What Now?

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, I summon my courage. Already in the past five days there are multiple accounts of Muslim women being harassed at the University of New Mexico, in the university library and on the street. This is the direct result of a campaign in which hate speech was normalized and the racist, sexist posturing of internalized white male supremacy was brought from the shadows back into broad daylight.

I recall the shock I felt when Ronald Reagan was elected President. It was my first time voting in a national presidential election, and my side lost. It was another era in which the rhetoric of hatred won. At that time the hatred was focused like a laser on gays and lesbians. I had just come out. A new frightening disease was named GRID, Gay-related Immune Deficiency. Reagan and his right-wing Christian colleagues called it God’s Punishment. They said it was only right and just that gay men should suffer and die by the thousands. The next twelve years (two rounds of Reagan followed by the first Bush administration) resulted in the gay and lesbian community and their allies getting organized, being courageous, coming out and insisting on their rights as human beings. That effort changed lives, public sentiment, public policy and ultimately the laws of the nation finally stopped allowing the legal discrimination of GLBTQ people.

What movement will this election birth?

Maybe we can learn from one example of loving courage during those years. In 1990, I had just been hired as an Assistant Professor in a small progressive liberal arts college in the Midwest when the Vice President of that college decided there were too many gay and lesbian students. He believed that the admissions office was using some kind of secret code to recruit these unwanted students. He went on a mission to compile the names of all the gay and lesbian staff and faculty working at the college. He wanted to purge the school of this undesirable element. My name, of course, ended up on that list.

It brought to mind the pressure on colleges and universities during the McCarthy era to turn over the names of all faculty who were or had ever been members of the Communist Party. This very same liberal arts college had refused to turn over such a list to the government in the 1950s. But here it was another decade and a different witch hunt was being conducted by a senior administrator.

Word about it leaked out and the Director of Admissions, a straight African American man with a wife and five children, learned of it and declared he was gay. He made a public statement that if the Vice President was looking to get rid of all the gay employees, well, he was one of them. Other straight employees soon followed. Thank you, Jimmy Williams! I will never forget what you did, and that you did not even hesitate. You could have lost your job. The College President then made personal phone calls to the gay men and lesbians on the list. Sitting in my office, I received one of his phone calls. I accepted his apology. He said he had friends who were gay. This whole thing was a misunderstanding.

I share this example because we must be prepared to act with the same courageous sense of unity and oneness. We have to be precise and sophisticated about standing together. Let us be unafraid to be specific in our attention and our actions. Here are some of my suggestions about how we might begin to do this.

Since Trump suggested criminalizing women who have had abortions and trying them as murderers, I suggest that all men and women, regardless of their individual experiences or beliefs, wear tee shirts that state in big, bold letters: I HAVE HAD AN ABORTION. Let’s see if they will arrest all of us. Let us not allow women who have made this difficult decision to suffer in secrecy and shame and be tracked down and prosecuted. Our love for each other is bigger and bolder than that.

Let us keep our eyes open to potential harassers as one Native American woman did on the streets of Albuquerque yesterday. She got out of her car to intervene when a young white man began actively harassing a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. When that man was about to punch our Native American intercessor in the face, another white man stepped up and stopped him. This man held the attacker back so both women could safely leave. Yes, that is exactly what we need to do.

Let us be unafraid to stand with Muslim people. Let us actively reach out and speak up and say aloud that Muslims have a place in the U.S. alongside the rest of us. And men and women, if you want to take it another step further, wear a hijab in public and when confronted with ugly hatred, speak your truth. In the words of Civil Rights activist Bernice Reagan, when they draw the circle to keep you out, draw a larger circle to bring them in.

Another target of this most recent wave of hate are Mexicans. We live side by side as Mexico is part of North American. Remember geography class? Mexicans are Americans. Are we going to pretend Mexicans are not our neighbors, family members and friends? Are we going to forget Mexican food, music, art, literature, cultural customs, holidays and humor are part of our own experiences? Are we going to be silent? Use your creativity, people. How are you going to demonstrate your support of Mexicans living in the U.S., legally and illegally? Isn’t it time right now to create a new Underground Railroad of secret houses for illegal Mexican immigrants to be hidden in safety before the violent round-up of illegals begins to take place in our towns and cities? Isn’t it time for all of us to speak Spanish and push harder than ever for a bilingual nation?

