Thursday, December 31, 2015

at the close of the year...

I love this day in the great circle of days: the closing of the year. It organically evokes melancholia in me as well as wonder and quiet awe. Who knows where we will be lead as the New Year ripens? I could never have predicted where 2015 would take me personally - to say nothing of our world collectively - with all its anguish and delight. One of my spiritual and artistic mentors, the incomparable Carrie Newcomer, recently wrote:  

In a year that has brought us so much news of tragedy and concern, it is easy to walk around with feelings of vague unease, nagging worry and fear. This is human. But, remember, my friends, that this year has also brought brilliant and consistent acts of goodness. They do not always get the front page, because right now our media mistakenly believes that what sells is the worst and most salacious bits of human nature. Often the commercial news gives greater time (and therefore weight) to ugly ideas, and so we begin to believe there is more shadow than Light in the world. But again, remember: The best of what we are is still alive and present in every community. Acts of decency and kindness are happening every single day. We know this, because we have seen this with our own eyes and hearts. There is still something fine and sacred in the world.

That insight is certainly pulling at my heart as I periodically watch the PBS News Hour and scan the stories on the NYTimes website (we gave up cable and our Times subscription after the sabbatical.) Given the magnitude of suffering and cynicism, even the Times felt compelled to write a reflective editorial reminding us that not all is going to hell. Their "Moments of Grace" recalls Christmas Eve 1968 when some of us came home from midnight worship to watch live shots from the Apollo 8 mission to the moon.  As Frank Gorman read the opening words from Genesis, "In the beginning..." a hush fell over our usually calamitous house.  And when he offered a benediction, "Good night, good luck, Merry Christmas and God bless all of you on our good earth" I was filled with something like the peace that passes understanding. (check it out @

I felt something like that again on my way home from a last minute shopping errand: there were too many last minute shoppers buying too much stuff - like me - on a day that had already become too busy. There was too much anxiety and expectation in the air, too. So I asked myself to simply walk around the store as if I were on pilgrimage.We had just talked about both the blessings and surprises of going on pilgrimage at midday Eucharist yesterday so it was still close to my heart. And I wasn't in any authentic hurry. I had all the time I needed to buy some mezze for tonight.  We are not planning anything significant for marking the close of the year except eating by candlelight, sipping some French wine and maybe recalling some of the surprises of 2015. We'll get our Christmas/New Year's letter out electronically this afternoon and make sure Lucie gets to run in the frozen scrub, too. But nothing extraordinary so why not let the supermarket become a holy place?

Walking slowly through the fury I was able to smile, hold some doors open and lift a pork roast into someone's crowded basket.  More surprising, however, was the flood of thoughts that became prayers for me as I walked.  I thought of the venomous words I've recently read about Bill Cosby. There is no excuse or pardon great enough to cover over the monstrous acts he  committed on women caught within those twisted and broken relationships built upon power and degradation. He must experience the consequences of his cruelty - that is the karmic wisdom of justice - and the modest gift it brings to the victims. At the same time, I can't help but notice how so many seem to revel in their condemnations of Cosby. There is an insidious self-righteousness flying through the media that celebrates the ugly collapse of this tragic and brutal man because he had once been the face of humility and humor for America. This is troubling to me.

I am equally troubled by what sounds like sanctimonious belligerence from both those who are grieving the death of Kamir Rice in Cleveland and those who refuse to own the racism, fear and brutality that too often trumps respect and reason from our police departments. I think columnist Connie Schultz hit the nail on the head in her widely heralded piece, "How Racists Talk about Tamir Rice." She is spot on in calling out the racist excuses so many of us use when talking about violence to people of color in the USA. 

White English is a state of mind. It turns words into weapons to dehumanize an entire population of people, and it is bubbling up like pus in a dirty wound after Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty convinced a grand jury that the police were justified in killing a black child playing with an air gun. White English casts Tamir Rice, for the first time in his short life, as an equal among men — rather than as a 12-year-old boy limited by the judgment of his years. He "should have known better." He should have "listened to the police," as if there's no reason to doubt their claim that they yelled three warnings to this child in less than two seconds.

White English repeats, over and over, that this child was "big for his age."

He's not 12-year-old Tamir; he's "Mr.
Rice." Even in his grave, he grows.

He is no longer 5 feet 7 inches tall.

He was 5 feet 9.

He was 5'11".

He was 6 feet tall.

He was a man.

He was a menace.

He was a thug.

White English is the language of the Superior White Parents club, where perfect children raised by perfect parents now raise perfect children of their own who would never jump around in a park and pretend to be shooting a toy gun. They know this because they have special powers that allow them to see what their perfect children are doing every minute of every day. If you dare suggest this is not possible, they will turn on you in a hot minute. How dare you question their parenting as they pick apart Tamir Rice's mother? White English has no words to acknowledge that Samaria Rice loved her son. That she banned toy guns from their home. That she didn't know he had his friend's air gun that day.

Compassion guides her words - even when truly mean-spirited readers craft vile responses that question Ms. Schultz' integrity and safety, she still is guided by a profound sense of solidarity that carries her beyond her safety zone. She is outraged and wounded as are all people of the heart, but Schultz let's her anger move her into words that build community, understanding and maybe even action. Not so with too many church and/or social justice advocates who are quick with petitions and demands but have rarely (if ever) walked our mean streets with our police forces. Not so with those who leave the dirty work of safety and crime prevention to people they never even notice.  Not so from those who choose to pontificate from the comfort and security of their wealth and privilege. 

My mentor in urban ministry used to tell me over and again, white allies need to earn their street cred NOT by what we say (unless invited and/or asked) but by what we DO. Trust is never portable, it must be documented and earned by showing up and joining the cause of justice as servants not leaders. Would that many of us would be still right now and listen to the broken-hearted cries of "Rachel weeping over her children" in Cleveland and Chicago rather than offering our well-intentioned but all too privileged words of rage or advice. Indeed, when our progressive words sound as nearly inflated and irrelevant as those from the likes of Trump et al, something is out of balance.  

Ms. Newcomer offers an important corrective at the close of the year for all of us who want to help our community move towards greater love, hope and compassion:

 Acts of decency and kindness are happening every single day. We know this, because we have seen this with our own eyes and hearts. There is still something fine and sacred in the world. Remember my friends... The things that have always saved us will continue to save us. The things that have consistently tripped us up, will continue to trip us up. Yes, greed, injustice, fear and hate are present in this world. But, love, kindness, truth, justice, intelligence, grace and hospitality, presence, compassion and humor are still here, and completely available to us each and every moment of each and every day. No, we cannot change the whole world, but we can change the spirit we bring to the world we know. Look around, rest in knowing that you can be the love you want to see in the world. It is human to be afraid sometimes...but we do not have to "be" the fear.

BE the love you want to see in the world. BE still more often than not. BE slow as you walk around. BE connected and then BE in quiet solitude for a season. BE still... and know what is true, loving, broken, hard, sacred and real.  Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a poem he calls "Please Call Me By My True Names," that gets to the heart of deflated the rhetoric of self-righteous indignation so that we might move toward the more honest and humble work of love and healing:

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second 
to be a bud on a spring branch, 
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile, 
learning to sing in my new nest, 
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, 
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, 
in order to fear and to hope. 
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and 
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time 
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond, 
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence, 
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, 
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks, 
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to 
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names, 
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, 
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names, 
so I can wake up, 
and so the door of my heart can be left open, 
the door of compassion.

Happy New Year...

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