Trauma-Informed Meditation Protocol

During my upcoming trip to Burma, I will be leading daily meditation sessions for my study group.  Most of these fellow travelers have only a minimal familiarity with meditation.  We will be spending three days in a Meditation Centre, so our meditation sessions ahead of time are meant to help all of us get ready for those austere days (waking at 4am; eating our last meal at 10:30am), meditating much of our waking hours, with some yoga thrown in for good measure.  I wrote the following trauma-informed protocol to help establish a safe environment.  Please share it as you find helpful.

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Suggestion for Trauma-Informed Support System During Silent Meditation

Karen G. Johnston, LCSW, CEIS

Candidate for the Unitarian Universalist Ministry

December 2014

For those for whom meditation is the chosen path, typically the guidance is to observe emotional content – do not feed or explore it, do not try to assign meaning, and let it run its course.   However, this is not always possible.

It is not necessarily a trauma-informed approach, particularly if a person does not have the skills to do so or if a particular group is more of a “spiritual explorer” without  a spiritual commitment to this path.  Then, such an approach may be more than should be asked.

So I encourage the following approach.

  • Set up a system for writing notes to the “teachers” or identified support person. This maintains the silence but allows those who have to communicate a need or to ask a question the ability to do so. Just the fact of this kind of system can ease anxieties even if it is not used.
  • Identify someone in the group who is willing to have their meditation interrupted (or more explicitly, their Bodhisattva service is to be available to others throughout the meditation course.)   Be sure that everyone knows who that person is and trusts that to interrupt them, even while they meditate or are sleeping, is their offering/ministry. Ideally, this person has some knowledge/skills around pastoral care.
  • If someone is overwhelmed with emotional content (terror, doom, despair, etc.) or trauma flashback/memories, encourage them to
    • open their eyes; and
    • connect with their body in the now
  • If this is insufficient, then
    • move in place (possible ideas: stretch arms, realign the sitting position, stretch neck and head, be sure to open the chest area for strong breathing)
    • move: walk around (this may be within the meditating room, or leaving it altogether)
  • Lastly, if none of this has been sufficient
    • seek help from the identified support person
  • Lastly, if none of this has been sufficient
    • seek help from the identified support person
    • if that person is not accessible, seek help from an unidentified support person

I checked this by several folks — a trauma expert, the founding teacher of my sangha — and they gave it their approval.  My teacher even encouraged further disengagement as necessary:

“The most important thing is not to push it and keep trying to meditate. Backing off is very much part of the practice. That means if something is feeling overwhelming or if we find we are struggling too much then it is really important to take a break.”

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Winter Walk

falling_leaf_by_eiran04

Desiccated bronze orphans,

aligned along branches,

rustling symphony

trembling in the wind.

Brittle flags hanging,

minor testament to doggedness,

multiple casualties

dropping to ground.

I know they are just leaves,

and I am just walking.

That is just tree.

This is just sky.

I am just flesh and bone,

water and pigment.

Still, I see wisdom everywhere.

cocoon-butterfly-209095_640Think: Zorba the Greek’s parable.

What wind hatched these cocoons too early?

Whose impatient breath brought death,

not life?

Who is my teacher, if not this?

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The Shared World: Lessons In Joy and (Dis)Comfort (sermon)

First Parish Church of Groton

Karen G. Johnston, Ministerial Intern

(audio version can be found here)

Let’s do a short visualization exercise. That means when I say a word, you bring to mind an image or a word or phrase, perhaps even a sound or a sensation, that represents that word. Ready, set, go:

joy-wordNow, as you are willing, shout out what joy means for you. [the congregation speaks] Listen!

Joyful-Noise2Now, let me ask you. How many of you thought of an airport?

I am not surprised to hear/see that so few/none of you had that particular image come to mind. Airports can be the location of joyful reunions:

  • lovers in long-distance relationship reunited
  • Peace Corps volunteers returning
  • deployed military personnel coming home

Still, I think airports are more often associated with less-than-joyful experiences:

  • delays and unexpected layovers;
  • less-than-satisfying food options;
  • impatient or rude fellow travelers;
  • invasive search protocols, and
  • if you were traveling through Midway airport in Chicago the Sunday after Thanksgiving, people waiting in lines 1.2 miles long.

Yes, miles.

In just a few weeks, I will find myself in a series of airports on my way to Burma – starting off at Logan, then to Atlanta, then to Seoul, South Korea and finally landing in Yangon, the capitol city of that nation also known as Myanmar.

