Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Supposed to Sound a Bit Strange

This reflection was given on Friday, December 15. The daily readings from that day can be found here.
This Advent, the readings that have caught my attention really call me to attention about how I respond to things that are new and different and outside of my “normal” experience in life.
Thinking about what Jesus’ coming means to the world, I am reminded of a story my friend once told. First, does everyone remember dial-up internet? When it would connect to your computer, the way it would sound, lots of dings, static, dongs, that khhhh noise?
My friend used to work as a telephone operator. When internet started being put into people’s homes, she would tell them, you are going to hear something completely new – do not be alarmed, it is supposed to sound strange, but it will connect you to the world wide web.
This is my understanding of what Christmas is calling me to this year – when Jesus came into this world, he did not come in a way anyone would expect. He did not enter in a clean, everything-in-order, powerful way. He came as a baby, born into an unwed couple, who were refugees fleeing from the violence of Herod killing all young boys, in the middle of the night, in a stable, there right in the midst of the cows and sheep. And I think the angel’s song that night to the shepherds might have resembled what my friend told people over the operator line: “You are going to hear something completely new – do not be alarmed, it is supposed to sound a bit strange, but he will connect you to the world in an entirely new and wonderful way.”
I had the privilege of living as an overseas volunteer in Uganda, in Eastern Africa. One of the privileges of my having that experience is that when I entered into such a different culture, I did not expect to hear things I already knew or see things I normally saw. I did not expect to understand much of anything. So, when I expect to be surprised by newness, to be graced by something never before understood to me, most things appear as a blessing, appear as something being touched by God, and I tend to have more space in my heart for them. Sometimes that went smoothly, other times not as much.
One day, I was taking an afternoon off, and went into the closest town to our village. As I was walking down the street, some street children began following me closely, more closely than I felt comfortable. They were asking me for things and making jokes in the local language. I turned around and said, "Abaana, muvaio!" – Children, move back, you are too close! They all stopped and stared at me with their eyes wide open, then erupted into laughter. One boy, who I later learned his name is Moses, started asking me how I knew their language, and to my surprise, invited me to sit and talk with them. We spent the next hour talking and laughing and learning. In response to my not very kind, judgmental, and frankly a bit fearful response to them, I did not expect to hear an invitation. I did not expect to gain new friends who I visited each time I went into town thereafter. Yet I was connected to the world, to myself, and to God in an entirely new and wonderful way.
When God came to Earth, he came as a human, a part of daily normal life. When I remind myself that I am still in mission in my normal daily life; I am still called to be a missionary disciple even when I am back here in the United States, I feel challenged to recall that the invitation to encounter and share the journey may come from someone who is not powerful, who doesn’t fit my ideas of a “leader” or “world-changer,” and who might defy my ideas of culture. I recall that I am called to leave judgment aside, and to listen with open ears, see with eyes of newness, and feel with a heart open to God. I invite you to join me in asking ourselves, as Pope Francis asks, "Are we open to Gods surprises? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us?"

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Compassion & Courage in the Midst of Fear

This is the opening welcome I gave today at the Interfaith Prayer Service described below.

Seventy-five years ago today, President Franklin D Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which moved all persons of Japanese Ancestry living mostly on the west coast into internment camps. The 120,000 people who were forcibly moved were good, upstanding citizens and neighbors, shopkeepers and teachers, mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. From Seattle, many were first moved to Camp Harmony at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, then to Camp Minidoka in Idaho, which had been built by their own hands.

Maryknoll, the Catholic Mission Society was ministering in Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church on the SE edge of First Hill. We welcomed and served Japanese-American and Filipino immigrants. When the Executive Order was issued, Maryknoll helped the whole community, Catholic or not, find places for their belongings, sell what could be sold, and help make the transition as smooth as possible. The Pastor at the church, Fr. Leopold Tibesar, moved first to Puyallup, then into Camp Minidoka itself in order to be with his people, and continue to minister with them. Alongside the people in the Camp, they set up a makeshift chapel, where they not only spent time in prayer, but also could organize and gather in community. Fr. Tibesar worked with them to get jobs out East, so they could leave the camps.
Fr. Tibesar with a First Communion Class at the chapel in Camp Minidoka, ID.