And what about Trump’s insistence on stop and search? Policing is already race-based. We cannot be silent about it another minute. How do we organize ourselves more effectively to impact the way African American men and their communities are policed? White people must stop thinking of police attacks on African Americans as unrelated incidents when the pattern is clearly documented. There is a reason why police officers are not held accountable for crimes of murdering African American men and women, and it is rooted in our history. We need Truth and Reconciliation to heal the divide that continues to harm us. Can we begin to be brave enough, heart-centered enough, to hear each other’s pain so that we can begin the long road to recovery? Are we willing to reconcile the ruptures that divide us? Who will lead this? Who will participate? Can we make this happen without government support? Of course we can. We are the people.

Finally, and no it’s not final, but I cannot fail to address the horrifying ridicule of differently-abled people that Trump displayed, and which was re-played over and over just in case we missed it the first time. So how do we speak back to bullying behavior?

Maybe we need to begin expressing gratitude for our differences, whether they are physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Can we see our differences as learning opportunities instead of wounding opportunities?

If you see someone being bullied for being homeless, poor, blind, deaf, old or in a wheelchair, or for being female, gay, trans, Mexican or Muslim, what are you going to do? Start practicing that now. Role play with your friends while you are safe and comfortable. Get ready to be uncomfortable. Get ready for the moment when you are the innocent bystander so you don’t just stand by. Prepare yourself to respond immediately with intelligence, courage and love. We cannot afford to spend the next four to eight years frozen and numb. And if you are the target of hatred, practice making noise. Be loud! The rest of us will be alert, listening and ready to respond.

In the midst of what is surely becoming the next culture war, how can we remain strong and effective at communicating humility, compassion, kindness? How do we not become our own enemies by ridiculing those who believe and act differently than we do? How do we extend compassion across the boundaries that divide us?

This new movement will create new coalitions. We have a lot to learn from each other. Whether you are wearing a safety pin to show you are a safe person or not, you need to practice compassion and be prepared to bring it. We are not alone in this effort toward greater humanity. The impromptu community that has formed in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock is an example to us. The organizational efforts of Black Lives Matter is an example to us. The Civil Rights Movement is an example. Gandhi’s non-violent movement for Indian independence is an example. The anti-apartheid movement is an example. There are more. Look to those individuals and groups who brought more light, more love, more truth, more beauty or more joy into the world. Let’s emulate that.

Friends, it is time to act with tremendous loving courage. It is time to believe we can be better, individually and collectively. Let us support each other not to give up or check out but to care for ourselves and each other as we take steps toward unity. There is so much at stake.

 

 

 

 

Today’s Thoughts on Marriage Equality & the Supreme Court Decision: June 27, 2015

The day before the Supreme Court decision, I swept out my home. The day after the Supreme Court decision, I swept out my home. It was the same work the day before and the day after. The marriage equality decision uplifts all of us as it embraces the aspiration of a human being to freely love another human being. The decision matters to me. As a lesbian, a woman, a teacher, a lover in a long-term partnership, a grandmother and a friend, it matters to me.

I wept when I read the concluding paragraph written by Justice Kennedy for the majority:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

I am so happy.

Still I have to sweep out the house.

I don’t literally grab a broom, though living in the high desert on a dirt road means there is dust blowing in every open window in the summer. What I mean is I am responsible for my home. I have to pay the mortgage and the bills. I help keep it clean and in good working order. If I have friends or family visiting, I am responsible for their hospitality. I like to make sure everyone is comfortable and their needs are met while they stay in my home with me.

Likewise I am responsible for my life, for my thoughts, feelings, attitudes and ideas. It is up to me to recognize and sweep out any negativity, hate, fear or doubt. Otherwise like rodents, these things will occupy my home. They will pester me and destroy the good things I have inside the home of my being.

