Include (poem)

We are not being loving
or inclusive
when we exclude anyone
even
(and especially)
those who are themselves
not loving
or inclusive.

Can you be bigger than them?
Can you include those
who want to exclude others?
Can you listen to those
who want to silence others?

Can you rise above,
and show them
how it is done?

The real problem with Trump

I rarely discuss politics, but this topic has reached a head and it is time to say something.

Trump is not saying anything new. But by his position of authority he is validating it.

He is saying that it is OK, and even praiseworthy, to be violent against women and others. He pretends that it is seen as manly. That is the problem.

He and his followers represent the very worst of our society. They are people who put down women, the handicapped, immigrants, veterans with PTSD – in short, anyone that they see as weaker than themselves. This is bully mentality.

I had hoped that by 2016 we would be past this kind of thinking, but it turns out that the mean people just went quiet for a while – just long enough for their champion to crawl out from the woodwork.

All the rights of the disenfranchised are at risk if he wins.  All the civil rights progress that has been made in the past century are on the table.  Marriage for all – questionable. The Americans with Disabilities Act – questionable. Do we really need to go backwards in being kind and accommodating and inclusive?

He even talks about taking away the right of women to vote.  People say he’s joking – surely he can’t be serious. But I’m sure they said that in Iran before the government changed ideologies.  Women used to be able to dress however they wanted.  They could be doctors, teachers, lawyers.   Now, they are almost invisible.  It can happen here too.

I wonder what fear motivates Trump and his followers?  Are they afraid that by including more people at the table, there won’t be enough for them?  Are they afraid that granting rights to more people will take away their own rights?

Inclusion doesn’t work like that.  When we grant civil rights to people, we open up more opportunity, rather than take away.  Allowing gay people to marry doesn’t threaten the rights of straight people to marry.  This isn’t a game of musical chairs.  We can all win.  There isn’t a limited amount of freedom available.  Nothing is getting taken away.

But perhaps that is their fear, because make no doubt about it – fear is the motivator here.  They’ve been in power for so long, they are afraid that they will lose it by granting freedom to others.

Think of it this way – Buddha once said “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Civil rights are the same.  Granting civil rights to others doesn’t take away from anyone.  It expands, not contracts.  Nobody is losing anything.

 

Perhaps the poet Edwin Markham has the answer –

He drew a circle that shut me out –

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him In!”

 

Park made out of negative space

There is a small public park off the square in Lewisburg, TN that was constructed out of negative space. There used to be a building there. I don’t know the history of what was there, and why it was destroyed. Usually businesses go out of business and then someone buys the building and starts another business. Perhaps there was a fire?

Whatever the reason, it is a very interesting use of space to make a public park in between buildings, in a place where most people would see it as wasted space or a place to rebuild. It is nice that this is open to the public for free, any time.

Here is a view of it before you enter.
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Here is one from the side.
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Getting closer.
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From the side, with an emphasis on the immense wall or gate that frames the park.
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This is who made the entrance.
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There are inspirational signs around the park. I wonder how they decided upon which quotes would be included?
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A view of one of the benches, showing the small yard.
4

There is brickwork on the ground towards the back, but I was fascinated by the crumbled bit.
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A wall is stair-stepped brick.
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The wall has a lot of interesting nooks and crannies.
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There is a long wooden structure, perhaps a shed, in the back. It is perhaps four feet deep, and maybe seven feet high.
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It has a door to the far right.
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I wonder who has the key to this lock, and what is inside?
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A view of one of the support posts.
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The commemorative sign.
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I do wonder, since it is a public park, if they thought about the fact that not everybody celebrates Christmas? Do they have decorations for other religious holidays?

What would make me happy about church.

I saw a member of my old church recently. I asked her if she knew why I had left. She smiled and said no. She said “You are missed.” I said it’s been two years. I pointed out that if she wanted to know about me she could have called or written me. Of the 200 people in that church only three contacted me. Only three took the time to check up on me. It doesn’t sound like I’m really missed.

