Friday, November 30, 2012

Fragments and Gold

A few weeks ago I watched a movie called “Dark Shadows.”  I wasn’t a fan of the movie, in general, but one image in it has stuck with me.  Near the end of the movie, amidst a scene of devastating wreckage, we watch one character break down. 

Her brokenness takes an obvious and visible form.  Her exterior gets dented, like a hard-boiled egg when it’s hit against a surface.  Her body literally cracks, over and over again, until she is hard to recognize as the beauty she once was. As she is shattered, her body somehow, mostly, stays together, but small pieces of her fall off, leaving empty spaces. 

When you and I break, our cracks are not usually so easy to see.  The physical breaks may be evident because, as in the case of my recent broken foot, we wrap and protect them until they are healed. The emotional breaks, the psychological breaks, the spiritual breaks are harder to detect.  And yet they are there.

We dent.  We crack.  Somehow we mostly stay together, but we may lose pieces of ourselves and find holes where we used to be whole.

I realized a few days ago that in the last year, I’ve been living that scene of destruction in reverse.

I knew I was battered up when I left for India.  I knew I was dented and cracked and missing pieces.  

I didn’t know that some of those pieces had made their way across the world.  Perhaps it was the wind that picked up those fragments of me and carried them to far-off places.  Carried them to India – to a convent where I learned the joy of doing dishes (a task I’ve never much liked) communally and to small villages where the glee of a simple game like catch with children who had no toys soaked into me.

Maybe blustery gusts took pieces of me to Palestine – to a house where I learned the comfort of living with others who shared my thirst for justice and to learning centers where the generosity of my students reminded me that I, too, have much to offer.

Perhaps a gentle breeze brought fragments of me to Italy – to a square filled with thousands of devoted where I learned the power of praying together and to a small town where the spirit of St. Francis saturated my soul. 

And maybe some air current swept parts of me to Spain and the Netherlands – to homes of friends and family where I learned that time and space don’t necessarily weaken relationships and to parks where the intricate patterns of mosaics and flowers nourished my being.  

Or maybe it was God.

I had the immense pleasure not long ago of seeing Peter Mayer in concert. He told a story and sang a song about Japanese bowls.  In the late 15th century, Japanese artisans began the practice of repairing broken bowls using gold to fill the cracks between fragments.  The craftsmen didn’t try to hide the breaks.  Instead they enhanced each fracture with precious metal, highlighting the wear and tear the bowl had lived.  The artists used gold to make each crack, and, as a result, each bowl, more beautiful.  These bowls came to be valued more than the unbroken ones.

Like I didn’t know that pieces of me had scattered in the world, I didn’t know that my loved ones at home had also collected pieces of me, ones I didn’t even know were missing, and safely guarded them until I returned. I didn’t know that my friends and family waited until I was ready to receive their loving care before they gently coated each crack with gold and put my fragments back into place.  As I reflect now, I see, with each piece newly set, the beauty of my brokenness, the dignity of a life risked and lived, the value of allowing others to put me back together. 

I see that the custodians of my brokenness not only filled my empty spaces, but also sealed them with the precious coating of the love of God.

Without India, without Palestine, without Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, home, without many people holding me and putting me back together, I would still look like the completely shattered character from “Dark Shadows.” Because of those places and those people, I look like a Japanese bowl.

Last night I was at the final event of Louisville’s Merton Institute for Contemplative Living and heard a panel of speakers share their ideas about living a contemplative life.  Many of them emphasized the importance of community, of recognizing our interconnectness with those we know and those we don’t know. 

Only a few hours before his death, Thomas Merton said

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.

When we recognize our interdependence, we see that we need others to gather our missing pieces and they need us to do the same.  When we know that we are all part of one another, we realize that guarding those pieces with tender care ultimately leads to our own mending.  When we grasp that we are involved in one another, we understand that each of us is responsible for using our own store of precious bonding material to carefully and gently put the fragments we’ve collected back into place.

