On Being Awake

Our guide told us ‘tap the sides of your kayak’ so the Humpback whales ‘know you are there’.   Surrounding us were whales feeding and breaching.  That we were in the midst of a pod of whales was awe-inspiring, humbling and somewhat frightening.

The setting was Tebenkof Bay Wilderness in Southeastern Alaska.  For ten days our group kayaked and camped on small islands in this vast and primal setting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tebenkof_Bay_Wilderness

Ours was a Zen meditation kayak trip.  Each morning and evening we shared in the Zen practice of becoming still and open.  Half the day we’d paddle and sometimes simply float.  Always in silence, allowing the sounds and sights to fill our senses.  The silence created a container within which we could experience what each moment offered.


It has been fifteen years since I communed with the humpback, bear and eagles of Tebenkof Bay.   I remember the wisdom of living in the moment of being present to the now.

To live in the moment is counter cultural. Often we live in the past or in the future and even in the present are easily distracted by what doesn’t matter.

There’s something special however about floating in your kayak knowing that another world of whales and fish are below you.  You ‘knock on your hull’ to let the whales know you are there and to remind yourself to live in the now.

Contemplatives call such heightened awareness being awake.  The challenge is to spend more time being awake than being asleep.

Another gift from that kayak trip was being introduced by our guide Kurt Hoelting  to the poetry of Mary Oliver.  Mary Oliver a prophet, poet and mystic invites you to dig in the dirt and float on the water. To take notice.

For ten days eagle, whale and bear spoke to me. I smelled the earth and felt the wind.  Each offering wisdom.

Silence creates space to see, hear and receive.  Martin Luther said, eagle, whale, bear, dirt and water are ‘little words from God’.  The Tlingit’s who have lived in Tebenkof Bay for thousands of years know that Spirit speaks through nature.

This day I invite you to  join me in being awake.  To listen and receive.

First Kiss

My first best friend was Christine.  She lived across the street with her parents and siblings. Our neighborhood in Cumberland, Rhode Island was made up of newly built homes with lots of kids. The dads and moms had not so long ago served and lived through World War II.

Down the street was a forest with a stream and pond. The forest was our playground.  We kids called it ‘Smokey Bear Land’.  I don’t remember much adult supervision.  The parental rule seemed to be ‘keep out of the house and come home for dinner when the street lights come on’.

In this setting Christine and I grew up.  We played games, established a pecking order (the older kids made the rules) and lived our life immersed in the moment as only children can.

I remember one day in particular.  The day of my ‘first kiss’   It took place in the backyard of a neighbor’s house when  Christine and I were about six years old.  We decided to kiss.  My memory is that after our kiss we returned to playing with our friends.

That I remember that kiss 50 years later is telling.  One of those markers that suggest a new world to one day be discovered.  Instinctively we knew we could trust the other with that first kiss.

Over the next several years we grew up in the neighborhood.  I remember going with Christine to see my first movie in 1962,  ‘Kid Galahad’ starring Elvis Presley. I remember playing all sorts of home made games in her backyard.

One day, I think we were in Third Grade, my parents told me that Christine was moving.  Her dad had gotten a new job in a far away city (in reality it was 30 miles or so away but for a child it was the ends of the earth).

I remember saying good-bye to Christine.  I remember knowing I was losing my best friend.

The years passed but I never forgot her.  Many years later my brother ran into her brother and discovered that both Christine and I were living in California, approx. 30 miles apart.

I gave Christine a call and we met at her home in San Francisco.  Both of us were newly married. I was in the midst of preparing to move out of the area.  It was our opportunity to catch up on the years.  Christine had made copies of a few photos from our childhood. One of which is pictured below.

Christine and Kent

 

Since then we’ve stayed in touch. Facebook in particular has allowed us to share photos of our families and reflect on issues both mundane and cosmic.

Christine continues to live in California. I recently moved closer to the old neighborhood. What remains constant is the memory of playing in backyards and in the woods…Of being each others first best friend.  Of sharing that first kiss.

Thanks Christine. I’ll always be grateful.

 

 

The Dictionary of Sorrow

Here’s a new word I learned today from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrow: kuebiko

n. Kuebiko: a state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence, which force you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out all unwelcome and invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface, and propping yourself up like an old scarecrow, who’s bursting at the seams but powerless to do anything but stand there and watch.

Kuebiko an obscure word for a nation incapable of finding a sensible resolution to the epidemic of mass shootings that take our loved ones and wound our collective soul.  This morning we awoke to news of yet another mass shooting in Las Vegas. Currently the count is 58 dead and over 500 wounded. To date the largest mass shooting in our nations tragic history.

As with most mass shootings the perpetrator is a ‘lone wolf’ white male who expresses his rage and aggression through an act of mass violence.  Connect this anger to easy access to high-powered weaponry and we have the recipe for mass shootings.

That ours is the only developed country with a litany of mass shootings should shake us to our core.  That it doesn’t is profoundly sad.

We are an idolatrous nation.  We sacrifice our neighbors and our peace of mind, upon the altar of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and on a rigid interpretation of the 2nd amendment.  We refuse to compromise for the common good.