The past few years have seen me flying often between this coast and the one I grew up on, the one where my mother still resides and where she ages in place.  So not unlike the Mary Oliver poem read earlier, I have developed a way of saving myself in airports.  It’s a simple multi-step process.

  • The first step is to identify a young child. Extra points for one that is about to melt down.
  • Second: Smile at the child. Then smile at the parent. That second part – smiling at the parent — is key, otherwise it’s creepy.
  • Next: play peek-a-boo. Or make silly faces. Or blow bubbles.
  • Then – and one must plan ahead for this step – remove from your own bag the reliable, colorful plastic toy kept there solely for this purpose. Deftly hiding it from the child’s view, ask the parent if it’s okay to offer this to the child. Hint: it need not be a toy. A sticker works well, too.
  • Let the child hold the toy or have the sticker.
  • Finally, the last step: experience joy. Take delight, for it is there for the taking.

I know it makes the child happy and typically, the parent is thankful for any momentary respite in what is an otherwise stressful undertaking, and yet it brings layers and layers of joy to me.

There’s another joyful airport story I want to share with you. It comes to us from Naomi Shihab Nye, who is a Palestinian-American poet. In the story, the Naomi encounters a wailing woman, dressed in Old World clothes, at the gate where their shared flight has just been delayed. The flight attendant who is working the desk does not know why the woman is being so, well, troublesome.

“What is her problem?” and then, “Please help.”

Naomi speaks to the old woman in halting Arabic.   And now the story continues in the author’s own voice:

The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “You’re fine, you’ll get there, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her – [we were flying] Southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for fun. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions.

IMG_3718As the story continues, the woman pulls out of her bag mamool cookies – traditional for the part of the world which she calls home. They are made of dates, nuts, and powdered sugar. She offers them widely. Again, we return to the story, to the poet’s amazement:

… not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo – we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie. And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

Holding hands with the old woman, at this point, the Naomi reflects

…I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in.  The shared world. Not a single person in this gate – once the crying of confusion stopped – seemed apprehensive about any other person. …. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Joy was not initially apparent. Apprehension. Distrust. Confusion. Those were there. Then, with the entrance of an open curiosity, and an authentic attempt to understand the distress, after which came sharing and eventually: joy.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Last month, in one of my classes, we had guest speakers.   A minister from Newtown, Connecticut, the second anniversary of whose tragedy we mark today. The other was the minister at Old South Church, which stands next to the finish line of the Boston marathon. She had been in the church tower when the bombs went off.

Each spent about an hour sharing their experience of ministering in the continuing wake of these two acts of violence. Rev. Matt Crebbin spoke of how in Newtown, where they don’t much like the term, “healing” but speak of “continuing the journey.”

Rev. Nancy Taylor spoke of attending to the widening circles of suffering, starting with those who lost life and limb in the bombing and their families; then to the first responders; next to the business folk in the 8-block cordoned off area whose livelihood was stopped for over a week during the investigation of the crime scene; and last but not least, to the many homeless people who would typically spend their days in that same restricted area, and who were now both traumatized and dispersed. She spoke of area clergy going out to check in on these most vulnerable to make sure they were not lost or losing it.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everyone need be lost.

Right about now, some of you are likely wondering how it is that during a worship service about joy, I am raising these tragic events, two among too many in our nation’s recent history. Surely, there is no joy to be found amidst this wreckage.

It is not joy here I raise, but comfort. Each minister shared their perspective on what helped them to help their communities, hoping that their experience and the lessons they learned might help thirty wannabe ministers and chaplains to be able to do the same should, god forbid, we find ourselves in similar stead.

Both tragedies were quite different from each other: different causes, different communities, different impacts. Yet both ministers said that their interfaith connections served them well in the aftermath of the traumas. It was interfaith relationships that helped them provide comfort, as well as to receive it themselves.

This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

I won’t, but if I had asked you to do that visualization exercise again, this time with the word, “comfort,” I’m not so sure that any of you here would bring to mind interfaith engagement. Even for me, who spent the first half of my seminary studies at a school with thirty percent of its student body Muslim, it would not be the first thing that comes to mind either.

Yes, at first, there is authentic curiosity and a desire to learn about someone or something so different than oneself.  Then, a particular dis-comfort is likely:

What if I say something wrong?

What if they say something that goes against something I hold dear?

What if they act like there is no room for LGBTQ people in their faith?

What if my perception of how women are treated in their tradition is offensive to me?