While in one way I feel that I wasted three years of my life there, in another I’m glad I got away when this was the response of a church that prides itself on being welcoming. If they can’t take the time to check up on the welfare of a regular member, then maybe it is all an act. I don’t have time for acts anymore. I need people who are real in my life.

She asked me if I was happy. And in a way I am. I’m glad that I’m being true to the voice of God. I’m glad that I didn’t listen to a minister who told me to be silent about that voice.

In a way, I’m not. I’d hoped that I could have found more of what I needed there rather than having to create it from the ground up. I’m sorry about how much emptiness I found. I wanted a community of people where we could share how God was working in our lives, and join together our energies to make the world better. I’m sorry about how I was treated by the minister. I’m sorry for her need to control. I’m sorry that my leaving was so abrupt and final.

I accept that it is all part of God’s plan. I just wish I’d had a bit more of a head’s up as to how it was going to go. I felt that I was abandoned on the side of the road with no map for a bit.

I told the member that I know what my calling is. I knew when I joined that church that it wouldn’t be forever. I knew that there would be a time or I would have to leave. I just didn’t know when and how that would happen. I certainly didn’t expect it to happen like it did.

What would make me happy about church?

All people are ministers. All gifts are valued – no higher than another. All are equal.

All are welcome – rich, poor, gay, straight, all races, and all abilities and genders. All are treated with respect.

The focus is on service to everyone – not just on members of the church.

No proselytizing. Your life is your testimony.

Church is a place where we refuel and reconnect to the Word, to the Vine. We learn how to serve. We learn how to discover, improve, and share our unique gifts with the world.

What would make me happy about church? If church was more about action and less about social club. If church was more about healing the world rather than like an AA meeting. It should be a place where everybody learns that we are loved just like we are – and then we share that message with the world with no exceptions or caveats.

A lot of people go to church to assuage their guilt. They’ve been taught that they are sinners, and the only way to get over that is to go to church. The structure of the service is often so that they have to come back every week to hear this message again. This isn’t what Jesus wanted. It isn’t about a guilt-trip at all. It isn’t about submission and fear. It is about us sharing that message of love and redemption to everyone we meet. We do that by treating everyone like Jesus would – with love, kindness, and compassion.

I’ve not found this yet. I’ve found pieces of it. I’ve found some that are very close, but they exclude women from being full members or ministers. I’ve found some that are high on service to the community, but still have the focus on one main personality – an ordained minister. I’ve found some that welcome other faith traditions for their wisdom but they shun people who are gay. So they are welcoming of some who are “other” but not all.

I learned as part of deacon discernment process that if you see something missing then it means that you are called to create it.

Jumping – on inclusion and exclusion

I was at a gathering once where there was an opening ceremony that was not inclusive. It was a breath exercise that had us chanting the name of Shiva, a Hindu god.

The group was mixed, and nobody was Hindu. Some were Christian, some had no religion, and some were openly pagan. Some people were quite opposed to Christianity, having been harmed by the church as they were growing up.

After the opening exercise, we were all asked what we felt. We were asked this after all parts of the event – not just here. Several Christians said that they felt uncomfortable with this exercise, because it sounded like they were being asked to pray to Shiva. Some Christians said that they said “Alleluia” instead, and one chanted “Do Re Me”. Some did it for a few chants, but then stopped. They were uncomfortable, so they didn’t want to participate.

I was one of those people, but I didn’t say it at the time. They were saying it for me. I didn’t want the participant who shared this thing which was important to him to feel like we were jumping on him. I did want him to be sensitive to the feelings of his audience, however.

What I did was pray beforehand. I thought of different Bible verses that would apply to this situation. I thought of how Jesus says that if we are connected to Him, nothing can harm us. We can be bitten by snakes and drink poison and we will be safe. This wasn’t that dramatic, but it seemed to apply in a way. Then I was concerned about giving the wrong impression to others. The apostle Paul tells us that we can eat meat that has been consecrated to gods – that it won’t harm us. But he also says that we shouldn’t, because it might give the wrong impression to new Christians. Our actions might cause them to stumble.

