Tag Archives: care

Toward. Just. Relationship. (Sermon)

[A music- and prose-based worship service originally written for and read to Throop Unitarian Universalist Church on May 20, 2018.]

Toward.

“Toward” is a posture. She is an open body. He is an attuned heart. They wait with loving response.

Toward says, “I will face you, I will come near to you, I will look lovingly, even when it is hard to look.”

When Toward sees your tears, she does not rush to your face, a linebacker armed with Kleenex. She doesn’t say “Shut up,” or “Stop crying.” She doesn’t say, “Ah, it will be okay, don’t worry, I’ve been through it, I totally understand what you are experiencing.”

Toward says: “Ah. Tears are visiting. They come to this world to say something important. I honor your tears. “

When Toward hears the story of your hurt, he does not fear that acknowledging your pain somehow diminishes his. No. He witnesses you as flesh of this world. He leans forward because your experience in your embodiment is wise and he wants to hear it.

Toward is the one who comes over to your family’s home overly enthusiastic about looking at your baby photos. And, after dinner, they do the dishes.

Toward trusts that, if they can just lean into that space between you and them long enough—over the sink, over the hole that was the ground of your earlier life, the dying fire that was the marriage, the frayed trust that was the friendship, the accident, the violence, the vote, the loss, the daily moment-to-moment heaving heaviness that is class, race, and gender—if they can stay on the edge of their knowing in a way that centers your experience, if they don’t rush in to fix, if they don’t flee from disgust, that they will witness something emerge that is sacred.

Toward is one who knows how to wait for what is emerging from the cracks.

In fact, Toward is one of those fools with a succulent garden. Because, you know, drought tolerant planting. And, because he loves a good metaphor about beauty that emerges from rocky soil.

When Toward goes out to dinner, they prefer the stuff that gets sent back to the kitchen because it wasn’t “quite right.” Toward finds the nourishment on every plate; even the stuff that’s a little burned, a little runny, a little unsure of itself, bits of other people’s lives and truths that can be hard to stomach.

Toward drives for Lyft occasionally. They come to you. They pull up to you. Then they ask you “where do YOU want to go?” and when you answer they go with you.

When people say “this campaign… this effort… this movement… may take a long time,” Towards signs up first. To the defectors, she says, “Anything worth doing requires constant movement. If it was simple, it would have been done already.” Toward knows that what is worth doing takes each generation to carry forward. We may not arrive. We must keep moving toward it.

Toward does not need guarantees of success to make something worth doing. She delights in the possibility of holy failure. After all, each plate has nourishment.

Toward makes a promise that when everyone else leans back they’ll lean in.

Just.

If Toward is the direction, Just is our compass. And our compass is future-focused.

Just is a SciFi queen. A futurist. They go to ComicCon. And they dress up for it.

Contrary to crime television, Just does not ask “Who done it? What’s their punishment? Who gets to punish them?”

Just asks, “What would it look like if we survived this? What would it mean if we came out of this more deeply related? How could this tiny moment be one step towards creating that world we dream of? What is needed from each of us to take that step now?”

Just refuses to give over their imagination to an unjust world. They are notoriously off-script. They are the overly-enthusiastic improvisation coach in your high school theatre program that is always on the verge of losing its funding from the state. Just asks us to do something in this moment that is a little unrealistic, a little impossible, a little improbable, a little ridiculous, such that the new world we long for has a big enough crack to enter in through.

This is not child’s play, and yet this is a child’s play: this radical imagining is what will keep us alive. It is the only thing that has.

Because, in this world, you have to have Just’s radical imagination to stand outside of a Police Commission hearing, week after week, with an image of your daughter who died in police custody pasted onto a poster, and believe that you and your daughter’s life are worthy of being listened to and will be. That’s a radical imagination guided by Just.

In this world, you have to have Just’s radical imagination to believe that you and your family and your church and your social movement can survive conflict or sexual harm and come out more connected, more strong, more healed, more accountable, and more related than before you began.

In this world, you have to have Just’s radical imagination to believe, as a teenager, that you and all your friends and all their friends could challenge the NRA.

In this world, you have to have Just’s radical imagination to believe that the stigma of mental and physical disability can be transformed into living in environments and communities that no longer disable you because of their stigma towards you.

In this world, you have to have Just’s radical imagination to believe that your town deserves clean water, that your family deserves nourishing food, that some day you could get sick and will have immediate access to the highest quality health care right there in your own damn neighborhood.

Those dreams are the work of Just’s radical imagination.

In a dominant culture of laws, procedures, and rules, Just turns over the table and tosses out your paperwork. Just is the auntie who speaks in tongues before dinner. He is the mumbling prophet who cries, “The end of THIS world is near!” and means it. A new world is coming, and Just is guiding us there. She is arriving in the moment at every moment—if you’re paying attention and know what to look for. If you are willing to see it, and feed it with your own imaginations.

Just is the creative imagination of a world committed to warm unfolding against all of our attempts to freeze it and each other, control it and each other, and script it and each other.

Just is the monarch butterfly. Imagine being a caterpillar, eating everything in sight, getting bigger than ever to the point of being immobile, and when people ask you “What are you doing?” your response is, “I’m thinking of flying to Mexico! To the birthplace of my parent’s parent’s parents! They never made it back there. I want to see it.” Then, when you go to wrap yourself into a silk sleeping bag, and people ask you “What are you doing?” your response is, “I think I’ll hang upside down, disintegrate into soup, and wake up with wings.”

No, really. Picture it. It’s ridiculous.

That is the work of Just.

Just is a quality of being where we are committed to the possibility of ours and each other’s wingedness. Nothing less than fullness, nothing less than belonging, nothing less than dignity, and nothing less than care. [And, in the case of the butterfly, nothing less than silk.]

Just doesn’t settle for how can I hurt you to show you how badly you hurt me, Just doesn’t settle for “well, I guess this is good enough, I guess this is all we deserve, lets go home,” Just isn’t here for a buffet of bones.

Just is here for the feast of our profound belonging. And she begs us not to give up our imaginations to a pre-scripted world of domination and violence.

Science fiction author Octavia Butler remembers a story that took place when she was nine-years-old: it was 1954, and she went to one of her first B-movie films. She remembers, quite clearly, coming out of the theatre saying: “Someone got paid for writing that story!” and “Jeeze, I can write better than that!”

Indeed. People are getting paid for writing the story we are living in now.

Just says to us, “We could be writing this better.”

“I Need You To Survive” as performed at UU General Assembly 

Relationship.

“I need you to survive.” This is such a tender, theological commitment.

I love you, you are important to me, I need you to survive– this is true in our most intimate, relationships.

I won’t harm you, with words from my mouth, I love you, I need you to survive– because our social movement depends on you and us. Our community depends on you and us. Because you are not just important to me, but to us.

“I need you to survive” because you and I are both the flesh of this world. There is no other world beside the one in which we are embedded in the thickest possible web of relationships. There is nothing that falls outside of our relatedness.

The space we tend between us is a portal to the world we are creating where we survive.

When we say, “We imagine a world with clean water. With no prisons. With health care. With reproductive care. Without gun violence by the state or by each other. With good food, with loving bodies, with beautiful shelter.” We are not talking about a world that will make it possible for someone out there to be more alive—we are talking about the people in this very room.

