Love and Spirituality https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/18669/all cached version 16/09/2018 21:47:48 en What should we teach our children about religion? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/philip-wood/what-should-we-teach-our-children-about-religion <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Learning about different worldviews is a critical component of education for democracy.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/philipwood.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wikipedia_Wordle_-_Religion.png">Wikimedia Commons/RichardF</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/">CC BY 3.0</a>.</p> <p>Last week saw the publication of the ‘Way Forward,’ the final <a href="https://www.commissiononre.org.uk/">report of the UK Commission for Religious Education</a> (RE). The report was published in response to the increasing diversity of religious attitudes in Britain and concerns about the quality of RE teaching in British schools. As <a href="https://schoolsweek.co.uk/make-schools-teach-new-religion-and-worldview-subject-says-commission/">one commentator</a> put it in a recent issue of Schools Week, religious education has become a subject that is “withering on the vine.”</p> <p>At a time when the links between religion and politics are increasingly controversial one might ask, ‘so what?’ For many people religion carries associations of intolerance or extremism, and the school subject of RE has been seen as divisive and perhaps even anachronistic—the strange descendant of 1950s religious instruction and the state’s subsequent interest in community cohesion. However, there is much in this report that is fresh and challenging, especially its key recommendation that the curriculum be broadened to teach religions as one example of a range of different worldviews alongside non-religious frames such as atheism, agnosticism and humanism. </p> <p>The report defines a ‘worldview’ as a way of experiencing and responding to the world that is rooted in different beliefs, values and identities. In part this recognizes the increasing numbers of young people who identify as non-religious (what the academic literature refers to as ‘nots’), but it also stresses the importance of lived experience, context and choice in terms of how a commitment to a particular worldview is expressed.<br /> <br /> Changes to long-established subjects in schools almost inevitably attract controversy. The <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/09/08/religious-education-should-re-branded-religion-andworldviews/">Catholic Education Service</a> has expressed concern that religious education is “in danger of losing all its value and integrity.” But I think there is much to be gained from broadening RE to include a much wider set of worldviews and adopting the Commission’s recommendation of an approach that is “nuanced and multi-disciplinary.”<br /> <br /> That said, the range of potential worldviews that are taught needs to be even broader than the Commission suggests. Their report gives examples such as agnosticism and atheism. The key feature of these positions is their attitude to theism, so if we take them as emblematic of non-religious worldviews then implicitly, the key shared feature of religions is their belief in God(s). In practice however, religions do much more than make a statement about the existence and nature of God, and&nbsp;non-religious worldviews are about much more than their atheism or agnosticism.<br /> <br /> In a landmark <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1469-8676.1997.tb00375.x">article</a> published in the 1990s, the anthropologist David Gellner argued that ‘religions’ might concern themselves with a number of different spheres including legitimising the behavior of households (especially with regard to marriage choices and gender roles); sanctifying particular places or even whole nations (as in a ‘chosen people’); providing rites of passage for a life cycle such as baptism, confirmation and last rites; and providing moral codes, psychological reassurance and a ‘soteriology’ (an account of what occurs after death).<br /> <br /> Not all religions attempt to fill all of these functions, and those that do aren’t always successful in doing so. Gellner suggests that because many anthropologists have come from backgrounds in Abrahamic religions they do assume that a religion will cover them all, but he finds examples in Nepal and Japan where Buddhism coexists with other religious systems such as Hinduism and Shintoism. In these examples, different religions, each of which is internally coherent, takes on discrete functions for the same communities and individuals.<br /> <br /> Gellner’s argument has several important consequences for how we think about religion in a contemporary context, especially this one: the presumption that religions need to be exclusive emerges as an Abrahamic peculiarity. One can practice Shintoism and Buddhism or Daoism and Confucianism, but his schema also highlights the possibility of being, for example, a Jewish atheist—someone for whom the soteriology of Judaism has no attraction but who continues to participate in Jewish rites of passage.<br /> <br /> The Commission’s report briefly acknowledges that individuals may hold multiple worldviews, and Gellner’s schema gives us a way of describing how this might work in practice. Of course, mixing and matching between worldviews may be disapproved of by the state or by religious authorities, who may seek to align the different aspects of a person’s life to produce a totalizing frame in which all of a person’s actions can be seen as ‘Islamic’ or ‘Jewish.’ But this kind of policing isn’t inevitable or natural (or necessarily desirable). This is an empowering insight: once students begin to think of totalizing worldviews as just one possibility among many they can begin to assess whether they are good or bad and whether or how they wish to commit themselves to one or another.<br /> <br /> The Commission also highlights the failure of RE teaching to engage effectively with Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. This inability is not just about the ‘alien’ content of these religions, but also about religions that occupy different functions and therefore challenge the Abrahamic presumption about what religion is. This is a crucial point.<br /> <br /> Non-religious worldviews can be about much more than a position on theism. The Commission does include humanism as a worldview, but I also have in mind the inclusion of political philosophies such as anarchism, fascism and communism. I do not, of course, envisage teachers advocating for any of these positions; teachers should not publicly recommend any of the worldviews they teach about. But including these political philosophies in a worldviews curriculum makes the point that the purpose of enquiry is to understand different perspectives and assess how worldviews are produced by different experiences, irrespective of whether we agree with the positions that are reached.<br /> <br /> The inclusion of political philosophies as worldviews would encourage students to think about the material requirements of transforming a philosophy, which gives moral rules to an individual, into a social group, one with common rules and a hierarchy. The Commission makes a distinction between institutionalized worldviews and those without an institutional foundation. I think this is important, but we need to develop this idea by asking how institutions maintain their members (for example through attraction and coercion), and who benefits from these institutional structures. In other words, we can ask some of the same questions of worldviews that we ask of states. RE has not traditionally investigated how religious groups are maintained over time (by controlling marriage, for instance) or how they influence politics, but these are central issues that need to be discussed.<br /> <br /> To presume that religion ‘naturally’ has no place in public life is to imagine that the belief in internalized private religion that is seen in some forms of Protestant Christianity is universal for all religions. But many versions of Christianity and Islam, for example, presume a much closer connection between religious doctrine and the state. If we were to consider political philosophies and religious traditions alongside one another as worldviews then this might stimulate students’ questions over where the boundaries of politics and religion actually lie in theory and in practice, and where political philosophies and religions appear to address the same kinds of problems.<br /> <br /> These observations illustrate the difficulties of defining the term ‘religion’ and generalizing from the assumptions we make about it that stem from Protestant Christian experience. The report comments on the absence of a disciplinary training for teachers of religious education, and one side-effect of this has been that British RE has been strangely divorced from developments in the academic study of religion at universities. This scholarship, which has been especially strong in Scandinavia and parts of the US, has long problematized the term ‘religion’ and interrogated the assumptions that it may invoke of discrete, institutionalized worldviews based around a scripture. Instead, it asks a broader and more challenging question: what do we gain or lose from characterizing a worldview as a religion?<br /> <br /> We should bear these caveats in mind when we design curricula for schools. But we can also treat these higher-order questions as an end in themselves for teaching: these are not just questions that curriculum designers need to ask, but fundamental questions for students and all others in society: why should we use the term religion in any given situation; who gets to define the term and who benefits from this definition; and is it right for this to be so? </p> <p>Public discussion of religion can often be reduced to binary divisions between people who label themselves as pro- or anti-. But even for the same individuals, ‘religion’ means quite different things in different contexts. If the first instinct of young people is to challenge the question—to ask ‘what do you mean by religion and why?’—we will have come a long way in promoting a healthier debate about this contentious subject.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-christianity-finished-as-source-of-inspiration-for-progressive-soci">Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/love-and-hunger-in-breadline-britain">Love and hunger in breadline Britain </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rachel-mann/did-great-war-leave-god-hanging-on-old-barbed-wire">Did the Great War leave God “hanging on the old barbed wire”?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Philip Wood Love and Spirituality Culture Sun, 16 Sep 2018 20:43:35 +0000 Philip Wood 119678 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Bringing love, compassion and humanity back into healthcare https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/nathan-scolaro-and-rachel-callander/bringing-love-compassion-and-humanity-back-into-h <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Disability isn’t a deficit within a person, it’s a deficit in a culture that doesn’t accept or enable a person for who they are.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/NathanScolaro1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Scattering Evie’s ashes. Photo: <a href="https://www.dumbofeather.com/people/stephen-maddigan/">Nathan Maddigan</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p><strong>Nathan Scolaro (NS): </strong><strong>So let’s talk about the work you’re doing now and then journey back through your story.</strong></p> <p>Rachel Callander (RC): Okay cool. My work involves&nbsp;speaking to health professionals about the need to communicate with patients using openhearted language, especially at diagnosis.&nbsp;I teach how the first words used at diagnosis critically shape how a patient or parent or family member perceives the present and navigates their future. These words can either help the individual be their best self through this challenging time and find meaning even in pain, or they can create anger, mistrust, frustration, and break down the crucial relationship between with the health professional.&nbsp;So essentially it’s a conversation about empowerment, and how language can elevate those critical exchanges for the patient and for the health professional.&nbsp;And&nbsp;I’m not a health professional at all, I should say. I studied fine arts and have a photography background. I was a wedding and portrait photographer for 10 years in New Zealand. My first major experience with the healthcare system and with disability was in 2008, when my daughter Evie was born. She had a very rare chromosome condition,&nbsp;and what I noticed after she was born was that the language I was using about her and the language that the doctors were using was very different.</p> <p>And I liked my language better [laughs]. Because it highlighted ability and it highlighted humanity—whereas theirs was very negative, deficit language. And it took all of her ability and potential away. The healthcare professionals would use these cold, horrible phrases—like she was “incompatible with life.” I’d just given birth and was an emotional mess coming to terms with what they were saying and then they would use words like “mental retardation,” “abnormal,” “dimorphic,” which just seemed to exasperate everything. None of their words made sense. Their words didn’t sound like they were describing a human being.</p> <p><strong>And you’re not in a position to challenge them either—when you’re already vulnerable.</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Yeah, I felt very small a lot of the time. And I just expected that was normal, that they are the heroes. I remember one of the first pediatricians we met was trying to explain chromosomes to me. We had been living in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for two weeks and Evie had undergone so many tests, and he was trying to explain the long and short arms of the chromosome, the nature of splitting and how it all works. I was sleep deprived, recovering from a caesarean and emotionally exhausted, and I thought he was telling me that Evie had short arms. I was really confused because her arms were perfect! They were a perfectly long length! I thought,&nbsp;<em>Why, on top of everything else that was going on in her fragile little body, were they so focused on her arms anyway?</em>&nbsp;Surely her arms were the least of our concerns! Then he used a library book metaphor to explain how Evie’s condition actually came from my own chromosomal translocation, which was more new information to me. All of a sudden I was thinking about library books, short arms and the mysterious behaviour of chromosomes, and I had no idea how to make sense of it all. The pediatrician’s manner was really brusque and impersonal too and I decided then and there that I did not like this man at all. Which meant nothing he said after that landed. I heard nothing. I couldn’t even remember what Evie’s new diagnosis was called—let alone how to spell it. I was so confused, and didn’t know what questions to ask. Then after a while I thought,&nbsp;<em>I don’t think this is how it has to be.</em></p> <p><strong>So tell me what you saw when you looked at Evie. Who was the little human you saw staring back? &nbsp;&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Evie was the embodiment of her name. Her full name is Evie Amore, and to us that means “life is possible because of love.”&nbsp;Evie showed us a completely different kind of love. Hers was a love without words. When I walked in to see her each morning, she’d see me and flap her arms and legs about in complete happiness. She giggled all the time. And she was mischievous. We would have friends around in the lounge room and she would slide down her bed, do a little back flip belly flop onto the floor, scoot along the hallway and pop out around the corner!</p> <p><strong>Ah! So cute!</strong></p> <p>Her love was freedom, pain, growth and wonder, all packaged up in a tiny fragile body.</p> <p><strong>So what was it like learning that Evie had this condition?</strong></p> <p>It wasn’t a big thing for me at all. To be honest it was kind of liberating.</p> <p><strong>Yeah?</strong></p> <p>This is a funny thing. I was really nervous about being a mum. I just thought,&nbsp;<em>I don’t think I’m made for this</em>.&nbsp;I love freedom and creativity and I felt that the way I wanted to parent was not really compatible with the systems of the world—education systems, career paths, life paths. And accidentally I fell pregnant and it took a while to get to the point where I was feeling okay about being a mother. Then Evie was born with all of these unique things about her and I just had this sense of overwhelming relief as well as the fear and the heartbreak of potentially losing her and her not surviving. But I had a sense of,&nbsp;<em>Oh my gosh, we can live our life however we want.&nbsp;</em>Like, there were no rules. &nbsp;The doctors couldn’t give us all the answers because Evie’s condition was so rare, so the relief came from her being unique I guess. We could do the parenting thing our own way. I love the fact that she was a complete anomaly, and we would be part of her unique journey—with her own set of rules and way of doing things. The layers of pressure and expectations just fell away. There was so much freedom.</p> <p><strong>So interesting. It’s similar to how I felt when I came out as gay. It was this massive feeling of liberation because I didn’t have to get married by this age, own a house by that age, do life the way society tells you. I could write my own story. Like, no one has written the rulebook for how to be a gay man.</strong></p> <p>Yeah! That’s exactly how I felt as a mum with Evie.&nbsp;Growing up I had some health issues that made me think I could never have children. And at 13 I lost my granddad who was my biggest hero. That had a huge impact on me. All my work at art school was created from a space of finding meaning in suffering and seeing beauty in brokenness, so when Evie was born I had this sense of, “Of course it’s her! Of course she would be the baby!”&nbsp;It felt like my whole life I’d been preparing for this devastating moment, and in that moment I felt complete happiness and freedom.&nbsp;So while it was a shock and it was hard and there was all this pain because the doctors didn’t know what was going to happen, I loved her. And there was a beautiful tension in being so happy and so fearful of losing her. And she taught me so much about being a mother. She showed me parts of myself that only came out because of her.&nbsp;She taught me that motherhood is about being constantly broken and put back together a little bit stronger and braver, a more whole human.</p> <p><strong>And she lived to be two and a half?</strong></p> <p>She did. And over that time it was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, ambulance trips and learning so much from her. She never learnt how to eat food so she had this special formula and it made her breath smell like vanilla. I loved that [laughs]. She had so many amazing things about her and the way that she interacted with the world was just so beautiful. I started saying that she had superpowers because I believe she had electromagnetic sensitivity. When we drove under electrical pylons or went through electric sliding doors she’d cry every time. It was like a switch. So I imagined her as baby Magneto off X-Men! She was a person with disability and the world would see her as something less-than, but to me it just elevated her into something really incredible.</p> <p><strong>You saw her for everything she was.</strong></p> <p>Yeah, and you know, it was just exhausting always answering the “what’s wrong with her” questions. I didn’t want to focus on the list of medical conditions. So with this new language I started saying, “Actually, she has superpowers.” And then they’d look at me funny and ask what I meant, and then I would tell them all the amazing things about her. Then in that moment they’d really get to know her, and she became a human to them rather than a collection of failing body parts. And after that they had a different view of disability as well. Because&nbsp;disability isn’t a deficit within a person, it’s a deficit in a culture that doesn’t accept or enable a person for who they are.</p> <p>Evie had such magnetism as a tiny human. I could see how she would draw people in, how her fragility and pure joy disarmed people and softened them, and encouraged them to see beyond her disability. She helped bring perspective and healing to people in very meaningful ways. And I had the sense that this was how she was choosing to do life. That she wasn’t limited in her body. It just made her innovative [laughs]. Her limitations were actually her greatest strength because she was so determined to do the things that she wanted to do. She scooted on her back instead of walking. She communicated with us just with the tone of her voice and a little sound “ooh.” I could feel what she was thinking or feeling and I knew she understood me. And she had this wicked giggle when we’d make her laugh and it was just so much fun. It was such an honour being her mum.</p> <p>&nbsp;<img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/NathanScolaro2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Evie Callander. Photo by <a href="https://www.dumbofeather.com/people/stephen-maddigan/">Nathan Maddigan</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p><strong>And so how has your life changed through all of this?</strong></p> <p>Oh man. It’s made me braver and stronger. It’s helped me to see a bigger version of humanity, and to see that chasing perfection is such a damaging lie. I’ve become more accepting of people, less afraid of them—especially those who are different to me. And I was just really proud of the mum that Evie allowed me to be. I was stronger than I thought. I called the ambulance so many times I lost count. We nearly lost her so many times and through it all I remained clear and calm. I stepped up and coped in extremely difficult situations. So even though it was hard and there were challenges, at the same time there was a lot of growth. I became innovative too. I found ways to communicate with her and play with her and advocate and fight for her.</p> <p>I think also my heart was working overtime too. Through everything with Evie my marriage was suffering. All the love my husband and I had we directed to Evie and through Evie. She was our connecting point. It was a painful love. Every day I’d wake up and rush to her room, “Is she alive? Is she alive?” And just constantly holding that in tension, I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s like being so vulnerable and open all at the same time. It hurts! Like even when you’re in love, you know, you love so much it hurts. It’s that same feeling.&nbsp;I think to be openhearted has more sharp edges than we think. It’s not fluffy.</p> <p><strong>It’s painful as you say. Although maybe pain is what helps us love more fully. If we actually acknowledge that this love could be lost maybe that’s just a deepening.</strong></p> <p>I think so. And I think as a parent holding the knowledge that every day could be the last made love even more critical. I was really in the present. And after Evie died it took me ages, like years, to be able to think about and plan for the future. I’d almost forgotten that way of thinking. I’d been so in the moment with her. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>So how was that period of losing Evie, and that grieving process for you?</strong></p> <p>On the night Evie died she had gone to stay with Mum. They got on so well—Evie and my mum. She was fantastic. She knew all about Evie’s medical stuff and how to do all of her treatments. And I was with a friend for her birthday, and Sam was two hours away in Timaru. We were struggling with our own relationship and needed space from each other. It was all really hard. The next morning Sam called me and I said, “How are you?” I can remember this clearly. And he said, “I’m bad.” I said, “What’s happened?” He said, “Evie’s dead.” Just out of nowhere. Evie was in Christchurch and I was in Dunedin and Sam was in Timaru and our physical and emotional separation was so apparent. And my poor Mum. She found Evie in the morning and thought she must have suffocated somehow. She thought it was her fault. But when I saw Evie she looked so peaceful. As if she had chosen her time. I don’t know what happened to her, we didn’t want an autopsy.</p> <p>But you asked about grief. I feel like there’s a language of grief that people don’t understand. No one knows what to say. When Evie was still alive—this is a story I have to tell—when she was alive, Sam and I went to a Coldplay concert and they played the song “Yellow.” It was one of the last songs and there were these giant yellow balls falling from the roof. It was so great! And I was just a mess. I turned to Sam and tears were streaming down his face and I said, “Why are you crying?” He said, “Why are you crying?” [Laughs]. I said, “It reminds me of Evie!” And he said, “Me too.” I think it was just that line, you know, “You’re skin and bone turned into something beautiful.” And she was so skinny. She had an extra pair of ribs and she was so long and… and so tiny and long and skinny and bony and she had these little stick legs! And I used to put her in stripy tights… she was so sweet. And I remember thinking this was her song. And then when it came to her funeral I didn’t know what to wear. Nothing felt right. I wanted just to wear comfy clothes because I didn’t… nothing felt good. And then I said, “I want to wear something yellow.” And so my friend went out and bought me some yellow things. And we played “Yellow.” And every day since then I’ve worn something yellow. For the last seven years now. It has become a way for people to connect with my experience—because they knew this about me. They could enter into my world of grief by sharing something yellow. They would say, “Rach, I was walking and I found a little yellow flower and I picked it for you and Evie.”</p> <p><strong>What a beautiful open gesture.</strong></p> <p>It was magical. And people would leave me yellow jellybeans on my desk sometimes. And there’s a friend who gave me daffodils every spring because he has a farm full of them. It’s become this language that has allowed so many people to express their love and sense of loss of Evie as well.</p> <p><strong>Because words can be hard.</strong></p> <p>Because they don’t know what to say, and they don’t want to say the wrong thing, but they want to express care.</p> <p><strong>And how was that time after her death for you?</strong></p> <p>It was shit. I went through a dark hideous phase of not wanting to live. Just that enormous absence of love. I didn’t know how I would ever be okay.</p> <p><strong>Who was your support? What was getting you through?</strong></p> <p>Well I was writing in a journal a lot, and listening to a lot of Mumford and Sons. Their songs speak about love and loss in a way that just went right to my core. The experiences they sing about resonate so strongly and I found comfort in the lyrics. And I was talking to my friends and Sam. But at the same time Sam and I found it so hard to talk to each other because it was too painful. I’d look at him and I could see his pain and I couldn’t hold mine and watch his. So it wasn’t until about six years after Evie died that I finally felt the grieving process had come to a place of peace. That’s when Sam and I took Evie’s ashes to a very special place to us, Lake Pukaki under Aoraki, which is a mountain in New Zealand. And&nbsp;we scattered her ashes, and she became stardust and galaxies, she became part of the water and the sky all at once.</p> <p>And in letting her go I actually felt joy. I didn’t know what I’d feel, and thought that I’d be afraid to let her go fully. But there was just so much peace and overwhelming gratitude to her for teaching us so much and for being part of our lives.</p> <p><strong>It’s such a profound story of learning and love between a parent and a child. Really a reminder of just how much young people have to teach us as adults about how to live fully. And so tell me how the Super Power Baby Project came about—because that’s been huge for you.</strong></p> <p>Yeah, so one day while Evie was still alive I had this idea to travel around New Zealand and meet other children with chromosomal and genetic conditions and photograph them beautifully and discover what their unique superpowers were. I just thought,&nbsp;<em>If I felt so much joy in being Evie’s mum and in discovering her abilities, maybe there were other parents out there who felt the same way but didn’t know how to communicate those feelings.</em>&nbsp;Three years after she died, we started making this book. I’d never made a book before in my life but Sam and I were a great team and we worked it all out and did it really well. And I think in doing this project, that’s when my real grief healing process began—meeting the families, sitting in their lounges talking with them, and just being part of that world again, it connected me to that way of parenting. It just threw me straight back into that world again, and just the way that I was able to communicate with their kids, it was exactly how I used to communicate with Evie. It felt so natural.</p> <p><strong>Tell me more about this way of communicating.</strong></p> <p>This way of communicating is really about intention. You don’t use words, because you can’t, you use your thoughts and you send love to the other person. And they feel it through your body, your facial expressions, sound, touch. It’s amazing!&nbsp;After Evie died, people with children were wary around me because they thought their children would make me miss Evie. But it wasn’t the case because the experience I had with Evie was completely different to theirs. Other children just fascinated me because Evie was so different to them. But when I met the families with children like Evie, that was when I missed her—because I understood the parents, I knew the depth of their challenges and the joys of their triumphs. I spoke their language.</p> <p><strong>And that’s actually a big part of the work you’re doing now, sharing this language. I loved hearing about this form you created for the healthcare practitioners to highlight the potential in babies with medical conditions.</strong></p> <p>Oh yeah, Evie’s Awesomeness form! That’s been really cool actually. So at one point we were asked to fill out a “needs assessment form” by some of Evie’s specialists. This form is actually positive—it asks questions about a child’s abilities to gauge the level of support a family requires. And at the time, being exhausted and so used to medical stuff surrounding us, this form actually broke me. I couldn’t tick a single answer to the questions they were asking about our child. So I had this feeling that when the people at the other end read this form, they would think from the answers I gave that Evie was a child who couldn’t do anything and that she had no value. And while this might mean we would get a bit more medical or even financial support, it wasn’t the most important thing to us. I wanted the people at the other end to know about Evie’s abilities. I wanted to be asked about the things she could do. And I had become so exhausted by all the could-nots that I decided to make up my own form to go alongside the official one, with better questions. And I loved answering my own questions, because I could see how far Evie had come and how she was growing and developing in her own excellent style. So I guess looking back now, the motivation for making this form came from a place of wanting a better way of getting the information on how we might need some support. I wanted to share the humanity of my child. I talked to my OT and speech therapist, they were beautiful ladies, and I said, “I’ve made my own form, is that okay?” And they said “yes!” [Laughs]. And I said, “Can you send this one in with the official one too? I don’t even care if no one reads it but I will get the sense that I’ve done something good!” And they did! So it’s called “Evie’s Awesomeness” with my questions on it with big yeses to every single question. And some of the questions are just super random—“Does she like it when soft objects fall on or near her face?” [Laughs]. Because she loved it! She loved it! [Laughs]. And every time I talk to health professionals now, I share the Evie’s Awesomeness form. It’s such a simple idea that clinicians are drawing inspiration from.</p> <p>I’m suggesting that health professionals add a paragraph about things that a child does that brings their family joy. “What does your child love?” or “What have you enjoyed about your child this week?” Then these beautiful things become part of the child’s official medical report.&nbsp;Actually, some health professionals are calling this section “the Awesomeness Report.” Which is so cool! And both parents and professionals are seeing great progress when this attitude of ability and humanity is adopted.</p> <p><strong>Amazing. It’s so amazing! And so I’d also really love to hear about some of the kindness you did experience in the healthcare system, I imagine you did amongst the difficult ones—how did that affect your experience?</strong></p> <p>Yeah, I remember we were in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in Starship Hospital in Auckland and we met this beautiful doctor, Lindy. She had such an impact on me. She got Evie stable and then spent half an hour on the computer making her a pretty bedside poster with her name and a picture of a fairy on it. To make her bed less scary.</p> <p><strong>Oh how gorgeous!</strong></p> <p>Little moments like that are magical and completely unexpected and just something that changed my whole perception of what healthcare could be. And I still have that piece of paper now.&nbsp;It means so much to me, she was so particular about it. And she didn’t rush it—she wanted it to be perfect. It was like this little poster was just as important as everything else she was doing for Evie.</p> <p>So I guess to circle back to where we started, in response to all my experiences with Evie in the healthcare system, I’ve been thinking about the impact of language and communication quite seriously. And I’m part of the Thought Leadership Business School here in Australia which is helping me develop my ideas around how communication style can destroy or build the relationship between a health professional and a parent or patient. I developed a language matrix that came from me thinking deeply about where language fits. And my favourite health professionals were the ones like Lindy that communicated in an openhearted way. They were warm and positive, they spoke to me in a way that made me feel important and that the things I knew about Evie were really valuable too. And their approach was not only best for me and best for Evie, it was also best for them as health professionals because I wasn’t relying so much on them. You know, they taught me new skills so I could do more for Evie at home. There was respect and trust and I was empowered as a mother.</p> <p>I think the relationships between medical staff and parent or patient are often being severed by thoughtless words, and that’s such a tragedy because the knowledge of the professional isn’t being utilised. And the knowledge of the parents isn’t being respected.&nbsp;And it’s so simple and easy to change, which is the beauty of what I’m teaching.</p> <p><strong>But does the system have to change as well? I mean I know you’re not a health practitioner. But what have you noticed as to why communication isn’t as effective as it could be? Doctors have all these great skills, this great knowledge and intellect, why does the empathy and the compassion seem to be absent? And obviously this isn’t the case for all. But what are your thoughts?</strong></p> <p>Well from what I know, it’s not taught well from the beginning. And if people had it when they got into the medical system, it’s almost trained out of them.&nbsp;The system is really set up for 10-minute interviews. People say there’s no time to be compassionate, they’ve just got to give the facts, the diagnosis, the medication, get people in and out. So there’s an emphasis on the disease rather than the human, and to be honest I think professionals hate this as well—because they want to care. They want to help people and have better relationships with parents and patients. And they’re limited by the system too. So they’re burning out because they’re seeing too many patients at not enough depth. Maybe they feel like they’re being ineffective. There are actually so many studies and statistics about the fear of failure from health professionals. We’re all humans and I feel like we forget that when we walk into a hospital. I know that when I let go of the expectation that the doctors should know everything, I let them be human. I was kinder towards them and myself, and I learned to respect what they knew and the things they didn’t know.&nbsp;I think what is also often missing in the healthcare system is a sense of true hospitality. Hospital and hospitality come from the same Latin root word,&nbsp;<em>hospes—</em>which means guest or stranger, and carries with it a story of mutual respect between guest and host.&nbsp;An expectation of all parties to exhibit care, trust and kindness. So the etymology of the whole system is actually based on a beautifully kind and compassionate foundation. But I don’t actually think compassion is&nbsp;missing&nbsp;in healthcare, it is just often&nbsp;misunderstood—by patient and carer.&nbsp;When we can build a healthcare system that can look after everybody under the hospital roof, then we will have something pretty incredible.</p> <p><strong>Given you’re an artist yourself, I wonder what are your thoughts on the role arts can play in building a&nbsp;better healthcare system? What is the relationship between the two?</strong></p> <p>It’s pretty exciting actually, seeing how my art brain is connecting to this deep thinking I have around systems and&nbsp;change. I am able to build models by using art, story and metaphor as a way to communicate solutions to complex problems, which is really cool.&nbsp;The way I see it, a hospital is a place where all the vicissitudes of life reside. All the shifts and turns and highs and lows, all the seasons of life—and they all deserve care.&nbsp;And the best way to care for a person is to respect them.&nbsp;Art helps us do this, it has a way of transcending language itself—instantly connecting us as sensory beings. It reveals messages and meaning, it can create comfort through a colour palette, a chord, a poem, a photograph.&nbsp;Art can enhance an environment or soften it. It creates space, it allows room to breathe and connect to the present.&nbsp;I think art helps us acknowledge our own humanity, and remind us that we are all in this together, all deserving of the kindness of strangers.</p> <p>Which is why the Super Power Baby Project has had such an impact I guess. The images in the book shine back at you with so much life! Photography was my tool for communicating how amazing the children are. I was able to capture them, and their personalities and spark in a way that connects with people in a really deep way. I actually show a slideshow of the images from the book at some of the talks I give, and health professionals are in tears because the images speak so much of meaningful life and love.&nbsp;It’s almost&nbsp;like they are reminded of a language they forgot, like they are reminded of why they became doctors in the first place.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.dumbofeather.com/articles/">Dumbo Feather Magazine</a>.</em></p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Nathan Scolaro and Rachel Callander Care Love and Spirituality Thu, 13 Sep 2018 18:35:38 +0000 Nathan Scolaro and Rachel Callander 119503 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How to help inmates heal after the trauma of prison https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/allen-arthur/how-to-help-inmates-heal-after-trauma-of-prison <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Half of all prisoners in American jails suffer from some sort of psychiatric disorder. Can prayer and meditation support them?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/AllenArthur.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Brother Zachariah Presutti leads a group of incarcerated men and volunteers through a guided meditation. Credit: Mike Benigno/YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Pedro Javier Rodriguez sings and dances so passionately, people call him “The Flame.” Prison life, however, didn’t allow the aspiring musician much opportunity to perform.</p> <p>“I started fighting, people trying to kill me in prison,” says Rodriguez, who was incarcerated in New York state prisons for 27 years. “I get stabbed, I get cut up. I start cutting people. But I don’t like violence. I had to fight for my life.”</p> <p>In 2007, he started going to church again, began playing music and rediscovered both his passion and spirituality. He also began attending every prison program he could, including&nbsp;<a href="https://www.thriveforlife.org/">Thrive for Life Prison Project</a>, designed to bring healing and structure to men currently and formerly incarcerated.</p> <p>“That’s when I met brother Zach, brother for life, the beautiful angel, the beautiful people,” Rodriguez says. “Thank God for having these people in the world.”</p> <p>In 2017, Zachariah Presutti, a Jesuit of the northeast province of the Society of Jesus, officially launched Thrive, whose volunteers provide support to men incarcerated in six New York jails and prisons and help them find stable housing, education, and employment once they leave. While those are often considered the pillars of rehabilitation and recidivism reduction, Thrive also adds another focus: healing.</p> <p>“Really what we’re dealing with is trauma,” says Presutti, who is also a psychotherapist. “The … trauma of being a victim of abuse, neglect, poverty, sociological constructions growing up. The trauma of being incarcerated, the trauma of inflicting pain and hurt on other people. Those have real psychological effects.”</p> <p>Thrive provides spiritual retreats at the correctional facilities it serves and estimates about 700 men have benefited from them. The retreats offer a space for vulnerability and reflection, something nearly impossible to find on the inside. Thrive has also helped more than two dozen of them transition after release. In addition to seeing virtually no recidivism, Thrive has helped them make peace with their pasts and reconnect with family. Rodriguez, for example, now has a stable job and housing, while also sharing what he’s gained from his experience with others.</p> <p>“We’re kind of witnesses of miracles,” Presutti says.</p> <p>Sometime this summer, Thrive will open&nbsp;<a href="https://www.thriveforlife.org/ignacio-house/">Ignacio House</a>, a residential center in the Bronx for 24 formerly incarcerated men, intended to address more directly the stress and uncertainty that can accompany those returning from prison.</p> <p>The organization addresses the trauma of the prison experience using what it calls “Ignatian spirituality.” In the 1500s, Saint Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, a religious order of the Catholic Church. Recovering after a cannonball shattered his leg, Ignatius read the gospels and grew to believe that closeness to God could be achieved by self-reflection, meditation, and service to others—practices Thrive sees as essential to helping men survive in prison and after returning home.</p> <p>“We’re not trying to fix people or save people,” says Joe Van Brussel, the group’s chief operating officer. “We’re trying to give people tools and a lens to understand their stories.”</p> <p>Those stories are frequently troubling ones, reflecting larger societal problems. Many participants have dealt with substance abuse or mental health issues and, according to Presutti, most have themselves been victimized in some way.</p> <p>“I think prison is how we handle all our sociological questions,” Presutti says. “We have a hard time dealing with poverty, so we lock it away. We have a hard time dealing with [different races] so we lock them away. We have a hard time dealing with mental health. Well, we don’t have services for them, so lock them away.”</p> <p>There’s evidence to suggest he’s right. As many as half of all inmates in American jails and prisons suffer from some sort of psychiatric disorder, according to new book&nbsp;<a href="http://alisaroth.com/"><em>America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness</em>.&nbsp;</a>The Bureau of Justice Statistics&nbsp;<a href="https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/imhprpji1112.pdf">reports</a>&nbsp;that 37 percent of prisoners and 44 percent of people in jail had been diagnosed at some point with a mental health disorder. Jails in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are now the three largest institutions providing psychiatric care in the U.S.</p> <p>Van Brussel said the conditions of prison—chaotic, violent, and uncertain—further erode the psyche. The retreats give the men a chance to be vulnerable, uncommon inside prisons.</p> <p>“They never get a chance to breathe or just talk in a safe environment,” he says. “People have told us, ‘It’s been months since someone listened or wanted to hear my story.’”</p> <p>Tracy Tynan, who volunteers at Thrive retreats, says they begin with a guided meditation that encompasses anything from envisioning relaxing on a beach to a “conversation with God.” Then, participants share positive recent events in their lives, such as phone calls from loved ones or progress with an appeal. But they also talk about the hardships of prison life—fights, fear, and lockdowns. Retreats might include art or music.</p> <p>The centerpiece of the retreats is the&nbsp;<em>lectio divina—</em>a reading from the Gospels coupled with “imaginative prayer” and introspection based on how the reading resonates individually. All this combines to create the rare space where incarcerated people can close their eyes, relax safely, and look deeply within themselves.</p> <p>“It really, really helps them,” Tynan says. “It’s unusual to close your eyes in prison.”</p> <p>Santiago Ramirez served 36 years in prisons throughout New York state for committing a deadly robbery while in the throes of substance abuse. He remembers those retreats as his only opportunity to trust inside.</p> <p>“Sometimes in prison, you can develop friendships and relationships,” Ramirez says, “but you’re not really comfortable disclosing everything about yourself. Then you worry: Is that person going to betray your trust? But Thrive is so welcoming, so encouraging, so supportive, so loving.”</p> <p>Presutti says because love is such a rare commodity among formerly and currently incarcerated men, extending it is an important part of Thrive’s mission. “They need to experience love, to be loved, and I think that’s when healing begins,” Presutti says. “Healing begins when we realize just how much we’re loved. A lot of people have bad experiences of being loved. Someone told them they were loved one time and abused them. Someone told them they loved them one time and kicked them out onto the street or gave them a needle.”</p> <p>Outside prison, Thrive provides emotional support and a sense of community some participants have never experienced—employing everything from monthly group dinners to counseling and transportation.</p> <p>Convicted as an accomplice to a murder he said he witnessed but wasn’t involved in, Rodriguez wanted to live in Buffalo after his release where another organization was offering re-entry help. As a condition of his release, however, he had to return to New York City, the site of his arrest. Presutti and Thrive’s volunteers stepped in, picking him up from the prison, helped him get clothes, and gave him a place to stay.</p> <p>“They told me, ‘You gotta follow the rules. Step by step, little by little,&nbsp;<em>poquito, suavacito,&nbsp;</em>you’re gonna be OK,’” recalls Rodriguez. “’But you got to take it easy because you been locked up for too many years, and life is not like it used to be when you were there.’”</p> <p>At Ignacio House, which Thrive hopes to open by the end of summer, men with whom it connected on the inside will be given priority in housing. They will receive workforce training and gain access to scholarships from Manhattan College. Thrive wants to use open space inside the house for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and local events, all designed to create a foundation of support for these men as they work to build their lives on the outside and develop a sense of community.</p> <p>“It’s not building agencies,” says Presutti, who openly resists joining what he calls the nonprofit industrial complex. “It’s about being there as a community. Community brings connection and intimacy ultimately, which leads to the experience of love.”</p> <p>Volunteers and participants hope that Thrive’s approach will take hold around the country, presenting it as an antidote to both the causes and effects of mass incarceration.</p> <p>“I think it’s a way that we’ve been dealing with the issues we just don’t know how to deal with,” Presutti says. “If we can just put [incarcerated people] out on an island, nobody will know how to get to them and hopefully people will forget about them. The grace in the whole thing is if people haven’t forgotten about them.”</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/mental-health/how-to-help-inmates-heal-after-the-trauma-of-prison-20180725?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180727&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180727+CID_93fcab22827be21ad0036500518e4b96&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=How%20to%20Help%20Inmates%25">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kazu-haga/transformation-of-warrior-behind-bars">The transformation of a warrior behind bars</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/can-prison-system-be-transformed-shaka-senghor-and-cut50">Can the prison system be transformed? Shaka Senghor and #Cut50</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/melissa-hellman/town-that-adopted-trauma-informed-care-and-saw-decrease-in-crime-and-">The town that adopted trauma-informed care—and saw a decrease in crime and suspension</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Allen Arthur Prison abolition Care Love and Spirituality Thu, 06 Sep 2018 20:12:02 +0000 Allen Arthur 119073 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Love and hunger in breadline Britain https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chris-shannahan/love-and-hunger-in-breadline-britain <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We need a moral and spiritual revolution to replace the culture of shame with a politics of love and solidarity.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ChrisShanahan3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2015/03/13/students-view-healthier-school-brighter-future">United States Department of Agriculture/Bob Nichols</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>When I was at school I used to count down the days to the long summer holidays, but in breadline Britain huge numbers of parents approach the school break knowing that ‘holiday hunger’ awaits their children. In the sixth wealthiest country on earth, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/25/holiday-hunger-shame-government-childrens-clubs?CMP=share_btn_tw">why do four million children go hungry during their holidays</a>, and how can we respond more effectively to this scandal? We can’t rely on policies alone: two concepts drawn from the New Testament—<em>agape</em> (selfless love) and <em>koinonia</em> (fellowship or solidarity)—provide deeper guidance and inspiration for the struggles that lie ahead.</p> <p>During the 2017-2018 school year <a href="http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06700/SN06700.pdf">approximately two million children in England received ‘Pupil Premium</a>,’ a payment allocated to schools which provides young people with a free hot meal at lunch-time. Approximately <a href="https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/603946/Evaluation_of_Breakfast_Clubs_-_Final_Report.pdf">40 per cent of the children who attend breakfast clubs run by schools also receive free school meals</a>.</p> <p>Such provision appears to reflect a commitment to supporting children living in poverty, but in April 2018 the UK Government introduced means testing for the Pupil Premium and linked it to the receipt of Universal Credit.<a href="https://www.tes.com/news/government-sets-ps7400-annual-income-threshold-free-school-meals"> Families now have to earn less than £7,400 a year to qualify,</a> a decision that—according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies—will mean that <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/free-school-meals-children-miss-out-government-threshold-universal-credit-ifs-institute-fiscal-a8288976.html">100,000 children who are currently receiving free school meals will therefore miss out</a>. Even before this decision, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/07/million-more-uk-children-in-poverty-than-in-2010">a third of British children living in poverty</a> didn’t receive the Pupil Premium anyway.</p> <p>Holiday hunger illustrates the deeper poverty that has reared its head in Britain since the 2010 General Election, leaving one million more children living in poverty after a fall of 800,000 during the previous decade, and giving rise to a dramatic rise in the use of foodbanks. Research by the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/29/report-reveals-scale-of-food-bank-use-in-the-uk-ifan">Independent Food Aid Network identified 2,024 foodbanks and distribution centres in 2017</a>, more than half of them run in collaboration with the Christian NGO the <a href="https://www.trusselltrust.org/what-we-do/how-foodbanks-work/">Trussell Trust</a> which fed more than 1.3 million people in that year. The<a href="https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/"> Trust’s foodbanks also gave food parcels to over 484,000 children, 13 per cent more than in 2016</a>.</p> <p>Foodbanks meet people’s immediate needs and their importance cannot be overstated, but they don’t tackle systemic social exclusion. Increasingly therefore, organizations like the <a href="https://www.feedingbritain.org/on-a-mission-to-eliminate-hunger-by-2020">Feeding Britain</a> network (established in 2015) and local Trussell Trust affiliates provide debt counselling and benefits, housing and legal advice, and <a href="https://www.feedingbritain.org/fuel-banks-project">energy vouchers to counter fuel poverty</a> to those who visit food banks in an effort to tackle these deeper issues. A related approach to tackling food poverty is the emergence of <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/real-junk-food-project-food-waste-shop-supermarketadam-smith-pay-what-you-feel-a8443496.html">‘junk food’ shops</a>, <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-real-junk-food-project-founder-adam-smith-on-how-to-make-restaurant-quality-meals-out-of-food-a7316231.html">cafés</a> and <a href="https://www.feedingbritain.org/citizens-supermarkets">‘citizens’ supermarkets’</a> which recycle food that supermarkets have discarded. Such shops charge low prices or ask shoppers to offer a donation in exchange for the food they receive.</p> <p>The growth of these initiatives exemplifies the commitment of faith-based and other voluntary sector groups to stand alongside people living in poverty. However, such initiatives have become increasingly stretched since the launch of the Conservative Government’s <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/25/universal-credit-benefits-scheme-iain-duncan-smith">Universal Credit</a> programme in 2017. Trailed as a streamlining of the benefits system that would enable people to move into paid work, Universal Credit has been widely accused of deepening the poverty Ministers claim it will alleviate.</p> <p>In 2017 for example, former government adviser <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41433019.%20Accessed%2027">Dame Louise Casey urged Prime Minister Theresa May to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit</a>, and in 2018 the columnist <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/15/universal-credit-colossal-catastrophe-national-audit-office">Polly Toynbee described it as a ‘catastrophe’ that has increased foodbank usage by 30 per cent</a>. Potentially aware of the political damage done by this bleak picture, a July 2018 <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/foodbanks-records-jobcentre-dwp_uk_5b61c1bde4b0b15aba9ebcc9?utm_hp_ref=uk-homepage&amp;ncid=fcbklnkukhpmg00000001&amp;guccounter=1&amp;guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZmFjZWJvb2suY29tLw&amp;guce_referrer_cs=qrFww9gVSZnqIuQ5w45-hQ">Department of Work and Pensions directive instructed Job Centre staff to stop keeping records of the number of people they refer to foodbanks</a>. But what else can be done?