Social Justice

No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change Part 2: Jack Kornfeld

No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change Part 2: Jack Kornfeld
This is the second post of notes from the Livestream event held on September 15th, a fundraiser for OneEarthSangha.org and in anticipation of the Climate Strike, led by students, to be held September 20, 2019.

Sunday, September 15, I attended No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change held at Spirit Rock, and to my gratitude, Livestreamed. As it was an all day event, I took notes from numerous speakers. I will post them over the next few days so that each person's words will have space to be digested.

The following are my notes of Jack Kornfeld's talk. The words and ideas are from him, which, once again, makes for an odd blog post.

Kornfeld told of asking his old teacher in Thailand about the struggle American students had with self-love and self compassion. The venerable answered that if the students went out in the woods and prayed for loving kindness, the students would soon include themselves. He then mentioned the Buddhist response to deforestation in Thailand was to go in the forest to ordain trees. They would ordain the largest, oldest trees as Abbots of the Forest. These sections of forest were left alone.

So the question is how do we live with climate change, and how do we practice with it?

It is best to return to the four noble truths.

One. Life has suffering.
Billions of tons of methane have been released. Glaciers and icebergs are disappearing. The polar ice caps which reflected the sun, and consequently the sun's heat, have shrunk almost to nothing in the North Pole, and actively shrinking in the South. The military and the shipping industry are just waiting for the ice to melt in the North Pole to open up shipping lanes. We are experiencing the sixth extinction.

Two. Causes of suffering.
Just as in our human lives greed, delusion, and hatred are the causes of suffering. The delusion is of our separateness. Every breath we take was breathed by someone before us, generations before us.

Three. There is an end to suffering.
Waking up from the trance of separateness.

Four. Eightfold Path.
And so forth.

Kornfeld followed with a story about Christiana Figueres, the former chief of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, who orchestrated United Nations climate negotiations in Paris, became suicidal while planning and orchestrating the Paris Climate Conference. She read Thich Nhat Hanh's books, and went to Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery in France, and was able to heal. She used the teachings not only to get through, but to teach others. One of the most important things was for countries to look at themselves not as victim, nor as perpetrator. One hundred and eighty six countries signed the accord.

Kornfeld emphasized, for us not to feel guilty. "Do not try to save the world out of anger, fear or guilt. Save the world as an act of love." He recommended a book called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Paul Hawken, ed. http://www.drawdown.com

This book has a list of things we as individuals and as society can do to reverse climate change, in order of importance. Paul Hawken gathered together the worlds experts on each item. The most important, are reduce food waste, rebuild the kelp forest(kelp in cattle feed causes them to pass less gas), and educate and empower women.

The earth wants to renew itself. He mentioned Chernobyl. No matter how the government tried to cover up the accident, the winds told the story. Kornfeld also mentioned Wengaari Maathi, who orchestrated the planting of fifty-one million trees, one tree at a time, [side note: by empowering women].

"Save the world as an act of love. How you do it matters."

Kornfeld finished with a Molly Ivins quote. “So keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't forget to have fun doin' it."

No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change Part 1: Joanna Macy

No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change Part One: Joanna Macy
This is the first post of notes from the Livestream event held on September 15th, a fundraiser for OneEarthSangha.org and in anticipation of the Climate Strike, led by students, to be held September 20, 2019.

Yesterday, I attended No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change held at Spirit Rock, and to my gratitude, Livestreamed. As it was an all day event, I took notes from numerous speakers. I will post them over the next few days so that each person's words will have space to be digested.

The following are my notes of Joanna Macy's first talk. The words and ideas are from her, which makes for an odd blog post.

While she was practicing walking meditation one day, recently, a minor memory replayed over and over, in her head. She heard a voice: "Just Fall in Love with What Is." She had a vision of two curtains, one uncovered the IPCC report where we have twelve years, and the other revealed Bolsonaro's election. In essence, she was being told to stop her preoccupation with herself, and accept what is happening.

Macy told us that we are entering a time of "bardo," that is a huge change in the conditions of your existence, according to Tibetan Buddhism. Climate crisis is a bardo. Enter it together. Enter from the East where the Mirror Wisdom Buddha resides. The mirror is to us and our world.

There are three realities:

Business as usual

The Great Unraveling-which is accelerating

The Great Turning-Inspired by the wheel of the dharma

The world, maimed and burning as it is, is alive. You are a part of the earth. You are the earth. We cannot stop climate change to go back to what we were before. We can build a society that works within. We need to learn how to take care of one another. We need to find our way back to each other. Indigenous traditions show us how. Take stock of your response to a society in collapse so:

As I face the world collapsing, what I am grateful for is:

As I face the political economy collapsing, what I fear is:

As I face the political economy collapsing, what I will try to remember is:

Even though the economy is big and noisy, it institutionalizes the three poisons. 