In this very room are those of us stigmatized for our disabilities. For our genders. In this room are those of us who lack secure housing, health care, meaningful work, a living wage. Us, our families, have been impacted by mass incarceration, guns, racism, sexual harm. We struggle with the PTSD of foreign wars, we breathe smoggy air, we cope under the strains of capitalism and the legacy of colonialism that leaves us struggling to stay connected to each other. We’re not just talking about some of our beloved people in some distant out there somewhere (although they are included): we are talking about us, the people seated next to us right now. We honor the people farthest away from us by honoring the people nearest to us.

But we don’t know that about each other unless our religious practice is to live in relationship with each other. We don’t know that unless we treat each person, each relationship, like a sacred portal to the world we are building. We don’t know that if we buy wholesale the dominant culture’s argument that problems happen to individuals who behave badly or just don’t try hard enough. We can’t see the etchings of systems of harm on each other’s bodies if we refuse to get close to each other.

“I need you to survive” begins the moment we say, “I’m gonna make this personal.”

When we say, “We go out and love the world from the heart of Pasadena,” we are saying “At Throop Unitarian Universalist Church, our religion is to make this life and this place personal.”

Personal—which is not to say “make it private.” It is to say, make it “particular.” It means that I can picture the particular face of the one I love who is most impacted by this issue because I know them and love them intimately. I can picture the dirt and soil and water of the place I live that is most impacted by this issue because I know it and love it and put my hands in it and grow my food in it.

I have moved toward what I love and imagined a future where they survive and I will fight and create for that future.

It is personal. It matters to my person. I have a stake in it. Our relatedness is not just a theory to me. It’s personal. I am close enough to my own self, and to this person, to this place, that I can see the etchings of a system on their flesh that is my flesh, and I love them, they are important to me, and I need them to survive.

So I’m gonna show up, I’m gonna give, I’m gonna be uncomfortable, I’m gonna be scared, and I’m gonna do it, because its personal.

“I need you to survive” means I take your future as our future personally.

What would it mean for us to take that to heart?

How could we each carry that knowing closer and closer with us in our bones?

“It goes on one at a time,” says Marge Piercy…

“… it starts when you care to act, it starts when you do it again after they said no, it starts when you say ‘We’ and know who you mean,  and each day you mean one more.”

Fire: Fuel, Flames, and Aliveness (Sermon)

30 Days for the Earth at Throop: Challenging False Separations

As part of our religious community at Throop Unitarian Universalist Church, we spend thirty days each year intentionally focused on rededicating ourselves to people, place, and planet. To kick us off this year, we focused in on the watershed of philosophical, structural, and systemic culture that we find ourselves swimming in.

We reflected on the ways that the dominant culture’s—white, Western, European, colonial culture – relationship to the “natural” world is one that has at its root a belief that informs all else: some of this world is alive, some of this world is dead. Some of us are classified as beings, some of us are classified as non-beings. Non-beings, that which is dead, that which is without power, that either needs to be useful to that which is alive—laboring, procreating, reproducing—or at least needs to be protected because it is interesting, exotic, and useful for its purity to us.

We acknowledged that this even informs how we approach “getting back in touch with nature” today: that even as we resist over-exploitation (i.e. the idea that nature and the wilderness is something to be used and consumed by human beings), that the tendency was towards “conservation, preservation”—that suddenly these wilderness landscapes needed to be protected, preserved, pure, virginal, untouched.

These options: exploit, use, and abuse or protect, defend, and maintain as pure—don’t have anything to do with being in actual relationship. Both of these postures, the posture of “you’re mine and I’m entitled to you” and “you need to be protected and only I know what is best for you” have at their root, a common ethic: the ethic of control.

There is something more generative, more worthy of our worship, and more real than control: an interdependent web of life is not about control. Living in the web of life is about saying “I am related to you.”

We are asking ourselves these 30 Days: how do I remember and re-embody my profound relatedness in the body of all life? How do I remember my place as part—not as separate from, or seeking to transcend out of—this world? What does it mean for how I live my life—my relationship to people and planet—to live with this knowing in my bones?

California: “Land of Fire” and the Fire Suppression

Giant Sequoia

Plant scientist Kat Anderson writes that early Spanish colonizers saw the “California poppies set a tilted mesa north of Pasadena aglow with their blooms in springs” it was actually visible by ships more than twenty five miles away. They called the coast “The Land of Fire.”[1]

Anderson tells us that fire shaped this land:

  • Fire was common—the same acre was expected to burn every ten to fifty years.
  • California species survive fires and some actually require fire in order to complete their life cycle and remain generative—one ecologist postulated that fires were responsible for shaping ¾ of all California’s vegetation.
  • Pyrodiversity—the diversity of “frequency, scale, season, and type of fire”—leads to biodiversity.

Indigenous peoples in California had maintained the art and science of controlled and regular burns, right alongside fires by lightning strike for centuries.

But, lets just say that hasn’t been state policy.

Laura Cunningham, a field biologist, tracked these state policies. By 1905, the Forest Service outlawed fire on public land. One “early-twentieth century federal forester disdainfully described Indian burning as ‘Ancient notions of ‘Piute forestry’ whose deep fire-scars remain upon so many of our giant landmark pines and sequoias.’ He disparaged this ‘unscientific’ old way of setting ‘light surface fires’ aimed a ‘producing a smooth forest floor.’ They wrote:

“The Forest Service is solidly opposed to every sort of ‘light burning’ because they have seen it in practice many times, under all sorts of conditions; so are the foresters of all civilized nations… The underlying principles of all scientific forestry however, are these: Save the young growth as well as the mature trees; protect the soil; encourage reproduction; fill up all possible gaps in the forest cover—do not make more by surface fires—fight all fires to a finish.”

Do you hear those key words? Save. Protect. Reproduce. Fill up. Fight.

By 1935, there were state and federal governments that began a paramilitary-like program to quickly stamp out wildfires through “rapid mobilization of firefighters, equipment, and technology.”[2]

But why?

Economics drove land relationships, land classifications, land science, and land policy. Increased density of trees led to more money for foresters. Fighting fires to a finish led to saving buildings—saving private property. I also imagine that there is something so powerful, so sacred, so transformative, so unwilling to be controlled by fire, that it was an affront to an ethic of domination and control. If you do not have a relationship with being out of control, if you are used to being in control, you won’t make friends with fire.

With land relationships driven by a belief in the inherent separateness of beings and non-beings, with the removal and genocide of indigenous people driven by a belief in separateness and non-being, and with economics in the drivers seat—California lands, California trees, lost one of their primary partners in creative collaboration: human beings.

The ecological results of fire suppression were enormous. Forests clog. Young saplings, unchallenged by regular fires, suck up all the water leaving old trees stressed and susceptible to attacks by bark beetles. In one study, fire-suppressed San Bernardino had 300 trees per acre—a similar stand of trees in Mexico, left for natural fires, had 60 per an acre. The Mexican trees were healthier and survived the beetles. One biologist called the number and mortality of North American trees “stunning”—revealing the underlying attitude of our culture that more is somehow always better. Catastrophic fires, thriving on the build up of twigs, branches became the new norm—but do not have the same benefits. Their heat, their magnitude devastates rather than regenerates.

And what about those very trees, those Giant sequoias, that all those men tried to save and protect from other men who might use, log, and exploit?

Those trees require fire to release seeds from their cones. The cones require ash and open gaps in the forest. Due to fire suppression, “small cones hung on the trees for years, waiting for the heat of a fire passing below to open the cone scales and release a seed rain as great as eight million per acre.”[3]

As a result of these policies, Sequoias stopped producing.

