This winter has devastated my sub-tropical garden in New Orleans. I was out of town when the last polar vortex dipped down for a visit. In my absence, all of the plants that I had brought into the house during the first big freeze were left outside to melt into gelatinous puddles. The joyful exception to the sad stories in my garden is the camellia.
And I am not the only one who is excited about the flowers. The honey bees amped up their buzz big time when I snipped a few branches off to share with a friend.
I imagined for a moment that I could hear the thoughts of the cold, hungry bees.
What the #%&$# was the large two legged doing, walking off with these precious blooms???
Perhaps the bees were buzzing nothing of the sort, but it made me think about how hard it is to celebrate the gift of abundance from a mindset of scarcity.
I recently bore witness to a white man proactively insist that the construct of systemic racism is not real, but rather slanted propaganda. That there are only individuals, no such thing as collective identities…
How deep the fear of losing the flower of privilege must be, for such loud, unsolicited buzzing.
How terrified to share what grace has provided…
Bees know the truth and the power of the collective. May we be so wise.
[More king cakes than you can imagine and only two weeks into Epiphany, I am still tugging on the promise of this season, even as I find myself tugging on clothes that seem strangely tighter...]
Kathleen Norris notes the irony that King Herod “appears in the Christian liturgical year when the gospel is read on the Epiphany, a feast of light…Because of his fear, [Herod] can only pretend to see the light that the Magi have offered him” (Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, 1998).
Perhaps because of our fear, we can only pretend to see the light Universalism offers us. Here is our epiphany. We are loved, each and every one of us, every single atom and molecule. We are loved – not for what we do or believe, but for the divine light that shines in each of us.
We are all children of the same star dust and no distinctions we create can defile our original blessing. In a culture built on hierarchy and scarcity, it is a faithful act indeed to trust that everyone is held equitably in a compassionate heart of love. The scarcity of divine love is a dangerous myth, a tool to control and coerce.
Our work in this world, beloveds, is to proclaim the message of epiphany. We are loved, not for who we are, but because we are. We do not have to prove ourselves worthy of love any more than we should need to prove ourselves worthy of water. Just as we need water to be healthy human beings, so too do we need the knowledge that we – every single one of us, no exceptions, not even the most evil creature you can think of, every single one of us is held with compassion greater than we can imagine. It is a grace we cannot earn and we cannot lose.
Our faith has long valued acts over beliefs, and as a social justice organizer, I often celebrate this fact. But there is one belief that I pray will soak into the marrow of our bones, into our synapse and our blood. No one is left out of the mystery, no one is denied a strand of the interdependent web of all existence. We are all beloved.
May this season bring you sweetness – and the courage to live as a beloved among beloveds.
Much talk is made of gentrification, but I want to take a moment and lift up the shadow side of all the cool new coffee houses and increased property taxes – dispossession. New Orleanians who managed to return post-flood are finding themselves pushed out of the city by the incredible post-2005 rent & tax increases and city liens on properties.
Now this city is in the process of being dispossessed of it primary cultural expression – music. On Friday, January 17th, a Sound Ordinance will be brought before the City Council. One that requires lowering the decibel levels (on a tuba?!?!?! a trumpet?!?!?).
There is a pattern in this nation of white people being drawn to the soul and spirit of culturally vivacious places – and then beginning to institute laws and ordinances that strangle the life out of the culture that first attracted them.
Beloveds, let us break that pattern in New Orleans.
Bring an anti-racist analysis to the proposed sound ordinance and see how long it lasts. Same with the second line permits. Same with anything that on the surface looks “reasonable” and almost always privileges the dominant narrative, those with institutional power.
Institutional racism is persistently constructing our reality – and dehumanizing every one of us. Let us work creatively to resist the cultural genocide taking place in New Orleans and in other areas of dispossession in these United States of America.