Consumer, growth orientation: Greed

Military industrial complex: Hatred

Media: Delusion

Don't privatize your grief. It is a collective phenomenon. It's the other face of love. The political economy holds on to its power by pathologizing our grief.

"Thank You For Your Service"

Sometimes if feels like the Universe or Spirit (one and the same) is sending you a message. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that allows you to see a pattern that seems meaningful. Whatever it is, I had such an experience yesterday, after Sunday worship service.

 

It started with a conversation about Christianity, and how it shifted from its early form emphasizing life to one emphasizing death. Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock detail this shift in their book “Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love for This World for Crucifixion and Empire.” The symbol for the early Christian Church was a simple cross, not crucifix. And the artwork adorning first century Christian churches contain no images of Jesus’s torturous death, only that of his life healing the sick and feeding the hungry, and images of him as the risen Christ. In other words, the iconography (and theology) focused on life.

 

So what happened to change the focus? Well in short, Pope Urban II had declared a crusade (the first) against the “heathens” who controlled the Holy Land, the birthplace of Christianity. And the crusade wasn’t going well partly because there weren’t enough Christians in Europe willing to go to war and die in a foreign land. He needed willing soldiers. So he declared that anyone who joined the crusade would be absolved of all their sins. With that, the idea that suffering is redemptive took root and grew. Instead of depictions of a living Jesus, the Church put forth depictions of his bloody crucifixion. Over time, the representations became more and more gruesome, culminating in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” (I still have not seen that movie.) Instead of living to love and serve others, saints became martyrs. And the more they were tortured before death, the greater their devotion to God.

Such was the shift in theology in the eleventh century because Rome needed people who were willing to fight and die for empire. The shift did not happen overnight, but rather was gradual, might even have seemed “natural” at the time, but nevertheless it happened.

Shortly after that conversation about the shift in Christianity ended, I talked with a different member of UUSF about the anniversary of Armistice Day. For those of you who don’t know, what we now observe as Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, which celebrated the end of World War One. In accordance with the signed agreement, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, fighting ceased. (Soldiers actually continued shooting and bombing until 10:59 and then stopped a minute later. How weird is that?) At the time, WWI was thought to be the war to end all wars. There was the belief that its end was the beginning of a lasting peace, and Armistice Day was the celebration of that peace. It remained a somber yet hopeful holiday for many years, but obviously did not stay that way.

 

In 1954, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day. Part of the motivation for the change is understandable - WWI did not end all wars. We had had WWII and the Korean War, and we were about to enter the Vietnam War. So people wanted a day that would honor all veterans, not just those of WWI. But since the name change, Veterans Day has shifted from a somber hope for peace, to the flag-waving, military-parading, glorification of war.

 

Experiencing the two conversations so close to each other, I could see that it was the same pattern. (It’s not the first time that I’ve seen that the United States is the heir to the Roman Empire.) Washington needs soldiers to fight in its endless wars, and the way to make citizens willing to fight and die in foreign lands is to lift it up as the ideal.  Instead of paintings of Saint Lucy with her eyes gouged out or Saint Sebastian with a chest full of arrows, our televisions show us images of veterans missing arms and legs while flags wave and patriotic music swells in the background.

 

I want to be clear here that I do NOT want to return to the days during and after Vietnam, when those who answered the call to serve in our armed forces were spat upon and shunned. The willingness to serve our country - ie, our greater community - is noble, and recognition and gratitude are appropriate. What I object to is the shift from hope for peace to glorification of war. On Veterans Day now, we tell veterans “Thank you for your service,” but we (collectively) do nothing to make their sacrifice less required. Nothing to lessen war. For the sake of empire, we emphasize suffering and death over love and life.

 

Power and Capitalism

Author: 
Stokely Carmichael

If a white man wants to lynch me, that's his problem. If he's got the power to lynch me, that's my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it's a question of power. Racism gets its power from capitalism. Thus, if you're anti-racist, whether you know it or not, you must be anti-capitalist. The power for racism, the power for sexism, comes from capitalism, not an attitude.

Tired

Author: 
Langston Hughes

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren't you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two -
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.

The Social (In)Justice of Thermostat Settings

San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area experienced an historic heatwave this weekend, with recorded temperatures in the city exceeding 100 degrees two days in a row. To give you some context, up until this week there had only been ten 100 degree or more days since 1904. That's only ten 100 degree or more days in 113 years. Because San Francisco so rarely gets hot, most houses do not have air conditioning. In the surrounding areas, temps average 10-20 degrees higher so some homes do have AC while others do not.

The thing is, air conditioning requires power. And so long as our energy comes from fossil fuels, running the AC burns more fossil fuels, which increases global warming, which results in hotter temperatures, which causes more people and businesses to run air-conditioners, which use more fossil fuels, which will make the temps even hotter....