The trees needed sky to set fire, or they needed humans to set fire. They were in a relationship. The very trees that some men set about to protect from other men who set about to exploit them, are the very trees that required the co-created generation of sky fire (lightening) or people (fire).

Without interdependent relationship, without fire, no Sequoia. No relationship, no tending, no transformation, no heat, no flame, no Sequoia.

It appear that that pristine wilderness landscape that had enchanted so many, that so many people wrote about, photographed and painted… and then protected from human beings… was actually, Anderson writes, a cultural landscape.[4] It had been co-created.

Prescribed burn, Sequoias

The Fire Inside

What does this mean for us, in relationship now, here, in this place, with this people?

My friend Daniel Francis has been working with fire for most of his life, particularly fire by friction. Fire by friction reminds us that at the heart of any fire, is the art of teasing out the sun’s sacred energy from another being.

Daniel writes:

“The sun’s energy is stored in the body of all living plants as carbon. This reminds us that in the body of all beings lies a transformational potential. Fire-making teases out this stored energy (carbon), transforming it into heat and light. This is how all of ancestors managed to get us this far: fire to cook our food, to warm ourselves, to protect us from predators and to illuminate our way through the dark. Equally so, we need fire for ceremony, to see this same cycle as fundamentally a part of our own cycle. From a star’s light, to a living plant, to a burning flame, to ashes and back again. Magic.”

Fire refuses a philosophy of separation: that some is dead and some is alive. Fire says: I’m in everything, it is all alive.

And saying, “It is all alive” is a theological commitment.

To believe and to treat this world and other people as fundamentally alive—as on fire, as transformational, as powerful— is a theological commitment.

Noticia

What are some ways to live with that commitment to an alive world in our bones?

Depth psychologist Joe Coppin, speaking of the work of archetypal psychologist James Hillman, once described to me that to be in an “alive” world requires moving in that world with a kind of sensibility that imagines that the world might have a better idea of what you should be doing than you do.

This is captured in archetypal psychology in the phrase “noticia” – which literally means “to notice.” It means you are available to the world because matter is wise. For example, you might leave here today and walk by the nasturtiums in the Throop Learning Garden. And you will be struck by those nasturtiums. But you will not be struck by them because you noticed them—you will be struck by them because they noticed you. It is a quality of availability to the world where your baseline assumption is that the world is alive, the world has wisdom, and that which is Other to you in the world has a right to your attention.

This right to your attention, and this aliveness, is also some of what

“Water is Life” by JustSeeds

is core to the most sacred and important justice movements of our time right now. To say, “Water is Life” at Standing Rock is a theological commitment that the world is alive, water is alive, and that indigenous people have a right to self-determination of their own, and for those of us who are indigenous, our own, lives.

To say, “Black Lives Matter,” is a theological commitment that believes black bodies—all black bodies: black trans, queer, disabled bodies—are alive, are wise, are self-determining and have a right to people’s attention, and have the right to change you—or, for those of us who are black, trans, queer, and/or disabled, that we have a right to self-determination and the power to transform you and this world.

To say: It is alive. They are alive. We are alive. I am alive. And we will transform this, and we will be transformed, and you will transform, and I am transforming. These are theological commitments about how you will be in the world.

Response-Ability

And here is where our responsibility comes in. To tend a fire, to create fire, to keep fire, you have to be in a responsible relationship with heat and transformation. To build it from something small to large, to keep something going, to soothe, to excite; you have to be responsive to what is actually in front of you. To notice the world, you have to be responsive to the relationship that is actually here.

When I say “responsibility” I do not mean moralistic duty. I mean it in the way of sacred responsiveness to one another.

Elephant Couple, from Mississippi North

Philosopher Kelly Oliver actually splits that word into two: “response” and “able.” Response-ability asks this: is what I’m doing creating the possibility of response from the one who is in front of me? Is the way I am approaching, speaking, showing up, noticing, responding, creating possibility—or closing off possibility?

Is what I am doing opening up, like a seed rain, the possibility of transformation of me from the one who is in front of me?

Is what I am doing making it possible that I will hear the call of a world and a people that have a right to my attention and a right to change me?

This is, as Oliver writes, what “love beyond domination” looks like. And this is our task as a people swimming in a culture of domination: we are learning to love in new ways and old ways that do not require us to rely on false securities of being “in control” for us to be in relationship with people and planet. We are learning to love beyond domination.

If the root of an ethic of separation is control, then the root of our ethic of relationship is the possibility and willingness that I will be changed by you; that you and I co-create each other; and that I will act in service to the possibility of that co-creation.

It means I will act in service to the possibility that you will transform me.

It means for social relationships that have been harmed by domination and histories of control, I will act in service to tending the harm, to healing, such that trust is possible, such that response-ability is possible between us, such that transformation is possible.

It means I will notice you, I will respond to your call, and I will go with you.

Conservation biologist Edward Grumbine writes, “Biological diversity will not be sustained if new ways of managing nature do not transform how we experience our place in nature…”[5]

We have a theological statement to make and practice together: that our place is to be part of an interdependent planet, not separate from it.

May fire guide us,

may we resist suppression,

may we respond to each other,

and may we be touched by the world.

 


Works Cited: 

[1] Cunningham, “State of Change,” p. 17

[2] Anderson, “Tending the Wild,” p. 120

[3] Cunningham, p. 192

[4] Anderson, p. 148

[5] Anderson p. 362

For more from Kelly Oliver, see Witnessing: Beyond Recognition.

For more on the separation of “being” and “non-being,” see Nelson Maldonado-Torres “Outline of Ten Thesis of Coloniality and Decoloniality.”

Notes from a Restorative Justice Conference (NACRJ 2017)

Last week I participated in the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice conference in Oakland, CA. Powerfully held by the local organizing team, every session included recognition of land, ritual and ceremony, music, and art. Keynote and plenary sessions were led by and centered people who live in the work and are most directly impacted by the systems of oppression we are working to transform: women and LGBTQ leaders of color and indigenous people, formerly incarcerated leaders and organizers, children, youth, and grandmothers and grandfathers.

I have typed up the scribbled notes from my personal notebook into this blog post of key themes and quotes in the hopes that some of the wisdom shared in this convening continues to move through the collective.

(Where I have the name of the source, I will quote the material and provide the name. If I do not have the name of the source, I will leave the statement in quotes—if you know the source, please tell me! Statements that are my thoughts in dialogue with the conference are left unquoted as “mine”… in that collective consciousness way.)

Opening Dr. Gail Christopher, Vice President for Policy and Senior Advisor for the WK Kellogg Foundation’s efforts on racial truth and reconciliation processes:

  • We are hungry for compassionate response: “We are hungry for compassionate response… … those who carry out terrorist acts have within themselves a devaluation of their own humanity. Be restorative in your posture and say ‘there is so much more here than this act.’” – Dr. Gail Christopher
  • On the Both/And of Cultural Healing and Structural Change: “Structures need to be dismantled… and I must say there is something persistent about structures. If you don’t have a replacement, that structure will come back… … (for example) we didn’t address the fundamental consciousness that addressed why there was a need to segregate children based on race, nor did we enforce the rulings that would have dismantled it…” – Dr. Gail Christopher
  • On why “transformation” rather than “reconciliation:” “Truth, racial healing, and transformation—its not about reconciliation. Reconciliation implies a going back. Lets get real: we were never together. This country was founded and sustained on a fallacy—its about transformation—its about making it anew.” – Dr. Gail Christopher

Paraphrasing from time with Chris Marshall, Tom Noakes-Duncan, and Ted Lewis on “The Restorative Church”:

  • The Paradox of Vulnerability Leading to Life: In Jewish and Christian scriptures, there is the “paradox of vulnerability leading to life.” Unfortunately, our church communities can become “regressive subcultures” that rely on retributive discipline to address disputes and harms—and the ways these two (disputes and harms) begin to hybridize. In Chris Marshall’s book, Beyond Retribution, he relies on two parables—the prodigal son and the good Samaritan—as dialogue partners to show the ways we are called to show compassion to both “offender” and “victim/survivor.” Chris refers to the prodigal son as a “re-entry” parable of what, in that historical context, was a “serious offender.” In Hebrew and Christian scriptures, “God refuses to give up on the relationship God has with the offending party.”
  • Communal practices for restoration in churches: [before disputes/harms] (1) prevention, formation of restorative theology/practice, pedagogy; (2) decision-making and discernment; [after harm/disputes] (3) intervention, reconciliation, and problem-solving; and (4) post-incident healing with closure and the creation of a shared narrative.