</p> <p>Holiday hunger highlights the fracture in the fabric of society that’s caused by the ‘age of austerity. It is an example of what the peace studies scholar <a href="http://www2.kobe-u.ac.jp/~alexroni/IPD%202015%20readings/IPD%202015_7/Galtung_Violence,%20Peace,%20and%20Peace%20Research.pdf">Johann Galtung called ‘structural violence’</a> and the pioneer of Latin American liberation theology <a href="https://liberationtheology.org/people-organizations/gustavo-gutierrez/">Gustavo Gutiérrez</a> ‘systemic sin.’ Foodbanks, breakfast clubs, junk food shops and other small-scale initiatives will help to heal this fracture but they won’t be enough to turn the tide. Instead we need a moral and spiritual revolution that comprehensively rejects the culture of shame which blames people living in poverty for their own social exclusion and replaces it with a politics of love and solidarity.</p> <p>Mentioning ‘love’ in political discourse can lead to accusations of naïve romanticism, but this misunderstands love’s potential as a source of liberative social change. When I see the person whose child has to go to school hungry as a reflection of myself it’s easier to move beyond a blame-game culture in which people living in poverty are seen as the helpless victims of amoral neo-liberal economics or as inadequate individuals. When we recognize that we are, in fact, our sister and brother’s keepers we see that the damage done by Universal Credit, rationing free school meals, the insecurity of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/23/number-of-zero-hours-contracts-in-uk-rose-by-100000-in-2017-ons">zero hours contract</a> work and low pay harms us all, not just those relying on the local foodbank.</p> <p>This commitment to mutuality is a reflection of the New Testament term <em>koinonia</em>, which is better understood as a basis for liberative solidarity rather than apolitical fellowship. In his parable about the Day of Judgement in Matthew 25 Jesus illustrates the potential of this radical ethic: ‘When you feed the hungry, clothe the naked or welcome the stranger you feed, clothe and welcome me.’ The ‘age of austerity’ in the UK and the early years of the Trump Presidency in the USA have been characterized by social policies that seem intended to make life more comfortable for wealthy people at the expense of those who are living in poverty. These policies undermine the empowering solidarity exemplified by <em>koinonia</em>.</p> <p>In the face of endemic injustice a commitment to friendship and mutuality is important, but on its own is unlikely to defeat post-crash poverty. A further, less comfortable, step is needed into the realm of self-sacrificial love or <em>agape</em>. <a href="https://stanford.app.box.com/s/5qzd0p500bd99rqbmb6y9127j2wrzdn8">As early as his 1962 ‘Levels of Love’ sermon</a>, Dr Martin Luther King Jr argued that only unconditional and selfless love of this kind could challenge ingrained systemic injustice—what he called the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0uEVTh0ios">‘love that does justice</a>.’ Such selfless love, which King suggested is <a href="http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/power-nonviolence">‘overflowing…and seeks nothing in return’</a>, shaped the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and animates similar efforts today such as the <a href="https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/">Poor People’s Campaign</a> led by <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/05/14/william-barber-takes-on-poverty-and-race-in-the-age-of-trump">Rev. William Barber</a> and <a href="http://liztheoharis.org/about/">Rev. Liz Theoharis</a>.</p> <p>The embrace of self-sacrificial love is, in a Christian context, a response to a God who ‘becomes flesh and lives among us’ (John 1:14). Such unbounded love moves us beyond a symbolic solidarity with people living in poverty into the realm of costly struggle, just as it led <a href="http://www.thekinglegacy.org/books/where-do-we-go-here-chaos-or-community">Martin Luther King</a>, towards the end of his life, to move beyond a compartmentalized advocacy for racial justice to issue a deeper and broader challenge to global economic injustice and US imperialism in Vietnam. King’s original <a href="https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/history/">Poor People’s Campaign</a> (the precursor to Barber and Theoharis’ movement today) implicitly embodied the vision of God’s ‘preferential option for the poor’ first articulated by Latin American liberation theologians like Gutiérrez.</p> <p>Could a similar movement be built in Britain to attack the scandal of holiday hunger and its underlying ideology of austerity? We see the first-stirrings of such a movement in the holistic activism of networks like <a href="http://endhungeruk.org/">End Hunger</a>, but these still need to be translated into concrete political action. The ending of Universal Credit, the further engagement of foodbanks in advocacy and campaigning, the provision of free school meals for all British children, the introduction of a <a href="https://www.livingwage.org.uk/">genuine living wage</a> and the guarantee of a <a href="https://www.basicincome.org.uk/what_is_basic_income">‘basic income’</a> for all citizens would represent a good start.</p> <p>But without a deeper cultural shift—a commitment to loving each other in political as well as personal terms—the effects of such a movement will be transient, and that’s where faith and spirit can be vital.&nbsp; Of course, faith-based organizations are not alone in their ability to mount this kind of challenge to poverty and austerity, and only a movement that brings together people of faith with their humanist counterparts will have any chance of success. However, armed with a political philosophy premised on selfless love, faith-based and other activists can build a movement that integrates pastoral responses to holiday hunger such as foodbanks with political action for structural change.</p> <p>2018’s bout of holiday hunger may be drawing to a close as schools re-open their doors in September, but the injustice it highlights will not disappear. It is vital that practitioners, preachers and politicians hold government accountable for a decade of austerity in which the landscape of breadline Britain has become increasingly marked by rough-sleepers, foodbanks and children’s breakfast clubs. A commitment to a radical and liberative love which turns society the right-way up again can arm us for the struggles that lie ahead. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/desmond-tutu-was-right">Desmond Tutu was right</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/president-trump-and-christian-right">President Trump and the Christian right</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-christianity-finished-as-source-of-inspiration-for-progressive-soci">Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Chris Shannahan Care Economics Love and Spirituality Sun, 02 Sep 2018 17:20:49 +0000 Chris Shannahan 119413 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Boris is wrong about the burka https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/mathew-guest/why-boris-is-wrong-about-burka <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What is more offensive—concealing your face or misleading the public?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MathewGuest2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Colien's Winter Burka. Credit: Flickr/<a title="Go to Eduard Bezembinder&#039;s photostream" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bezembinder/">Eduard Bezembinder</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">CC BY-NC 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Boris Johnson has become the latest in a long line of right-wing politicians to criticise Muslim women who wear the <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niq%C4%81b">niqab</a> </em>or<em> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burqa">burqa</a></em>. Writing in <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/05/denmark-has-got-wrong-yes-burka-oppressive-ridiculous-still/">his column for <em>The Telegraph</em></a>, Johnson mocked such women as looking&nbsp;“like letter boxes,” “bank robbers”&nbsp;and&nbsp;“absolutely ridiculous.” Despite calls for an apology from opponents and colleagues, at the time of writing Johnson remains unrepentant.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Body">Perhaps we’ve come to expect tabloid jibes from Johnson, and his attempt to re-insert himself into the public eye after his resignation as foreign secretary is predictably clumsy. But what is arguably more alarming is his attempt to position himself as the voice of reason and moderate good sense.</p> <p class="Body">Across Europe and beyond, governments have passed legislation that bans the wearing of the <em>burqa</em> in public, and Johnson’s column focuses on the introduction of a new measure passed in Denmark. While Johnson warms to the assured individualism he finds amongst the Danes, he opposes an outright <em>burqa</em> ban as a step too far into strident secularism. He is uncomfortable with the regulation of religious dress in public, and is mindful of how such measures play into the hands of radicals. He is even gracious enough to affirm the rights of a ‘free born’ woman, ‘minding her own business,’ to be left to get on with her life unimpeded by a heavy handed state. Enter Boris the liberal…</p> <p class="Body">In case we were under any illusions that the former foreign secretary had finally seen the light and migrated to the centre ground, he expands on his perspective with a series of caveats. It seems there are limits to Johnson’s newfound ‘live and let live’ philosophy. Specifically, businesses and government agencies should be able to ‘enforce a dress code’ that obliges women to reveal their faces. He already feels ‘fully entitled’ to expect Muslim women to do the same at his constituency surgeries, and he supports the same approach within schools and universities.</p> <p class="Body">So Johnson is gracious enough not to call for a ban, but nevertheless feels entitled to expect women to behave according to his own understanding of&nbsp;“full disclosure.” As he says,&nbsp;“it’s how we work,”&nbsp;the implication being that ‘we’—presumably the British public—have ‘our’ customs and conventions, and minorities need to observe them in order that society can function properly. &nbsp;It all makes good, plain sense doesn’t it? No prejudice here, just a sincere call for everyone to play by the same rules (i.e. Boris’s rules).</p> <p class="xxxbody">We might reflect on the irony of such a mercurial and opportunist politician calling for more transparent expression in public life. In the opaque and fractious politics of Brexit, we have learnt that those who speak loudest, simplest and with bare-faced confidence are not necessarily those we should trust.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Johnson mirrors another pattern among right-wing commentators: he presumes to comment on women’s intentions on the basis of their clothing. We’re probably more familiar with the moral judgements that are often projected onto women in western garb, but what values are imputed to Muslim women wearing the <em>niqab</em>? No doubt they frustrate conventional expectations, and perhaps that’s why figures like Johnson find such women so problematic—they are too covered, too hidden, and therefore break the rules that inform the male sense of entitlement to see what lies beneath.</p> <p class="xxxbody">The many Muslim women who have been attacked on Britain’s streets know what this feels like, since a common act of violence is <a href="https://news.sky.com/story/man-tries-to-pull-off-muslim-womans-hijab-in-suspected-hate-crime-attack-10950692">to pull the veil or <em>hijab</em> from their faces</a>. This is why so much hate crime against Muslims is best understood as a form of misogyny. It is targeted against those women who most visibly transgress the prevailing assumptions about what the female form should look like, and who implicitly challenge the assumption that men should have an unimpeded view.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Johnson also assumes that wearing the face veil indicates an experience of oppression, alluding to the&nbsp;“weird and bullying”&nbsp;expectations of men. There is no acknowledgement that women may freely choose to wear the <em>niqab</em>, and no effort to find out why. Any religious meaning it may convey is lost behind Johnson’s faux liberalism.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Unfortunately, uncompromising criticism of the <em>niqab</em> is also found among some liberal and <a href="https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/4199/why-feminists-should-oppose-the-burqa">feminist commentators</a>, whose western lens on human agency struggles to see such covering as anything other than <a href="https://amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/20/muslim-woman-veil-hijab">forced concealment</a>. In this view, the liberated self is exposed and, it is assumed, is therefore more honest, more forthcoming, more trusting—and in our own context, more British.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Those on the right may want to excuse Johnson as a voice of so-called&nbsp;‘common sense.’ After all, he rejects the need for an outright ban, thereby distancing himself from those European nations who have imposed punitive measures on their Muslim minorities, and preserving intact his Brexiteer credentials while rehearsing the myth of the great British compromise.&nbsp;Neither loony left nor hard right nor confused continental, his position is presented as a sensible middle way—laudable for avoiding extremes, an argument from practical sense that needs no further justfication.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> But this is why his comments are so dangerous: it is the unexamined cultural conventions that are often the most insidious carriers of prejudice and ignorance. By categorizing them as uncomplicated truths we abdicate our responsibility as citizens to question the norms by which we live, and risk overlooking the injustices that persist in our midst.</p> <p class="xxxbody">When uttered by an embodiment of that most British of clichés, the upper class eccentric, comments like Johnson’s slip neatly into a cluster of associations that together reinforce our most deep-seated and intractable habits of thought, as if Eton and Oxbridge had bestowed a special gift of sight on those socially-awkward elites who we both love and loathe. We don’t have to think about our British customs and presumptions because Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg will do it for us. Except that they won’t—they’ll just keep us cosy in our habits by telling us that all is well; we’re British after all.</p> <p class="Body">This is unsettling not just because of the platform Johnson enjoys, but because it is a habit of thought that achieves new plausibility within our Brexit-obsessed context. The underlying message is not just that Muslim women who wear the <em>burqa </em>are veering wide of the true British way, but that the nativist narrative that excludes them is essentially benign and obvious. It is an expression of the age old Tory conceit that to be a Conservative has nothing to do with ideology, and everything to do with good, pragmatic sense.</p> <p class="Body">With such confusion about the labyrinthine complexities of Brexit there’s an understandable attraction to plain speaking, and to the idea that cultural problems are easily solved with a little of the good sense we all possess. But behind this apparent democratisation of wisdom lies a more malign populism, one whose story is deceptively simple yet is quietly fierce in its defence of our narrowest boundaries.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xxxbody">The reactionary perspective affirmed by Johnson states that those who cover their faces aren’t just suspect; they aren’t playing the game. They are out of step culturally speaking, and so, in an important sense they don’t belong. They isolate themselves by concealing their faces from us, and this is a most unBritish practice.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Face-veiling elicits a curiously passionate counter-response, as though it indicates a strategy of deceit. Somehow, concealing one’s face is presented as more offensive than concealing one’s intentions, ambitions and moral shortcomings, more offensive even than misleading the public. Johnson needs to take a look in the mirror the next time he considers opining on the British tradition of honest speaking. He may find the problems of concealment lie much closer to home.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/anisur-rahman/should-britain-consider-banning-burqa-and-niqab">Should Britain consider banning burqa and niqab?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/val%C3%A9rie-hartwich/dangers-of-burqa-ban">The dangers of a burqa ban</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/mathew-guest/can-universities-still-provide-transformative-experience">Can universities still provide a transformative experience?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Mathew Guest Culture Intersectionality Love and Spirituality Wed, 08 Aug 2018 00:09:35 +0000 Mathew Guest 119176 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Depression and the healing desert https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jana-richman/depression-and-healing-desert <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Nature offers solace for a man living with depression—and a lesson in acceptance for his anxious partner.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JanaRichman.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">“Having anxiety in our anxious culture is like wearing a white T-shirt—it’s not conspicuous—so I had minimal awareness of its scope.” Credit: <a href="https://unsplash.com/@solotravelgoals">SoloTravelGoals/Unsplash</a>. <a href="https://unsplash.com/license">Unsplash License</a>.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p>“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” Theodore Roethke</p></blockquote> <p>It slips in quietly. A hint of terseness marks his voice, an opaque film covers his blue eyes, his face flushes and its lines deepen. His 6’4” frame droops toward the floor as if he’s ashamed to drape his sorry self over it, and he tries to creep from the room unnoticed. It hurts him to be seen.</p> <p>We share the only bed in our house, but he curls close to the edge, his face in the moonlight twisted and consternated. I want to reach out with a soothing touch, but I have learned not to. When he is deep in his dark world, a simple touch will send a startle response through his bones. He will burst from the bed as if facing a knife- wielding attacker and his wild eyes will be locked on me.</p> <p>When I wake in the morning to find his side of the bed cold, I search for signs: a spoon in the sink indicates coffee was made; a creaking floor in his upstairs office indicates movement. From the signs, I can measure the depth of his depression and the probable length of its stay. No signs at all, and I feel as if I’ve been stalked into a dead-end alley.</p> <p>I once believed myself capable of empathetic greatness, a belief that’s been gutted and redesigned like a nineteenth-century farmhouse. The crumbling bricks still hold, but the interior structure bears little resemblance to the original.</p> <p>Steve was fifty when we met; I was forty-eight. Our future held no golden wedding anniversary; silver was dubious. Such reckonings cut short the discovery period of romance enjoyed by the young. We acknowledged our love for each other, and, almost in the same breath, we acknowledged our impediments: Steve’s depression, my anxiety.</p> <p>Having anxiety in our anxious culture is like wearing a white T-shirt—it’s not conspicuous—so I had minimal awareness of its scope. And being wholly naïve about depression, I shrugged it off in the name of love. With less caution than warranted, Steve and I joined hands and stepped into the abyss.</p> <p>Anxiety and depression share commonalities. In our case, the emotional memories of each are decades—maybe generations—old, with no faces, no bodies, no specific points of origin. These similarities generate compassion between us but not necessarily understanding. And distinct differences make us ill-suited for sharing a life.</p> <p>Anxiety gushes out, soliciting reassurance and relief; depression pulls in and sets up barriers. Anxious people want to process, often in a desperate, frenetic way. But insisting that a depressed person process his current state is worse than futile; it is merciless. Working together, depression and anxiety construct a near impermeable trap. When I sense Steve’s depression, I churn in angst. When Steve senses my anxiety, he drops deeper.</p> <p>Steve’s depression is episodic, triggered in a moment that takes him down. And in that moment, life is brusquely shifted, shut down for an indefinable period. When I first saw it, although I had been forewarned, I had no idea what I was seeing. The shift in his physical appearance alone pulled me up short, and the abrupt change in personality seemed like a subterfuge. And for many years I treated it as such, demanding that he stop and explain himself.</p> <p>He retreats into his impenetrable misery behind the closed door of his office. I walk to keep my body occupied while my emotions lurch from confusion to sadness to anger to desperation. I return to a quiet house, no traces of movement. I search the bookshelves and Internet for comfort. So much advice—all of it familiar, none of it useful.</p> <p><em>Two days go by without verification of life. I stew and listen and watch. I dissect the days and hours leading up to the moment it slithered in. I pinpoint the trigger and rewrite the script. I chant a whispered mantra:&nbsp;</em>This will end.<em>But I worry that it won’t end, that we’ll be here on our respective sides of a cheap, hollow door three weeks, three months, three years from now.</em></p> <p><em>On the third day, the door opens and I jump to attention. He slouches down the stairs without making eye contact, looking ten years older than he looked four days prior. I offer to make soup, I suggest a hike, I extend bookshelf advice in a cheerful voice tinged with urgency. I speak to him as if he doesn’t understand his own mind. He goes back upstairs and shuts the door.</em></p> <p>Steve embodies light and dark in their extremities. The dark runs deep and murky, but radical light runs parallel. I fear the dark will snuff out the light and destroy him, destroy us. He assures me that will never happen, and like a religious skeptic&nbsp;teetering on the edges, I work to keep the faith.
 I want to pry him apart, separate light from dark. I want the model with the personalized options, not the package deal, but his GPS is already installed. Ripping it out would leave him lighter, yes, but also deformed, shrunken, misshapen. Much of his beauty comes out of the shadow. His gentleness, his patience, his wisdom, his passion—all flow from having dwelt in the tender place of despair. I deeply understand the truth of this. Still, I want it to be easier—for him, yes, but mostly for me. He knows this darkness, and he oddly draws strength from its familiarity, as if it constitutes some sort of sacred ritual. I cower in its presence.</p> <p>On the fourth day, I wake to find the office door open and him gone. I breathe a sigh of relief for a morning without his dark presence and say a small prayer to the gods he worships: redrock canyons and sagebrush flats. He has gone to the desert.</p> <p>I walk out to the garage to see what’s not there: a cot, a sleeping bag, a five-gallon water jug. All good signs. He will spend nights under a dark sky, and when the sun rouses him, he will walk between redrock walls, bumping against them in his rawness. He will find a flat run of slickrock to lie upon, and he will stay until desert light finds a fissure in his constructed shield. Then he’ll come back to me.</p> <p>Shortly after I met him, Steve said something that would become a refrain in our relationship: I need to go to the desert. We met in Tucson and lived in Salt Lake City, so technically we had always been in a desert, but that’s not what he meant. He sought a desert free of humans and their debris, full of light, where he could dwell undisturbed for an extended period of time.</p> <p>Having grown up in Utah’s West Desert, I, too, have an appreciation for such places, but I initially thought him prone to hyperbole. Imprudently clinging to the popular view that all power lies within, I equated Steve’s stated need to the exaggerated notions of a teenager needing a new iPhone. But after twelve years of inadvertent research, my flippancy has waned.</p> <p>On our wedding day, Steve promised to always rescue himself—it was written into the vows. In my most anxious moments, I have extracted the promise from him again and again, but the last time I did was in the autumn of 2013, which was when I, at long last, understood that he has only one fail-safe rescue: the desert.</p> <p>It was our worst year together, high anxiety and deep depression, each tightening the knots of the other. We futilely tugged from opposite ends for eight months. In the fall, I suggested a weekend backpack on the Escalante River, and he nodded his agreement. But on the day we were supposed to leave, he couldn’t rally the energy to abide my company, having, no doubt, sensed my desperate reach for relief. After he shut the upstairs door, I sat amid the mess of freeze-dried food packets and cried. Then I packed.</p> <p>I would like to say I left the house quietly, but I didn’t. I breached the sanctity of the closed door and made a dramatic, sobbing speech and exit. I no longer remember the words, but I remember the cruelty behind them. I’m sure I demanded some sort of promise or explanation that he could not possibly give. I remember his horrified face as I loaded my pain onto his.</p> <p>I drove fifteen miles to the trailhead shaking with the kind of generalized rage that has no receptacle. Only after hoisting the pack and splashing through the knee-high, sun-warmed water for the first of many river crossings did I acknowledge that I had never backpacked alone, never spent a night out there by myself. It was an easy three-mile hike upriver to the Sand Creek confluence where I planned to camp, and the physical risk was minimal. But the sun drops early in the river gorge, and the long stretch of night ahead played on my nerves.</p> <p>Righteous indignation propelled me forward, a feeling of something having been thrust upon me that I did not deserve. I slogged through deep sand, stumbled often, and expended a great deal of energy to gain little ground. Had I lifted my eyes from the trail, I might have been awed by Escalante Natural Bridge, a sturdy, flat-topped, deep red and brown arch that spans a side canyon like a train trestle. Had I lifted my eyes, my heart may have been lightened—or at least distracted—by the Indian domicile ruins on a ledge next to a wall of seven-hundred-year-old petroglyphs. But I did not lift my eyes. I rounded the bend in the river that alerted me to the confluence without acknowledging the painted red snake on the slickrock I skirted, without pondering its symbolism, although it may have been as relevant to me as it was to its creator. Rebirth? Resurrection? Initiation?</p> <p>I dropped into a hole that brought the river to my upper thighs before climbing the sandy, steep bank on hands and knees. Knowing that seeking ant-free ground would be futile, I pitched my tent among the small creatures under a cluster of cottonwoods and cooked dinner before the sun went down. Then I crossed the cold, shin-high waters of Sand Creek and set my Therm-a-Rest chair on a partially dry, flat rock in the last splice of sunlight. I faced a soaring, creamsicle-orange wall with white streaks—as if someone had poured a bucket of Clorox from the top every few yards—and waited for darkness to descend. But it never did.</p> <p>The wall, a magnificent domed rock bestowed with runs of creamy smoothness from calving, was the last in the canyon to lose light. It presided over the celestial ceremony of sundown—quieting the whistling birds, hushing the croaking ravens, piloting a change of temperature and a kettle of turkey vultures on a gust. As the diurnal fell silent, whispering grasses and rustling river willows filled the void. On my right, a tranquil spring wallpapered the Navajo sandstone with ivy, ferns, and columbine before trickling through a crack in many straggling fountains at mouth level and leaving the rocks below it covered in spongy lime-green moss.</p> <p>Sand Creek approached me from behind a grassy bend, ran over slickrock and sand, bumped against, and parted for, volcanic boulders, passed me close enough to splash my left arm and leg, gathered spring water from the right, and then disappeared around an eastern bend to meet the river. Near and distant, peach and rose, honey and ginger colored walls, polished to a high sheen by desert varnish and pockmarked by wind and water, surrounded me on all sides, sharing the warmth of the sun.</p> <p>As the reigning wall lost its light, the hanging garden lost its shimmer in the shadows, the creek gurgled, the spring trickled, and a warm breeze blew. I sat very still, every sense heightened—and pacified. Tranquility edged in like rainwater through a crack in sandstone. After a while, I could no longer discern my feet on the rock or sand on my skin. The place integrated my presence as if I were natural to it, and I felt the whole of it.</p> <p>I sat. I had been breathing shallowly for many months, holding myself together with a pinched brow and rigid muscles. I breathed. My shoulders fell. Fear and dread oozed from my body and was cleanly washed away by Sand Creek—as if it were no problem at all—and delivered to the river where it would flow out of reach. Shhhh, the place whispered. Be still.</p> <p>Moonlight climbed sandstone walls bringing with it the thought of Steve’s refrain: I need to go to the desert. I had heard the urgency in his voice, but I refused to hear the truth in his words. I had scoffed at the idea that a place could do for him what I could not—that a place could hold him, soothe him, reach into the depths of that darkness and pull him out. And now, here I sat, held by the place. And here was the thing that left me dumbfounded: the place had been here all along. Through many months of homebound angst, through my desperation and rage, through my vain perseverance, the place was here—flowing, buzzing, being.</p> <p>That night on the slickrock bank of Sand Creek, I understood what I had been doing to Steve for twelve years. I had done what every well-meaning person in his life—every lover, every friend—had done. I had tried to fix him. And in doing so, I had delivered a sharp message:&nbsp;<em>I cannot love you this way</em>.</p> <p>The next morning, I was sitting on a log, swiping ants off my legs and sipping a cup of tea, when Steve walked into camp. He was not entirely tall and steady, but he was upright. He smiled weakly but genuinely, and I thought if ever there were an element natural in its desert environment, there it stands.</p> <p>We walked up Sand Creek without conversation, each sensitive to the other’s fragility. When we reached a sandy beach on the water’s edge, we sat facing a hollowed-out red wall. I have a gift for you, I said. He turned toward me, blue eyes tired but clear. I told him I would no longer participate in his depression; I would no longer view it as a problem to be fixed. I am giving you the gift of your own depression, I told him. He looked at me for a long moment, and when he started breathing again, vestiges of apprehension drained from his face. Thank you, he said.</p> <p>I have since kept my promise. It turns out, I can love the whole of him, and doing so has settled something in me. I don’t hold any notion that he will one day be cured of depression, and I no longer seek that. But removing myself as custodian of his state of being has given us space without shame. The chasm is shallower, more light filters in. In turn, I am released from my own shaking hellhole of onus and distress.</p> <p>And then there’s the desert, right here, where it’s always been—gushing, illuminating, revealing.</p> <p><em>From&nbsp;Nature Love Medicine: Essays on Wildness and Wellness, edited by Thomas Lowe Fleischner. Copyright Jana Richman and Torrey House Press,&nbsp;<a title="https://www.torreyhouse.org" href="https://www.torreyhouse.org/" target="_blank">www.torreyhouse.org</a>.</em></p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/depression-and-the-healing-desert-20180613?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180615&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180615+CID_cd0e50d8ab948866c92e475c998fd3bd&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=Depression%20and%20the%20Healing%20Desert">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/tim-flinders/going-out-i-found-i-was-really-going-in-john-muir-s-spiritual-and-politi">Going out, I found I was really going in: John Muir’s spiritual and political journey</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/marisa-handler/when-meditation-isn-t-enough">When meditation isn’t enough</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jana Richman Love and Spirituality Culture Thu, 02 Aug 2018 16:44:19 +0000 Jana Richman 118784 at https://www.opendemocracy.net I love you just the way you are https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/richard-gunderman/i-love-you-just-way-you-are <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Why kindness matters, personally and politically.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Zoe Ferguson_1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/30870467422">Flickr/Ron Mader</a>.&nbsp;<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p>The release of the Mister Rogers documentary&nbsp;<a href="https://slate.com/culture/2018/06/mr-rogers-documentary-wont-you-be-my-neighbor-reviewed.html"><em>Won’t You Be My Neighbor?</em>&nbsp;</a>calls to mind the essential message of Rogers’ long-running children’s program in the USA,&nbsp;<em>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</em>.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/28/arts/mister-rogers-tv-s-friend-for-children-is-dead-at-74.html">Fred McFeely Rogers</a>, who died in 2003, was also an ordained Presbyterian minister. Over the course of three decades on public broadcasting, he brought to millions of children what his faith’s&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pcusa.org/resource/minutes-215th-general-assembly-2003-part-i-journal/">General Assembly&nbsp;</a>referred to as “unconditional love.”</p> <p>In preaching love, Rogers wasn’t just attending to the moral character of his youthful audience. He believed that he was also promoting their health. As he said in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.law.cornell.edu/copyright/cases/464_US_417.htm#464us417n27">1979</a>, “My whole approach in broadcasting has always been, ‘You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.’ Maybe I’m going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.”</p> <p>Since Rogers’ death, evidence has mounted that he was on to something—namely, that love and kindness truly are healthful, and that people who express them regularly really do lead healthier lives. Simply put, people who are generous and volunteer their time for the benefit of others seem to be happier than those who don’t, and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.dartmouth.edu/wellness/emotional/rakhealthfacts.pdf">happy people&nbsp;</a>tend to have fewer health complaints and live longer than those who are unhappy.</p> <p><strong>Love gave rise to a calling.</strong></p> <p>Born in Pennsylvania in 1928, as a young minister, Rogers regretted the messages television was conveying to children in the 1960s. He&nbsp;<a href="https://www.salon.com/1999/08/10/rogers_2/">said</a>, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.”&nbsp;<em>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</em>&nbsp;debuted nationally in 1968 and won its creator and host many&nbsp;<a href="https://www.fredrogers.org/fred-rogers/bio/">accolades</a>, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom, two Peabody Awards, and over 40 honorary degrees.</p> <p>Rogers believed that the need to love and be loved was universal, and he sought to cultivate these capacities through every program, saying in a 2004&nbsp;<a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0433376/">documentary</a>&nbsp;hosted by actor Michael Keaton, one of his former stagehands, “You know, I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And consequently, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know they’re loved and capable of loving.”</p> <p><strong>Love and health.</strong></p> <p>As it turns out, there are many ways in which love and kindness are good for health. For one thing, they tend to reduce&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27100366">factors</a>&nbsp;that undermine it. Doing something nice for someone causes the release of endorphins, which help to relieve pain. People who make kindness a habit have lower levels of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/12/17/460030338/be-kind-unwind-how-helping-others-can-help-keep-stress-in-check">stress hormones&nbsp;</a>such as cortisol. Intentionally helping others can even lower levels of&nbsp;<a href="https://health.clevelandclinic.org/acts-kindness-can-ease-social-anxiety/">anxiety&nbsp;</a>in individuals who normally avoid social situations.</p> <p>Carrying out acts of kindness, or even merely&nbsp;<a href="https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_our_bodies_react_human_goodness">witnessing&nbsp;</a>them, also increases levels of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/hormones/oxytocin">oxytocin</a>, a hormone with&nbsp;<a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0ac8/c14228b62b9c87636f5b6eb536a434fd04de.pdf">health benefits&nbsp;</a>as diverse as lowering blood pressure, promoting good sleep, and reducing cravings for drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. That oxytocin should have so many health benefits is not so surprising when we recall its central role in stimulating uterine contractions during birth, the letdown of milk during lactation, the pleasure associated with orgasm and pair bonding.</p> <p>Acts of generosity and compassion also appear to be good for mood. A <a href="https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/11189976/dunn,%20aknin,%20norton_prosocial_cdips.pdf?sequence=1">2010 study&nbsp;</a>showed that while people with money tend to be somewhat happier than those without it, people who spend money on others report even greater levels of happiness, an effect that can be detected even in toddlers. When people give money to others, areas of the brain associated with&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569866">pleasure</a>&nbsp;are activated, and this response is greater when the transfer is voluntary rather than mandatory.</p> <p>Such happiness can have big benefits in longevity. For example, a&nbsp;<a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x">review</a>of 160 published studies concluded that there is compelling evidence that life satisfaction and optimism are associated with better health and enhanced longevity. Another&nbsp;<a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/10/happiness-associated-longer-life">study&nbsp;</a>of older people showed that, even after correcting for other factors such as age, disease, and health habits, those who rated their happiness highest were 35 percent less likely to die in five years than those who were least content.</p> <p><strong>What would Mister Rogers say?</strong></p> <p>Of course, Rogers would remind us that there are reasons to be committed to love and kindness that extend far beyond their health benefits. Rogers was, after all, not a physician but a minister, and ultimately he was ministering to an aspect of human wholeness that cannot be analyzed by blood tests or visualized with CT scans. In a&nbsp;<a href="https://news.dartmouth.edu/news/2018/03/revisiting-fred-rogers-2002-commencement-address">commencement address&nbsp;</a>at Dartmouth College in 2002, he focused less on the body than what he might have called the spirit:</p> <p>“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”</p> <p>When Rogers encouraged children to be kinder and more loving, he believed that he was not only promoting public health, but also nurturing the most important part of a human being—the part that exhibits a divine spark. As Rogers indicated in another&nbsp;<a href="https://archive.org/details/rogers_speech_5_27_01">commencement speech&nbsp;</a>the year before at Middlebury College, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.”</p> <p>In expressing such deeply religious sentiments, Rogers was not trying to undermine a concern with bodily health. In fact, he regularly encouraged his viewers to adopt healthy life habits, and Rogers himself was a committed&nbsp;<a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-g-long/what-would-mister-rogers-eat_b_6193910.html">vegetarian&nbsp;</a>and lifelong swimmer who maintained a low body weight his entire life. Yet he also believed that health alone does not a full life make, and he regarded the soundness of the body as but part of the wellness of whole persons and communities, which may explain why he was able to face his own mortality with such equanimity.</p> <p>Just a few months before he died, Rogers recorded a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/watch-fred-rogers-heart-warming-final-message-grownup-fans">message&nbsp;</a>for the many adult fans who had grown up watching&nbsp;<em>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</em>. In it, he practiced what he preached, saying:</p> <p>“I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are. And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”</p><p><em>This article was originally published by&nbsp;<a href="https://theconversation.com/why-mister-rogers-message-of-love-and-kindness-is-good-for-your-health-97970" target="_self">The Conversation</a>. It was edited for <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/why-mister-rogers-message-of-love-is-good-for-your-health-20180608?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180608&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180608+CID_899529f3182c0e0e8ca592dd4bbada4a&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=hy%20Mister%20Rogers%20M">YES! Magazine</a> and re-posted on Transformation under a new title, stand-first and image. </em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/zoe-ferguson/does-kindness-matter">Does kindness matter?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/genevieve-vaughan/why-kindness-is-key-to-new-economy">Why kindness is the key to a new economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/beulah-maud-devaney/how-random-acts-of-kindness-could-transform-support-for-battered-">How random acts of kindness could transform support for battered women</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Richard Gunderman Empathy Care Love and Spirituality Thu, 05 Jul 2018 12:25:57 +0000 Richard Gunderman 118419 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What we can really learn from Gandhi? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chris-moore-backman/what-we-can-really-learn-from-gandhi <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Social struggle calls for true transformation, a trading in of old lives for new.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ChrisMooreBackman.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marche_sel.jpg">Yann via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>Once again I’m thinking back to the 16th of February 2003. By that time, my own experiments with nonviolence had formed my lukewarm (at best) opinion of the marches and rallies currently in fashion. But February 16th was not a day to let skepticism reign. The Iraq War was imminent and people were taking to the streets. I knew I ought be among them. And, while I cannot claim that I stepped out on that winter morning with every bit of my hard-earned skepticism left at the door, I did step out. With an earnest and open heart, I stepped out. </p> <p>Downtown, I met up with a small group from my Quaker meeting. We wove among many thousands of our fellow San Franciscans, adding our voices to a resounding “no,” collectively and clearly pronounced in the face of the looming re-invasion of Iraq. It was an exhilarating day. It was a day of passion and purpose. Perhaps most dazzling and heartening was the knowledge that our voices were lifted in concert with millions of others the world over.</p> <p>Remember that? We were experiencing a taste of the immense potential of people and of the great underlying solidarity that bound us together. It was a marvelous day. And, it was one of the loneliest days of my life. The profound loneliness I experienced wasn’t simply a case of my skeptic shadow getting the best of me. On the contrary, it was the relaxed grip of my skepticism that opened me to the truth I encountered that day. In the painful isolation I had that singular experience of clearly seeing something for the first time that at some level I had known all along.</p> <p>Amidst the day’s exhilaration it was plain to me that something essential was missing—that there was, in fact, a gaping void at the very heart of it all. Deep down, I knew that this marvelous day was a day of certain failure. I knew that our massive mobilization to stop the war would inevitably and necessarily fade, and it would do so quickly.&nbsp;During the march, my eyes were invariably drawn by particular phrases scrawled on several of the signs and banners. And I couldn’t help but think of the person behind those catchy one-liners: Gandhi.</p> <p>Like every great prophet Gandhi is customarily placed on a pedestal. We revere him as a patron saint of nonviolence, a mahatma—the Sanskrit term of veneration meaning great soul—a larger-than-life figure we can never hope to fully emulate. We hold him at this comfortable distance, deeply impressed and inspired, while remaining free and clear from what he actually taught. Gandhi himself bristled at the thought of being called mahatma, doubting his worthiness of the accolade, and knowing well that such veneration would necessarily distract people from what he was actually doing. Gandhi urged his fellow Indians not to exalt him but to look at the nuts and bolts of nonviolent transformation. </p> <p>Over the last decade, I’ve seen my primary work as that of taking Gandhi down off the pedestal. I’ve studied him closely, including his teachings about Satyagraha, a term coined by him and variously translated as “truth force,” “soul force” or “clinging to truth,” generally used in reference to nonviolent resistance or a specific nonviolent campaign. I am committed to listen to Gandhi as a trusted guide with concrete instructions relating to my here-and-now, day-to-day life. Following February 16, 2003, this quest became particularly focused. I felt compelled to understand both the gaping hole I experienced that day and the nature of its possible remedy. I hoped Gandhi’s life and work would offer guidance. And in due time, I found this guidance in the space&nbsp;of a single paragraph penned by Gandhi at a critical point&nbsp;in his life.</p> <p>On February 27, 1930, two short weeks prior to launching the Salt Satyagraha, a pivotal episode in India’s struggle for independence from the British Empire, Mohandas Gandhi wrote a short article for a national publication. The article was called “When I am Arrested.” While the Salt Satyagraha has been the subject of immense interest to scholars and activists, this article appears to have gone mostly unnoticed. This is understandable, given the drama of the “great march to the sea” and the massive civil disobedience that followed it.</p> <p>The British, in order to maintain their monopoly on the salt industry, had prohibited any unsanctioned production or sale of salt. Gandhi defied British imperialism by leading a 385-kilometre trek to the Dandi seashore and lifting a now-iconic fistful of salt above his head in contravention of the salt laws. It stands as one of the most potent touchstones in the history of nonviolent resistance.&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s hard not to get lost in the drama, power and personality of the Salt Satyagraha, but if we look closely at “When I am Arrested,” we catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the inner workings and design of India’s independence movement. Gandhi published the article to put the masses of India on alert and to give them a final set of instructions. It also offered an impassioned battle cry, culminating with Gandhi’s declaration that this time not a single nonviolent devotee of Indian independence “should find himself free or alive at the end of the effort.”</p> <p>Within this call to action I found the paragraph I believe we activists most need to hear. The paragraph refers to the ashram that was Gandhi’s home, a place where religious devotees lived, raised their food and worshipped together. It was also the starting point of the march to the sea.</p> <blockquote><p><em>"So far as I am concerned, my intention is to start the movement only through the inmates of the Ashram and those who&nbsp;have submitted to its discipline and assimilated the spirit&nbsp;of its methods. Those, therefore, who will offer battle at the&nbsp;very commencement will be unknown to fame. Hitherto the Ashram has been deliberately kept in reserve in order that by a fairly long course of discipline it might acquire stability.&nbsp;I feel, that if the Satyagraha Ashram is to deserve the great confidence that has been reposed in it and the affection lavished upon it by friends, the time has arrived for it to demonstrate the qualities implied in the word satyagraha.&nbsp;I feel that our self-imposed restraints have become subtle indulgences, and the prestige acquired has provided us with privileges and conveniences of which we may be utterly unworthy. These have been thankfully accepted in the hope that some day we would be able to give a good account of ourselves in terms of satyagraha. And if at the end of nearly 15 years of its existence, the Ashram cannot give such a demonstration, it and I should disappear, and it would be well for the nation, the Ashram and me."</em></p></blockquote> <p>What struck me that day in San Francisco, on the eve of war, was that we peace-minded folk were entirely unprepared for the battle at hand. Our so-called “movement” lacked the depth necessary to sustain it. It came as no surprise, then, to see that after the bombs started dropping, we returned, with few exceptions, to our lives—to business, “progressive” though it may have been, as usual. Though committed nonviolent practitioners dappled the crowd that day, the marching thousands were not grounded by the presence of a core group such as that which gave such depth to India’s independence movement or the civil rights movement, which drew heavily on Gandhi’s teaching and example. Try as we might to organize faithful and effective nonviolent resistance, if we proceed as though the battle doesn’t require that kind of depth, discipline and training, our efforts will necessarily continue to come up short. And where does such depth come from?</p> <p>In Gandhi’s article, “When I Am Arrested,” he offers us a valuable clue: 78 people prepared for 15 years. In community life, they underwent the training of spiritual discipline and constructive work of social uplift. Though they were the core of the Salt Satyagraha, those 78 did not carry it out on their own. The great power of that movement was many-layered, involving literally millions of individuals responding to the direction of a superlative leader. But the role of that core of 78 was essential to the Salt Satyagraha’s success and the ultimate success of India’s struggle for independence.</p> <p>If we want to truly benefit from Gandhi’s guidance here, we need to enter into a deep and soulful investigation of this ashram experience, and discover what Gandhi meant when he said that the Salt Satyagraha would only be started by those who had “submitted to its discipline and assimilated the spirit of its methods.” Gandhi calls for true transformation, a trading in of old lives for new. What is remarkable about Gandhi the teacher is not that he introduced novel concepts—he said himself that nonviolence is as “old as the hills”—but that he so deftly systematized the transformative work of building a nonviolent life, and that he did it in a way that can be effectively translated for our time and place.</p> <p>Gandhi’s approach to nonviolence, which was the foundation of his ashram communities, points us to interrelated, mutually supportive spheres of experimentation. Nonviolence scholar Gene Sharp notes three such spheres in Gandhi’s writings: personal transformation, constructive program (work of social uplift and renewal), and political action, prioritized in that order. At the heart of Gandhi’s approach to social change is his understanding that the building blocks of a nonviolent society are the vibrant, productive, nonviolent lives of individual women and men.</p> <p>Effective nonviolent political action does not spring from a vacuum; it grows out of daily living grounded in personal and communal spiritual practice, and in constructive service to one’s immediate and surrounding communities. Nonviolence on the political stage is only as powerful as the personal and&nbsp;community-based nonviolence of those who engage in it. The importance of the ashram experience flows from this understanding.</p> <p>This fundamental aspect of the Gandhian design almost entirely eludes us in our North American context. Here, we most often employ the reverse order of Gandhi’s threefold approach, seeking a political response first, the building up of a constructive alternative second and the stuff of all-out personal reformation third, if at all. This reversal allows North American activists of faith to sidestep some of the most foundational aspects of Gandhi’s nonviolent recipe: namely, radical simplicity, solidarity with the poor and disciplined spiritual practice.</p> <p>Because we do not believe nonviolence requires these of us, we miss the necessity of the ashram experience. No one can build a nonviolent life as an individual. I may be able to practice some measure of piecemeal nonviolence more or less on my own, but if I’m going to pluck the seeds of war from every part of my life that I possibly can, if I am going to renounce and abandon the violence of my first-world way of life, I need to be surrounded by others whose knowledge, wisdom and experience will complement mine, and whose example and company will inspire me to stay the course.</p> <p>The 78 members of Satyagraha Ashram who were the cadre of “foot soldiers” Gandhi chose to be the nucleus of the Salt Satyagraha were doing all of this for one another for a period of nearly 15 years. This prepared them for the high level of self-sacrifice that Gandhi foresaw when he said, “Not a single believer in nonviolence as an article of faith for the purpose of achieving India’s goal should find himself free or alive at the end of the effort.” Until faith communities embrace this level of commitment and clarity of purpose, it is up to those of us who feel called in this direction to seek each other out.</p> <p>We need to hold one another accountable to this magnificent charge. We need to manifest our shared strength and leadership. We need to move together toward the key ingredients in Gandhi’s nonviolent recipe—radical simplicity, solidarity with the poor and disciplined spiritual practice. As we walk that long, disciplined, grace-filled path we and our religious communities will be rightly stretched. And in time, I trust that we will be gradually readied for sustained nonviolent struggle.</p> <p class="image-caption">Syndicated from <a href="http://www.earthlingopinion.files.wordpress.com/">www.earthlingopinion.files.wordpress.com</a>.This article originally appeared in&nbsp;<a href="https://geezmagazine.org/">Geez magazine</a>.&nbsp;Geez is an independent quarterly Canadian magazine dealing with issues of spirituality, social justice, religion, and progressive cultural politics.&nbsp;A version of this article appeared in Friends Journal, April 2006.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/mark-engler-paul-engler/how-did-gandhi-win">How did Gandhi win?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/danielle-batist-arun-gandhi/arun-gandhi-grandfather-mahatma-nonviolence-peace">Stopping war comes from each of us: Arun Gandhi on his grandfather Mahatma</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Chris Moore-Backman Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Thu, 21 Jun 2018 17:45:10 +0000 Chris Moore-Backman 118071 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Are we losing our love of life? ‘It must be the money’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rajiv-khanna/are-we-losing-our-love-of-life-it-must-be-money <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Healing our relationship to finance is a pre-condition for building a grassroots-led investment fund that’s focused on wellbeing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Rajivkhanna.