1942 was an intense time of societal and governmental rhetoric and action that built upon suspicion, division, and fear of people who appeared to be “other.” It is not difficult to draw connections with what is happening today.

Throughout the War, people of faith in the internment camps and outside found a deep courage, and consistently chose compassion and love, despite what was happening to them and in the world.

It is exceedingly clear that in this time, we need to build bridges. As humans, and as people of faith, we are more alike than different. And, across all faiths, we are called to compassion and courage at all times, but perhaps even more strongly when we are in the midst of fear and division.

Interfaith Prayer Service: Courage and Compassion in the Midst of Fear, Seattle, WA.

Today, over 130 people gathered in prayer in Seattle to commemorate this anniversary, to say that we will never let this happen again, and to be with each other. Our speakers included a Muslim faith leader, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Catholic Priest who is an immigrant from Japan, and remembers attending mass with Fr. Tibesar as a child. Each of them called us to look inwards to our souls, look outwards to be neighbor, to look upwards to find strength in the Divine, and last, but not least, to stand up against injustice on any of our neighbors. We opened with the welcome above, and this prayer.

O God, you are the source of life and peace.
Praised be your name forever.
We know it is you who turns our minds to thoughts of peace, courage, and compassion.
Hear our prayer in this time of division and fear.
Your power changes hearts.

Strengthen our resolve to give witness to these
truths by the way we live.
Give to us:
Understanding that puts an end to strife;
Mercy that quenches hatred, and
Forgiveness that overcomes vengeance.
Empower all people to live in your law of love.


-Adapted Prayer from Belief Net

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Setting the Tempo: My Promise to You, World

Here’s a list of things I did today outside of work hours: (don’t worry boss, I also worked)
  • Screamed in frustration
  • Called my senators
  • Threw my shoe
  • Called my representative
  • Ranted at dinner
  • Ranted by text
  • Ranted by SnapChat
  • Signed 18 petitions
  • Wept
  • Sent an email to the White House
  • Tried to remember the good in the world with a wonderful friend on the phone
  • Started 4 different Facebook posts about how we are a better country because of the people who have immigrated here recently and the incredible witness of the refugees I have worked with and how frustrated I am.
  • Yawned 18,000 times because I haven’t slept well since he took office.

I did a few useful things for the cause of justice and love; throwing my shoe on the other hand: not the most helpful.

There’s a post getting shared all over my Facebook feed that I am SO grateful is being shared. It’s a long list of all of the things that Trump has done, and another version sharing what he’s done the past 6 days. It’s devastatingly important to read, get enraged, and engage with. But also, it’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting. And it’s terrifying.

I sort of think that this is his tactic: just completely overwhelm people with all these horrendously unjust and immoral executive orders. When we are overwhelmed, we move into response mode: fight or flight. And now, many of us are showing up to fight, and that is AWESOME. I am so glad we are fighting together here.

However, if we are only on the defensive, he wins. Eventually, he may just run us down, trying to normalize this horrendous oppression to the masses, and exhausting the rest of us who are sprinting everywhere trying to put out blazing fires with an eye-dropper.

But we do know (because of SCIENCE!), when we become only defensive, we lose our sense of creativity, of humor, of wonder, of joy, and, the very worst, our sense of compassion. We need to find a way to not let Trump set the tempo, to work together, and to take care of ourselves so we can keep our senses about us. At least that's what I need.

I love Valarie Kaur’s Sikh prayer for America; and I completely agree. She tells us to remember the wisdom of the midwife: Breathe, then push. And I also know that a baby is not born the first time you push. We have to breathe again, and push again. Over and over.