What if the only images in my head or in the media are ones that suggest narrow-mindedness, or worse, violence?

What if their images of me, of us, is as sinner, as heretic, as not being a child of God?

Just for a moment, I’d like to ask you think about the difference between joy and happiness.  It’s important the two should not be confused one for the other. Happiness is context-dependent, is based on external circumstances.  Clever clergy like to say that happiness equals happenstance.

Joy, on the other hand, is abiding. For some, Joy is a gift of the Divine, a sign of grace or mercy. For others, it is another name for our innate Buddha Nature, something each and every one of us has. It is, as our Story for All Generations suggests, our innate heritage, our original blessing.

Think of the story of the wailing woman at Gate A-4: all the apprehension and discomfort upfront, then joy, then connection: the shared world. Abiding joy and comfort can come after moving through discomfort.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Comfort, like when I attended Friday afternoon Jum’aa prayers at the mosque where my friend was the imam. The head covering I had so carefully put in place had begun to slip, I was worried that I might appear disrespectful, so I was fiddling with it, trying to set it just right. My friend’s wife, Nihal, and some of her friends, kind strangers to me, came up and tenderly, they began to set the scarf better, so that I might be comfortable there. It was a tender and intimate moment, the likes of which I rarely get to share in a house of worship, even my own. It is precious comfort to me.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

We are blessed that part of the ministry that First Parish deems important is participation on the Groton Interfaith Council, of which I have the joy to serve during my internship. This is worthy work. The need for interfaith connections is urgent given the state of the world, yet I know this is not the only way we create the Shared World.

When Brenna lit the chalice on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in honor of Groton Community Dinners and your efforts to make those happen, she said

Working side by side to cook, serve, and clean up forges bonds of community that only get stronger with time. Sharing the good company of a neighbor or fellow citizen over a meal helps us appreciate the value of kindness and respect in our dealings with one another. Feeding people who need food, comfort, companionship, or just some time off helps us all become a closer community.

When we cross divides, when we sit with strangers, we can choose to discover our commonalities, our shared values, our shared community, our shared future: This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Worship this morning started with these words from UU minister Kathleen McTigue:

We do not seek a unity that would deny our differences.

We seek rather a deeper union,

A union woven through choice and intent,

Through time and attention,

Through respect and compassion,

Until we recognize that we have become a whole cloth,

A cloth made rich and textured and vibrant

Through our differences.

Each of us can hear, in the beating of our own hearts,

The ancient rhythm of the loom at work.

We are woven together.

We are bound to one another.

We belong to and with each other.

We need to create that shared world, that woven world. Through interfaith relationships, through community dinners, through connections with other houses of worship, through coming to the aid of someone wailing at the top of her lungs (in airport terminals, when their beloved is senselessly killed).

We can’t wait on someone else to create this shared world. We can’t wait til we have what we think is the full story, or all the right knowledge to avoid accidental offense — theirs or ours.  It will never happen if we live in the “city called Wait.”

It is up to us here. It is up to us now.

This is the world I want to live in.

The shared world.

This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

References:

McTigue, Kathleen.  “We Are Woven Together,” from For Praying Out Loud: Interfaith Prayers for Public Occasions, edited by L. Annie Foerster, Skinner House, 2003

Nye, Naomi Shihab. “Gate A-4,” Honeybee, Harper Collins, 2008.

Oliver, Mary.  “Logan International,” Thirst, Beacon Press, 2006.

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Trooper Responsive: The Story Continues

(Earlier today, I sent this letter.  I comment about the response at the end of this post.)

Colonel Timothy Alben

Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police

 Dear Sir:

It is not an easy time to be a police officer in this nation.

It is a time when there is necessary attention to how the wound of racism festers in all aspects of our communal life together.  This light must shine on all of us; the spotlight is shining particularly brightly on police relations and actions.

Even if this is necessary (which I believe), it is not easy.

So I want you to know this story.  I hope you will pass it onto the state trooper involved.  Because it is not an easy time to be a police officer and yet we need you all to continue in your role.  Just as we need you and we need ALL of us to grow and improve, to be humble, to know our places of fear and to move through them.

Yesterday evening in Newton there was a planned march addressing concerns about police brutality, gun violence, and the loss of life of Black and Brown men in our nation.  The march started at Myrtle Baptist Church and ended at the First Unitarian Society of Newton.  State troopers were present to keep the march route clear and to respond as necessary to whatever might arise.