Yesterday, someone was telling me how their friends keep their house at 60 degrees even when they're not home so that the cat will be comfortable, and I nearly cried. I stopped myself so that my friend wouldn't feel uncomfortable, but maybe I should have wept. Who knows? Maybe I should have pitched a fit and been the stereotypical "environmentalist."

I'm not opposed to air conditioning.  I totally understand that when the mercury exceeds a certain temperature, cooling becomes a necessity, not a luxury. The single biggest weather-related killer isn't hurricanes or tornadoes, it's heat. When the temperature exceeds a certain point, people die. Children, the elderly, and the infirm die quicker. As for the rest of us, even if our lives are not at risk, we still suffer.  So I am not opposed to air conditioning at all. If we had had AC in the house on Friday and Saturday, I would have used it.

But access to air conditioning depends on your economic situation. The wealthy can apparently cool an entire house to 60 degrees so that the cat is comfortable. Others make due with fans and lots of ice cold drinks, as my family did. And still others do not have access even to fans and refrigeration. All throughout the heat wave, I kept thinking about people on the streets without shelter. Concrete and asphalt absorb and radiate heat, raising the temps even higher. How did they survive? If some folks died, would the news even bother reporting it?

Buddhists and Unitarian Universalists alike, as well as others, affirm the reality of interdependency.  Interdependency means that the thermostat in your house (should you be fortunate enough to have one) is connected to the power plant which is connected to greenhouse gases which is connected to extreme weather in many places which is connected to the people sitting in the shelters and to the people sitting on the baking concrete sidewalks asking for money.  In other words, the temperature at which you decide to set the thermostat is not just a personal choice.  It affects others.  (There are other interdependent connections too, like who suffers to acquire and burn the fossil fuels that power your house.)  And whether or not you can pay your electric bill is not the only consideration of a responsible person.  

Climate change is a social justice issue.  Its effects impact the poor (who tend also to hold other marginalized identities) much more severely than the rich. The rich (and the middle-class) can shelter themselves from the impact of climate change... by more easily evacuating areas overcome by flood and wildfires, by more easily replacing possessions lost to flood and fire, by moving, by running the air-conditioning. And the rich (and middle-class) disproportionately engage in behaviors that accelerate climate change, making life even more miserable for the poor.

If Not Church, Then Where?

Author: 
Kathleen McGregor

This is a sermon that I gave at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, Canoga Park, Los Angeles, California on August 13, 2017.

Thank you for inviting me to preach today. I am a great fan of Rev. Ann Hines, and I have so enjoyed getting to know Rev. Matthew this past year, We are fortunate to have another woke minister who is committed to social justice in Southern California. That is as much a reflection on this congregation, as on the man himself. I met a number of you at the District Assembly in Tucson and Nogales this year, and I expect a number of you are up at DeBenneville Pines this weekend for the Justice Camp.

When I guest preach, I tend to tackle the difficult topics that often are not spoken of in the pulpit. Today, I am going to address domestic, or intimate partner violence. It relates to the congregational community both as spiritual care issue, and an issue of participating in our larger world. Unitarian Universalists are terrific about wanting to fix our outside world, but for this sermon, we will look within. We will look at domestic violence, and signs to look for. We will look at the wider context of domestic violence in the political sphere, and how that affects us, and we will look at spiritual self care that will be useful to those of us who need it for ourselves and/or to support and sustain our community.

This past weekend has been a hellish example of violence getting out of hand, due in large part to abusive bullying language and actions becoming the norm. Oh, who am I kidding? This weekend it is racism and anti-semitism, but the underlying culture of supremacy, that is kyriarchy, patriarchy, Christian dominionism, a specific kind of white masculine pride of having to be one up and controlling another, are the roots which manifest in the smallest unit of society, a couple or family. I preached on this topic earlier this summer. The circumstances were different with the leader of our country was merely posting mysogynistic tweets about the female half of a news show couple. Words affect on the psyche. We are all surviving domestic style verbal abuse, at this point.

So, starting with some statistics, we'll start with these from the Centers for Disease Control enumerated a little more clearly in the Huffington Post:

  • 3; That is the number of women killed this week by a current or former intimate partner.
  • 18,000; The number of women who have been killed by men in domestic violence disputes since 2003.
  • 6488; That is the number of U.S. military troops killed from 2001 to 2012 in Afghanistan, and Iraq.
  • 1 in 4; The number of women who will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Not to leave out men,
  • 1 in 7; That is number of men who will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.
  • 8 Million; The number of days of paid work women lose every year because of the abuse perpetrated against them by current or former male partners. This loss is equivalent to over 32,000 full-time jobs.
  • 50; The percentage of lesbian women who will experience domestic violence (not necessarily intimate partner violence) in their lifetimes.
  • 2.6 times; How much more likely a transgender person of color is to become a victim of intimate partner violence than a non-LGBT person.