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Pia Infante of The Whitman Institute, Adriana Welsh Herrera of Ñepi Behña, Elvira Sanchez Toscano of ISMUGUA, Milvian Aspuac Con of AFEDES, and Gloria Marina Figueroa Aguilar of DESMI at the <em>Buen Vivir</em> Fund founders circle meeting at Casa Xitla in Mexico City in October 2016. Credit: <a href="http://www.whattookyousolong.org/">http://www.whattookyousolong.org</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <blockquote><p>“Our <em>buen vivir</em> was taken 500 years ago when the Spanish colonized our lands and people.” Milvian Aspuac Con, AFEDES, Guatemala.</p></blockquote> <p>I knew right then I was going to be schooled.Thirty-eight of us, representing 24 organizations from six countries, had gathered in rainy Mexico City to design an investment fund that would re-imagine our economy—and &nbsp;our investment practices—with the concept of <em>buen vivir </em>at the center.</p> <p><em><a href="http://www.whattookyousolong.org/">Buen vivir</a></em> comes from Indigenous movements in Latin America and implies “right living” or life in balance with communities, natural systems and future generations. Our grassroots partners, financial investors, and adviser allies—all &nbsp;leaders in alternative economic practices—had joined the gathering because of relationships built up over time with my organization, <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/">Thousand Currents</a>.&nbsp;They trusted us because we have a <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/what-we-do/">30-plus-year track record</a> of establishing respectful and productive partnerships with grassroots leaders around the world, <em>and </em>with those who have deeper pockets in wealthy countries.</p> <p>But that doesn’t mean we knew how to build an economy that’s centered on love and equality.<em> </em>That was the challenge that emerged from the grassroots, and specifically, how to develop an investment fund that’s run on these same principles and values—in stark contrast to the mainstream of philanthropy, foreign aid, social enterprise and investing.</p> <p>Most impact investment initiatives are centered on persuading investors from the Global North to lend money and ‘expertise.’ The accumulation of privatized wealth is then reflected in the centralization of power and control  in philanthropy and social investing. That’s why we came together to design a fund that would not only provide capital to grassroots groups who had never had access to investment before, but also support donors in the US who are floundering in a broken, fear-ridden financial system.</p> <p>In order to re-imagine finance in this way we asked: What if that economic power could be shifted to communities in the Global South? What if capital could flow in the service of well-being? That’s why I needed to be ‘schooled’ by Milvian Aspuac Con, the leader of an <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/?s=afedes">Indigenous-women led group called AFEDES</a>, a long-term Thousand Currents partner in Guatemala. She went on to share what it means to “recover the deep love for life” after a long history of Spanish colonization.</p> <p>In generations past, she said, her family lived well. Her grandparents produced food so they had enough to eat. Her grandmothers knew how to weave so they had enough clothes to wear, and what they needed for the house. They produced, sold, or exchanged the rest. They had little stress. They had a chance for recreation, to do other things besides work.</p> <p>But in 1980, after the approval of neoliberal and “<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution">Green Revolution</a>” policies in Guatemala, many multinational agribusinesses arrived to convince farmers that it wasn’t profitable to produce their own food, and that their land could produce extra crops and extra money instead. This, they said, was the ultimate goal. These companies got rid of trees and other forms of biodiversity in order to focus on cash crops like green beans.</p> <p>As a result, Milvian’s community lost their traditional crops. Industrial agriculture meant that they had to buy seeds and apply for credit from these companies, trapping them in cycles of debt. Her family lost their way of life. In the end, Milvian’s father suffered bankruptcy.</p> <p>“It must be the money,” she said. “My father lost the love of life and went after money. We are recovering from this…slowly.”</p> <p>That feeling of loss—of substituting love for money—is common in contemporary societies, and it also characterizes the ways in which we usually approach the question of mobilizing finance for social change. We wanted to escape from these constrictions and develop a model that brought love and money back into a healthier relationship with one another, but this process proved to be much more challenging than we imagined.</p> <p>Conventional attitudes toward money run deep—who has it, who controls it, and how many strings are attached to how it’s spent. Working through these questions became a year-and-a-half long process of co-designing a radically-different investment vehicle which would come to be called the <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/buen-vivir-fund/"><em>Buen Vivir</em> Fund</a>. What we thought could be resolved in a week took many thousands of hours—<a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/2934-hours-buen-vivir-fund/">2,934 to be exact</a>.</p> <p>That’s because we had to acknowledge that our own relationship to money was grounded in scarcity. Until we transformed that relationship—until we truly acknowledged our fears about money and inequality—we couldn’t build an investment fund that would run on different principles and result in wellbeing instead of profit or top-down control.</p> <p>We also had to re-imagine our relationship with time. Maybe our initial plan and timeline needed more than a week to kick off, we thought, but with the outstanding leadership, initiative, and ideas of the people we had gathered together we could surely complete the co-design process of the Fund within a few months.</p> <p>We assumed that many elements of the Fund’s design could be identified in virtual conversations prior to the gathering, and planned to complete the details of its operations face to face. However, it was only when we came together in person and built more trust and authenticity among us that the most important questions, ideas, and challenges arose.&nbsp;</p> <p>Prior to the gathering we had essentially been assuming a mainstream investment model as a starting point, and then a process of proposing changes to that design. But when the conversation started our grassroots partners pushed us to depart completely from these mainstream models. Instead, they wanted to start with designs that already placed collective wellbeing at the center, like community-led savings and lending circles in their regions.</p> <p>In order to learn the basics of each other’s approach to investment, savings, and enterprise, we realized that we had to deepen the sharing among grassroots partners and financial investors. We also extended the co-design process to more than a year to ensure that adequate time and care could be given to this vital opportunity for a completely different way of thinking about money and social change, one that was firmly centered in <em>buen vivir</em> but also financially feasible and sustainable.</p> <p>Those living in higher-income countries have been conditioned to the commodification of time and the short-termism that’s created by mainstream financial investment practices. I too was frustrated, and our mindsets meant that many of us felt the pressure of time in the design process. Yet as Don Jorge Santiago reminded us, one of the advisers of the Fund who’s based in Chiapas and is a decades-long practitioner of the <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/?s=solidarity+economy">Solidarity Economy</a>: “Are you committed, as this is what it takes when you are creating something entirely new?”</p> <p>Ari Sahagún, another participant, shared how important it was to <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/what-it-means-to-trust-the-process-and-why-we-do-it/">trust the process</a>: “Bringing underrepresented voices into a previously-constructed process that was never designed by or for them simply does not work,” she told us. Hence, we needed to create a new and rigorous process that would uplift the determination, agency and leadership of grassroots communities. We learned that we had to prioritize this new process over expediency or efficiency.</p> <p>Time did pass, and <a href="https://medium.com/@1000Currents/can-we-remove-the-fear-from-our-global-economy-973debb95969">money from the Fund is now flowing</a>. We started with one million dollars in investment capital and US$200,000 in grant capital, distributed between <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/buen-vivir-fund/#BVFprojects">eight visionary projects in five countries</a>—from a Members Assembly that puts ‘on the ground’ expertise on an equal par with those who put up the money, to loans where the investors shoulder the risk (because they can), to borrowers making a solidarity contribution of their choosing back into the fund after their project ends rather than being required to pay any interest.</p> <p>In these and other ways the <em>Buen Vivir</em> Fund is designed for any growth (or more properly, abundance) to be passed forward to the next set of groups. But this isn’t just a matter of technics or operations. As I reflect back on my participation in the design process I can see how my own family’s relationship to money is also changing. My wife is currently in a two-year training program that has resulted in a significant decline in our household income. There has been the usual stress and anxiety in our conversations about wants and needs. And yet, at the point last year when our household income was at its lowest, our annual giving to causes we care about was at its highest.</p> <p>We are continually reconsidering what wellbeing and a ‘good life’ means to us, and we are appreciating the abundance of wealth in our lives in the form of health, love and joy; relationships, community and family; and food and the stunningly beautiful Bay Area that we call home.</p> <p>As it turns out, Milvian was right, and not only about her own experience or the design of the Fund: ‘It’s <em>not</em> just about the money.’ Confronting our fears about scarcity—whether within our own families or the global economy—means focusing not on wealth accumulation for the few but on the <a href="https://thousandcurrents.org/buen-vivir-fund/">good life for all</a>. The next challenge is to extend this realization to the mainstream of philanthropy, social investing, and foreign aid that currently runs on the opposite set of principles.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/fatima-van-hattum-arianne-shaffer/transforming-philanthropy-it%E2%80%99s-time-to-get-serious">Transforming philanthropy: it’s time to get serious</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/angela-eikenberry/could-giving-circles-rebuild-philanthropy-from-bottom-up">Could giving circles rebuild philanthropy from the bottom up?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/money-in-terms-of-social-change-it%E2%80%99s-both-%E2%80%98beauty-and-beast%E2%80%99">Money: in terms of social change, it’s both ‘beauty and the beast’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Rajiv Khanna The role of money Activism Economics Love and Spirituality Tue, 08 May 2018 20:21:08 +0000 Rajiv Khanna 117728 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sacred activism: a movement for global healing https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/martin-winiecki/sacred-activism-movement-for-global-healing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Our natural sense of interdependence has been replaced by an addictive focus on personal short-term profit.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Leila Dregger_1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Participants in the&nbsp;<em>Defend the Sacred</em>&nbsp;gathering on Odeceixe beach in Portugal, August 12 2017. Credit: Copyright Tamera Institute/Yuval Kovo. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Humanity is at the pinnacle of a historic death cult. Late last year, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a dramatic “<a href="http://scientistswarning.forestry.oregonstate.edu/">warning to humanity</a>” over biodiversity loss due to overconsumption of resources. They agreed that if we continue “business as usual,” we’ll shortly approach a point where it will be too late to shift our apocalyptic trajectory; worldwide ecosystem collapse will be inevitable.</p> <p>In its compulsion for unending growth, capitalism has developed a vampiric mechanism of planetary proportions, sucking the lifeblood out of the Earth’s body. In its addiction to mining, oil drilling, deforestation, the exploitation of billions of lives and the mental enslavement of humanity, today’s global economic system precisely embodies&nbsp;<a href="https://www.kosmosjournal.org/article/seeing-wetiko-on-capitalism-mind-viruses-and-antidotes-for-a-world-in-transition/" target="_blank"><em>Wetiko</em>, an Algonquin word for “cannibalism</a>” that illustrates the insanity we’ve fallen prey to. Wetiko is the psycho-spiritual “disease of the white man” which makes amnesiacs of us—our natural sense of basic interdependence with other beings is obliterated and replaced with an addictive focus on personal short-term profit.</p> <p>Through an insidious history of colonization, genocide, and imperialism, the Wetiko virus has gradually infected (nearly) all of humanity, brainwashing us into a mode of thought that proclaims that “the Earth is a dead exploitable resource,” “animals and plants have no soul,” “life is a game of competition and fight,” “love always ends in disaster,” “either we kill our enemies or they will kill us,” “we will be punished for our mistakes” and so on. </p> <p>Under the spell of this subconscious conditioning, we are sleepwalking towards an abyss, lacking the psychological and spiritual capacities needed to make sense of and respond to the crisis we’re facing. With our collective survival on the line, we need a wholly different vision of ourselves and our relation to the living world that’s able to awaken our primordial love for life and our desire to serve it without reservation. Only with a unifying narrative that addresses the human disconnection at the root of our global crisis will the many social, political and ecological movements converge into a relevant power for global system change.</p> <p><strong>The seeds of Standing Rock.</strong></p> <p>What is sacred? It might seem cynical to speak about something “sacred” after millennia of unspeakable atrocities committed in its name. Yet, living in a civilization that has defiled virtually everything, emptied this world of meaning and processed it into commodities, our longing for the sacred might, after all, be the crucial guide out of our dead end.</p> <p>When about 30 members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe confronted the fossil fuel industry and the U.S. government, setting up a camp at their burial ground which was to be bulldozed for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, they did so to “defend the sacred.” Ladonna Bravebull Allard, founder of the Sacred Stone Camp affirms, “We stood up because we had no other choice. Water is life. If there’s no water, we will die.”</p> <p>Such “sacred activism” comes as a deep re-membering:&nbsp;<em>We are of this Earth. There is no salvation outside of it.</em>Patriarchal religions told of some out-of-Earth entity making covenants with exceptional people and asking us to renounce this world. Yet the original covenant of all people is&nbsp;<em>with the Earth</em>&nbsp;and is therefore of an Earthly, sensual nature. Activism doesn’t become “sacred” merely because it works “on behalf of” something sacred; but by recognizing, honoring, embodying and celebrating the inherent sacredness of all that lives—which isn’t anywhere beyond this world, but right here. </p> <p>Sacred activism challenges us to make a choice at every moment, to decide for life, for solidarity and for trust despite the temptation of an overwhelming field of fear, greed and hatred. It was this clear orientation that fueled the resistance at Standing Rock – and drew in people from all directions to join it. Representatives of over 300 Indigenous cultures, black bloc anarchists, environmentalists, spiritual seekers and over 2500 army veterans banded together beyond their usual ideological divisions, because they were united by something more fundamental than ideologies – a shared spiritual center.</p> <p>Standing Rock inspired similar resistances globally. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota People, writes in February 2018, “People all over the world are now beginning to understand that [water] is a living spirit: it can heal when you pray with it and die if you do not respect it. (…) Standing Rock has marked the beginning of an international movement that will continue to work peacefully, purposefully, and tirelessly for the protection of water along all areas of poisonous oil pipelines and across all of Mother Earth.”</p> <p>Around the world, movements are arising towards decentralizing power, culture and economies, leaving the mega-systems of nation states and globalized corporations behind and building a society based on autonomous regions in which people can reclaim their sovereignty while caring for each other and the Earth again. There are remarkable movements in the Global South, such as the Indigenous Zapatista movement in Mexico, the Rojava revolution in the Kurdish zones of northern Syria, the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil, peace communities, such as San José de Apartadó in Colombia and many more. In the Global North, we see a revival of socialist ideals and the emergence of municipalism.</p> <p>It’s worth noting that this revolution is feminine in essence. Women are the heart of many of these movements. From Rojava to Chiapas, from Standing Rock to Barcelona, we’re seeing the resurgence of feminine power fostering community, self-determination, healing and care for the Earth, shaking the foundations of patriarchal dominance.</p> <p>How can this revolutionary impulse succeed? Trump defeated the Standing Rock movement, Erdogan is cracking down on Rojava and Colombian peace communities are severely threatened by paramilitaries. Running up against a globalized trillion-dollar economic, political and military system, every group and place resisting will face the same destiny as long as they remain on merely the local, regional or even national levels. The victory over capitalist globalization can, logically, only be global. In other words, either we form an unbreakable global alliance or we’re bound to fail. Yet, in this struggle, failure is not an option.</p> <p><strong>A starting point for a global alliance?</strong></p> <p>As I see it, a global alliance bringing together the many movements in the North and South, and mobilizing the many millions wanting radical change, could emerge around the following five shared thematic areas:</p> <p>1) Fierce nonviolent resistance against the fossil fuel industry</p> <p>Stopping the fossil fuel industry before it’s too late is the first demand for our collective survival. As people stood up against the pipeline at Standing Rock, people must come together and stand up everywhere to both impede new fossil fuel projects and shut down existing ones. At the same time, let’s increase the pressure on municipalities, countries, companies and banks to divest from fossil fuels and end subsidies. </p> <p>The divestment movement reached a historic milestone in the first days of 2018 when New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced his city would divest from fossil fuels and sue leading oil companies over climate change. Activist and author Naomi Klein, who assisted the announcement, comments that “What felt politically impossible yesterday suddenly seems possible.”</p> <p>2) Transition to decentralized, clean energy and large-scale ecosystem restoration</p> <p>Let’s establish regenerative energy systems based on the inexhaustible sources of sun and wind. We must ensure the transition will be decentralized, instead of staying stuck in the corporate framework. Let’s organize to create a decentralized infrastructure for energy-autonomous cities and regions.</p> <p>Additionally, let’s rehabilitate ecosystems worldwide, as desertification, droughts, wildfires and misery aren’t only the results of carbon emissions but also of the destruction of ecosystems and natural water cycles. By creating systems of local rainwater retention, we no longer only need to adapt to climate change, we can actually restore and rebalance our destabilized climate.</p> <p>There are powerful examples to follow, such as India’s “Water Gandhi” Rajendra Singh and his NGO&nbsp;<a href="http://tarunbharatsangh.in/">Tarun Bharat Sangh</a>&nbsp;that mobilized villagers in Rajasthan to restore thousands of square kilometers of degraded land, through which they’ve revived several rivers, rebalanced rainfall, ended extreme weather events and secured an abundant self-sufficient water and food supply for about 100,000 people in less than 25 years. Following a&nbsp;<a href="https://dev.tamera.org/wp-content/uploads/The-New-Water-Paradigm.pdf">New&nbsp;</a><a href="https://dev.tamera.org/wp-content/uploads/The-New-Water-Paradigm.pdf">Water&nbsp;</a><a href="https://dev.tamera.org/wp-content/uploads/The-New-Water-Paradigm.pdf">Paradigm</a>, let’s organize in communities united around watersheds for natural and decentralized water management wherever we live. “<a href="https://www.rainforclimate.com/">Rain for Climate</a>,” a movement initiated by the Slovakian hydrologist Michal Kravčík, offers a corresponding global action plan.</p> <p>3) Ethics of universal solidarity</p> <p>To truly heal this planet, we need the power of community, which is much more than simply a political coalition. Whenever people come together around a shared goal and practice solidarity, they connect with a power greater than the sum of their individual efforts. Thus, they’re unified and driven by meaning, trust and possibility, able to overcome any obstacle.</p> <p>We must recognize the crucial role of community, not just as an accidental side effect of camps or occupations, but as a vital aspect of post-capitalist society and so consciously engage in building and maintaining it. Thereby, politics becomes a matter of social design, because the divisions we’re suffering in our movements, most of the time, result from a lack of trust and solidarity among human beings. </p> <p>We all carry a wound that expresses itself as fear or anger, attack or retreat in one situation or the other. So far, this wound has mostly been more powerful than people’s will for change. Systems of domination have prevailed by exploiting this human weakness, sowing discord among activists and setting them against each other.</p> <p>A planetary community of sacred activists relies on living, breathing trust among its members. It will grow in power to the extent that we cultivate universal solidarity, truthful communication and mutual support. Instead of propagating moralistic heroism, let’s create places of encounter and new forms of coexistence that will allow us to heal our wounds and rebuild trust.</p> <p>4) A common focus on an emerging vision for humanity</p> <p>The world seems ready for radical change. The majority of the population in the West no longer supports the dominant economic and political system and is turning away from it in what journalist Chris Hedges calls the “invisible revolution.” Recent years have seen massive outbreaks of public anger and longing for a different society. Yet, little has changed. According to the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, we’re stuck in a state which most recognize as beyond insane, simply because no one can see a credible alternative.</p> <p>The necessary global shift begins by radically reimagining our civilization. If we have an authentic vision for a nonviolent and regenerative way of life, a culture of solidarity and trust, we’ll be able to midwife the global transition. This isn’t anything we can make up; a true vision is something fundamentally different from a constructed idea, wishful fantasy or ideology.</p> <p>As we abandon the mainstream mentality of dominant culture, we also overcome the drought of creativity which blocks people from imagining an alternative. We recognize that our spirit is deeply creative and that we always carry vision—this is why we’re alive. When a vision touches our heart and we allow it to guide our life, we’re driven by our deepest purpose and have enormous energies at our disposal. Yet we carry vision not only individually but also collectively. </p> <p>As Ladonna Bravebull Allard of Standing Rock puts it, “The shared vision for humanity exists, whether we see it or not.” Our task is to become receptive for it, to see it, make it visible and activate it, using all means of communication, so that our collective imagination will no longer be driven by dreams of downfall, but elevated by the possibility of worldwide healing and unification.</p> <p>5) A different principle of power</p> <p>The fight between capitalism and those defending life is a power struggle. We need to seize power, but we need a different kind of power than the one usually deployed by revolutionaries. We have no chance of trying to overcome a globalized system of violence by constructing a counter-force through mass mobilization and fight alone. Many attempts to overthrow the dominant systems didn’t originate from power, but powerlessness, because activists let themselves be corrupted by the fear and hatred those systems propagated.</p> <p>Native American activist Winona LaDuke writes, “Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. (…) Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”</p> <p>Despite terrible injuries, all life still automatically strives towards healing, regeneration and convergence, as this is necessary for its continuity. In nature, we find universal patterns at work, which operate according to what sociologist and futurist Dieter Duhm calls the “sacred matrix.” He writes:</p> <p>“The sacred matrix is the cosmic pattern which forms the basis for the organization of life. It steers the information and energies necessary for the evolution and maintenance of life. When the individual connects with this guidance, channels for healing open up. When humanity organizes itself in accordance with the sacred matrix, channels for global healing powers open up.”<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>Beyond all alienation and division, there’s something all beings have in common, something we all deeply love. This something carries no name and is beyond description, but it is what people of all ages have experienced as “sacred.” When the veil of separation falls, we face the animated, eternal and truly sacred character of existence. </p> <p>When people enter into this resonance, they experience healing, regeneration and convergence and often find themselves under great protection. Studying and learning to live according to the principles of sacred power will allow our movements to succeed in ways that previously looked impossible. The key to this power doesn’t primarily lie in external activities and strategies, but in a conscious shift of the whole way we live, think, speak and act – from the matrix of fear and violence to the sacred matrix.</p> <p><strong>Utopia or oblivion?</strong></p> <p>Ultimately, our success will result from unprecedented collaboration between the different organs of the emerging global alliance. A key part of this is to establish experimental centers that concretely model post-capitalist societies on a small scale, developing social and ecological structures that invite in and no longer systematically block off the healing powers of life. Such centers (at Tamera, we call these “<a href="https://www.tamera.org/healing-biotopes-plan/">Healing Biotopes</a>”) as well as still-existing Indigenous communities could provide all those wanting to step out of the current system with the necessary knowledge to create functioning communities of trust and cooperation.</p> <p>More and more places could break out of the dominant system, creating autonomous regions, and so give rise to a new system based on a local sovereignty rooted in global interdependence. While social movements slow down the pace of destruction through their resistance, they could also restore ecosystems and implement the infrastructure for post-capitalism. </p> <p>Inventors could contribute new technologies to an ever-increasing number of regenerative communities and regions, donors could support them financially, journalists could provide the necessary public attention and allied progressive governments could create “free zones” for them to operate in. Guided by a shared global vision, an ever-increasing number of people would help birth a new era. Once a global alternative becomes realistic for a critical number of people, we would have created the conditions for the dominant system to implode and give way to a new one.</p> <p>This is no longer only a dream. As dystopian scenarios become imminent, “utopia” remains as the only realistic way out. We mustn’t forget that it has always been through existential necessity, vision, community and surrender to spirit that people have made the apparently impossible possible. Let’s come together to build a world where creativity, cooperation and mutual support become the foundations of a sacred way of life.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.kosmosjournal.org/news/sacred-activism-movement-for-global-healing/">Kosmos Journal</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/leila-dregger/sacred-activism-story-of-tamera">Sacred activism: the story of Tamera</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-catastrophe-only-cure-for-weakness-of-radical-politics">Is catastrophe the only cure for the weakness of radical politics? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Martin Winiecki Transformative nonviolence Activism Culture Love and Spirituality Tue, 24 Apr 2018 20:06:42 +0000 Martin Winiecki 117458 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Women of faith and the Northern Ireland peace process: breaking the silence https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/dianne-kirby/women-of-faith-and-northern-ireland-peace-process-breaking-silence <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“This business of loving enemies mattered to me. That was a command I had to obey.”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/DianneKirby.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">War and Peace mural, Ballymacarrett, Belfast. Credit: ©&nbsp;<a title="View profile" href="http://www.geograph.ie/profile/5835">Albert Bridge</a>&nbsp;-&nbsp;<a href="http://www.geograph.ie/photo/2986909">geograph.org.uk/p/2986909</a>. <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC-BY-SA/2.0</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Ireland_peace_process">Northern Ireland peace process</a> was once held up as a model to the world, but given the current impasse in the region’s politics and the cultural conflicts that replaced the violence this model has inevitably been tarnished.&nbsp;In reality, the popular, male-centric version of the model was never a true representation of a process that involved other groups, especially women. On the anniversary of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Friday_Agreement">Good Friday agreement</a> it’s time to acknowledge the contributions of these groups and consider the alternative visions and aspirations they put forward for a new and better society.</p> <p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mairead_Maguire">Mairead Maguire</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_Williams_(Nobel_laureate)#Peace_petition">Betty Williams</a> and other members of the “Peace People’ are well-known, but the actions of other groups of Catholic and Protestant women are not. They represent an important example of what <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/fidelma-ashe/northern-ireland-progressive-lgbtq-inclusive-peace">Fidelma Ashe describes</a> as the suppression of alternative visions of peace and their “potential to create more meaningful, progressive and inclusive forms of peacebuilding in the region.”</p> <p>A <a href="https://sites.google.com/site/coldwarkirby/">recent&nbsp;series of witness seminars</a> that I initiated in Belfast brought together Catholic sisters, Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland women in conversation, and recorded their experiences of the ‘Troubles.’ Their collective remembering revealed that women of faith were ahead of their time in terms of developing approaches to repairing the harms that were caused by the conflict for individuals and their communities. Moreover, they were party to innovative examples of ecumenical activism and community living that defied and transcended sectarianism, including integrated education.</p> <p>Equally important, though previously unknown to the general public, such women were participants in the secret back-channel talks between politicians from Northern Ireland, mainland Britain, the Republic of Ireland, the US and different groupings of combatants that were critical in bringing about a cessation of the violence. At least in the initial stages of the dialogue, they appear to have been the only women involved. It’s important to recognise that women of faith secured a place in these talks not because men thought they should be there, but because <em>they </em>thought they should be there.</p> <p>That their participation has remained undisclosed and undocumented for so long has significant implications. It provides telling insights into the peace process, the narratives that undergird it, the ways in which it was implemented, and the extent to which&nbsp;the history of the Troubles in all its dimensions is still a male preserve.&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/margaret-ward/excluded-and-silenced-women-in-northern-ireland-after-peace-process">Margaret Ward</a> pointed to the “omission of women from consideration of the past” on <em>Open Democracy</em>&nbsp;in<em>&nbsp;</em>June 2013. Arguing that women’s contribution to the maintenance of communities during the conflict and to the development of a more peaceful society afterwards was largely ignored, she highlighted how peacebuilding was still seen as “an activity that primarily involves men.”</p> <p>Feminist scholars have worked hard to redress this neglect, but the activism of women of faith in Northern Ireland remained virtually unexplored prior to the witness seminar project. Moreover, a general lack of attention was encouraged by one-dimensional characterizations of such women in the media which disregarded their historical commitment to contemporary values like reconciliation, communal repair, the need for bridge-building across the sectarian divide, and the articulation of meaningful forms of peace.</p> <p>The erasure of women of faith from the historical record can partially be attributed to assumptions that they form another element of a backward-looking, conservative past that needs to be challenged in the present in order to build a progressive and forward-looking Northern Ireland. In fact, the evidence of their activism during the conflict suggests that they, along with other marginalised groups, could help to revitalise a process that is presently paralysed and visionless.</p> <p>Women of faith worked with and through myriad groups and organisations, linking their own activism to a range of ideas, concepts and ethical ideologies supportive of peacebuilding work. This combination had both practical application and emotional appeal in being able to move the human imagination beyond simply the cessation of violence.</p> <p>One example was “Cornerstone,” “a live-in Community, a praying Community of reconciliation involved in the local area and networking with other groups…Being a ‘Presence’ was the most important thing in a divided community—to show that Catholics and Protestants could actually live together and cook and do the shopping and just be a community” as one of the seminar participants put it.</p> <p>Another was <a href="http://www.wavetraumacentre.org.uk/">WAVE (“Widows Against Violence Empowered”)</a>, a group that came out of a Catholic Sister’s feelings of helplessness in the face of tragedy. It is still there today: “going from strength to strength, and now it has an organization for Trauma…it was one little space for women who had been deeply affected by the Troubles just to tell their stories…and get strength from each other.” </p> <p>The premium that women of faith placed on obedience to God meant, for some, challenging powerful groups within and outside of the Church in their endeavours—not simply a call to end the conflict but an attempt to lay the foundations for a more just and equal post-conflict society that worked toward overcoming sectarianism. As another of the seminar participants explained (reflecting a strongly held view among the group):</p> <blockquote><p>“This business of loving enemies mattered to me. That wasn’t something that I understood Jesus to just say as a kind of a throw-away—‘you might think about loving your enemies.’ That was a command that I had to obey.”</p></blockquote> <p>The tendency to ignore these stories disregards the rich and complex histories of women of faith that stretch back centuries. Those histories are replete with narratives of struggle against violence, injustice, poverty and oppression. They include resistance to male control and endeavours to fulfil gospel imperatives to help—indeed love—the most marginalized in society. Not all religious women lived lives of service and sacrifice, but enough did to make a difference, including in Northern Ireland.</p> <p>Nevertheless, in the public imagination such women are still identified with the preservation of normative gender roles and the conservative narratives that underpin them. But the witness seminars revealed that during the conflict, some women contested patriarchal restrictions and value systems through a variety of means, from the known—like grassroots community activism—to the unknown, including their participation in secret talks.</p> <p>Their activism was a factor in creating the climate on the ground and the depth of communications between the warring parties that facilitated the peace process. At times this required confronting powerful groups within and outside of the Church, transgressing normative gender roles, challenging traditional gender stereotypes, and demonstrating that feminism's reach extended to encompass religious women.</p> <p>With religious values as core to their activism, women of faith negotiated their roles within the church, and at times, they also negotiated their own ethno-religious identities. They were closely monitored within their own communities and by the security and paramilitary forces. Their experiences and recollections illustrate the effects of male hierarchies, violence, social deprivation and religious and community norms on different groups of women.</p> <p>The conversations recorded during the seminars capture an intricate web of women creating spaces through activism within and across communal, moral and religious boundaries, and often exposed the gendered conflicts provoked by these forms of activism. As one seminar participant explained, being “on the margins [and] always intended to be on the periphery” had advantages in facilitating “the mission of love, reconciliation, justice and the spread of the Kingdom of God.” Women of faith discovered that inhabiting the margins empowered them to “cross boundaries and sabotage establishments.”</p> <p>These women belonged to churches with long histories of silencing them. Their conditioned tendencies toward self-effacement, getting on with the job at hand, and doing what needed to be done with no thought of self-promotion or posterity further facilitated their erasure. This silencing was compounded by the long-entrenched male tradition in Northern Ireland of marginalising women. Above all, the context of the conflict demanded silence because of the suspicion and mistrust that permeated communities, a fear of the ‘other’ and also of your own side, and the danger that reaching out could designate you as part of the ‘enemy within.’ Yet reaching out was precisely what women of faith did best.</p> <p>The research to date indicates that their interventions were critical in breaking the deadlock when the peace talks descended into familiar patterns of each side blaming the other and the process going nowhere. Women were acutely conscious of how ‘going nowhere’ meant more suffering and more grief for people who were already worn down and beleaguered. They were unafraid of expressing what this meant in uncompromising, human terms that left no doubt about the irreparable damage done to communities, the lives destroyed, and the horror and hurt felt by everybody.</p> <p>The seminar conversations about the secret talks revealed that women of faith brought an element of raw emotion into the room that helped to facilitate a break-through, whereby the meetings shifted from attributing blame to sharing pain. This became a common feature that helped each side to understand the other, and to reinforce what all sides already knew—that for the sake of everyone the conflict had to stop.</p> <p>This is as true of the future as the past. For the sake of all, the voices of women of faith and other marginalised groups must be heard in any discussions about the future of Northern Ireland. It is time&nbsp;to&nbsp;break the silence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/margaret-ward/excluded-and-silenced-women-in-northern-ireland-after-peace-process">Excluded and silenced: Women in Northern Ireland after the peace process </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/fidelma-ashe/northern-ireland-progressive-lgbtq-inclusive-peace">Northern Ireland needs alternative visions of progressive, LGBTQ-inclusive peace</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/maia-duerr/can-religion-be-force-for-transformation">Can religion be a force for transformation?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Northern Ireland Dianne Kirby Love and Spirituality Tue, 10 Apr 2018 03:59:36 +0000 Dianne Kirby 116886 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Decolonizing birth https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sarah-sunshine-manning/decolonizing-birth <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Indigenous women are taking back their power as life-givers.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Sunshine.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">This portrait of Zintkala Mahpiya Win Blackowl and her daughter, Mni Wiconi, was created by Indigenous photographer Tomás Karmelo Amaya on Nov. 16, 2016, moments before a women’s meeting at Oceti Sakowin.&nbsp;Credit:&nbsp;Tomás Karmelo Amaya/YES! Magazine.</p> <p>Zintkala Mahpiya Win Blackowl didn’t plan to have her sixth baby in a tipi on the windy plains of North Dakota during a historic resistance. Thousands of people had gathered for months in camps sprawled along the northern borderlands of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to protest the Dakota Access pipeline. But Blackowl already knew that she would birth her babies outside of a hospital, in the comfort and safety of a sacred space.</p> <p>“So much of how women experience birth today has to do with how we are socialized,” says Blackowl, 36, whose first five children were born at home with the aid of certified and traditional Indigenous midwives. “We are told that you have to be hospitalized, that doctors know best, and that you can trust them with your life.”</p> <p>In August 2016, having traveled from her home in Ashland, Oregon, to the Sacred Stone Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation borderlands, she felt overwhelmed by the energy of the movement. Blackowl is Sicangu Lakota and Ihanktonwan Dakota, with origins and ancestral ties in the Dakotas, but she had spent most of her adult life in Oregon and Idaho. “I was pregnant, and I hadn’t been home [to the Dakotas] for 12 years,” she says, “but I saw that I was capable of coming to Standing Rock, and I had a responsibility to provide that support. It was about responsibility to my people.”</p> <p>When she returned to the resistance camps in the fall, Blackowl was in her third trimester. Early on Oct. 12, while everyone slept, she delivered her daughter alone in her tipi, not long after her husband left to get female relatives. The baby girl was born without complication and in perfect health. She was named Mni Wiconi, “Water of Life.”</p> <p>The arrival was a momentous event in the camps. But also in the larger Indigenous birth movement as Native American women take back their roles as life-givers and birth-workers and reclaim rights to their bodies, their traditions, and their birthing experiences. Interest is growing, from Indigenous certified nurse midwives—14 total, today, trained at the the American College of Nurse-Midwives—to mothers educating themselves and choosing to have unassisted births at home.</p> <p>Measuring the complexity and scale of this grassroots movement is impossible, but evidence is plentiful. The Facebook page Indigenous Midwifery was launched in December 2013 and has since grown to almost 10,000 followers. Several popular artworks honoring traditional birth and motherhood, most notably by ledger artist Wakeah Jhane of the Comanche, Blackfeet, and Kiowa tribes, have been exhibited at the Smithsonian and the Santa Fe Indian Market.</p> <p>Since the late 1800s, Native Americans’ lives largely have been dictated by federal government policies designed to stamp out traditions and create dependency on white institutions. Many traditions and ceremonies were outlawed, and families were separated as Native American children were forcibly removed from their homes to be placed in Indian boarding schools, where their language and culture were forbidden. Then, in 1955, the federal Indian Health Service was established to manage the health care of Native Americans. Birth became a medicalized affair and was, more often than not, directed by white male obstetricians.</p> <p>But that morning in Standing Rock, intersecting movements for Indigenous self-determination and human rights created the backdrop for an extraordinary traditional birth with women at the helm.</p> <p>“A lot of the time in hospitals, people don’t approach women in a way that says to them that they are the center of the birth, or in a way that gives the woman control,” says Nicolle Gonzales, 36, a Navajo nurse midwife from New Mexico who was nearby when Blackowl gave birth. “When a woman is birthing, it’s her space, and we have to honor that space. But nobody tells you that.”</p> <p>Gonzales traveled to Standing Rock to show solidarity and to help provide culturally responsive and respectful care for women at camp. While working as a nurse for two years in an IHS hospital in New Mexico, Gonzales recognized a need for better prenatal and birthing care for Indigenous women, and this inspired her to pursue training as a midwife.</p> <p>Gonzales is a mother of three and the founder and executive director of the Changing Woman Initiative, a nonprofit organization in Santa Fe working to renew Indigenous birth knowledge. The initiative is planning a culturally centered clinic and birth center committed to providing family-centered care where the woman is the decision-maker.</p> <p>“Indigenous midwifery is not a new thing,” Gonzales says. “It has always been here. We’re just beginning to bring those Indigenous perspectives forward again.”</p> <p>In the span of just a century on reservations, Indigenous women were stripped of their power as matriarchs, once foundational to their communities—as knowledge keepers, decision-makers, and birth workers. Native American communities overall had been threatened by genocidal government policies from the early colonies to the 1970s. At least 25 percent of Native American women who received care in IHS hospitals were involuntarily sterilized, according to a 2000 American Indian Quarterly report.</p> <p>But Indigenous women are trying to regain that power. Jodi Lynn Maracle, 33, a traditional doula from the Tyendinaga Mohawk nation, says the effort is fivefold. “We talk about reclaiming language, and ceremony, and tradition, but it’s also about reclaiming our bodies and our relationship to our bodies, especially as women.”</p> <p>Maracle is mother to a 3-year-old boy. She is a doula with training from the Seventh Generation Midwives in Toronto and from the Six Nations Birthing Centre. She is pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Buffalo in New York, centering her research on Haudenosaunee midwifery and birth work.</p> <p>“During the boarding school era, there weren’t many choices for Indigenous people,” Maracle says. “Today, there are so many choices. I think the empowerment is just in having people say that you have a choice.”</p> <p>Women who choose to have their babies in hospitals still have ways to incorporate traditions. Simple adjustments can be made during birth: singing traditional songs; facing the bed toward the east, where the sun rises; squatting versus lying down; or cleansing the area with sage or other traditional medicines. The key is for women to ask a lot of questions and to educate themselves as much as possible about their options before, during, and after birth.</p> <p>Yet reaching back to traditions, or decolonizing birth, is not so straightforward in many Indigenous communities. Some tribes have fewer teachings intact today, and it may not be as simple as asking an elder. Women may have to consult historical records or reach out to sister tribes, and above all, re-establish a relationship with their bodies and intuitive power as women.</p> <p>After the births of each of her children, Blackowl chose to root her newborn babies to the physical world by burying their placentas in the ground—a tradition tied to Lakota/Dakota birth. During the Standing Rock resistance, Blackowl buried the placenta that nurtured Mni Wiconi near the place of her birth, at the height of a movement for Indigenous self-determination.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/decolonize/decolonizing-birth-women-take-back-their-power-as-life-givers-20180305?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180309&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180309+CID_25d7f264a4aecad6f740d55ac868995c&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=Decolonizing">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chelsea-macmillan/living-prayer-at-standing-rock">Living prayer at Standing Rock</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/fearless-collective/we-protest-by-creating-beauty">We protest by creating beauty</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-hendrick/love-and-reason-how-should-we-raise-our-children">Love and reason: how should we raise our children?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Sarah Sunshine Manning Activism Care Culture Love and Spirituality Thu, 29 Mar 2018 19:42:13 +0000 Sarah Sunshine Manning 116631 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the Glasscos: lesbian foster parents in America’s Bible Belt https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/katherine-webb-hehn/meet-glasscos-lesbian-foster-parents-in-america-s-bible-belt <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Alabama, religiously-affiliated private adoption agencies can legally discriminate against same-sex couples, but the law may be having the opposite effect.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Chelsey and Bailey Glassco in front of their new home in Childersburg, Alabama, where they’re raising a foster son. Photo by the author.</p><p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/meet-the-glasscos-lesbian-foster-parents-in-the-bible-belt/">Scalawag</a>.</em></p> <p>Childersburg is a typical river town in Alabama: tackle shops, Waffle House, a Piggly Wiggly. Near the Glassco house, a Cajun restaurant called Bigman’s serves grilled gator and BBQ.</p> <p>But the Glasscos aren’t exactly the typical Childersburg family, because, as they’d say, of the whole lesbian thing.</p> <p>When I meet Chelsey and Bailey Glassco on a Wednesday afternoon in their new home in a neighborhood called Pleasant Valley, they’re a few weeks into the semester at the private Christian Academy where they’re both teachers, and their foster son, Jay (that’s not his real name), is in first grade. Bailey teaches high school English. Chelsey teaches music and Spanish to the younger grades. They welcome me inside still buttoned-up from the day, preppy: slacks, loafers, dress shirts.</p> <p>The house is buzzing with new home-owner energy: Jay is bouncing between his two dogs and us, asking if I’d like to see his room, if I’d like to play, if I’d like to eat ice cream with him. Chelsey is apologizing for the move-in mess and shuffling the dogs back into the yard. Bailey, who grew up, as she says, “in the wilderness” near Sand Mountain, Alabama, is on the phone giving directions to a social worker from their adoption agency, Ashley Douthard, by offering local, posted road names instead of state-issued monikers on maps. I get the feeling Bailey can rebuild engines while quoting Eudora Welty. (On the way to their house, when I got lost, too, and called for help, she told me, “Turn back and hang a right at the little pew-jumping church.” When I laughed, she added, “That’s not a judgment. Just a description.”)</p> <p>They’re only the second owners of the property, a midcentury fixer-upper on 3.7 acres. Signs of the couple who built the house half a century ago are everywhere: a wheelchair ramp off the back deck, a glass collection carefully stacked in the butler pantry. Everything is a little worn-in from age but full of potential.</p> <p>When I ask to go to the bathroom, Chelsey takes me down the hall, following me to point out the ‘50s-era ceramic work. We’ve known one another two minutes, and we’re admiring tiling around a toilet together. A dentist’s daughter from Bonifay, Florida, who grew up singing in an Assembly of God church, Chelsey speaks like the talky tracks of Loretta Lynn records, sweetly Southern, bitingly witty. Back in the living room, Jay dashes outside and we stand amid empty boxes, watching their boy through a bank of west-facing windows.</p> <p>Jay trots up the grassy slope of his new backyard in boots and a yellow T-shirt, waving a stick toward the sky, two dogs trailing behind. The whole scene is downright Norman Rockwell-ish.</p> <p>The irony of being in a neighborhood called Pleasant Valley hits me when Chelsey cuts the chitchat to tell me Jay has had a hard week, and I remember why I’m here.</p> <p>In May, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed&nbsp;<a href="https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/alabama/articles/2017-05-03/ivey-signs-bill-letting-adoption-groups-turn-away-gays" target="_blank">HB24 into law</a>, protecting adoption agencies when they deem parents unfit on the basis of religious beliefs. I’m here because the law means religious-affiliated private adoption agencies can now legally discriminate against same-sex couples like the Glasscos.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Bailey Glassco and her dogs in the back plot of her 3.7-acre home. Glassco is trying to legally adopt her foster son with her wife, Chelsey. Photo by the author.</p><p>Jay has a condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder.</p><p>When the Glasscos met Jay, his family had been in the system for two years, and he’d cycled through multiple placements. He was underweight. He was balding. His skin itched nonstop from stress-induced psoriasis and eczema. “He’s constantly telling us he’s afraid he’s not going to be fed,” Bailey says.</p><p>Common in children raised in orphanages or environments of neglect, Bailey describes RAD as a wiring malfunction that happens when a young child is forced to self-soothe in moments when they need to be cuddled or fed. The result can be a lifelong struggle with relationships.</p><p>The Glasscos work with Jay each day on understanding boundaries and establishing appropriate trust. He sees a therapist. He takes medicine. They receive weekly support from Douthard, the social worker. They’re waiting on a special, weighted vest to arrive in the mail, a garment that’s supposed to help comfort Jay when they physically can’t hold and calm him.</p><p>Today, Douthard is coming for an emergency visit. As a therapeutic social worker for the foster and adoption agency working with the Glasscos (they asked we not name the agency to protect Jay’s privacy), Douthard offers weekly check-in sessions to families fostering children like Jay who are undergoing medical treatment for psychological or behavioral disorders.</p><p>Going to school has been challenging for Jay, navigating the social landscape, and to cope, he’s been hitting himself and his classmates. Violence is common in RAD kids. As they begin to make attachments, something in their brain fires off a warning, and they lash out. Without treatment, this behavior can continue into adulthood with potentially horrific results. To give a point of reference for the difference between a child who does or doesn’t receive help, Chelsey names two famous examples of people with RAD, “You could be Helen Keller or Ted Bundy.”