Over winter solstice, I watched my father tending to KG, his first grandchild, with unconditional love. We had just celebrated her one year birthday and she was beginning to cruise around with increased confidence. As she found herself standing in front of my mother’s highly breakable ceramic nativity scene, KG began to methodically hand each figure to my father. He gratefully received them from her and moved them to another shelf.
My sister, the mother of the much adored child said, “No, KG. No touch.” My dad just stayed there, receiving each figurine from the determined Katie Grace. “I’ll catch them,” he said. “I don’t really tell her no.”
Now I confess, my sister and I both nearly fell off the sofa in that moment. Who was this man gently hovering over his grandchild with a blissful air of yes, the same man who was forever telling us no as children?
“ No! Kristy quit! No, no! Deanna don’t!”
I mean sometimes we thought those were our names: Deanna Don’t and Kristy Quit.
Did someone body snatch our father?
Upon further reflection, I think it is maybe a little less complicated than alien body snatching. I think my father has had an epiphany about unconditional love.
The way that child lights up every time her Pop Pop walks into the room. How she reaches for him no matter who is holding her.
It is powerful to be loved that way. It breaks open our hearts. It tells us we are enough and calls us to love others with broken open hearts. Radically inclusive, unjudging hearts.
Beloveds, may you all know that you are loved the way KG loves her Pop Pop. Unquestioned, unjudged. Loved. Beloved. Yearned toward. Reached for. Held.
May this knowledge continually break open our hearts so that we can experience the divine love of the universe and shine the light of this love onto each other.
May this season of Epiphany bring you not only the sweetness of King Cake – may it also bring you the sweetness of receiving the unconditional love of the universe.
As the Community Minister for the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists, I spend a lot of my time immersed in the injustice of layers of oppression. New Orleanians still trying to get back into their homes over 8 years after they were flooded out, transgender women forced to be housed with and often abused by men in prison and in shelters, a football field of wetlands lost in this state every half hour … Each day there’s more. Family diagnosed with chronic diseases, babies born too soon, people die… and.
AND Christmas comes each year in this country, whether you celebrate it or not. While I often find myself in the position of protesting the dominion of the dominant culture, I don’t fight Christmas. I choose to enjoy Christmas. I think that Christmas can be sweetly subversive.
Hey World – people are ill and homeless and jobless and imprisoned and killed! For most of the year, most of the world ignores these hard truths, pretending that the poor are poor because of poor choices instead of acknowledging a system of oppression that radically tilts the playing field towards some –and away from others.
But come Christmas, pretending stops – at least for a moment. Suddenly we collect coats and toys and feel good stories about providing shelter and hope to families down on their luck.
Suddenly we tell a story about a great leader born in questionable circumstances, sharing his birthday crib with the donkey’s dinner, soon exiled to the immigrant life in Egypt with his family.
Rumors of premarital sex, poverty, immigration … you name it, the Christmas story goes there…
And tells us – joy to the world. Hope has come.
Let there be peace and kindness and respect among all creation.
It’s a 6th Principle: The Goal of World Community with Peace, Liberty, and Justice for All!
Yes, I know. That’s not exactly how the scriptures or even the carols go.
But I am grateful for the promise of this season…For once a year our deeply embedded cultural story tells the world:
□ Children are precious.
□ Where you are born should not predict the quality nor the value of your life.
□ Women too have the holy within them.
□ It matters that we bear witness to each other and to the vast brilliance of the universe.
□ Sometimes knowledge needs to bow to intuition.
□ Life is a gift, utterly unpredictable, infinitely possible.
□ There is hope for change.
And where there is hope, friends, there is joy. Beloveds, may there be joy for you and your loved ones today and every days.
I was walking in City Park with a community organizer this week when suddenly we were only the width of the boardwalk away from a Great Egret, its fancy fringe plumes fluttering in the morning breeze. We paused, taking in the beauty, marveling at the unexpected joy of such a close encounter.
A few minutes later, on the other side of the lake path, I was startled by the sudden appearance of a pelican swooping in for breakfast. (With all due apologies to the fish), I clapped my hands in delight when I watched the pelican give the throaty head waggle that signifies success.
