Racism – alive and well

We like to say that we’ve advanced as a society and a culture. We’ve got great technology, we can fly to the moon and beyond, we can talk to the other side of the world instantaneously, we can even record six TV shows simultaneously. For Pete’s sake, women can wear pants, and we can even buy Kwanzaa and Hanukkah wrapping paper at Target. The reality is that we have a long way to go on many issues and racial equality is one of them. Society was actually more advanced about this 2,000 years ago than we are now.

Dr. Cain Hope Felder states, “One needs to keep in mind that, for the most part by modern standards of ethnicity, first-century Jews could be considered AFro-Asiatics. This is to say that Jesus, his family, his disciples and doubtless, most of the fellow Jews he encountered in his public ministry, were persons of color… Indeed many Jews of the first century lived in regions where Africans intermingled freely with other racial and ethnic types… suffice it to say that the ancients had no problem with Black people nor did the Greeks and Romans consider them to be inferior.”

How convenient that we’ve forgotten this. And it is clear that society has forgotten. We don’t have to search far to find the stories.

Overt racism – the KKK, white supremacist groups, hate crimes – are easy to identify, easy to condemn, and it’s easy to say “I’m not them! I’m not a racist.”

Then there are the more subtle forms of racism… we convince ourselves that we are “color blind” and believe we treat all people equally. But are we aware that we have white privilege and white power regardless of whether we ask for it or not? Are we aware that some of our ways of “helping” are condescending and feed into the societal illusion that people of color are inferior? Are we aware of our own prejudices, fears, and attitudes?

About 13-14 years ago I remember going to a workshop here in town about racism. I was shocked to learn that I was a recovering racist. I certainly didn’t consider myself to be a racist, but after talking about it, I realized that there are assumptions and stereotypes that are deeply ingrained in my psyche.

Think about it…we may do our best to treat all people equally, but what is our first gut reaction when we see things like this:

  • A group of young black boys
  • A couple who are of mixed races
  • A young black woman and two children
  • Four teenagers – white, black, Latino and Asian – which will you assume to have the highest grade point? Be the best at basketball? Or soccer? Or math? Or english? Which would you assume came from the poorest family?

Our reactions to these and many other stimuli clue us in to the racism ingrained in us. To start to change the world, we have to start by changing ourselves. There is hope.

Valerie Kaur, in Women, Spirituality & Transformative Leadership, talks about how stereotypes become “embedded inside of the social landscape” and we absorb them whether we are aware of it or not. These stereotypes, because they have become such a deeply ingrained part of us, may cause us to have physical and emotional reactions of fear in certain circumstances. However, Valerie tells us, “Our guilt can cancel out because it’s not the first moment over which we have responsibility. It’s the second moment. In this second moment we can decide whether we go unthinkingly with the way that our bodies have been programmed to see others… [or] we can choose to draw upon other voices, other faces, other stories, to undo what has been done to us.” (p. 129)

Here’s a great example. My friend, Joan (whose name has been changed) has lived in a racially diverse neighborhood for 35 years. She moved there with her first husband because they had a racially mixed marriage and there were four other mixed couple families on the block,so they thought it would be a good place to raise their kids. Which it was. However, over the years a number of homes have converted to rental properties and occasionally a gang moves into those homes and apartments. A few years ago a gang moved in with a dozen or so black men who would play basketball in the street – the street that she had to drive through to get to her house. When she would maneuver her car through them, they would glare at her and move out of her way very slowly. She was scared and took to rolling up her windows and making sure the doors were locked before she drove through them.

But that wasn’t how she wanted to feel or how she wanted to react. So, Joan made the conscious decision to change. Instead of rolling the windows up, she rolled them down and as they walked slowly out of the way of her car she would give a little wave or say thank you. Over the course of a few weeks many of them had stopped glaring at her and moved more quickly out of her way. Then within a few more days the rest followed suit… all except one. There was one older black man who looked so angry and hateful and he continued to glare at her much longer than the others, but she kept up what she was doing and eventually he stopped, too.

Joan also said hi to them or waved when they walked by her house. When she let go of her fear and started treating them like human beings, they responded in kind.

These sorts of examples are our hope, because they say that we do not have to be held hostage to our first reactions which are usually based in fear, or generalized stereotypes, or learned behaviors.  We have a choice about how we respond to our gut-level, knee-jerk reactions… and it is our SECOND response that is the important one. Will we respond in fear, suspicion and dislike or will we respond with love, compassion and at least an attempt at understanding?