</p><p>The frustrating part to Chelsey is that RAD is 100 percent preventable, but once kids have the disorder, they have it for life. She says Jay’s biological family struggled to meet his basic needs. “It’s a really sad situation,” Chelsey says. “Everybody and their mama, no pun intended, had been abused in [Jay’s] family.” Because the Glasscos will be in court soon, they can’t offer details publicly of Jay’s history.</p><p>I spoke to other foster parents for this story who were also in the middle of court proceedings and didn’t want their names to be public. Many of those foster kids came from families where no one has a job or a car to get to a job, where multiple generations suffer from drug addiction, and where state intervention is common. Finding family members to offer these children safer homes can be difficult.</p><p>Jay has lived with the Glasscos for six months. It’s the longest he’s lived anywhere. “When we hit the three-month mark,” Bailey says, “he started to ask if he was staying with us. His internal clock knew it was time to be moved to another foster home.”</p><p>Outside, Jay is running, hollering down to us that he’s “supah fast.” His white athletic socks are poking out of the tops of his boots, and it’s the sight of those socks that kills me. My own son is 16 months old. I think about all the socks he’s tossed off in the car, the grocery store, wherever. Hundreds of times a day he needs me or my husband to hold him, to help him. I can’t even think about Jay when he was a baby.</p><p>When I ask if this is how the Glasscos envisioned parenthood, Chelsey says they think about having a baby—“Bailey has always wanted to be pregnant. I’d love to plan four hospital routes and be the one going ‘you can do this!’”—but every time they’ve seriously considered it, another kid has needed them. They met their first foster kid when she was in high school and living in a group home. “[She] was going to have to be housed back with her mother who was a drug dealer. And she didn’t have another option,” Chelsey says. “So we got certified.”</p><p>But the Glasscos say they were denied by a dozen adoption agencies before finding one willing to work with a same-sex couple—all prior to the passing of HB24. Chelsey drops into a snooty voice, joking, “We were like, ‘We don’t want to work with you guys anyways.’” Bailey says they didn’t worry about the other agencies, and never considered legal action, focusing instead on helping their foster teen transition to adulthood, figure out how to get job, a car, an apartment. She lived with them until she turned 18 and got her own apartment.</p><p>“We have a soft spot for that age, because we were so vulnerable during that time,” Chelsey says. When Chelsey and Bailey themselves were entering adulthood, they were homeless.</p><p>They met at a small all-women’s Baptist College, where Bailey was a star on the volleyball team and Chelsey sang in Sunday services. (Even though Chelsey came out at 15, she wanted a challenging academic environment where she could better explore religion. Her folks wanted her to be a Christian singer. “Like Amy Grant?” I ask, half-kidding. “Exactly. Actually, she was my first crush,” she says.)</p><p>When they made their relationship public, their families launched campaigns to pray them straight. The congregation of Chelsey’s church back in Bonifay began calling and sending letters. Bailey’s family contacted teachers and administrators at their school. Certain administrators at the university contacted ministers at churches where Chelsey sang, worried she might have spread propaganda like rainbow flags.</p><p>“We’re some potent gay,” Bailey jokes.</p><p>By the time they graduated, they didn’t have anywhere to go. They lost contact with nearly everyone, from youth group buddies to their own brothers.</p><p>“Our families were basically like goodbye and good luck,” Chelsey says. A handful of people they met—through churches—helped them get on their feet but things still weren’t easy. They lost teaching jobs when a board member at a school didn’t want lesbians on staff, so they moved to a new town and took jobs at Olive Garden and Firehouse Subs until finding the school where they now teach.</p><p>Jay pops in to ask for water. He pants like the dog at his hip to show us how hard he’s been playing.</p><p>I realize I haven’t asked how old they are (Bailey’s 28, Chesley’s 27) or how long they’ve been married (seven years). “That’s our numerical age,” Bailey says, “but we say it’s about the mileage.”</p><p>Now, Chelsey says they’re visiting an LGBT-affirming church in Birmingham, where they’ve found a preacher willing to be a male mentor for Jay, and where he can grow up in “a village” like they did. Even though her old congregation no longer serves as her support system, Chelsey says, growing up, there were “16 people I could have called if I needed something. Foster kids don’t have that. That’s the reason they’re in foster care.”</p><p>When Douthard arrives, I wander around a bit, tagging along for a tour of the house before heading to the backyard to pet the dogs and stay out of the way. Jay is telling the social worker about mowing the lawn, how his moms are going to let him do it someday but first he has to master picking up sticks, and I see Chelsey and Bailey reach for one another’s hand. I know that reach, that moment you need to connect with your partner to say, “Maybe we’re doing something right.”</p><p>I wonder how things would be different for the Glasscos if they’d been embraced instead of excommunicated from their families. Would they still have Jay? If not, where would he be?</p><p>Here’s the thing: Chelsey and Bailey didn’t choose Jay. They signed up to be foster parents to any child in need. When things get too difficult, as foster parents, the Glasscos have the option to ask for respite or terminate their time with him. It happens. Families don’t click. A child presents too great of challenges, or as with Jay, a foster child changes the family’s option to have other children.</p><p>But next week, the Glasscos will have their first meeting to begin the arduous legal process determining what is best for Jay’s future, either reunification with a family member or adoption into the Glassco home.</p><p>The cicadas start their nightly hum as the Glasscos tell the social worker about their renovation plans, where the vegetable garden will go next spring, how they’d met most of the neighbors already. I wonder how people could see this—the Glassco home—as dangerous.</p><p>It’s not like people are fighting over foster children. We have more children seeking homes in Alabama than families seeking children. The latest report from&nbsp;<a href="http://dhr.alabama.gov/documents/Monthly_Stats/2017/STAT0617.pdf" target="_blank">Alabama Department of Human Resources</a>&nbsp;showed 6,028 children were in custody of the department at the end of June 2017. One lawyer I interviewed said 1,000 of those children are in need of new homes.</p><p>&nbsp;So, what’s our hope, or responsibility, for kids like Jay?</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">A portrait of the Glasscos by their son, Jay, gifted to the author. Photo by the author.</p><p>There’s a narrative we’re asked to believe in the discussion surrounding same-sex adoption: A great battle exists between Christians and queers. If you are of the opinion that exposure to an LGBT lifestyle might turn children queer and therefore land them in eternal damnation then I’m not sure harm on earth has much argumentative power. But everyone I spoke to for this story, most of whom identify as queer, made a point to tell me they identify as Christian, too. Beyond a battle over the role of religion as it pertains to government, in Alabama, a law like HB24 is a battle over interpretations of Christianity.</p><p>As Reverend Jennifer Sanders put it, “The role of the government is to prevent harm. Now, it’s all about how you define harm. I think that’s what we’re arguing over.”</p><p>Sanders is one of 70 faith leaders who opposed HB24. The week before I came to Childersburg, I met Sanders at a café next door to Beloved Community Church in Birmingham, where she said she leads a congregation as active in social justice efforts as they are in Sunday worship. Sanders is a Christian liberation theologian, a lesbian, and a mom. She says she’s less interested in the outcome of this particular law than she is the liberation of the world from mankind’s harm. To her, the LGBT adoption battle matters only if lost. If won, it’s just a step toward equality in an inherently unjust system.</p><p>When I asked her how she entered conversations with conservative Christian ministers and policymakers, she said conversation doesn’t go far. “There tends to be a fair amount of smug disregard because people will treat you politely but that’s because they know they have the power, and your own power is curtailed by the structure.”</p><p>I tell Sanders about a moment in<a href="https://www.alabamaboundfilm.com/" target="_blank">&nbsp;Alabama Bound</a>, a film that follows lesbians in the state as they advocate for marriage equality prior to&nbsp;Obergefell v. Hodges, when the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across the country. I’d seen the film’s premiere a few weekends before at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham. There’s a scene where openly gay Representative Patricia Todd is preparing for a pro-LGBT vote on the Montgomery Capitol floor, and GOP Representative Barry Moore walks up to her, gives her an awkward back-patting, side-hug and says something like: “You know I love you, girl, got all the respect in the world for you, but this ain’t gonna happen.”</p><p>&nbsp;The scene sums up the dynamic when it comes to marginalized groups gaining rights: Love ya. Ain’t happening.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Rev. Jennifer Sanders believes the fight for LGBT adoption only matters if it’s lost. Photo by the author.</p><p>In Alabama, White, evangelical, Republican men hold the power.</p><p>Alabama lawmakers pushed hard for HB24, placing duplicates in the House and Senate, sponsored by Representative Rich Wingo and State Senator Bill Hightower, respectively. Neither agreed to an interview for this story. Even though both have told the press the law isn’t about denying LGBT couples the right to adopt,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.npr.org/2017/02/26/515585721/lgbtq-advocates-fear-religious-freedom-bills-moving-forward-in-states" target="_blank">Wingo told NPR</a>that other states have seen religious organizations close their doors instead of working with same-sex couples. The burden on the state, he said, would be overwhelming if Alabama’s private, religious agencies shuttered. But no Alabama agency has publicly announced it would shutter. I attempted to contact Wingo multiple times over several months for this story, and didn’t hear back from his office.</p><p>Even though Wingo is credited for the law’s success, the reality is this law is one of many in a recent batch of so-called “religious freedom” bills strategically&nbsp;<a href="https://www.npr.org/2017/02/26/515585721/lgbtq-advocates-fear-religious-freedom-bills-moving-forward-in-states" target="_blank">popping up</a> all over the country, backed by well-funded right wing groups. By passing HB24, Alabama joined Michigan, Virginia, and the Dakotas, where Republicans have approved related religious freedom bills. Even the name of the law—the Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act—is strategic. (Still,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/new-alabama-gov-to-sign-law-protecting-religious-freedom-of-adoption-agenci" target="_blank">Conservative news outlets</a> celebrated the law as a victory in efforts to discriminate against LGBT couples.)</p><p>The law is particularly problematic, according to Eva Kendrick, the Human Rights Campaign Alabama State Director, when you consider LGBT minors are more likely to be in the foster system than their hetero or cisgendered peers, and LGBT couples are four times more likely to raise adopted kids and six times more likely to raise foster children than hetero couples, according to nonpartisan studies, like the 2014 report released by the&nbsp;<a href="https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/press-releases/new-study-sheds-light-on-problems-facing-lgbtq-youth-experiencing-homelessness/" target="_blank">Williams Institute</a>.</p><p>Kendrick, who fosters a baby with her wife, says only two adoption agencies supported the bill while nearly 70 faith leaders signed a letter in opposition. Because you have to be legally married for one year before you can adopt in Alabama, and adoption only recently became legal for gay and lesbian couples in the state, she says the law is mostly just causing confusion over who will or won’t work with them.</p><p>I tried to contact religious adoption agencies all over the state to ask about their policies on same-sex adoption. No one has returned my calls or emails. But Kendrick works with agencies statewide, and she said the attention the law is receiving has actually been a boon for same-sex adoption training. HRC has seen a spike in collaborative requests, and Kendrick said she’s trained more than 250 social workers in LGBT adoption courses. So the law may be having the opposite effect of Wingo’s intentions.</p><p>But even though same-sex couples have agencies to choose from when adopting, problems with the law still arise during family reunification for foster kids, according to Kendrick. Here’s an example: I spoke to Tony Christon-Walker, the Director of Prevention and Community Partnerships at AIDS Alabama, who worried he’d be denied parental rights when his half-sister lost custody of her son, Maurice. His sister asked Christon-Walker to adopt the boy. Christon-Walker, 50, is gay and HIV positive. A judge in Birmingham granted him parental rights, but if Maurice had been under the care of a private religious organization in Alabama instead, then under this new law, Christon-Walker could have been denied and would have no legal action to keep Maurice in the family.</p><p> The reality is, right now, no one really knows how this law will or won’t play out in court. I read&nbsp;<a href="https://legiscan.com/AL/bill/HB24/2017" target="_blank">the bill and its amendments</a>&nbsp;a dozen times until I began to feel the way you do when you repeat a word aloud until it loses meaning.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Tony Christon-Walker with his husband and their adopted son, Maurice. Under new Alabama law, same-sex couples like the Christon-Walkers might not be able to adopt children from their own families. Photo courtesy of the author.</p><p>As written, HB24 protects privately-funded adoption agencies in Alabama when they turn away parents based on “closely held religious beliefs.” That vernacular vagueness is confusing even to practitioners in the legal system; several lawyers told me they weren’t comfortable offering a definitive explication of the law’s application for this story. One lawyer, Shane T. Smith, cut to the core of what’s so confusing: “While I respect everyone’s closely held religious beliefs,” he said, “I know a lot of Christians who are fine with people who are divorced. I know some Christians who won’t associate with people who are divorced. It’s not just a lesbian or gay thing; it’s whatever they deem to be sinful or wrong in their doctrine.”</p><p>Hypotheticals run rampant: Could Catholics deny an adoptive parent who was previously divorced? Could Baptists deny the unbaptized? Could Wiccans deny worshippers of Sun Ra? If these religious groups meet the criteria for protection—owning and operating a privately-funded, state-licensed adoption agency in Alabama—then, in theory, they sure could.</p><p>But in all the confusion over what HB24 means for gay families, who can and cannot adopt and from which agencies, it can feel like the kids themselves get lost in the mix. And what are the consequences if kids like Jay spend more time, possibly their entire childhoods, in group homes or transitional housing?</p><p>For a lot of kids, that life leads to higher instances of traumatic childhood events, which psychological studies show can affect everything from earning power to emotional well-being. Christon-Walker and his son serve as an example here, too. He said Maurice was believed to have an IQ of 69 while in foster care. He’s thankful the judge in Birmingham “believes in family,” because today, Maurice is a well-adjusted kid thriving at a Birmingham private school. He likes to joke with other kids by asking them where their second daddies are.</p><p>When I asked Christon-Walker where Maurice would be if he hadn’t been able to adopt him, he started to cry. “I don’t even want to think about it.”</p><p>At the Glasscos, we’re all out back with Jay now, the sun setting over the hills.</p><p>The social worker has wrapped up her visit, and I finally ask them about the law.</p><p>“This law is a protection for the majority, for a group who doesn’t need protection,” Bailey says. I tell her about what I’d heard from people in Birmingham, about progressive change, open-minded judges, and welcoming adoption agencies. I tell them what Eva Kendrick of HRC (who introduced me to the Glasscos) said about the increase in training for LGBT adoption.</p><p>“It’s easy to say the law is not going to change anything for the worse. But how can you predict that?” Bailey wonders. “This month, they’re feeling gay friendly. Let’s say Mr. So and So, who usually puts foster care in the homes of gay couples, goes home and his wife just read an article about some pedophile and how he had boyfriends or whatever, and he says we’re not dealing with gay people anymore. Things won’t change immediately, but it just takes one person.”</p><p>They’re worried groups that have been quietly working with LGBT couples will suddenly have board members wondering what their same-sex policies are. Chelsey does an imitation of an evangelical adoption director: “Hey, y’all! Welcome! Thanks for coming to the back door!”</p><p>“Now they might close the back door,” Bailey says.</p><p>Chelsey says right now, they’re more interested in making inroads with their families than lawmakers. A few years back, they reconciled with Bailey’s brother’s family. Since Jay came into their lives, Chelsey says her parents are more receptive to a relationship with Chelsey and Bailey (before they were only comfortable seeing their daughter without her wife).</p><p>Jay is on the deck below, out of earshot, playing with the dog who licks him chin to forehead.</p><p>“Ugh. He’s so stinking cute,” Chelsey says. “It makes me want to shake his parents. We see all the potential.”</p><p>“Sometimes we think he’s a baby, then he’ll sweep the floor,” Bailey says. “I mean, where the heck did that come from? You can’t button your daggum britches, son.”</p><p>The Glasscos are hopeful they will be able to adopt Jay. “The guardian ad litem, social workers, psychiatrist are working tirelessly to assure he ends up in a safe and healthy home,” Chelsey says.</p><p>“There’s always a chance the parents wake up, have an epiphany, go out and get a job and start making good choices.” If that does happen, and his parents are able to offer Jay a healthy environment, the Glasscos say they’ll be heartbroken but also unburdened. Chelsey says they have to trust the doctors who tell them long-term care will bring Jay healing. “We keep thinking… about when he’s 18, and he’s an amazing young man going to be a teacher or a doctor or joining the military,” Chelsey says.</p><p>“Or going to be a plumber! Or an electrician or anything that contributes to society,” Bailey says. “Or a football player, a third string kicker who rides the bench and sets us up for life!” They laugh. Jay offers a not-so-subtle hint it’s time we wrap up our conversation and his moms get dinner going: “I smell pizza!”</p><p>As I’m leaving, Jay pulls a drawing from his pocket and offers it to me as a gift. I ask him to describe the scene, and he tells me it’s him and his moms cleaning up the yard while the dogs play.</p><p>One side of the house in bathed in light. The other in darkness. Jay says he’s afraid to go in the dark, but his moms are brave.</p><p>They aren’t afraid, he says, and someday, he won’t be either.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jasmine-aguilera/inside-texas-megachurch-where-90-percent-of-worshipers-are-lgbt">Inside the Texas megachurch where 90 percent of worshipers are LGBT</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-blain/why-is-american-left-so-prejudiced-about-south">Why is the American left so prejudiced about the South? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Katherine Webb-Hehn Care Culture Love and Spirituality Thu, 08 Mar 2018 20:35:08 +0000 Katherine Webb-Hehn 115984 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why positive thinking isn’t neoliberal https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sonja-avlijas/why-positive-thinking-isn-t-neoliberal <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>By discouraging the use of powerful self-healing and self-development tools we may weaken those who are already disempowered.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Sonja Aviljas2.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/think-positive-optimism-plus-yes-2661191/">Pixabay/Geralt</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p><p class="p1">There is nothing inherently neoliberal about ‘positive thinking’. But neoliberal capitalism is very good at co-opting everything that goes against it, repackaging it and re-selling it for a profit. This is how positive thinking became a recipe for attaining personal success and riches instead of a tool for social transformation.&nbsp;We now need to reclaim it.</p> <p class="p1"><a href="https://www.powerofpositivity.com/10-positive-thinking-books-change-your-life/">Some advocates of positive thinking</a> tell us that an optimistic attitude can take us far. With the right mind-set and enough self-love, anything is possible, so the story goes. Even the least privileged person can accumulate sufficient emotional and psychological strength to confront the cruelties of capitalism, <a href="https://leanin.org/book/">‘lean in’</a> and succeed despite the odds. Your thoughts are your destiny. You need only buy enough self-help books to show you the way to self-realisation.</p> <p class="p1"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chloe-king/dangers-of-radical-selflove">Critics of this approach are furious</a>. They argue that the positive thinking movement is a western, white, middle-class phenomenon which serves to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/may/09/oprah-winfrey-neoliberal-capitalist-thinkers">justify rampant inequality</a>, racism, sexism, and all the other obstacles that people face in modern capitalist societies. They also believe that it feeds neoliberal capitalism and helps it to thrive, because it distracts people from their socio-economic reality by making them believe that their biggest problem in life is their own mental attitude. The underlying message is clear: if you are failing, then it must be your fault. Next time, try harder.</p> <p class="p1">To me, this debate is rooted in an illogical and artificial choice between working on our emotional and spiritual strength and well-being—following which we will somehow become happier and more accepting of the system which is organised to exploit and oppress us; or not working on our emotional wellbeing, and thus feeling even more miserable, disempowered and unable to change things for the better.</p> <p class="p1">In the first scenario, we are blamed for enabling further oppression, both of ourselves and others. In the second we are so exhausted from our daily frustrations and negative emotions that we don’t have the time or energy to work for social transformation.&nbsp;This kind of false binary thinking is unnecessary and unhelpful. But is there a better way forward?</p> <p class="p1">Many western interpretations of eastern thought—which seems to be where many ideas about positive thinking come from—tell us that our minds project the worlds we live in. This implies that people get what they deserve, whether this is due to the content of their conscious or subconscious thoughts. These same interpretations also tell us that we need to accept the world as it is in order to become truly happy and lead a fulfilling life.</p> <p class="p1">As a social scientist and an activist devoted to social transformation, I found such an interpretation of eastern thought unacceptable, but had no clue how to think about it differently. Friends also confessed to me that they were afraid to take up meditation as a wellbeing practice because they thought it would make them accept the status quo, while they really believed in social change.</p> <p class="p1">So as a meditation practitioner I was faced with a moral dilemma. Was I really encouraging the status quo by continuing my practice? Then I discovered initiatives such as <a href="http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/spirituality-reinforce-oppression-and-racism/">Decolonising Yoga</a> which discuss how spiritual thought and practice can reinforce oppression and racism. They made me realise that I was not alone in my discomfort towards the idea of <em>acceptance</em> that is so often associated with spirituality and positive thinking. This was encouraging, so I continued my exploration.</p> <p class="p1">Then I suddenly put all the pieces of the puzzle together while watching <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1877514/">a documentary series</a> on Vietnam in which a number of Buddhist monks, and most notably <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C3%ADch_Qu%E1%BA%A3ng_%C4%90%E1%BB%A9c">Thích Quảng Đức</a>, were shown burning themselves alive during the 1960s in acts of political protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the American-backed South Vietnamese government of the time. Why would Buddhist <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_self-immolations">monks self-immolate for political reasons</a> in Vietnam, or elsewhere, if eastern thought was telling us that our minds were solely responsible for our circumstances?</p> <p class="p1">Wasn’t eastern thought supposed to be about accepting the world as it was? If these monks were willing to die for social change after devoting their entire lives to the spiritual practice of <em>acceptance</em>, there must be something terribly wrong with the western, capitalism-infused interpretation of that word.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">As spiritually developed as these monks were, they were still living in the war-torn Vietnam of the 1960s. War was a fact, just as I will always be an Eastern European woman and my passport and accent will sometimes speak louder than my words, however much I build my own emotional strength and capacity to generate positive thoughts.&nbsp; Oppressive power structures are tangible indeed. But there is also a plethora of <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/sara_lazar/home">scientific evidence</a> to show that our thoughts influence both our internal and external realities. &nbsp;How can we reconcile these different perspectives?</p> <p class="p1">The idea that we are able to influence some but not all aspects of our existence can even be explained within the framework of eastern spiritual thought, with a little help from the ‘<a href="http://www.cgjungcenter.org/clinical-services/what-is-depth-psychology/">depth psychology’</a> of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung">Carl Jung</a>. Jung’s work tells us that, in addition to the personal conscious and unconscious elements of the psyche, there is also a collective component, a supra-structure of our collective (or transpersonal) unconscious. This is the key difference between Jung and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud">Sigmund Freud</a>, and the reason for the professional rupture between the two psychiatrists.</p> <p class="p1">Freud did not believe in the collective component of the psyche but Jung did, and consequently saw the whole of humanity as psychologically interconnected, similar to much of eastern and indigenous thought. If we inject Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious into the idea that the world is a projection of our minds, then we can begin to accommodate the possibility that the oppressive structures of inequality that we experience in daily life reflect our collective unconscious, which we can’t affect simply by changing our own individual thoughts.</p> <p class="p1">However, even if those thoughts are just a drop in the ocean of the collective unconscious, positive thinking at the personal level remains a powerful input for social transformation. And the more of us do it, the more difference we can make. Through my personal practice, I have learned that negative thoughts and emotions tend to paralyse me, and make me less likely to do anything about my situation. But once I manage to clear my head through meditation or other methods like playing the guitar, I feel re-energised, and more willing to engage with the problems of my community and the wider world.</p> <p class="p1">Consequently, I’ve concluded that for me, <em>acceptance</em> is about learning how to liberate myself from the emotional burden of paralysing stress, sadness or anger so that I can be more, not less socially pro-active. This is what I think of as ‘positive thinking.’ It may not make me rich and famous, but it does give me more energy to fight for the causes I believe in, which in turn gives more meaning to my existence. It also makes me more accepting of my own limitations when I fail to perform according to my expectations, which reduces my overall anxiety and makes me more optimistic and pro-active in the longer run.</p> <p class="p1">Therefore, <em>acceptance</em> has nothing to do with becoming indifferent to suffering. On the contrary, it allows us to act on suffering more effectively. Even though neoliberal capitalism has co-opted resilience and positive thinking as consumer goods which it can sell as quick recipes for success, we don’t need to ‘throw out the baby with the bathwater.’</p> <p class="p1">By rejecting the idea of positive thinking and discouraging the use of powerful self-healing tools such as meditation we are actually reinforcing the disempowerment of those who are already socially and economically marginalised. We should be able to see through this hoax and together reclaim positive thinking in the name of social transformation.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chloe-king/dangers-of-radical-selflove">The dangers of radical self-love</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/alessandra-pigni/no-you-can%E2%80%99t-%E2%80%98be-change%E2%80%99-alone">No, you can’t ‘be the change’ alone</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sonja-avlijas/why-we-should-embrace-good-bad-and-ugly">Why we should embrace the good, the bad and the ugly</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Sonja Avlijas Activism Culture Love and Spirituality Sun, 25 Feb 2018 21:28:14 +0000 Sonja Avlijas 116163 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Walking the path of love https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/matt-hopwood/walking-path-of-love <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Default">Small acts of love have the potential to join together to create a more compassionate society.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Default"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Matthopwood2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/book-heart-love-grains-sand-sea-2115176/">Pixabay/Marysse93</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p class="Default">Back in 2011 when I was trying to find my way and find more meaning and purpose in my life, I contacted <a href="http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/">Alastair McIntosh</a>, the great Scottish human ecologist and theologian. I told him what I wanted to do and asked for his advice. His reply was simple and to the point: “Matthew,’ he said, “it doesn't really matter what path you walk, what matters is the heart you walk it in.” His response liberated me, because I understood that my activism could find its expression in the process and not just the end result.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Default">So I set off on a series of journeys through the United Kingdom and beyond to listen to and share as many love stories as I could, seeing love as the root of human connection and authentic social action. The results have been captured in an interactive website called <em><a href="http://www.ahumanlovestory.com/">A Human Love Story</a>, </em>and now in <a href="https://www.birlinn.co.uk/A-Human-Love-Story.html">a new book</a>. During the last seven years I have told and retold my own love stories to strangers, on the path, in the streets, towns and villages I’ve passed through. And in those exchanges I’ve sought to create safe spaces where people can be heard, where they can speak their stories and have an opportunity to open up and to be vulnerable.</p> <p class="Default">I’ve come to think of this as ‘heart-led activism’ or compassionate practice in the world, rooted in the conviction that deep listening is one of the most profoundly loving gifts we can offer someone.&nbsp; When carried out authentically it represents love made and love given. When I talk about deep listening I mean a practice in which the listener is fully present in that moment with another human being without any judgement—an open and compassionate space where connection and understanding can take root.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Default">For me this is a form of activism on an individual level that can cultivate change on a wider societal and cultural scale. To undertake the simplest of tasks with the right intention can contribute to an emerging web of similar actions with and by others. In isolation these actions may seem fruitless, but in a wider context they have the power to embed more compassionate discourses and actions deep into our behaviour. A psycho-analyst friend of mine based in Paris talks of “chipping away in your corner.” Like the ripples that emanate from a pebble dropped in water, compassionate understanding and loving interaction can spread across society and its institutions—which leads me to my most recent journey with <em>A Human Love Story</em>.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Default">In the spring of 2017 I walked some 500 miles through Scotland, from Lindisfarne in the North Eastern corner of England to the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis, far out in the Atlantic Ocean.&nbsp; During this journey I met with hundreds of people and we shared our stories. In Edinburgh I met with a group of volunteers at the <em><a href="http://www.thewelcoming.org/?doing_wp_cron=1518364006.7482419013977050781250">Welcoming Association</a></em>, which provides education, support and nurturing to refugees, migrants and other newcomers to Scotland. They offer understanding, hospitality and community to many young people and adults trying to create a new life for themselves in Edinburgh.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Default">The care and love I observed in these interactions was both inspiring and humbling.&nbsp; On countless occasions during my walk I was offered a bed for the night, food for my journey and connections further along the path; small acts of kindness that required courage, heart, and openness towards a stranger. I met with a group called the <em>Afterwards Community</em> in Bathgate (a town in West Lothian), who support each other emotionally as they go through profound changes in their lives.&nbsp; Recognition, storytelling, food and hugs all help to create a supportive framework of love and kindness.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Default">I talked with people who helped to build allotments, digging the soil and nurturing others in that process. I received smiles on the road and nods of acknowledgement; powerful gestures of welcome. On another occasion I found myself talking to a young lady from Spain who was living in Scotland. Her love story began on a beach in Greece, where as a volunteer she spent the night waiting for refugees to arrive from their crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. During those hours of darkness she fell into conversation with a fellow volunteer, and a passionate romance was ignited.&nbsp; Hers was a fiery and visceral love story, but what struck me more was the situation in which it was initiated—waiting on a beach to help strangers find a welcome; a powerful act of compassionate activism and a love story in itself.</p> <p class="Default">For me, all these acts of compassion require an outward-looking perspective. Our gaze is directed beyond ourselves and into our living and waking communal experiences. Like listening and sharing, they build a framework of existence that is inter-dependent. In this approach, the ego is perhaps tucked away a little. My partner often quotes these words from a <a href="https://genius.com/Nat-king-cole-nature-boy-lyrics">Nat King Cole song</a>: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” For me, this is such a poignant statement because it reaches out beyond the individual, beyond our own desire and longing for love. It expresses the essential character of loving interaction, which is the dynamic response from all those involved.</p> <p class="Default">The simple things each person does in relationship to themselves, to others, and to the wider world are opportunities to walk a more compassionate path. For me, being fully conscious in my interactions with other people is the most profound way to walk this path. Small acts of love have the potential to join together and create a more compassionate society.</p> <p class="Default">We all journey in our different ways.&nbsp; And though we have destinations and goals, and markers along the way, it is the journey itself that is important.&nbsp; How we move through our lives, the connections we make, the intentions we set, and the love we offer ourselves, others and this beautiful world is our greatest potential gift. Because in the end, it doesn’t matter what path you walk, what matters is the heart you walk it in.&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p class="Default"><strong>Matt Hopwood’s new book is <em><a href="https://www.birlinn.co.uk/A-Human-Love-Story.html">A Human Love Story - Journeys to the Heart</a></em>, published by <a href="http://www.birlinn.co.uk/">Birlinn</a>.</strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/matt-hopwood/can-love-stories-change-world">Can love stories change the world?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/pete-mcbride/love-letter-to-wilderness">A love letter to wilderness</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/%E2%80%9Clove-20%E2%80%9D-conversation-with-barbara-fredrickson">“Love 2.0:” a conversation with Barbara Fredrickson</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Matt Hopwood Liberation Love and Spirituality Tue, 13 Feb 2018 22:05:13 +0000 Matt Hopwood 116061 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Transforming the powers: the continuing relevance of Walter Wink https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ted-grimsrud/transforming-powers-continuing-relevance-of-walter-wink <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Any attempt to transform a social system without addressing both its spirituality and its outer forms is doomed to failure.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/TedGrimsrud2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: By Francois Polito (Own work) <a href="http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html">GFDL</a> or <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, via Wikimedia Commons.</p> <blockquote><p>“But the bank is only made of man. No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.” <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grapes_of_Wrath">John Steinbeck, <em>The Grapes of Wrath</em></a>.</p></blockquote> <p>Most people want a world without militarism, poverty, sexual exploitation, white supremacy and the despoiling of nature. Yet we find it so difficult to achieve such a world. One reason is that our social, economic and political structures powerfully resist transformation, as Steinbeck made clear in his description of the banking system as a monster that cannot be controlled.</p> <p>The American theologian <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Wink">Walter Wink</a> (who died in 2012) made it his life’s work to help us understand these monsters and how to loosen their hold through an interpretation of Christianity that makes the core insights of biblical faith available to social change agents, both religious and secular.</p> <p>Trained as a New Testament specialist, Wink is best known for his “Powers trilogy” beginning with <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Naming-Powers-Language-Power-Testament/dp/080061786X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament</a> </em>in 1984, followed by <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Unmasking-Powers-Vol-2/dp/0800619021/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence</a></em> in 1986, and ending with the magisterial <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Engaging-Powers-Discernment-Resistance-Domination/dp/080062646X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination</a>, </em>published<em> </em>in 1992. He also wrote <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Transforming-Powers-Justice-Domination-System/dp/0800638174/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1516132710&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=transforming+the+powers+gingerich">several shorter works</a> that flesh out the trilogy’s core insights.</p> <p>Wink argues in <em>Naming the Powers </em>that the language of “Principalities and Powers” in the New Testament refers to human social dynamics—institutions, belief systems, traditions and the like. These dynamics, or what he calls “manifestations of power,” always have an inner and an outer aspect. “Every Power tends to have a visible pole, an outer form—be it a church, a nation, an economy—and an invisible pole, an inner spirit or driving force that animates, legitimates, and regulates its physical manifestation in the world. Neither pole is the cause of the other. Both come into existence together and cease to exist together.”</p> <p>In Wink’s view, we need such an integrated, inner-outer awareness in order to understand the world we live in and act effectively as agents for healing and transformation. “Any attempt to transform a social system without addressing both its spirituality and its outer forms is doomed to failure,” as he puts it in <em>Engaging the Powers.</em> What's more, in Wink's understanding all systems of power have the potential to be just or unjust, violent or nonviolent. “The Powers are good. The Powers are fallen. The Powers must be redeemed.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p>“We cannot affirm governments or universities or businesses to be good unless at the same time we recognize that they are fallen,” he continues “We cannot face their malignant intractability and oppressiveness unless we remember that they are simultaneously a part of God’s good creation. And reflection on their creation and fall will appear only to legitimate these Powers and blast hope for change unless we assert at the same time that these Powers can and must be redeemed.”</p></blockquote> <p>This cycle of personal and institutional redemption provides a pathway to deep social change, but Wink refuses to pit the political against the personal. If either side is missing, he insists, genuine transformation won’t be possible. To illustrate what this means in concrete terms, take his analysis of contemporary North America, which focuses on the role of violence in US culture. Wink challenges what he calls the “<a href="http://www2.goshen.edu/~joannab/women/wink99.pdf">myth of redemptive violence</a>”—the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, and that might makes right. His work explores how to combat this myth and further a social order that is free from domination.</p> <p>A major problem in American culture has long been the devotion of an incredible amount of resources to the military-industrial complex. As a consequence, the US projects force as a solution to conflict in ways that only heighten global insecurities through a constant stream of ‘blowbacks.’ These social dynamics are fueled in part by the socialization of Americans into a mentality that insists on responding to perceived enemies with fear and violence. Wink’s analysis helps us to see how our refusal to confront the darkness within ourselves on both the personal and the societal levels blinds us to alternative approaches to enmity that can lead to a growth in self-knowledge and open up pathways to reconciliation.</p> <p>His thinking about “domination systems” helps us to understand the contemporary context of large-scale violence in America and beyond, a system that entraps us all in the amazingly self-destructive dynamic of violence responding to violence, and on and on and on in this same vein. And his analysis of the role that the Principalities and Powers play in human culture helps us to make sense of why our structures are so destructive of human wellbeing.</p> <p>As another example, take the crises of climate change and environmental degradation. Thus far we have not found a way to wrest control of our economic systems away from the ideologies and institutions that are driving us over the cliff of irreversible and catastrophic ecological change. Something in these systems resists change—but it is also true that our personal addictions to wasteful lifestyles and our deference to political and corporate leaders render us largely impotent.</p> <p>As these examples show, the inner or spiritual Powers are not separate heavenly or ethereal realities but rather the inner aspects of material or tangible manifestations of power in relation to nature—as well, we may note, in relation to prisons, the police, racial and sexual violence, debates over gun control, militarism and the ‘War on Terror.’ As Wink writes in <em>Naming the Powers</em>:</p> <blockquote><p>“The ‘principalities and powers’ are the inner or spiritual essence, or gestalt, of an institution or system. The ‘demons’ are the psychic or spiritual power emanated by organizations or individuals or subaspects of individuals whose energies are bent on overpowering others;…‘gods’ are the very real archetype or ideological structures that determine or govern reality and its mirror, the human brain; and…‘Satan’ is the actual power that congeals around collective idolatry, injustice, or inhumanity, a power that increases or decreases according to the degree of collective refusal to choose higher values.”</p></blockquote> <p>In Wink’s understanding, the biblical worldview allowed its writers to comprehend the spiritual nature of human structures. The language of demons, spirits, principalities and so on helped these writers to recognize that social life has both seen and unseen elements, and that both need to be taken into account to understand the dynamics that shape our lives.</p> <p>But that biblical worldview has fallen by the wayside with the development of modern consciousness and cannot simply be re-appropriated. It “is in many ways beyond being salvaged, limited as it was by the science, philosophy, and religion of its age” as Wink puts it in <em>Unmasking the Powers.</em>&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the materialistic, modern worldview has itself proven inadequate in understanding and addressing complex social realities, since it cannot recognize the possibility that the spiritual Powers are real. This is crucial because, when we fail to respect the reality of the Powers we become most vulnerable to their manipulations—as, for example, when we are blind to the ways in which the myth of redemptive violence pervades ways of thinking about how best to deal with conflict and insecurity.</p> <blockquote><p>“A reassessment of these Powers—angels, demons, gods, elements, the devil—allows us to reclaim, name, and comprehend types of experiences that materialism renders mute and inexpressible. We have the experiences but miss their meaning. Unable to name our experiences of these intermediate powers of existence, we are simply constrained by them compulsively. They are never more powerful than when they are unconscious. Their capacities to bless us are thwarted, their capacities to possess us augmented. Unmasking these Powers can mean for us initiation into a dimension of reality ‘not known, because not looked for,’ in T.S. Eliot’s words….The goal of such unmasking is to enable people to see how they have been determined, and to free them to choose, insofar as they have genuine choice, what they will be determined by in the future.”</p></blockquote> <p>Therefore, we must adjust our worldview to take in the inter-related realities of internal and external power structures and make this the basis of our actions. With some success, through his writings, sermons and workshops, Wink tried to help Christians to revive the biblical worldview in a postmodern context, though his insights remain relatively unknown outside of the progressive wing of the church, at least in North America.</p> <p>By challenging us to look beyond and beneath material power structures but never to ignore them, Wink's work helps us to understand how worldviews shape our perceptions of the issues that surround us, and how important it is that we revise our modern worldview if we want to move more effectively towards human wellbeing. Only an “integral worldview,” as he calls it, will enable us to remain modern people while also recognizing the interconnections of all things and the spirituality that infuses all of creation.</p> <p>Along with providing necessary insights into why we are so dominated by the forces of violence, Wink’s analysis also provides an essential sense of hope and empowerment. As we break free from the illusions of the Domination System, we can be freed to recognize that not only are the Powers corruptible (or “fallen” in his language), but that they are also redeemable. So Wink’s ideas, sobering as they are, are not a counsel of despair. The Powers can—and must—be successfully resisted and transformed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ted-grimsrud/violence-as-theological-problem">Violence as a theological problem</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-christianity-finished-as-source-of-inspiration-for-progressive-soci">Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/carol-howard-merritt/america-is-not-promised-land">America is not the Promised Land</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Ted Grimsrud Culture Love and Spirituality Tue, 23 Jan 2018 21:55:54 +0000 Ted Grimsrud 115724 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Living prayer at Standing Rock https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chelsea-macmillan/living-prayer-at-standing-rock <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="BasicParagraph">We are more powerful when we live together as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="BasicParagraph"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/chelseamacmillan1_0.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Ellen Davidson. All rights reserved.</p><p class="BasicParagraph"><em>This article was originally published in&nbsp;<a href="http://www.anchormagazine.org/">Anchor&nbsp;by Still Harbor</a>.</em></p><p class="BasicParagraph">In April of last year, people from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota began to physically block Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), an oil company, from constructing a pipeline under a river that provides drinking water to the reservation and millions of people downstream. After the mostly white citizenry of Bismarck rejected the original path that would bring the pipeline close to their own water source, ETP made plans to drill on reservation land that has been so-called “disputed territory” between the U.S. government and the Lakota Sioux since the 1800s—land that was granted to the tribe by treaty. </p> <p class="BasicParagraph">Since the 2016 Presidential election, this situation has soured for the Sioux and their allies and, at the time of this writing, ETP had already begun to drill under the water. With my partner, Leo, and a caravan of a dozen activists from Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and NYC, I visited the main camp, Oceti Sakowin, built by protesters in November, 2016.</p> <p class="BasicParagraph">About 45 minutes out from Standing Rock, our little caravan stopped for gas. I went into the station to pee and as I walked back out to the car, a man held the door open for me. Having experienced only super-friendly Midwesterners on the trip thus far, I was a little surprised when he answered my cheery “thank you!” with a curt, silent nod, but I didn’t think much of it. But, as I crossed the lane to our car, I felt the eyes of another man, wearing flannel and a ball cap, staring at Leo and me. He began to curse at us. “You fuckin’ lowlifes. Get outta here, you longhaired hippies. No one needs you here.” We sensed the darkness in his tone and quickly got into the car and drove away.</p> <p class="BasicParagraph">As we got closer and closer to the camp, I began to visualize our little caravan as white blood cells rushing toward an infection, staving off bacteria along the way. Better yet, we were like the imaginal cells that transform a cocooned caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. At the beginning of metamorphosis, a few of the imaginal cells appear in the caterpillar’s body—they are treated as foreigners, intruders in the system, and the caterpillar cells begin to actually attack the butterfly cells. Yet, against all reason, the imaginal cells grow in number, urged on by some ancient knowing.</p><p class="BasicParagraph"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/chelseamacmillan2_0.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Ellen Davidson. All rights reserved.</p> <p class="BasicParagraph">We arrived at Standing Rock on that chilly morning, the day that happened to be when most Americans would celebrate Thanksgiving. Though I felt certain of my calling to join the Water Protectors, I was still a bit nervous. A few days before our trip, the protesters had encountered a violent offense from law enforcement. Many were injured, some seriously. I had heard about constant drone surveillance and menacing planes zooming overhead and had seen photos of armed police officers keeping watch from a hill in the distance. I expected there to be danger and revolution in the air. Yet, when we drove into the camp, everyone seemed focused and calm.</p> <p class="BasicParagraph">The woman who greeted our car told us that this was a place of prayer and ceremony and that “we take care of each other here.” She asked no questions of us, all non-natives ourselves. I sensed that trust was given, not earned; everyone was held to high standards of integrity, hard work, and cooperation. Her directness and warmth helped ease my anxiety; thoughts of the angry man at the gas station began to fade. I immediately began to settle into the spirit of camp. I felt like I knew everyone I passed on the makeshift roads of camp. Folks smiled and acknowledged each other. I heard dogs barking. I saw children playing. </p> <p class="BasicParagraph">Much of my time was spent cleaning and organizing piles of donations, serving nourishing food, and building <em>tipis</em> and <em>yurts</em> to prepare for the brutal North Dakota winter. Eventually, I would find myself covered in bits of hay as I sewed together panels of burlap for insulation. Working toward justice is messy, maybe, but simple. Everywhere I looked, I saw people jumping up to help one another without hesitation.</p> <p class="BasicParagraph">One evening, Leo and I sat on the cold ground, patiently waiting for a can of soup to warm over a Sterno stove. Beyond our little campsite, I could see the menacing glare of floodlights shining upon Oceti Sakowin. Policemen, like clumps of black ants, weaved around armored vehicles. <em>What was it like for them over there?</em> Tears rose to my eyes as I thought of their hearts, tender as my own, beating beneath bulletproof vests. The same arms that hug children and wives were wrapped around lethal weapons. </p> <p class="BasicParagraph"><em>What causes the cocooned caterpillar to resist its own beautiful, transformed future as a butterfly? Fear of flying too high or losing a grubby, slow-moving body for a form as light as air? Anger at not being able to chew leaves anymore and being relegated to a life of drinking sweet nectar from fragrant flowers?</em> How scared those officers must have been to respond to prayerful, unarmed protesters with such violence and hatred! I felt an urge to reach out to the men and invite them into camp, wishing them to witness and experience the deep care with which everyone there treated each other. I imagined their surprise at being referred to as “brother” or “relative.”</p><p class="BasicParagraph"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/chelseamacmillan3_0.