Paraphrasing the “how to” of a “Restorative University” with Lindsey Pointer, Chris Marshall, Haley Farrar (New Zealand):

 Chris described the “restorative university” as one “where all policies and practices impacting and related to staff and students are grounded in restorative principles and values.” This first meant examining student disciplinary policy and working to make “restorative process the default option.” This is always posed as a question—because RJ is always voluntary—but that student disputes and harms are addressed at the “lowest level possible” (when appropriate) with direct participation, facilitated, and with consensus-based conversation about ways that things can be “put right.”

Residence Halls are thought of as “Restorative Communities” and circle practices, trainings, and an ethos/values system of these practices becomes foundational in the Hall. Emphasis is put on building real, invested relationships and investment in the hall: knowing that (imagining a pyramid) (a) relationship building is the base, (b) relationship maintaining is the middle of the pyramid, and (c) relationship repair is the tip of the pyramid. The more energy we put into relationship building and maintenance, the more effective (and less energy) we’ll have to put into repair.

They shared a recent event in which a “drunken party” made the news, and they led simultaneous circle processes on all of the floors (200 people involved).

From Judge Andrew Becroft (New Zealand Children’s Commission) and Judge Heemi Taumaunu (Founder/Presiding Judge of Rangatahi Court of New Zealand):

Judge Becroft said clearly: “a monocultural system will fail.” One successful tactic in New Zealand is “don’t charge” provisions for teenagers to ensure teenage disputes/harms are worked with and maintained at the lowest level possible. The NZ youth offenses and institutionalization graph is OPPOSITE to the graph in the United States (read more about the 2002 Youth Offending Strategy and the graph below, here). Even with these successes,New Zealand still charges and incarcerates Maori people disproportionate to their population.

Impacts of Youth Offending Strategy (2002)

Judge Taumaunu helped developed a set of courts that are rooted in the cultural practices and beliefs of the Maori. These courts “speak in the language of one’s people” – in tongue and in embodiment, and include elders working alongside judges, ritual, song, food, and time for cultural guidance, support, advice, and encouragement. “Pepeha” occurs in which all participants (including outsiders and visitors) identify themselves with the mountain, river, and tribe they come from as a valued cultural introduction with the goal to affirm identity, belonging, and located-ness in the community. Read more here.

From Mike Hinton and Naida Glavish on the topic of restorative processes in New Zealand and their possibility as collaborative or colonial:

In New Zealand, every case that goes to district court has to be considered for RJ—this is a national law. Yet, RJ is always voluntary. The role of the RJ facilitator is “to create the safe space for a conversation to happen—but its not the facilitator’s conversation.” As for the colonial aspects of RJ in New Zealand, as RJ has become more and more part of the legal process, it becomes more prescriptive and requires certain “check boxes” and timelines are to be met (in the name of “accountability”)—which can be counter to the responsive, improvisational spirit of being with the actual people in the actual room with the actual situation. Furthermore, in an effort to prove the cost effectiveness and evaluate RJ, “RJ over-evaluates based on offender’s behavior and the cost-savings of the process—they are not calculating whether or not the victim can get out of bed and go to work. The valuing is one sided.”

On language, says Mike: “As part of a colonization process, the thing you can take to destroy a people and an identity is their language.” Restorative processes include language.

[You can watch a documentary about Mike Hinton’s role as a restorative justice facilitator with families in New Zealand online via MaoriTelevision here.]

Naida describes that the reason RJ grew in New Zealand is because indigenous people brought THEIR practices into the space of the legal system, filling courtrooms where young Maori people were being tried by non-Indigenous people and demanding to speak to the young people: “We brought our practices from home into the court system… we have the power to deal with issues in our own communities before it gets to the courts.”

In response, a participant was moved to remind us that culture must be at the center of RJ processes. They responded to Naida by saying: “RJ is becoming a ‘trend,’ a process, a protocol, a script. We forgot it is about our principles as related people and getting back into our relationships. This is a lifestyle, not a ‘practice’ or a ‘program.’ We need culture at the center.”

From “White Fragility to Truth and Reconciliation,” paraphrasing from Kusum Crimmel and Arianna Caplan:

 Kusum and Arianna explored racial justice and whiteness from the perspective of the common questions of restorative justice: (1) what happened, how did you feel/think then, what do you think about it now? (2) How were you impacted? (3) How was everyone else impacted? (4) What do you need to do to make it right?

Kusum and Arianna relied on Robin DiAngelo’s “white fragility,” as well as her listing of behavior patterns of whiteness, which remind me of the work by Tema Okun. For DiAngelo, these patterns include:

  • segregation
  • good/bad binary
  • entitlement to experiences of racial comfort
  • racial arrogance
  • individualism
  • racial belonging
  • psychic freedom
  • constant messages of superiority

A restorative justice lens keeps our attention on the system of harms that lead to individual behavior. In the words of DiAngelo, “The most effective adaptation over time is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people.” This adaptation keeps us distracted, focused on individuals as supposedly independent moral actors, and perceiving racism as a conscious moral choice rather than the system that we live in.

From “Acknowledging Ancestor Wisdom: Honoring the Roots of Restoration and Transformation” with Jerry Tello, co-founder of the National Compadres Network and Director of National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute:

 There are so many gems from the gifted, funny, sacred storytelling, poetry, and ethical weavings of Jerry Tello. Here are some of the ones that made it through my hand and onto the paper:

  • You are the Dreams of Your Ancestors: “…your grandparents had a dream that you would have less suffering and more blessing.”
  • On Evidence-Based Practices of Young People: “Our youngsters have an evidence-based practice too. Their practice is: do you see me? … do you see that I am the dream of my ancestors?”
  • Restore to What? “When we restore, what do we restore to?”
  • If not a Blessing, its Just a Practice: “If you are not connected in some way, not blessed up and prayerful, then this stuff is just some practice.”
  • Embrace: “The most significant thing you can do for a child is to embrace them as yours.”

From David Anderson Hooker—quotes posted online and quotes overheard:

“Racial justice must be RADICAL: relationally constructed, authentic, dignified, ideologically transformative, connected, affirming, legitimated.”

On language: “How do we illuminate (an idea/phenomena) without limiting it?”

“On the Spot Responses and Practice Through an Equity Lens” with Cynthia Zwicky and Yaniah Pearson

“How can we turn a moment of conflict into a moment of realization?”

Cynthia and Yaniah were playful dialogue partners in exploring the ways people resist, ignore, and avoid conflicts—especially based on issues of equity—and the work they do to address conflict as a moment of realization in schools.