Channeling Joy

Disclaimer: This post is not in any way meant to ignore or diminish anyone’s pain or struggles. If you have trouble being happy, if you never laugh, if there is no joy in you then I believe you would benefit from professional help.

Having said that, let’s talk about joy & laughter.

Joy, according to the apostle Paul, was one of the fruits of the Spirit. In other words, you can tell when someone is more connected to God and the energy of the Spirit flow when you sense joy in them. This does not mean they have to be telling dirty jokes, but that you feel a “lightness” about them, they smile easily, they laugh heartily and often… and despite sometimes rotten situations they can still manage to find some humor. Now, I recognize that joy and a sense of humor are two different things; however, I believe they go hand in hand. Even Gandhi said, “If I had no sense of humor, I would, long ago have committed suicide.”

You know the song “They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love”? Someone once suggested to me that we should change it to “They’ll Know We are Christians by our Joy.” A spiritual person should be identifiable by that deep joy that stabilizes them and bubbles out of them. And yet, studies show that the more “religious” a person gets (the more conservative or fundamentalist), the less of a sense of humor they have. The old adage appears to be true: “Found religion, lost their sense of humor.” We shouldn’t ever be too pious to laugh at ourselves, others or a good (even bad) joke.  In fact, I would stake my life on Jesus having had a sense of humor. Who else puts wine in bath tubs?

I was reading a book by author Sara Beak who was fortunate enough to meet the Dalai Lama on her 21st birthday. In my opinion, the Dalai Lama is one of the happiest, most joyful looking people I’ve ever seen, despite watching his country be destroyed over the last 50 year. Anyway, he told them a wonderful story about a conference he had just attended. At the conference, he said, there was a very prominent and well-respected religious leader who was very, very serious and very proper. People were in awe of him… opening doors for him and bowing to him. Well, this holy man gave a speech that was very solemn and stoic. When he was finished and was moving to sit back down, the large string of prayer beads he was wearing around his neck must have caught on the microphone or something, because suddenly they broke and flew everywhere, bouncing off the microphone, the podium, another attendee’s eyeglasses, landing in a few water glasses and basically flying all over the room. Well, every religious leader in the room was very quiet and respectful and acted like nothing had happened, but the Dalai Lama thought it was hilarious and immediately cracked up, laughing and laughing, not trying to hide a thing. Sara said, even as he told them the story, he was laughing so hard again that he got tears in his eyes.

I know sometimes life is so difficult that it is hard to find joy. We may have days, weeks, months, where it feels impossible. And that’s ok… for a time. Still, I know that I’ve had times where finding humor in even little things kept me from falling deeper into the darkness. If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry. And certainly, if great spiritual leaders like Gandhi and Dalia Lama, who both experienced huge amounts of tragedy in their lives, can enjoy a good, belly shaking laugh, why shouldn’t everyone? Joy and laughter help us to heal and to move forward.

Reflect with me for a minute… have you ever been invited out with friends and not wanted to go because you were too sad or angry or lacking energy? But you went anyways and you allowed yourself to laugh and have fun and pretty soon you were out of the funk you were in? Or at the very least, the funk didn’t seem so daunting anymore? This is how joy and laughter helps us to heal.

Not only is this spiritually true, but physically true as well… perhaps you’ve heard the story of Norman Cousins. He was editor of the “Saturday Review” for 35 years, very active in the peace movement and an author of numerous books. At the age of 51 he was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given six months to live. As he looked back on his life he found that it was full of depression, worry and anger and he realized that it had deteriorated his health. He wondered if positive emotions – joy, laughter, love – could help him to heal. So, in addition to getting off some of his meds and taking high doses of Vitamin C, he checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel room. Then he rented hundreds of comedies, hired a nurse to read him funny stories and asked his friends to call him with jokes or funny things that happened to them. Amazingly it worked… within a few months he was back to work and on the way to a full recovery.

Not only does laughter release great things in the body to help us physically, but it also heals relationships, gets us out of our own negative stuff, and puts things back in a better perspective.