So yes, I sweep daily.

I sweep out any sign that I have removed someone from the community of caring. If I have judged someone, thought of that person or group of people as wrong or bad, or given myself any excuse to hate another, it is time to grab the broom and sweep.

If I make anyone my enemy, I have gone to war. In my true heart, I am a healer and a peacemaker. So I have to catch myself if I start to raise a righteous flag and take up arms against someone. I watch myself for what I call enemy consciousness, for it erases the spiritual wisdom that we are all one, and that whatever happens to one of us affects all of us.

The evidence of our fundamental unity is everywhere. It is perhaps most obvious when we consider the environment. The air and water, climate and oceans, do not recognize national borders, cultural boundaries, gender, religion, politics, economics or any other social construct. We are all impacted by what is happening right now on our planet. Yet we are surrounded by the popular notion that there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them.’ And for ‘us’ to live, ‘they’ must die. If I catch myself succumbing to this erroneous belief and making anyone my enemy, even for a moment, I stop and sweep.

In the Supreme Court Decision, the dissenting opinion of Judge Clarence Thomas caused me such a moment. When I read his statement, I felt myself tense up in outrage and disagreement. I reacted especially to the following quote:

“Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.”

Really? Slaves did not lose their dignity or their humanity when the law in this country defined them as only three/fifths human and denied them any right to their labor, their families, their own bodies and their lives?

Truly? Japanese-American families did not lose their dignity when the U.S. government seized their property and forced them to live in substandard conditions under constant armed guard behind rows of chain-linked barbed wire as enemies of the state?

Wow. That was astonishing to read. But it also reminded me to see clearly how every human struggle is connected to every other one. Thomas connected slavery to internment camps to gay marriage. How interesting. They are connected. Each expresses brutal separation and rigid demarcation. We could add more examples: the Holocaust or the murders last week of nine African American parishioners in their church by a young white supremacist. Each is an example of the relentless violence of enemy consciousness.

Clarence’s denouncement that government has an impact on the dignity of human life is bizarre. He argues that dignity cannot be granted or removed by the external authority of a legal or political regime. Yet every study of the human psyche illustrates that we exist in relationship to others. Our identities are shaped, in part, by how others perceive and treat us. Our external circumstances do affect our internal sense of worth, especially in the lives of children.

This decision to extend the same marital rights and legal recognition to same-sex couples will impact the next generation of same-sex families. They will experience a security I never did. When we were a young lesbian couple raising a son in the 1980s during the gay hate-mongering of the Reagan administration, we suffered violence, invisibility and a profound lack of support. I believe this decision will change these conditions for future same-sex families. Like my goddess-daughter Malaika Carver wrote on her Facebook last night, “Finally love is legal!”

Clarence is entitled to his opinion, as I am to mine. He has the platform of serving as a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I have the platform of my little blog. Please share this with someone if you find it useful.

It is my responsibility to express myself. I can express anger, sadness and grief. I can also forgive, enjoy, celebrate and love. It is my responsibility to love the ones I love with depth, power, beauty and resilience. No one else can do that for me.

I do not hate those whose opinions I find difficult. I may disagree. I can also sweep out the urge to close myself against those who see the world differently. There is always something to learn.

Reading Thomas’ opinion I learned something, or rather, I was reminded of something important. Every human struggle is worthy of our attention.

This is my life and I have a right to live it fully. You do, too. Let us celebrate! Then I will pick up my broom and sweep away whatever it is that keeps me from acting on the truth of our interconnection.

Exploring Gender – a true story

Acolo

Family Discount Train Ticket, USA 1984

I try talking the travel agent

into selling me a family discount train ticket

What about sisters? I insist. Sisters are family.

No, she retorts. Man and Wife. Only man and wife.

 Stalking back up the Bronx Street

with the family discount in my pocket

I have to break it to you

now one of us has to be the man.

What? you exclaim.

I can be the man, I reply.

You shake your head.

