The Other Side of the Bench…

Here we are, at this bench
There is only one bench here to hold us
Its cracked red edges and rusty nails

We are here, exhausted travelers
Needing a place to rest.
Needing each other.

Will we share this bench?
Will we fight over it,
till we both fall exhausted on the ground.

The blisters on our feet,
the smell of our tattered clothes,
give witness to a ragged journey.

Will we claim separate ends of this bench,
or will we lean on each other,
sleeping the sleep of the exhausted?

If we are so connected,
why do we tarry,
in leaning on each other?

Why do we fight over this bench,
when there is room for all?

The Art of Mindfulness

Have you ever had the experience wherein you were driving home from a busy day of work/ school/ or other draining activity and you realize that you arrived at home, but don’t remember getting there? It’s as if the body went into auto pilot mode. This most frequently happens for me when I’m conducting my morning routine. Did I actually brush my teeth? I can’t remember. What did I wear yesterday? No idea.

I realize that this is likely a coping mechanism to allow the mind to rest, but I also have experienced this “auto pilot” to be detrimental to my everyday life. A problem arises when I start going on autopilot and actually miss living.

Last summer was an eye-opening experience for me of realizing that I was dealing with an incredible amount of stress and was anxious and generally unhealthy as a result. After some time reflecting on that experience, I realize that there were several things in my life which did not resonate with who I am, what makes me come alive, and how I live my ethics/ core values. During the summer, I knew I needed to take some serious reflection time. I need to examine all the “yes'” that I had committed to without much thought. I had just finished a biology degree and was headed into seminary, so I figured it was as good a time as any to examine myself.

So I enrolled in a mindfulness group. At first, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and wondered what I had just gotten myself into. It turned out to be an incredibly enlightening experience. I realized that a great deal of my time was spent worrying about unrealistic worries; I learned to name these thoughts as “frequent flyer” thoughts. Part of the harm of these frequent flyer thoughts is that they took away from me actually living in the moment and enjoying it for everything that it was. By “living in the moment,” I mean actually tasting the food that I ate, feeling the joy of a hug, committing myself to a conversation without a totally unrelated running narrative going through my head, listening to the crickets singing, stopping to bathe in a sunset, giving attention to so many beautiful and good things that I have in my life.

When I first started trying to be mindful last summer, I literally challenged myself to pay attention to how it feels for a toothbrush to go over my teeth, how a hot shower feels, what summer squash & onions smell like cooking, to say a prayer and really mean it, and how a field of lightning bugs takes me back to childhood. Just like training muscles to lift weights, it took practice and continual attention. But it paid off for me.

For starters, I realized that I did not enjoy Captain Crunch at all.

And I really, really don’t fancy sugar in my coffee. No, thanks.

This is important.

Secondly, I began realizing that my energy shifted from being anxious to grateful. And I was able to gain much more perspective on things. I analyzed where I spent my time and was my time given to life-giving or energy-draining opportunities.

I think it also helped that I surrounded myself with folks who supported me in this mission and who also did this work themselves.

I still experience the “frequent flyer” thoughts and autopilot moments, but when I do, I am able to name them as such and give them way less time and weight. I feel more and I don’t let autopilot guide my relationships. This may seem small, but for me, it has been life-changing.

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Have you experienced “auto pilot” mode? If so, what have you found helpful?

 

 

The Church at the US/ Mexico Border

The painted desert, the Sonoran, home of lumbering Pipe Cacti, coyote, sidewinders, rattlesnakes, mice, owls, eagles, desert primrose, hawks, roadrunners, sunsets that wrap the day up with a bang and towering mountains of the Santa Catalina range. The fragile Jan- June 2014 163ecosystem of the Sonoran is disrupted by roads. Roads used for transporting tariff-free goods from Mexico to the United States and vice versa, roads which welcome U.S. citizens to pass, roads which carry U.S. Border Patrol to remote parts so they may patrol the border. A visible, visceral wall lines the border as a tangible reminder of who is and is not welcome into the United States.

The Sonoran desert drew me into the conversation of US immigration policy; it called me to witness the human rights violations being committed within it; it called me to walk its trails of hope and hopelessness.

In the desert, I walked along migrant trails which were littered with socks, jeans, underwear of persons frequenting the trails in the hope of crossing the border undetected. I stopped at a shrine on the trail which was created by migrants who passed through and stopped for a rest and prayer to the Holy; there they left small crosses and pictures of St. Jude, the patron Saint of Lost Causes.

The Patron Saint of Lost Causes.

