Earth: Our Deep Home Place

The Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalist cluster gathered in an oak-filled park on Sunday to celebrate Earth: Our Deep Home Place. As Earth Day approaches, I share with you a meditation, my invitation to celebrate our beloved planet:

Cosmologian Thomas Berry wrote “Nothing is completely itself without everything else. This relatedness is both spatial and temporal. However distant in space or time, the bond of unity is functionally there. The universe is a communion and a community. We ourselves are that communion become conscious of itself.”

We who are of the earth, children of the everything seed (http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/loveguide/session1/sessionplan/stories/168158.shtml),

we are intimately and ultimately connected to all creation. Through mystery and mutation, we have risen from the fertile mud to look around and celebrate the miracle of earth. As humans evolved, so too evolved rituals to celebrate and interpret the wonder of this place.

When Lao Tzu, the great Daoist philosopher asked, “Can you hold the door of your tent wide to the firmament?” poet Mark Nepo believes he was “challenging us not to define the world by whatever shelter we create but to let in the stars, to throw our tent of mind and heart wide open in order receive and listen to the flow of life.”

Part of my own deep sense of home place in south Louisiana comes from the insistent presence of earth here. There is no day I can travel through town without noticing the majesty and intelligence of the plied live oaks, the whip-like flexibility of the pomegranate trees, the persistent resurrection of the bananas and the gingers. Summer days hum with the life cry of the cicadas, seagulls and crows caw throughout the year, mosquitos whining past your ear, and if you listen closely, I swear you can hear termites chewing away on darned near everything.

This place takes us deep, past language, to a pre-verbal space of knowing, to a place before naming, categorizing and limiting.

When we are still, when we breathe in and breathe out, when we trust that there is space for us and everything else that emerged from the everything seed, then beloveds, we can let go of our fears and submerge ourselves into the deep sense of collective belonging, the vast compassionate love that saturates creation.

Daily we make a thousand choices that shape the earth. May we throw our tent of mind and heart wide open in order to be shaped by the earth, our deep home place.

How You Makin’ It?

Food for thought on a very busy week:

Living Wage Calculation for New Orleans city, Orleans Parish, Louisiana 

Living-wage-orleans-parish-2014

(http://livingwage.mit.edu/: “The living wage shown is the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2080 hours per year). The state minimum wage is the same for all individuals, regardless of how many dependents they may have. The poverty rate is typically quoted as gross annual income. We have converted it to an hourly wage for the sake of comparison. Wages that are less than the living wage are shown in red.”)

There’s a lot of red on that grid…some perspective as states and Congress debate a minimum wage adjustment to $10.10 an hour…

 

Women with a Vision – and a Voice!

Women with a Vision

 

 

 

 

 

Lately I’ve been struggling with the language of the non-profit world: “giving people a voice” and “empowering people”…

Beloveds, people have a voice. The dominant culture ignores it, drowns it out, disregards it…but people have a voice.  People are speaking.

Empowering is defined as “giving someone the authority or power to do something.” The idea that the dominant culture can or will empower the oppressed is an unlikely one at best, a well-funded lie in truth.

Many of you may remember learning abolitionist Fredrick Douglass’s insight:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

In a recent conversation with a community member serving a large foundation I was told, “if philanthropy had been involved in the Civil Rights movement, their answer would have been to air-condition the back of the buses.”

So I have been looking for leaders and models of social change that have stepped away from the institutionally protective illusions of voiceless people waiting to be given power.

Recently I had the honor of sharing WBOK radio time with Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women With a Vision* (http://wwav-no.org/). She did not waste any precious air time dealing with the smoke and mirrors of dominant culture. She spoke with a voice (hers), from a place of power claimed (not given).  Did you hear her?

Beloveds, let’s stop using the white lies of philanthropy to air-condition the damage this country’s white supremacist culture has created. It is time to hear the voices speaking clearly in the world, working to claim power that has yet to be freely shared.  People are speaking.  Listen.

*The mission of Women With A Vision is to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being. We accomplish this through relentless advocacy, health education, supportive services, and community-based participatory research.

Do Justice

do-justice

 

 

 

 

 
I am ever so grateful that I was assigned The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community, written by Eric H. F. Law, during my studies at Loyola Institute of Ministry – New Orleans. It has been an invaluable source of wisdom as I bear witness to the ways Unitarian Universalism is and is not welcoming. I gratefully commend it to ministers and lay leadership.

Law is an ordained Episcopal priest who grew up in Hong Kong, then immigrated to the United States when he was 14. He has a lot to say about external and internal culture, both the breadth and depth of hospitality. Law offers a helpful paradigm for understanding how to get beneath the surface of what limits our ability to welcome multiple cultures. He writes:

[E]xternal culture – [music, food, dance, art] – constitutes only a small part of our cultural iceberg. The larger part is the hidden internal culture that governs the way we think, perceive, and behave unconsciously… the “instinct” of our cultures…The cultural environment in which we grew up shapes the way we behave and think. Implicit in this cultural environment are the cultural myths, values, beliefs, and thought patterns that influence our behavior and the way we perceive and respond to our surroundings.