  • The Work is Slow: Yaniah reminded us: “The work is slow.” Even though we long for a 3-hour-training we could provide every person who interacts with young people, that would not be the solution, nor would they become instantly “restorative” in their responses to the world around them. Unlearning what we’ve learned from a society that is retributive and conflict-averse, as well as learning to skills for the moment, as well as conflicts themselves, take time.
  • Some Resistance as Lack of Confidence: “What is the embodied experience of someone who says (about an equity problem), ‘It is not that big of a deal’? At the core of it is actually about personal ability—resistance is so often actually a lack of confidence.”
  • Maintaining Relationships Makes Repair Easier: Circle processes—ongoing, commonplace, reliable—allow us to make our mistakes sacred and a source of connection with one another. When we have regular places where (teachers) can go and share who they deeply are, those spaces can turn into spaces where they could also say, “Wow, I was a ‘bad’ teacher today, I need support.”
  • Listen in Conflict—You’re Hearing Values: They shared a quote from Hildy Gottlieb in the spirit of seeing the potential for realization in the midst of conflict: “When people speak in outrage and anger, when they talk about arguments and conflicts, listen carefully. They are telling you what is important to them. They are telling you their values.”
  • When Talking Race (particularly in classrooms, institutions): When discussing issues of race with others, particularly across identities and power differentials, the conversation “requires ground rules, a shared language, and a recognition of power.” Furthermore, “Institutionalized racism has a historical basis. The personal is historical.”

Closing Plenary on “Restorative Responses to Mass Incarceration: Formerly Incarcerated Persons Moving from Margins to Center” with George Galvis, Albino Garcia, Tina Reynolds, Jerry Elster, Julie Arroyo Guzman, and Troy Williams:

Activities that are criminalized are activities that are normal response to experiencing violence: In response to what others called “acting out” or “criminal behavior,” Julie noted, “I was actually having a normal human reaction to experiencing violence.”

Who is leading the movement? Jerry Elster challenged the audience about the RJ movement, particularly, whose voices and experiences are centered, who is considered “expert,” and who is leading the movement. He asked: “Who is leading the movement? Who are the gatekeepers? Let those who have been directly impacted lead.”

In response to a question from the audience asking if the leadership is going to be those most directly impacted, what should those of us with different experiences do as part of this movement. Jerry replied, “This movement is for everybody—just stay in your lane.’

Tina Reynolds shared about her experience of re-entry and her work creating spaces where formerly incarcerated people can be their whole selves: which includes not only them, but their families. She also challenged the gathered community to move beyond tokenizing most-directly impacted people, saying: “We keep being asked to show up rather than asked to be part of.”

Stop Taking Credit for Other Peoples’ Transformation and Inherent Power: She also talked about the tendency for non-incarcerated people to take credit for the transformation of others inside prison: “You are patting yourselves on the back… thinking they didn’t come in with their own power.”

Troy Williams showed his film about his experience of incarceration, which you can learn more about journalism and film-making here.

A Prayer for Cities

A pastoral prayer inspired by the work of Urban Partners Los Angeles, a ministry of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, prepared for worship at UULA on April 19, 2015.

withoutcracks

Pastoral Prayer for Cities, for Los Angeles
By Samantha Gupta

Spirit of Cities,
We are gathered in your concrete
 And wood
  And dust
   And asphalt
    in worship and in gratitude.
You who are worthy of our loving attention,
Hear us.

We gather in sorrow for what aches and moans
 Beneath the weight of sky scrapers,
  Bank buildings, pay checks,
   Food trucks, dandelions in the cracks of cement.
    Crushed beneath the weight,
Sometimes the shadows of these too-tall-trees
leaves us wandering if we are seen at all,
if any light will come.
See us.

In times of shadow, we gather around this chalice
with reverence for those who make themselves known.
  Graffiti prophets tagging story and name to wall
  refusing to go quietly.
  And corner prophets singing praises to a God
  they know who might see them.
  And the mothers and fathers and children who live each day
  wondering if the day will come where life moves with a greater gentleness.
And the lives of the women and men
who sat in these rooms, responsive to what they heard outside them.
Guide us.

Spirit of Cities,
  Spirit of Life,
   Lady of Los Angeles,
Open our ears that we may hear more deeply the sounds of these streets,
Our eyes that we may see more clearly the stories of these faces,
Our hearts that we may respond from a place of connection
The connection that we may know in our bones, whispering:
We belonging to these people,
            We belong to this place.

Spirit of Life, of Cities,
Teach us how to be at home, and how to be a guest in the homes of others.
Right here. Right Now.
Amen.

Noticing the Foot

(Photo Credit: Gord Johnson, Ladysmith, BC, Canada)

It is the end of my first Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) unit. Four-hundred hours of supervised spiritual care at LA County Hospital—and I feel as if I am standing amongst the rubble of my life.

It is like a moment from our time in class, told with permission from its transmitter and my colleague, Wally. Wally was sharing an incredible learning story. He had just returned that week from an emergency request to tend to a man that had died and come back to life.

The man was a roofer. He had driven his truck to the landfill to drop off old tiles. Backed his truck in, dumped the tiles, and had stepped out of his truck to ensure all the tiles had been disposed of. As he stepped out, standing at this pile, a plowing truck turned the corner. The truck was plowing the landfill trash to make more room for more dumping and, unbeknownst to that driver, was headed straight for the man, his truck, and his pile of tiles.

Without much time at all, the man found himself swept up by the landfill plow, carried away with the pile of rubble, tiles, baby diapers, dust, leaves, trash. Screaming and yelling, the driver couldn’t hear him. Bit by bit, carried away, the man’s body was compacted by the oncoming trash as more and more came upon him, his screams muffled as his lungs took on the refuse. He was sure he was finished.

Despite that, his upside down body compacted, someone at the landfill saw the plough, saw the trash and noticed something strange—a single, human foot shaking and moving peeping out from the top of the trash. Something was more human about that foot than usual, so the person ran screaming to the plough to stop its motion.

The plough stopped. The paramedics were called. The next thing the man knew, he was staring into Wally’s eyes, coughing up dust, whispering gratitude.

Wally tells us this story, touched by the experience. We are stunned.

To get the words flowing, our supervisor asks the obvious question one would ask after a story like that:

“And where was God?”

Her question, his story, stay with me. I know I have fashioned my life an incredible city—with a mighty landfill. Landfills—our temples to dispensability. Cathedrals to the “its in the past.” Congregations of “I’m over it.” Stained glass windows of what got broken and never restored. Just dump and go—don’t hang around too long. Dump and go. Don’t look. I came to CPE expecting I could go to the dump to drop off my latest dreams and intuitions for compacting and returned unscathed to become an ordained clergy person.

But this time, I didn’t make it back.

And really—who ever does? If we are not caught in the rubble now, when? I was born in 1987—the first year, scientists say, that the earth began to consume more resources than it could sustain. I have been born at a time of unprecedented dumping—the dumping of human lives into Twin Towers County Jail or the human landfill of Skid Row, testimony to our belief that certain lives are more dispensable than others. Each year of my life I’ve lived in the largest cosmic landfill we’ve ever known. And at what point will each of us finally get swept up in our own rubble? What about me? When I have or lose my first child? Lose the last of my parents? When I wake up in a job that I thought was a calling, but was really the closing of other dreams? An illness, a cancer, that puts me in this hospital?

There we are, each of us, caught in the momentum of the rubble of our own lives.

