Freedom

On the 10th of August, 1809, the first call for independence from Spanish rule was made in Quito, Ecuador, the city of my birth. It launched, along with a good number of other Spanish colonies, a series of wars for independence, partly capitalizing on the destabilization of Spain by the Napoleonic wars. By 1829 all the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America had won independence. Mexico tried on monarchy for a little less than a year, but the Enlightenment pushed them all toward republics, as we see today. However, the DNA of European colonialism is not easily cast aside. Classism persists, even to this day. Essentially, the more indigenous blood you have in your veins, the further you are from centers of power. True freedom for all is an inconvenient ideal for those in power.

Yet even that is changing now. The oligarchic clans are losing their grip on the people. The Roman Catholic Church, that historically has helped rule, hand-in-hand with the oligarchies, is losing members to the Pentecostal tradition, about as far from classist religion as you can get. More and more, people who identify as Indigenous are becoming wealthy, hammering out influence, and even finding seats in national government. Native tongues are being recognized. Like in the US, racism has been driven underground, where it persists as a cancer that eats away at social integrity. This hemisphere-wide movement has found traction lately here in the US in the popular Black Lives Matter movement. But I wonder if there isn’t a certain inevitability in it. There seems to be a need in the heart of every people for social integrity, and if freedom is the basis of it, then the story of a people must somehow weave together the stories of all its members, not just some.

Otherwise, there is only oppression.

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Hope

Mount Baker sits 30 miles to the north east of my house in northwestern Washington. On clear days, her white head shines in the sun, seemingly perched on the closest hills between us. She reminds me of snow-capped peaks in the Andes of Ecuador where I grew up. My best friend is a mountain climber who has summitted many of those peaks.

Over this last weekend some friends and he climbed Mount Baker. One of them took a bunch of pictures. In one picture there are crevasses on either side of the climbers and the sun hitting a peak ahead of them, making the snow shine, while they are still in the pre-dawn blue. They are roped together for safety. If one slips, the others can stop what would otherwise be a catastrophic fall.

We walk in predawn blue between the parallel crevasses of white privilege and COVID-19. If we look up, instead of at our own feet, we will see the sunshine of the hope of justice and health in the distance. We can’t really judge how far it is, but it shines nonetheless, beckoning us onward.

Unlike the climbers, there is no going back. Efforts to do so only end in violent darkness. The way forward is toward the light, roped together lest we suffer a catastrophic fall.

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After Our Own Image

If you haven’t watched United Shades of America, you should. As the website calls him, “comedian and political provocateur W. Kamau Bell” travels the country, giving voice to minorities in the United States, especially African Americans. He tells their stories, and they are worth hearing. Recently he aired a show about a black man whose mission in life is to rescue white supremacists from their violent movements. He’s got 200 now, Klansmen, neo-Nazis, you name it. He had four of them on the show, and the stories they told of their previous life were chilling, their new life, exhilarating. I’m sure it cost these men to find freedom, and it may still.

Take a giant step back: Every people creates the world in their own image. For example, the people I grew up with call themselves, Tsachila, (The Normal People.) Their language is Tsafiki, (The True Word.) Everyone else is a variation on that theme. These United States of America began this building process in a particular way, where “normal” involved white people owning black people and either removing or killing people of color. Black Lives Matter is an attempt at a seismic shift, an intentional earthquake, where “normal” gets redefined in terms of what the words of our constitution say, in spite of what they have been interpreted to mean: All are created equal. In other words, it is a herculean effort at integrity.

So, of course the resulting world will feel not-normal to white people. It will feel not-normal to Black people and Indigenous people and People of Color, because the old way of white domination will have gone with the wind. Another way is emerging. We don’t know what it looks like yet, but the Pew Research Center documents that most of us believe that the life stories of Black people must have equal place in the social story we tell. I would add that integrity is not achieved until the stories of people who are Indigenous, Brown, Asian, Of Color, Trans and LGBTQ+ are also included. However, if in the anxiety of not-normal, we allow another group to assume the same dominant role as today’s whites, merely returning us to the old story with different actors, then the whole effort is lost.

It begs the question, What image of ourselves do we want to build society after? Our ethnocentric, cultural selves, or our deep, divinely-inspired essential worth that includes and transcends cultural and racial identity? To do so we have to first get in touch with that deep worth, and that is a spiritual endeavor whose end is full humanity. Integrity is a path whose only alternative is inhumanity.

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Forgetting

Wow, we were away over the weekend and when we got back it was HOT in the house! We quickly opened all the windows to let the breeze waft away the stale air. I glanced at the inside readout on the weather station. It was a whopping—get this—an unbearable 90 degrees! How quickly we forget! We spent some time in Dallas in 1980 when a record-setting 69 days in a row saw triple-digit temps. Living in south Texas, there were three months in which we never saw the 70’s because it never cooled off that much. How quickly we forget.

How quickly we forget when politicians do flip-flops, break promises or walk back something they said. One would think they would at least acknowledge their duplicity and offer an apology, but that rarely happens. We just glide on and elect them again.

How quickly we forgot Columbine and didn’t do anything that might have avoided Las Vegas. But even Columbine forgot. Wikipedia lists the following in an article titled, List of Mass Shootings in the United States:1

May 31- June 1, 1921    GreenwoodTulsa, Oklahoma

Deaths: 36 – 300[171][172]

Injured: 800+

Total: 836+ (exact number disputed)

Tulsa race massacre: When white mobs attacked the black residents and business of the Greenwood District in Tulsa. The attack was carried out using guns, fire and private aircraft and aided by the United States National Guard. The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district – at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street”.[173]

(Note: I reformatted this information from table to text and added the labels, “Deaths” and “Injured,” that are listed at the top of the whole table on the Wikipedia page.)