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="BasicParagraph"><span class="image-caption">Credit: Ellen Davidson. All rights reserved.</span></p><p class="BasicParagraph">The elders told us constantly, “You’re here to pray.” Pray? This used to be such a loaded word for me as someone who grew up and became disillusioned with the idea of asking an old white guy in the sky to wave his magic wand and give me what I want. But that’s not the kind of prayer the elders were talking about. Of course, the Sioux pray petitionary prayers, but they’re not one-sided demands or requests. Those prayers come from a deep understanding of relationship <em>with</em> Mother Earth and offerings are made to Her as appeals are made. Body, mind, and heart must be prepared beforehand. </p> <p class="BasicParagraph">I was instructed to always wear a skirt, the traditional sign of a woman in ceremony, as everything I did in camp, from cooking to sewing to carrying water, was part of our prayer. I came to know prayer as a dynamic embodiment, the place from which my whole life is meant to arise. The new world my heart knows is possible already exists. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen people, native and non-native alike, praying peace, equity, and reciprocity. </p> <p class="BasicParagraph">Praying, like justice, is simple, but simple does not mean easy. Living in this way is to live in relationship—it requires constant awareness and attentiveness to ourselves, each other, Spirit, and Mother Earth. </p> <p class="BasicParagraph">In Howard Zinn’s oft-quoted essay, <em>The Optimism of Uncertainty</em>, he says, “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises…We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”</p> <p class="BasicParagraph">Revolution may be made of mere moments, but they’re organized moments. I can’t tell you how many times since Election Day, 2016 that I’ve heard acquaintances and friends and family members ask, “What can we do?” In other words, as we face one of the most potentially dangerous presidencies in American history, what actions will truly be effective in making any waves of change? We are each being faced with the sense of inadequacy that comes with being one individual on a planet of seven billion people. But, together, our strengths multiply and complement each other’s weaknesses. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.</p> <p class="BasicParagraph">Justice looks like a stranger lending a hand to another stranger and sounds like a brown-skinned man calling a white-skinned woman “sister.” Justice is living as simply as possible, taking only what you truly need and then sharing that. Revolutionary change is the convergence of a few thousand people upon the tiniest speck of a point on a map, coming together to stand for justice. This becomes a collective prayer, embodying the qualities of a world we know is not only possible, but also true. </p> <p class="BasicParagraph">We are heard when we join our voices in a chorus of resistance. As Zinn teaches, we are more powerful when we live together “as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us.” At Standing Rock, I learned that revolution is people praying together, arm linked in arm, in an unbreakable and undeniable chain of justice and love.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/molly-wallace/why-indigenous-civil-resistance-has-unique-power">What can be learned from the movement to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jenni-monet/climate-justice-meets-racism-standing-rock-was-decades-in-making">Climate justice meets racism: Standing Rock was decades in the making</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/james-rowe-mike-simpson/lessons-from-front-lines-of-anti-colonial-pipeline-resistance">Lessons from the front lines of anti-colonial pipeline resistance</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Chelsea MacMillan Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Tue, 02 Jan 2018 13:08:54 +0000 Chelsea MacMillan 115359 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “The power of Fannie Lou Hamer compels you!” Resisting Donald Trump https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/max-s-gordon/power-of-fannie-lou-hamer-compels-you-resisting-donald-trump <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To deal with Trump we must first face the Trump inside ourselves.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MaxSGordon.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/President-Government-America-Trump-Donald-Politics-2704264">MaxPixel.freegreatpicture.com</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>Please allow me to introduce myself.</p> <p>I’m a black man, I’m gay, I’m an addict. I’ve been a crackhead, I’ve been a drunk.</p> <p>I don’t remember being sexually abused, but I was a gay boy, now a gay man in a homophobic society that continues to destroy people like me for our sexual orientation—and that’s a kind of abuse, isn’t it?</p> <p>This week, <a href="https://www.longroom.com/discussion/765702/hed-rather-have-a-dead-son-than-a-gay-one-nevada-father-is-arrested-for-shooting-dead-his-14-year-old-boy-because-of-his-sexual-orientation">a father in Nevada killed his 14-year-old child, because he’d “rather have a dead son than a gay one.” </a>In our society, we kill transgender women and men every day for telling the truth about their lives.</p> <p>Sometimes I feel I’m fighting for my life. These days, I’m not always sure I’m winning.</p> <p>I was at a gym in a small town I was visiting last month and a man asked me for my phone number. Another man overheard us talking and whispered under his breath something about perverts and how disgusting we were.&nbsp;I was too scared to confront him, so I didn’t say anything.</p> <p>At night, when a cop car passes by me in Harlem and slows down, I’m frightened. I’ll admit, I’m frightened a lot. My partner is always surprised when I use all the locks in our apartment, even the chain, and sometimes even during the day. I believe our building is secure, but I don’t know how to explain to him that I rarely feel safe—anywhere.</p> <p>I come from a family with a history of domestic violence.</p> <p>One time, my parents got in a fight and my mother told us to get our things, we were going to McDonalds. We stayed for awhile and then we went back home. When we arrived, there were all these little bits of paper everywhere, like confetti, as if someone had thrown a party while we were gone. I looked closer and I saw a tiny picture of my mother in a white dress—her face torn in half. My father had ripped up my parents’ wedding photos.</p> <p>A few years later, when I was thirteen, I got into a fight with my Dad and ran to my room and locked it. He threatened to rip off my bedroom door. I hid in my closet until my mother calmed him down.</p> <p>One day he told me, “I will break your spirit, son.” I was so furious with him that I made a decision. &nbsp;In that moment, I imagined something pouring down into my body, moving through my veins like steel or concrete, and then hardening. I promised myself I would never cry in front of him again, or feel any pain. I would just be numb, like a robot. Yes Dad. No Dad. Goodnight Dad. I imagined myself a soldier, shot on the battlefield, eyes wide open, dead and cold and quiet.</p> <p>That was the day I became an emotional alcoholic.</p> <p>I need you to know this about me because it influences my relationship to bullies like Donald Trump, and why we need a new paradigm of resistance to go with the old one.</p> <p>I like horror movies, not the slasher genre, but psychological horror, and especially 70’s horror—<em>Rosemary’s<em> Baby, Omen, Carrie, The Exorcist</em></em>. There’s that amazing scene in&nbsp;<em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exorcist_(film)">The Exorcist&nbsp;</a></em>where the priest says to the devil who has possessed the young girl, Reagan, “The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you!”</p> <p>I don’t know much about exorcisms, but the shit seemed to work on&nbsp;<em>that</em>&nbsp;devil, so the other day when Donald Trump came on the screen I thought, why not? And I blurted out, “The power of Fanny Lou Hamer compels you!”</p> <p>For those who may not know or remember, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fannie_Lou_Hamer">Fannie Lou Hamer</a> was a black organizer in the Deep South, a civil-rights activist, who fought to exercise her right to vote in a virulently racist Mississippi. She was tortured, her life was threatened, and she even had to battle for the right to be heard within her own political party. Fanny Lou said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” and “Nobody’s free, until everybody’s free.” She had what the old folks call ‘Holy Ghost power.’</p> <p>So I shouted it at the screen over and over. “The power of Fannie Lou Hamer compels you!” &nbsp;It felt good, so I tried a few others. “The power of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audre_Lorde">Audre Lorde</a> compels you!” “The power of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Milk">Harvey Milk</a> compels you!” “The power of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_Roosevelt">Eleanor Roosevelt</a> compels you!” “The power of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sojourner_Truth">Sojourner Truth</a> compels you!” Try it at home, it’s fun, and you really do feel better.</p> <p>And then I thought, if I was a priest with a congregation what would I tell them right now?</p> <p>I think I would say: Believe in miracles, believe in your power as a sorcerer and sorceress, stir shit up for Good, invoke.</p> <p>I’d remind them: You don’t have to earn grace. You are already worthy.</p> <p>I’d say, You are not a commodity. You are not a can of Coke or a pack of cigarettes. You are not a stock option, a casino, or land purchased for development.</p> <p>When you go on a date, stop looking at everyone the way you shop for household cleaner, turning it around, figuring out what it can do for you. Resist commodification and resist being commodified.</p> <p>Listen to someone today. And I don’t mean waiting for the pause before you speak—really listen. Look at someone today—and I don’t mean judging how much weight they’ve gained or lost, or what they are wearing. Look into their eyes. Take in the miracle in front of you.</p> <p>Wear those high heels, work your beautiful yellow dress, shake out that black wig, wear your best red lipstick and dance—I’m talking to the straight men right now.</p> <p>Deal with your shame about slavery, appreciate your black ancestors, understand the horror of your history and be honest about how it has harmed your beautiful blackness—I’m talking to the white people right now.</p> <p>If you really want resist Trump, stop whipping your kids.</p> <p>You’ve been talking about quitting smoking for years. You’ve been going to sleep drunk for years. You won’t give up your meth, your coke, you won’t stop eating sugar even though people in your family have died from diabetes. You sit in your car, in the parking lot, crying, with empty bags of fast food around you. </p> <p>Your life belongs to McDonalds and Burger King and KFC. Your life belongs to corporations with scientists whose job it is to find new and innovative ways to kill you, one delicious happy meal at a time. Realize, lovingly, that they don’t really give a fuck about you, and take your life back. Decide that your life is worth saving. Resist Trump.</p> <p>“You know I always wanted to go back to school, but there just isn’t enough time.” There&nbsp;<em>is</em>&nbsp;enough time. Go back to school. &nbsp;Resist Trump.</p> <p>Stand in front of the mirror naked. If you are a woman, gay, or a person of color, consider the peril that body has seen. See yourself on the auction block, burned at the stake for being a witch, bashed after you left the gay bar. Hold your body dearly while it is still your own.</p> <p>Resist Trump, and finally forgive yourself, for the childhood abuse, for the childhood violence, for the abuse that’s been sabotaging your life, that makes you apologize when other people bump into you, that keeps you in torn clothes. </p> <p>End the war with self. Integrate. Reconcile. Emerge into your greatest power. We need you whole. Your life is an ecosystem and you have a right to keep it balanced and to preserve it. Stop all self-harm. Remember: it wasn’t your body that betrayed you. And although you may not always feel like it, despite what happened to you, your beauty remains intact.</p> <p>Consider: what did it take to make you, what did it take to get here? Think of the parents you had or didn’t have. The mother who died when you were twelve.&nbsp;&nbsp;The father you never knew. Think about the money you had, the money you didn’t have, the marriage that ended, the day you left home….<em>.have you left home?</em></p> <p>What did it take to get you here? Did you come over on the Mayflower or were you dragged here, or did you flee? Recall the grandmother who was cooking when you saw the numbers tattooed above her wrist. She promised to tell you a story one day about concentration camps. Think about the grandmother who was cooking when the men arrived on horses with sheets and took her son, the uncle you never met who was carried away in the night. &nbsp;She promised to tell you a story about lynching.&nbsp;</p> <p>And understand that no one is going to save us. What is happening right now is more profound than Hillary vs. Bernie vs Trump; it’s deeper than Sarah Huckabee Sanders or the NRA. What we need isn’t going to come from the Democratic National Committee and it won’t be found on WikiLeaks.</p> <p>Something is definitely coming. And to deal with it we need to be whole. We can’t be fragmented with each other or within ourselves.&nbsp;The thing that’s coming needs you to hate yourself so that you’ll feel nationalistic pride when they try and build a wall. It needs you to be afraid at night, hiding behind the shades, so that you can be manipulated into supporting a travel ban. &nbsp;</p> <p>The thing that’s coming is counting on you to be a mess, in debt, traumatized, dissociated, drunk, high, angry, racist, lonely, heartbroken, in despair, cynical; it needs you to think Black/White, Palestinian/Jew, Man/Woman, Gay/Straight, Them/Us, Me/Other. </p> <p>The thing that’s coming needs you numb and asleep so it can organize at night. Then suddenly, you get up one morning and see the men in the streets with machine guns. Because they know by then it will be too late.</p> <p>To deal with Trump we must first face the Trump inside ourselves. Despite the ways we are being coarsened and made to live a life of staring into phones instead of each other’s eyes, we must return to compassion. It really is all that we have. Study war no more. The real enemy is our belief in enemies. Never underestimate the power of your kindness in every moment. </p> <p>We have to grow up, even when everything in this culture tells us to stay immature, entitled, greedy, narcissistic and pathological; even when the man in the White House is really just a teenage boy up in his room surrounded by empty Doritos bags and playing with his X-Box all night. </p> <p>We must grow up.&nbsp;Our lives, and maybe even life itself, depend on it.</p><p class="image-caption">For a longer version of this article, <a href="https://resisttrumptalk.wordpress.com/2017/11/08/resist-trump/">click here</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/beautiful-trouble-team/six-principles-for-resisting-presidency-of-donald-trump">Six principles for resisting the presidency of Donald Trump</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kieran-ford/don-t-mourn-organize-three-ways-millennials-can-build-better-post-trump-f">Don’t mourn, organize! Three ways millennials can build a better post-Trump future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kazu-haga/violence-brought-us-trump-but-it-s-not-how-we-will-stop-him">Violence brought us Trump, but it’s not how we will stop him</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Max S. Gordon Liberation Activism Love and Spirituality Mon, 20 Nov 2017 12:13:36 +0000 Max S. Gordon 114645 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Embracing holy envy: 'Allahu Akbar' https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/robert-azzi/embracing-holy-envy-allahu-akbar <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We should not allow terrorists and bigots to hijack language in order to sow fear, ignorance and division.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="xgmail-p1"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RobertAzzi2.jpg" alt="" /></p><p class="image-caption">Interior of the&nbsp;<a title="Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheikh_Lotf_Allah_Mosque">Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque</a>&nbsp;in&nbsp;<a title="Isfahan, Iran" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isfahan,_Iran">Isfahan, Iran</a>. Credit: By <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8674214">Phillip Maiwald (Nikopol) - Own work</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>. </p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I say&nbsp;<em>‘Allahu akbar’&nbsp;</em>dozens of times a day. I say it during prayer. I say it as an expression of reaffirmation and gratitude to God.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I said it when my daughter was born, and there will be someone to say it over me when I am buried.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I say it when I witness beauty.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Allahu akbar.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p2">In 1985, Lutheran Bishop <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krister_Stendahl">Krister Stendahl</a>, in defending the building of a Mormon temple by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Stockholm, enunciated “<a href="http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2010/05/krister-stendahls-three-rules-of-religious-understanding.html">Three Rules of Religious Understanding</a>:”</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">“When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.”</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">“Don’t compare your best to their worst,” and:</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">“Leave room for holy envy.”</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Stendahl challenges us to be open to recognizing elements in other religions—even those that may appear foreign or threatening—and to consider how we might wish to support, embrace, emulate or further explore those elements that might help us to deepen our understanding of our own religious traditions and more deeply connect to others: to embrace ‘holy envy.’</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Abdullah, a Saudi friend of mine whose family tree traces back to the time of Prophet Mohammad in Mecca, travels to Cairo with his family every Christmas.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">He, with children and grandchildren—perhaps even now with great grandchildren—window shop, go to Christmas parties, sing Christmas carols and together celebrate the birth of Jesus, considered by Muslims to be the most revered prophet after Prophet Muhammad.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">On Christmas Eve they attend Midnight Mass at the Anglican Church in Zamalek.&nbsp;Abdullah doesn’t take the Eucharist but he loves Jesus—and Christmas pudding (Egyptian friends make him an alcohol-free version).</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Before New Year’s Day they return to Saudi Arabia, renewed by their encounter with Christian tradition and re-committed to an ecumenical understanding that the descendants of Abraham share much more through faith than they disagree about politically.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Like Stendahl, Abdullah and I believe that being open to holy envy helps us to connect to others, to ease tensions and build bridges.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I was recently reminded of Stendahl and Abdullah as I listened to the discussion that followed <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/nyregion/police-shooting-lower-manhattan.html">the terrorist attack in New York on October 31 2017</a> when eight people were killed and 12 injured by a truck driven by Uzbek native <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/nyregion/sayfullo-saipov-manhattan-truck-attack.html">Sayfullo Saipov</a>. As the truck plowed into a bicycle path in lower Manhattan, it’s reported that Saipov cried out ‘<em>Allahu Akbar.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Allahu akbar.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We know, from <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/30/terrorism.september113">documents released by the FBI after 9/11</a>, that a letter written by the hijacker <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohamed_Atta">Mohamed Atta</a> urged attackers to shout ‘<em>Allahu akbar’&nbsp;</em>because “this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">We know, from Fort Hood, from New York, London, Paris, Brussels, Mogadishu, Istanbul, Baghdad and Beirut, that terrorists continue to shout&nbsp;<em>‘Allahu akbar</em>’ even when most of their victims are believers.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">To terrorists the non-believers are those who don’t hate as they do—Muslim and non-Muslim.</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">On the other hand, at the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiupBlYI5Q0">funeral service for Muhammad Ali</a> there were four recitations of ‘<em>Allahu akbar</em>’ along with prayers, readings and blessing in-between.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Allahu akbar.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p2">I believe that&nbsp;<em>‘Allahu akbar</em>’ will strike fear only if we allow, through ignorance and prejudice, terrorists to define how we approach God.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">To Muslims<em>&nbsp;‘Allahu akbar’&nbsp;</em>means ‘the greatest,’ although linguistically, it translates as ‘greater.’</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">To Muslims it means nothing is greater than God.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Allahu akbar’</em>&nbsp;isn’t in the Qur’an, but it’s part of daily prayer and worship, embedded in our consciousness. As a term of gratitude to God it’s even used by some Arabic-speaking Christians.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Today, Muslims who pray&nbsp;<em>‘Allahu akbar’</em>&nbsp;are caught between terrorists who try to inspire fear and Islamophobes who try to instill ignorance and fear of The Other.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">In the US, we are learning not to define all Christians by the practice of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westboro_Baptist_Church">Westboro Baptist Church (“God hates fags”)</a>, or the far-right anti-Muslim <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Moore">Judge Roy Moore</a>, or by those who want to ban Harry Potter, Halloween and dancing.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We’ve learned that Christianity is not monolithic.</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">Today, we must also learn that Islam is not monolithic, and that all Muslims are not defined by Sayfullo Saipov and Mohamed Atta.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We must embrace more holy envy and less unholy ignorance.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">A friend of mine, an Episcopal priest who has traveled in the Middle East, has holy envy over the Muslim tradition of saying&nbsp;<em>‘insha’Allah.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1">“I often wish we had something like that in our tradition” she once told me, “the constant reminder—‘<em>insha’</em> <em>Allah’—</em>that only God knows the future.”</p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Insha’Allah’—</em>if<em> </em>God wills it—is to recognize God’s omnipotence, God’s Grace, presence and authority in our lives.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Can I borrow your snow-blower tomorrow?&nbsp;<em>‘Insha’Allah.’</em><em><br /> </em>Can we have dinner tonight?&nbsp;<em>‘Insha’Allah.’<br /> </em>Can you meet me tomorrow?&nbsp;<em>‘Insha’Allah.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I love Thanksgiving. I like Christmas trees. I love menorahs and the story they tell. I love the call of the <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shofar">shofar</a></em>, the peeling of church bells and the sound of <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu%27adhin">muezzins</a></em> calling the faithful to prayer. We need to witness, and we need our children to witness, each others’ religions, traditions, symbols and practices.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We need more holy envy—‘<em>insha'Allah.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We need to see the world, not as something to be partitioned and feared but as a source of engagement and richness that nourishes all of humanity.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Our challenge today is to refuse to allow terrorists and bigots to hijack, weaponize and appropriate language in order to sow fear, ignorance and division. I believe that our public squares are richer and our nations healthier when we struggle to preserve and enhance the pluralistic experience that defines our societies at their best.</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">This isn’t just an Abrahamic calling: whether secular, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Quaker—whatever faith tradition we may or may not embrace—I believe that we are all called, by our Constitutions as well as our Prophets, to serve the forgotten and the dispossessed, and to honor conscience and each other’s dignity and humanity.</p> <p class="xgmail-p2"><em>‘Allahu Akbar.’</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/robert-azzi/i-m-muslim-ask-me-anything">I’m a Muslim—ask me anything</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/william-eichler/is-it-ok-to-criticise-islam">Is it ok to criticise Islam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation islam Robert Azzi Love and Spirituality Tue, 14 Nov 2017 22:47:21 +0000 Robert Azzi 114599 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-christianity-finished-as-source-of-inspiration-for-progressive-soci <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Whatever the emerging world becomes, it will need a new consciousness to guide it, especially if we want that world to be a good one.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/GregLeffel4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/people-men-cap-hat-sunny-outdoor-2576745/">Pixabay/Stocksnap</a>. CC0 Creative Commons.</p> <p>“Were Christians to be in a position to exert enduring cultural influence, the results would likely be disastrous or perhaps mostly so.” This is the judgment of <a href="https://www.jamesdavisonhunter.com/to-change-the-world">University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter</a>, who coined the term “culture wars” in the 1980s, but it’s a sentiment that’s shared by many on the left.</p> <p>Given their flawed thinking about public life, says Hunter—“based on both specious social science and problematic theology”—there seems to be little future for the Christian faith as a motivating force in progressive politics in the USA and beyond. But is this judgment correct?</p> <p>To put this question in context, the American Century is over. The institutions that sustained the modern industrial world (including many of the mainstream Christian churches) are rusting out, their legitimacy crisis dragging on like a festering wound since the Sixties.</p> <p>Whether we like it or not, we are emerging into a different world. It feels strange to us. We can’t see it clearly at this point, or even know what to call it. But whatever the emerging world will become it will need a new consciousness to guide it, especially if we want that world to be a good one.</p> <p>Finding and articulating that new consciousness in order to re-imagine our societies is one of the central challenges of our times—supporting the growth of a wider, public sensibility and a progressive way of life in which peace, justice, love, hope and human flourishing can grow. To meet this challenge, I think we’ll need to draw on imaginative resources wherever we can find them.</p> <p>So it’s at least worth taking another look at Christianity’s faith and practice, history and global diversity, theological ideas and spiritual traditions in order to see whether any of these things might offer us these kinds of resources. Can Christianity be critical enough of itself and of society to be a productive source of change? By this I don’t mean that Christians should simply criticize. We’ve had enough cranky, reactionary rhetoric from the uniquely American religious right in recent years to last a lifetime.</p> <p>But keep in mind that as recently as the Sixties, Christian public identity in the US was claimed by the moderate-to-progressive Protestant ‘mainline’ denominations—the religious center-left. Progressive theologians including <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/11/a-man-for-all-reasons/306337/">Reinhold Niebuhr</a>, <a href="https://www.giffordlectures.org/lecturers/paul-tillich">Paul Tillich</a> and <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/a-moral-bulwark/">Harvey Cox</a>, and activist clergy like <a href="http://www.thekingcenter.org/about-dr-king">Martin Luther King Jr</a> and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/13/us/rev-william-sloane-coffin-dies-at-81-fought-for-civil-rights-and-against.html">William Sloane Coffin</a>, were all well-known, consequential public figures.</p> <p>Their intellectual and moral tradition was rooted long ago in the eighteenth-century in what historian Amy Kittelstrom calls the “American Reformation” in her recent book, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Religion-Democracy-Liberals-American-Tradition/dp/0143108131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508464627&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+religion+of+democracy">The Religion of Democracy</a>. </em>Kittelstrom describes this period as one of fascinating intellectual ferment during which New England pastors and theologians started to mix Reformation Protestantism with the values of the Enlightenment.</p> <p>This experiment produced a new liberal faith; a new liberal intellectual culture fostering democratic values such as liberty of conscience, equality and social progress; and the first stirrings of protest against slavery and in favor of women’s rights. These church leaders, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Religion-Democracy-Liberals-American-Tradition/dp/0143108131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508464627&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+religion+of+democracy">says Kittlestrom</a>, “were the first people in the world to call themselves liberals.” Their ideas were crucial to the development of social consciousness in the USA well into the twentieth century.</p> <p>Kittelstrom connects distinctly American traditions like <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendentalism">Transcendentalism</a>—white America’s first truly new spirituality; <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatism">Pragmatism</a>—its first unique philosophy; and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Era">Progressivism</a>, fueled by the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Gospel">Social Gospel</a>, to the spirit of the American Reformation and its fusion with democratic society. The American Reformation’s intellectual influence, <a href="https://press.princeton.edu/titles/10008.html">writes historian David Hollinger</a>, “was—and continues to be—a world-historical event, or at least one of the defining experiences of the North Atlantic West . . . from the eighteenth century to the present.”</p> <p>This diverse, open and inclusive mainstream version of Christian faith has faded out in the last 50 years, to be replaced by an inexperienced reactionary rump with neither the historical memory nor the cultural skills to articulate a coherent public faith, or even to grasp how society is changing. The now long-forgotten ‘death’ of the Protestant mainline churches, as Catholic sociologist <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Anxious-Age-Post-Protestant-Spirit-America/dp/0385518811/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508465073&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=joseph+bottum">Joseph Bottum</a> reminds us, is more consequential than we might think. Bottum laments losing a venerable, crucial, moderating voice in civil society as “the central historical fact of our time”—and a significant source of our present political and cultural confusion.</p> <p>But can Christian faith <em>today</em> offer a critique<em> </em>of our current way of life, in the same way that, say, feminism or critical race theory can? Is it able to provide a progressive resource for creating a new public consciousness and form of life as societies sail into uncharted waters?</p> <p>Nearly everyone outside the white, Euro-American dominant society feels written out of history, but where do we turn for an alternative point of view to correct this situation? We turn to post-colonial writers certainly, including Christian theologians from Latin America, Africa and Asia. We look to the East for new varieties of religious consciousness, and to pre-colonial indigenous cultures for alternative modes of life. And we look to pre-Western pagan values that underpin eco-spiritualities and new religious movements.</p> <p>But all these resources only go so far in helping us with our own critical self-understanding. How can we in the West understand ourselves—on our own terms—from the perspective of our own history? One way to do this is by re-telling our own story from our own beginnings, without prejudice to the ancient and Medieval Christian roots that predated the modern period.</p> <p>This is already being done by some of the most influential philosophers of our generation. For example, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Taylor_(philosopher)">Charles Taylor</a>, an early leader in multicultural theory, has helpfully traced the rise of modern consciousness from theological as well as philosophical roots in his magisterial <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Sources-Self-Making-Modern-Identity/dp/0674824261/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508465419&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sources+of+the+self"><em>Sources of the Self</em></a>.</p> <p>Italian political philosopher <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_Agamben">Giorgio Agamben</a> (a radical leftist, and an atheist as far as I know) is another. He argues that to understand Western thinking we need to pick apart modern thought to uncover its theological underpinnings, and he publishes copious theological writing. “I think” <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Glory-Theological-Government-Aesthetics/dp/0804760160/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508466723&amp;sr=1-10&amp;keywords=giorgio+agamben">he says</a>, “that it is only through metaphysical, religious, and theological paradigms that one can truly approach the contemporary—and political—situation.”</p> <p>Another voice in the mix is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavoj_%C5%BDi%C5%BEek">Slavoj Žižek</a>, the Slovenian philosophical rock star of the Marxist left who publishes frequently with theologians, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Fragile-Absolute-Christian-Fighting-Essential/dp/1844673022/ref=sr_1_34?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508467013&amp;sr=1-34&amp;keywords=slavoj+zizek">even claiming that</a> “to become a true dialectical materialist, one should go through the Christian experience.”</p> <p>These are not endorsements of actually-existing Christianity by any means, but they represent a rich intellectual search for philosophical alternatives that are rooted in the ground of Christian theology and practice.</p> <p>In addition, the Western perception of Christianity is more than a little myopic. It’s easy to forget that <a href="http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/2015-01/2015-01-028-johnson.html">33 per cent of the world’s people</a>—2.4 billion individuals—identify as Christians. Jesus still has more followers than Facebook, and most of them live lives far different from those in the West. Pentecostal Christians alone now outnumber Buddhists worldwide. As Philip Jenkins pointed out some years ago in his seminal book <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Next-Christendom-Coming-Christianity-Trilogy/dp/0199767467/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508467572&amp;sr=1-4&amp;keywords=philip+jenkins">The Next Christendom</a>,</em> to overlook the rise of Christianity in the global South—which &nbsp;now constitutes 60 per cent of world Christianity—is to miss the most profound social revolution of the twentieth century.</p> <p>Why don’t we see this clearly? In part it’s because many of us live in an ‘already-been-Christian’ context. Christian tradition has been in our background for so long that it’s almost second nature to be critical of it, and many of us assume that it’s on its way out anyway.</p> <p>But that ignores the fact that in ‘never-before-been-Christian’ societies, Christianity might provide progressive resources, social as well as spiritual. Some choose Christian faith as a means of assimilating liberal Western values, some to connect with a global religious consciousness. Many others see in the faith solutions to personal problems as well as intellectual tools to understand their own cultural traditions. We do the same thing in the West when we borrow non-Western spiritual practices like meditation or yoga.</p> <p>For whatever reasons, individuals around the world who are concerned about their spirituality are asserting their free agency to choose these resources in order to address their own developing consciousness. They do this in large numbers even now in a post-colonial period of extensive criticism of the West and its religion.</p> <p>What can be made of this enormous, global community of different and often clashing Christian identities? It’s certainly a testing ground for just about every social problem and potential solution. To take an example from Africa: the Anglican Communion ranges from <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/12/anglican-church-england-global-schism-homosexuality-gay-rights">homophobic bishops</a> to progressive civil rights heroes like South African <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1984/tutu-facts.html">Archbishop Desmond Tutu</a> and former Ugandan <a href="http://www.human-dignity-forum.org/2013/12/ill-rather-die-than-stay-silent-bishop-david-zac-niringiye-fights-for-social-justice-in-uganda/">Bishop David Zac Niringiye</a>. How tensions between conservatives and progressives play out will have an enormous influence on African society—as well as demonstrate whether or not Christian faith can mobilize its resources to support human flourishing for everyone.</p> <p>Whatever you decide to make of it, the Christian movement will be with us for a very long time, warts and all. In spite of its many problems—and they are manifold—it is important to take another look to see how rich it might be in terms of the resources we need to guide the world into a new way of being, and a new form of consciousness, where peace, justice, love, and hope may prevail.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/death-and-afterlife-of-liberation-theology">The death and life of liberation theology</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/christina-easton/don-t-mention-jesus-why-excluding-beliefs-from-public-sphere-is-mist">Don’t mention Jesus! Why excluding beliefs from the public sphere is mistaken</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Gregory Leffel Love and Spirituality Sun, 12 Nov 2017 23:11:21 +0000 Gregory Leffel 114224 at https://www.opendemocracy.net I’m a Muslim—ask me anything https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/robert-azzi/i-m-muslim-ask-me-anything <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Hearing Muslims being ignorantly targeted is like waking up to see a cross burning on the communal front lawn. I want to help put out that fire.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="xgmail-p1"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RobertAzzi.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/prophet-mosque-masjid-islam-muslim-2249733/">Pixabay/Abdullah_Shakoor</a>. CC0 Creative Commons. </p> <p>“May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land,”<a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Ffounders.archives.gov%2Fdocuments%2FWashington%2F05-06-02-0135&amp;data=02%7C01%7Cedwarmi%40hotmail.com%7C7319c7421e3e4daf232408d51d4a72e3%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636447127947042671&amp;sdata=8oXaejPqEk3izGHWm19RClZO8HaiLkwEjF%2Fa2k3ZLQo%3D&amp;reserved=0" target="_blank">&nbsp;wrote&nbsp;</a>President George Washington to Rhode Island’s Touro Synagogue in 1790, “continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”</p> <p>Today, as a child of the “Stock of Abraham,” as a Muslim whose faith tradition traces to Prophet Abraham and as a first-generation American, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric I see in the United States. I’ve become increasingly distressed by witnessing individual and institutional&nbsp;actions that attempt to marginalize, delegitimize, and disenfranchise America’s diverse community of Muslims.&nbsp;</p> <p>To counter such un-American sentiments, and following the model of itinerant Methodist ministers—circuit-riders who journeyed from town-to-town preaching the Gospel in the 18th and 19th centuries—I’ve&nbsp;been traveling across New Hampshire and Massachusetts as an itinerant Muslim, from one public library, church and retirement community to the next, engaging with my neighbors in a program I call “<a href="https://theotherazzi.wordpress.com/ask-a-muslim-anything/">Ask a Muslim Anything</a>.”</p> <p>I’ve been traveling at the invitation of local communities to speak about my life, what it’s like to be Muslim in America today, and how&nbsp;I came to convert to Islam. I talk about Islam and its history—especially&nbsp;in America—and&nbsp;about the Middle East, terrorism and associated political and social issues.</p> <p>Nothing is off the table: I speak, to the best of my experience and knowledge, of faith, tradition, understanding, conflict and identity. All questions are welcome.</p> <p>I’m doing this not to proselytize but to reconcile—to&nbsp; reaffirm and strengthen bonds of comity and faith—and&nbsp; I am overwhelmed by the beauty and generosity of the responses I receive, all seemingly in reflection of the belief that, as the Qur’an&nbsp;<a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fmuhammad-asad.com%2FMessage-of-Quran.pdf&amp;data=02%7C01%7Cedwarmi%40hotmail.com%7C7319c7421e3e4daf232408d51d4a72e3%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636447127947042671&amp;sdata=8aN2rDiOa%2BQVnqScl8SWJbSItRpRevJcwzaux4KGT8Q%3D&amp;reserved=0" target="_blank">tells us</a>, “We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another” (49:13).</p> <p>We come together to know one another.</p> <p>I’ve found that, when engaged&nbsp;in small-scale or one-one-one conversations, my neighbors—even&nbsp;those who are critical of Islam and fearful of Muslims—are&nbsp;willing to&nbsp;listen and engage if engagement occurs in what are perceived to be safe or neutral places: houses of worship, libraries, schools and civic organizations.</p> <p>So those are the places I go to for conversation, and not a day passes when I’m not humbled by people’s courtesy and curiosity, even when they are speaking out of fear or out of not knowing what they don’t know.</p> <p>They ask about ISIS and Al Qaeda, about women and prayer. They ask about Shari’ah, Sufis, Sunni and Shi’a, about apostasy, honor killings, and terrorism—about&nbsp;issues that Muslims as well as non-Muslims struggle with.</p> <p>And I explain that the 9/11 attacks on the US—and&nbsp;subsequent acts of terrorism and violence committed in the name of Islam which have irrevocably scared the national psyche—are&nbsp;no more representative of Islam than the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klan">KKK</a> or the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branch_Davidians">Branch Davidians</a> or the <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/drinking-the-kool-aid-a-survivor-remembers-jim-jones/248723/">Peoples Temple at&nbsp;Jonestown</a>&nbsp;are representative of Christianity.</p> <p>Almost invariably, someone will ask me whether Muslims are required to practice&nbsp;<em><a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.britannica.com%2Ftopic%2Ftaqiyyah&amp;data=02%7C01%7Cedwarmi%40hotmail.com%7C7319c7421e3e4daf232408d51d4a72e3%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636447127947042671&amp;sdata=1kOYiB5CCPtOLaq%2BYU4%2FJHJ%2BYJzGfn%2FiNgEJf%2BXlT4U%3D&amp;reserved=0" target="_blank">taqiyya</a></em>&nbsp;or dissimulation—deliberate lying to non-believers to advance the cause of Islam—and whether&nbsp;<em>I’m</em>&nbsp;practicing&nbsp;<em>taqiyya</em>&nbsp;in order to proselytize.</p> <p>I tell them no. I explain to them that I didn’t even know the&nbsp;word&nbsp;<em>taqiyya&nbsp;</em>until critics of Islam introduced me to it, but maybe they think I’m practicing&nbsp;<em>taqiyya&nbsp;</em>about&nbsp;<em>taqiyya!</em></p> <p>Indeed, I explain to my neighbors that Islam has been part of America’s religious and political fabric for generations, and that there was little anti-Muslim rhetoric in the early days of the Republic. Tolerance was clearly articulated in the 1797<a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Favalon.law.yale.edu%2F18th_century%2Fbar1796t.asp&amp;data=02%7C01%7Cedwarmi%40hotmail.com%7C7319c7421e3e4daf232408d51d4a72e3%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636447127947042671&amp;sdata=jVqSW3fHumMJtALTpaxRY2QAxMmuPjXUrV4dYhicsHg%3D&amp;reserved=0" target="_blank">&nbsp;Treaty of Tripoli,</a>&nbsp;for example, which stated:</p> <p>&nbsp;“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion—as&nbsp;it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen—and&nbsp; as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation ...”</p> <p>I tell them that&nbsp;<a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FJohn_Quincy_Adams&amp;data=02%7C01%7Cedwarmi%40hotmail.com%7C7319c7421e3e4daf232408d51d4a72e3%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636447127947042671&amp;sdata=6bihYhAHGa8HayQ%2F9RzzOy8bNdlXRhIV%2FzM2lLaCCEc%3D&amp;reserved=0" target="_blank">John Quincy Adams</a>&nbsp;had a copy of the first Qur’an printed in America with him (by Isaiah Thomas in 1806) when he defended the <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.poligonnational.org%2Fhistorical-action%2Fsengbe-pieh-cinque-and-the-amistad-revolt&amp;data=02%7C01%7Cedwarmi%40hotmail.com%7C7319c7421e3e4daf232408d51d4a72e3%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636447127947042671&amp;sdata=o7JZ%2Fxe6%2BGzs4NNe3hjQe4hQfGZKQZ05Q%2FLm7vWJOjs%3D&amp;reserved=0" target="_blank">Amistad Rebellion</a>&nbsp;mutineers, many of whom were Muslim, and that Benjamin Franklin&nbsp;<a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.gutenberg.org%2Ffiles%2F20203%2F20203-h%2F20203-h.htm&amp;data=02%7C01%7Cedwarmi%40hotmail.com%7C7319c7421e3e4daf232408d51d4a72e3%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636447127947042671&amp;sdata=qO9dXTQBPEU6BbhKXoGUaRoO5%2FyvwfLcIKPsZJ%2BBG3o%3D&amp;reserved=0" target="_blank">wrote</a>&nbsp;in his autobiography that he wanted a meeting hall built in Philadelphia so inclusive “... so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”</p> <p>I cannot imagine any public figure voicing such sentiments today—and neither can most of the people I talk with in my conversations—even&nbsp; as we recognize that Muslim Marines, auto mechanics, artists, educators, photographers, doctors, scientists, writers and students live amongst us, pay their taxes, and fight, defend and die during America’s wars.</p> <p>My neighbors, most of whom have never knowingly met a Muslim before they meet me, come to understand that before 9/11, Muslims were so well assimilated that they only appeared every ten years—as part of the national census.</p> <p>Together, we recognize that the anti-Muslim demons that today roil America’s domestic tranquility were first released when Barack Obama decided to run for president, demons quite distinct from those that followed 9/11.</p> <p>Today’s demons emerged when <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama_citizenship_conspiracy_theories">truthers, birthers, and assorted conspiracy theorists</a>, united by fear and ignorance, determined not only to disenfranchise Barack Obama but along with him anyone remotely related to “The Other”—primarily&nbsp; Muslims.&nbsp;</p> <p>Obama was identified as foreign, Kenyan—and&nbsp;Muslim—because&nbsp;his opponents couldn’t use the N-word any longer. As a result, the use of “Muslim” as a derogatory term that is meant to denigrate&nbsp;and diminish someone’s humanity has metastasized today into “Muslim” as a code word, not just for believers in Islam but for all those who are non-privileged,&nbsp;non-white, and non-Christian.</p> <p>As a result, for many Muslims today, hearing fellow Americans ignorantly attempt to disenfranchise, marginalize and target a faith community that’s been present in these lands for nearly 400 years for craven political purposes is not unlike waking up to see a cross burning on America’s communal front lawn.</p> <p>I want to help put out that fire.</p> <p>I want my neighbors to understand that, while it’s true that the Qur’an is the literal word of God, that doesn’t mean that all its contents are meant to be read literally; that Islam in not monolithic and Other; that Muslims are as fully within the Abrahamic tradition as are Jews and Christians; and like those other traditions we, too, are challenged by those who attempt to interpret scripture for privilege, profit, and power.&nbsp;</p> <p>I answer people’s questions because I want to be able to breathe freely again.</p> <p>Prophet Muhammad once spoke of a man who asked God why he was being punished. God answered, “You passed by an oppressed person but did not help him.” I travel from community to community because I want to find out how we can struggle to express solidarity with the oppressed and the occupied, and agitate for social justice regardless of ethnicity, color, gender or faith—so as to pass by no one.</p> <p>And I nurture conversation so that with my brothers and sisters we can struggle to find a path through which we can serve God and humanity with dignity and respect, and where together, we can all sit in safety under a communal vine and fig-tree.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/william-eichler/is-it-ok-to-criticise-islam">Is it ok to criticise Islam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/atiya-hasan/six-books-muslim-and-non-muslim-women-should-add-to-their-reading-list">Six books Muslim (and non-Muslim) women should add to their reading list</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/william-eichler/islam-and-future-of-tolerance">Islam and the future of tolerance</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation islam Robert Azzi Transformative nonviolence Culture Love and Spirituality Sun, 29 Oct 2017 22:55:03 +0000 Robert Azzi 114339 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The death and life of liberation theology https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/gregory-leffel/death-and-afterlife-of-liberation-theology <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A generation of radical theologians from Latin America is passing away. What does their legacy mean for the rest of the world? <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/gregory-leffel/muerte-y-vida-de-la-teolog-de-la-liberaci-n">Español</a> <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/gregory-leffel/morte-e-vida-da-teologia-da-liberta-o">Português</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/GregLeffel1.jpg" alt="" /></p><p class="image-caption">Zapatista Church: a very small monument to liberation theology. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/oso/4655542/in/photostream/">Flickr/David Sasaki</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">CC BY-NC 2.0</a>.</p> <p>This June saw the passing of two of our generation’s most fascinating and controversial Catholic priests: <a href="https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Prominent-Belgian-Liberation-Theologist-Francois-Houtart-Dies--20170606-0020.html">François Houtart</a> and <a href="https://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Padre-Miguel-dEscoto---Nicaraguas-Chancellor-of-Peace-and-Dignity-20170610-0001.html">Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann</a>. Houtart was a Jesuit priest and prolific scholar on the faculty of sociology at the University of Louvain in Belgium. His leadership in the dialogue between Marxism and Christianity, his research on religion in society from Sri Lanka to Nicaragua, and his desire to connect social movements in the global South through the <a href="http://www.cetri.be/-Presentation-183-?lang=fr">Tricontinental Centre</a> (CETRI) which he founded in 1976, matched his academic output of some 50 books. </p> <p>On the theological front, he assisted in drafting the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World<em> (<a href="http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html">Gaudium et Spes</a> </em>or “Joy and Hope”), one of the most influential documents of the landmark <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/11/vatican-ii-catholic-church-changes_n_1956641.html">Second Vatican Council</a>. Houtart was a hero to many around the world but certainly no saint. In 2010, he terminated a global campaign to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize when <a href="http://www.lesoir.be/archive/d-20101229-W0WMWJ?referer=%2Farchives%2Frecherche%3Fdatefilter%3Dlast10year%26sort%3Ddate%2Bdesc%26start%3D20%26word%3Dfrancois%2Bhoutart">he admitted to sexually abusing an eight-year-old boy</a> in 1970.</p> <p>He is perhaps best remembered for his pioneering work on the analysis of, and resistance to, corporate economic globalization. Noting the pervasive influence of the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-annual-meeting-2018">World Economic Forum</a>, he proposed the “Other Davos” in 1996, a counter movement against the mounting power of neoliberal economics.</p> <p>Five years later, others including <a href="http://www.rightlivelihoodaward.org/laureates/chico-whitaker-ferreira/">Chico Whitaker</a>, a lay Catholic activist and secretary of the Commission of Justice and Peace of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil,&nbsp; built on Houtart’s initiatives to launch the <a href="http://oecdobserver.org/news/archivestory.php/aid/1565/The_World_Social_Forum.html">World Social Forum</a> (WSF) in Porto Alegre, an annual &nbsp;meeting place for alter-globalists seeking solidarity under the banner of “Another World is Possible!” Houtart served on its International Council.</p> <p>Miguel D’Escoto served as a Maryknoll missionary priest in his native Nicaragua after his education and ordination in the USA. A liberation theologian, he joined Nicaragua’s <a href="http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Sandinista_National_Liberation_Front">Sandinista movement (FSLN</a>) in the overthrow of the dictatorial Samoza regime and its resistance to the US-led “<a href="http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Contras">contra” war</a>, serving in the Sandinista government—including as Foreign Minister between 1979 and 1990. In 2008 he was elected president of the United Nations General Assembly. Though never entirely repudiated by the Vatican for his political work, he was suppressed for decades before being fully restored to his pastoral duties by Pope Francis in 2014.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>Houtart and D’Escoto were both men of their times. In their generation, liberation was in the air through national movements against colonialism, through revolutions, and through New Left activism across the globe. Following Vatican II’s “opening to the world” and the Church’s fresh engagement with modernity, Catholic priests, missionaries and lay leaders were free to pursue novel forms of ministry.</p> <p>Such novel religious activism wasn’t entirely new. Brazilian <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-archbishop-helder-camara-1115091.html">Archbishop Hélder Câmara</a>, the “bishop of the slums,” had taken a radical approach to his ministry to the poor a decade before Vatican II; and the antecedents to what would be called liberation theology had been building in both Catholic and Protestant circles for years. But the 1968 meeting of Catholic bishops at the <a href="https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/organizations/council-of-latin-american-bishops">Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM)</a> in Medellín, Colombia, marked a turning point for the realignment of the church away from traditional social elites. Liberation theology was thus liberated to pursue its “preferential option for the poor.