Kuebiko.

Beyond Compassion Fatigue

There’s a lot going on.  Sometimes we want to pull the covers over our head and stay in bed.  The news feed on our phone and TV brings a daily litany of rage and woe.

Yesterday an earthquake, the second in two weeks hit Mexico, with 242 dead and counting.  Today Hurricane Maria with record winds is ravaging Puerto Rico and soon to hit surrounding islands, already laid waste by last weeks Hurricane Irma. Its been only a few weeks since Hurricane Harvey visited the Gulf Coast and flooded the city of Houston.

What to do?

Some of us stop watching the news.  It’s just too much to absorb.

Others write checks, offer prayers and even grab supplies and head down to help as best we can. It’s cathartic to do something.

There is however a deeper opportunity at hand.  A spiritual opportunity.  An invitation to remain open to the stories of those in harm’s way.

To see oneself in the face of the mom striving to provide for her children.  To identify with the dad who grieves the loss of a home.  To hear the exhaustion in the voice of a first responder.

Taking time to be present to the stories we read and the voices we hear can touch us at a deep level.  As we remain open,  rather than deplete us, each person’s story can serve to both humble us and inspire.

 

What I’m saying is that between avoidance and action is a third way.  A way of becoming more human.   To see the humanity in the face of a Syrian refugee, to wonder at the tenacity of a Houstonian swamping out their house, to relate to the fear of a child who worries what tomorrow will bring.  To see oneself in each of their lives.

Such openness is a spiritual practice.  A way of becoming more fully human, more alive and ultimately more connected and committed to the well-being of others.

Opening ones story to the story of others is an invitation to transformation. No longer is there a them and us….there is simply an us.

My faith tradition calls this communion, deep communion.  The belief that as we relate more deeply to others we find our true self and are met by the God of many names. The One who is the ground of all being.

 

DACA and the Loss of Innocence

Donald Trump has rescinded DACA fulfilling a campaign pledge.  He has given six months before the protections for Dreamers are revoked.  He has  placed  the responsibility on Congress to come up with a bill that will protect those he has intentionally put in harms way.

Obviously this is a politically calculated move.  By placing the ball in Congress’ court he seeks to wash his hands of a decision to revoke protections for 800,000 young people.  Their only offense is that they were brought here as children by parents fleeing poverty and violence.

DACA (Defered Action for Childhood Arrivals) was put in place by executive order by President Obama only after Republicans sabotaged efforts for bipartisan immigration reform.  That President Trump has put the future of 800,000 young people in the hands of a Republican controlled Congress, while saying that he ‘has a heart for the Dreamers’ is hypocrisy on steroids.

Hosea, a biblical prophet spoke into a time when his nations leaders had turned from God’s heart for the poor and vulnerable: ‘One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord, because they have broken my covenant, and transgressed my law. How long will they be incapable of innocence?’ ~ Hosea 8: 1, 5

800,000 young people who work and go to school within six months will be a risk of deportation.   I can imagine what the prophet Hosea would say to us today.


As a college trustee I have the privilege of getting to know Dreamers.  They are remarkable young women and men who have overcome great obstacles.  Many have excelled academically and as leaders on campus and in the wider community.  They dream of being teachers, nurses, physicians, engineers, accountants.  They dream of raising families and doing good.

A psychologist will tell you that good mental health is dependent on there being hope.  Mr. Trump and his supporters have coldly chosen to say that the hopes and dreams of 800,000 are not important.  By this act Trump and his minions have sought to rob young people of their innocence.

Will we as a nation stand for this?  Polls show that 80% of citizens want DACA to continue.  Will we allow the nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric of Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions and Breitbart News to determine who we are and what we will become as a nation?

Several years ago senators Dick Durbin a Democrat and Orrin Hatch a Republican came together to sponsor the Dream Act which would provide many of the safeguards of DACA.  That bill failed by five votes.

It is time for a new Dream Act to be voted on by Congress.  No game playing.  No packing a bill with $ to fund Donald Trumps wall in Mexico.

Today Dick Durbin and Republican Lindsay Graham are  promoting a new Dream Act http://www.msn.com/en-us/video/news/under-daca-deadline-durbin-graham-begin-push-for-dream-act/vp-AArlXng  Such initiatives are worthy of our support.

It is up to us as citizens to hold our elected officials accountable in the name of simple decency.  It is time for people of conscience to stand up for the sake of those among us who are most vulnerable.  All our young people ask for is the opportunity to pursue their dreams.   What is more American than that?

Dancing with the Devil

The great sin of our nation is racism. It has been with us since the beginning.  Think of the subjugation of Native Americans, an economy built on slavery and legalized segregation into the 1960’s.   Think of reoccurring waves of anti-immigrant sentiment in our nations history.

Racism is sometimes tamped down but always reemerges.  The latest manifestation was Charlottesville on Saturday as hundreds of white supremacists, ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis strode through the streets of this small southern city.

