Sunday, January 27, 2013

Making Time for Me

One session of our CPT training, a session we had before we dug into the topic of undoing oppression, was about self-care.  Since that session, we've had several "self-care pit-stops" built into our schedule. We, the trainees, are responsible for running the pit-stops by sharing or teaching an activity. Thus far, we've gone on a nature walk in a nearby park, played a game together, and practiced yoga nidra.  Our next pit-stop we'll focus on artistic creativity.

Though I know self-care is important, I'm not always good at creating time for it.  Sometimes, I say that I simply don't have time.  When that happens, I often end up distracting myself from work anyway, thus losing both productivity and a chance to do something that will give me the energy to continue.  Those times help me remember that I do have the time; I simply need allow myself to take it and use it well.  CPT training is helping me to see just how rejuvenating even a half hour away from work can be.

Yesterday was our last full free day before training ends.  We have 9 more days of training to go.  We've had 2 other days off.  On those days, I stayed in the house most of the day, simply relaxing and recovering from the previous exhausting days.  In the evenings I went out to dinner with other trainees.

Yesterday I knew I needed to get out of the house.  My introverted self also knew that I needed to do it by myself.  The other trainees are phenomenal people, but it's hard to be around even phenomenal people for 3 weeks, 24/7.  I decided to take the train into the city and see where my feet took me from there.

My train ride put me in the Loop, right in the heart of downtown Chicago. I walked down Michigan Avenue past the Art Institute.  Most of my body wanted to be on the move, because we sit a lot during training; in addition, my brain has been doing some serious exercise.  It wanted as few new stimuli, even beautiful stimuli like art, as possible.  Considering the totality of my body's needs, I decided not to go in.

I headed to Clark Street.  Once on the street, I walked and walked, trying to do so more slowly than my usual pace, until I found myself at the Lincoln Park Zoo, a couple of miles north of the Loop.

The foot I broke a few months ago was starting to hurt by that point.  When I decided to enter the zoo to animal watch, my foot was grateful.  The rest of my body was ready to stop moving, too.

I lingered longest near the gorillas and a tiger.  I was mesmerized by the interaction of mama gorillas and their clinging babies, by an older male drinking juice the zookeeper gave him through a fence, by younger males balancing on exercise balls and making nests from straw. And then at the cat house, I watched a tiger gnawing on a bone right next to the glass that separated us.  It was equally mesmerizing.  I thought of my cats and was pretty sure they imagined themselves as regal as the tiger appeared.

My body appreciated the leisurely pace I took through the zoo, the pauses to observe and read, the warmth of the various animal houses.  My spirit appreciated answering only to the needs of my body, and not to those of other bodies around me.

The afternoon, as well as the pit-stops done as a group, remind me that self-care doesn't require spending money.  It can be as simple as a walk or a game.  It doesn't require much time. Even 15 minutes or a half hour can revive the spirit.  We need to practice self-care to function effectively, but too often, we don't  make the time, we forget how simple an activity it can be, we opt for something that, while different from work, is not revitalizing.

After my zoo visit, I walked back to the Loop.  I met some other trainees for pizza. My afternoon alone readied me to be with them again.

And so today, we begin our last 9 days together before we go our separate ways.  I pray that in the midst of these last intense days and the work we'll do later with CPT, we'll find the balance between together time and alone time, working and self-care, and that we'll find peace within the stresses we face.  I pray the same for you.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Race, Racism, and Me

Today's CPT training day was focused on undoing racism.  As a white person, I could feel myself pulled in different directions.  At some points, I was pleased with myself for recognizing racism in one situation or another (never as my own personal experiences, but rather as observations of others' experiences).  At other points, I was ashamed to recognize times that the subtle messages of racism have manifested themselves in my behavior.

One of those times was just yesterday. Our trainee house is in a predominantly black area.  Yesterday another trainee and I decided to walk to a nearby conservatory.  Before we left the house, I put the case with my iPod and driver's license in my coat pocket.  As we were walking, I noticed a black man crossing the street headed in our direction.  Nothing in the way he moved was in the least bit threatening, yet when I saw him, I thought, "Gee, maybe I should zip my pocket, so no one can get my iPod."  My next thought was, "No, I don't need to do that right now and why am I having the thought right now?"