When we do all this, we, each of us, becomes a Japanese artisan, a custodian of brokenness, a bearer of blessing.  We invite God into brokenness and allow God’s grace to transform brokenness into the splendor of God’s shining love.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gaza, #2

This may be as scattered as my swirls post from about a week ago.

I am still troubled by what is happening in Gaza.

I am still troubled by mainstream media news coverage.  I am troubled that they didn't report that the Hamas leader Israel targeted and killed last week was working to forge a permanent truce between Hamas and Israel.  Yes, Ahmed Jabari was a Hamas leader and yes, he was not always a proponent of peaceful measures, but at the time he was killed, he was in the process of negotiating peace between Hamas and Israel, not in some hypothetical and distant-future way.  He had received a draft of a permanent truce agreement only hours before he was assassinated.  How did mainstream media miss that detail?

I am troubled by Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian missiles.  I am troubled that I've only heard the number of rockets launched from Gaza, but haven't heard the number of Israeli missiles.  This troubles me because one of the arguments I read in comments after news articles goes something like this: "We shouldn't focus on the huge difference in number of Israeli deaths and Palestinian deaths. That is not important. We should focus on the number of missiles being launched.  Current number have been launched from Gaza."  In those comments, not one person has said how many missiles have been fired by Israel.  Is that number not significant to the argument?

I am troubled by the 130+ Palestinian deaths and the 5 Israeli deaths.  I'm not sure if the death of a protester in the West Bank is included in the Palestinian death toll.  I am troubled that one protester has died and others have been beaten, harassed, and/or arrested.  I am troubled by other injuries incurred on all sides during the current violence.

I am troubled by hateful comments I've seen about both Muslims and Jews from readers responding to news articles. The comments aren't about specific people (not that those are better), but general comments aimed at the millions who fall into each category, the kind of comments that show both ignorance and intolerance.

And yet, I am also hopeful.

In the face of it all, I have to see hope.  Someone has to hold onto hope, or there will be none.  So I choose to see a larger vision than the one that makes me want to scream and cry.

I am hopeful because Israel has not yet launched a ground invasion into Gaza.  Peace talks continue.

I am hopeful because some Palestinians, despite repercussions they may face, are protesting peacefully. So are Israeli activists in Israel. So are international solidarity groups, including groups like Students for Justice in Palestine right here in Louisville.

I am hopeful because my American friend who is living in Nablus, Palestine has chosen artistic expression as her way to release grief over what she is seeing and hearing.  I am hopeful because she is teaching creative writing and may just give her Palestinian students one more outlet for their pain.

My hope is fragile, but I will protect it in prayer and nurture it in love.  I ask you, too, to help me pray not that one side wins and another loses, but that all sides win, that all those involved in the conflict find refuge from the sparks - of violence, anger, hatred, and fear - that can only create more of the same.

So I ride on a see-saw of trouble and hope.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thoughts on Gaza...

I've been listening to news about Israeli air strikes on Gaza with sorrow and concern.  The last report I heard on the radio led with the fact that three Israelis were killed.  The report mentioned the 13 Palestinian deaths, two of which were deaths of children, much later, almost as an afterthought. A report I heard in the morning didn't discuss any Palestinian deaths except that of a Hamas leader.

Let me be clear before I continue that I don't condone violence. Period.  I think there are better ways of resolving conflict.  However, after doing some research, I can understand why some Palestinians in the Gaza Strip might be angry enough to use violence, the violence that Israel says is the reason for its current airstrikes.

Israel amped up its blockade of Gaza in 2007 when Hamas came to power.  The blockade means Israel tightly controls what goes into and out of the Gaza Strip.  The stated reason for the blockade is Israeli security, to prevent weapons and anything that might be used against Israel from getting into the area.  I get that reason.

What I cannot understand is how Israel justifies restricting food and other humanitarian aid to Gaza. In 2008 Israel drafted a report analyzing food needs of residents of the Gaza Strip, in which is stated that 106 lorryloads of food and other humanitarian supplies were needed daily for Gazans. However, according to Gisha, an Israeli human rights group against the Gaza blockade, an average of 67 lorryloads entered daily during that time, lower than Israel's projection of need, meaning that people's basic needs were not being met. Robert Turner, who works in Gaza for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, stated:

"We recognise that Israel has legitimate security concerns but we have said consistently that the blockade is collective punishment of the population. It's illegal under international law and we think it's counterproductive."