It’s decided. I become an East Coast Bohemian

sporting red plastic cat-eye glasses

two-inch stacked heels

hair swirled up, splash of lipstick, stack of books.

You dress up like a stodgy, well-educated Kenyan

Nehru jacket, thick glasses, cropped Afro.

We fake it from New York to Chicago.

You keep a growl plastered to your face.

I smile like an elite

know-it-all, possessive, protective wife.

Enjoying the backstory

I created for our cross-country gender performance

I proudly show our husband&wife ticket

to each conductor at every stop.

We are north of Kenosha

heading into Milwaukee

last leg of the journey home

when the conductor eyes us suspiciously.

He opens his mouth to question me

but before he can speak

I shoot up teetering on both heels

ready to make a scene.

You cringe pretending to sleep.

I hiss, You got a problem?

I am ready to slap him.

He hands me back our ticket

moves to the next passenger

I look around the train car

memorizing faces

so I can point later:

You were there and did nothing

when they stripped us to inspect our female genitalia

and threw us from the train.

We make it home. We make it

knowing not everybody does.

Note: Image is entitled, Acolo, encaustic & collage on paper, from Romanian artist Victor Brauner. I photographed it last month at the Chicago Art Museum. This image expresses how I sometimes feel about being my gender.

Another Challenge to Love

full blomI wrote this poem long after the event described in it actually happened. In 1992, I was working as an environmental reporter completing my doctoral research on how we communicate about environmental issues (which are human rights issues – right?). I was comparing and contrasting the dominant discourses leading up to the United Nations Conference on Environment & Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, and called by activists, The Earth Summit. I was in deep. The focus of my dissertation was to deconstruct the language and images being used and compare the stark differences between first world and third world; and between the dominant culture and indigenous cultures; and why we are often not even talking about the same thing when we try to reach international environmental agreements.

However, I write poetry not to try to understand the world but to understand myself, one livingbeing in this complex world. I write as a spiritual practice. I wrote this poem to try to understand my righteous anger, to understand it as power, and to diminish its hold on me. That subject came up again today, so I am posting this poem to share with you.

Another Challenge to Love, Brazil 1992

 Just outside Santo Antonio da Platina in the southern state of Parana, the grand patron speaks a clipped British in the nasal twang of Brazilian Portuguese.

He boasts, It was much better when we had a dictator! You could get things done in this country!

I am the jornalista norte-americana writing for the imprensa verde. He needs to impress me. Serves warm coca-cola. I would rather have guarani, suco de caju, anything local, but coke is so much more cosmopolitan.

I am polite. I am his guest. I murmur, Obrigado, and he says I talk like an indio implying dumb.

I am doing a story on the floresta policia, former military police re-assigned to protect the forest. In the on-going undeclared war on the poor, the floresta policia shoot anyone they catch poaching palm heart.

PAH! he bursts. We gave the peasants bags of peanuts. And they ate them! They were to plant crop! Stupido!

I say, Perhaps they were hungry.

His two blond sons run into the room looking for snacks. They look like their father, descendents of German immigrants.

Your children like to eat, I smile.

Yes, all day long! He claps for the dark-skinned girl to feed them.

I say, Even the children of the poor get hungry. I guess that’s why they ate the peanuts.

He squints at me afraid he has a Marxist in his house.

On the tour of his property, hectares of sugar cane, a river stocked with jacaré for alligator boots and handbags, he brags he had the oldest daughter of his head fieldhand fixed before sending her to college.

So she would not waste her education making a poor man’s babies, he tells me.

I stare at him.

His wife screams at me, Entendi!

No, I do not understand.

How do you

get to take the womb

of a smart, young, brown woman?

But he had already done

what he had the power to do.

Under my breath, I curse him:

            Your river will grow thick with sludge

            An alligator will bite off your cock

            Your cana will spoil in the field

            Your wife will abscond with your money

            She will flee the country with a servant boy

            Your youngest son will marry

            An Afro-Brazilian Candomblé priestess

         And have brilliant twin mulato daughters

            Who will spit on your polished shoes

            Then the ancestors and the descendants

         Of every man and every woman

            Who ever worked your fields

            Will make filth of your intestines

            While dancing samba at Carnaval

            You will be left begging for your life

            On the streets of the city.