Of course, I knew the answer. Though I hate to admit it, my mind goes to the messages that are prominent in our culture: black men are criminals, are aggressive, are thieves, and cannot be trusted.  The idea is so well-planted in me that I don't need to see threatening posture from a black man to elicit the thought. The same kind of thing happens sometimes when I drive through primarily black neighborhoods in Louisville.  I get the urge to lock my car doors, when there are no apparent reasons to feel at risk.  Again I'll say that I feel ashamed for these responses, but am glad that I am least becoming aware of them.  Recognizing the problem is the first step, right?

One thing that stuck out to me throughout the day is how little I've had to think about my own race.  We talked about our earliest memories related to our own race and other races.  I had a hard time coming up with memories, because I didn't have to think much about my race growing up.  In contrast, any person of color must become aware of his/her race early in life because of all the unearned disadvantages s/he must know about.  For example, a black person (and more specifically a boy/man) must know, among many other things, where it's safe (or not) to go and how to interact with persons of authority, simply because he is black.

One of our readings (that I don't have here, so cannot credit) talked about how white people think about ourselves as "just people," members of the human race, and generally attribute race to other people and not ourselves, unless explicitly asked to do so.  This reminded me of a news article I saw just a couple days ago.  It was a cautionary article about a man driving around in a white van trying to lure women into it.  The article merely referred to the man as a man - not a black man, Hispanic man, or any other race of man.  However, I am certain that if he had been black or Hispanic, the descriptor word would most certainly be used.  In other words, people automatically know that "man" means white man, because that's the norm.  Anything different from our cultural norm must be specified.  This guy was just a man.

One of our trainers made this comment early in the day:  "For well-meaning white people, there are few things scarier than being called a racist."  I'm certainly not trying to be racist.  The notion horrifies me.  At the same time, I am becoming increasingly aware of just how much privilege I have as a white person.  Just because of the color of my skin, I am more likely to be treated with kindness and respect, no one asks me to speak on behalf of my race, and I see people of my race represented in politics, in media, and basically everywhere else.  That is only the tip of the iceberg called "white privilege."  And this iceberg is not melting like those at the poles of our planet are.

I know my writing today is a little scattered.  It is a reflection of my scampering thoughts.  Please excuse their erratic movement, but I wanted to try to capture at least a few of them while they're moving.  Now I'll free them again, so they can sort themselves out a little better.  Maybe I'll be able to express them better later.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stepping into another world

One of the emphases of CPT is undoing oppression.  Since it is a central point of CPT's work, the theme occupies several days of our training.  We started today with a focus on heterosexism.  For those who may not know the term (I didn't until just recently), Wikipedia provides this definition: "Heterosexism is a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that other people are heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior."

In exploring the topic, we did a number of activities. We talked about Biblical interpretations that support heterosexism.  I stress the word "interpretations" because, since we neither live in the culture in which the Bible was written nor can we (at least most of us) read it in its original language, we have no choice but to read versions that are someone's interpretations.  I will not contend that one translation is more accurate than another, but will simply offer that we need to remember both of the above when we read.  We also need to consider that we have our own paradigm that we ourselves bring into our interaction with the text.  None of us come into the conversation neutral.

Our group imagined a world in which heterosexism was considered deprave and therefore not supported socially, religiously, or legally.  In the alternate reality activity, our leaders invited us to draw our current family into that reality.  Thinking about the implications of living in such a world made me ill.  One of the laws in the alternate reality was that heterosexuals could not work with children.  As I imagined my life and that of my family, I wondered if my mom, my sister, my sister-in-law, my aunt or I would still try to be teachers and if we did, what the security and legal consequences would be if we were found out.  In my drawing, the houses had wavy walls, indicating the constant state of fear we'd live in.  Knowing that that kind of terror and insecurity is the life that some people live because they don't identify as heterosexuals (or other dominant groups, but today we talked about this particular one) makes the pain in my body continue, even as I feel guiltily grateful to identify with the dominant culture.