In addition, some of Israels' food restrictions seem random.  For example, cinnamon is allowed into the Gaza Strip. Coriander is not. The last time I checked, coriander was a spice, not anything that could be used against Israel.  Why isn't it allowed? Is it just another way (one of many I could cite) for Israel  to show who's got the power?

Though the blockade has eased minimally, conditions in Gaza continue to be difficult.  In August, the U.N. released a report stating that, if conditions in Gaza remain as they are now, by 2020 Gaza will not be livable.  According to U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator Maxwell Gaylard:

"Action needs to be taken right now on fundamental aspects of life: water sanitation, electricity, education, health and other aspects." 

I cannot imagine living in a place where my movement is restricted, my food consumption is restricted, my access to clean water, health care and electricity is restricted, and my educational opportunities are restricted. If my life were so severely limited, might I be more of a proponent of violence?  I don't know. I hope not, but I don't know.

I just looked at the news again.  The article I read says that 15 Palestinians are dead.  However, both the title and the first boldface line of the report highlight that "three Israelis [were] killed."

Are Israeli deaths more noteworthy because they are Israeli?  Because Israeli deaths are rarer than Palestinian deaths? Because Israeli lives are more important than Palestinian lives?  Does the placement of a government's money (to Israel) qualify whose lives are more important?

Personally, I grieve all the deaths and injuries. Every life is equally sacred.

I pray for an end to the violence.  I pray for my friends in Israel and Palestine.  I pray for peace, a peace that holds up Israelis and Palestinians as equal in life and death, a peace whose path I cannot envision, but nonetheless believe, through the grace of God and the work of people, someday, somehow, is possible.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Swirls, scribbles, and scratch-outs

Today is a day I wish I could just put swirls, scribbles, and scratch-outs on my blog.

Take 1: commentary on my African proverb of the day- "If you keep your head and heart going in the right direction, you won't have to worry about your feet."  I agree.  Sort of, but only sort of, because my head and heart don't also go in the same direction.  Not ready to write about that one.

commentary on my African proverb of the day- "If you keep your head and heart going in the right direction, you won't have to worry about your feet."

Take 2: commentary on a passage in Bruce Feiler's Abraham about following the Call.  I'm trying to follow the Call, but I've written about that before and I'm not sure I have new insights formed well enough to add anything useful to what I've already written.

commentary on a passage in Bruce Feiler's Abraham about following the Call.

My mind is going from head vs. heart vs. feet to how it relates to my Call to my wonderful day subbing in music classes to news about more bombings in Gaza to Syria and Turkey and Iraq and Iran, what I saw and heard when I was in Kurdistan and what will happen if violence escalates there to what was my plane crash dream about? Swirls and scribbles and scratch-outs.

Should I even be writing on a day like today when I can't seem to focus on any one thing long enough to write a post?  Maybe not, but in the interest of fostering discipline, I am writing.  Maybe it's OK to have a stream of consciousness post every once in awhile.  Today would be it.  

Maybe the message today is to let the thoughts evolve at their own pace the way a child's scribbles and swirls develop into recognizable figures over time or maybe the message is to forgive myself for the scratch-outs because everyone has scratch-out moments, days, weeks, even years. Maybe I'll also forgive myself for all the run-on sentences - they look the way my mind feels today.

Sometimes what we need is a chance to get the scribbles, swirls, and scratch-outs out of our system, so that next time we can take a clean piece of paper, re-focus, and start over. Here's hoping for a better next time. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Help me, God

Help me, God
to be a force of love -

to love better the ones who love me,

to listen to the ones who insult me
and try to understand
                where the loathing come from,

                and react with love

and not turn my back,
and not give up
on them,

to listen to my words,
to look at my actions,
and try to make them
hopeful, peaceful, challenging, loving,


to work for good
even when I am
afraid, tired, sad, angry,

to wish the best for all people,
                even for those who don’t wish the best for me.

when i love, i am most like You.

when i give in to
hopelessness, violence, ease, hatred, indifference,
fear, exhaustion, sorrow, rage,

when i throw them at people, maybe even myself,
and don’t hand them to You  
                                                                                                i stray.

