Little Mountain wore a pristine white cap of cloud this morning. She appeared spritely and ready for the day. The double-green of her flanks between the light new leaves of the Alders vs. the dark Evergreens foretells work to do. Alders are in motion, through Spring to Fall and Winter’s barren branches again, overseen by the less visible march of the Evergreens through cone production, squirrels and added growth rings. I wasn’t feeling so spritely. We took care of our 19-month-old grandson over the weekend, and we fell into bed last night exhausted with joy. It’s a happy hang-over. There are always two sides to things.
I read about another white cap this morning. Daily COVID infection rates for the US have fallen to the September 2020 levels. A hint of a glimmer of what the CDC tentatively projected a month ago may be on the horizon. The work is not over, though. It’s almost as if, now that the disease is on the decline, we have the luxury of making it even more divisively political issue instead of a matter of public health. Hats off to the celebrities who raised $302M for vaccines for other countries. The bards among us know that until the world is safe, the US is not safe.
Biden’s raising of the immigration cap to 62.5K is for me another white cap. The world doesn’t work very well when those with lots don’t want to share. All the major world religions teach a different way, one of generosity, especially with those whose need seems so overwhelming as to look unreasonable. But in April alone, 170K undocumented immigrants were apprehended. We’ve still got a long road back to our roots inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
But white caps are white caps, and sprite gives hope, even if its incremental and sometimes glacially slow.
I read recently about a park filled with art. People are asked to be humble, respectful, and “decentered.” Since the artwork is not the product of White people, the signage especially encourages White people to approach in this way. I think it’s a good word. I used it in yesterday’s post, drawing from this article I read. I think in the end it is a spiritual term.
To me, to be de-centered is not to lose one’s center, but to recognize that no one person and no one people reside at the center of the universe, for the Center is everywhere. For the individual it is a radical turning away from one’s natural narcissism. For a people it is a conscious relativizing of their natural ethnocentrism. This recognition is the primordial act of selfless love, and therefore a spiritual endeavor.
All major spiritual traditions of humanity know that this work is so difficult, that the pitfalls are so many and so seductive, that success requires help. One must be guided. A people must be guided. A competent spiritual guide will adapt guidance to the specifics of the need. Nevertheless, until we engage competent guides and embark on this difficult and painful work, the path to the fullness of human life for all will continue to evade the human race.
Yesterday our Bishop’s office, in cooperation with an association of ministers of color in the Diocese, hosted One Service for Turtle Island, a service highlighting worship practices by Episcopalians who are Native American, representing a number of different Native tribes. One of the comments made by the head of the association beforehand was that this was not supposed to be “exotic.”
That got me thinking. What is “exotic?” Whatever is both unknown and attractive can become exotic to us. The tourist industry makes billions selling the exotic. But the tourist experience is shallow, like going to the zoo. Her request was an attempt to circumvent the idea that these are exportable static cultural factoids we can gawk at and move to the next cage, never letting the full human life experience in which these events have sacred meaning and trajectory come into focus. The exotic can be insulating. Worse, it can strengthen the facile and dismissive counter-narratives used to keep others under one’s feet.
The exotic does not have to so quickly serve dominance. If one is humble, “decentered,” and open, the exotic can become a window into another world, inspiring what the preacher called “holy wonder.” No competition allowed in this sacred space. What beauty might one find? What deeply human mix of joy and pain?
In this “space for grace” a different kind of humanity can be born.
Yesterday Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd. Jubilation rolled through communities of color and whites who stand behind them. I count myself among the joyful—not at the pain that Mr. Chauvin will experience, but at the high profile step down the long path of racial reckoning we are on. I would have been deeply troubled at any other verdict. However, my joy is tempered by the fact that police shot and killed a person of color every day this week since Sunday. As Mr. Obama has said, this is still much to do. My joy is also tempered by the many for whom this moment is fraught with fear. Some of them are people of color fearing repercussions. Some of them are white, for whom this is fuel on a raging fire of the fear of being replaced.
For those for whom life is not yet safe, this moment shows that another way is possible. I pray for a glimmer of hope.
For those who fear being replaced, there is a pernicious lie that must be faced. No one is really afraid of being replaced. They are afraid of someone else occupying their place of power and privilege. As long as identity is fused with social location there can be no real justice. When true spiritual maturity reveals the fusion to be illusion, then true justice can heal our divisions. I pray for a vision of truth.
It seems to me that the communities of color in this nation are not nearly as divided as the white community. If so, that gives me hope.
I read a story recently about a couple of White Canadian law enforcement officers making rather unprofessional comments while on the job about “our time is done.” They were bemoaning the idea that the days when White people ran things were numbered. I can understand the sadness, nobody likes to get toppled off the top of the mountain, but not any sense of surprise. Peoples have replaced peoples repeatedly since modern humans replaced (and absorbed) Neanderthals. Over and over again, those in power lose their footing and others take their place. It’s death and rebirth on a mega-scale. If history teaches us anything at all, the underdogs in this struggle have a whole lot to gain and not much to lose, whereas the over-dogs have everything to lose and very little to gain. A defensive fight is not easily won. Unprofessional or not, the officer’s comments are most likely prophetic.