 

 

That many carried Trump signs is concerning. That the President initially refused to specifically condemn the hate filled messages of the white supremacists is particularly alarming.  In response he offered a general condemnation of violence with an implication that the counter marchers were equally to blame.

Certainly people voted for Mr. Trump  for many reasons.  Many I’m sure condemn the message of those who marched with torches held high.

But what is apparent to me and many others is that Mr. Trump in his run up to the election and as president, has  played to a racist portion of his base.  He has regularly played the fear card:  ‘Mexicans crossing the border are murderers and rapists’….’Muslims are Islamic extremists’…’the undocumented are raising the crime rate and must be deported’….’Obama was not born in America’….and the list goes on.

In the midst of a society that is racially and ethnically more diverse and with a shifting economy that leaves more people behind, Mr. Trump has chosen the time-honored path of a demagogue… division and fear.   Division is easier than finding a positive way forward as a united people.

The crowd that marched through Charlottesville, for the most part were outsiders to that community.  They marched through this progressive college town with a message of hate.  Carrying torches they reminded us of the KKK in the days of Jim Crow.   They shouted ‘blood and soil’ as they marched, a fascist slogan of the Nazis in pre-World War II Germany.

President Trump’s response was muted and muddy.  He chose not to condemn those who helped him get elected.

It’s been said: ‘You can’t dance with the devil and not be tainted’.

In the Bible we hear:  ‘What good is it to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul?’ (Mark 8:36).  Mr. Trump has made his choice as to what kind of man and leader he will be.  He has chosen to align himself with those who promote bigotry and division.

The choice is ours.  Who will we dance with? What kind of America do we believe in and seek to be?  Being silent or complacent is a choice with consequences too.  Who will you stand with?

On Sunday evening I gathered with approx. 200 of my neighbors.  We were brought together by a woman named Jena Beers who decided to act. Jena was horrified by the images of violence in Charlottesville.  Her heart broke as she saw a racist drive his car into a crowd of peaceful marchers, killing a young woman and injuring many more.   She decided to act.

On Sunday morning via social media she invited her community to gather that very evening,  to say no to hate and yes to love, no to racism and yes to diversity.   200 plus neighbors gathered to speak to the best part of who we are as a people. Hundreds of such groups took place in villages, towns and cities across our nation.

President Lincoln said it is incumbent upon each generation to ‘become a more perfect Union’.  Our time has come.  Who will you dance with?  What message will you add your voice to?  Who will you stand and march with?

 

 

Fire and Fury from the Golf Club

In-between rounds of golf, President Trump is engaged in a high stakes game of chest thumping between himself and Kim Jong-un  Through provocative tweets and over the top language our president is leading our foreign policy into uncertain  waters.

In response to North Korea’s apparent ability to launch a nuclear weapon to the USA, Mr. Trump has stepped up his threats.  Never one to be subtle, patient or educated on the nuances of an issue,  he has chosen to use language intended to humiliate and provoke his opponent.  In today’s New York Times (8/9/2017):

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Referring to North Korea’s volatile leader, Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump said, “He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

‘Fire and fury’ evokes images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In 2013 the church I was serving in Oregon hosted survivors of the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima.  Now elderly men and women they were children and teenagers when the bomb was dropped.  Known as the ‘Hibakusha’ which literally means ‘explosion-affected people’.

Once numbering 650,000 there are now approx. 173,000 who remain.  Witness’ to the horror of the bombing and the often life-long health effects.  http://www.hiroshimapeacemedia.jp/?lang=en

These survivors came to the United States in 2013  as ‘Ambassadors for Peace’. They came to tell their story with the hope that no one else would ever suffer the effects of nuclear war.  They came to bear witness to the 100,ooo who died the day the bomb dropped in Hiroshima and the 70,000 who died in Nagasaki.

Mr. Trump apparently has little interest in history.  Most likely he has never met a hibakusha, heard their stories, felt their pain.

Rather, our president who is easily slighted, impulsive and bored by details, is leading our nation and all who live on or in proximity to the Korean peninsula, into grave danger.  For the first time since World War 2, the Japanese who live along the north-west coast are taking part in air raid trainings.

Yet war, particularly nuclear war, is so horrific it must be unthinkable.  The answer remains with diplomatic initiatives by our nation and the neighboring nations of North and South Korea.  The hard, frustrating, long term work of finding ways to live together as a global community is the only way forward.

I am fearful for what will happen when two erratic, impulsive leaders, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are allowed to write history for the rest of us.  We can’t control what North Korea does but as citizens of the United States we can try to make our voices heard.

What can be done?  We can hope that calmer heads prevail in the Trump administration.  Thus far our president has proven resistant.

Another option is to call upon Congressional leaders to move towards impeachment based upon the inability of Mr. Trump to responsibly lead.   The 25th Amendment also places power within a president’s cabinet to remove a sitting president due to incapacity to lead.

As a citizen I’m getting educated.  A good overview can be found in this article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/us/politics/how-the-impeachment-process-works-trump-clinton.html .

Meanwhile our president tweets and rages.  Lord have mercy.