We role-played a number of scenarios between heterosexuals and members of the queer community.  Role plays are a safe space to explore how different situations may play out.  After each scene, we debriefed what it felt like to put on the parts: the gay person or the new neighbor who clearly doesn't approve, the bisexual man or his heterosexual friend who makes gay jokes.  Our trainer reminded us that the various ways we acted out the scenes are how such situations may manifest themselves in the real world.  While we could laugh about the role plays, the gravity of the truth our trainer called to mind sunk in.

As we delved into the topic, the day brought back memories from teaching ... I remember that it was thinking about the struggles of LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) folks that prompted me to create and hang in my classroom my "Love Thy Neighbor" poster.  I remember the boy who was terrified that his classmates would find out his dad was gay, the boy who was outed by his friends, the boy who tried to deny his homosexuality by self-punishment.   I remember seeing their pain.  I remember knowing that I would never fully understand what it was like for them.

Today I am reminded that my reality and my privilege as a heterosexual are not everyone's reality or privilege.  I am reminded that I have a lot to learn.  I am reminded of the importance of stepping into someone else's reality, even if only for a short time, in order to understand it and explore my own biases.  I am reminded that only by stepping into someone else's reality can I better envision a world in which my experience is not one of privilege, but of mutual respect and equality.  I want to live in a world in which I would be equally happy walking in my own shoes or those of any other human being.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

You can't unlearn it

I wrote the following after listening to a friend speak of this experience...

they're bad,
you're good

target shooting
human figures,

once you learn to kill,
you can't unlearn it.

you will know
how to




you can
never again be
one who

pride or shame?

innocence lost,
life lost,
but whose?

how much of yourself do you lose when you learn to kill another?

did you know the price you'd pay?
did they tell you when they taught you
that every shot put
a hole
in you?

do you feel shattered?
do you feel you numb?

you're good,
they're bad


are you dead enough yet to kill


once you learn to kill,
you can't unlearn it.

Monday, January 14, 2013


This morning several of us CPT trainees headed to Trinity United Church of Christ for their 11 AM service.  For those who may not know, this is the church that President Obama used to attend.  It is "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian."  Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is the pastor.

The service was- wow!  Let me give some play-by-play.  We entered and a greeter welcomed us and walked us to a reception desk, where another woman asked us where we were all from (Kentucky, Michigan, Canada, and Brazil) and for one of our names, so that we could be properly greeted by the congregation.  Then the greeter escorted us into the sanctuary and to an open pew. Singers were belting out pre-service praise music when we entered.  The children's choir of about 50 kids processed in and they led us in song during the service.  The service consisted of all of us reading a Scripture passage together (Mark 3: 1-7), an official welcome for visitors (which also included passing of the peace), prayers, offertory, and then... the sermon. 

Let me just say Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III knows how to preach!  The passage he preached about is about a man with a withered hand coming to Jesus for healing. Jesus heals the man by telling him to come forward and stretch out his hand.  Without even touching the man, Jesus heals him.  The first part of the sermon focused on the calling forward. He noted that none of us are perfect and how every single one of us has issues and no matter how hard we may try to hide them, other people know we have issues.  The first step to our healing is getting over ourselves and acknowledging our imperfections to ourselves and others.  We need to step forward.  We must step out of our comfort zone, before we can try to become better versions of ourselves.  Better to fail at trying that to sit in the safety of our comfort zone without doing anything. 

The next step, Rev. Dr. Moss preached, is to strrreeeeeetch.  We need to "stretch through our diminished capacity" towards God.  In order to be "co-emancipators with God," we need to reach out to God.  Sure, God can heal us, but the work of God will be easier if we are reaching for God as God reaches towards us.  In our stretching, we not only help God in the healing process, but we also increase our spiritual range of motion.  This means the next time we face a similar difficulty, we'll be better equipped for it, because we've gotten stronger through our strrreeeeeeetching.  