So… where do I see God in that?

As a Universalist mystic, the sacred and profane are one—holy the moment, holy the expanse, holy the plough, holy the paycheck pushing the plough, holy the tiles, holy the diapers, holy the screaming for life.

But for now at this moment, baptized in the rubble of my life, it was and is most profoundly and specifically this:  holy are the story catchers who sit among the expanse of rubble, thoughtfully available, to notice the foot.

Thank you for noticing my foot.

I will leave here to sit, like that thoughtful observer, amongst the rubble of my life and amongst those who see the rubble for what it truly is—the gritty foundation for something more incredible, more true, more honest. The rubble from which life begins again.

This piece written for a closing ceremony of Summer Interfaith Chaplain Interns at LA County Hospital / St. Camillus Center for Spiritual Care in Los Angeles, CA. June 2014.  

Know yourself. Know yourself very, very well.

There we were. 15 weeks of asking how to create “Ecologies of Care.” 15 weeks of video taping care sessions, readings, in-class fish bowl exercises, video examples and one-on-ones. 15 weeks exploring the question of how to help people and how to know when we are helping people and when we are projecting onto people. 15 weeks of tension, break downs, break ups, break opens and break throughs.

Our final class. The professor, Rev. Dr. Kathleen Greider starts with her delicious stare across the room inviting any last questions. I mean, after all, what more could you want to ask after 15 weeks? We have one minute left. Last chance.

A single hand raises. She recognizes the hand.

“Uh, so… this might sound strange but…. How do we help people?”

The class laughs in solidarity at the request for more clarity on a topic we’ve been studying for 15 weeks. After all, there is a saying in this community—before you can construct, you must deconstruct. And some of us? Well some of us were less Cathedral and more… legos.

She leans over the podium, removing her glasses. We are breathless. Waiting. Guru on the podium top, oh ye with dry erase marker, what is it that you know.

She states calmly: “Know yourself. Know yourself, very, very well.”

And so it is with the divine. From my Unitarian Universalist reading of the Judeo-Christian Genesis, we are imagined from a God who leaned over the edge, and, before any dictation or brooding or breathing or experiencing or dialoging with that great, tehomic depth is struck—for to lean over the waters is to see your own face upon them.

Know yourself. Know yourself well.

Like a child leans over to see their own face in a Southern Californian swimming pool or the mother bear, who stands in the alpine stream waiting for the salmon beneath the waters to leap– or the ways each of us does when we walk by the store front windows and we catch ourselves, even if but for a moment, struck by the sight of our own embodiment, our own being on the street—to create we are first confronted with our own creation. To create, God is confronted with the mirror of creation. God is confronted with God’s self. Before this God could create, she had to be confronted by her own being.

Now, this isn’t tehomic-depths navel-gazing. I’m not talking pop psychology or the cult of self-care. This isn’t that divine mystery taking a selfie to post on Facebook. This is the confrontation, that world-inducing reality when we are forced to see ourselves as the starting place of the holy task.

I’m grateful for the story of a God who stayed with God’s self. Not doubting the worthiness of her procalamation. Not doubting the dignity she could bring singing over the waters.  As children of non-profits and social movements and churches rife with misconduct and as students of a school hungry to figure out what religion and church means to this world so desperate for change and healing today—I am grateful.

I am grateful for the reminder that before there was the word, there was the recognition of worth.

May CST know herself. May our faith movements, our social justice movements know themselves. And may we know ourselves.

Very, very well.

A reflection written for the final Baccalaureate Service at Claremont School of Theology, May 2014 on Genesis 1.

We’ll Build a Land: 2 People. $2200 each. By April 22nd.

March 22, 2014

Two People. $2200 each. By April 22.

Help us buy 1 acre in 1 month before Earth Day 2014!

Sristi Land Visit
Sristi board members, including youth and adults, visit the potential site of the village.

Dear Friends and Family,

What would you do if less than 1% of people who were like you could find employment?

For nearly 10 years, my close friend Karthik has been asking that question. He has served as the director of Baby Sarah’s Home Orphanage in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India—a nationally-recognized community for children who have been orphaned due to intellectual or physical disabilities.  During his time there and during my time as the Executive Learner at CLP, Karthik and I worked alongside Indian young adult leaders to do intentional, inclusive leadership programming for youth from his orphanage and surrounding communities.

After 10 years, Karthik has watched the children of his community grow up into adults who have few options for sustainable, life-giving employment as they aged out of the orphanage. Nationwide, less than 1% of people with different physical or intellectual abilities in India receive viable employment. This community makes up nearly 31 million people in India’s population.

After nearly 10 years of this, he had an idea.

His idea is SRISTI—a word in Sanskrit that means “creation”—and the new name for his innovative venture into life-giving, regenerative and inclusive community. With his team of fellow social workers and youth from his orphanage who are now adults, Karthik has began the purchase of nearly nine acres of farm land in Tamil Nadu, South India with one plan—a safe, inclusive, ecologically sustainable and financially secure community for all people, of all ages and all abilities to live out their entire lives.

This vision, Sristi Village, is a creation of love and passion. There are no communities like this in South India that combine the principles of ecological sustainability, intentional community and social justice for the marginalized due to ability—and Karthik is using his passion and innovation in permaculture (sustainable and regenerative design) and youth-led participation to make it happen.

During Daniel's and my visit in January, the local community of supporters visited the site and shared information about best future farming practices for Sristi.
During Daniel’s and my visit in January, the local community of supporters visited the site and shared information about best future farming practices for Sristi.

After years of planning this and talking to me about this over coffee, he is doing it. He left his job, moved into a small office near the available land, and started sharing his vision with friends—and people immediately jumped on board. He found the land—nine acres with nearly 50 mango trees, a water source on site and plenty of space to grow. A European foundation already made the commitment of 30,000 Euro to help him get the purchase started.

Unfortunately, due to international regulations between international non-profits, this money has been stalled—leaving Karthik empty-handed and half way through building relationships with the landowners as he begins to design and prepare the site to begin. To completely secure the purchase of this incredible land and to build good will with the landowner, Sristi needs a minimum of $13,300.

Luckily, individual citizens can help.

What Karthik is doing is truly innovative—and Karthik is a leader in his field. After a January 2014 visit to India, my best friend and colleague Daniel Francis and I saw a way to support this powerful vision—Daniel has provided several hours of permaculture design consultation and Daniel and I have committed to each raising $2,200 before Earth Day on April 22, 2014.

Luckily, an anonymous donor has offered to MATCH our money—for every $100 Daniel and I each raise, this donor will add an extra $100 until up to $2,200.

$2,200 (Samantha) + $2,200 (Daniel) + $2,200 (Match) = $6600

$6600 is enough for Karthik to purchase one more acre of land, putting him even closer to his goal of $13,300 and making Sristi a reality.

All support—from $10 to $100 – makes a big difference in putting Sristi on the map and demonstrating the power of inclusive, intentional and ecologically-inspired community with transnational support.

Would you be willing to make a donation?

We really believe that these two people can raise $2200 each before Earth Day on April 22nd—and with a really wide web of friends and fellow believers we can buy one acre of land in one month towards the creation of Sristi.

With gratitude,

Samantha and Daniel 

Donate Now




The complexities of neighborly love

 

Join me in a walk down Unitarian Universalist (and congregational) history.