I see us working together like a choir. Collectively holding a long note in a choir, the note can last longer than a human can hold her breath. In order to make the sound consistent and strong, as a choir, as a team, you stagger your breathing. If you need to breathe, you quietly fade out, breathe, and starting softly, crescendo back in again. If you are wanting to breathe but hear the person next to you fade out, you hold on a little longer. This way, everyone can take a breath, and it does not sacrifice the beauty, strength, or profound influence of a really intense musical piece.

We just have to make sure as we fade out, that we always remember to fade back in, and find that same note.

There’s a lot of questioning going around as to whether we can sustain a movement. "There are so many diverse interests, it’s sure to fall apart!"

I refuse to believe that. We are tripping over ourselves a little, making mistakes, and getting frustrated. But I honestly believe we are in this for the right reasons. And to stay in it for the right reasons, it means I have to find out what that note means to me. And you find out what it means to you. And I believe we will sing in a beautiful harmony.

To me, holding that note means that I am passionately working for integral ecology, ubuntu, solidarity, intersectional justice. Whatever words you want to use, it means the same thing: We Belong to Each Other. Whenever something unjust affects you, it impacts me too, and I have to do something about that. We are all interconnected, and yes, some people absolutely have a harder lot in life. And, our wide variety of life experiences make our song more beautiful.

To take this analogy one step farther, researchers in Sweden wanted to find out about the calming effect of singing, so they studied high school choirs. What surprised them most in their findings? “It took almost no time at all for the singers' heart rates to become synchronized. The readout from the pulse monitors starts as a jumble of jagged lines, but quickly becomes a series of uniform peaks. The heart rates fall into a shared rhythm guided by the song's tempo… ‘It's a beautiful way to feel. You are not alone but with others who feel the same way.’” So, friends, let’s set the tempo. Trump is going to keep throwing things at us as crazily as he can, but we don’t have to play his game. We set this tempo, and we are together in this.  

These next four years are going to be long, LONG years. As a friend said on the phone today, “It gets worse every hour!” And that’s exactly why we need to practice self-care: why we need to breathe. What that looks like for each of us may be different, but we need to remember to do it. Just like breathing, we're going to need it.

So, here is my promise to all of you, to all my sisters and brothers on the margins, and to the whole world: I promise to stand with you and keep singing. This beautiful choir of people: people of all races, creeds, abilities, cultures, immigration stories, histories, experiences, and identities: I am honored to stand in this choir, and I will hold this note. I will keep holding the note for not only 4 years, but beyond, because this fight for intersectional justice will likely last longer than 4 years. While I’m holding this note, I will show up for #BlackLivesMatter and #NoDAPL marches and protests for Immigration Reform and Climate Justice. I will read and listen to podcasts and learn as much as I can from people who have different backgrounds and life experiences than myself. I will keep calling my elected officials and speaking truth to power. I promise that I will keep singing while you need to breathe.

And then, at times, I will also fade out and take a breath, but I promise, I promise I will always crescendo right back in and find our note.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Time for Healing, Time for Transformation

Sunrise over Greenlake in Seattle, WA

When we are hurt, we look for someone or something to blame. “Third party voters, I will never forgive you.” “Not even all women voted for Hillary. How can you be a self-respecting woman and vote for Trump?” “If you didn’t vote, you are responsible for this.”

And we are hurt. A lot of us are hurt. While Obama faced many challenges in his time, and continues to face them with the intense divisiveness of the people who are serving in our government, an agenda of inclusiveness and hope was being pushed forward. 

We saw movement towards:
  • plans to curb carbon emissions and invest in green energy for the sake of the future of ourselves, our children, and our planet
  • important conversations about racism and privilege 
  • work towards equal pay for equal work and equality of women
  • responsible gun safety laws
  • international dialogue
  • access to basic healthcare for all 
  • more jobs
  • caring for the people who are most marginalized in our world
While there were pieces that did not line up with this, for the most part, these are the movements I noticed and drew strength from. The words and actions of Pope Francis infiltrating our culture and society helped my belief.

The election of Trump to our highest office shatters my perception that this is where we were going as a country. That compassion and love win. 

