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.

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

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!