Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Through consciousness, our minds have the power to change our planet and ourselves. It is time we heed the wisdom of the ancient indigenous people and channel our consciousness and spirit to tend the garden and not destroy it. -- Bruce Lipton

Note: This is the text of the sermon I preached on August 13, 2017, following the devastating events in Charlottesville that weekend. You can find the audio of my sermon here.

So today is World Indigenous People’s Day, and I have at least two former pastors in the room today. I don’t know if there’s more , nut I know there’s at least two, and so I hope I don’t speak out of school, but typically the way I prepare a sermon is to, throughout the week, just kind of think on it, and then write down notes. And then, typically, Saturday at 10 PM I begin to write.
Fortunately, this week I started earlier; I started Friday at 10 PM because I knew I had a busy Saturday. And so really, by Saturday morning, the sermon was almost done.

And then, yesterday happened and I felt like I needed to make a change.

So I began, yesterday, to scribble down some more notes, some sermon notes as I like to call them, on what I would preach about. But what happened is that I had so long a time of writing notes, that I never actually got to write a sermon; so I’m just going to share my notes with you today.

This is World Indigenous Peoples Day, but this sermon must put Charlottesville and white supremacy at the center.

This sermon must juxtapose the wisdom and beauty ff indigenous culture with the violence and bigotry of white supremacy that quashed indigenous folks always.

This sermon must reflect on the indigenous natural methods ff healing disease without harming the environment, and how white supremacy seeks to control drugs and medical access to fill their pockets with money.

This sermon must be an angry sermon.

This sermon must denounce the emboldened Neo-Nazi/white supremacist movement.

This sermon must draw a line, must show how the thread of white privilege-that was first sewn into this land’s quilt over 600 years ago-has been the constant thread that has led to the horrific acts of violence, terrorism , and hatred that we saw unfold on our television, our laptop, our ipad, our smartphone’s screens.

This sermon must dare to connect the dots of the election of a man who openly spewed racist, misogynistic, homophobic screeds, whose campaign speeches could be classified as hate speech, whose utter disregard for the planet that indigenous people consider kin, whose complete lack of empathy for those who don’t fit into his narrow vision of what constitutes someone of worth and dignity--which, by the way, doesn’t include me, as a queer  person--or anyone else who is queer, or a person of color, or a woman, or an immigrant, or refugee, or trans, or poor---

this sermon must connect the dots from this man’s election to yesterday’s carnage, as heard in the remarks of former Grand Imperial Wizard Of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, who said in an interview yesterday, with the Indianapolis Star, “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we’re going to do."

That connect-the-dots-image reveals a gross perversion of justice, of democracy, of what has really made America great in the past.

Those dots connect to a flashing neon sign that says Make America Hate Again.

And too many are too willing to comply. Not just in Charlottesville, VA, but in Bloomington, MN, where the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center was bombed on August 5,  and in our own town, where the “n” word was spray-painted onto cars in the neighborhood next to mine, and where the Jewish synagogue was defaced with swastikas and Nazi statements.

This sermon that I’m going to write must, of course, show how those dots go all the way back to the genocide of the native folks, the indigenous folks of this land, carried out by white people far from here, who already had firmly embraced the idea that their way was the best way; that their desire for land, for power, for wealth superseded the indigenous folks right to simply dwell in peace on the only land they had known for generations.

This sermon must point out we lost so much when we destroyed entire nations of peoples, even while we engaged in human trafficking, bringing over and enslaving other nations of people,  other peoples of color; as is white was the only true humanity, as if white really did make might.

But this sermon must also speak about hope.

This sermon cannot end with despair, with an overwhelming feeling of hopeless.

No, this sermon must also speak of the pockets of beauty that are waiting to be picked by our seeking hands:

The Love Lives Here rally that was held in Bonforte Park last Sunday in response to the vandalism in the North End where so many people of so many faiths gathered together; where Muslims mingled with Jews, and the neighbors of the Old North End joined the liberals of downtown.

This sermon must remember the tear-inducing video ff clergy of many faiths standing arm in arm
in Charlottesville yesterday, facing the armed domestic terrorists who swaggered down the streets in the combat fatigues, and overly compensating semi-automatic weapons.

This sermon must speak about the bold words of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who said what the president did not; who clearly said to the white supremacists and the Neo-Nazis:
Go home. You are not welcome here. You are not welcome in America.