At critical parts of the trail, a humanitarian group called No More Deaths left water in milk jugs with messages written on them. Some said “this water is safe to drink” because they are often told by their trail guides, or coyotes, that the water has been poisoned. Jan- June 2014 135Some messages were those of hope and love. The dichotomy of the unforgiving desert and inhospitable wall was countered by pictures of St. Jude and gallons of water from persons who cared. It seemed to me like many folks in this country, legislators, citizens, officers have forgotten basic human rights. Over 6,000 basic human rights.

To date, over 6,000 bodies have been found in the desert and this count increases daily, especially as the summer temperatures soar well over 100 degrees.

It seemed like we forgot basic human rights when I heard personal accounts of detained migrants treated like dogs as they ate their food off the floor in detention and stories of cells being incredibly cold. It seemed like we forgot basic human rights when I sat through two hours of migrants being charged with criminal offenses for coming over the border and being given about 45 seconds a piece with a judge to accept a plea bargain. Or maybe it was when these men and women came in the courtroom with their hands and feet shackled that we forgot human rights. It seemed like we forgot basic human rights when I stood in Nogales, Mexico where a US Border Patrol officer shot 16 rounds through the wall and killed 16 year old Jose Antonio for throwing rocks at him.

The Reverend John Fife.

Our paths crossed in Tucson, Arizona at Borderlinks, an organization committed to facilitating education for groups desiring to come learn first hand of the activities along the border. Rev. Fife sat down and told the story of the Sanctuary movement; he is a retired pastor and served at Southside Presbyterian in Tucson; in the 1980s, Southside responded to the human rights crisis of the US rejection of Central American refugees coming across the border. The US was complicit in helping create the toxic civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala by training military leaders and providing weaponry. Southside, under Fife, began the US Sanctuary Movement wherein Southside essentially answered Fife’s question of “what does it mean to be church in the particular context that we find ourselves?” Southside, along with

Wall between US & Mexico

Wall between US & Mexico

Quaker support, conducted night-time border crossings of many refugees and then housed them in the sanctuary of the church. On average, Southside would host 50-100 refugees a night. In 1982, Fife and others were indicted by the US Attorney’s Office and decided that they would go to the media to highlight this grave injustice and need.

When Southside went public with this, the response by US churches and synagogues was staggering. Within two years, 237 houses of worship across the United States had declared sanctuary and welcomed refugees coming across the border. Colleges and universities also joined in what became known as The Sanctuary Movement. Somewhere on the order of 13,000-15,000 refugees received Sanctuary during that time until eventually Fife and others sued the US Government and settled out of court; the government agreed to cease all deportations from Guatemala and El Salvador, giving asylum and work permits.

When faced with the question of why he spearheaded this movement, Fife said,

“when the government violates human rights, the church has to make the ethical move from advocacy to resistance. I have never figured out how to duck that move. There is a role for advocacy, but when so many lives are threatened and dying, you have to make that next move from advocacy to nonviolent resistance. Sanctuary became that ethical move.”

Fife went on to say that “the church is right in the middle of the empire and the largest section of the church has blessed the empire, but at the same time, there has always been a segment of the church who has moved to active resistance.” This resistance is something that Southside did not see as a choice, but an obligation because they were paying attention and giving voice to the immediate needs of the Tucson and surrounding communities.

What does it mean to be the church in the context in which we find ourselves?

We are reminded of ancient Hebrew hospitality in the writings of the Torah: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34, NRSV). We are reminded of Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan wherein a Samaritan, who shared the same heritage of the Jewish man but their tribes were enemies, saved a Jewish man. Here this story shows that hospitality was given by the least likely passerby, the enemy. And hospitality was withheld by the most likely passerby, a Jewish Levite and also a priest. We are reminded of the Writings of the Psalms, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:13-14a, NRSV). Here we see and believe that all persons, regardless of any identifying feature, are made in the Imago Dei.

So I ask, what are the borders that are drawn in our communities, and even in our own congregations? How are we complicit in blessing the empire? How are we challenging the empire? Have we well researched the US’s immigration policy and how difficult it is to achieve a US citizenship unless you marry a US citizen, are independently wealthy, a famous athlete, a scientist, etc.? Are we aware of the current trade policies, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), that have significantly contributed to the desperate poverty in Mexico and Central American countries?

What is the role of the Church as a social movement? And is this role a prophetic voice?

If we truly believe that all persons are made in the image of God, then how can we, as a church, allow migration to be criminalized? How can we allow hospitality to be criminalized?