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>This movement spread powerfully through Latin America—and with assistance from Houtart and others, in Asia and Africa as well. But the epicenter was Latin America, where the movement aligned itself with other civil society groups in opposition to right-wing military dictatorships.</p> <p>Among this generation, Roman Catholic theologians <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Theology-Liberation-15th-Anniversary-ebook/dp/B007BPDIDS/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508430318&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=gustavo+gutierrez">Gustavo Gutiérrez</a> (now aged 89), <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Introducing-Liberation-Theology-Leonardo-Boff/dp/0883445506/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508303547&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=leonardo+boff">Leonardo Boff</a> (78) and <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Christ-Liberator-Victims-Jon-Sobrino/dp/1570753725">Jon Sobrino</a> (78), and the Methodist <a href="///C:/Users/edwarmi/Downloads/mazon.com/Doing-Theology-Revolutionary-Situation-Confrontation/dp/0800614518/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508303660&amp;sr=1-5&amp;keywords=Jos%C3%A9+M%C3%ADguez+Bonino">José Míguez Bonino</a> (who died in 2012) are among the better known liberationists. Many of their ideas were developed in association with <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-paulo-freire-1261256.html">Paulo Freire</a> (who died in 1997), the Brazilian Christian educational activist, proponent of popular education, and author of the acclaimed <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Pedagogy-Oppressed-Anniversary-Paulo-Freire/dp/0826412769/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508430793&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=pedagogy+of+the+oppressed+by+paulo+freire">Pedagogy of the Oppressed</a>.</em></p> <p>Also part of this group was the Paraguayan <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fernando-Lugo">Fernando Lugo</a> (still young at 66), who was ordained a missionary priest by the Society of the Divine Word and returned home to become bishop of San Pedro where he was known as the “friend of the poor.” In 2008 he was elected president of Paraguay, but impeached in 2012 in what neighboring countries called a “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/world/americas/senates-vote-ousts-paraguay-president-after-clash.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FLugo%20M%C3%A9ndez%2C%20Fernando&amp;action=click&amp;contentCollection=timestopics&amp;region=stream&amp;module=stream_unit&amp;version=late">constitutional coup d’état</a>.”</p> <p>Why did this generation rise to prominence in Latin America? There are numerous reasons. For one, in the post-World War II period, some like Houtart in Belgium were radicalized by the plight of the European working class and challenged by its irreligiosity to find new ways of articulating and identifying with the poor. This experience spread to Latin America almost accidentally, for the simple reason that Europe was oversupplied with priests and Latin America needed more of them; knowingly or not, Latin America imported radicalized priests in significant numbers. Latin American priests also studied in Europe, absorbing radical thinking. These influences played out in societies dominated by the Catholic faith.</p> <p>But the larger reasons were twofold: first, the abject poverty of the Latin American majority which even the Vatican could no longer overlook; and second, the rise of oppressive military regimes and bitter political revolutions in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. The felt need for liberation among the poor, the marginalized and indigenous peoples was as palpable as it was necessary. From the 1960s through the 1980s, the struggle for liberation was very real.</p> <p>Those days are gone. Democracy has returned to much of Latin America, as well as a more pragmatic form of social democracy, and liberation theology has lost some of its revolutionary raison d’être. In <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Called-Freedom-Changing-Liberation-Theology/dp/1606088017">his open and honest postmortem</a> on the movement, the Belgian-Latin American <a href="http://en.mercopress.com/2011/03/29/jose-comblin-one-of-the-liberation-theology-ideologues-dies-in-brazil">José Comblin</a> (who died in 2011) admits that in many ways the liberationists misinterpreted the life experience of the Latin American poor.</p> <p>While they focused on rural peasants they overlooked migration to the cities. They also missed the mood of the <em>campesinos’</em> popular religiosity, which trended strongly towards the Protestant and Pentecostal churches. And they ignored the desire of the poor to become consumers. “The Catholics opted for the poor,” as the saying goes, but “the poor opted for the markets.”</p> <p>Hence, liberation theology was but a moment. It was a particular theo-political response to a specific set of circumstances—a generation’s rebellion against grinding poverty in the killing fields of revolutionary Latin America. But the rich theology of the liberationists endures as a challenge to every church tradition. Their analysis of the causes of poverty and how it is structured into prevailing global systems—recently articulated by Houtart in his 2011 manifesto <em><a href="http://www.cetri.be/IMG/pdf/From_common_goods_to_the_common_good_of_humanity_EN.pdf">From ‘Common Goods’ to the ‘Common Good of Humanity’</a></em>—challenges every church to open its eyes to the cold, hard analysis that’s required to grasp the changing world around them.</p> <p>Is there anything else the rest of the world can learn from the liberationists?</p> <p>In the West, the Protestant, Anglo-European North and the Catholic, Iberian South produced vastly different socio-political traditions, even though they share in common a white settler history of slave-holding, the suppression of indigenous peoples, and capitalist class exploitation. If the South trends social-democratic and struggles against powerful conservative elites, the North trends liberal, towards laissez faire capitalism and expressive individualism. As it was framed in Latin America, liberation theology could never succeed in the North.</p> <p>Nevertheless, it has many lessons to teach. The first lies in its consciousness—its willingness to flip the social script from catering to elites to privileging the poor. Liberation theology was never only about theo-politics and revolution. It was also about overcoming alienation: the alienation that separates human beings from each other, people from the Earth, Western from pre-Western forms of life, and alienated psyches from transcendence. It taught ordinary people to perceive the reality of their own circumstance—to <em>conscientize</em> themselves, as the liberationists put it—through their own self-reflection, so that they were free to construct a social reality that resisted the powers of the age.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Secondly, we can learn from its methodology, simple yet profound: “See–Judge–Act.” That is, live in the concrete world. Describe reality as it is, not simply as theory tells us. But also judge reality from the horizon of a reconciled humanity, and act accordingly to bring that reality about. The liberationists put a lot of time into analysis, and that let them tell, in great detail, the hard truth that the world we have made is grinding others into the dust, and that this must stop, as much for our own salvation as for the wellbeing of others.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, we might even learn from its mistakes. To overlook popular religiosity—because intellectual and religious elites aren’t interested in the daily lives of the faithful, or because wealthy city dwellers forget rural life and laugh off its traditions, or because the successful classes denigrate the struggling classes and blame them for their own suffering—is to leave large segments of society without the material, intellectual, and spiritual resources to find their way in the world.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Lastly, we might learn to take our own churches more seriously. The liberationists believed in spiritual community, life-giving fellowship, and historical church structures to hold them together more than any religious movement that I’ve come across. They believed in a “<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Ecclesiogenesis-Base-Communities-Reinvent-Church-ebook/dp/B009WPZYUU/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508299179&amp;sr=8-7&amp;keywords=leonardo+boff">new way of being church</a>”—confident that the social power of faith can liberate societies as easily as it can oppress them.</p> <p>Since the end of Soviet-style socialism in 1989, ‘alter-globalization’ rather than ‘liberation’ has come to define the radical imagination, but the problems of poverty and oppression persist—as does the possibility that we might draw again on the theo-political resources provided by a remarkable community of radical priests to inspire a new generation of alter-globalist activists and theologians.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/best-kept-secret-of-catholic-church%E2%80%94its-social-teachings">The best kept secret of the Catholic Church—its social teachings</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/is-pope-francis-ecofeminist">Is Pope Francis an ecofeminist?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation liberation theology religion and social transformation Gregory Leffel Activism Love and Spirituality Sun, 22 Oct 2017 23:02:36 +0000 Gregory Leffel 114159 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Lessons from the front lines of anti-colonial pipeline resistance https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/james-rowe-mike-simpson/lessons-from-front-lines-of-anti-colonial-pipeline-resistance <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ceremony, mindfulness and healing practices play a key role in radical social movements.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>This article was first published on <a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/lessons-front-lines-anti-colonial-unistoten-pipeline-resistance/">Waging Nonviolence</a>.</em></p><p><em><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JamesRoweMikeSimpson1.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></em></p><p class="image-caption">A bridge leads to the entrance of the Unist’ot’en territory in British Columbia, Canada. Credit: Waging Nonviolence/Jeff Nicholls. All rights reserved.</p><p>The Standing Rock standoff over the Dakota Access Pipeline was a reminder that colonization, and resistance to it, both exist in the present tense. Fossil fuel pipelines that despoil indigenous lands and waters have become key flashpoints in long-standing anti-colonial resistance.</p><p>An important precursor and inspiration for the Standing Rock camp is an indigenous occupation in northern British Columbia, Canada. For the past eight years, the&nbsp;<a href="http://unistoten.camp/">Unist’ot’en clan</a>&nbsp;have reoccupied their traditional territory. When the camp began in 2009, seven pipelines had been proposed to cross their territory, as well as their water source, the salmon-bearing Morice River. But thanks to Unist’ot’en resistance, oil and gas companies have been blocked from building new fossil fuel infrastructure. The lesser known but wildly successful Unist’ot’en encampment holds crucial lessons for anti-pipeline and anti-colonial organizers across North America, or Turtle Island, as many indigenous nations call it.</p><p>We visited the occupation this summer. Upon arriving, visitors must undergo a border-crossing protocol. There is only one way in and out of Unist’ot’en territory—a bridge that crosses the Morice River. Before being allowed to cross, we were asked where we came from, whether we worked for the government or the fossil fuel industry, and how our visit could benefit the Unist’ot’en.</p><p>We explained that we are both settlers, people living on and benefiting from indigenous lands. We also expressed our willingness to help in whatever ways were needed during our stay, such as kitchen duty, gardening and construction. Finally, we shared our commitment to decolonization and climate justice, and our appreciation for how Unist’ot’en land defense accomplishes both; it returns indigenous lands to indigenous peoples while blocking fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens the entire human estate. After a short consultation, clan members welcomed us to leave Canada and cross into Unist’ot’en territory.</p><p><strong>Five pipelines already defeated.</strong></p><p>The Unist’ot’en occupation has already contributed to the cancellation of five pipelines, including Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project—a multibillion-dollar development that would have pumped bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to Canada’s Pacific coast. The two proposed incursions onto Unist’ot’en territory that remain are both fracked gas pipelines: Chevron’s Pacific Trails and TransCanada’s Coast Gaslink.</p><p>Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson explained to us that the tireless work of supporters, including indigenous people from other nations along with settler allies, is a central reason why the camp has endured and grown, knocking pipeline proposals over one by one.</p><p>Despite these successes, Huson has been struck by the exhaustion of frontline occupiers—not just on the Unist’ot’en front line, but elsewhere, including Standing Rock. Since starting their occupation, the Unist’ot’en have hosted an annual action camp for supporters wanting to learn about the struggle. Huson dedicated this year’s action camp to the theme of healing. As she explained to us, “the health of the people is vital to keep the resistance moving forward. We believe that if we heal the people they will be healthy to make decisions to heal the land.”</p><p><strong>The action camp as a place of healing.</strong></p><p>This year’s action camp featured workshops on burnout, healing from trauma, indigenous approaches to conflict resolution, and, on the first day, an exercise in awareness.</p><p>This first activity was facilitated by Huson and her partner Smogelgem (a hereditary chief of the neighboring Likhts’amisyu Clan). During this exercise, we were blindfolded, spun around and then guided by a partner to a tree of their choosing. “Be with the tree, make a connection” were the simple instructions. After our partners returned us to our starting points, we removed our blindfolds and went searching for our newfound evergreen friend. Every single participant found their tree. Smogelgem then explained that the land is living and breathing. We are always in relationship to it, but our relations to the land can be intentionally deepened, so that we come to experience trees, water and animals as friends, even kin.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JamesRoweMikeSimpson2.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The pithouse on Unist’ot’en territory. Credit: Waging Nonviolence/Jeff Nicholls. All rights reserved.</p><p>After completing the workshop, we walked to a traditional pithouse that was recently built on the precise GPS coordinates of Chevron’s proposed pipeline. Huson and Smogelgem plan to live in the pithouse once it is complete (and outfitted with comfortable furnishings and energy-efficient lighting and appliances). Their vision is for more Wet’suwet’en people to join them back on the land, living and renewing their culture. The Wet’suwet’en Nation is comprised of five clans, including the Unist’ot’en people.</p><p>Once the two remaining pipeline threats are defeated, Huson and Smogelgem will transition the camp into a full-time healing and cultural center for indigenous people recovering from the ongoing trauma of colonization. Indeed, the largest structure at the camp, a three-story building that includes a dining hall, industrial kitchen, and counseling spaces, is called “The Healing Centre.”</p><p>The Unist’ot’en Camp has always had a dual purpose: resisting pipelines while nurturing Wet’suwet’en culture. Like the water protectors at Standing Rock, the Unist’ot’en Clan has been careful to clarify that their settlement is not a protest. Rather, it is an occupation and assertion of their traditional territory—a site from which to resist further colonial extraction, while also practicing a culture and economy that is inseparable from the land.</p><p>According to Huson, “our people’s belief is that we are part of the land. The land is not separate from us. The land sustains us. And if we don’t take care of her, she won’t be able to sustain us.”</p><p>Huson explained to us that she lived away from her people’s territory for 20 years due to colonization. “I lived on reservation, got educated and worked as an economic development officer for 14 years,” she said. “Once I decolonized and reconnected to my territory, I felt my spirit come alive. When family visit they don’t want to leave.” She wants to share with others the healing that she has experienced by being back out on her people’s land.</p><p><strong>Indigenous resurgence and embodied social change.</strong></p><p>The Unist’ot’en Camp is exemplary of what indigenous scholars such as Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Jeff Corntassel (Nishnaabeg and Cherokee ancestry, respectively) call “indigenous resurgence.”&nbsp;<a href="http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/18627/15550">According to Corntassel</a>: “Being indigenous today means struggling to reclaim and regenerate one’s relational place-based existence by challenging the ongoing destructive forces of colonization.” He notes that ceremony is a key way to “reconnect to the natural world.”</p><p>There are deep resonances between indigenous resurgence and the focus on ceremony, mindfulness and healing practices that are emerging in radical social movements across Turtle Island. Settler activists are finding that&nbsp;<a href="http://escholarship.org/uc/item/46n2q8mg">different healing practices</a>, such as meditation and yoga, can help reduce burnout, heal the traumas caused by oppression and increase organizational effectiveness. Daily meditations, for example, played an&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/mindfulness-and-the-art-of-social-movement-maintenance/">important role at Occupy Wall Street</a>. These resonances between indigenous resurgence and the growing social movement interest in non-Western healing practices have the potential to facilitate new solidarities between indigenous activists and settler allies.</p><p>For example, Hajime Harold is a teacher, activist and longtime supporter of Unist’ot’en land defense. During this year’s action camp, he led daily exercises in qigong, a traditional Chinese healing system that integrates breathing, meditation and physical postures. As a Japanese Canadian, Harold experienced racism growing up in Kelowna, British Columbia. These painful experiences sensitized him to injustices, including those related to colonialism. His heart has been opened, too, he said, by learning qigong, which has increased his capacity to act in solidarity with those whose challenges are different from his. For Harold, qigong helps practitioners better connect with themselves, other people and the earth. He experiences qigong as resonant with the indigenous traditional teachings that he is familiar with.</p><p>Similarly, scholar Michael Yellow Bird (from the Sahnish and Hidatsa Nations) sees indigenous ceremonial practices as aligned with mindfulness meditation, and crucial to&nbsp;<a href="https://vimeo.com/86995336">what he terms “neurodecolonization,”</a>&nbsp;or transforming the embodied traumas that colonialism leaves in its wake.</p><p><strong>Building settler solidarity on stolen native land.</strong></p><p>Despite the similarities between indigenous resurgence and mind-body practices of settler social movements, there is still a vital element of decolonization that is regularly missed by settler activists: land. To whom does the land rightfully belong? Who has decision-making power over it?</p><p>Over lunch at the Unist’ot’en Camp, indigenous scholar Edward Valandra (from the Oceti Sakowin Oyate) asked us a simple question: “What is the first thing you do when you get out of bed each morning?” We immediately thought of our various morning rituals (meditation, yoga, a cup of coffee). Valandra patiently watched as we pondered his question; then he leaned in. “I can tell you exactly what you do each morning. You step out of bed onto stolen native land.”</p><p>The regular failure of settler activists to grapple with the land question means that even radical social movements are constantly at risk of reinforcing colonial structures and social relations. Consider Occupy Wall Street. The different occupations that sprang up across the continent in 2011 to protest profound disparities in wealth rarely acknowledged that they were happening on already occupied land.</p><p>Moreover, as scholars Eve Tuck (member of the Aleut indigenous community) and K. Wayne Yang have&nbsp;<a href="http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/18630">argued</a>, “the ideal of ‘redistribution of wealth’ camouflages how much of that wealth is land, Native land.” Without a focus on the repatriation of land to indigenous peoples, a seemingly radical call for redistribution can quickly become a continuation of colonial dispossession.</p><p>Decolonization may feel unsettling to some, as it means the return of land and governing authority and the renunciation of settler privileges. Nevertheless, indigenous-led front lines from Standing Rock to Unist’ot’en are drawing a growing number of settlers who grieve colonial injustices, feel anxious about climate destabilization and crave a deeper connection to the land upon which they live.</p><p> Julia Michaelis is the camp’s chef. If food critics visited front lines, the kitchen at Unist’ot’en would be brimming with five-star reviews. Julia explained to us that she loved being at camp because every step she takes while there—from chopping onions to facilitating nonviolent direct action trainings—is in the service of decolonization. For settlers, relating to the magnitude of colonial injustice can be overwhelming. But at a front line like the Unist’ot’en camp, a simple chore like washing dishes is transformed into an everyday act of decolonization.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JamesRoweMikeSimpson3.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">A bunkhouse at the Unist’ot’en camp. Credit: Waging Nonviolence/Jeff Nicholls. All rights reserved.</p><p>In a blog post about his experiences of healing at the camp, settler activist Will Falk&nbsp;<a href="https://sandiegofreepress.org/2015/02/unistoten-camp-the-best-medicine/">recently reflected</a>&nbsp;on how “every chore, every conversation, every action at the camp comes with a fullness of meaning I have never found anywhere else.” For Falk, this meaning is rooted in the traditional teachings that inform the camp.</p><p><a href="http://unistoten.camp/come-to-camp/healing/">According to Unist’ot’en Clan member Karla Tait</a>, many supporters (both indigenous and settler) have “come out to Unist’ot’en land and found it to be a healing experience, to live on the land and have a connection with the natural world and our teachings.”</p><p>Supporters at the camp are making a connection with Unist’ot’en people, whose ancestors have been in deep relationship with the land since time immemorial. Being in good relations with people whose living traditions emerge from thousands of years of reciprocal relationship with the land allows for a depth of environmental connection, a groundedness on the Earth, that many supporters have never before experienced.</p><p>As environmental educators, we have learned a variety of contemplative exercises designed to deepen human connection to the land and facilitate a desire for stewardship. But we learned at the Unist’ot’en Camp that there is no substitute for the groundedness that comes from being in good relationship with the specific peoples upon whose lands you are living. Developing that relationship means fighting for the restitution of indigenous lands and authority.</p><p><strong>Post-colonialism?</strong></p><p>The Unist’ot’en Camp offers a glimpse into what post-colonial relations between indigenous peoples and settlers could look like on Turtle Island. The land is Wet’suwet’en territory and governed by Wet’suwet’en law and systems of governance, but the camp welcomes visitors of all backgrounds who are keen to respect, abide by and learn from the laws of the land.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JamesRoweMikeSimpson4.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Members and supporters of the Unist’ot’en camp showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Credit: Waging Nonviolence/Unist’ot’en Camp. All rights reserved.</p><p><a href="http://unistoten.camp/come-to-camp/preparing-for-your-visit/">As stated on the Unist’ot’en website</a>: “People of all races, religions, nationalities, classes, genders, orientations and gender identifications are welcome to support the grassroots Wet’suwet’en people in defending their land.” This connection across difference is practiced actively, a key part of the healing ethos of the camp. Indeed, one of our favorite activities at camp was “Femme Friday,” when everyone was encouraged to wear makeup and nail polish to make the environment more welcoming and celebratory for two-spirit people and genderqueer allies. Indigenous resurgence can look like a hereditary chief in red nail polish.</p><p>After eight years of anti-colonial resistance and the defeat of multiple pipeline projects, the Unist’ot’en Camp is still building momentum. Their winning formula is this: indigenous land governed by indigenous people, with consistent support from settler allies. This approach, deployed at Standing Rock and other&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/09/07/news/indigenous-protesters-build-tiny-homes-path-trans-mountain-pipeline">indigenous-led front lines</a>, is helping to ensure a livable future by stopping the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure, while also sowing seeds for a different world—one in which the deep wounds to land and people inflicted by colonialism can finally heal.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/molly-wallace/why-indigenous-civil-resistance-has-unique-power">What can be learned from the movement to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jenni-monet/climate-justice-meets-racism-standing-rock-was-decades-in-making">Climate justice meets racism: Standing Rock was decades in the making</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/james-k-rowe/learning-to-love-us-versus-them-thinking">Learning to love us-versus-them thinking</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Mike Simpson James K Rowe Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Thu, 12 Oct 2017 23:01:32 +0000 James K Rowe and Mike Simpson 113946 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Findhorn: inner listening, outer action https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/thomas-miller/findhorn-inner-listening-outer-action <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">When we turn within, we find life far kinder than it seemed before, and the possibilities far more open.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ThomasMiller.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Part of the Findhorn community in northern Scotland. Credit: Findhorn Foundation. All rights reserved.</p> <p class="normal">In the slanting sunlight of autumn in the north of Scotland, a group of people in gardening clothes sit on a circle of tree stumps, eyes closed. “Tune into which area you would like to work this afternoon,” says Iris, a middle aged woman wearing bright orange garden gloves. The rest of the group stay still for a few moments as she names the different areas of the garden, then Iris says “thank you” and they open their eyes. The shift leaders get up and stand at different sides, and the participants move to join them. Then they move to different areas of the gardens to start their work.</p> <p class="normal">This simple process of ‘attunement’ is a key to understanding the <a href="https://www.findhorn.org/">Findhorn Foundation</a>, a community that <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christiana_Figueres">Christina Figueres</a>, Executive Secretary of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Framework_Convention_on_Climate_Change">UN Framework Convention on Climate Change,</a> has called the ‘Alternative Davos.’ The center’s programmes now regularly draw thousands of people each year from all walks of life, many of whom return several years in a row and participate in work shifts alongside members of the community. Part of what attracts them is how Findhorn makes a direct connection between listening within and acting outwardly in everything it does.</p> <p class="normal">“I see how attunement works for participants and for myself all the time,” notes Iris, a former hotel and real estate company manager in Israel. Her dream is to bring the skills she has learned at Findhorn back to her native country to build peace gardens. “People really come into contact with what is meaningful for them, sometimes for the first time in a long time.”</p> <p class="normal">But taking time to be still and look within for direction is not our cultures’ predominant way of living.</p> <p class="normal">Most of society’s structures—government, schools, religious institutions and even families—operate on the unspoken assumption that there must be external rules. The government makes laws that everyone should obey; religions set rigid definitions of what is good and bad; and schools rank students according to their grades.</p> <p class="normal">In many cases, the cost of choosing to pay attention to outer rules rather than the inner life is high.</p> <p class="normal">On a personal level, when people choose what the dominant culture tells them they should value instead of what they sense is their calling—money over relationships and power over fulfillment—stress, burnout and depression are frequent results. And on the collective level, when enough people stop acting on their sense of meaning and purpose, the end result is a dysfunctional system that runs on addictions, distractions, short-term gratification and a sense of separation.</p> <p class="normal">What complicates the situation is that when messages from outside ourselves have colonized people’s hearts and minds, we inevitably find it more difficult to sense what is truly meaningful for us.</p> <p class="normal">The Findhorn community takes a very different approach. It is an imperfect experiment in organizing groups around each person’s inner life. In small ways—like deciding which part of the garden to work in—as well as larger ones, it offers people different paths to attune to what is actually meaningful to them, and then to do it alone and with others.</p> <p class="normal">“Most people have layers of conditioning from family, culture, religion and so on,” explains Iris, “when I work with people, I usually do something to help people quiet down, like hold a meditation or ask them to take some deep breaths. Then the mental chatter from all the conditioning can lessen and they can begin to sense into deeper levels.”</p> <p class="normal">In our experience, doing this inevitably brings with it a greater awareness of each person’s higher purpose; and acting from this sense of higher purpose lies at the heart of constructing a different world.</p> <p class="normal"><a href="https://www.findhorn.org/about-us/">Findhorn’s story</a> began with three ordinary people who gave their lives in service to this ideal. Feeling drawn by a sense of deep calling to serve the world, they took the rare step of pledging themselves to act on that calling come what may. Years later, after meditating daily and putting what they heard into practice, they ended up penniless and out of jobs in a desolate caravan park in the remote north of the Scottish Highlands. Their families didn’t understand their ‘crazy’ obsession, and they attracted negative press for being part of a counter-cultural spiritual group.</p> <p class="normal">When the garden they started in the arid sand began to flourish unexpectedly, they drew more positive media attention and more visitors. They purchased caravans for guests, and within weeks, people had arrived to purchase and occupy them. With 20 community members, they built a kitchen for hundreds more, and they came too.</p> <p class="normal">Over the years the community grew and developed, becoming a founding member of the <a href="https://ecovillage.org/">Global Ecovillage Network</a> which links Findhorn with other similar centres like <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/leila-dregger/sacred-activism-story-of-tamera">Tamera in Portugal</a> and <a href="http://www.dartington.org/visit/?gclid=CMif0bfewtYCFdqNswodysAAkA">Dartington Hall</a>/<a href="https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/">Schumacher College</a> in Devon. We have gained recognition from the United Nations as a center for sustainability education, and developed a wide range of college-level programmes in ecovillage design, alternative energy, Spirituality and Wellness and permaculture.</p> <p class="normal">Something that began on the farthest margins of society has started to grow into a center of influence.</p> <p class="normal">The pattern is the same for many individuals. The feelings, intuitions and fleeting impressions that may get marginalized in everyday life hold clues about our deeper calling. When people pay attention to and act on their inner lives instead of condemning their experiences and impressions to internal ghettos, those parts of themselves that have been marginalized begin to gain more influence. If we continue to pay attention and act on them, we begin to sense the larger social and spiritual wholes to which we belong.</p> <p class="normal">Meditation and other inner life awareness practices have gained much ground in recent years, in part thanks to Findhorn and other innovative centers that have helped to popularize them. Still, talking about inner experiences, especially ones that people regard as spiritual, tends to be categorized as anything from flaky to clinically insane.</p> <p class="normal">Nevertheless, the community’s experience is that paying attention to the inner life and acting on its insights is what helps people to regain a sense of identity, sovereignty and joy. NGO workers at Findhorn often remark that they come away feeling rejuvenated and reconnected, full of fresh ideas. Participants from corporate jobs find it transformational to work in the garden and experience warm, human contact.</p> <p class="normal">Often, however, reconnecting with the inner life produces things that seem unexpected, strange or extreme. New information can come in the form of a dream, a sudden knowing or a visionary spiritual experience. This makes sense, given that most of us are used to interpreting life according to the definitions of others.</p> <p class="normal">In many ways, our current economic, political and religious systems seem headed towards destructive ends and are telling us destructive stories. But traditionally they have also been the wielders of authority and respectability that shape the overarching narrative of most of our lives. And if we have become convinced that a crazy way of being is respectable and authoritative, then the way out might indeed seem disreputable and strange.</p> <p class="normal">What the community has discovered over 55 years of spiritual and practical action is that the decision to trust our sense of meaning, regardless of how strange it seems at first, is the road to freedom. The metaphysics of what people are doing when they meditate and listen within are open to debate. Findhorn itself avoids any kind of religious statements in order to focus attention on people’s lived experiences, not any particular theory of them.</p> <p class="normal">However, one of the most common experiences among members and participants is that once we do turn within, we find life far kinder than it seemed before, and the possibilities far more open.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/leila-dregger/sacred-activism-story-of-tamera">Sacred activism: the story of Tamera</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kelly-teamey-udi-mandel/are-eco-versities-future-for-higher-education">Are eco-versities the future for higher education?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/charlotte-du-cann/under-volcano">Under the volcano</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Intentional communities Thomas Miller Activism Care Culture Love and Spirituality Tue, 03 Oct 2017 22:50:10 +0000 Thomas Miller 113654 at https://www.opendemocracy.net They rode on horseback to deliver babies: a century later, midwives are still crucial https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/melissa-hellmann/they-rode-on-horseback-to-deliver-babies-century-later-midwives-are- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“I grew up with mares foaling and cows calving. I knew critters could do better than that; kinda figured women could too if given the chance.”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MelissaHellman.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Jean Fee shows photos from her time as a nurse midwife for the Frontier Nursing Service.&nbsp; Credit: YES! Magazine/Melissa Hellmann. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Carrie Hall was in the middle of a hair-coloring appointment when she received a call from nurses at a nearby hospital: One of her patients was about to deliver.</p> <p>Her blonde hair still wrapped in foil, Hall rushed from the beauty salon to the delivery room and within 20 minutes was holding a baby boy in her arms.</p> <p>“I was at the salon and nature called!” Hall wrote that April day in a Facebook post through her alma mater, Frontier Nursing University. It went viral.&nbsp;“1st time for everything!”</p> <p>As one of only two nurse midwives within about 40 miles of her hometown of Whitesburg in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, the 38-year-old Hall is accustomed to dropping everything at a moment’s notice to deliver a baby or conduct a checkup.</p> <p>But hers is a profession in flux. As the number of obstetrician-gynecologists declines in rural parts of the country and more primary care physicians stop delivering babies, the need for health professionals like her, who specialize in women’s reproductive care and childbirth, is becoming critical.</p> <p>Yet, nearly 100 years after the first American nurse midwives rode on horseback across the Appalachian Mountains to help women in childbirth, many in this region in particular and across America as a whole have still not fully embraced this more natural form of care. Nurse midwives are nurses who have completed graduate-level courses in midwifery. They are licensed in all 50 states to deliver babies and specialize in women’s reproductive health. A&nbsp;<a href="http://california.midwife.org/california/files/ccLibraryFiles/Filename/000000000270/StateswithSupervision2013.pdf">few states&nbsp;</a>require they be supervised by a physician to practice, but Kentucky isn’t one of them. They differ from certified professional midwives, who are trained to attend to home births and can’t be licensed to practice in Kentucky.</p> <p>Still, not enough hospitals and other health care facilities are opening their doors to nurse midwives, and general misconceptions about the kind of education midwives receive leave the profession struggling for acceptance—even in areas where studies suggest they are most needed.</p> <p>“Often there’s a belief that midwives are trained by their grandmothers,” said Dr. Susan Stone, president of Frontier Nursing University in Hyden.</p> <p>Hall grew up in Whitesburg, a former coal mining town of about 2,000 nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. Her great-grandmother and great-aunt were trained to deliver babies by other neighborhood women and became lay midwives during the turn of the 20th&nbsp;century. “She basically did it because she had to,” Hall said. “There were no other women to do it.”</p> <p>That family history inspired her career choice. Hall wanted to practice in her hometown so she could give back to her community, she said.</p> <p>In 2003, she enrolled in a distance-learning nurse-midwifery program that FNU created 14 years earlier. It recruits students from rural and underserved areas and keeps them in their communities as they earn their degrees.</p> <p>The students could get clinical experience at local clinics and hospitals and are encouraged to stay and practice in their home area once they graduate.</p> <p>Hall received her nurse midwifery degree in 2005 while working at the Mountain Comprehensive Health Center. She continued her education at FNU to become a women’s health care nurse practitioner, and then a family nurse practitioner.</p> <p>The everyday struggles of life in a town devastated by the loss of coal are embodied in the patients she sees at the clinic.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/us/mcconnell-kentucky-health-care-bill.html?mcubz=1&amp;_r=0">Opioid addiction&nbsp;</a>is rampant here and many of the babies she delivers are born with drug withdrawal that cause tremors, constant crying, and low birth weight. Because of poverty and lack of transportation, she also sees poor prenatal care that includes smoking and unhealthy eating. These habits can lead to gestational diabetes and premature births.</p> <p>The childbirth complications she sees aren’t unique to Whitesburg, either. According to a 2016&nbsp;<a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/report002.pdf">Center for Disease Control report&nbsp;</a>that looked at births before 37 weeks of gestation, Kentucky has one of the highest pre-term birth rates in the country. Premature births can cause a lifetime of learning disabilities and is the leading cause of death in children under 5, according to the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/">World Health Organization</a>.</p> <p>The&nbsp;<a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/report002.pdf">CDC report</a>&nbsp;also found that Kentucky has the nation’s sixth&nbsp;highest rate of C-sections, a procedure that can save lives when medically necessary but also poses serious risks to both mother and child. And the state’s infant mortality rates have also long been higher than the national average, according to a 2013 state public health department <a href="http://chfs.ky.gov/nr/rdonlyres/813312e0-07de-4d33-b3a1-fa2cc891fc47/0/22413pretermdatabrief6_rev.pdf">report</a>.</p> <p>Studies show that engaging a midwife for prenatal care can reduce many of these risk factors by highlighting the natural childbirth process and focusing on preventative measures through health education.</p> <p>In a 2012&nbsp;<a href="http://www.midwife.org/acnm/files/cclibraryfiles/filename/000000002128/midwifery%20evidence-based%20practice%20issue%20brief%20finalmay%202012.pdf">American College of Nurse Midwives study</a>, researchers found that midwifery improved the infant mortality rate for low-risk women compared to physicians caring for women of similar risk. Women who received prenatal care from midwives were also more likely to have a closer relationship with their health care provider, receive more prenatal education, and have higher rates of breastfeeding, researchers found.</p> <p>Yet, widespread misinformation persists about midwives, and people falsely assume they will get substandard care.</p> <p>As a nurse midwife, Hall can address a range of issues her clients face because her nursing background emphasizes patient care. Unlike OB/GYNS, she cannot perform C-sections, but the care she provides prioritizes taking the time to develop personal relationships with her patients.</p> <p>“We get very close to them,” Hall says about her clients. This allows her to counsel and educate patients on healthy diets, breastfeeding, birth control options, and substance abuse. She typically delivers between 10 and 15 babies a year at a nearby hospital, mostly through natural childbirth with zero to minimal painkillers.</p> <p>Stone of FNU thinks that more expectant mothers will turn to caregivers like Hall<strong>&nbsp;</strong>as the number of OB/GYNS continues to decline in rural areas, particularly in Kentucky, where a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.acog.org/~/media/Departments/Government%20Relations%20and%20Outreach/WF2011KY.pdf?dmc=1">2014 The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists report&nbsp;</a>found nearly half of the state’s 120 counties didn’t have OB/GYNs.</p> <p>FNU’s response has been to step up recruitment—and that appears to be showing some results. Of the 2,000 students enrolled at FNU, about 800 are in the nurse midwifery programs, Stone said. “We’re always looking for opportunities to promote and educate nurse midwives.”</p> <p>Frontier Nursing University has long been at the forefront of increasing access to midwifery across the country. In fact, it began as a nurse midwifery service back when women rode for long distances on horseback to deliver babies.</p> <p>Mary Breckinridge, a nurse who founded the university, had traveled to Europe in 1919 to join the post-war relief efforts. Traveling through England and France, she observed midwives who were trained to deliver babies and care for mothers. At the time, there was no formal education for midwives in America, said the school’s development officer, Michael Claussen. And Breckinridge observed how France’s system of using decentralized stations to deliver midwifery care could be implemented in the rural South, where there was a shortage of doctors.</p> <p>She received midwifery training in England and returned to Kentucky in 1925 to start a clinic, which would later become Frontier Nursing Service. The clinic’s staff was originally trained as nurse midwives in England, and returned to Kentucky to practice. In 1939, the Frontier Nursing Service founded a university in Hyden, Kentucky, so women could receive training in the U.S.</p> <p>On a June evening, I drove to Breckinridge’s former home in Wendover. The two-story log cabin, built from trees of the surrounding area, overlooks the middle fork of the Kentucky River. The home became a bed-and-breakfast in 2001 and now holds memorabilia of early years—midwives’ saddlebags and powder-blue uniforms. The walls were covered with black-and-white photos of women astride horseback.</p> <p>In the one-traffic light town of Mckee, Kentucky, about 60 miles northwest of Wendover, I met a former nurse midwife who had worked with Breckinridge before her death in 1965.</p> <p>Jean Fee met me in a church parking lot and drove with a careless confidence through the woods to her one-story house located in a clearing.</p> <p>Originally from Alberta, Canada, Fee, now 80, was intrigued by the natural process of midwifery and appalled by the sterile efficiency of childbirth in hospitals, where mothers were largely removed from the process and didn’t get a chance to bond with the babies.</p> <p>“I grew up with mares foaling and cows calving,” Fee said while she ate stew in her dining room. “I knew critters could do better than that; kinda figured women could too if given the chance.”</p> <p>She graduated from Frontier Nursing University (then called the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.frontier.edu/namechangefaqs">Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing</a>)<strong>&nbsp;</strong>in 1959 and stayed on as a nurse midwife with Frontier Nursing Service. Fee often made house calls to homes where lay midwives—usually older women without formal training—had formerly used superstition to solve childbirth complications. A common one was placing an ax under the bed to stop heavy bleeding during labor and childbirth.</p> <p>Infant mortality rates started to decrease and women started delivering healthier babies once the Frontier Nursing Service came on the scene, she said. Fee taught women how to breathe and relax during labor and used her training as a nurse to diagnose symptoms.</p> <p>Breckinridge’s emphasis on patient care and the natural childbirth process can be seen in midwifery care today. At the MCHC clinic, Hall leads me into a small, stark room where her patient, 23-year-old Hallie Wolford, sits at the exam table. Wolford has short blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and a slight frame that magnifies her protruding belly.</p> <p>She and her partner drove 45 minutes to see Hall because there aren’t any midwives in the nearby town of Pikeville, where she lives. “Everyone’s told me Carrie is really nice,” says Wolford, pregnant with her first child.</p> <p>Hall lowers the exam table as Wolford explains that dizzy spells caused her to fall a couple of days earlier. Hall’s voice rises to a soothing tone, as she recommends that Wolford drink more water and consult her cardiologist. After examining Wolford’s stomach, she asks her to return if specialists haven’t discovered the source of her problem.</p> <p>Hall chats volubly in a southern drawl peppered with “darling” and “sweetie.” The appointment ends with Hall joking that Wolford’s partner drives too quickly to get to the clinic. “Listen, don’t kill my patient,” she warns him as they all erupt in laughter.</p> <p>When asked about the easy banter, she says: “I’m like that with all of my patients.”</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/they-rode-horseback-to-deliver-babies-a-century-later-midwives-are-still-crucial-20170907?utm_source=YTW&amp;utm_medium=Email&amp;utm_campaign=20170908">YES! Magazine</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/zoe-ferguson/does-kindness-matter">Does kindness matter?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kim-eckart/where-strangers-become-family">Where strangers become family </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ournhs/sean-osullivan/getting-midwifery-workforce-right">Don&#039;t leave midwives out in the cold</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Melissa Hellmann Empathy Care Love and Spirituality Thu, 21 Sep 2017 22:08:54 +0000 Melissa Hellmann 113463 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Does kindness matter? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/zoe-ferguson/does-kindness-matter <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Body">Like spraying water on a spider’s web, research reveals the taken for granted infrastructure of human relationships.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Zoe Ferguson.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/30870467422">Flickr/Ron Mader</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p>Does being kind have any role to play in achieving real and lasting gains in social and economic justice? At first sight it sounds unlikely. Kindness is so soft a virtue and injustice is so hard. Individual acts of love and compassion are no substitute for removing centuries of structural oppression.</p> <p class="BodyA">But after a year of working with seven organisations in different communities<a href="https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/place-kindness-combating-loneliness-building-stronger-communities/"> </a><a href="https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/place-kindness-combating-loneliness-building-stronger-communities/">in Scotland with a team supported by the Carnegie UK Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation</a>, I’m convinced that kindness lies at the heart, not only of our ability to generate wellbeing but also to strengthen the foundations on which the power for change can be built. Here’s the argument in a nutshell: </p> <p class="BodyA">Kindness makes people’s lives better, but just encouraging individuals to be kinder to each other has significant limitations. Therefore, we have to transform the social, economic and political structures that inhibit our ability to act in kindness, and at the same time strengthen the links between these actions and our aspirations for greater social and economic justice. </p> <p class="BodyA">That may sound simple, but researching these issues is like spraying water on a spider’s web, making visible the taken for granted infrastructure of relationships that makes a significant impact on the quality of our lives. </p> <p class="BodyA">We know that resilient individuals have at least one strong emotional attachment, along with access to wider support and positive community experiences, so there’s a well-documented association between strong social ties and lower adult mortality. <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1745691614568352">A recent meta-analysis shows a 26 percent increase</a> in the likelihood of death when measured over an eight year period as a result of loneliness, irrespective of a person’s age. In an increasingly virtual world, we still live in real houses on real streets, and rely on direct contact with real people to make our lives work. </p> <p class="BodyA">As part of our research we spoke to many of these ‘real people,’ who talked eloquently about what kindness means to them <a href="https://vimeo.com/226765202">in the film</a> that accompanies our <a href="https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/place-kindness-combating-loneliness-building-stronger-communities/">report</a>. One of them, Hannah, spoke about kindness in terms of “sharing, trust, encouraging and being gentle with each other;” another, called Angela, described it as “a true opening of your heart, true belief in the talents, abilities and love that everyone can share.”</p> <p class="BodyA">When we spoke to customers at the Tesco supermarket in Maryhill, Glasgow, we found that many isolated older people were shopping every day or so in order to break up their day with at least some form of human interaction. When asked if they took part in activities or groups to meet other people, many of those we spoke to said that they didn’t like anything that was formally organized; they would rather have a good neighbour than someone who is paid to spend time with them, or even a volunteer.</p> <p class="BodyA">But kindness is also difficult, especially given the pressures of living and working in contemporary capitalist societies where altruism and compassion often have to be rationed, or are actively discouraged. Talking to older people in particular, it was striking to hear how far their notion of ‘neighbourliness’ extends beyond what would nowadays be considered ‘normal.’</p> <p class="BodyA">For example, Maureen and Isabella—two residents of Maryhill—talked fondly of their past experience of tenement life in Glasgow, sharing childcare and chores and taking meals to older neighbours. The creation of the welfare state relieved some of those obligations and provided vital services at a time of national crisis, but social needs have multiplied and expectations have since been raised.</p> <p class="BodyA">Alongside changes in family structures and growing geographic mobility, these developments have weakened some of the bonds that held communities together. We found that—whilst people understand the economic and social shifts that underpin these changes—they still miss a sense of that older community spirit. In many cases however, people said that fixing this problem ‘was someone else’s job.’&nbsp; </p> <p class="BodyA">Looking for evidence of ‘what works’ in creating kindness revealed a mismatch between what we wanted to explore—relational experience in communities—and the existing body of research and policy studies that focus on the transactional, the evaluation of interventions which assume that success depends on formal institutions. </p> <p class="BodyA">This pattern—identify a problem and then task or create an organisation to find the solution—is common in the social policy field, but nurturing the values of community and caring for each other isn’t something that can be achieved through top-down, bureaucratic action.&nbsp; We’re not going to find the answers in services, programmes or projects, but at a much deeper level in the humanity of individuals, and how to let that humanity grow and flourish.