 

The first stars of the Southern Cross

begin to shine in the lavender twilight.

Star light, star bright, I wish I may, I wish I might

I wish I could love my enemies

but my heart goes cold against those

who seek to destroy the liberties I cherish.

cana, sugarcane

Candomble, Afro-Brazilian religion and spiritual cosmology derived from Ife in West Africa.

entendi, understand

floresta policia, ‘forest police’ term for federal armed guards of areas designated ‘natural’ by the Brazilian government in the early 1990s.

guarani, popular drink

imprensa verde, ‘green press’ term for environmental reporting

indio, Indian, indigenous person from any of the hundreds of tribes/nations found originally throughout Brazil

jacaré , alligator

jornalista norte-americana, female journalist from the U.S.

obrigado, thank you

suco de caju, cashew juice

Poetry Reading Live via Skype with Zagreb, Croatia

In my on-going relationship with the Croatian American Society located in Zagreb, I am please to be reading live and responding to questions with an audience of faculty and students from Zagreb via the wonders of Skype. This Thursday, 7 p.m. April 23 in Croatia and 11 a.m. in Santa Fe. Live from my office on the campus of Southwestern College. If you want to join me in my office, let me know!

Easter Sunday Talk for The Celebration

Purpose, Personal Destiny and Passion: What We Love Makes Us Who We Are

 What’s love got to do with it? I believe love has everything to do with it.

The lyric from Tina Turner’s comeback hit asks the right question, but her answer is different from mine. The love I am talking about this morning is not a second-hand emotion. The love I am talking about is what thrills us. What makes us happy? What makes us feel a little more alive?

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. I’d like to share this poem from my recent book, Love Enough, (Red Mountain Press 2014) entitled, A Child Falls in Love with a Storm.

In this poem, the child is not simply thrilled by the intensity of the storm or the sudden shift in the weather. Yes, she feels the rain on her skin. But the child is also a metaphor for innocence and for that innocent sometimes lost part of ourselves, for in this poem, innocence is completely alive in that moment when the storm rolls in. The girl is not thinking, Oh, I wish I were dry and safe indoors. She rushes out into it to experience it fully. She feels what is truly happening. She is fully present with her senses. She is connected. Connected. That is a key point.

An old Zen Buddhist saying, and I am paraphrasing, is: When you walk in the rain, get wet. In other words, be where you are. Feel what is happening. Do not turn away. Do not dismiss what is real and true. Be fully alive. Pay attention to your life. Wake up.

The storm wakes the girl up. It shakes her world. Death enters the poem. And that is real. We live. We die. In that line, the poem unfolds. It is no longer simply about innocence but about spiritual awakening. For all that happens in between our birth and our death is an opportunity for awakening. The girl realizes she must live fully, embrace her life, or die. When we are just going through the motions, numb and indifferent, caught in a rut of repetitive thinking and doing, are we dead inside? The girl loves the storm because it wakes her up. This is the kind of love I am talking about today.

A remarkable word in Ojibwe is Bimadisiwin. This single word can be translated as “having the courage to live one’s life fully through all of one’s senses.” This is what love invites us to do. The very root of the word, courage, from the French, cour means “heart, innermost feelings.” Our emotional bodies have so much power to help us fulfill our purpose. But we get sidetracked in anger, bitterness, jealousy and frustration. I am learning how to turn away from these consuming emotions toward joy through love.

Take a moment, don’t think too hard about it, just jot down a few things you love. Think of people, places, times or situations that have made you happy. When have you felt most alive and connected? Make your list and hold onto it.

Spring is the season of rebirth. Ancient symbols of rebirth include the egg and the rabbit. So we celebrate today with colored Easter eggs and floppy-eared bunnies. That is appropriate. The egg represents all possibility, as yet unrealized, unformed, the ovum in the ovary. The egg is potent symbol of our raw potential. In the West African spiritual tradition of Ifé, a raw egg is cracked over the crown chakra to ignite a rebirth of consciousness for the initiate who will become a priest or priestess. What is your highest potential? What is the as-of-yet unrealized egg you are carrying in your consciousness?