There are those who do not forget this horrific moment. Such remembering is important, especially to those who would forget, for if we forget, then we will forget that we are all human, and that only together can we struggle toward full humanity. We will forget that this planet is one, and that destroying it destroys ourselves. Those who remember remind us that our greatest struggle is against the urge to forget.

1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States#List_of_mass_shootings_(21st_century)

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The Cost of Beauty

We recently camped out in the Cascade Mountains. We wanted to get to a place called Rat Trap Pass, but the way that we took to get there was blocked by some wash-outs, so we camped lower down. Wanting to see the washouts, we decided to hike the 4 miles. When we got there, the pass itself didn’t look that much farther, so we hiked on. We finally reached the pass and on my GPS we had walked 6.6 miles—and we had the return hike ahead of us. At least that was all down-hill!

On the way, however, were flowers and waterfalls and beautiful mountains. Beauty always comes at a price. If it’s cheap, it’s not real. What does it take to find beauty within? What does it take to find beauty between us? What does it take to find beauty in our society? In our global community? The ancient Romans saw beauty as a necessary step to truth. Maybe these questions are of more import than they seem.

Photo Credits: Paul and Karisse Moore

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Beauty in Action

Learn, then, the wisdom of my roses, who in the midst of a pandemic, shower the world with beauty!

Black lives are beautiful. Brown lives are beautiful. LGBTQ+ lives are beautiful. Native lives are beautiful. White lives are beautiful.

We can do this, folks! Be beautiful to other people. Wear your mask!

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Beth-El

In a recent conversation about Brian McLaren’s book, Naked Spirituality,1
someone made the comment that Little Mountain, a small, rocky rise just south of town, was a thin place. It is easy for her to sense the presence of the numinous there. Last week I took this picture of Little Mountain out my study window. With feet on the earth and head in the clouds, it could be a Jacob’s Ladder, reaching to heaven, with angels ascending and descending.

To quote:  

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 

And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God [Beth-El], and this is the gate of heaven.”2

 

Sometimes we know the places, sometimes they surprise us. In this time when the whole world groans under the weight of a deadly illness, finding those places where we wake up to the fact that we are in the house of God may be especially important. I would hope that it would encourage us to care tenderly for one another by wearing our masks in public, keeping social distance, minimizing contact, and caring for the ill. Surely this would be to live in the House of God with one another.

Beth-El is not lost. The question is whether or not we can live there.

 

1McLaren, Brian D. Naked spirituality. Hachette UK, 2011.

2Genesis 28:17-18, NRSV

Picture Credit: Paul Moore, all rights reserved

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Swords and things

Yesterday’s Gospel reading includes a passage where Jesus declares he has not come to bring peace, but a sword. This statement seems to stand in stark contrast to the title “Prince of Peace,” quoted from Isaiah 9:6, much used at Christmastime. That Jesus might be a prince of peace is not without merit in the tradition. Jesus talks about making peace with one’s enemies on many occasions, and the Sermon on the Mount includes a blessing for those who are peacemakers. How is this man also one who wields a sword?

The wisdom of the Christian tradition, shared by all the other great wisdom traditions of the world, has a very clear answer. The world lives by the sword and dies by the sword. The strongest one makes the rules and if you don’t follow the game-plan, you get the sword applied—unless you have a bigger sword. Jesus comes and offers himself out of love. Such self-offering seems to be a pen-knife in the face of the swords of the world, but somehow in the end, his story and the Jesus tradition prevails. His self-offering effectively draws a line in the sand: Whoever is for everybody come over here, which is the only way to true and lasting peace. Whoever is for just themselves stay on that side, which will always bring war. There is no common ground.

The reality of this line in the sand is, more poignant today than just six months ago. With the global struggle to keep as many of us alive as possible, common ground has been found across what otherwise had divided us. One of those is in the willingness to listen to the lived experience of those who society has systemically marginalized. There are some who would rather take up a sword than listen to those stories. There are others who are unbendingly committed to hearing them, and letting them become part of our national narrative. There seems to be no common ground…

Except when a black BLM protester in London recently carried a counter-protester to safety and saved his life. Swords of steel are not the sharpest ones.

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Far too long list

There are hundreds more, but for now we remember:

Eric Garner

Ezell Ford

Michelle Cusseaux

Tanisha Anderson

Tamir Rice

Natasha McKenna

Walter Scott

Bettie Jones

Philando Castile

Botham Jean

Atatiana Jefferson

Eric Reason

Dominique Clayton

Breonna Taylor

Manuel Ellis

George Floyd

 

And now Rayshard Brooks.

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Land of the Free

“Land of the Free” is the first line in the couplet that is virtually our national motto, adding, “and home of the brave,” taken from the National Anthem. The last 250 years have been an experiment in just what that means. Has often been conceived by the white as room to do whatever one pleased. I am not African-American, so I cannot speak for the black experience, but if I were to imagine, I would guess that it has to do with Dr. King’s great dream of a land where people are judged for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Neither do I pretend to speak for the First Nations, though I can imagine that freedom might be the room to maintain their ancient traditions where spirit and matter are one. I do know more about the Hispanic experience. Freedom is being able to earn a living worth living.

True freedom, I would suggest, goes infinitely deeper than all of these, and yet encompasses all of them. Here is a shot at it from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations. Finley writes from a Christian perspective, but the same wisdom can be found in many places. Freedom is not just room, equality, tradition or dignity in life, but the chance to live into our truest selves, which requires a letting go of what we thought was freedom and an embracing of something incredibly wiser and more compassionate. I suspect that the intuition of it is what drives Black Lives Matter, and all the related protests for which this is the great trailblazer.

https://cac.org/freedom-an-infinite-possibility-of-growth-2020-06-15/#gsc.tab=0

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