I chanted along for a little, but honestly it went on a lot longer than I thought it was going to. I got tired of it and stopped. I opened my eyes to see the teacher looking at me– she thought it was going on too long too.

We had a break immediately after our discussion and the lady sitting next to me stood up and started jumping up and down vigorously and shaking her hands and wrists. She looked a little manic. After a minute of this, I asked her what she was doing and she said that she was shaking it off. She was “so upset” by that discussion, and that it represents her “life’s work”. I got the impression that she thought the Christians were closed minded. She had said earlier that she participated in something called “Dances of Universal Peace”. Right then her “dance” looked like she was ready to jump off a cliff.

I am now very glad that I didn’t say anything before so I could see this happen.

Later we had a time where we were singing wordless sounds. We were given a few open chords, and we started adding in our own sounds – some drum, some shaker, some intoning. Eventually it all became the sound of “Alleluia” over and over. After that, we discussed it again. Several non-Christians said that they felt very uncomfortable with it. One even thought about leaving.

It seemed like an interesting counter to the opening. Now the other half of the room felt awkward. I didn’t notice any Christians jumping up and down, shaking off how angry they were at the non-Christians. Later, at lunch, I happened to sit with several Christians and we talked about

There seems to be an interesting dynamic happening these days. Christians are expected to be considerate of non-Christians feelings, but non-Christians aren’t expected to do the same.

I recall how I created a Thanksgiving dinner prayer that was inclusive and considered the feelings of relatives who were openly against Christianity. They don’t have a faith tradition – they have a visceral reaction against Christianity. The prayer didn’t mention Jesus or God at all, but did give thanks. I took quite a bit of time to make something that would work for both sides. Meanwhile, at all other gatherings, they don’t think about the fact that the Christians feel obliged to pray before a meal. I feel that to eat a meal without giving thanks for it is to act like a dog – just lunging in and devouring food. A compromise would be a moment of silence beforehand, where the non-Christians don’t have to hear a prayer, but the Christians can say one quietly to themselves. They don’t consider this.

I feel like this is happening more and more in our society.

Sure, plenty of Christians have been thoughtless. They have been pushy and aggressive. They have given people judgment and condemnation rather than love and service. They have not been Christ-like. We have had to soften our approach, certainly. But we also have to meet in the middle.

I’m OK with someone not being Christian, but I expect the same courtesy from them. If I’m OK with you living like you want to, I need you to also be OK with me living like I want to. I don’t need everybody in the room to pray to God, but I do need everybody to understand that I am going to. I don’t expect them to pray along with me. I’ll try to do it in a way that they don’t have to hear it. But if I have to participate in their belief system, then why do I have to be silent about my own?

In our desire to make a more inclusive society, we have to include everybody.

The center where we were meeting was a treatment center for addictions. It had elements from many faiths there – Buddhist and Native American being the most prominent. There were Tibetan bells, yoga mats, sage smudge sticks, and carved masks. There were books on mindfulness from Asian religions. There was only one thing that referred to Christianity, and it was a small painting of Mary. It was high up above the lintel of a door, and it was around a corner. There were things there that represented the wisdom traditions of the world – but with one prominent exception.

So much for equality.

Most of the people who were going to be coming to this center normally weren’t going to be members of those wisdom traditions – they were going to be middle-class white people from America. They were going to be surrounded by images of peace from cultures they aren’t part of. Meanwhile, their own culture wasn’t represented, out of a desire to not offend. Something seems odd about this.

I believe that we can share. I believe that we can all participate together. I believe that we can all get along. I believe that for one group to dominate the conversation is to change it from a conversation into a monologue. Yes – Christians have dominated the conversation for a long time. But the answer to that isn’t to silence the Christians and raise the voice of the non-believers.

We aren’t equal unless we all are equal. This applies to everything – belief, gender, race – everything.