The Reverend Fife ended with saying, “I can’t imagine being the pastor of a suburban church for 35 years and asking myself, ‘what the hell did I do?’”

As a Baptist seeking ordination, I want to be able to answer that question with integrity after a lifetime in ministry. I want to be able to say that I lived my life and served in a church which sang, ate, and breathed radical hospitality.

May it ever be so.

Let Me Complexify This

Welcome back to the blog! After some writing absence (aka a period of an innumerable amount of writing assignments wherein I had little time to write here), I am back to the familiar presence of blog writing. I welcome hitting the “new post” button and being able to read your comments. Let’s sojourn together.

Complexity has been on my mind lately… primarily because I love categorizing… I categorize an idea as illogical or logical, sensical or nonsensical, feasible or unfeasible, unique or trite, authentic or a platitude. It’s so much easier to classify something or someone by one defining characteristic because getting lost in the complexity of nuances is tough and it requires much more energy than a quick categorization and write off. Let’s be honest… when one is tired after an arduous, frustrating week, it’s much easier to write a person off as a friend or enemy simply based upon his/her support for the war or Barack Obama or say, Taylor Swift. It’s easier to chalk someone of another faith up to “he/she just doesn’t understand the truth.” It’s easier label someone an illegal alien without considering his/her life story and what is at stake for him/her. It’s easier to demonize someone from the other end of the political spectrum than to listen to the rationale behind that person’s thought.

And I like the easy way out.

It’s easier to forget that this world and the people who inhabit it are extremely complex. And as easy as it may be to categorize someone, it is just as unhelpful. Because though the stereotype may be correct, when we use a label, we almost always lose something. We lose the fear behind the hate that he is showing, we lose the hours of grueling studying she put behind that grade that we are jealous of, we lose the excitement behind that idea that she just put on the conference room table, we lose the vulnerability that it must have taken him to admit he was wrong.

Acknowledging the complexity of someone is also acknowledging his/her full humanity.

It is the way of life but is often the least easy.

 Can you identify?

All the Cheers

2014 Graduates, here’s to you!

Cheers to you, Cheers

to the culmination of a chapter that has defined you long enough,
to the end of all nighters and ceaseless caffeine,
to the chest-tightening finals,
and the papers that just need 200 more words

to the many conversations about the world,
to the hours of scholarship and research,
to the months of searching for a major or writing a dissertation,
and the self-doubt that never quite leaves

to the new creases in your forehead
where your brow has been furrowed,
to the years where you sought to find
that which makes you come alive

Cheers to you, Cheers

to the silencing of your inner critic
as you receive that dean’s diploma,
to the fear that asks: ‘what now?’
to the new knowledge you now hold

to the professors who have given you
scholarship from their fields
so you may not forget that
an unexamined life is not worth living

to your people who have seen you through,
to your significant other who knows the
hours of study and tears of stress,
to the many prayers for God’s mercy and peace

Cheers to you, Cheers

to the new season that you enter.
Do not welcome this season with fear,
Do not call trepidation a friend,
Do not become crippled with doubt

Ask what makes you come alive,
Ask who is your best self,
Be fiercely protective of your self worth,
Guard it and give it away to no one

Do not assume that you can do this alone,
Embrace the interconnectedness of the earth and humanity,
Know that love is clay that we were molded from
And it will continue to shape you

Cheers to you, Cheers

As you welcome learning as a close friend
and you aren’t afraid of doubt in your faith journey,
For doubt keeps you asking questions
And you should never stop asking good questions

Do not turn a blind eye to injustice
Fight it.
Do not let philanthropy fool you into forgetting
the everyday need of your neighbor

Like it or not, the new season is here,
but the same problems exist,
So take your new found knowledge
and work to solve those problems

Cheers to you, Cheers

Know this is not all or nothing,
it’s just another piece of your story
waiting for you to embrace it,
fully present, fully alive

God is in you, above you,
behind you, underneath you,
and ahead of you. Fear not.

Here’s to calloused hands,
tired backs, mindful presence,
and loud laughter, and
revolutionary ideas.

You did it! You.

Cheers to you, Cheers!

Singing For Our Lives…

“If you are mesmerized by televised stupidity, and don’t get to hear or read stories about your world, you can be fooled into thinking that the world isn’t miraculous– and it is.” –Anne Lamott in Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith

Earlier this winter, Pete Seeger died. Pete was a folk music legend and a protester. The kind of man who sang stories of relentless optimism and agitation….of workers uniting, of Central American Freedom movement struggles, of nonviolent resistance and international disarmament, of caring for the environment, of his love for America and dream for what we could be as a country if we realized our interconnectedness.