Unfortunately, we are currently living in a society that is fighting to restore and enforce the binary between women and men. The prior statistics focused mostly on female victims, and rightly so. However, bathroom laws aside, no where is attempt of erasure of gender queer people more apparent than the murder of transwomen and transmen. The number killed in 2016? Twenty three were killed last year, the most EVER recorded. The youngest this year, Ava Le'Ray Barrin, 17, was shot and killed in Athens, Georgia on June 25 during an altercation in an apartment parking lot. Human Rights Campaign reported,, "In an online obituary, friends remembered Barrin as a 'social butterfly' and an "amazing girl" who 'loved to make people laugh.' Last year, nearly two per month were murdered. Sadly, 2017 has already seen at least 16 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means and we are on track to equal or raise last year' number in 2017. Once again, we need to acknowledge race. Every single transperson murdered this year was black, with one exception. She was Native American.

Even after high profile instances of domestic abuse has been witnessed in the media, intimate partner violence continues to be a taboo topic. Professional athletes continue with impunity after public abuse of their intimate or former intimate partners. Once the survivor manages to extricate themselves from the relationship, they enter the most dangerous time in the relationship. Not only are they at risk of being murdered, according to Liz Roberts, the chief program officer at Safe Horizons, "even after a survivor has removed [themself] from their abusive relationship and gotten [the] kids to safety, [they]may be met with hostility and mistrust from the children [they've] been working so hard to protect. . . . Kids sometimes play into the victim-blaming that they learned from the abusive parent who was left behind."

Roberts explains further:

Abusers typically actively undermine the children’s respect for and confidence for the adult victim,” Roberts said. “They’ll say things like, ‘It’s your mommy’s fault that this happened’ or ‘Your mommy is stupid, that’s why she did that.’ Or the children will overhear the put downs directed at the adult victim herself.” Plus, "Victims of intimate partner violence typically face high levels of stress, which can exacerbate any chronic health conditions they may have already had. After they separate from their abusive partner, they remain at risk for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition to physical violence, here is financial abuse, which is using money to control. Indeed, control a huge part of psychological abuse. I have a list of twenty one warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. See if any of these sound familiar. Here is a sampling:

1. Humiliating or embarrassing you.
2. Constant put-downs.
3. Hypercriticism.
4. Refusing to communicate.
5. Ignoring or excluding you.
6. Extramarital affairs.
7. Provocative behavior with opposite sex.
8. Use of sarcasm and unpleasant tone of voice.
9. Unreasonable jealousy.
10. Extreme moodiness.
11. Mean jokes or constantly making fun of you.
12. Domination and control.
13. Making everything your fault.

Is any of this beginning to sound familiar yet? Currently, it feels as if the American public is being held against its will in an abusive relationship. There is this gigantic game of chicken that our leader is gambling our lives by playing with a tiny, admittedly hostile at best, country who does have nuclear technology. Bullying, much? Then, the hateful rhetoric, false equivalencies, and isms of members that have been installed in the administration, have emboldened the angry white men, who at one time had enough shame to wear sheets, to bully those who do not fit that categorizations. The bullying that began during the primaries has ratcheted up, up, up. Now that they are empowered, there is no need for sheets. (Update: 8/14/17, I learned that covering ones face in public is against the law in Virginia, with the exception of Halloween).

Keeping up with the news, I am feeling battered day in and out. This is why I am choosing to focus on self-care and our congregational community. After admittedly relying on the comfort foods method of coping after the election, I'm going to share other methods that are so much more helpful. Contemplative practices are what that I focused on in seminary. Contemplative practices is a blanket term to encompass praying, meditating, keeping one's focus on the immediate present, and task at hand, another form of meditation, which is lately called mindfulness. When I started seminary a number of years ago, I would download pages off the internet, to color and offer fellow students to color as we learned. Now, you cannot leave a check stand without having seen a coloring book. I saw one at the hardware store in Glendale, last weekend.

I learned about, and then taught a Unitarian Universalist form of prayer beads. Having grown up with the rosary, it was natural to look for some equivalent that was not loaded with the baggage I had imbued my early faith. My classmates and I would make stations where our fellow stressed out students could color, draw, sculpt or make prayer beads. We had a drumming group, and because Claremont is a Methodist Seminary, we learned the prayer practices of the early Desert Father Christians, and many other Christian prayer practices that can be adapted, as necessary, to the pluralism that flourishes within Unitarian Universalism.