The Cambridge Platform of 1648 was an England-based congregational blue print for the future of independent churches free to associate, is definitely a piece in time. What does that mean? It means that religious folk were asking important questions about the ways their understandings of authority were all tangled up with state authority (a king ordained by God) as well as out-of-touch, hierarchical religious authority (outside people determining who has authority, who can take it away, how do you know if you have it). This was the struggle of their time– if we are not led by a hierarchy outside of our selves and we are independent, how do we associate with one another within our churches and between our churches?

For this deliberative group of Congregational ministers in Massachusetts and Connecticut, religious authority was to “preach and teach”—and congregational polity (i.e. the way the congregation organized its arrangements of power and authority) would be determined by a people gathered who had been “called” authentically in their own hearts.

(Needless to say, the power to determine who is “called” is easily abused.)

However, I’m interested in what this platform, as part of liberal religious history, suggests for organizations and congregations/societies today.

Others have written what their deliberations might mean for issues of internal power and authority (see “Who’s in Charge Here: The Complex Relationship Between Ministry and Authority” — from UUA Commission on Appraisal for a more in-depth analysis of history, polity and its influence on the way we think about authority in churches today). Others, have asked questions about the role of Christian language in the platform (visit UU blogger Tom Schade who has something to say about it. His piece takes an all-too-familiar offensive posture at the use of Christian language in UUism, which necessitates this response: UUs were Christian, Christian language is part of our history and I think there is really nothing one-sided about including that side of our story in our reporting of where we came from and where we are headed.)

The Cambridge Platform suggests important relational agreements between congregations (and non-profits). Even though we are independent organizations who are “free to associate”—we freely associate embedded in value systems that uplift the complex values of interdependence.

What interdependence is lost in our struggle to wrestle power from distant hierarchies?

Early on in the platform, there is debate around what it means to leave one congregation for another congregation—because of (1) “future abolition” of the church (i.e. the church will be shut down and you want to leave before it does), (2) “pollution” (i.e. church drama), (3) “greater edification,” (i.e. I’m heading over to this other church because they have less drama and better food).

The platform isn’t too happy about this, noting that if this logic continued to other relationships chaos would ensue. In their words,  “future events do not dissolve present relations…. else wives, children, servants might desert their husbands, parents, master when they be mortally sick.” Let’s respond to this text tenderly for the nuggets of wisdom within it, even when though it does reflect a point in time when wives, children and servants lacked agency and power—i.e. the free association of most intimate!

When these “sound” members leave a “defective” church, the platform reasons, “reformation is not promoted.” For the platform writers, leaving communities (although rife with drama or division) did not model the “spirit of neighborly love” that they felt embodied in Biblical family and organizational life. Even if we are free to walk together only when called by the spirit, we were still bound by the complexity of community love—which called upon participants to stick around (even when it was tough) for the purposes of reformation. When drama strikes, the platform encourages that ‘sound’ individuals speak out about the breach of neighborly love within the church and then rely upon counsel of neighbors and elders to assist in reformation—which includes consulting with other churches for healing divisions within one’s own community.

This is the tension of “free association” and independence for a faith movement that also values its 6th and 7th principles: “world community with peace, liberty and justice for all” and “respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are all apart.” Our congregational ancestors emphasized the role of the individual in speaking about reformation from within, alongside the role of neighbors in assisting in reformation from the outside.

Churches talking to churches about their drama? Scary. And complicated. Our rules (designed by all good intentions to protect individuals’ worth and dignity) specifically limit the ways we talk church concerns between congregations—and that is more complicated between ministerial leadership, elected leadership and lay community members.  Yes, we talk church “joys” (i.e. regional church camp) but pain, powerlessness and confusion are often confined to the private rooms of omsbuds-people and district executives.  Too often, I think we’d find, we call in neighborly counsel when it is too late and too much damage has been done to our leadership and our community.

Perhaps the Cambridge Platform can re-orient us to attend to the tension we feel: the hunger to protect each of us in the midst of the desire to connect all of us in the complex work of “neighborly love.”

Imagine:

  • Churches that held council amongst themselves (and included lay and professional leadership) in sacred and intentional ways, within regions or smaller partnerships that met regularly to discuss and provide clarity on the issues that arose in their churches.
  • Non-profits that had safe spaces to admit internal struggle, financial fears and the burnout of competition for resources or materials– and designed new ways of relationship from it.
  • Organizations of faith communities that held one another accountable to the ways of peace-making– that when we speak negatively of someone or something’s actions, it is our responsibility as the listener to return our speaker to the person they are struggling with.
  • Spaces within communities of faith or social justice where concerns and grievances were safely aired– allowing those who are considering leaving to generate conversation about what is bothering them. (This is especially important given the fact that those who will leave a situation are often those who are uncomfortable with the confrontation of claiming their concerns or needs in a public space.)

What would it take to build free associations that still associated– for what is the worth of “free association” if we don’t have the depth of genuine interdependence that associates us?

Gratitude is good medicine.

(Image: Gratitude Practice at Quail Springs Permaculture Farm’s Sustainable Vocations 2012)

Jaipur, India – January 9, 2014

Daniel and I were scheduled to lead a workshop this week at a Jain conference on nonviolence and sustainability.  Our workshop would be held on the second full day of the conference, after long and exhausting hours of podium and panel-based lectures and presentations.

The night of our workshop, we located our small room in the basement of the center, loaded our short Powerpoint of photos, and began moving the conference-style seating into a circle– much to the alarm of the audio visual assistants. As people entered, we smiled, introduced ourselves and welcomed them. Even a Tibetan monk came to attend, a man who had once served alongside His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. We knew we had done something right.

The powerpoint no one would ever see.
The powerpoint no one would ever see.

As a result of last-minute planning and a desire for all workshops to be represented, another organization walked in—we were now supposed to share the one-and-a-half hour time slot with new partners. Their presentation would be on Oki do Yoga and Meiso Shiatsu. Ours on authentic youth leadership for culture repair. To make matters more complicated, our shiatsu friends spoke predominantly Italian—a whole group had come (25+ people) from Italy in support of their Master teacher, Yahiro, who had a long-established relationship with this Jain community.

It quickly appeared our room would not be large enough to accommodate.

“We need to lay down…” said the leader of the workshop, in broken Italian, “… this is a practice-oriented workshop.” Of course, Daniel and I felt the same way about ours. Maybe this could be resolved after all.

However, we noted the 25+ concerned and disappointed looks on the faces of the Italians that had followed him to the workshop space and quickly discerned that it was unfit for their workshop plans.

The organizers of the conference soon appeared. We were to shift to a new space. Daniel and I grabbed our belongings and our power point and made the announcement.

As we arrived in the new space, we were informed we needed to shift to another new space. We gathered our belongings again, making our way through an uncovered dirt lot to a large, drafty room in the basement where sounds of construction made their way in from overhead.

This room satisfied the Italian group, many of whom quickly laid out mats and invited the workshop attendees, approximately 45+ people at this point, to lay down on their backs. Their workshop would be an experiential one, with Italian therapists and students of Shiatsu Yoga offering short treatments to conference-goers. People giddily laid down—including Daniel—to receive a treatment from a number of the kind, Italian faces that sat waiting on the ground.

Twenty minutes in to the workshop time and the organizers pulled me aside whispering, “Would you like to go back to the other room for your workshop and just split the two up?”

Of course not.

I was steaming. The monk took a chair in the corner to watch. So did I. I was frustrated by the moving and going, the re-arranging, the Powerpoint that would go unseen by poor planning. I felt my frustration gurgle within me, wishing I didn’t feel angry, wanting to push it away. I didn’t want to be touched.