I was one of the marchers.  I am a seminarian at Andover Newton Theological School. Early in the gathering of marchers, I befriended a stranger, an elder, who was also marching.

It turned out that the route and frigid air were too much for this woman, who struggled as we crossed the overpass that spans the Pike.  She needed rest and it became quickly obvious she would not be able to complete the route by foot.  A few other marchers came to her aide, one of whom approached Trooper Responsive, who was nearby.

Trooper Responsive offered immediate and compassionate assistance to this woman.  He spoke to her clearly and kindly, he respected her concerns, and he offered to give her a ride to the location where the marchers were gathering to listen to speakers.   He allowed me to ride along, as going on her own would have been too daunting for this woman in her state.  Neither Trooper Responsive nor I are from this area, so he took directions from this woman as she warmed up and rested.

I have written a story (blogpost) about this.  You are welcome to share as you see fit.

Please pass on my deep gratitude to Trooper Responsive.

 Karen

Karen G. Johnston

Candidate for the Unitarian Universalist Ministry

TimAlbentwitterfeed2Within a half hour of sending the above letter via email, I received a positive response from Colonel Alben, including his letting me know that he would share my remarks with “Trooper Responsive.”  Colonel Alben also tweeted my blog post on his twitterfeed.  His tweet has resulted in hundreds (that’s big numbers for me) of people viewing the original story — folks I am pretty sure would otherwise not read this blog.  For that I am thankful.

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Arriving at the Rally on Police Brutality in the Back of a Police Cruiser

 Or, A Story of Ms. Panache and Her Four Angels

Her floppy hat was made of thick velour, different colors, covered in political buttons and fabric flowers. Her scarves were multiple and multi-colored. She walked with a metal cane that had intricate designs on it. Her fingers were covered in rings. Age had shrunk her stature, but she had likely never been tall. It was a brisk evening, at the point of freezing and with a light breeze. She had very little flesh on her; so even with a coat, she was likely to feel the chill.

Upon arrival at the late afternoon march in support of #blacklivesmatter in Newton, there was this woman, dressed with panache, who began talking to my companions. They chatted her up as I kept my socially-awkward distance, then offered their blessings as they moved forward in the crowd. I stepped in the same direction that my companions were heading and made some non-descript remark to this dapper woman, meaning it as a parting comment.

She responded, though I can’t recall what she said. It was nothing special.

Yet, I knew instantly that I would not be joining my friends. I would stay with her. Her pace would not allow me to keep up with them. I slowed down. I asked my new companion if she had people with whom she was marching. She did; she just did not know where he was. She said to me, “Go. Go. Be with your friends.”

The crowd was beginning to move forward. Out of worry that she might not find her person, I offered that she could come along with me. I half-expected her to demur.

Instead, she grasped my elbow, called me an angel, and we started walking.

She had one red glove on and the other off. I did not know why, but after hearing her complaints about how cold her one hand was, I was curious.  I inquired. It turned out that the glangel-24996_640ove was too tight for her hand. So I took off my brown glove and placed it on her hand and tried on her red glove (which did fit a bit too snugly). Again she said I was an angel – her angel – and that she could tell because of my wings. We must have been quite a pair: each of us wearing one red glove and one brown.

Only half a mile long, the walking route proved too ambitious for this stalwart politico who kept name-dropping local politicians, waving to others passing us along the march route, as well as casually noting that at home she had a photo of her with former First Lady, Barbara Bush.

At this point, it was getting dark and most of the marchers had passed us by. As we traversed the bridge spanning the Masspike, she halted, grabbed the chain link fencing, taking deep breaths. This was not good.

If I was her angel, thank god I was not the only one. Two lovely people stopped to offer assistance. She greeted them with joy, but declined their help, all the while expressing about a bazillion non-verbal indications that if she wasn’t in full medical distress now, she would be soon. I asked if we could call her family to pick her up, but that was unacceptable to her.

I hesitated: how much should I compel this relative stranger?

One of her two new angels, assessing the situation with agility and compassion, walked away from Ms. Panache and over to the nearby state trooper who was directing traffic for the march. They conversed. Then the trooper approached Ms. Panache, offering his assistance. With assurance that this angel would not drive her home, but to the Unitarian church where the march was concluding, Ms. Panache consented to a ride in the warm car.

There was barely enough room for two, but we squeezed, me and my new friend.  We arrived safe and sound.  Relatively quickly, we found her friend (in whose ear I conveyed my concerns about her).  Then8727567380_b7f08916d8 we said the goodbyes of long-time pals.