There is a wonderful book by Rev. Erik Wikstrom, who is a UU minister back east called Simply Pray. This was the most life-giving book through the stressful times that followed during my second year. While he did outline a UU prayer practice, he also suggested rewriting prayers to make them more familiar and beloved. He rewrote the twenty-third psalm substituting dog metaphors for the pastoral imagery of that psalm. That one prayer was worth the price of the book. After all these years, I recently used the structure of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, to write the prayer in the Zen Buddhist language of Thich Nhat Hanh. That felt good. One of the simplest meditative practices that I use is to make a gratitude list in my head, in alphabetical order. I'm grateful for asparagus, and brussel sprouts, and my cat Chuy, and my dog Celie and electricity, and fiber optic networks... If I really cannot sleep after going through the list twice, I start backwards with "Z." My mind is so focused on finding a word that begins with a particular letter, that there is no room to worry about anything else. I've yet to get through the alphabet backwards.

I am a great admirer of another minister back east, Naomi King. She has a wonderful online ministry of prayers, chalice lightings, chalice closings, and blog posts giving inspiration on Twitter, as @revnaomi, Tumblr, and Facebook. She wrote a blog post recently, that I shared with the other congregation. In it she addressed coping in the fraught world that we find ourselves in. Before I share that, her twitter posts from her account @revnaomi yesterday, 8/12/17, read thus:

  • Love gather us in our grief. Help us hold fast to supporting equality & inclusion. #defendcville #prayer
  • #Love unite us in stopping hate with compassion, care, & hope. #prayer
  • Breath of Being call us into this life of courage, faithful risk, & generous joy. #chaliceout #uu

(Silence, 3 beats)
So, as a UU nerd that one inevitably turns into when pursuing ministry, Rev. Naomi ministers to those tender places that I will admit that I hide while being in a congregation. As a ministerial candidate there is a required distance, but we UU's, in general, do spend a lot of time in our heads rather than our hearts. In these trying times, we must challenge ourselves to make it a both/and, rather than an either/or.

In her blog post called 3 Spiritual Practices for the Long Haul, Rev. Naomi challenges us first to allow ouselved to grieve. Let us acknowledge and mourn for the injustices that grow day after day. Only then can we have compassion. Some days, compassion has been a big challenge for me, probably because I have not allowed myselt to grieve as much as I could. When I am lacking compassion, I do use a Buddhist prayer(practice) for each person to be happy, healthy and free. One must include oneself, which can often be the hardest part. This practice is called metta in the Buddhist tradition.

Next, Rev. Naomi challenges us to practice gratitude. I already gave you the alphabetical practice, but writing down what I am grateful for makes a growing list of the things that have the potential to make me happy in the moment. I cherish the list, and those stolen moments of happiness. I would be of no use, or really help, to others if I was angry all of the time. Another practice is the Ignatian Examen, a Christian practice, in which, one thinks of what one is most grateful for and least grateful for at the end of the day. It is great to do in the family or with a partner. What you are least grateful for will at least give you something to sleep on, or work on the next day. If you want to make your gratitude practice even more spiritual, just light a candle, and be fully present.

Last, Rev. Naomi challenges us to "live with reverence and awe." Back to those tiny moments of happiness: my particular moments inevitably come in nature. Fluffy clouds, a wild animal, trees, I'm a tree hugger literally and figuratively, plants, happy children, beloved pets; All of these are gifts that can heighten our spirituality, and make us aware that we are part of the interconnected whole, the web of life of our seventh principle.

As a part of the interconnected whole, we are part of an association of Unitarian Universalist Congregations. If not at church, where can we discuss the tough topics, like domestic violence, racism, homophobia, islamophobia and anti-semitism? If not at church, where can we build a community that is accountable beyond our family of origin, or our chosen family? If not at church, where can we tend to our spirit, as we face yet another justice issue, and keep faith in humanity? One of my favorite ministers preached that Unitarian Universalism is where we practice right relationship, allowing us to further offer those skills to the rest of the world.

Finally, I'd like to close with a short reading from one of our Unitarian Universalist Minister/Professors, Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison Reed. He writes:

The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice.

It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed.

Living in Non-White Whiteness or White Non-Whiteness or ...

Kathleen's 6th Birthday

"What do you like about being white?"

The anti-racism training facilitator chose me to go first. My view of myself as multicultural Latinx, with indigenous heritage and light skinned privilege, was discounted a room full of other participants. Every struggle of not being white enough, or Latina enough flew up to my throat into a knot. I could not get past the word "multicultural," because the facilitator, an African American man, kept interrupting, insisting I was white. I thought my story about my grandparents and great grandparents had explained who I was the day before. The Latina facilitator said in a stage whisper, "She's Latina." The white facilitator said in a stage whisper to the Latina, She's white!" Whispering ensued between them. The facilitator who asked the question more than once said, "Fine, let's move on. We'll get back to you." I sat in shock. The next white individual, somewhat understandably, did not want to claim he was white either.