I sat and watched near the monk and other individuals unable to lay on the ground. With gentle kindness, people began holding the hand and head and backs of those on the ground before them, listening to the Italian instructions from their leader. Instructed to feel for the beat of the heart and imagine with loving kindness the life that they now held, the room became relaxed, despite the ever-constant sound of construction just beyond the concrete wall.

In the kind, healing stillness, one person fell asleep, gently snoring. I was gestured at by the therapist-student, Pradeep, to take her place for the final five minutes.

I reluctantly lay down, hesitant to give up my stiffness.  With deep intentionality, Pradeep holds my head, placing pressure on my forehead with warm hands. The Italian instructor asks the students to imagine each of us with a radiating light. I feel that intention from Pradeep. The pressure from my forehead, releases. I felt grateful to be released from it, despite my reluctance.

Upon completion of their session, the instructor and the translator (his fellow practitioner and wife), looked to Daniel and I to use the remaining twenty minutes of the allotted time to proceed with our workshop.

Daniel and I knew: this was no time for a workshop on culture repair. This was a time for culture repair.

At our request, the 45+ people circled up, seated on the ground. With assistance in translation to Italian, we spoke briefly on the way of Gratitude Practice in our work in the USA—that it was not about credentials, leadership role or obligation—but about feeling deeply what one was grateful for in that moment. That was all. Nothing to prove, nothing to impress, no one you are obligated to “thank”—just what authentically brings us gratitude in that moment.  And—most importantly—there is always time for it: this is the one thing that does not not get sacrificed on the altar of our rush, limitations or time restrictions.

Around the circle we went. One by one, people offering gratitude. It was the first time in the entire conference that each voice was asked to speak. Beyond podiums or workshop leaders, professional credentials or critical questions—it was simply people saying their name and offering up what was making them grateful in the moment.

Some cried. Some laughed. Some spoke Italian, Hindi or English. No one needed to translate.

The Tibetan monk, previously perched on a chair in the back of the room observing, now inched his chair to the circle, just before it was time for him to speak. He offered his gratitude for the seen and unseen people involved in this moment, for the unknowable “phenomenon” of this life.

Other people were grateful their daughters were with them on this trip to India. To be around like-minded or like-visioned folk. Some were grateful to say what they were grateful for.  At the end, people hugged one another, having shared a session of both—intentional, embodied touch and heartfelt gratitude, there was an authentic sense of having connected through experience. We didn’t need to “talk” about what Gratitude means or what it can do for building connection, we simply needed to practice it.

Hear this: Gratitude is a good practice, and a deceptively simple one: every voice is heard and every voice is from the heart. And it is always worth the time.

When are we more alive in our work?

My colleague, Daniel and I will be going to India in January 2014 to present at a Jain Concerence in Rajasthan. The conference is the 8th International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action (ICPNA). This year’s theme is “Towards a Nonviolent Future: Seeking Realistic Models of Peaceful Co-existence and Sustainability.” It is hosted by the Anuvrat Global Organization.

This year’s theme looks at the intersection of sustainability and non-violence. Daniel and I are looking towards sharing what youth mentoring, leadership and organizing has meant in the context of nature connection and the Cultural Repair Movement in California.

I’m new to this concept– but I think I’ve been part of the movement for awhile, especially among those who see activism as wholeness, as living out lives that, in the words of Ivan Illich, are “alive enough to be shared.”  Even in creating this blog, inspired from my Public Scholar Activism course at Claremont School of Theology, my professor was assisting me in making more concrete what it exactly I wanted to speak to. Her suggestion has grown on me: it is about people learning to put the oxygen mask on themselves first, before they try to “help” someone else. 

Cultural repair isn’t about self-centered people getting high on their own oxygen masks, but it is about remembering what it was like when we were living more grounded lives– the culture itself was the greatest source of oxygen, our communities, work, families weren’t places to escape from or left us depleted but places that nourished us.

Cultural repair speaks to that aching hunger to return to … something. Something that feels like it is in our memories, something that we catch glimpses of at pot lucks of compassionate friends, circles of allies or sweet moments when our work feels like a creative process that brings more life to ourselves and the world. It reminds us that there are natural cycles that pattern the natural world, and we, as part of that, have cycles, processes and ways of being that we have neglected– the importance of inspiration, the role of focused work, the rejuvenation of timeless siestas and playfulness, nourishing food and the role of story-telling around the fire under a night sky. These things are not luxuries, these are spiritual necessities– deep within us we are aching to return to this memory of well-being.

This movement, most often associated with the work of Jon Young and the Eight Shields Model, is not just about deep ecology and nature-connection– it is also about personal transformation and social justice. In the words of Young, it is about “optimizing the human operating system.”

Can you imagine an organization or faith community or campaign that leaves you feeling more alive than when you joined it? Where the process of gathering is as important as the potential “products”– the voting rights maintained, land conserved, unjust laws repealed are enhanced by the community of intention and care that worked towards them? Where we paid attention to the design of our gatherings, our meeting spaces, our meals, our personal lives and yearnings? Where we started and ended in gratitude?

That is cultural repair. It is about repairing our culture to be naturally healing, sustaining and life giving.

So, Daniel and I are off to India with these questions: what does this movement mean in social justice? What does social justice have to teach this movement? What does this say of the spirit? Further– how does the movement frame itself in a way that includes or excludes different communities of people? When this knowledge is recognized as coming from brown and black bodies (much emphasis is placed on the wisdom from the bushmen communities of the Kalahari to the wisdom of council in indigenous North and South America), yet few folks of color are present at workshops, what does this say of the need to re-design, re-learn and listen more deeply ahead as we acknowledge the classism, racism and exclusion of our environmental movements?

The Jain community of North India will be dynamic conversation partners in this effort. Jainism is well-recognized for its emphatic focus on the life of all beings and the inherent, explicit interconnectedness of all life– physically and karmically. Furthermore, the Jain concept of anekantavada  or “non-onesidedness”/”many-sidedness”, has much to say to the adversarial antagonism of movements for justice that claim absolute truth or prescriptive answers to complex realities.

Our proposals are below– and we are hungry for feedback: what does a movement like this raise for you? Where have you experienced work and life that is “alive enough to be shared” and what made it that way? 

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Presentation Title: “Bird Song and the Listening Spirit: Growing the Movement for Cultural Repair”

Summary: In the United States, fragmented movements for ecological and social justice face language of scarce resources and adversarial needs—as social justice movements work diligently for the rights of human beings, ecological justice movements give voice to the inherent aliveness of nature and warning to our self-destruction. Both models, however, often lack the spiritual tools and self-reflection to sustain themselves in the midst of financial, social and political strains and embedded injustice in our society. An inclusive approach to the Cultural Repair movement is a response to this hunger for what sustains us by including earth- and human-connection and fueling (through living) in regenerative ecological communities of care. This paper will examine these philosophical foundations, current manifestations, opportunities and challenges for growing the movement to repair our world.

Workshop/Experiential Learning Segment: “Children and Youth: Our Radical Teachers in the Movement for Cultural Repair”

Summary: In Southern California, social and ecological justice activists have come together in common movements to provide learning spaces for diverse youth to reflect, connect, dialogue and take action in healing their community, ecologically and socially. These best practices are part of larger movements, returning to indigenous and ancient wisdom, that engage people in reconnecting to the earth, to themselves and to their own spirits through outdoor activities and community living. This workshop will share (and practice) some of these best methods in case studies from California in which youth and children serve as leaders and teachers in re-discovering what keeps them, and us, alive.