&nbsp; </p> <p class="BodyA">For example, one of our respondents (called Margaret) wore a ‘Friendly Dumfries’ badge to indicate that she was someone who was happy to have a chat. She found that wearing the badge made her think about her role and presence in helping to strengthen community. Other respondents talked about creating welcoming places and informal opportunities to get together and explore what kind of society or neighbourhood people want to live in. Simple steps like these can help to create the conditions for greater kindness in communities. </p> <p class="BodyA">But equally important is finding out what gets in the way of kindness, and acting to remove those barriers beyond the level of the individual. Part of the problem is that many of those we talked to saw greater risks in altruistic action than in previous decades. As a result, they are increasingly likely to seek out more formal routes to be helpful in their communities through established charities, as opposed to through their individual interactions with each other. </p> <p class="BodyA">Shug, for example, a community worker in Kircaldy, suggested a weekly kickabout in a local park with kids and their parents. He went ahead and put the idea into practice, but after a couple of weeks he was challenged by the local authority to produce his ‘risk assessment’ paperwork and identify a ‘lead for child protection.’ In this case, regulation, or perhaps more accurately our current interpretation of what regulation means, is getting in the way of encouraging more opportunities for people to come together and express their care and attention for each other informally; the official structures of caring form a barrier to ‘unofficial’ kindness.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p class="BodyA">Intuitively it might make sense to conclude that if we care more actively for each other in communities then we place less pressure on overburdened public services, but this doesn’t necessarily lead to greater empowerment in communities, still less to broader social change. So what is it that connects kindness to social transformation?</p> <p class="BodyA">In Tesco Maryhill for example, individual caring connects with community empowerment because checkout staff have taken the time to get to know their isolated customers, talking with them, helping to build their confidence, and nudging them to join local groups, as well as raising money and volunteering for community projects like after school clubs where kids get a healthy snack and help with homework, community gardens and cooking projects.&nbsp; </p> <p class="BodyA">There was much less recognizable agency involved in the Cook Club in Moredun in Edinburgh, where people (often facing severe difficulties) come together once a week to prepare and share food with one another. Individual kindness is clearly evident in Moredun, but it is limited in challenging the underlying factors that produce adverse childhood experiences, poverty, deprivation, neighbourhood hostility, addiction and inadequate responses from the state. </p> <p class="BodyA">The best results seem to come from mutually-reinforcing relationships between structures and individuals, as, for example, when TESCO’s corporate policy in Maryhill was changed to give permission to staff to become more active in community engagement. Whilst kindness is obviously not sufficient in itself, it seems to be a necessary element in creating the power for positive change. </p> <p class="BodyA">It’s difficult, though, to talk about kindness at all in a public policy context. These conversations are uncomfortable, and kindness sometimes feels too soft or too glib in contrast to other, more formal and more recognised approaches to social research and social policy. However, it has been liberating to have so many conversations about something that everyone can connect with, and to become explicitly involved with the work both intellectually, and personally and emotionally. </p> <p class="BodyA">Our conversations with Maureen and Isabella and Margaret and Shug and all the others show that we can all talk about kindness, and talk about it in ways that are powerful both personally and politically.&nbsp; That universality of understanding matters if we are to affect social change for the good, rather than merely providing superficial solutions through social services.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/genevieve-vaughan/why-kindness-is-key-to-new-economy">Why kindness is the key to a new economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/juliana-breines/three-research-based-ways-to-cultivate-kindness-in-your-life">Three research-based ways to cultivate kindness in your life</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/beulah-maud-devaney/how-random-acts-of-kindness-could-transform-support-for-battered-">How random acts of kindness could transform support for battered women</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Zoe Ferguson Empathy Care Love and Spirituality Wed, 13 Sep 2017 04:30:00 +0000 Zoe Ferguson 113144 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sacred activism: the story of Tamera https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/leila-dregger/sacred-activism-story-of-tamera <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>‘We all were indigenous once. We have been waiting for you. Welcome back.’</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Standard"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Leila Dregger.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Participants in the <em>Defend the Sacred</em> gathering on Odeceixe beach in Portugal, August 12 2017. Credit: Copyright Tamera Institute. All rights reserved.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">There are people who think that <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praia_de_Odeceixe_Mar">Odeceixe</a> is the most beautiful beach in the world. Nature has created a pearl in southern Portugal, a sandbank between the green meanders of the Seixe River and the blue of the Atlantic Ocean. Each day in summer, the sandbank is flooded with tourists, and on this particular day—August 12 2017—they expect nothing more spectactular than sunscreen, surfboards and sandcastles. They don´t yet know it, but today they will be part of a prayer. A widely visible prayer, formed with their bodies to protect the coastline from oil drilling by national and international corporations</p> <p class="WW-Standard">From early morning, a part of the beach is being separated, and people are working hard in the sun, forming a giant image in the sand. In the afternoon buses arrive, full with hundreds of indigenous elders from different cultures, activists, trade unionists, shamans from Latin America, Palestinians and Israelis arm in arm, musicians, and lots of young people.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">“We know the world stood with us, so we come to stand with you,” a powerful mature woman says into a microphone. It is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaDonna_Brave_Bull_Allard">LaDonna Brave Bull Allard</a>, one of the initiators of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_Rock_Indian_Reservation">Standing Rock</a> struggles. A young man adds, “Water is life. Water is sacred. Life is sacred. We must protect the very things that our lives depend on. For our NO to succeed, we have to know what we say YES to.”</p> <p class="WW-Standard">This gathering—called <em>Defend the Sacred</em><em>—</em>is being hosted at <a href="https://www.tamera.org/index.html">Tamera</a>, a community dedicated to the task of finding alternatives that are both visionary and concrete, strongly rooted in its own place but working with activists from the wider region and across the global South. Tamera had invited activists to reflect on their experience from Standing Rock, <a href="https://sumudcamp.org/">Sumud Freedom Camp</a> in Palestine, the <a href="http://www.cdpsanjose.org/">peace village San José de Apartadó</a> in Colombia, and many others from around the world who actively protect what is sacred to them, whether water, nature, human rights or freedom. The idea of the gathering was to envision a global community of sacred activism and discuss how this movement could continue and succeed.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">Situated a little more than an hour from Odeceixe, <a href="http://www.tamera.org/">Tamera</a> is an international peace research community of nearly 200 people from many different countries and age groups. The community was founded in 1978 in Germany and moved to Portugal in 1995. Its founders—the sociologist and psychoanalyst <a href="http://www.dieter-duhm.com/">Dieter Duhm</a> and the theologist and peace ambassador <a href="http://www.sabine-lichtenfels.com/">Sabine Lichtenfels</a>—intended to create a holistic model for a peaceful society.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">“The issues of our time are so interwoven and so closely linked to each other,” <a href="https://www.tamera.org/basic-thoughts/community-research">wrote Duhm</a>, “that they cannot be solved individually. It will only be possible to carry out the tasks for the future on the basis of a well functioning community.” In his view, humanity has separated itself from the universal powers of life. In order to survive we need to reconnect, a process Duhm calls “human revolution.”</p> <p class="WW-Standard">“Trust is the most original and most efficient of all healing forces,” he continues, “The very first task of a community is therefore to create trust among the participants.” That’s why Tamera invests such large amounts of time, skills and care in building trust and truth among their members.</p> <p>On a daily basis they meet to reveal what they think and feel, to envision their common aims, to provide mutual support and to create transparency. This daily “Forum” is a crucial part of the community, without which it would not have survived for so many years. In all its activities, Tamera follows a plan of what it calls “<a href="https://www.tamera.org/basic-thoughts/the-healing-biotopes-plan/">global healing biotopes</a>”—model communities with autonomy over water, food and energy but strong regional and global linkages, and connected to the divine forces of life in everything.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">Arriving in Tamera in summer after driving through a landscape threatened by desertification and woodfires is like arriving at an oasis. Bodies of water fill the valleys, surrounded by terraces with gardens and fruit orchards. Water has been a core topic in Tamera from the beginning. Under the guidance of mountain farmer and ecological visionary <a href="http://www.seppholzer.at/">Sepp Holzer</a>, Tamera created a natural ‘Water Retention Landscape’—a series of interwoven ponds, lakes and orchards designed to slow down rainwater runoff and give it time to filter deep down so the soil is fertile throughout the year. Other work focuses on decentralized energy solutions, holistic healing, alternative education, permaculture, biologic building and communication and cooperation with animals and plants.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">However the most crucial element of Tamera´s work is love, the core work of peace. “There will be no peace in the world as long as there is war between the genders” <a href="http://sabine-lichtenfels.com/en/projects/global-love-school/">says co-founder</a> Lichtenfels, “Our intention is to create a field for love free from fear. This also includes sexual love.” Every choice that somebody makes in Tamera—be it a monogamous, polyamorous or celibate lifestyle—is supported by the rest of the community so long as it is based on mutual respect and inner truth.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">Sexuality and love are regarded as sacred forces which we cannot own. “Also, we cannot possess our partner", <a href="https://youtu.be/v7stErL3CtE">says Vera Kleinhammes</a>, a mother of two children. “Isn´t it strange how many couples find it normal to lie to each other on what they really feel or to whom they are attracted? But without truth, love cannot grow.” In Tamera, partnership and free love don´t exclude each other, they need each other. “However, I would not dare to try this outside of community.”</p> <p class="WW-Standard">This approach found resonance among the participants at the gathering. Time and again, activists have faced internal conflicts and collapse in their communities and protest actions around the topics of jealousy, the suppression of women, and other gender topics. Social transparency on love and women’s empowerment are part of the remedy for these conflicts.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">As <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toda_people">Vassamalli Kurtaz</a> shared—a representative from the indigenous <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toda_people">Todas</a> tribe in India —“Before our communities were colonized, married women could choose one or two other sexual lovers if they wished. It was accepted by tradition also by their husbands. Now with having so many men without the chance to have sex we have tensions arising in the community. Colonization and Christianity harmed our lifestyle and the nature that we live from. We need to return to our traditions.”</p> <p class="WW-Standard"><a href="http://womanstandsshining.strikingly.com/">Pat McCabe</a> from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navajo">Diné (Navajo) Nation</a> added this: “According to our traditions, we look for balance and healing between fire and water, light and dark, the feminine and the masculine. I am impressed that this community works so deeply on this balance too. It is a profound experience to find a place in Europe which gives such a strong resonance to positions that have been crucial in indigenous cultures. I leave this place with the feeling that the wounds of colonizations can heal.”</p> <p class="WW-Standard">At the gathering, the activists developed a sense of global community, envisioning how the movement for defending the sacred that began at Standing Rock could continue, supported by the emergence of decentralized alternatives to capitalism. As <a href="https://firstvoicesindigenousradio.org/node/7">Tiokasin Ghosthorse</a>&nbsp;said, a representative of the <a href="https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheyenne_River_Reservation">Cheyenne River Nation</a>, “We all were indigenous once. We have been waiting for you. Welcome back.”</p> <p class="WW-Standard">Meanwhile at the beach, the renowned activist and artist <a href="http://www.creativeresistance.org/artists/john-quigley/">John Quigley</a> had prepared an image that we will form with our bodies in the sand, filmed from the air by drones so that we can send it out to the world as a strong declaration of our will. The image consists of a huge dolphin and the words: <a href="https://youtu.be/0damGwctIi4">“Nao ao furo (‘no to the oil drill’)—Defend &nbsp;the Sacred</a>.”</p> <p class="WW-Standard">We line up to enter the image, passing by a place of sacred water kept by Lichtenfels and a place of sacred fire kept by LaDonna Brave Bull. Everyone is led to a place in one of the letters of the declaration or—in my case—as part of the dolphin´s snout.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">Soon it becomes clear: the image is too big to fill with the 400 or so people that have come from Tamera and the rest of the region, even with all the other activists. We need at least double. What to do? Do we have to give up like so many times before?</p> <p class="WW-Standard">“Be attractive” shouts Quigley, “attract people to join us.” And we do. We shout and sing and call the tourists on the beach to help us fill the image. They watch, but hesitate. After all it is their holiday. But then they come. Parents being pulled in by their kids. Couples and groups of friends, surfers and sunbathers leaving behind their daily business and joining in, happy and proud to be part of something bigger, each one being cheered on by the activists.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">And then we make it! In the end we are nearly 1,000 people. The last to join is <a href="http://sleepinglions.com/ordinary-heroes/13-year-old-takota-iron-eyes-is-standing-up-to-the-dakota-access-">Takota Iron Eyes</a>, aged 13, a Sioux youth leader from Standing Rock who forms the eye of the dolphin together with other teenagers.</p> <p class="WW-Standard">When she starts singing, the crowd becomes silent. Something resonates very deeply in me. It feels like a transformation point in my internal belief system. We really made it. And if we can be successful here then surely we can do anything—stop the oil drilling, change the track of history, and create peace on the earth.</p> <p class="image-caption">For more about Tamera click <a href="http://www.tamera.org/">here</a> and <a href="http://defendthesacred.tamera.org/">here</a>. </p> <p class="WW-Standard">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kelly-teamey-udi-mandel/are-eco-versities-future-for-higher-education">Are eco-versities the future for higher education?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/fearless-collective/we-protest-by-creating-beauty">We protest by creating beauty</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/mysticism-of-wide-open-eyes">The mysticism of wide open eyes</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Intentional communities Leila Dregger Transformative nonviolence Activism Culture Environment Love and Spirituality Mon, 04 Sep 2017 23:20:01 +0000 Leila Dregger 113063 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Did the Great War leave God “hanging on the old barbed wire”? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rachel-mann/did-great-war-leave-god-hanging-on-old-barbed-wire <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The patriarchal deity died in the trenches of the Somme, but the churches will not let him go.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RachelMann3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The Fire Window in the Regiment Chapel of Manchester Cathedral. Credit:&nbsp;© Copyright&nbsp;<a title="View profile" href="http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/43729">David Dixon</a>&nbsp;and licensed for&nbsp;<a href="http://www.geograph.org.uk/reuse.php?id=4279581">reuse</a>&nbsp;under this&nbsp;<a title="Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Licence" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">Creative Commons Licence</a>.</p> <p>In the north-east corner of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Cathedral">Manchester Cathedral</a> there is a large rectangular chapel. The focal point is a stained-glass window in the east wall, a vast arch of red, orange and yellow glass that suggests flames and destruction. On the altar frontal beneath it and completing the fire motif is a phoenix. In the Manchester Blitz of 1940 the cathedral was bombed and burned. The Fire Window commemorates both the long nights of destruction and the city’s resurrection out of the flames.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.manchestercathedral.org/community/regimental-chapel">Regiment Chapel</a> as it is known commemorates, remembers and celebrates the service of The Duke of Lancaster Regiment and its precursors, including the Manchester Regiment. From the walls hang flags and battle honours, heavy with the conflicts of the twentieth century including <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mons">Mons</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ypres">Ypres</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Somme">the Somme</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cambrai_(1917)">Cambrai</a>. Along the north edge are sturdy wooden display cases full of weighty books of remembrance, packed with the names of the fallen. On alternate Wednesdays there is a simple service called ‘The Turning of the Leaves,’ when the pages of the books are turned over. These are pages thick with memory, ritualized into manageable remembrance.</p> <p>It is troubling to think about how the <a href="https://www.churchofengland.org/">Church of England</a> has been complicit in the ways in which war has been prosecuted. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lie_Hal%C3%A9vy">Elie Halévy</a> notes how in the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I">Great War of 1914-18</a>, for example, state control of thought took two forms: the negative, aimed at suppressing opinions deemed contrary to the national interest; and the positive, appropriately termed “the organization of enthusiasm.” The Church of England was very much part of the latter. Indeed, until the formation of a government Department of Information in 1917, propaganda was very much the business of private initiative.</p> <p>As <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Last-Crusade-Church-England-First/dp/0822302985">Albert Marrin, who argues that the Great War was the last European holy war, has written</a>:</p> <blockquote><p>“Convinced of the righteousness of England’s cause, and believing that Christianity was concerned as much with the discharge of civic responsibilities as with the religious life, patriotic clergymen resolved to do their ‘bit’ for King and Country.”</p></blockquote> <p>The consistent refrain of diocesan conferences and parish meetings at the time was that the Church had a dual role as a servant of God and the servant of the state. As a servant of god, it provided huge amounts of practical humanitarian support to both needy soldiers at the front and their families at home, as well as supplying chaplains and distributing mind-bogglingly large number of Bibles and religious tracts.</p> <p>In terms of service to the state, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Winnington-Ingram">Arthur Winnington-Ingram</a>, the Bishop of London, remains the most notorious figure among the clergy who were active as recruiters for the war, yet there was no shortage of other clerics willing to preach for the patriotic cause. Rev. Richard Huggard, Vicar of St. John's Barnsley claimed to have personally enlisted two thousand men. The Rev. A.W. Gough, Vicar of Brompton and Prebendary of St. Paul's suggested that every Englishman worthy of the name should don the khaki uniform with pride, “the festal garment which God is offering us today, which he is insisting that we put on.”</p> <p>Winnington-Ingram—a man who loved to throw on a uniform and hang around recruiting rallies—boasted of having been thanked officially by the War Office for adding ten thousand men to the fighting forces of the crown. Soon after, a grateful king appointed him a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Victorian_Order">K.C.V.O</a>.</p> <p>For whom was the God proclaimed by the Church, and what account of suffering was it able to provide? The writer <a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Church_of_England_and_the_First_Worl.html?id=MaUABAAAQBAJ">Alan Wilkinson suggests that</a> “God speaks to the Church through the world, as well as to the world through the Church...In this period, that Word emerged more authentically from the prose and poetry of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siegfried_Sassoon">Siegfried Sassoon</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Owen">Wilfred Owen</a> than it did, say, from the sermons of Winnington-Ingram.”</p> <p>More than any other, Owen’s poetry determines how most British people see the Great War in particular and war in general. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Manchester’s and was gazetted for the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Cross">Military Cross</a>. Owen was not a religious poet; his subject, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/War-Poems-Wilfred-Owen/dp/0701161264">as he famously put it</a>, was “War and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity.” Yet his poetry and letters play with and push against biblical images and theological concepts; he is profoundly aware of God and Christ, but his wrestling with God is imbued with rich irony and ambivalence. It is as if he is trying to make sense of an abridged or compromised God for times of abridged hope, a God who can make some kind of home in an ironic world.</p> <p>Owen discovers a God both greater and lesser than he imagined. In <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Collected-Letters-Wilfred-Owen/dp/0192111809">one of his letters</a>, he suggests that:</p> <blockquote><p>“Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear His voice: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life—for a friend. Is it only spoken in English and French? I do not believe so. Thus you see how pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism…Christians have deliberately cut some of the main teaching of their code.”</p></blockquote> <p>Owen found himself drawn close to Christ in his passion, though he expresses this closeness with irony:</p> <blockquote><p>“For 14 hours yesterday I was at work—teaching Christ to lift his cross by numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirsts until after the last halt; I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet to see that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb and stands to attention before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.”</p></blockquote> <p>The contrast with the God/Christ of the Anglican churchmen <em>cum</em> recruiting sergeants is striking. Theirs typically reflects the muscularity and presumed masculinity of their class. As <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Rites-Spring-Great-Birth-Modern/dp/0395937582">Modris Eksteins strikingly puts it</a> in his book <em>Rites of Spring</em>, “Clergymen dressed Jesus in khaki and had him firing machine-guns.” Their God is one that echoes through the martial fair-play of the poetry of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Newbolt">Sir Henry Newbolt</a> in his most famous poem, <em><a href="https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/vita-lampada/">Vitai Lampada</a></em>, which imagines a soldier bringing the virtues of his school and sport (specifically cricket) onto the battlefield:</p> <blockquote><p>“The river of death has brimmed his banks,</p><p>And England's far, and Honour a name,</p><p>But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:</p><p>‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’”</p></blockquote> <p>Newbolt was a lifelong friend of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Haig,_1st_Earl_Haig">Douglas Haig</a>, the British army commander from 1916 until the end of the war. They had met at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifton_College">Clifton College</a>, whose cricket field provides the location for the first stanza of <em>Vitai</em>. As <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Great-War-Modern-Memory/dp/0195133323">the writer Paul Fussell makes clear</a>, “Much later Newbolt wrote, ‘When I looked into Douglas Haig I saw what is really great—perfect acceptance, which means perfect faith.”’ The Establishment, of which the Church of England was a part, celebrated what <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Great-War-Modern-Memory/dp/0195133323/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1225811381&amp;sr=1-1">Patrick Howarth has called&nbsp;<em>Homo Newboltiensis</em>:</a> the man who is stoic, honourable, brave, loyal and not a little unimaginative.</p> <p>The God of the Anglican recruiting sergeants is the patriarchal God, made in their own image and inherited from decades of English imperial confidence, shaped in public schools. The Episcopal and clerical recruiting sergeants of 1914 were part of a class and culture that comprehended the old truth that son inherited from father in the fullness of time if the son was faithful to his elder. For the elder was, ultimately, to be trusted. The evidence for this lay in one hundred years of relative peace in which England’s power had grown to its zenith.</p> <p>If the Church of England continued to articulate a patriarchal God throughout the war (and perhaps still does to this day), Owen offers glimpses of something else. In his lesser-known poem ‘<a href="https://www.amazon.com/War-Poems-Wilfred-Owen/dp/0701161264">The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’</a> (a retelling of the Abraham and Isaac myth), Owen signifies the death of patriarchal society and the god to which it is beholden.</p> <p>Beginning on familiar territory (“So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,/And took the fire with him, and knife”), the poem unfolds into a nightmarish trench-based scene: “Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,/And builded parapets and trenches there,/And stretched forth the knife to slay his son”). As in the Biblical story, an Angel intervenes and invites Abram to “Lay not thy hand upon the lad” and sacrifice “the Ram of Pride instead.” The conclusion of the poem is devastating in its simple condemnation of the ‘Good Father’ principle: “But the old man would not so, but slew his son,/And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”</p> <p>Arguably, the patriarchal God died on <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Somme">the Somme</a>, at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ypres">Ypres</a> and at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Passchendaele">Passchendaele</a>. He—like so many—was left “hangin’ on the old barbed wire” as the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanging_on_the_Old_Barbed_Wire">famous World War I song</a> put it. Unlike the poor lads on both sides who went over the top, perhaps he hangs there still. The Churches will not let him go. What is for sure is that in our time the traditional churches are in crisis.</p> <p>I do not know if this is because churches like my own, the Church of England, have yet to move on from this dead, male-centric God. I suspect it may be one reason among many. The reasons why the masses no longer go to church (if they ever did) are complex and multiform. What is clear is that the patriarchal God could not—in the light of years of slaughter—hold the weight of expectations. Ultimately, it proved to be an unreliable and hapless idol.</p> <p class="image-caption">Rachel Mann’s new book is <em><a href="http://dltbooks.com/titles/2186-9780232532784-fierce-imaginings">Fierce Imaginings: The Great War, Ritual, Memory and God</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rachel-mann/im-woman-but-im-glad-i-used-to-be-man">I&#039;m a woman, but I&#039;m glad I used to be a man</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/david-edwards/face-to-faith">Face to faith</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Rachel Mann Love and Spirituality Sun, 16 Jul 2017 11:42:09 +0000 Rachel Mann 112289 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Slow science, slow food, slow down https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/francisco-ramos-stierle/slow-science-slow-food-slow-down <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>When we rush, we make decisions that lack information, lack proper reflection, and ultimately make the problems of humanity worse.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Pancho.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/44313045@N08/6107803467">Flickr/Innovate Impact Media</a>. Some rights reserved.</p> <blockquote><p>“Where ignorance is your master,&nbsp;there is no possibility of peace.” The XIV Dalai Lama.</p></blockquote> <p>The scientific contributions of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein">Albert Einstein</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Feynman">Richard Feynman</a> were fundamental for the construction of the atomic bomb. Today, their reflections on the subject are also fundamental for the survival and evolution of our species. Conversations with both scientists after the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Project">Manhattan Project</a> indicate that each felt remorse for their involvement. They wished they had thought through their direct and indirect involvement more thoroughly, and said that if they had known what their work would lead to they might have acted differently.</p> <p>These quotes from Einstein are glimpses of his perspective:</p> <blockquote><p>“I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed the letter to President [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made.&nbsp;Had I known that Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I never would have lifted a finger.&nbsp;The unleashing of the power of the atom bomb has changed everything except our mode of thinking…Science has brought forth this danger, but the real problem is in the minds and hearts of men. We scientists must consider it our solemn and transcendent duty to do all in our power to prevent these weapons from being used for the brutal purpose for which they were invented.&nbsp;<em>Non cooperation</em> in military matters should be an essential moral principle for all true scientists.”&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>Feynman joined the Manhattan Project as an enthusiastic and energetic 24 year-old. Later in his life—after recovering from a severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—he said this:</p> <blockquote><p>“One should reconsider perpetually one’s reasons for doing something, because it may be that the circumstances have changed… I don’t guarantee you as to what conclusion I would have come to if I had thought about it, but nevertheless the fact that I did not think about it was, of course, wrong.”&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>What I hear when I translate the language of these two geniuses into my perspective is this: we were going too fast. We are still going too fast. When we rush, we make decisions that lack information, lack proper reflection, and ultimately make the problems of humanity worse. </p> <p>Now is the time to slow down, to take a pause, to rethink the purpose of science and education and to cultivate our critical thinking—and our critical feeling. It is time to combine science with the soul: science as the sustainable, collective and critical development of knowledge; soul as the individual and collective capacity to make wise use of that knowledge; ultimately, the ability to rejoice in the welfare of all living beings. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell">Bertrand Russell</a> echoed this postulation when he wrote:&nbsp;“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.”&nbsp;</p> <p>As a scientist, I am not against science. I am against the unethical applications of science. I represent a new generation that rescues the best of previous generations. Formed by millions of citizens of the World, this generation wants to be part of the mass that weighs on the positive side of the balance of the survival of our species. It’s a generation that cares about our planet; a generation that cares about the future of humankind; a generation that sees the big picture and the interconnectedness of our magnificent cultural and biological diversity.</p> <p>We, the new generation, believe that the purpose of education is to help students to become more fully developed human beings, to help students discover meaning and passion in life, to develop critical minds and sensitive hearts, and to become knowledgeable about the peoples, inherited wisdoms, and subject matters that will help them find their path in the creation of a more peaceful, just, sustainable, and diverse World.</p> <p>For us then, universities must be not centers of military recruitment or corporate indoctrination, or obedience to totalitarianism and support of the (dis)order of the non-egalitarian status quo, but they must be epicenters of critical thinking, inspiration, creativity, imagination, justice, freedom and true democracy. </p> <p>The support of the development of weapons is an example of the contradiction between the purpose of education and the decisions made by some of the regents of the <a href="https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/">University of California</a> (UC) in the history of this institution: since the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Alamos_National_Laboratory">Los Alamos Laboratory</a> opened its doors in 1943, every single nuclear weapon built for the United States arsenal was designed at a UC managed weapons laboratory.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>A nonviolent generation with many perspectives.</strong></p> <p>Paraphrasing <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahatma_Gandhi">Gandhi,</a> to overcome the greatest destructive weapon humans have invented one needs the greatest power humankind has been endowed with:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mettacenter.org/definitions/nonviolence" target="_blank"><em>nonviolence</em></a>.&nbsp;Just as peace is more than the absence of war, nonviolence is more than the absence of violence. It is not simply the negation to cause harm, but it is something infinitely more: it is when one’s heart is so full of love, so full of courage, forgiveness, generosity, kindness and compassion, that there is no room for hatred, resentment and violence. It is not a double negative but a superlative positive. </p> <p>Nonviolence is a call to disobey inhumane laws and treaties; it is a call to obey the law of love; it is a call to not control anger but to express it under discipline for maximum effects; it is a positive force; it is a way of life: the thoughts we have, the things we say, the food we eat, the cloths we wear, the things we do. The members of this new generation are pragmatic idealists who try to “walk their talk.” Their means are their ends. They are trying to embody what Martin Luther King Jr. called “love in action.”&nbsp;</p> <p>This young generation is formed by conservatives, liberals, moderates, anarchists, religious and secular people. We all are catalysts who honor all perspectives to be closer to the truth. I am a progressive, a conservative, a liberal, an anarchist, in short: a&nbsp;<em>perspectivist</em>. In other words, our generation is formed by citizens of the world who promote dialogue, tolerance and rooted values. In most respects, I continue to align with what I grew up believing to be conservative values. Yet I find I have nothing in common with extremists of the far right who advance an agenda of class warfare, fiscal irresponsibility, government intrusions on personal liberty, and reckless international military adventurism as conservative causes.</p> <p>At the same time, I have nothing to approve of in extremists of the far left who advocate violence and a new way of totalitarianism which keeps attacking the human spirit. At the same time too, I’m not an anarchist as defined in the encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. written by the hierarchies and their corporate media, I’m engaged and in love with the voluptuous authority of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mettacenter.org/definitions/collective-intelligence" target="_blank">collective intelligence</a>; with her hugs of education, respect and peace; and with her kisses of justice, true democracy and freedom.</p> <p>To be consistent with this new generation, one of my contributions is that I did not want to receive a title from an irresponsible institution that is putting at risk the survival of our species. Hence, this semester, after almost four years of interacting with the amazing and beautiful people of the Astronomy department as a graduate student and instructor—after seven years of following the fascinating path of&nbsp;<a href="https://earthlingopinion.wordpress.com/2007/08/20/astrobiology-red-stars-and-the-new-renaissance-of-humanity/">Astrobiology</a>—I withdrew from the University of California at Berkeley and will have nothing to do with that institution until it stops being involved in the research, production and manufacture of nuclear weapons.</p> <p>In evolutionary time scales, I believe that violence and science are mutually exclusive; the two cannot coexist in the long run. Vinoba Bhave was quite aware of this:&nbsp;“Violence must be done away with if science is to survive," he wrote, "If both are sought to be retained, mankind, along with its science also, would be destroyed.”&nbsp;This disastrous combination inhibits the development of critical inquiry, he explains, because “our thinking becomes narrow and circumscribed if we are associated with any organization which will not be fully conductive for the quest of nonviolence.”&nbsp;</p> <p>If we want to stop the proliferation of atomic bombs, it would be a good idea to stop producing them ourselves. If the government of the United States justifies nuclear weapons for its national security, why wouldn’t other countries construct atomic bombs for their own national security? This is not about “national security” but&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mettacenter.org/definitions/total-security" target="_blank">Global Security, Human Security</a>—reconciliation and mutual respect between the peoples of the Earth is what really makes for peace and security in the long run, each country can be secure only when all are secure: the Earth is but one country and all living beings her citizens.</p> <p>The political and intellectual prestige of the UC can be used not for justifying annihilatory purposes but for creating an artistic-scientific-spiritual-rational and humanitarian society. Just because we are students studying art, economics, engineering, peace and conflict studies, landscape architecture or astrophysics that doesn’t mean that we have to be part of an institution that develops new “safer weapons of mass destruction”. What if, rooted in the purpose of education as true seekers, the citizens of the World decide to&nbsp;<em>noncooperate</em>, according to their capabilities, with the UC until this institution stops being involved in the research, production and manufacture of nuclear weapons?</p> <p>But this is not just about finding ways to abolish nuclear weapons and move on from this survival crisis. We are missing a great opportunity to convert swords into plowshares. We must divert their purpose into something constructive for humanity. What about protecting us from the impact of a large asteroid or comet to avoid a mass extinction of life on the Planet? We might be able to use nuclear explosives for a near asteroid burst to ablate surface material and nudge the body to a safer orbit, or a direct sub-surface burst to fragment the body.</p> <p>That’s the difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing.</p> <p>As a starting point we can slow down, pause, rethink and heal from the cancer of violence which starts to disappear from our minds.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.easwaran.org/" target="_blank">Eknath Easwaran</a>, a disciple of Gandhi who brought many of his teachings to the West, said:<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <blockquote><p>“It is essential not to confuse slowness with sloth, which breeds procrastination and general inefficiency. In slowing down, we attend meticulously to details, giving the very best we are capable of even to the smallest undertaking.”</p></blockquote><p>That is exactly what we need to do.</p> <p><em>A longer version of this article was published on&nbsp;<a href="https://earthlingopinion.wordpress.com/">Earthling Opinion</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kelly-teamey-udi-mandel/are-eco-versities-future-for-higher-education">Are eco-versities the future for higher education?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/mathew-guest/can-universities-still-provide-transformative-experience">Can universities still provide a transformative experience?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kelly-teamey-udi-mandel/reimagining-higher-education">Re-imagining higher education </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Francisco Ramos-Stierle Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Fri, 14 Jul 2017 06:30:00 +0000 Francisco Ramos-Stierle 112234 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Face to faith https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/david-edwards/face-to-faith <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It is better to be united in our ignorance than divided in our certainties.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/DavidEdwards.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><em>Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/4159000074">Flickr/SteveRhodes</a>. Some rights reserved. </em></p> <p>From time to time stories appear in our newspapers of priests or ministers—maybe even a bishop—who have ‘lost their faith.’ Such headlines are misleading and far too simplistic. It is not faith which is lost, but beliefs: by contrast, faith is <em>transformed</em>.&nbsp; </p> <p>Beliefs can be naturally outgrown and discarded during our lives as we fulfill <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Corinthians_13">St Paul’s eloquent prophecy</a>: “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.”</p> <p>Although this process ought to continue throughout life, for a priest or minister it is most comfortably achieved after one is retired. Working clergy may regard it as their duty to defend the system, to loyally justify the church, to be sensitive to the feelings of its people, and to take care not to destroy another person’s faith. </p> <p>But all of these things can make us more cautious than we would like to be. That is important, because spiritual growth and development must be continuous, even if that means leaping—not lapsing—into agnosticism, recognizing that there is much of mystery in life and that we do not know all the answers.</p> <p>At the heart of this process we come to see Christianity—along with Judaism and Islam—more as historical religions than simply faith-based; man-made rather than divinely created. As such, they have to be judged by the evidence of history, and their scriptures scrutinized just like any other historical document.</p> <p>History may then indicate that all ancient religions—and maybe some modern creeds too—have arisen largely out of pre-scientific mythologies in which what is called the ‘supernatural’ lies at the center. An essential aspect of growing up demands that we reject the idea of the supernatural and recognize that the ‘natural’ is wonderful enough.</p> <p>Few people can deny that Christianity has often been a form of blessing to many people, and that the church has sometimes been beneficial to the improvement of human society. In the realm of the arts, in music, painting and literature, religious belief has inspired incomparable beauty and innovation; and in human behavior, incredible heroism and self-sacrifice.</p> <p>But there is a darker side which, in our growing, we increasingly come to see as outweighing the lighter on the scales of human judgment. Dogma has dominated reason. Superstitions have been encouraged as facts. Charity and love have been subordinated to inquisition and cruelty. Fear has governed where hope should have reigned. The wisdom and experience of half of humankind—women—has been ignored and belittled. &nbsp;</p> <p>A distorted picture has emerged and prevailed over the original teachings of the guru of Christianity: Jesus. Growing up entails re-evaluating the one who saw himself as the son of man, rather than the son of God.</p> <p>In no area of life can this process of transformation be seen more clearly than in the realm of morality. So it is not surprising that this subject has come to the fore, and that the issues involved have received more attention in the 20th and 21st centuries—especially in the aftermath of the Second World War during which human immorality was exposed in all its naked horror. It really did seem possible that after 1945 that humankind might ‘come of age.’</p> <p>In the years that followed, the issue of sexuality in particular came to dominate both thought and practice. Liberation became the buzzword in theology, in personal and social relationships, in race relations and in national aspirations. And—if at times this led in destructive or uncomfortable directions for some—so be it, for we have come to realize that it is better to be united in our ignorance than divided in our certainties. </p> <p>That, surely, is a sign of maturity.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/mysticism-of-wide-open-eyes">The mysticism of wide open eyes</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/maia-duerr/can-religion-be-force-for-transformation">Can religion be a force for transformation?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation David A. Edwards Liberation Love and Spirituality Wed, 12 Jul 2017 00:11:51 +0000 David A. Edwards 111625 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why the moral argument for nonviolence matters https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kazu-haga/why-moral-argument-for-nonviolence-matters <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Nonviolence is a way of life, not just a strategy for organizing resistance.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published on <a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/moral-nonviolence-healing-king/">Waging Nonviolence</a>.</p><p class="image-caption"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KazuHaganew.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: By <a href="http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html">Francois Polito</a> (Own work) or CC BY-SA 3.0 via <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Non_violence_sculpture_by_carl_fredrik_reutersward_malmo_sweden.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>.</p> <p>“Bernard? Oh yeah, he’s great. He was always the principles guy.”</p> <p>That was what an old <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_Nonviolent_Coordinating_Committee">Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee</a>, or SNCC, organizer told me when I mentioned that I had been trained by Bernard Lafayette, co-author of the Kingian Nonviolence curriculum and a legend of the civil rights era.</p> <p>“I was always a strategies guy,” this elder went on to tell me. “I believed in nonviolence as an effective strategy, but Bernard was always talking about nonviolence as a principle.”</p> <p>I let out a little laugh. In that moment, I was proud to have been trained by “the principles guy.”</p> <p>When people talk about nonviolence in the context of social change, they’re typically talking about nonviolent organizing, nonviolent direct action, nonviolent civil resistance; arenas where the word “nonviolence” is only an adjective describing the absence of physical violence within a set of tactics and strategies. The philosophy of nonviolence and the moral question of violence are often considered too messy or complicated, even by those who do believe it to be a principle.</p> <p>The civil rights movement was led largely by leaders who believed in nonviolence as a moral imperative. It was not only the most effective thing, but also the&nbsp;<em>right</em><em>&nbsp;</em>thing. While Martin Luther King Jr. and his closest allies held to this belief, some other movement leaders—as well as the vast majority of people who mobilized for the movement—only understood nonviolence as a strategy.</p> <p>Most of the movements I have participated in, even those that had a strict policy of nonviolence, tend to shy away from the moral question—possibly for fear of turning away potential participants.</p> <p>And I get that. Making the argument that nonviolence should be seen as a way of life is a much harder sell than convincing people that it is the most effective strategy to accomplish a goal. Convincing people to remain nonviolent during a demonstration is a lot easier than convincing people to look at how to practice nonviolence in all areas of our life.</p> <p>We find ourselves in an urgent moment in history. From climate change to the Trump agenda, we do not have the luxury to wait until tomorrow. We need a movement today. So maybe trying to make the moral argument is not the most strategic thing. But King taught us that it is never the wrong time to do the right thing. And so, I believe the time is right to make the argument that violence itself is our biggest enemy.</p> <p><strong>Honoring violence.</strong></p> <p>Making the moral argument for nonviolence does not mean placing a moral judgment on those who use or advocate for violence, especially as a means for self-defense.</p> <p>As an advocate for nonviolence, I have learned a great deal from the likes of the Black Panther Party, the Zapatistas, the&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/did-civil-rights-need-deacons-for-defense/">Deacons for Defense</a>&nbsp;and the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, among others. Their struggles and sacrifices should never be discounted, nor should we ignore the many lessons from their movements.</p> <p>We should also never judge those who have used violence for self-defense in interpersonal relationships — abusive relationships, robberies, assaults, etc. If people felt like that was their only means of protecting themselves, I only pray that they were okay.</p> <p>Finally, we need to acknowledge the extreme levels of violence that many people are born into because of systemic injustice. We put people into generations of poverty and invest in a culture of violence, then judge them for reacting with violence? As inarticulate as it may be, even&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/gross-misunderstanding-peace-baltimore/">riots are typically a cry for peace</a>&nbsp;from a people who have never had it.</p> <p>So violence can be an effective tool to protect yourself and others against a threat, and it can be used to express outrage about injustice. There is great value in both. Yet violence is also limited in one very important way, and that is that&nbsp;<em>violence can never create relationships</em>.</p> <p>Violence can never get you closer to reconciliation, closer to King’s “beloved community,” the reconciled world with justice for all people. And that is perhaps the most significant difference between a principled nonviolent approach and an approach using violence or nonviolence that is strictly strategic. The goals are different.</p> <p><strong>Resolution vs. reconciliation.</strong></p> <p>In movements that are violent or simply use nonviolent tactics, the goal is victory, where victory is defined as “your” people beating “those” people to win your demands. The victory is&nbsp;<em>over</em><em>&nbsp;</em>your opponents<em>.</em>&nbsp;But in a principled approach, there is no victory until you’ve&nbsp;<em>won your opponents over</em>.</p> <p>In a principled nonviolent approach, the goal is always reconciliation and steps toward beloved community. The goal is always to build and strengthen relationships and to bring people and communities together, not separate them. If we are not able to find ways to bring communities together, we will always have separation, violence and injustice.</p> <p>Even if you are able to achieve short-term gains, if relationships between people were harmed in the conflict and you are further away from each other as a result, then it is not a victory at all. If only your tactics are nonviolent and not your worldview, whatever issue you’re working on may get resolved, but the relationships don’t get repaired.</p> <p>It was a team of incarcerated Kingian Nonviolence trainers in Soledad Prison that taught me this during a conversation we were having about the difference between conflict resolution and conflict reconciliation.</p> <p>Conflict resolution is about fixing issues. Conflict reconciliation is about repairing relationships. Resolving an issue is about the mind. It’s about policies, structures, laws—the causes of—violence.&nbsp; Reconciling a relationship is about the heart. It’s about the people, the stories, the history—the human impact of violence.</p> <p>The levels of violence today are so heightened that there will be times when movements will need to use assertive and militant nonviolent tactics to stop the immediate harm and demand change.</p> <p>As Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of nonviolent communication, says, we need to, “use the minimum amount of force necessary to stop the immediate harm.” And we never think about what the “minimum amount” looks like.</p> <p>That is the realm of nonviolent strategies and tactics like noncooperation and civil disobedience. Tactics that could stop the construction of a pipeline, pass voter protection laws or even lead to a political revolution.</p> <p>But if we stop there, the relationships between the communities are still divided, and there could still be fear, mistrust and resentment. If the human relationships are not healed, the conflict will resurface again on some other issue. Any peace gained through political revolution but not a revolution of relationships is short-lived. Reconciliation is what a principled nonviolent approach demands.</p> <p><strong>The need for healing.</strong></p> <p>The very nature of violence is unjust. As Rev. James Lawson, one of the lead trainers for the civil rights movement, has said, “Violence has a very simple dynamic. I make you suffer more than I suffer. I make you suffer until you cry uncle.” It is the very idea that we can use force, fear and intimidation to get what we want that is our enemy. Because violence hurts. Period.</p> <p>We all know that. We’ve all experienced it—physical, emotional and spiritual. It hurts to get punched, but it hurts more to feel abandoned, alone, ashamed, hopeless, desperate, unworthy, afraid, used. And too often, we are made to feel those things by people in our own families, in our own movements, in our own communities.</p> <p>Being committed to a principled approach to nonviolence requires us to look at the pain that we carry ourselves, and the pain that we inflict on each other within our communities. It is easy to point the finger and say that the violence is “over there.”