Earlier in our CPT training, we talked about comfort zones and the discomfort or "challenge" zone.  Rev. Dr. Moss' words seemed to reiterate the message we got in CPT - ideally we will spend a decent amount of time in the challenge zone, so that we grow and stretch.  As we grow and stretch, so does our comfort zone.  

It's fair to say I've already done some stretching during CPT training.  I've learned some new skills, like how to make a presentation (a task I was none too thrilled about when I began), how to plan a public action, and how to spiritually prepare for such an action.  Several of us participated in civil disobedience during a public action focused on closing the Guantanamo Bay prison.  All were steps into my challenge zone.  Doing these challenge zone activities remind me that, though I've done some stretching in my life, I have a long way to go before my comfort zone is all-encompassing.  

So perhaps that shall be my life's goal - to stay spiritually limber, so that the comfort zone never stops growing.  The challenge is to never be too proud to admit my own diminished capacity, to reach out to God, and to accept the healing that comes through the sometimes painful strrrreeeeeetching.  

Thanks for the reminder, Dr. Rev. Moss III.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Our CPT training group will take part in a demonstration calling for the closure of the Guantanamo prison this Friday, on the 11th anniversary of its opening. Our small group will be joining people from Illinois Amnesty International, Illinois Coalition Against Torture, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and a number of other groups.

Four years ago President Obama issued an executive order to close the Guantanamo prison and yet it remains open. 166 men remain in the prison; of those, 87 were cleared for release, and yet they are still imprisoned.  About 779 men have been held there over the 11 years since the prison opened.  Every man who has been held at Guantanamo is Muslim.  92% of all the men ever held in Guantanamo are not "Al-Qaeda fighters," according to the U.S. government's own records.  46 men are slated for indefinite detention without charge or trial.  The government claims the men can neither be released nor prosecuted.  The preceding fact come from the Center for Constitutional Rights. For more facts and figures about the Guantanamo and the imprisoned, click here.

I often asked my students to put themselves in the shoes of another person: an immigrant, a homeless person, a woman.  Today I am trying to imagine walking in the shoes of an imprisoned man at Guantanamo.

Maybe I'm Sulaiman Al Nahdi, a Yemeni man.  I've now been in the prison for 10 years and 8 months without ever being charged with any crime.  I'm being held even though my name was cleared years ago.  You who are not here with me only know that my name was cleared some time between 2004 and 2009 because that's the only information the U.S. government has given you about me.

The U.S. government never charged me with a crime. After being held in prison without charge, my name  was finally cleared and I am still in prison. When will I be able to walk freely again?  Where will they send me when they let me leave? Will they ever let me leave? Why am I still here?

Why am I still here?

Why am I still here?    

This is the question that races through my brain, that pulses in my heart, that circulates through my veins every day I remain in this place.  It is difficult to move past this question, to hold onto hope that I will  be free some day, to imagine that my life may some day look normal again.  It is difficult to know if the beating of my heart is the drumming of anger or the drumming of hope.

There are other men who have been here even longer than I have.

I heard that people in the U.S. value justice.  Where is the justice for me?  I have heard that people in the U.S. believe in human rights.  Where are my human rights?  I have heard that people in the U.S. value protecting the innocent.  Where is my protection?

Please, please, please  answer my questions.  Please, please, please if you believe in justice, in human rights, in protecting the innocent, please help me.  Please ask your government to release me.  Please ask your president to carry out his own executive order and close down this prison, and every other one like it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The first few days of training...

My goal was to leave the house by 8 AM, so I could get to Chicago by about noon Chicago time.  When my alarm went off at 7:00, I knew it was going to be a rough day.  When I woke up that morning, my body ached, the kind of ache where even brushing my hair would hurt.  My throat hurt and a cough had started to lodge itself into my chest.  I had a fever.

After conversations with several people, I decided to sleep all morning, see how I felt after doing so, and hopefully leave in the afternoon, making me just a few hours late for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) training.  That is the plan I followed last Friday.  I arrived in Chicago around 6 PM.  