When I had gone to a people of color retreat last summer, the speaker, Zenju Earthlin Manuel had brought up an example that made sense. In 2013, Black Girl Dangerous blogger, Janani, published, "What's wrong with the term 'person of color?'" In it, they wrote about an exercise about race in an anti-oppression youth camp in the South, in which they, along with two other Asian attendees, were put in the white group rather than the black group. Janani wrote,

I want to return to that moment of racial ambivalence, and why it happened. That moment was unsettling precisely because even if Black and Asian kids had a common experience of being racialized, we didn’t have a common racialized experience.

It seems as if it should be obvious, but upon hearing it the first time, my heart opened with more compassion for we of whom are not of the dominant culture. In our workshop, every single person had been racialized as a consequence of living in the United States. Each one is racialized based on their geography in the country, in addition to the relationships to friends, relatives, loved ones, institutions and society. Not one person's early soul tenderness was battered by racism the same way. I have no claim to the experience of being black, but navigating La Frontera, the borderlands as explained by Gloria E. Anzaldúa, is its own experience. I grew up occupying that liminal space of in between, not pale enough to be white, but without the Spanish language, unable to navigate in the Latinx sphere either. How you were treated could turn on a dime. Especially, if your name changed from European to Hispanic or back. I was punished a whole school year for a surname change and return. My mother experienced it, and my sister, who has fairer skin than mine with dark hair and eyes, experienced it.

As the daughter of a Mexican American mother with the black hair and beautiful brown skin of her father, I was the first of sixteen grandchildren with the black hair and dark brown eyes that favored him. Unfortunately, he died before the year before. As the daughter of my Irish, Scandinavian, Northern European father, I'd never quite fit in. The McGregor family loved me anyway, often pointing out how smart I was, or tall I was, even though my build was more solid, and I tended to be chubby and darker. My heart and self-esteem suffered each time others were disparaged for gaining weight by the weight and look obsessed white women in the family, or how "Mexicans" or worse, "wetbacks" were disparaged by my new German stepfamily, most often by my stepmother.

If I had been asked a different question, the rest of the workshop might have gone differently. Instead, I became the female example of white denial. The trainer said to the group, "We people of color see you as white. You are not fooling us." My shutting down served as another sign of whiteness. In truth, I was in shock. Every misgiving about not being a person of color enough, was laid bare. I did not speak out about myself, nor with anyone else, the rest of the workshop. So, was he right? In a way, yes. And in a way, no.

I have much baggage: growing up in colonialized geography, feeling less than, being a widow of a small, dark, non-gender conforming, Filipina, a raw recent falling out with a relative, being enraged by my late beloved's treatment in the world, the traumatic death and aftermath, being an outcast accused of being unfeeling because I was white, and as such, had no culture, a coopted memorial. To say anything would have sounded like an excuse, or worse, as if I was trying to divert the discomfort, to make the conversation about my feelings, or separate myself from other whites by claiming I had suffered more, or that I had my own oppression, and therefore understood people of color's experience. Diversionary tactics are not new, and I've witnessed each one more than once.

For the evening and the next day, memories of scenes in the hospital, the funeral, and the aftermath haunted me. PTSD is real. When the other facilitator discussed what ends up lost to whites for opting to participate in whiteness the next day, I still could not trust myself to speak. When she blamed herself, her white privilege and ignorance, for the early loss of her own spouse, I just felt ill. I'd just managed to work past the survivor's guilt, stopped finding reasons to blame myself for my beloved's early death.

Going in to anti-racism work the decade before, I needed to be clear in my identity. I considered myself one of the mestizaje, on the border. After much discussion with my minister of color, I took on "person of color" identity as a political statement. That meant the battles are mine. Every single day, I choose not to walk away. My liberation is inextricably woven into the fabric of all people of color. Although there are days I hate the injustice too much to be healthy, I am committed. I'm committed to being open, learning, and to defer to the leadership of those people of color most affected by the intersecting issue at hand. I'm committed for all the multiracial children who do not quite fit into either family, and do not understand why race is such a big deal. I'm committed for gender nonconforming people of color, who are the most vulnerable, the most in danger, in our society. I'm committed for queer people of color, who are nearly as vulnerable. I am especially committed now for queer and gender nonconforming immigrants .

I'm grateful to have recently married, to a partner who works with me and learns with me. Still, I have married back into white privilege. So, what do I like about being white? I like that in passing, I can use the privilege I do have to speak out, protest, agitate, and put my body on the line for those who cannot. I like that in passing, I see and hear white people for who they are with each other. I like that in passing, my privilege can be used for the common good, rather than to get ahead in the capitalist white cultural narrative.

