Speaking up.

I overheard two regulars talking in the library today. They are both white men over 50. To be honest, only one was talking – the other was listening.

He was talking about the police officer who pulled a gun on unarmed teenagers at the pool party. He was sympathizing with the police officer, saying that he had attended two suicides that morning – and went into graphic detail about one of them. I was considering telling him to be mindful of where he was at that point alone. Small children do not need to hear brutal details like this. Heck – I don’t need to hear them.

But what made me speak up was that he kept going on about the officer, and the kids, saying that they were wild and unparented.

I leaned in and said “That still does not give him the right to pull a gun on unarmed teenagers.”

He agreed – but as I was walking away he then said to his companion that he would have shot them.

I continued to walk away. There are only so many battles to be had.

A few minutes later he caught up with me at the front desk. So many people think of us as a sympathetic ear there. We have to listen – right? Public servant, and all. We are trapped behind the desk. We can’t defend ourselves.

He said that so many of these kids weren’t being raised by parents, but by their grandparents. He is generalizing, and stereotyping. He doesn’t know these kids or what their home life is like.

I repeated – that still does not give him the right to pull a gun on them.

He said “You know what I would have done? I would have pulled a billy club on them!”

I said “That is unfortunate.” and walked away from the desk. He is unreasonable and it isn’t worth continuing the discussion with someone who speaks like this.

Note that in front of me he changed what he would have done from shooting them to striking them with a billy club.

As I was walking away, he again repeated that the officer had attended two suicides that morning. I did not respond.

Whether that is true or not – does seeing someone kill himself give another person a right to kill?

To be silent to injustice is to condone it. Will he change because of what I said? Doubtful. But that wasn’t the point. It would be great if he changed, but if I didn’t speak up I would have been part of the problem. I don’t feel qualified to have long debates on any hot topics. I do better with writing than speaking. But I had to – because to me, his words were the same as hitting someone in the face. I have to speak up, or the violence will continue. The poison that he was spewing would spread. I cannot allow this to happen in front of me.

Rise up, not riot

The riots in Ferguson speak to the pain and frustration that the black community feels. Yet they are saying the wrong thing. They are saying that violence and destruction is standard operating procedure for the black community.

We all know that isn’t so. We all know that the majority of our black neighbors are kind, hard-working and polite. In short, they aren’t thugs and hoodlums. Sadly though, good doesn’t sell in the news, so we don’t see their stories on the evening news. The only problem is that there are thugs and hoodlums. They aren’t just stories. The only problem is that there are “baby daddies” and “welfare moms” aplenty. Clichés come from reality. The actions of the few speak for the whole and they drag down everybody.

When college educated black youths are made fun of for “talking white” when they speak clearly it drags down everybody. When some black employees “play the race card” to stay employed even though they are doing half the work (or only there half the time) it drags down everybody.

Yes, it is time to rise up but not with riots and destruction. If the black community wants to make a real change, to be really heard, there needs to be a collective decision to “check yourself before you wreck yourself”.

Use the library to get books not DVDs. And by books I mean educational and uplifting ones, not ones that teach the same old script of “thug meets girl, thug uses girl”. The entire genre of “urban erotic fiction” is dumbing-down black women and enslaving their hearts and minds.

Celebrate education rather than ignorance. Sure misery loves company but miserable people aren’t good to hang out with. Rise up past the peer pressure and the collective dumbing down of our society.

Get healthy. Good health leads to strong minds and spirits. Eat better. Exercise. All these things are doable even with limited means. If we focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t we get free. If we look for openings rather than closed doors we will see them. Quit smoking and go for a walk instead. Avoid all sugar, caffeine and fried and salty foods. These socially accepted addictions are dragging down us all.

Sure we have a race problem in America. Sure we have a long way to go. Sure there have been problems on both sides of the race wall. Sure people are going to say that I don’t get it because I’m white and have white privilege.

Yet I do know what it is like to feel dragged down by my peers who wanted me to be as petty and lazy as them, the worst version of lowest common denominator. I got a college degree and they are still working in fast food. I do know what it is like to have a learning disability and rise up above it through hard work. It is why I now tutor learning-disabled kindergartners. I do know what it is like to be obese and addicted to drugs. It is why I write now to show there is a way out.

It isn’t easy to change but it is possible. Change starts one step at a time, one person at a time. The strong have to encourage the week. Good deeds and efforts soon start to outweigh the bad and momentum is achieved.

All this may sound like I’m blaming the black community when it was certainly the fault of police who shoot unarmed, unresisting black youths. It is certainly the fault of the judicial system that lets the guilty go free. We need to work on that too but that will take longer. Right now the first and best change has to start from within. Each individual has to decide to stand up and walk away from the old rules and the old clichés. Each individual needs to lift up everybody else with their actions. It is about caring for yourself and our community through the true empowerment that comes from education and health.

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.