Pete’s songs were songs of protest. Songs which refused to get into bed with the status quo. Songs which prophesied of a better way. Pete was prolific songwriter; he believed that folk music was the music of the people and it was meant to be shared and sung together. For him, singing was the way to stand in the moment and say: “here we are, standing here, fully human, fully alive, and demanding better, singing for our lives.”

For me, the space of optimism that Pete held in the face of injustice and oppression was what drew me to him. Much like Lamott’s quote, Pete saw the miracle in life because he was fully engaged in it. I’m afraid sometimes that all of our gadgets fool us into thinking that we are living, but really, we are experiencing a screen at best, and televised stupidity at worst.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to wake up. The old kick-in-the-pants routine. Wake up. Take control. Sing.

The busyness of life can lead to fatigue and a rote routine of daily decompressing by turning on the TV, scrolling through facebook, or watching the latest must-see You Tube video. We can end up consuming so much more than we create and this doesn’t work for the human spirit. It doesn’t ask us to be our best selves. We lose passion and purpose. And sometimes, our voices.

Have we lost the miracle of a sunset? Have we lost the miracle of the complex biochemical processes that must occur for an apple to be digested in our bodies? Have we lost the miracle of living in a community of people who know each others names, stories, and dreams? Have we lost the miracle of helping each other or working for a cause that is greater than ourselves? Have we lost the miracle of eating a fresh tomato from a garden that our hands toiled in? Have we lost the miracle of confessing our joys and concerns to each other? Have we lost the miracle of crying together? Have we lost the miracle of aching for our significant other? Have we lost the miracle of a drenching rain seeping into a scorched earth?

Have we become so disconnected with the earth and each other that we cannot feel anymore?

Being a human is a miracle. But if we forget that, we can one of the most destructive forces ever.

It’s easy to do with all of the notifications to keep up with. Sometimes, it’s easier not to feel, or examine our belief systems thoroughly, or wonder who are best selves really are. It’s easier to consume music than to create it. It’s easier to consume ideas rather than create them. It’s easier to ignore our dissimilar neighbor than to love her. It’s easier to live carelessly than to live consciously. It’s easier to keep tearing down trees as if we own this earth, than it is to plant them and work to help ecosystems thrive. It’s easier to ungraciously read biblical texts than it is to actually research them. It’s easier to criticize than to innovate. Its easier to turn on the TV instead of engaging in vulnerable conversation.

It’s easier, but it’s not better….because we are fooled into thinking that life isn’t miraculous.

And, it is.

A Post of the New Year (2014)

Here we are in 2013, I mean, 2014.

I’ve seen several reflective posts. Was 2013 a good year? Did it bring achieved goals or greater evolution of self? Did it hurt? Is it a year that will always be remembered for one reason or another? I’m happy to read reflection. I’m not sure that I reflect enough. And reflecting, at its most basic level, provides an opportunity for me to stop and remember what it means for me to be human. But reflection takes solitude and focus, and frankly, who has time for that?

I’ve also seen several resolution posts. What was not accomplished in 2013 that absolutely must be in 2014? What lingering pieces of one’s self or lifestyle does one not want to carry into the next 365 days? Our scarcity and perfectionistic culture certainly lets us know loud and clear the things in which we are lacking.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little tired of being told what I’m lacking. Are you? Little by little one’s self-esteem gets chipped away by the thoughts of what one should have, what one should be able to give, or how one presents oneself to the world.

Maybe a good healthy moment of reflection can deflect the messages that ask us to become something we are not. I’ll never be who you want me to be. I’ll be me. A woman who sincerely believes that love is it. Love is the jam. And I’m not scared to love past the fear around this place. I’m not scared to love through absolutism and disagreement, through ignorance and belittlement, through the Hollywood-ized version of self, through my own prejudice and fear. I’m not afraid to admit that I am not there yet, but I’m working towards what equality, grace, and interconnectedness mean and trying to base my ethics on such a place. I’m not really interested in the abstract. How am I living my ethics today?

So here’s my semi-obligatory New Years post, for whatever it’s worth. I’m here, ready to dust the cobwebs that need to be dusted, ready to smile at new opportunities, ready to hold a hand, ready to face my fears of false inadequacy, ready to nurture community with life-giving folks. My reflections elucidate my resolutions; they coalesce with a little sadness, a lot of gratitude, and a massive amount of excitement.

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If you have resolutions or reflections, I’m happy to read them here. Let me know what is informing your beginning of 2014.