And that, dear friends, is how Ms. Panache and I arrived at the rally about too many Black and Brown men dying at the hands of police officers in the back of a state police cruiser.

 

This is the world I want to live in.

The shared world.

This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost. (Naomi Shihab Nye)

For an update on this, click here.

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The Great (Racial Justice) Turning (Part II)

(Part I can be found here.)

We long for a clear, identifiable fix.

Something that we can advocate for – it might not come tomorrow or next week, but we can name it now (like body cameras on police officers, like grand juries that are not racially biased) and work towards it.

These are technical fixes, problems that can be solved (sometimes with the involvement of experts) because the solution or the theory of the solution already exists. The problem is clear and the solution, and its implementation, though it may be difficult, is also clear.

If we find a new training protocol, we will end police brutality.

If we just pass a new law that really really bans choke holds as acceptable police conduct…

If we do extra double-dog diligence in hiring police officers that have not been found to be unfit…

We so wish that it would be that “easy” (and I know it is not easy, but it is easier than the alternative) that we act like it is – at least those of us with privileges that protect us from the harsh reality of how race works in this nation.

(By “we,” I think I mean “we as a society”. Or maybe prevailing voices in society. Maybe it’s just we who experience cultural privileges – be they racial or gender or class based. I want to be careful here of not speaking for all, because when anybody does that, it usually silences some.)

Ron Heifetz says there are two types of challenges and response when change is necessary. One is technical, as I described above.

The other is adaptive, which requires new learning – not only to understand the solution, but even to understand the problem. Adaptive solutions don’t come from the experts; they come from the collective intelligence of all stakeholders (even those people who don’t know themselves to be active stakeholders).

Collective intelligence of all stakeholders. This should not surprise anyone who understands that we are part of an interdependent web of existence that requires all to participate in the ongoing creation of our lives together on this planet. For those of us who are Unitarian Universalist, this is our fifth and seventh principles in action.

Adaptive solutions make me think of the framework that Joanna Macy has constructed for The Great Turning. I have written about it here.

Slide1First, there are Holding Actions. Their aim is to slow down injustice and the damage that comes from it. They may be legislative in nature, or fall into the realm of social activism.   The second sphere is “Gaian Ways,” both newly emergent and ancient ways of our collective lives together. It is generative and feeds the life force. The third sphere is a Shift in Consciousness. It is bringing Spirit to bear on this mighty endeavor, transforming our engagement with the interdependent web of all existence.

Macy applies this framework primarily to ecological and environmental activism, which cannot be divorced from other great justice struggles. Some of the best justice-oriented environmental activism has started in communities of color. Yet, at least to my knowledge, when using this framework, it has not been discussed, or discussed widely, from an intersectionality (where cultural identities and oppressions overlap or intersect) approach. I want to attempt to apply it here, to this travesty and challenge of racism in all its forms, particularly racialized violence, racial privilege, and systemic discrimination.

Holding Actions  This is some of those technical fixes listed above: body cameras, new training on proper conduct (though, as this former police officer says, sensitivity training doesn’t make a difference), DOJ investigations, as well as tracking.  This is ensuring our trans* siblings are protected from discrimination and violence, as this disproportionately affects people of color.  So, too, in this category are the people marching in the streets, saturating the Twitterverse and other social media outlets with images and actions, demanding change, demanding that we pay attention to these miscarriages of justice and the possibility that the justice system is doing what it was 4401651012_1570a75801_zdesigned to do because it is, at its root, inherently a racist structure.

These are absolutely necessary, and yet they are not enough without the other spheres. Not everyone is temperamentally made for this sphere, though it is important to understand that this sphere is utterly necessary, even if it’s not your thing. If it’s not your thing, it’s important to listen – not to explain away, or to tut-tut, or to question the levels of rage, but to listen, to imagine what if it were your child.

Gaian Ways  This is living the Future we want right now. This is Be the Change You Want to See. This is attending to our library holdings so that they are multi-cultural. This is reparations. This is enacting restorative justice circles that look to accountability and redemption, not punishment and generational transmission of disenfranchisement. This is Van Jones’ old work to marry the Green Economy with young people of color to thwart the prison-industrial complex. This is increasing our religious literacy and attending houses of worship different than our own, that we might know one another. This is urban planning and banking practices that proactively support mixed cultural communities.  Theses address systems bias.