The Pure Land on Earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've mentioned before that my family is what I call Chinese Buddhist - a mixture of Zen, Pure Land, and indigenous traditions. Most of you likely know about Zen, but you might not have heard of Pure Land.

The ultimate goal is still nirvana, as it is with all Buddhism, but Pure Land adherents believe in the existence of a Western paradise, created by the beneficence of the Amitabha Buddha. If one is fortunate enough to be reborn into this place of bliss, free from the distractions of suffering, one will easily attain nirvana. And one becomes so fortunate by praying to Amitabha for help. In his compassion for our suffering, he intervenes when we would not have made it by ourselves. One could call it grace.

And one can see why this flavor of Buddhism gained traction in China, particularly among the laboring class who struggled to feed their families. Pure Land says that 1) you are not alone - there is help, and 2) while conditions may be too difficult to attain nirvana now, there will be a time in the future,  when we’re in the Western Pure Land, when things will be good.

Contrast that with Zen where we are taught that we are all already Buddhas; we just need to remember it, to wake up, which can happen at any instant. Enlightenment is right here and now.

Zen and Pure Land might seem at odds with each other, and yet both exist in Chinese Buddhism for people to draw upon.

Last Sunday was Easter, which in traditional Christianity is thought of as the remedy for the Fall of humanity in the story of Eden. Adam and Eve, who represent us, lived in paradise, which was lost when they transgressed. Due to Jesus intervening for us, many Christians look forward to regaining paradise, heaven, in the future.

Now, most UUs would probably reject the idea of a Western Pure Land as most reject the idea of heaven. We Unitarians are known for focusing our attentions on this life and the needs of this world. As a dying Henry David Thoreau famously quipped when asked if he could see what's next, “One world at a time.”

And that is my take too. To me, the bodhisattva's vow to not cross over until every sentient being is free is a call to social action. Because the world is full of hardships that distract people from being able to attain enlightenment, we need to remove those hardships - such as racism, poverty, war, and environmental destruction - so that people have the space to practice. We need to create the Pure Land on earth, otherwise known as what Rev Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community.

It was this desire to create a better world that led to the first Earth Day in 1970, the creation of the EPA, and passing of key environmental legislation to protect our air, water, land, and sibling species. This life, this world.

Yet recently I've realized that even though my focus is in this world, I've still been holding onto a notion of a future mythic paradise. Perhaps you are too. Not a paradise in an afterlife, no, but when I think of the Beloved Community or the Pure Land on earth, I catch myself thinking of the future, not the present. A future where humans live in harmony with each other and with Mother Earth, and all beings have enough. We just need to keep working, keep educating, keep advocating for change until we achieve it.

I call this a mythic paradise because in my more rational moments I realize that such a future cannot exist. Not as a steady state. To think that someday we’ll live in a utopia with no more social ills is a belief with little more basis in reality than belief in heaven or a Pure Land.  I'm not saying that we can't succeed in fighting climate change and racism, etc. I believe that we can and will prevail. But even as those social issues are resolved, others will arise. The work will always be ongoing.  That's just the nature of things.  Eden didn't “fall” because of some moral failing in humanity. “The Fall' was inevitable because change is inevitable. Because we are conditioned beings subject to impermanence. Because, entropy.

So, if the Beloved Community, or the Pure Land on earth, isn’t a state that can be achieved, one might despair and ask what’s the point? Well, aside from the fact that without the efforts of people who care things would be worse, there is this. In Chinese Buddhism there is both Pure Land and Zen.  Pure Land says enlightenment will happen in the future, and Zen says that enlightenment is right here and now for us to see.  We work for a better future, as our ancestors did for us, AND, every time we meet the Other with loving kindness, we create the Beloved Community at that moment. The Pure Land, paradise, already exists here and now, created by us over and over again.

Practice Taking Risks

Okay, I don't consider myself in a position to preach. I really don't. I just know what *I* strongly believe and that's it...and I listen to others. So, this week, I'm in charge of the service and the topic of the month is "risk."

I just saw a colleague post about reminding a man not to refer to his female assistant (?) as a "girl." And I'm sure this was completely unintentional and there's nothing at all wrong with him and he probably, hopefully, appreciated having his attention brought to this. My colleague, understandably, felt a little embarrassed.

Here's my approach to this kind of thing: How are we ever going to stand up for the big things, when something's really at stake, and act in the moment, if we don't *practice?*

Like physical self defense, sometimes social risk-taking, standing up for what is right, has to become automated. Or it just won't happen. Knowing what you believe is only halfway there. It's a huge step, but then there's at least another one, and that's acting on it.

Because I believe this so firmly, and I hate being caught in a situation where I later think about how I wish I could have acted, or helped (and sometimes no matter what you can't), I make it a point to practice with smaller, seemingly less significant opportunties.