Again, if history is any teacher, the new order will be created by people who remember the former days. They will construct a system that benefits them, and others significant to the new leaders as they perceive their needs. The next generation will follow in the footsteps of their elders because they saw the former days as from a far. The third generation will have no personal memory of the former days. The inevitable sense of entitlement will settle in—and the process will repeat itself. The replacement itself is rather predictable, a treadmill of peoples rising and falling. 400 years seems to be an average interval.
The spiritual traditions all teach another way. We have examples of it in human memory: Siddhārtha Gautama, Mahavira, Zarathustra, Abraham, Jesus, Muhammad, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few of many. These leaders were spiritual adepts before they were political figures (if they ever were.) They all sought change as a moral reckoning, not a political reversal. Their different ways of walking the path of selfless love gives evidence of a leadership willing to surrender significance in pursuit of service; that springs from the spirit, not self. The voices that are now being heard in Western society are telling the other side of the story of White rise to supremacy. They are revealing the profound birth defects in White foundations that require our moral reckoning. What we need is leadership rooted in the practice of some form of the common disciplines of the human spirit, willing to lead the moral reckoning—not as a way to save White supremacy (it can’t and shouldn’t try)—but to mark out a path to change that is not ego-driven. Only then will we step off the treadmill.
I want to share another Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. Cynthia Bourgeault unpacks the wisdom behind the events in Jesus’ life we Christians call The Passion in a powerful and refreshing way. Maybe it can influence the way you live the next three days.
I heard it once said if a thousand, I am not what I eat or I would be a pizza. No, food ingested is transformed before it becomes part of us. Yet that kind of simplistic thinking drives our behavior in relation to that which we fear, hate, are jealous of, and love. To the degree that we engage those experiences they form us within. Therefore, we tend to become what we hate, what we fear, what we’re jealous of, and what we love. This nation that rebelled against England to dismantle a class system that favored the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and vulnerable is recreating the same thing. We failed to transform it.
The spiritual paths of humanity have always offered another path. Here is a beautiful description of the Christian way, taken from the daily meditations of Richard Rohr, who quotes a Jewish woman: https://cac.org/opposing-evil-without-becoming-it-2021-03-30/
A French falconer has launched his Imperial Eagle from the top of the world’s highest skyscraper in Dubai. During this almost -three-minute video, taken by a small camera mounted on the eagle’s back, the announcer discusses the relationship between humans and other life forms on the earth. It is worth hearing and seeing for that statement alone. See it here.
I don’t know about you, but it would have scared me spitless just to stand on the top of the skyscraper and look down, and yet this bird launches his whole body into the air, half a mile above the ground. In his final approach to his human, you see the “elbows” of his wings pull in as he turns vertical in the air. He shows no fear. He is an eagle, and has wings; I do not. His world is three dimensional in a way mine is not. I am human, with a human brain, intellect, society and relationships that he is not. In this moment, as the commentor says, two very different life forms cooperate and make something beautiful by each contributing what they have.
Oh, that we as a human family could apply the same wisdom among our own, be we Asian, Hispanic, African American, White, Indigenous, Pacific Islander, Native Alaskan, or something else—or a blend. For a start, innocent lives would be saved rather than lost, the earth would have a chance, and our prisons would be nearly empty.
The new Secretary of the Interior traces her ancestry back 35 generations in New Mexico to a land that has seen continuous human habitation back 8500 years. The Lagunas were “the old ones” far before the Spanish arrived in the early 17th century or representatives of the US Army in the mid 19th. They suffered at the hands of the Spanish. They suffered at the hands of the United States Department of the Interior anti-Indian policies that included wars, forced relocations, outright systematic extermination, and attempts to eradicate culture and language through Indian Schools. An Apache who attended one of my churches still bears the wounds of being called “a dirty, savage Indian.” Now this Indian woman, Debra Haaland, takes over the very department of the federal government that for so long oppressed her people.
Jesus said, “So, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 20:16.) It is the last line in one of Jesus’ teaching stories about workers in a vineyard. The ones who came to work at dawn and the ones who came an hour before sundown get paid the same. The ones who had worked all day complain—but the landowner reminds them that they got what they agreed to as pay. Now the last are treated equally, even though they have not “born the heat of the day.” In the story it is the landowner who upends the system and treats the last as first. It is not fair to say that Indigenous peoples have not “born the heat of the day,” but it is fair to say they are only now being “brought into the vineyard” at the 11th hour.
Maybe we’ve finally upended something that needed upending and put the last in first place.
I share a post by Richard Rohr, director of the Center for Action and Contemplation, that I think is particularly apropos for today’s world.
Recognizing Our Biases