Shifts of Consciousness   This is naming our cultural differences out loud, celebrating them, not blinding ourselves to them, as well as owning our privileges and using them to create fairer systems for all.  For those of us in predominantly white communities or congregations it means  moving beyond solutions that try to them our groups “more diverse” or that it is not our work to do because there are few or no people of color. For those of us with racial privilege, it is using mindfulness tools to put a pause between the socially constructed racist thought/image and our attitudes and reactions that are often informed by those, but need not be. (Here’s a great article that suggests mindfulness and meditation might be one of the ways we can shift consciousness around oppression-saturated thoughts.)  This addresses individual and community bias, though there need to be so many other ways of doing this deep, discomforting work.  This is turning an awake eye towards injustice, rather than a blind one. This is living not by the golden rule, but by the platinum one.

8958166206_bfd0e76044_b

I just saw a tweet from someone that said, “If you ever asked yourself what you would have done if you were alive during the civil rights era, well… now’s your chance to know.” This is it.

We each must find a way in to be a part of the Great (Racial Justice) Turning.

If you are Unitarian Universalist, our faith calls us to be a part of this Great Turning, it calls you and me to do more than affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all in our hearts. It calls us to do so in heart and deed. Now.

I conclude this post with the bold words of the UU minister, Tom Schade:

In today’s context, it is the duty of UU ministers to lead congregations into the social movements against racism, even if it makes some members of those congregations angry or uncomfortable. The call of conscience and the demands of religious conviction are often disruptive of our comfortable opinions. That’s the2502305968_3c2fed91d8_b point of having them.

So, if what I do seems unwise, or incomprehensible, or even appalling, may this be a time of creative tension and confusion for you. Light your chalice, and by its light, reflect on your priorities, your values, and your deepest loyalties. May this be a time of deepening faith and commitment.

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Eric and Jesus Can’t Breathe: Another Non-Indictment (Part I)

JoannaSimkinSeeringly poignant, this point.

We can advocate for bodycams on police, sign every petition, the national ones, the local ones. We can write to the governor, to our state reps and senators. We can call our local police stations.  We can lend our bodies and our hearts to the public eye and join and/or support those in the streets — the ones asking peacefully, the ones interrupting traffic and parades, the ones dying-in at Grand Central Station, the ones with hands-up on the football field.  The ones keeping silent vigil and even the ones raging.

As the mother of Mike Brown said when the grand jury in Ferguson came back without an indictment:

We can aspire not just to make noise, but to make a difference.

And still, even when it’s caught on “tape,” even when there are rules against using choke holds, it still leads to a grand jury declaring that the loss of a Black man’s life isn’t work the court’s time, isn’t worth the inconvenience to the white police officer, isn’t a matter of legal justice.

The fix of bodycams sounds really good. Maybe it is really good. Seems to have worked in this community. Bodycams on police to protect the citizenry. Bodycams on police to protect legitimate police actions.

And then…

Eric Garner’s murder – yes, whereas I used this term to describe Mike Brown’s death and there is room for argument, the coroner actually deemed this man’s death a homicide – was on camera.

It’s gut-wrenching to watch.  Or to listen.

“I can’t breathe.”

Over and over.  And over.

“I can’t breathe.”

Rev. Jeff Hood thinks that is Jesus talking to us, through Eric Garner, talking to you and me, to this place we call home:

I keep thinking about Eric Garner saying, ‘I can’t breathe.- It made me think — that’s what Jesus is saying in this culture. Jesus is fundamentally connected to the marginalized and right now Jesus is saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ I think the church should be saying the same thing — that we can’t breathe in this culture and we have to change this culture in order for us to have breath and exist in this society.”

Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice’s murder – yes, I will use it again; with the kind of recklessness we are seeing over and over and over again, the distinction between manslaughter and murder has become meaningless – was also caught on videotape. Two seconds (TWO SECONDS — yes, I am raising my voice) after the police car stops, the boy is shot.

This is reprehensive policing in a vast pattern that denies #blacklivesmatter.  And it turns out that the officer had been found to be unfit in 2012 and fired from his job as a police officer in another municipality.  Did I say reckless?  Not just the officer, but the institution that hired him.  The system.

For tonight, I have lost confidence in concrete solutions being proposed.

I will start again tomorrow.  As we all must.

May there be not only peace in parts of the land, but in all of the land.  May there not only be peace, but justice.  May there be not only peace in your home, but in all homes, and compassion, too.  May there be not only peace in your heart, but in all our hearts, and love beyond love.  May we all stay awake.

To be continued…

Part II is found here.

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