Wednesday, October 18, 2017

our new world faces a complicated birth...

NOTE: In light of the extraordinary sea change that seemingly has taken place
over night in our culture with the #Me Too campaign, but which is more like a tipping towards justice and hope for all women and the GLBTQ community after eons of abuse, it felt timely to re-up my September Op-Ed reflection in the local Berkshire Eagle. Not only has the #Me Too campaign empowered millions of women, it has awakened the better angels within men, too. As I suggest below, Valerie Kaur is right, this is a birthing moment.  A new way of being is beginning to take root in our land that honors and protects all life. It, too, is built upon the efforts of suffragettes, abolitionists, labor union organizers, pacifists, feminists and civil rights activists from generations past. As one veteran of the Freedom Marches told me on a farm worker picket line back in the 70s: Every generation must reclaim the call and drive for freedom and make it their own. 
Like the labor process itself, we are still struggling - albeit in different ways - to give shape and form to "the beloved community." So despite the current mean-spirited misogyny, racism and ignorance that reigns in the White House, yet again we are seeing that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. Perhaps local folk can join me this Sunday, October 22, 2017 for a panel colloquy re: racism, sexism and Anti-Semitism in the Berkshires @ First Baptist Church in Pittsfield.


PITTSFIELD — My granddaughter just came into this world at Maimonides Medical Center where Jewish physicians work side by side with Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and non-religious colleagues pursuing the cause of healing. These Asian, African, Latino, Russian, Middle Eastern, and Anglo professionals have laid aside their differences in search of common ground. Likewise, this baby's parents, who hail from a Scots-Irish-Italian heritage and Protestant/Roman Catholic spiritualities, are committed to helping her honor Ramadan and Yom Kippur as well as Christmas, as they have already done with her four-year-old brother. Collectively, it seems to me, there is a new America a'bornin' even though it is proving to be a truly complicated birth.

Sikh scholar Valerie Kaur suggests that our present darkness is not so much a tomb as it is a womb. A matter of perspective, faith and imagination, to be sure, but Kaur notes that: "Where a tomb conjures the words cold, damp, lonely, finite, the womb draws up notions of warmth, safety, love, and potential. As we know, the womb is where we, as beings, begin to grow, develop, and equip ourselves with the tools we need to enter into the unknown world. What if our experience of darkness offered this same opportunity?"

Polling and experience document that a majority of Americans yearn for the birthing of a more perfect union. We were unnerved by the neo-Nazi, white supremacists who threw away their sheets in Charlottesville. We have been anxious and afraid as our president acts more like a collaborator with the Klan than the commander-in-chief. Perhaps it is time to reclaim the wisdom of spiritual midwives who have guided those traveling the road into God's beloved community before us.

* First, we must embrace a willingness to nourish inner peace because "we can't give what we ain't got." Whatever spiritual practice nourishes your soul and grounds you in grace, now is the time reclaim it. Contemplation trains distracted and often confused individuals to be soul warriors for peace. Meditation incarnates within us the change we ache to see in the world, and without it we always fall back into the habits of privilege and power.

* Second, we need a vigorous campaign of community truth-telling because white Americans don't know our own history. Long before Mr. Trump's false equivalencies, white politicians have been playing the race card. Whether by erecting statues of Confederate soldiers as acts of domestic terrorism in support of Jim Crow, voter suppression, racial gerrymandering, de jure segregation, lynching, rape or the careful manipulation of cultural racism through coded Klan rhetoric called "dog whistles," our history has been saturated with intolerance — and most of us don't know it. Santayana was right that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The wise souls in AA are even more direct: If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.

* And third, the 21st century aches for a renewal of public ceremonies of repentance. "The extremist right-wing groups [in the US] are not counting on majority support, but they are counting on majority silence they do not expect media adulation, but they are eager for media attention. And they are emboldened by our president. For all these reasons, it is crucial for Americans — especially white Americans — to find every way they can to loudly and clearly condemn white supremacy for what it is: an evil lie and a dangerous cancer in a nation that seeks to provide dignity and justice for all." (The Christian Century).

Repentance is not about shame, but changing the direction of our lives, literally choosing life over all the mechanisms of death, fear and evil we have avoided, hidden and denied. Acceptance is the only way the truth sets us free. It is also the only way to rebuild trust among wounded people. Birthing is hard work. It is not accidental we call it labor. But imagine what a series of shared public ceremonies built around owning our legacy with racism might bring to birth in Pittsfield. Imagine an interfaith gathering with music, poetry, commentary and reflection that was honest, faithful and inclusive.

Imagine our shared grief — and the possibilities for forgiveness. Imagine such a world a'bornin' within and among us. And know that now is the time for people who have tasted, seen, wept and dreamed about such a birth not only to carry this child to term, but to nurture her in solidarity.

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