</p> <p>I have talked to too many people who shared that the traumas they carry were only re-triggered and made worse by the violence they witnessed within movements. When we say that we are committed to nonviolence, we are not only saying that we want to stop the violence “over there” that “those people” are committing. We also try to work on the ways we ourselves perpetuate harm as a result of our own unhealed traumas. We are working to heal our own selves as much as anyone we perceive as our enemies. We are working to change how we relate to each other in own communities as much as we are working to change any policy.</p> <p>Whether you live in an impoverished community or&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/policing-isnt-working-for-cops-either/">work in law enforcement where your job is to dehumanize people</a>&nbsp;all day, we are not a healthy society. It hurts to witness violence, it hurts to experience violence, and it hurts to inflict violence. Each causes trauma. Yes, we need to fight. But only so that we can create spaces to heal and to build.</p> <p><strong>Beloved community.</strong></p> <p>“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”</p> <p>This universal truth comes out in many cultures and traditions throughout the world. The aboriginal peoples in Australia teach us, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”</p> <p>That is the vision of beloved community. A world where we acknowledge our interdependence — our “inter-being,” as Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says.</p> <p><em>My liberation is bound up in yours.</em>&nbsp;That is a beautiful concept, and a popular quote in many progressive circles. But to what extent do we really believe it? Is our liberation bound up with the liberation of some and not others? How about people who voted for Donald Trump or people who have hurt us personally? Who draws that line? Do some people fall out of the “network of mutuality” that King talked about?</p> <p>What does it look like to work together to “liberate” those who commit harm? What does it mean to acknowledge that being oppressed hurts, but being an oppressor also destroys your soul? The privileges of being an oppressor doesn’t take away the violence that gets internalized when you hurt someone.</p> <p>Beloved community is not about loving the people who are easy to love. It is about cultivating “agape” — a Greek word for unconditional love for all of humanity, including those who are difficult to love.</p> <p>King said that the civil rights movement was a movement for the bodies of black folks and the souls of white folks. He acknowledged that&nbsp;<a href="http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_racism_is_bad_for_your_health">being a white supremacist destroys your soul</a>. To have so much judgment and hatred in your heart is an act of violence you do to yourself, and part of the goal of the movement was to help them. To bring them back into the network of mutuality and to remind them that they are part of beloved community. Because&nbsp;<em>our</em>&nbsp;liberation depends on it.</p> <p><strong>Faith in people.</strong></p> <p>The core of the theory of nonviolence for me has become an unwavering faith in the nature of humanity. That at our core, we are a species that wants to live in peace and wants to be in service and relationship; that we have the resiliency to heal no matter how hurt we are, and we have the ability to transform no matter how much harm we’ve caused.</p> <p>We get asked all the time in our workshops, “Well, isn’t violence just part of human nature?” And I used to struggle responding to it, because it was hard to argue. It has always been part of our history.</p> <p>Then several years ago, I met Paul Chappell, a graduate of West Point turned peace activist. During his presentation at a conference, he said that every study that has ever been conducted shows that violence is traumatic. It can cause PTSD, depression, anxiety and permanent damage to our brain. And yet not a single person has ever been traumatized by an act of love.</p> <p>He then asked, “If violence is part of our nature, then why does it short-circuit our brain?” Shouldn’t we be able to engage in it and not have it cause permanent damage?</p> <p>That to him was evidence that violence isn’t in our nature, that at the core of human nature are the things that fulfill us: love, joy, community, peace.</p> <p>And that is what we need today: a determined and dogged belief in the goodness of people. We need the fierce tactics of nonviolence to stop the immediate harm, and the principles of nonviolence to transform the pain. Without one or the other, we are always going to be spinning our wheels, fighting the next injustice or addressing the next hurt.</p> <p>I’ve been very privileged in my life. I’ve gotten to see so many people transformed from the most violent circumstances, that it might be easier for me to have faith in people. It is the greatest honor being able to work with incarcerated communities. Everyday, I get to learn from people who have survived so much violence and in many cases have inflicted so much harm, yet have transformed to become some of the greatest peacemakers I’ve ever met. It gives me faith in the resiliency of people and in the core of human nature.</p> <p>And if I can have faith in their core and their ability to transform, why not the prison guards? Why not the politician who passed the laws that filled the prison? Or the corporate lobbyist who pushed for that legislation? Or the conservative voter who put those lawmakers into office?</p> <p>It may take seven generations, but if we are not working for a world that works for all of us, then what exactly are we working for? If we are working to change laws and policies, but the hearts and minds of the people are still corrupt and we still see each other as exactly that—“others”—will we ever know peace?</p> <p>We are in need of a truly nonviolent revolution, not just of systems and policies, but also of worldviews and relationships. We need to understand that people are never the enemy, that violence and injustice itself is what we need to defeat, and that the goal of every conflict must be reconciliation.</p> <p>Each conflict we face has to be seen as an opportunity to strengthen understanding between members of a human family that have grown so far apart that we have forgotten our dependence on each other.</p> <p>That is why we need a principled nonviolent approach to society’s ills. Because it is not just laws and systems that have poisoned us. It is a worldview that has made us forget that our liberation is bound up in the liberation of all people.</p> <p>And only a holistic nonviolent approach—one that involves both strategies&nbsp;<em>and</em>&nbsp;principles—can muster the force to stop injustice in its tracks while bringing communities towards reconciliation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kazu-haga/violence-brought-us-trump-but-it-s-not-how-we-will-stop-him">Violence brought us Trump, but it’s not how we will stop him</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kazu-haga/problem-with-wanting-peace-in-baltimore">The problem with wanting &#039;peace&#039; in Baltimore</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/nan-levinson/how-everyday-use-of-militaristic-jargon-makes-us-more-combative">How the everyday use of militaristic jargon makes us more combative</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Kazu Haga Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Fri, 09 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000 Kazu Haga 110816 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Through the dark night https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/marisa-handler/through-dark-night <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="xmsonormal">Inside ourselves and in the world at large, more darkness brings more light rising in response.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="xmsonormal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MarisaHandler2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/lotus-flower-water-lily-plant-216119/">Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures</a>. CC0 Public Domain.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">In Buddhism, the lotus flower is often used as a metaphor for awakening, with its roots in the mud and its blossom exquisite. A fully bloomed lotus represents enlightenment, the bud everything that comes before.&nbsp;At first, the bud is tight, solid, a single dense thing.&nbsp;One petal at a time, it softens and opens.&nbsp; </p> <p class="xmsonormal">It’s an&nbsp;apt metaphor for healing, too, or&nbsp;at least my own experience of it, when <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/marisa-handler/when-meditation-isn-t-enough">breakdown sent me reeling</a> into an extended ‘dark night of the soul.’ There was no single panacea—no solve-all secret, no grand rescue, although I certainly wished for one—but rather many petals, each unfurling a different layer of my tightly-clenched being: the nervous system, the physical body, the psyche and&nbsp;the spirit.&nbsp;At every step, mindfulness provided a crucial foundation.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">My nervous system had long been operating in fight-and-flight mode, and so my adrenal glands were depleted and I was utterly exhausted. Working with a generous and gifted practitioner of <a href="https://traumahealing.org/about-us/">Somatic Experiencing</a>, a body-based approach to healing trauma, I began to learn to function in a more balanced manner—or rather, my nervous system did.&nbsp;As psychiatrist and PTSD researcher <a href="http://www.traumacenter.org/about/about_bessel.php">Bessel Van der Kolk</a> writes, “traumatized people feel chronically unsafe inside their bodies: the past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort.”&nbsp;Talk therapy was insufficient; my nervous system had to learn that it was safe, and this came through touch and feedback.&nbsp; </p> <p class="xmsonormal">Meditation had been a wonderful training ground for the kind of mindfulness I needed to bring to this practice, a focused tracking of bodily sensations.&nbsp;But it was vital to have a guide to gently redirect me.&nbsp;For wounds that are inherently relational, I believe the healing must be, too.&nbsp; Over time, I began to learn to trust the body that I believed had betrayed me.&nbsp;Much of what I’d stored away many years earlier was buried in shame; to enter these dark spaces with a guide leavened this shame, steadily eroding the associated emotional isolation.&nbsp; </p> <p class="xmsonormal">As my resilience grew, life became more bearable.&nbsp;Cars passing by on the street no longer felt like they were driving through me; singing no longer cracked me in two; I could be among people, even socialize a little.&nbsp;I began to emerge from a form of hermitage.&nbsp;Then there was movement, <a href="http://authenticmovementcommunity.org/about">Authentic Movement</a> specifically: in a circle of eight women, guided by a wise facilitator, I found the space for my body to begin to express what had long been repressed. This came through voice (as a singer this was key) and also the exploratory movement of my limbs.&nbsp; </p> <p class="xmsonormal">And then, once I was strong enough to return to it, there was free-form ecstatic dance, and the reliable joy it lent. And <a href="http://www.biodanza.us/what-is-biodanza.html">Biodanza</a>, a guided movement practice centered in presence and deep connection. Then a friend told me about the work of <a href="http://thework.com/en">Byron Katie</a>, who teaches an inquiry process to identify and question the thoughts that cause suffering. I dived in wholeheartedly, methodically unpinning many of the beliefs that had kept me mired in fear and self-hatred.&nbsp;I began to see my internal world shift in significant ways.&nbsp;As these old ways crumbled, I started to touch an abiding sense of freedom, and more joy followed.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">This list of practices and techniques isn’t comprehensive.&nbsp;There were also friends who were beacons for me at a time when everything went dark.&nbsp;Their care and wisdom kept me tethered to the earth, and to sanity.&nbsp;There was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acupuncture">acupuncture</a>, which brought palpable relief to a system stuck in fight-or-flight.&nbsp;And there were teachers from Buddhist and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advaita_Vedanta">Advaita</a> traditions who had themselves passed through something this extreme, and assured me that I would make it, that I wouldn’t lose my mind.&nbsp; I’ll never forget how one of them, Jeannie Zandi, took me onto her lap and held me until my body began to calm.&nbsp; </p> <p class="xmsonormal">Then there were the trees. At times I thought of them as my lovers, holding me steadily through these aching years.&nbsp;At night I’d walk to one of my favorites, climb up and lie in its broad branches.&nbsp;There I would rest and pray until I felt strong enough to pick myself up and face the next hour.&nbsp;On sunny days I lay on the ground.&nbsp;In my worst times of exhaustion and despair I was held by the earth itself.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">There were drugs, too.&nbsp;I was adamantly opposed to pharmaceuticals, and it took months of hell followed by the personal persuasion of one of our most respected meditation teachers to change my mind.&nbsp; Did they help?&nbsp; Yes, I believe so.&nbsp;But they hurt as well.&nbsp;A psychiatrist who told me to stop taking a powerful sleep medication once my sleep had stabilized plunged me back into hell for months.&nbsp;I learned to move in millimeters, and warily.&nbsp;The drugs didn’t heal me, but they eased my suffering.&nbsp;Gradually I came to see them as a kindness I could give to myself instead of a source of shame.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xmsonormal">If there was any abiding thread, any golden string out of the opaque maze, it was learning to hold myself with compassion.&nbsp;At its worst, when my nerves were shrieking and my body on fire, I’d put my hands over my heart and call myself sweetheart, angel, darling.&nbsp;I’d tell the rage it had a good point, tell the fear I wasn’t running away this time, the hatred that it was welcome.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xmsonormal">“Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child,” <a href="http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.08.amar.html">said</a> the Buddha, “so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.” I learned to include myself in my compassion.&nbsp;I learned to hold myself like a screaming infant, and give to myself as to a starved child.&nbsp;This wasn’t due to any great ability of my own.&nbsp;I simply had no choice.&nbsp;If I didn’t learn to be patient with myself when I could hardly function, I’d never have healed.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xmsonormal">That’s what I say when friends offer me praise.&nbsp;I don’t deserve it; courage had nothing to do with this.&nbsp;Were you in my position—and I hope you never are—you’d have done the same.&nbsp;It was that or my life.&nbsp;There were moments when I fervently wished I was dead, that some disease would come and take me, some accident wipe me out.&nbsp;But I didn’t die, at least not in the traditional sense, and now that I’m on the other side I marvel at the gifts I’ve been given.&nbsp; </p> <p class="xmsonormal">Half my life is spiritual practice, I said to a teacher recently.&nbsp;Yet the amazing thing is that, on emerging from this spectacularly dysfunctional period, I have the space for ample practice, and to write and sing and teach. When I had no choice but to surrender utterly—to accept that I might be unable to pay rent next month, even that I might not heal—I started to see that I could trust life. I started to relax into it. And life took me by the hands and began to dance.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Recently I’ve begun to teach on the theme of the ‘<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Night_of_the_Soul">dark night of the soul’</a> as a component of awakening.&nbsp;I’ve come to believe that if we muster what it takes to face the work that life presents to us, then life in turn will hold us as we do it.&nbsp;Sometimes that work is in our own minds, other times in our communities; if we are listening, we may discover an organic rhythm between these two dimensions. Both are needed. Most often we do not have to seek it out, this work. Instead, it reveals itself to us—sometimes subtly, like a dove alighting on an outstretched arm; sometimes a tornado that sweeps us up and drops us somewhere else entirely.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">I’m sharing my story now because I hope to help others locate the narratives to usher them through their own experience of the underworld—and to do so without the terrible burden of shame our culture heaps on anything resembling mental illness, which I at times found as crippling as the experience itself.&nbsp;I want others to discover the gifts hidden in these dark nights, gifts they will in turn deliver to a world that sorely needs them.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">I want, in short, for others to suffer less than I did.&nbsp;I still have to rest a lot, and I topple into adrenaline-charged emergency mode at the drop of a hat.&nbsp;But I am more resilient, and better at letting go, and it seems that my suffering has diminished in inverse proportion to the growth of these capacities.&nbsp;Most days I am happy. I no longer need crisis to invoke change; the dance has slowed to a foxtrot.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">At some point, many of us will be broken by life, whether in ways obvious or hidden.&nbsp;If we stay soft, stay open, the heart will expand, the mind grow clear.&nbsp;Breaking and healing: I’ve come to believe they are different movements of the same underlying love.&nbsp;Sometimes that love must be ferocious to wake us up.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xmsonormal">We are seeing this play out in the world today: more darkness center stage, more light rising in response. Not only is there the individual experience of breakdown, but systems and institutions that we believed unshakeable are also beginning to crack. Ecosystems are changing before our eyes, and the scale of environmental loss is prodigious. It can be terrifying to watch the dissolution of the things that we believe have kept us safe; excruciating to see the destruction of things that we love. </p> <p class="xmsonormal">Faced by these circumstances, it may take every ounce of will we possess not to collapse into fear or explode into rage. But even as the skies darken, there are considerable gifts. We are being offered a superb opportunity to develop the strength and wisdom we will need to rise to the occasion.&nbsp; </p><p> There is, I would venture, a greater story unfolding here, with a much wider arc—one that bends inexorably toward the light. &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/marisa-handler/when-meditation-isn-t-enough">When meditation isn’t enough</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/mysticism-of-wide-open-eyes">The mysticism of wide open eyes</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/claudia-horwitz/why-mindfulness-matters-now">Why mindfulness matters now</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Marisa Handler Liberation Care Love and Spirituality Tue, 30 May 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Marisa Handler 111127 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Desmond Tutu was right https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chris-shannahan/desmond-tutu-was-right <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the UK General Election campaign heats up, who says politics and religion don’t mix?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ChrisShannhan2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Vicar’s daughter Theresa May visits Al Madina Mosque, 2015.<strong> </strong>Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/ukhomeoffice/16492899156">Flickr/UK Home Office</a>. Some rights reserved.</p> <p>At the height of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1984/tutu-bio.html">Archbishop Desmond Tutu</a>&nbsp;confessed that he was confused about which Bible people were reading when they said that religion and politics do not mix. The Archbishop was right: religion and politics do mix, no matter what hardened secularists might assert about a public sphere free from religion. The more important questions to ask are, ‘what kind of religion and what kind of politics?’</p> <p>In recent years the relationship between religious faith and politics has assumed a growing importance for three reasons. First, <a href="http://williamtemplefoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Faith-In-Action-William-Temple-Foundation-2014.pdf">faith groups continue to possess significant levels of ‘social capital,</a>’ especially in socially excluded communities. The political theologian <a href="https://www.chester.ac.uk/departments/trs/staff/baker">Chris Baker</a> calls this ‘religious capital’, or resources in the form of buildings, congregations and community activities. In recent decades politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have recognised that faith groups can help them to deliver (sometimes controversial) social policy agendas. </p> <p>Second, in an <a href="http://conservative-speeches.sayit.mysociety.org/speech/601367">‘age of austerity,’</a> faith groups have become increasingly important and visible players in grass-roots campaigning on issues as wide-ranging as low pay, food poverty, racial justice and refugee rights. They have, to a degree, become welfare delivery agencies, filling the gaps previously occupied by the state. <a href="http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-new-visibility-of-religion-9781847061324/">Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward</a> refer to this as “the new visibility of religion.” </p> <p>Third, this new visibility places the spotlight on the values that drive faith-based action. This question is of vital importance because faith groups can use their religious capital to include or to exclude people, and to challenge injustice or to provide it with a spurious ideological justification. </p> <p>What role then should religious leaders and people of faith play in politics, and what kind of theological values do those politicians who proclaim themselves to be people of faith communicate and embody? Should they be satisfied with driving the ambulance to the bottom of the cliff, ready to meet those who fall through the cracks of a shrinking welfare state, or as the German theologian <a href="http://www.dbonhoeffer.org/Biography.html">Dietrich Bonhoeffer</a> once argued, should people of faith ram a spoke into the wheels of injustice?</p> <p>In the recent US Presidential Election&nbsp;<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09/exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-overwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/?postshare=8391478704392315&amp;tid=ss_tw&amp;utm_term=.2b20fb96d96a">Donald Trump courted Evangelical Christians</a>&nbsp;with his promises on healthcare, abortion and the appointment of ‘pro-life’ Justices to the US Supreme Court. His tactics seemed to work, but the months since his election have seen the rise of a faith-based movement ready to challenge his drive to the right. </p> <p>The UK is currently in the midst of a similarly-polarised General Election campaign in which the role of faith has also become a source of debate.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tim-farron-gay-sex-sin-believe-christian-liberal-democrat-leader-lib-dem-a7701846.html">Tim Farron</a>, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has been quizzed on his attitude towards homosexuality and abortion. Whilst Christian attitudes towards sexuality are often more progressive than some people might imagine, Farron is shaped by a form of Evangelicalism that condemns homosexuality as ‘sinful.’ As a person of faith myself I want to challenge such notions of the Christian Gospel. That said, Farron’s voting record as a Member of Parliament has been characterised by clear support for equal rights. </p> <p>Interestingly, the Conservative leader, Theresa May, has referred to the fact that she is&nbsp;<a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-4520696/Theresa-unveils-personal-manifesto.html">the daughter of a Church of England vicar</a>,&nbsp;and that her Christian upbringing has shaped her political beliefs. But so far, the UK media has not quizzed May on her understanding of Christian values, nor on how her tenure as Conservative Home Secretary and Prime Minister reflect them.&nbsp;<em><a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/04/what-kind-christian-theresa-may">The New Statesman</a></em>&nbsp;recently ran an article entitled, “Just What Kind of Christian is Theresa May?” That raises an important, though much broader, question.</p> <p>Faith communities have social action built into their DNA, but their approaches vary significantly. Broadly speaking we can speak of ‘caring’ and ‘campaigning.’ Shaped by a ‘love your neighbour’ ethic of social responsibility, the dominant approach to faith-based social action continues to be the ‘caring’ approach that’s exemplified by soup runs, befriending projects and foodbanks. Such an approach has an honourable history, but it tends not to challenge the political status quo. </p> <p>Shaped by a more radical religious tradition, the ‘campaigning’ approach asserts that social justice is a more fundamental theological value than consensual social responsibility. Such activism is generally far less widely welcomed by the political class because it asks fundamental questions about the way things are done, and because it underpins campaigns for far-reaching, systemic social change.</p> <p>Two distinct theological frameworks characterise these differing approaches to faith-based activism. ‘Caring’ social action arises from theologies of the common good, which argue that, as a result of our common humanity, all government policies should be judged on the extent to which they enhance the well-being of the most vulnerable members of society. Such an approach seeks to balance the needs of the included and the excluded, but it doesn’t assert the need for fundamental structural changes in society. </p> <p>By contrast, ‘campaigning’ social action, whilst committed to building a society that is characterised by a shared commitment to the common good, goes much further. Such activism is, if only implicitly, shaped by the core values of <a href="http://liberationtheology.org/">liberation theology</a>, which emerged first in Latin America in the 1970s. Exemplified by the work of <a href="http://liberationtheology.org/people-organizations/gustavo-gutierrez/">Gustavo Gutiérrez</a>, liberation theology argues that in an unjust world, a God who has created all people in the divine image necessarily has a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and oppressed, and that as a consequence, Christian social action must be characterised by support for that option too. </p> <p>Such social action argues for deep-seated structural changes that enable the building of a more egalitarian society. So when campaigners knock on people’s doors asking for their vote, they need to ask, ‘Do your policies put the few or the many at the front of the queue? How will your policies transform toxic debates about immigration into a narrative that treasures our diversity as a strength, and not as a problem that needs to be solved?’</p> <p>There is no way of knowing how Theresa May’s upbringing as a vicar’s daughter shapes her internal wrestling with the kind of challenge that Jesus lays at the feet of his disciples in Matthew 24:31-46: ‘Have you fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, and clothed the naked?’ We cannot see into her heart. All we can do is reflect on the impact of her actions as Home Secretary and Prime Minister. However, it is reasonable to pose a number of sample questions in the light of the forthcoming General Election that get at the relationship between faith and politics. </p> <p>First, how might&nbsp;<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/child-refugee-scheme-closure-uk-million-profit-people-smuggling-trafficking-safe-passage-uk-a7594161.html">refusing to allow child refugees from ‘the jungle’ camp in Calais to settle in the UK</a>,&nbsp;or the implicit&nbsp;<a href="https://www.thecanary.co/2016/06/26/explosion-post-brexit-racism-truly-heartbreaking-tweets/">xenophobia unleashed by the 2016 Brexit referendum</a>,&nbsp;exemplify an ethic of ‘welcoming the stranger’?</p> <p>Second, how might the increasing<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/andrew-marr-theresa-may-food-banks-nuclear-should-worry-you-a7710621.html"> resort to foodbanks by NHS nurses</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/20/theresa-may-school-meals-plan-hits-900000-families?CMP=share_btn_tw">withdrawing of free school lunches for Primary school children</a>&nbsp;embody a commitment to ‘feeding the hungry’?</p> <p>Third, how can we square the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/25/number-of-rough-sleepers-in-england-rises-for-sixth-successive-year">doubling of homelessness since 2010</a>&nbsp;or the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/social-affairs/welfare/news/84294/child-poverty-has-soared-400000-tories-came-power">massive rise in child poverty</a>&nbsp;with ‘clothing the naked’?</p> <p>Senior political leaders who consciously self-identify as people of faith would do well to reflect on these questions and others like them when they look in the mirror. Tutu was right: religion and politics do mix, but the more important question is this—does faith give rise to a commitment to building an inclusive and egalitarian society, or is it simply a cynical ploy to get elected?</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/president-trump-and-christian-right">President Trump and the Christian right</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/tanya-b-schwarz/can-prayer-also-be-action">Can prayer also be action?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Chris Shannahan Trans-partisan politics Activism Love and Spirituality Mon, 29 May 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Chris Shannahan 111128 at https://www.opendemocracy.net We protest by creating beauty https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/fearless-collective/we-protest-by-creating-beauty <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Meet the artists and activists writing love letters on the streets.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Fearlesstopimage.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: all images painted or photographed by Shilo Shiv Suleman and the Fearless Collective. Some rights reserved.</p> <p>My love,</p><p> It was four years ago that I started spilling onto the streets. There were thousands of us there. Our fists were clenched but our eyes were full of water. We came with all our heavy sorrows but backbones pulled up straight. I had the scar of a man who touched me on my hipbone. My mother showed me a scar she had been carrying for over 40 years. This night, for the first time, she slowly un-wrapped it and took it with her to the streets.</p><p> Here, at these protests following the gang-rape of a 21 year old girl in New Delhi in 2012, people came with candles and banners, but they also came with invisible things like fear that sometimes caused them to buckle.</p> <p class="normal">Fists clenched, banners alight: <em>“Hang the rapist”.</em></p> <p class="normal">Girls whispering: <em>“It could have been me. It could have been me. It could have been me”</em> (well, it was you. It is always you).</p> <p class="normal">People saying: <em>“dark daughters, don’t go out at night, don’t attract attention to yourself, don’t take a taxi home, don’t breathe too heavy, don’t smile at strangers, don’t show too much skin, don’t look too meek. It could have been you. It could have been you. It could have been you.”</em></p> <p class="normal">Others saying: <em>“Break the silence.”</em></p> <p class="normal">Does breaking the silence always have to look like shattered glass? Can’t we have another metaphor instead—to fill the silence, spill into silence, reclaim silence and transform it?</p> <p class="normal">I wanted to fill this silence by writing a letter to all the men, to all the women I knew, to all those voices on the street. What is it about making injuries public that quickens their healing? When I had my first physical injury (a fractured rib), people gathered around me, helping me to make my way through elevators, train stations and months of recovery. What if I had kept it to myself? What is it about <em>emotional</em> injuries that make us feel as though we need to heal from them alone?</p> <p class="normal">I wanted to fill this silence by writing a letter, but back then I wrote with pictures, so I made a poster instead. <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/FearlessDelhiprotest.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/FearlessDelhiprotest.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="165" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p class="normal">It was an image of a woman with her arms crossed over her chest, the word “fearless” scrawled at the bottom. Soon there were hundreds of these posters online, these letters, from communities and protestors and new friends near and far. And then we went back onto the streets, this time with painted hands and ladders. We painted by the bank of the river in Varanasi, in the slums of Dharavi,&nbsp; and with women. We opened our stories through rituals. We took pictures of each other and projected them onto walls. We gathered our skirts, our secrets and we spilled open. And as we painted, we started to hear other voices on the streets.</p> <p class="normal">One of them insisted: <em>“this should be a boy riding the bike.”</em></p> <p class="normal">The voice came from a young man of no more than 20 years watching us from the curb. Women clad in shawls stood high on the scaffolding that we had placed against the wall to paint—an unusual sight for where we were standing (a car service station in Rawalpindi, Pakistan); an even more unusual one in his own mind.</p> <p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/Fearlesstransonbike.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/Fearlesstransonbike.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="160" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>We were painting a transgender person riding a motorcycle, exhaling flowers. The image was a story—a true story. In a world molded into binaries we wanted to carve out space for something different—something transgender, or just a woman or anyone who stands in resistance to these categories. In Pakistan, there were certainly no images like this. The person in the image lived down the road from the car-service station. Most of the people in that neighborhood had never visited their house. They had been neighbours for almost 16 years. Sixteen years is a long time never to be seen as your true self.</p> <p class="normal">Another voice in another place:&nbsp; <em>“Assad is our hero.”</em></p> <p class="normal">It was an older woman watching carefully from the window of her second-floor apartment in Bourj Hammoud in Lebanon, seemingly amused by the potluck of people carrying their languages and colours across the large five-story scaffolding where we were painting. We were in a cozy corner of a primarily Syrian-Armenian neighbourhood.</p> <p class="normal">We were painting a story there too. <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/FearlessscaffoldinginLebanon.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/FearlessscaffoldinginLebanon.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="160" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>In fact we were folding many stories into one. In a world constantly in movement, does it matter if our point of departure is war, homophobia, economic opportunities or love?&nbsp; Home is what we all seek, and eventually, should find. The image we created was partly a story of an adolescent boy born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, now struggling to make a home in Lebanon. Assad was not his hero.</p> <p class="normal">These stories are separated by many months and many miles, but they are tied together by the underlying fears that formed the opinions of everyone involved.</p> <p class="normal">The fact that for 16 years a transgender person living in a neighborhood in Rawalpindi is still considered an outsider, or that a woman in Beirut felt threatened by an adolescent boy who didn’t share her ideals, are not just differences of opinion. They are fears that leave long trails; that become emotional injuries; that get inherited and become generational; forming cultures, politics, and eventually systems of oppression.</p> <p class="normal">How do we protest a system of oppression that is fed by injuries and fears kept hidden? We protest by creating beauty. That’s the work of <a href="http://www.fearlesscollective.org/">Fearless Collective</a>.</p> <p class="normal">Fearless Collective creates spaces to move from fear to love, drifting away from a system of messaging that is stewed in anger, and from individual opinions to the language of collective affirmation.</p> <p class="normal">In the four years since our inception, we’ve painted numerous affirmations on streets around the world, some in words and some in symbols; some unsaid or unwritten, and some secretly tucked into the hair of a person that we’re painting—but always an affirmation of moving from fear to love.<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/FearlessGirlpainting.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/FearlessGirlpainting.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p class="normal">We’ve painted monuments to the living communities that inhabit these spaces; women protesting politicians who continue to live with impunity despite rape charges against them; and indigenous people reclaiming sacred land that was taken away from them in brutal massacres.</p> <p class="normal">Our banners and tongues aren’t laden with slogans: “<em>Stop War”</em>, “<em>Save the Tigers”</em>, <em>“Stop violence against women.”</em> Our words are invocations that build the imagined city we want to inhabit. When we are sold a pair of shoes through images in public space, we are also sold a sense of ‘empowerment’ and self fulfillment, and yet in social justice movements the actions we take for the earth and its people seem to come as a last resort. We need to examine the anxiety that gets associated with this sense of urgency. The impulse for movement can come from a fear of loss, yes, but it must also come from the recognition of love.</p> <p class="normal">The things that we say under our breath often shift us. We need our movements to be affirmative and inward. Like planets, our outer revolutions must come from deep interior forces. So:</p> <p class="normal">The transgender person riding a motorcycle in all their glory at the car-service station in Rawalpindi affirms ہم ہیں تخلیقِ خدا: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/thefearlesscollective/photos/?tab=album&amp;album_id=1043442259041448"><em>‘I am a creation of </em></a><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/thefearlesscollective/photos/?tab=album&amp;album_id=1043442259041448"><em>God</em></a><em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/thefearlesscollective/photos/?tab=album&amp;album_id=1043442259041448">’.</a></em></p> <p class="normal">That wall in Bourj Hammoud, layered with bullet holes and stories of displacement in Beirut, now says բարի գալուստ, հազար բարի: “<em>A thousand times welcome.”</em></p> <p class="normal">A young girl and her cat look up at the Goddess Durga and her tiger by the banks of the river Ganges in Benaras (Varanasi) and affirm, <em>“What we worship, we shall become.”</em></p> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/FearlessFirst Mural in Varanasi.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="normal">A street in Okhla, South Delhi demands बुरी नज़र वाले दिल से देखो आँखों से नहीं:<em> “</em>You who stare! See me with your heart, not with your eyes.”</p> <p class="normal">At a train station in Chennai, a Tamil film heroine asserts <em>“</em><em>நான்</em><em> </em><em>என்</em><em> </em><em>கதாநாயகன்</em><em>:”&nbsp;</em>“<em>I</em> <em>am my own hero.”<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/Fearlesstamilhero.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/Fearlesstamilhero.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="178" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><br /></em></p> <p class="normal">In an alleyway in the small town of Bogor in Indonesia, a sex worker lying across from a mosque says <em>“</em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/thefearlesscollective/photos/?tab=album&amp;album_id=1133262030059470"><em>Aku Adalah Kamu</em></a>:”<em> “I am, as you are.”</em></p> <p class="normal">A black body wearing nothing in protest in Johannesburg says <em>“I</em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/thefearlesscollective/photos/?tab=album&amp;album_id=1171393436246329"><em> wear my body without shame</em></a><em>.”<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/Fearlessmybodywithoutshame.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/555454/Fearlessmybodywithoutshame.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="160" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><br /></em></p> <p class="normal">A mural in an indigenous village square in Bah’ia, Brazil says “nos protegemos que nos protégé: “<a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/thefearlesscollective/photos/?tab=album&amp;album_id=1339627902756214"><em>We protect, what protects us</em></a><em>.”</em></p> <p class="normal">These affirmations are our open letters to the world. They are rooted in a moment in time, but live on the streets for all those who pass them, and see themselves inside them.</p> <p class="normal">People write letters to make their invisible emotional histories visible—to lovers, friends, editors, politicians and cities. Letters full of stories, sentiments, fears, injuries, protests, affirmations, love and more. Just as old letters between scientists, diplomats and intellectuals go into archives and become part of our shared world history, we want to take our own letters and affirmations and archive them on the streets.</p> <p class="normal">Open letters are intimate and introspective, but they are offered to the public. So we want to invite you to write your own open letter—to a friend, lover, parent, president, sibling, neighbour, country, land, home or yourself. You can write in any language—visual, verbal, poems, symbols, or colors, and we’ll find a home for it somewhere on the streets of the world.</p> <p class="normal">You can send us your letters at this email address: <a href="mailto:fearlesscollective@gmail.com">fearlesscollective@gmail.com</a>. We’ll send you redesigned/enlarged files and further instructions on pasting your letters onto your own streets too if that’s what you want to do.</p> <p class="normal">Follow the conversation digitally on #fearlessopenletters, and find out where yours end up. We’ll also be publishing a selection on <em>Transformation</em>.</p> <p class="normal">By sending us your letter, you will become part of a collective that’s exploring choosing love over fear, compassion over defense and abundance over scarcity, all through collective imagination. We aspire to grow as a movement of people-led narratives of personal and political change. Send us your letters and join the journey.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/FeralessButterfliesopening from woman (3).jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/mysticism-of-wide-open-eyes">The mysticism of wide open eyes</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/james-k-rowe/zen-and-art-of-social-movement-maintenance">Zen and the art of social movement maintenance</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/veena-vasista/wise-fools-for-love-arts-activism-and-social-transformation">Wise fools for love? Arts activism and social transformation</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation artistic activism Fearless Collective Liberation Transformative nonviolence Activism Culture Love and Spirituality Wed, 24 May 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Fearless Collective 111071 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The mysticism of wide open eyes https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/mysticism-of-wide-open-eyes <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How does spirituality connect to social change?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/spiritualityandsocialchange.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: © Nevit Dilmen. CC BY-SA 3.0 via <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spiritual_Tree_dsc06786_duo_nevit.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>.</p> <p>Three months before his death from pancreatic cancer in 1994, the British playwright <a href="https://intranet.yorksj.ac.uk/potter/">Dennis Potter</a> was <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2007/sep/12/greatinterviews">interviewed for the BBC by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg</a>. In obvious pain and taking regular swigs from a bottle of liquid morphine, Potter explored a wide range of questions about his work, politics, family and feelings—given that he was already in the terminal stage of his illness.</p> <p>I was spellbound by the raw honesty and energy of his answers, but there was one section that catapulted me into a different state entirely. It came when Potter described the plum tree blossom outside his study window: </p> <blockquote><p>“Looking at it, instead of saying ‘Oh that's nice blossom’...I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn't seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know, there's no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance…the fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.”</p></blockquote> <p>I knew immediately what he meant. Potter had <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=bUeGDAAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA75&amp;lpg=PA75&amp;dq=dennis+potter%27s+views+on+religion+and+spirituality&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=qD8ZZ69asl&amp;sig=WvuGcTPmOCsPvZU5aCXGoBOj9ek&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwj518Ot4PnTAhVHMyYKHX8FD1gQ6AEIMDAB#v=onepage&amp;q=dennis%20p">a complicated relationship to religion</a>, and he didn’t use overtly spiritual language to describe his experience that day, but that’s how I felt it. He went on to say that this new state of consciousness had given him more clarity and serenity, along with the ability to stay fully focused in every moment. “Almost in a perverse sort of way”, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2007/sep/12/greatinterviews">he told Bragg,</a> “I can celebrate life” so close to death. </p> <p>These feelings of joy, compassion, clarity and connection are <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality">characteristic of mystical experience</a>, but Potter’s story raises an intriguing question: why wait so long to enjoy the fruits of a fully awakened life? Shouldn’t we be living this way for as long as is possible, despite the constraints imposed by mortgages and college fees and all the drudgery of convention that surrounds us? </p> <p>I’ve always thought so, and not just for personal reasons, though it’s certainly more fulfilling—and more fun—to live a life that is deep instead of shallow. I think it also matters <em>politically, </em>because spirituality, a whole life lived in the way Potter was describing, is of enormous importance in the struggle for social change. This may sound odd given the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/erika-summerseffler-hyunjin-deborah-kwak/where-are-missing-mystics-of-revolution">common image of mystics</a> as people who are removed from the world, but I’m convinced that spiritual experience is one of the keys to the radical transformation of society. How so? </p> <p>First of all, unlike the received dogmas and hierarchies of religious and secular ideologies, spirituality can give us an actual experience of the unity of all things. This experience, when nurtured as a constant practice, roots equality-consciousness, non-discrimination, non-violence and reverence for all people and the earth deep into our core. Here is <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/susan-rakoczy/dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton-two-journeys-to-wholeness">the American writer and mystic Thomas Merton describing</a> how this happened to him:</p> <blockquote><p>“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness.”</p></blockquote> <p>Before this experience, Merton led a fairly conventional spiritual life in a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/susan-rakoczy/dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton-two-journeys-to-wholeness">Trappist monastery in Kentucky</a>; afterwards he poured his energies into writing and speaking about poverty, racism, violence and war—and anything else that fractured that experience of unity, equality and reverence. But he continued his spiritual journey as a semi-hermit, moving to a separate cabin on the monastery grounds. This simultaneous turning in and turning out is characteristic of socially-engaged spirituality, repeated in figures like <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/susan-rakoczy/dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton-two-journeys-to-wholeness">Dorothy Day</a> and <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/james-k-rowe/zen-and-art-of-social-movement-maintenance">Angela Davis</a>. The German feminist theologian <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/susan-rakoczy/god-is-justice-social-spirituality-of-dorothee-soelle">Dorothee Soelle</a> called it “the mysticism of wide open eyes.” </p> <p>Secondly, all spiritual paths involve the destruction or sublimation of the ego, and a surrendering to something greater than oneself—whether that’s defined in terms of the ‘divine,’ or unconditional love, or artistic ecstasy, where even the plum tree outside your study window shimmers with meaning, grace and beauty. When our decision making is dominated by fear, jealousy, greed and other limitations of the ego, the economic and political systems we create will feed from and reproduce those qualities. By contrast, the ultimate security and generosity that flow from spiritual experience can anchor systems based on sharing and equality like nothing else.</p> <p>Of course, kindness, joy, love and liberation don’t unlock the doors of structural oppression by themselves. They have to be connected to political analysis and concrete plans for action, but those plans can easily be pulled back into destructive, ego-led behavior that disguises self-interest as radical or altruistic. Spirituality won’t make you a Democrat or a Republican or reveal a detailed plan for health care reform, but it can place you in a qualitatively different state from which you can act in more expansive and clear-minded ways. I think that’s what Potter meant when he celebrated ‘life in the present tense:’ concentrate on ‘<a href="http://buddhismguide.org/buddhas-right-action/">right action</a>’ as Buddhists call it in the here and now and always. Don’t get locked into the patterns of the past or lose yourself in your ambitions for the future.&nbsp; </p> <p>Thirdly, although spiritual experiences are often spontaneous, sustaining their benefits requires practice, rigor and discipline, and those things are crucial in the struggle for social change. Classical practices include prayer, yoga and meditation, but music, art and dance can be powerful doorways too, along with loving interactions with other people—solidarity can be a spiritual experience in itself. Over the last ten years <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/darrin-drda/selective-awareness-of-wisdom-20">it’s become fashionable</a> to use these practices as tools to promote personal health and wellbeing, financial success, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-schulson/sex-scandal-following-whole-foods-guru">sexual conquest</a> and even <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/joel-millward-hopkins/neoliberal-psychology">the corporate bottom line</a>: “mindfulness opens the doorway to loving kindness,” says <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/google-meditation-mindfulness-technology">Google’s ‘head of mindfulness training</a>,’ “which is at the heart of business success.”</p> <p>Spirituality is no stranger to this kind of appropriation, which is why the rigor and self-sacrifice involved in authentic spiritual growth is so important—it helps to weed out distractions and keep you on the straight and narrow. Spirituality is not a self-help strategy designed to make you feel happy in the world as it is. There’s no such thing as ‘comfortable compassion,’ because a truly compassionate life—lived through the daily operations of economics, politics, activism, social relations and the family—is exceptionally demanding. It often involves <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/marisa-handler/when-meditation-isn-t-enough">internal breakdown and reconstruction</a>, along with the constant practice of ‘do no harm.’ </p> <p>This is painful, long-term work, but it’s essential to keep on going, however ‘liberated’ you may feel. After all, slippage is characteristic of well-intentioned action: the rising stars of progressive politics who become co-opted along the way; the NGOs and foundations whose radical edges are eroded over time; the social movements that slowly take on the behavior of their oppressors; and the paragons of Corporate Social Responsibility that constantly fall from grace </p> <p>Does this kind of rigor and discipline have to be mystical or spiritual? If you recoil at such language and the baggage it sometimes carries then never fear, you’re in good company. Here’s the radical writer, activist and lifelong atheist <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Living-Wild-God-Nonbelievers-Everything/dp/1455501743/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_img_0?_encoding=UTF8&amp;psc=1&amp;refRID=Q2RHY2F772HNSBR3A9CZ">Barbara Ehrenreich</a> trying to explain experiences that were “so anomalous, so disconnected from the normal life you share with other people that you can’t even figure out how to talk about it…without sounding crazy.” Just like Potter, Ehrenreich saw a new world in a tree:</p> <blockquote><p>“I was looking at a tree, and then it happened. Something peeled off the visible world, taking with it all meaning, inference, association, labels and words….Was it a place that was suddenly revealed to me? Or was it a substance—the indivisible, elemental material out of which the entire known and agreed upon world arises as a fantastic elaboration?”</p></blockquote> <p>Ehrenreich was 17 at the time, and she didn’t return to her quest for meaning as she calls it until she reached middle age. But then she was able to apply her experiences to her activism and writing. And that’s the point: it doesn’t matter what you call them; what matters is that you’re open to experiences like these so that you can utilize their gifts—preferably before your middle age and certainly before your death. </p> <p>One could argue that—however it’s described—no such experience is required to be effective as a vehicle for social transformation, but that seems unpersuasive to me: my ego is far too clever to dissolve itself or illuminate the way ahead free of the shadow of self-interest. By contrast, I’ve found that connecting spirituality to social action reveals a greatly expanded set of possibilities for personal-political change, so why wait to take advantage of them? </p> <p>‘We believe in life <em>before</em> death’ as an old <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Aid">Christian Aid</a> slogan put it when I was growing up. It seems a shame to waste an opportunity as wonderfully fruitful as that.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/marisa-handler/when-meditation-isn-t-enough">When meditation isn’t enough</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton-two-journeys-to-wholeness">Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton: two journeys to wholeness</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/darrin-drda/selective-awareness-of-wisdom-20">The selective awareness of Wisdom 2.0</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/erika-summerseffler-hyunjin-deborah-kwak/where-are-missing-mystics-of-revolution">Where are the missing mystics of the revolution?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation spirituality religion and social transformation meditation Michael Edwards Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Mon, 22 May 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Michael Edwards 111054 at https://www.opendemocracy.net