Most of the time we are unconscious of their existence.

They are implicitly learned and very difficult to change…Internal culture is like the air we breathe. We need it to survive and make sense of the world we live in, but we may not be conscious of it.

Internal cultural difference is not a matter of different ways of singing or speaking or dressing. It is a matter of perceiving and feeling.

Some of you may remember the scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) when Harry Potter sees a strange reptilian horse pulling the carriage and asks “What is it?”

Ron Weasley: What’s what?
Harry Potter: That. Pulling the carriage.
Hermione Granger: Nothing’s pulling the carriage, Harry. It’s pulling itself like always.
Luna Lovegood: You’re not going mad. I see them too. You’re just as sane as I am.

While being called as sane as Luna Lovegood was perhaps not particularly reassuring to Harry Potter, I hope that the image can be useful for Unitarian Universalists.

The carriage of our faith does not pull itself. Unitarian Universalism swims in the waters of implicit culture. This faith, our congregations, and each one of us have internal cultures.

And as Law explains:

The same event may be perceived very differently by two culturally different persons because the two different internal cultures highlight different parts of the same incident… To discover the unconscious, implicit part of our culture is a lifelong process. Some of us go through life like a fish in the stream and never know we are living in water… “When whites and people of color recognize that there are cultural differences in their perceptions of power, they take the first step toward doing justice.”

To Eric Law’s multicultural list I will add other layers of internal cultural perceptions of power differences that usually receive only external attention:

* cis- and trans- gendered,
* the gender spectrum from female to male,
* the spectrum of abilities and mobility,
* the sexual orientation spectrum,
* the class caste from poverty to the 1%,
* the ageism that saturates our lives from infancy to elderhood…

Law believes that “because of cultural differences some people are perceived as lions and wolves and some as lambs and calves” unconsciously, setting up “an uneven distribution of power before groups even meet.”

He writes:

If the church is to become the holy mountain on which people from diverse cultures shall not hurt or destroy each other, we must respond to the call to do justice.

Doing justice in a multicultural environment requires us to understand the consequences of these cultural differences in power perceptions. Doing justice commands us to reveal this unconscious and disproportionate distribution of power. Doing justice compels us to develop new leadership skills that can confront injustice. Then we can create a just community when people from different cultures encounter each other with equal strength.

Our call in this time, as a people of faith, is the same one found on the cover to The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, namely, “Don’t Panic.” Realizing that our perceptions will be strongly influence by our internal culture, let us look around at life outside of our stream and honor that the water we live in is not the totality of the human experience.
Let us welcome grace into our midst, offering mercy to ourselves and to each other as we discern how we are together and how we wish to be together. May we bring our whole and holy selves into a community committed to collective liberation, to radical inclusion, to equity and compassion in human relationships.
Beloveds, let us do justice together, faithfully.

Water Solidarity

Environmental Justice struggles with a news cycle that may report a disaster, may revisit on the one year anniversary, but often abandons a community in the struggle of daily life. The media reported the Freedom Industries Chemical Spill in Charleston, first detected January 9th for about 72 hours. Maybe next January we will hear about it again…

In the meantime, the impact of the spill is ongoing. It is deeply uncertain when the water will actually be truly safe to drink and use again. Humans are born 75% water and are still more than 50% water in our final years. Water is not optional. It is essential.

Just this week, Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Congregational Life Consultant & Regional Lead for the Unitarian Universalist Central East Regional Group (CERG), wrote:

Since the call went out, the situation has not improved.

People are still afraid to go to restaurants and service workers are feeling the brunt of that.

Pregnant women and small children are still being urged not to drink tap water and must buy bottled water.

Parents have been bathing their children in melted snow.

But adults are finding it difficult, too, and have bad reactions to the water.

Many, many folk are drinking bottled water – or trying to when they can afford it.

And yet folk are getting billed for water usage at standard usage rates.

The state government still is unable to guarantee the safety of the water.

And folk are still protesting.

I was just down there a week and half ago visiting our Charleston WV congregation.

They are still collecting funds to help pay for folks water bills, pay for home water system cleanup, helping service workers pay their bills, and buy lots and lots of bottled water for everyone.

If you have financial resources to share, please do.  The Charleston congregation is committed to using your donations well; and thanks you for your care and support.  Checks should be made out to:  Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charleston (UUC) with the notation “Water Relief.”
Please mail to:
UU Congregation of Charleston
520 Kanawha Blvd W.
Charleston, WV    25302

I invite us all to stand on the side of love with West Virginia.  Please spread the word about the on-going struggle, call on accountability from Freedom Industries and the EPA, let the people of West Virginia know that they are not alone, not forgotten.    Beloveds, we are all in this together.

 

People as Water Percentage

People as Water Percentage

Bee Wise

camellias

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Epiphany (Continues)

Mardi Gras King Cakes

 

 

 

 

 

[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.

 

Saving the music, Saving our souls

Save the Sound

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.

Unconditional Love: An Epiphany

Love-epiphany-300x152

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.