meanwhile, the environment is being destroyed, and the warnings about impending ecological devastation are ignored or denied.

We need to actively work to remove this man AND his enablers from power, not sit around taking potshots at his appearance.

I hate to be a scold. I know it feels good in the moment to stoop to his level. I know that because I have done it. But it doesn’t feel good in retrospect, to get down in that mud. We don’t save this country by name-calling. We save it by truth-telling. By action on behalf of the vulnerable. By holding the greedy and power-hungry accountable for their speech and their actions. Let’s get to work.

No Two Sides to Racism

Here are some things I have been writing, to try to pull out some threads of sense from the past day and from the sheer willful ignorance of the president of the United States in a time of crisis:

When I think of what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend, I keep getting images of the old photos I have studied of the morning after Kristallnacht. I remember some of my first impressions after reading that bit of history, of the sense of violation, of a government goading the worst of its citizenry to acts of violence which cowed and frightened the rest. I remember walking through modern-day Landau with an elder friend who remembered the broken windows first-hand.

Am I being too alarmist and shrill to say that I think Charlottesville was our Kristallnacht? The step over the line that should wake us up and spur us into action lest we allow fear to numb us and paralyze us into letting the evil wash over our consciousness and put us to sleep.

Stay woke. Stay unsettled and angry, if it helps to keep the energy going. Stay aware of every little thing. Speak truth. Don’t allow yourself to be silenced by the fear and confusion and misguided rage of others.

Here’s the web. I cast my line to you, and you, and you. I feel your presence. I sense your intention and your determination. I will help to hold the lines with you. We have our work to do.

Thanks for listening.
―Beth Weaver-Kreider
***

Let’s get this straight. Let’s make it clear:
There are no two sides to racism.
There are no two sides to racism.
There are no two sides to racism.

Repeat after me, Mr. President:
There are no two sides to racism.

Condemn all the violence, if you must,
but those who fight Nazis
are not the same as Nazis,
no matter what your Stephens say.

There are angry protesters,
and then there are terrorists
who bring their twisted ideology
to the streets, and if you must insist
that they are just the same,
then I say your bigotry is showing.

There are no two sides to racism.
―Beth Weaver-Kreider


“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”
―Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
*
We must always take sides.
—Elie Wiesel
*
“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.”
―Maggie Kuhn
*
First they came for Transpeople and I spoke up–
Because God does NOT make mistakes!
They came for the African Americans and I spoke up—
Because I am my sisters’ and my brothers’ keeper.
And then they came for the women and I spoke up—
Because women hold up half the sky.
And then they came for the immigrants and I spoke up—
Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.
And then they came for the Muslims and I spoke up—
Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.
And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth and I spoke up—
Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.
They keep coming.
We keep rising up.
Because we Jews know the cost of silence.
We remember where we come from.
And we will link arms, because when you come for our neighbors, you come for us—
and THAT just won’t stand.
―Rabbi Michael Latz, MN 8.13.2017
*
Toko-pa Turner:
“What is wild in us are the ways in which we meet something freshly and not by rote. Wild is to be full-body alive in response to the conversation life is having with us; the caress of the wind which cools your skin after the sun has penetrated it with warmth. The shadow cast by a soaring bird above. The unmediated glance, surprised by beauty.

“When this conversation goes quiet from inattention, as it does for us all, know that it takes little to encourage it again. It is simply to remember that life isn’t only happening to us, but we are happening to life!”
*
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” ―Fred Rogers
*
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” ―Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum
*
Parker Palmer said this:
“Since suffering as well as joy comes with being human, I urge you to remember this: Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.”
*
“Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.” ―Mother Teresa


Gratitude List:
1. Bree Newsome. My heart has turned to her so often in the past days. Her act of loving defiance―climbing a flag pole to remove the Confederate flag from the SC statehouse remains an inspiration for me. She was joyful, determined, prayerful. She woke up the nation, I think. Suddenly people were shaking off their sleep, blinking their eyes, and noticing how emblems of slavery in our public tax-funded spaces might be a bad idea.
2. Mitch Landrieu. If you haven’t yet, give yourself the gift of listening to his powerful speech about why New Orleans is removing its Confederate statues. He is articulate, wise, compassionate. Brilliant speechmaking.
3. All of us, together. We will stand against the powers of hatred.
4. Anchors. When I am getting myself into high dudgeon, I sometimes stop and breathe and think about the wise and calm and loving people I know, and I cast my webs their way, and hold onto their anchors so I don’t float away on my tides of emotion or burn myself up in my rages. I am blessed in family and friends who help me not to lose sight of the Center. You are probably one of these people.
5. Cats. Yes, another of my obsessions lately, but it’s just such a delight to have furry people in the house. I can forgive the nightly 2 AM Thunder Rumpus through the house because they bring us so much joy.

May we walk in Beauty!