Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Stories We Tell

I love to tell stories. I love to weave together threads of lives that may seem unrelated (even to me when I begin) until, in and out, in and out, the strands come together into a surprising piece of beautiful cloth. That is why I write…or at least that is why I share some of the things that I write.

There are other stories I tell, too. They are the ones I whine to my close friends, or utter with despair, or whisper with an optimism that somewhere deep I know isn’t justified. These are the stories that go scrawled in my journal- not fit for public consumption.

I was recently walking with a friend who had just been to hear Bren√© Brown speak. My friend was gracious enough to share some of the wisdom she had gleaned from the day. The piece that has come back to me over and over is about stories- not like the ones woven through me that become beautiful once complete. Rather the stories we make with threads that get tangled and knotted as they wind around each other … and through us…The kind that twist through my stomach…and back…and neck…and head…the ones that would create dissonance if they were music. Familiar stories, but ones based on illusion rather than reality: that I am unlovable or unloved; that I am not enough…or too much; that there is something inherently wrong with me that causes some people to turn down or not respond to my invitations or that makes me unworthy of invitations from them. Twist, tangle, knot.

Disclaimer before I go on: I have not yet read Bren√© Brown’s new book and I may be completely misremembering what my friend said. But even if I am misremembering, my interpretation of her words has served me well thus far.

I, like many other people, am good at making assumptions and snap judgments- about how something or someone is, about why someone is or isn’t acting a certain way (read: the way I want). These assumption and judgments may lead me to frustration, anger, sadness, blame…nothing that is particularly helpful. Yes, there are times when frustration, anger and sadness (I left blame out for a reason) are appropriate, but not when they’re built upon the shaky foundation of my imagination (not to dis imagination, but it’s got its right time and place).

Since the conversation with my friend, I have been hyper-aware of the stories I tell- the ones that tangle and knot me up, instead of loosening and liberating me. I notice when the twisting begins and I ask myself: What do I really know here? The answer is usually short. And so I gently tease open the thread threatening to choke me in its knot.

Here it is the absence of story that is beautiful, that frees me. It is the letting go of the assumptions, fears, and insecurities that twist me up. It is recognizing the old wounds, still tender, and treating them gently, allowing them to reside in their own land of the past, but not allowing them to claim new territory in the present.

This is not easy. Sometimes it’s like trying to stop the swinging of a pendulum between false hope and despair. But sometimes I can rest in the center of what I know. At ease with what is. There it is calm; it is balm; it is palm trees, just the right amount of sunshine, and cool water; it is breathing in the purity of what is. That’s how good stories should end, right? Happily ever right now, grounded in the present. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

I want to be a bridge

Two years ago I was in Palestine, serving my first stint with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, Palestine. Exactly two years ago today, I posted a picture on Facebook: spray-painted graffiti  that read "Death to Arabs" in Hebrew. It was just outside a newly opened kindergarten for Palestinian children. Leading up to the kindergarten's opening, Israeli settlers disrupted the building's rehabilitation work on multiple occasions. On the first days of opening, settlers came into the school area, harassing and scaring Palestinian children and teachers alike. The school called upon CPT and other NGOs to offer protective presence during the school day. Beyond our presence, to the best of my knowledge, no action was taken in response to this hatred directed at children. Such things are common in Palestine.

Today the picture popped up in my "on this day" Facebook app. Seeing it and remembering the events still make my stomach turn. But thankfully, this day offered a vision much more hopeful than the one I saw two years ago.

Two nights ago someone spray-painted hateful words on the Louisville Islamic Center, a local mosque whose outreach and inter-religious relationship-building surpasses that of many other religious institutions. The red messages were hateful and seemed to aim to incite Jewish-Muslim divide.

The response of Louisville's mayor  was immediate condemnation of the act. The response of so many Louisvillians from multiple faith traditions was immediate condemnation of the act.

And the response of members of the Louisville Islamic Center: forgiveness and recognition that the act was not representative of the larger community. Some members of the local Muslim community took the incident as an opportunity to teach their children about love and compassion.

Today I had the privilege of going to the mosque and standing with hundreds of other Louisvillians - Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and most likely people of other faiths, too - to express a commitment to love.

When I arrived, I saw that the graffiti was more extensive than I had realized. My gut reacted with a churning familiar from my Hebron experience. But whereas in Hebron there was no universal denunciation of the act, in Louisville the clear sentiment was one of solidarity, of reaching towards each other to embrace rather than pointing fingers to accuse.

We gathered. We painted over the signs of hate. We made connections. A young woman at whose retreat I spoke last week came and introduced herself to me. I reintroduced myself to a local peacemaker I'd like to know better. Looking in every direction, I saw connections being made.