Communication connection

I’m starting to see a connection with all the classes I’ve been taking on my own, the art I’ve been making, and the tutoring I’m doing. It is all about communication – in as many different ways as possible. It is about giving other people permission, as well as different ways, to express themselves.

Pastoral care, the Circle Process, Dialogue in Diversity training, the Remo Healthrhythms Facilitator training – they are all classes I’ve paid for. Tutoring and the classes I’ve taught in prayer bracelets – that has been without pay (mostly) and taken my free time. This is all in addition to working a full-time job.

Something has driven me to take these classes, but I didn’t know what the unifying theme was until now. At the heart of it, all conversation is about communion – our connection with each other, with our own selves, with the Divine. If that sounds too out there, I can say it is about connection to yourself and others.

And that is part of it too. I want to include as many people at once. All races, all cultures, all levels of understanding and ability. This involves learning about different ways of learning, different cultural norms, different myths and legends that shape us. This involves leveling the playing field for everybody – nobody is higher. We are all working together.

I also want people to be able to express themselves not only so they will feel understood, but so that they will understand themselves. Just because English is your native language doesn’t mean that you feel comfortable communicating in it. You may write well, but don’t like speaking out loud. You may speak well, but are embarrassed about your handwriting. Or you can’t spell because you are dyslexic.

I want to remove all of these barriers between people. I want to learn as many tools as possible to get people not only talking with each other but also listening to themselves. Dance, singing, drumming, fingerpainting, puppetry, beading – whatever. I want to learn as many ways to communicate as possible.

It is critical to get out feelings. I believe that unexpressed feelings are the source of all addiction and many diseases. I believe that giving people different ways to communicate is as important as providing equal access to buildings by making them handicap accessible.

We are all handicapped in one way or another. Written and spoken language is artificial. We aren’t born speaking or writing our “native” language. It is an arbitrary system of sounds and shapes assigned to the things around us. It is symbolic, and often difficult to use.

Drum class notes.

These are ideas I had after the Remo Healthrhythms drumming class, and thoughts on creating circles of people in general. This is a work in progress.

Create a safe space. Comfortable chairs, temperature is moderate. Have choices for chairs so different bodies can fit. Flat cushions, zabuton, rugs. Chairs. Or all the same? Do you want people all at the same eye level, or options?

Ask about any issues, sensitivity. Loud sounds, noise, crowds.

Be considerate of food and water needs. Supply choices.

Remind people that they can take care of their needs – bathroom, water, snack. They don’t have to wait for the group to take a break.

Plan for a variety of breaks so people can stretch, talk, decompress. Have a venue with a lot of different spaces for people to go to, including outside.

Vegas rules – what happens here stays here. Get all to agree. Confidentiality. Don’t talk about what someone says or does – good or bad.

A couple of questions to start – What is your favorite kind of ice cream? How do you fold a towel? These are ways to show that we all have individual ideas, and just because they are different doesn’t make them wrong.

Ground rules – have the group create the list. Discuss. Ask – Does anyone have a problem with anything? Is everyone able to abide by these rules? Don’t proceed until you get an agreement. The discussion during this part alone is part of the experience. How do we work through conflict?

Ask everyone to turn off cell phones so we can be fully present with each other.

Tell people to ask questions – if you are thinking it, there is probably someone else who is thinking it too. You may answer someone else’s question or fix someone else’s issue.

Don’t say “beat” the drum. It reminds people of abuse.

Don’t make it like musical chairs where somebody will be left out. Always have extra instruments so everybody has a choice.

Before the event – send out info to participants about needing to wear comfortable clothes – especially pants. It is difficult to play some drums wearing a skirt. If they are going to use their hands to play a drum (not a mallet) they need to not wear any rings because it can hurt your hand and hurt the drum head.

Assure people that there is no right way to play. Mistakes are where the magic happens.

Ask for what you need.

In the shaker pass icebreaker game, say it is ok to drop the shaker. If you drop it, let it stay. Model this in the first round.