This sermon must also tell how Minnesota governor, Mark Dayton, unflinchingly called the bombing of the mosque an act of terrorism, and said, Let’s face it, if it had been the other way around, we would have already been calling it that, if Muslims had bombed a Christian church.
This sermon must talk about how already, by Monday morning, just two days after the attack, over 900 people had contributed over $36,000 to help with the repair of the Mosque.

This sermon must mention the 3 plus hour meeting I attended yesterday, along with  Isabel, and Charles, and Jan, and Rick; how we gathered with members of the Colorado Springs Sanctuary Coalition, as well as members of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition; how we talked with those who fear being ripped away from the lives they’ve made for themselves here, from the families they created here; how we know that today, Foothills UU Church in Fort Collins is on the cusp of a vote to become a sanctuary church, as well.

And how--even though we were talking about such dire things as men and women in fear for their freedom, in fear of what will happen to their families, should they be snatched up off the streets and deported--how I felt suddenly, in the midst of that dire conversation, a small spark of hope, of comfort, a certain joy that I was not alone, that these men and women were not alone, that our small, intrepid coalition of a rag tag band of folks from different organizations and faith communities were not alone, that the counter-protestors in Charlottesville, VA, and the Love Lives Here rally last week were not alone.

We are, none of us alone. We have others who are showing up with us, showing up for justice, for peace, for equity in human relationships.

We have an entire seminar coming up in Boulder, an entire seminar on Dirt. There’s a youtube video that shows how simply composting, creating dirt, can save our planet, even if our government will not; that she is not alone, that we have not forgotten all the wisdom of the ancestors of the indigenous folks who once lived, and who still live among us, ready to share their wisdom, ready to introduce us to our mother, Earth, whenever we are ready to truly meet her.

This sermon needs to call us back to a simpler understanding of the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

But not is some schmaltzy, kum-by-yah way that attempts to sugar coat the ways that we have been complicit in the system of white supremacy, that allowed nations of indigenous folks to be murdered, or forced off their land, or forced to adopt a culture that wasn’t theirs, that profited from the selling of humans in the most inhumane chapter of our history, that allows us to turn away from the rhetoric coming from the White House, or the violence spilling over in the streets of not just Charlottesville, but every city in our nation, with a simple click of a button.

This sermon needs to be a clarion call to action! To rise up! To speak up!

But also to shut up! And to sit down! And to listen, listen deeply. Listen deeply to the voices of the indigenous people of all cultures, to the voices of the marginalized peoples in our own town, to the voices of hope and peace, and a way out of the shadows of bigotry, and hate, and oppression, and hopelessness.

This sermon needs to remind folks that there is a way. It is the way of love, of never-ending love, of love which never gives up, or gives in, of love which is embodied in our words and actions, in how we protect one another, and learn from one another.

 Of love that recognizes we are , each of us, indigenous citizens of this planet earth and we cannot survive, until and unless, we embrace our diversity, and embrace our Mother, and channel our consciousness and spirit  to tend the garden and not destroy it.

That’s what this sermon needs to say.

Now, if I can only find the words to say it.

Now, if I can only find the way to live it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. --- Adrienne Rich

Earlier this week, I was reading one of my favorite poems to my girlfriend. The poem, Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev by Adrienne Rich speaks in the voice of Elvira who perished, along with all the members of a women’s climbing team while attempting Lenin’s Peak in August, 1974.
Adrienne writes with such simple beauty:

If in this sleep I speak
it's with a voice no longer personal
(I want to say with voices)
When the wind tore our breath from us at last
we had no need of words
For months for years each one of us
had felt her own yes growing in her
slowly forming as she stood at windows waited
for trains mended her rucksack combed her hair
What we were to learn was simply what we had
up here as out of all words that yes gathered
its forces fused itself and only just in time
to meet a No of no degrees
the black hole sucking the world in 