I will go back to Palestine in about two months. The divide there is so deep. The hatred, the fear, the imbalance of power so great. Violence occurs as demonstration of power and as attempts to reclaim power; it erupts often, daily - many times a day - in one way or another.

As I write, I am aware that the divide around the issue of Israel/Palestine is deep here, too. I didn't see it today, but I know it exists, because of conversations I have had...or have not been able to have. I wish it were not so.

I want to be a bridge. Sometimes I am, stretching between sides that don't touch. Often I'm not sure I can reach as far as is needed...or if I'm meant to do so.

Today I know I was meant to be a bridge. It was easy because I wasn't alone. I was with hundreds of other human bridges: reaching from hate to love, from intolerance to forgiveness, from apathy to compassion.

Those of us present were issued a challenge today and I offer the same to you: Let not painting over graffiti be the end. Let us seek out people from whom to learn and ask questions rather than rely on the "all-knowing" technology at out fingertips to learn about people.

Let us act out of love and not fear.

Let us build bridges.

Let us be bridges.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Christian Assault Rifle

A few days ago, I saw an article about a gun manufacturer selling "Christian assault rifles." Really, something with that label (misnomer) exists. The safety settings are Peace, War, and God Wills It. The words below are my response.

Death machines,
with Scripture engraved
from a psalm,
labelled "Christian."
When ready to kill,
set to "God Wills It."
God wills it?

Did Jesus kill a lot of people?
Or promote killing?
Did I miss that part of the
New Testament?
Or misunderstand?

It was bagels today,
and a sign that said "Breathe."
Joking around and
running fingers through thick hair.

Ice cream yesterday
and chocobananas and stories and
dancing and laughter.

These were the bullets shot
from my
Christian assault rifle.

I got shot, too.
Each time I felt

A smile.
Invitations to read aloud -
words of peace
and words that are a piece of me.
(even though I dodged some).
Gummy chews for a shaky body,

and more listening.

These are the
kind of
Christian assault rifles
I ever hope to encounter.

The only kind I'll ever use.


I am surrounded
by sharpshooters
of love.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

You Are

Monday morning as the sun streamed through my blinds-pulled-as-high-as-they-go office windows, I touched and greeted my three plants. Hand to leaves reaching towards light, “You are beautiful.” Fingers touching the new leaf cascading to the ground, “You are beautiful.” And the magenta blossoms made more vibrant against forest green, “You are beautiful.” 
Then to the only other creature in the office, I said, touching hand to heart and making a small circle as I’ve seen my friend do, “You are beautiful.” I knew that each affirmation was a connection to something beyond the object of my attention, deeper than just acknowledging each being. 
A few months ago I met an amazing young woman, fragile and strong, as we all are, but more transparently so than many of us dare in public spaces. She shared her story of trauma and healing, both of which continue to weave through her life. Upon our second meeting, after hearing her offering of her whole broken self, I felt the need to tell her.
“May I touch your face?” With her permission I put my hands gently on her cheeks and looked into her eyes. “You are beautiful.” I felt a surge of Life between us. I wondered how the world would change if we greeted each other by acknowledging this truth of what/who/how we all are.
The women’s group I am a part of took on the practice of recognizing our own awesomeness each and every day for a month. Some were uncomfortable with the exercise. It wasn’t always easy to do.
I am not always faithful to the practices we are invited into, but this one, I did. As we were instructed, I listed two things each day: a success like daring to reach out to that handsome and intriguing man (who said “yes!”), the difficult work of admitting my own deficiencies, the simple knowledge that I could make a good bean salad. Every day I managed to find two reasons to declare, “I am awesome.” 
The exercise was a reminder of all the good that is within.
The month ended and so did the exercise. I quickly forgot. I remembered again. Like the tide, I forgot and remembered, forgot and remembered. This pattern of seeing self-scarcity and self-abundance continues.
My plants are thriving. I don’t greet them with care every day. I usually only remember on Mondays, when I offer them the part of their sustenance I control.
Water: source of life.
Love: source of life.
In all truth, right now, I am thriving, too. There are people in my life who are hurting and I cannot ease their pain. I cannot change their situations, because my actions are not the source of their pain. So I offer love in my incomplete, aiming-at-unconditional-but-not-always-doing-it-well way.
The world is hurting. From dead Syrian children washed up on shores to abuse behind doors, to gangs, guns, wars, there is so much I cannot change.
But I can offer myself. I can offer my willingness to change me, the only part of the interconnected web of Being over which I have dominion.
As I change myself, I change the world. This world, despite everything we do to make it otherwise, is beautiful.
Broken and healing, fractured and yet somehow whole, I am beautiful.
We are beautiful together.
You are beautiful, too.

Do you know it?