I was blessed to attend a community event Sunday commemorating and honoring the life and legacy of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The inspiring delivery via the medium of theater by the NAACP youth did not white wash the constant violence, outright hatred and oppression that MLK and other pioneers such as Rep John Lewis constantly faced. It also highlighted the pressure for civil rights activists to either be silent or respond back to violence and hatred with violence and hatred. This hard and constant attention to grounding in love and compassion and living the truth of all beings having value and worth is not easily portrayed in the meme posts of social media throughout the day that allows all beings to claim affiliation with the best of the movement, feel good about that while still turning a blind, unconscious eye to the evils of racism.
In conversation with a friend that evening, continuing to witness the nature of how racism was (and still to some extent remains) so firmly entrenched into our country’s institutions and hearts and minds of people. I was born in 1966 so didn’t have a memory or recollection of the oppression, the marches and the violence. I went to school with people of color and had friends of color but actually didn’t learn about the civil rights movement in detail until college!
I listened to this friend, a woman of color who grew up in the North and experienced segragation and refused to be cowed by it, organizing through her church to shut down a public pool outside Pittsburgh that refused access to people of color. This took years.
This same friend expressed concern that the clock seems to have turned back 50 plus years with the recent election. Many had thought hearts and minds of the majority have been altered. We can prove through science and genetic studies of DNA that there is one human race. Various ethnicities but one human race. The hateful manipulation of race as a social construct to elevate and name specific ethnicities as superior has been soundly disproven by science as well as affirmed by the Gospels in the Christian Bible as well as other sacred texts, and the experience of humans who enter into relationship with people from different ethnicities, cultures, etc..to find and discover, despite our diversity, we have the same desires for freedom, the ability to safely navigate our lives and to live in peace.
So here we are now and there has been this opening, this permission for the haters. They are emboldened by the positions of leadership of those who worship power and domination. Who thrive on the visceral experience of diminishing others and creating fear. So, if we are not in this hopefully small but very visible group, how do we show up?
I believe if we are living in truth and integrity, we are called to show up and speak truth to power, grounded in love and compassion. We did a group inquiry in the Mennonite community I attend where one of the references to Jesus and his invitation regarding communion invited a different inquiry. Perhaps the statement, “Do this in memory of me” in regards to sharing the meal (Last Supper) and using this as metaphor for his sacrifice of body and blood could mean he is asking us to Show Up in the memory and acknowledgement of his sacrifice. Perhaps this is not about our individual salvation which our culture is (in my opinion) way too fixated on judging who is going to heaven and who is not, but about how we are showing up in relationship to our neighbor? To each other? “Show up the way I showed you.” What is the greatest of commandments? To love God, love each other. Love. Each. Other.
As a lifelong student and practitioner of yoga, I am increasingly drawn to deepen my practice, not through perfection of the physical form but in striving to live in community in the continual practice of transforming the illusion of separation into connection to God, self and others through living in love, truth, abundance, non excess and non attachment. Through the cultivation of presence and awareness, striving for purity, allowing contentment, self awareness and the ingoing disciplines to dedication of sacred practice and surrender to the moment, to God, to the life I have been blessed to have been given.
Yet sadly, we see in communities of faith and in spiritual practices such as yoga, in this particular time, mostly spiritually bypassing anything that is uncomfortable or disrupts the social order. We connect more with those who keep the peace and distance ourselves from those who make the peace and in that process disrupt the social order. We might loose members of our congregation or students or friends. And isn’t it in our culture about our individual salvation? Our life goals? Our own individual personal growth? Our perfection? Who we are and who others are not?
If we are not currently outraged and incensed, there is something wrong. For me, the ingoing challenge is balancing the input and the output. Committing myself to my own ongoing practice of deeply connecting to God. Not so I can purchase the ultimate insurance policy of getting into heaven but because I love life so much, I love my life and in that loving and gratitude, there is a recognition that all beings love life. That while I am loved beyond measure and the hair in my head is counted and known that it is not merely about me. So are others loved in this way. That life lived is not about me as an individual but how am I showing up in relationship to others. Do my words build up or tear down? What about my actions? Are they all self serving or are they about the bigger picture? What do I do for the least among me? Am I creating more suffering by my words even if they are in response to hatred? How do I respond? Do I respond?
Living and leaning into these inquiries has to happen. Evil continues and grows if good people do nothing. I have to be part of making the world I want to live in. A world I want my children and future generations to live in. A world that values relationship over economics, power and is connective and collaborative rather than in competition.
Making my second trip to Guinea, West Africa confirmed this for me in a huge way. That people are first and foremost what is important. That life is challenging and it is something to be here existing on this planet today with disease, war, violence, trauma. What a miraculous thing it is to even be here! It is not hard to love people, even if you don’t have much of a common language. Having the real conversations with people. Having uncomfortable conversations about race, privilege, responsibility, sexuality, belief or non belief so we can learn from each other. If we are not seeking to build bridges and be in deep authentic community at this time and instead are continuing with business as usual, we are part of the problem.
I don’t have answers, just continually more questions. I am becoming more and more accustomed to allowing my heart to break wide open for the pain and suffering of this world and for the love of people and the planet. I don’t know the answers, but I do know that when there is an invitation, many have shown up. The Johnstown Embraces Unity, I Choose Love and Love Trumps Hate were all responses grounded in love and compassion for all beings in the face of hatred targeting LBGTQ, Muslims, women and people of color and the differently abled. My daughter Riley and I will march on Washington this Saturday joining women from all over the country and beyond as the movement has grown internationally and is committed to addressing the intersectionality of feminism affirming the value and worth of all beings and our planet. We march because this matters. Because the politics of fear and domination will not withstand the power of love and compassion. I march because I believe America, with all her peoples, the great experiment of diversity is way better than what we have coming into the White House. I will continue to organize, to teach from a social justice framework, to respond as best I can. I will strive to do that grounded in the way of Jesus, the yamas and niyamasa of yoga, the 14 precepts of engaged Buddhism and with a boundless love for this planet and all her peoples and in community with others committed to creating this world. The upside down kingdom on Earth.
Dorothy Day tells us: “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
Plesse join me in whatever way makes sense to you to honor the light that exists in all beings.