Help me to see 
that i live in You,
Your creation,
that i am Your creation,
surrounded by others,
every other
also Your creation,

to trust that
he is
she is
we are
of reflecting You
even if not
all times.

with us
with her
with him.

Help me, God
to be a force of Love -

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Sitting in a coffee shop a few days ago, I was transported back to January 2009 when I visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.  Even more specifically, I was transported to the Children’s Memorial. 

The Children’s Memorial was made in an underground cavern.  Its purpose is to remember the 1.5 million Jewish children who were killed during the Holocaust.

I entered the memorial from a bright sunny day.  Inside the memorial is dark.  As I descended into the space, I reached for the guardrail since the darkness I entered blinded me momentarily.  I began to hear the names, ages, and countries of origin of the children killed.  As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw that I was not entering a hall of pure darkness.  Instead I began to see lights – the flame of candles (maybe only one candle?), coming from the center of the memorial, reflected in mirrors and mirrors and mirrors around the center.  With the candlelight reflected, I could see well enough not to stumble.  I thought of the saying “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”  I heard more names, ages, and countries.  

Then I heard another sound.  It sounded like machine guns.  Set against the solemn speaking of names, all I could think of was the death of the children, maybe through the violence of guns, maybe through the slow breakdown of body and spirit by starvation and debilitating work, maybe through gas chambers.  The machine gun sounds didn’t stop.  I had to get out. 

I hurried outside, sickened at the thought of children dying, blinded now by sunlight rather than the darkness, only to realize that the machine guns I heard were jackhammers. The sound wasn't part of the memorial, a fact I didn't realize until I was outside. 

As I reflected upon this, a more recent memory struck me.  As sound bombs and tear gas went off during the Open Shuhada street protests I witnessed in Hebron in February, I kept thinking about my favorite fireworks, the ones that produce only a flash of light and loud boom.  The sound was similar to the sound bombs I was hearing.  I knew my favorite firework would no longer bring me joy, but rather the memory of how sound can be used to scare and intimidate people.  

I thought of the notices I receive about alternative activities during Thunder Over Louisville.  Thunder Over Louisville is the largest display of fireworks in the US, and a spectacle that includes a pre-fireworks air show that highlights the prowess of various military planes.  The alternative activities happen away from the river front show.  They are designed to promote community- and peace-building.  Organizers recognize that some people, particularly immigrants and refugees, may have experiences of military planes that are not as benign as an air show, people who, upon hearing and seeing military planes, might be transported to terror-inducing memories, rather than awe and wonder at the “coolness” of the planes.

A few days ago I heard jackhammers  as construction went on outside of the coffee shop.  Because of my experience at Yad Vashem, I could only think of machine guns, sound bombs, military planes and the myriad ways we have come up with to intimidate, hurt, and kill people.  I had to get out. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

did you find yourself?

did you find yourself?
she asked me


i found myself

in the young barefoot beggar staring at me,
eyes wide, deep brown
and the next one,
ragged clothes,
and another,
dirty face

in the naked man sitting on the street,
in the sick woman with no energy for her children,
in the chubby boy who was the butt of jokes

in the teen whose father was killed,
in the one who struggled to learn english,
in the woman restricted by culture

in the sorrow of the one who misses his wife,
in the awareness of the one who doesn’t follow her gut,
in the frustration of the one who hates her limitations,
in the longing of the one who seeks love.

if i were born
in another time
and place
i could be them,
live in their bodies,
live their


i was born
when i was born
where i was born
and have my own

and yet




in them.

i don’t live in their bodies
but they live in me -

in my cells,
my blood,
my bones,
the skin i wear -

do you see them?
they are me.
i am them.

do you feel them?
are they you?
are you them?

do you find yourself
when you look into
the eyes
of another?