Saturday and Sunday, my body felt much the same as it did Friday, so the first few days of training were pretty rough.  Today, I was happy to wake up without a fever.  This evening I can gleefully say that I feel better than I did in the morning and I haven't taken any medicine since the morning.  Things are looking up.

This is Day #4 of CPT training, and we're starting to get into the rhythm of things.  Seven of us are in the training: five women, two men, representing four countries, and entering training with diverse cultural, religious, and life experiences.  During our month-long training, we will live together, eat together, pray together, work together, play together, and do just about everything else together.  All of this is to prepare us for when we're working in the field (in Canada doing aboriginal justice work, Palestine, Iraq, or Colombia) under strenuous conditions.  The skills we're learning now will hopefully prepare us for those rigors. 

We are expected to be at the CPT training center by 8 AM.  Most evenings, we won't leave there until 9 PM or even later.  Those who walk the 2 1/2 miles from our house will leave the house around 7 AM, making for an even longer day.  Once I stop coughing, I'm looking forward to being a walker.  Until then, I am grateful to have a car.  

We've already discovered that training is intense. We have a 3-hour session in the morning.  We have a 3-hour session in the afternoon.  We have a 1 to 2 hour session in the evening.  There are break times, but those may be filled with other tasks we need to accomplish.  We take turns preparing meals and cleaning up after them.  We take turns leading daily worship, taking photos and video, convening, leading short break activities, and several other daily tasks.  We also each have a job we're in charge of for the month.  We have three days off all month. 

Those are the nuts and bolts of training.  I'm sure I'll be writing about the content of the training later.  No doubt this will be a month of great learning.

Please pray for all of us in training and for all CPTers.  Thank you.   

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Sixteen hours into the new year and I feel pretty good about 2013.

I rang in the new year at a party that included my sister, her husband, and some of our Latino friends.  I mention that they are Latinos, because, in my humble opinion, Latinos know how to throw a party!  Maybe it's my love of (Latin) dancing that leads me to that conclusion.  Dancing is an important element of every Latino party.  Salsa, merengue, bachata - my body can't help but move, and last night it got to.  

As the year began I exchanged texts and conversation with friends not at the party, then got a few hours of sleep.  

St. William has hosted a World Day of Prayer for Peace interfaith prayer service every January 1st for many years.  I hadn't attended one until this year, when I was asked to preside.  What an incredible honor.  What a beautiful way to enter into the new year - with prayers and reflections from diverse faith traditions, all focused on peace.    

This morning before the service I was anxious.  I had written a few of the things I was going to say.  What if my words weren't just right?  As presider, a lot of responsibility for making the service run smoothly fell on me.  What if I forgot something or my timing was off? When I took a moment to consider my nervousness, I reminded myself that the people attending would be there because they were interested in peace.  They were not there to judge me and would, in all likelihood, forgive me if I messed up...if they even noticed.  That helped put things into perspective and calm the nerves.  After the service, I breathed a sigh of relief. It had gone well. 

From there I went to my best friend's annual New Years Day Pajama Brunch.  I love the event for a couple of reasons: 1) it's not often I get to go out in pjs (though I didn't do so this year, since I came from the prayer service) and 2) I get to see long-time friends that I don't otherwise see.  This year's friend-seeing was no disappointment.  I am ever amazed at the high-caliber of people I am blessed to know.  

Later in the afternoon I had a conversation about a new monthly blog I'll be writing focusing on nonviolence (more details about it in future posts).  I read a little, visited my grandma, who is, unfortunately, starting her new year in the hospital because she has pneumonia, and then picked up some food.  There I ran into a former student and his dad, as well as another friend.  

And now I sit writing, a warm furry creature snuggled up to me. 

If the first 16 hours of 2013 are any indication of the way this year will go, I am in for an awesome year.  The blessings are already pouring down on me in torrents.  I hope with all my heart and soul that your year is starting out as joyfully as mine.  Whether it is or isn't, I wish you much peace, joy, and love throughout this year.