As I read these words to my girlfriend, tears streamed down my face. At first I tried to stop and regain my composure but then I thought, what the hell, and just cried.
This isn’t the first time in recent months that I’ve openly wept at beauty. Last month my gf and I were in Northern California, a birthday trip from her to me. We were driving up 101 to Redwood country. Although I’d lived in central California for four years and Southern California for five years, I’d never made it up north and this was my first time seeing the ancient sentinels. We were in a borrowed convertible, the top down, and when we entered the first grove of Redwoods, I felt my heart swell in amazement, their beauty was breath-taking; I wept.
This is a new development in my life, to be so openly moved by beauty—whether in written word, nature, or acts of kindness that I read about in my newsfeed—that my only reaction is to shed tears. I know that part of this is a consequence of becoming more open with my heart as I’ve gotten older. I remember my younger years---holding my feelings close to my chest, trying for a bluff rather than showing my ace of hearts. I remember those days of yearning to be seen for who I am, yet so fearful of revealing myself. The need for approval has peeled back like so many layers of the proverbial onion as I’ve gotten older, becoming more boldly myself, replacing my tough persona with my tender heart. (“You need someone tender,” my gf said the first day we met and were talking about our lives, in a casual getting-to-know-you sort of way; she didn’t know I’d see the tenderness in her and decide the position was filled.)
But I think this latest iteration of being moved to tears has another element to it. The world we’re living in has become increasingly ugly in recent months—or rather, I should say the humans in this world have been covering up the beauty with the smog of bigotry and intolerance towards others and a cruel, dispassionate tossing away of our natural resources; like petty vandals so many are carving their names in ash and poison into the earth, toppling over the mountains with a concerted push, setting a match to our forests ‘til they burn like kindling.
The rhetoric coming out of our nation’s capital is that of stripping away protections from people and our planet in order to generate more wealth and power for a few; in our streets, people drive trucks proudly waving confederate flags or Nazi swastikas while others live in fear of being deported from the only home they know; in my own town, cars are vandalized with the “n” word, swastikas are smeared on a local Jewish synagogue.
So much ugliness in this world.
And so, beauty seen in nature or seen in loving acts of kindness from one human to another, from one human to the planet, or beauty felt in poetry or great literature now moves me ever deeper than before; it causes tears to well up and spill down my face. They are happy tears, of course, but also tears of relief that such beauty still exists if we know where to look for it, and that my heart, so embattled and scarred over these past months, can still dare to let it in , to let it all in, to allow myself to be touched by the wonders of this world.
It reminds me of poet Rainer Maris Rilke’s advice:

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final

And it gives me strength to know that even though much has been lost that I couldn’t save, even in the midst of such ugly destruction of decency and concern for others and our planet, still I will cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. And I will do it from one moment of beauty to the next.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Truth Shall Set You Free

(This was originally published in the July 26, 2017 editions of the Cheyenne/Woodmen Gazette Community News, with the headline When Truth in Identity Sets You Free. I do a quarterly column for them.)

Loving-kindness toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything.... We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is whoever we are right now, just as we are. That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest. – Pema Chodron

Recently, while visiting mom in Austin, TX, I stayed on the comfy couch downstairs. My first morning, I was still sleeping soundly when around 630 AM I heard a repeated thwack coming from outside. Whatever was making the noise was determined to keep on making it, it seemed, until I got up.
In exasperation, I half rose and looked out the window to see if I could spy the culprit ad find a way to make it stop.
Imagine my surprise when I saw a small, red cardinal hurl itself at the window—thwack --- only to be bounced to the ground by the unyielding glass and then, once it got its bearings, launched himself at the window again.
When I told my mom what I had seen she said he does that every morning. My sister, Kari, shed some light on the reason. She had googled what causes that behavior; it seems the male cardinal mistakes his own reflection for another bird and aggressively attacks it.
Of course, the enemy turns out to be his reflection and all that he gets is a bump on the head.
The colorful, pint-sized Don Quixote continues his morning battle for the rest of my stay. I learned not to look; it was disturbing to see.
But it made me think of how often we humans engage in battles against imaginary enemies, only to find we are railing against our own hidden shadow side. If we aren’t fighting against it, we’re shamefully trying to hide it, not willing to acknowledge the darkness within us, as well as the light.
Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron shows us another way: radical self-acceptance and self-love. This means embracing all of who we are, acknowledging all our flaws, our fears, our insecurities, our biases, our ignorance.
There’s a well-known Christian scripture in which Jesus says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. (John 8:32) Another meaning for the Greek word, know, is allow, be aware of. And doesn’t that make more sense? We do know the truth of who we are and we fight against it, hurling ourselves at its reflection in our lives over and over. It’s only when we allow the truth though, that we are set free to deal with it, study it, come to know, as Pema suggests with tremendous curiosity and interest.
Just think if those of us who are queer didn’t have to struggle with our truth, didn’t have to “come out” but rather welcome people into our deepest truths. Or if those who are in unhealthy relationships or miserable jobs didn’t have to put on a happy face or pretend everything is fine but rather allow the truth to set them free. Recovering addicts know all about allowing the truth of their addiction to be acknowledged and finding freedom.

Imagine if that cardinal just stopped for a moment to gaze at his reflection rather than fight it; just think what a beautiful creature he would see. And so would we, if we only do the same.