And yes, I am hurting. I hurt for and with people of color, people who have immigrated here, and the people who were here long before any white people came, people who do not fix our box of “able-bodied” or “able-minded,” the LGTBQ+ community, for our Earth, for people who live in other countries and will have to deal with the international repercussions of someone who has asked about the nuclear code and takes high offense to slight remarks, for people who are Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and any other religion than Christian, for all people on the margins.  I hurt for all of us who have decided we will dedicate our lives to building a more just system. This vote seems to reinforce in a much stronger way the reality you have to live every day - people implying and outright saying that you do not matter, and that you will not be respected.  

I also know that suffering not transformed is transmitted. 

And clearly, a lot of people in our country have felt they have not been seen by the people in power, and also have felt hurt by that. Their vote proves that. However, this vote happens at the expense of telling all “other” people that they are now not seen either. 

This could escalate into an even more intense game of back and forth. History has shown how this works. Genocides happen when a disenfranchised group of people gain power over previously perceived oppressors. In hurt, they point their finger, saying, “YOU are responsible,” and then taking a step farther and saying, “YOU will pay.”
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

This is a time when we have a choice. We can either point fingers at each other, blaming, and continuing this cycle of harm, or we can point all of our fingers collectively at the system. Both are an active choice.

Our systems of government and our economy have left people behind. People that fall into both groups above. The systems have made it more beneficial to forge ahead without listening to others, without inviting everyone to the table; instead putting money and reward and ego ahead of building a holistic community. 

Can we first of all, take time to acknowledge our pain, acknowledge our hurt, and then transform it into energy to change the system? 

This is a moment in history when we can have the momentum to make a difference. We may not know what that looks like yet, all I know is that if we can gather together for the common good and work for a place at the table for everyone, that we can make a difference. Despite this, I still believe that everyone matters. I still believe that compassion and love can win. We just have to practice and live it ourselves, reaching out in love as far as we can reach.

I promise to do this, and I will start in little ways - allow myself to acknowledge the pain, be gentle as we heal, then build spaces for authentic encounter and dialogue with people I perceive as "other," assume goodwill, hold myself accountable to language and inclusivity, be kind, take time to listen and reflect, and to see what grows, what is transformed, and what becomes possible.

I’m in. Will you join me?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

We're All Here Together

I wrote this yesterday... realizing that maybe I had a special angel yesterday. 

Sometimes, some of the things I see here, some of the stories I hear, the situations I grow to understand, some of the experiences I’ve had, can kind of get me down. And some days are definitely worse than others. Yesterday was definitely one of those days. I had just heard ten too many hard stories, had one too many hard experiences, come up against a few to many hard truths to accept, and I was at the end of my rope in terms of understanding the world.

How can such wonderful people be facing such hard situations? Why, in the face of everything, do people continue to harm each other, to spew such hate speech, to use violence, to dominate each other? And what makes the large discrepancy in living situations, when no one is better than another, but for some reason some people are always facing struggle, it seems? How can children die of such curable diseases like malaria? Why are some people born into such financial poverty in situations with such little hope?

These are questions I try not to think about all the time, because when I do, my brain starts going a million miles an hour, but cannot solve a single thing.

But last night, the questions all came in, overwhelmingly. And so today, I did my best to continue my work, despite the exhaustion and the questions.

But I wasn’t quite ok until my bus ride home from town today. I was sitting between a teenaged boy and an old man, and as they both had their phones out, the boy was awkwardly trying to figure out whether or not to send a text to his crush? Girlfriend? And halfway home, the man received a phone call from someone who probably was his wife, asking when he was coming home for supper.

For some reason, this experience was exactly what I needed. The sense of interconnectedness. Despite all other differences, all over the world, people share more similarities than differences. Teenage boys are still trying to figure out what to text teenage girls. Older men are still getting calls asking when they will be home. The world is the same here as it is there. And it continues to rotate. We all exist in some sort of space where we all need connection, we all need belonging, and we all need love. Despite any other divisions, differences, and problems, it all comes down to the same basic things. We are all the same.

How reassuring and great is that?

Sending love from Uganda