The fertile rabbit, ancient symbol of the Goddess, is curious and inquisitive. The rabbit lives close to the ground, close to the mysteries of the plant world. Each spring seeds burst open sending fresh shoots up from beneath the soil. The fruit trees flower in the orchard. New life abounds. It’s amazing to witness a forsythia bush bursting with yellow from branches that only a week ago appeared dead. It is Persephone returning to her mother, Demeter, after a cold season in Hell. It is the Celtic Goddess Brigid opening her green cloak to bless the land. Bring those flowers into your heart. What lies dormant inside you that longs to burst into bloom? What is your truest desire?

A beautiful song in the Ojibwe tradition speaks of the magic of invoking your true desire every night before sleeping. I would like to share it with you. . . Kamino . . .

What is your heart’s desire? If you desire world peace, you begin by making peace in your own relations, peace within yourself. If you true desire is to heal, you begin by healing yourself. We have an opportunity every spring to realign ourselves with our truest love and longing.

We cannot forget the Christian story that also unfolds this weekend. The arisen Christ represents the possibility for each one of us to awaken the Christ within, to experience our own divinity and our unique relationship with God, Goddess, Creator, Great Mystery, Allah, Holy of Holies. The divine expressed as the light or hidden fire within each one of us.

Christ’s message was a message of love. Love your neighbor as yourself. This teaching has three messages. One is to LOVE your SELF. Not to disregard or punish yourself for your imperfections. We are imperfect human beings. The message is to forgive, to be patient, to Love Your SELF.

A second is to LOVE your neighbor. Now sometimes my neighbor gets on my last nerve. So how do I love despite differences of opinion, lifestyle, belief, behavior or attitude? How do we choose love and not go to war with our neighbors, our families, our co-workers? How do we choose love – not once but over and over again, everyday?

First we have to choose not to make anyone the enemy. In the words of the late poet laureate of Minnesota, Meridel LeSeuer “ no mother births the enemy.” So you have to actually refrain from participating in the cultural practice of making enemies. Do not make the homeless, the ill, the police, the other political group, your sister-in-law, your boss, the enemy. Make no one the enemy. To do this you must choose to love your own life regardless of the circumstances of your life. For that is the essential message: TO LOVE.

This kind of loving means we give up judgment. We are not better than anyone, and no one is better than us. Every life has the same potential for enlightenment, for courageous acts, for love. We are different, that’s all, and ecosystem science has taught us that difference and diversity are necessary for healthy biological communities. We are biological creatures. We are deep air animals craving warmth and light. Difference and uniqueness among and between us is precious and should be protected, even celebrated, by us.

Let me share another poem. My sister told me this is her favorite one, Widow in Muir Woods.

Here we see not innocence but weariness. There has been aging and loss. How does one recover from difficulty and pain? One immerses oneself into the body of the ancient world tree. In this poem, the redwood tree represents the Tree of Life. The Kabbalah, the Iroquois Long House, and many traditions speak of this mighty tree. The widow, who represents our suffering, gives herself to the darkness within the Tree of Life. She enters the hollow, empty place that has been seared open by lightning, representing sudden change. And she lets herself feel what it is to be alive, even to be alive in suffering . That is all. To feel again. Now LOVE is possible again. This is her moment, and our moment, of rebirth.

We do not necessarily love the same things. What we love is an expression of our unique way of being and seeing. Honor what you love. Honor what others love. Honor love no matter how curious it may be. Make more room for love in your life. Invite love to inspire you. Set an intention with your love card in your hand. Join your heart with the heart of Spring and allow a rebirth of love to enter your being.

As you open yourself to your new love story, I will share one last love poem with you. It is entitled, A Woman Falls in Love with a Turtle.

 Thank you, Dianne Deloren, for inviting me to join you today at The Celebration!