Have you ever been in an argument with someone only to have something ridiculous happen in the middle of it that makes you want to crack up? You try not to laugh because you don’t want to let go of your anger, but then one of you can’t help it and a smile cracks and then it is all over from there. You both burst out laughing, suddenly whatever you were fighting about now seems much less dire and dramatic. You may even realize it was a silly argument and let it go. Or if it was a serious disagreement, at least now you can perhaps move forward in a more positive manner. Laughter is amazing.

I believe humor, laughter and joy is truly a gift of the spirit… we feel lighter, we feel more whole, we heal ourselves and we help other heal. Don’t just try it… make it part of your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!



The Road Less Traveled

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~ Robert Frost

If I’ve discovered one thing ion this crazy spiritual path, it is that God rarely seems to nudge me down the safe, well-worn, mundane paths of familiarity. It seems sort of unfair. Certainly if God loves us we should be led down to lie down in green pastures and  find renewal beside still waters (Ps. 23)… oh, wait, that is right before we find ourselves in a dark valley full of shadows and death!

Forgive me, I prefer to explore the metaphorical meanings of scripture instead of the literal ones, I find them to be much deeper and richer in meaning. So, perhaps God finds ways to renew our minds and hearts, to rejuvenate and strengthen our spirits before our hearts call us down a difficult path. A path that might require us to confront the shadowy parts of ourselves – the feelings or memories that we’ve tried to deny or bury. This new path might also require us to “die” to something, to let go of something, to begin again. This can be a terribly difficult and even painful process.

Moving down these new roads often deconstructs much of we’ve believed or known until this point in our lives. Our old ideas, emotions, relationships, belief structures, and even understandings of how the world works may be challenged.  New ways present themselves and we may not want to change, we may dig our heels in to try to pretend nothing is really changing. And then when we’ve found that heel-digging just makes us more miserable, we start the process of reconstructing.

In the end we discover that our hearts knew best, we just needed to listen. Our heads want to stay in the soft grass beside the still waters. But our heads know that still waters grow stagnant, and so will our lives. Growth, wholeness, and abundance come from growing and changing, and that requires risking.

The other thing I’ve discovered on this crazy spiritual path is that the divine is always with us in the shadowy, dark, scary places. And after we’ve struggled and fought and worked our way down this new road, we find, in the words of Robert Frost, that taking this road has made all the difference.




Spirituality and the Election

I feel it would be remiss of me to completely ignore the Presidential election taking place tomorrow. I know a few of you are now panicking… “oh, no, what is she going to say?” Don’t worry, I’m not endorsing any particular candidate. That would be against the IRS rules, although 1600 pastors across the country decided to defy those rules in early October and tell their congregations exactly who to vote for. And, don’t worry, I’m not even going to harp on the issues. There’s been enough of that and I’m not sure anyone is really listening to anything anymore.

Here’s just a reflection or two before I encourage you to get out there and vote.

As a spiritual person, I feel like this election has taken its toll on my soul. I’ve probably paid more attention to this election than any other in my lifetime. I’ve watched the debates and I’ve tried to find more objective news sources for online reports.  I’ve tried to shut my brain off at the TV ads,  ignore the phone calls ( I don’t care if it is Clint Eastwood), and toss the mailers without reading them because the tactics used on both sides is reproachful. I’m sickened by the mud-slinging and want nothing to do with it.

The spiritual connection that I feel with my Source is filled with peace, harmony, love and compassion. I try to live as much as possible from this place of connectedness, but it is hard with the intensity of this election felt at every turn – bumper stickers, signs, buttons, conversations, email, Facebook – everything. Some people may call me sensitive, but the tension in the country is draining. Right now it feels like a massive tug-of-war between two ideologies and I feel like part of the rope that has been stretched to breaking.  Some people may say that my spirituality has nothing to do with politics, that I’m being naive or ignorant to want peace, harmony, love and compassion to be any part of this. But I don’t know how to divorce that part of me from the rest of my life.

I would like to be hopeful today.  But I’m saddened instead. We’ve been flooded with the divisiveness of the campaigns and left wondering if anyone can ever work together anymore? Can we all value (at least some of) the same things ever again? Can the country be put back on track by anyone? Can we trust or believe in anything or anyone?

I’m done. I’ve voted. Now I’m praying – joining my energy with God’s in continuing to work in the mess that is this world. It is perhaps the only trust I have left… trust that the divine can create from chaos with our help. We are each co-creators with God, instruments of peace and justice, arms of love. What we create next will be up to all of us, no matter how this election turns out.

Now… go vote.