It's not about nit-picking. It's not about being overly sensitive, or making a "big deal" about something that wasn't meant to be a big deal. It's not the incident itself that should be weighed, but its usefulness in practicing. That's a different value judgement, and much easier to act from, then trying to judge every situation on a case by case basis.

All of us, but especially women and girls, do this thing where we get stuck trying to weigh the worth of an event. We're sitting there trying to figure out, from scratch, where the bar of "okay, THIS is a big deal" is on the nebulous spectrum we never seem to understand...WHILE something is happening, and long after, when it's too late to do something about it.

Some friends this week have been talking on Facebook about their experiences with abusive relationships. Horrific stories. Fascinating examples of manipulation and human sickness. I had a new appreciation for the fact that without knowing what you believe, or in this case, what to look for and notice, it is very easy to go from mild gas-lighting to suddenly a horrible situation that literally puts your life at risk...and scars you forever.

I know a little about what some "abuse" looks like in small forms, so I speak up at the seemingly little stuff. Comments that I don't agree with. Attempts to put me down, or coerce me to do something. Letting people know when I'm pissed at something, instead of hiding it or swallowing it and trying not to let it show. I'm firm, and yet not combative.

But since I have not actually been in THIS situation, I realize anew it would do me well to learn more what the flags are...because you can't see things when you're IN them. only if you have the markers ahead of time, can you know what to look for on the landscape. Looking at a map, and being IN the map, are two different perspectives, and exist in different dimensions.

Now, I've made mistakes. It is rare, but recently, I made one. I misjudged a man and had to go back and apologize, very, very humbly. I did, and he forgave me. But though I'm sorry I hurt his feelings, and I really did, I am not sorry that I acted on my beliefs. It's good for him to know that he can be misjudged, because sexism and harassment are serious problems and exist. Maybe he can contribute to doing something about it, if he doesn't want to live in a world like that. Mistakes can be corrected. Harm cannot always be corrected.

So...I haven't lived on this earth long enough, nor experienced lack of privilege enough, to really believe I have much worth to talk about when it comes to taking risks. But since I have to anyway, that is one of the points I will be bringing up: the importance of practice.

The little things *do* matter, people. We should never feel silly for caring about them. The worst that can happen is people don't get it and are annoyed with you. And guess what....people are going to think whatever they think, ANYWAY. Is that really so bad, if you know what you believe, and have the peace of knowing that you act on it? Wouldn't it feel better to be thought of as "that" person, when you've actually done something, not just because you timidly spoke and *suggested* something?

I admit I actually enjoy saying, "I disagree," when someone makes a comment that is upholding an oppressive, harmful belief. They don't have to understand...I don't need to convince them. i respect them. But it's good for them to know that someone might disagree.

If I stay silent, they will go through life believing that what they said was acceptable, because no one else seems to find it UNacceptable. And it is not my job to make sure someone who takes a risk by stating an opinion falls back on as soft a cushion of disappointment as possible. They took a risk; they can handle the consequences. I literally will say this sometimes only for the record. For the record, everyone does not agree with or endorse that opinion, but you're welcome to have one as long as you understand that.

Anyway, I wish I could say this more articulately and do a better job of being inspirational here. I just want to affirm for ANYone the value and rightness of caring and speaking about things that seem to have minimum consequences.

The little things are guilding over the big problems. Our rape culture, for example, extends from simple jokes, unconscious victim-blaming and mixed messages about gender roles all the way to the very worst. They may not be the same in degree, but they ARE connected. They are of the same nature, stem from the same problems. To respond to one less in degree is to contribute to lessening the worst that can happen.

Be strong. Know what you believe. And practice. Practice. Practice. You're not going to hurt anyone. Everyone will be all right. If you practice, you're less likely to overdo it when something big happens and you make a mistake, because all that anger and surge of emotion and years of not speaking out comes to the surface and crucifies whoever happens to be standing in the way that day.

But with practice, that energy flows more easily, and the mistakes don't have to be that harmful. The more we practice something, the better we get at it. NEVER berate yourself for standing up for what you believe, large, small, or miniscule. It's just being consistent, that's all.

Remember that poem that went around a few weeks ago, calling out how people look back at the Civil Rights movement, and firmly believe they would have marched with King, they would have seen very clearly what was wrong and what they were called to do, and yet TODAY, when we face identical situations, it is hard to get up and going, hard to see it the same way.

So people sit on the sidelines. And comment. And shake their heads, and tell protestors how they should be protesting, when they've never so much as held a sign themselves. I focused on women's issues here, but this is true for everyone. We all need to trust ourselves and value ourselves enough to be willing to act, and yes, without thinking. Thinking feels like acting, but it's not. Practice can help tell the difference, and hone the degree of appropriate reaction.

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