And I noticed, as our walk continued, that our conversation had transitioned as we were present to the beauty and wonder of where we were. A talk that had begun with the challenges and frustrations we were facing was giving way to some creative collaboration, some hope, some joy.
May you too find beauty in this world to give you hope and joy, to point the way towards collaboration, community, creative resistance to all that would tell us we are less than, not enough.
December 10, 2013
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” – so begins the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948.
Today marks the 65th Anniversary of this visionary document, created shortly after the end of World War II. In the aftermath of massive global violence, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict happen again.
The decades since have been filled with violence and atrocities.
And the arc of the universe has bent toward justice.
To paraphrase the G.I. Joe cartoon of my childhood, “Now we know, and knowing is half the battle.”
May this knowing lead to loving, compassionate doing in the next 65 years.
“As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, let us intensify our efforts to fulfill our collective responsibility to promote and protect the rights and dignity of all people everywhere.” ~UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Planned Parenthood of Louisiana hosted a screening of deepsouth last night in honor of World AIDS Day. Filmmaker Lisa Biagiotti joined the panel after the screening and shared that it was the startling statistics of HIV/AIDS in the south, combined with the SILENCE about this reality – in stark contrast to the national story that HIV/AIDS is “under control” – that drew her to create deepsouth. As Elizabeth Pandolfi writes in her review of the film:
Unlike the rest of the nation, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the South has not been controlled and conquered. Instead, it’s rampant and largely invisible. Deaths from HIV/AIDS are 50 percent higher than in the rest of the country. The South also has the highest rate of incarceration, the highest number of uninsured people, the highest rate of STD infection, the highest rate of poverty — and the list goes on. Those Southerners who are HIV positive are still mired in many of the same problems that patients faced during the early years of the disease, from discrimination to lack of access to care.
Born and raised in the southland, I often respond to news like this with a Gina Forsyth song:
Oh, I love it and I hate it
Every now and then berate it
Oh, the sweet and sunny south where I was born
And yet I know the South is simply the identified patient in the United States - where every place is suffering from an illness greater than HIV/AIDS, an illness endemic to the structure of this nation from its creation. The dis-ease of racism.
Panelist Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women With A Vision,went directly to the soul of the matter when asked what can be done to address HIV/AIDS in the South. Address racism. Address poverty. Address homelessness. Address food access and healthcare access and daycare options. Address the internalized racial inferiority and internalized racial superiority that destroys lives.
Beloveds, in this interdependent web of all existence, nothing exists outside of relationship.
Let us shine the light of our faith on these connections. Let us address the root illnesses of our nation – structural racism, sexism, heterosexism – every –ism that privileges anyone and demeans another for the superiority of a few. If we spend our lives addressing only the symptoms, the next generation will suffer even more from this dis-ease.
Let the SILENCE be broken by a multitude of voices rising up with truths, with stories that remind us we are all in this together – and together, we can heal. Only together can we heal.
Emma’s Revolution came to New Orleans and offered a workshop focused on singing and songwriting for social justice last weekend. I am still reeling a bit from process. Yesterday I caught myself humming a song and wondered “whose song am I singing?” With a flash of wonder, I realized that it was mine.
It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how shut up/shut down the songs within me have been.
We are endlessly adaptable, us human beings. We can adapt to racism, to endless war, to drone strikes and wire taps, to fracking and mountain top mining…We can adapt to deformed seafood and boil water alerts, to a school to prison pipeline and senior citizens choosing between heat or healthcare.
“That’s just the way it is,” we say. We forget that we have the power to resist. We forget that there are unsung songs within us. We forget that adaptability is essential for survival, but there’s more to life than surviving.
We must refuse to adapt to that which dehumanizes us, destroys our habitats and our hearts. We who would be whole and holy – who would thrive together as beloved community – must remember the songs within us. Remember the songs within us and sing them out loud together.