Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

‘All-American Muslim’ & religious (in)tolerance ~

So once again a so-called Christian family values group (the Florida Family Association) is attempting to use money to trump Constitutional rights. And tolerance…

FFA successfully urged home improvement big-box Lowe’s to pull its advertising from the TV show All-American Muslim. Calling the show ‘propoganda,’ FFA basically called all American Muslims a ‘clear & present danger’ to America.

I don’t get it. I grew up in a Christian household, and nowhere in the Bible (which we were expected to read in toto, just FYI) does Jesus say we’re supposed to propogate fear against our neighbours. In fact, the parable of the Good Samaritan (in Luke, for those of you who haven’t read your Bible) pretty clearly states that neighbours help each other — even those framed by a legacy of hatred. Samaritans and Jews were not friendly in the time of Jesus. So for a Samaritan to be more honourable than even a priest is a big deal.

I fully accept every American’s right to vote w/ his or her pocketbook. But the co-opting of a religion based in love, a religion that gave us the Beatitudes (blessed are the peacemakers), seems so unfortunate. Especially at this time of celebration, when the Christian world is in Advent, anticipating the birthday of Jesus.

Just how can Americans — who happen to be Muslim — be considered ‘a clear & present danger’ simply by virtue of their faith? What is so scary about these other children of Abraham?

I know I’m only a beginner at this whole ‘love your neighbour’ thing, but this kind of behaviour strikes me as… well, not very loving. And very sad, as well ~

‘save me from my righteous doubt…’ ~

One of my favourite Christmas songs isn’t really about  Christmas. At least,  not just about Christmas… It’s about “I want to buy in to the benevolent,” and “So goes the prayer if for a day peace on earth/ And good will to man…” In other words, it’s about more than one religion, or even one holiday… YouTube Preview Image

This time of year, there’s a tug-of-war going on that puzzles me. It’s the whole “Happy Holidays vs. Merry  Christmas” skirmish. I hesitate to frame this in military terms, as at least one national group has called it ‘The War on Christmas.’ And I don’t think it is. In fact, the only people I know upset are, actually, a very few Christians. None in my family (and we have 4 Christian ministers, from 2 denominations). None among my colleagues. None of my close friends. [...] Continue Reading This Post »

Bodhi Day, Rohatsu, or Waking Up ~

Bodhi Day — or Rohatsu, as it’s known in Japan — is the day the Buddha awakens. It’s the day he finds enlightenment, sitting under the pipul tree. December 8th, traditionally.

A dear friend asked me the question I’m usually asking: so what? What does Bodhi Day mean? Disclaimer here: I’m not a worshipping kind of Buddhist. I don’t believe the Buddha was a god, nor even divine. The whole point to Buddhism is that a human being did this — achieved enlightenment. And that the rest of us — because he elected to teach — can also choose that path.

So here’s what I believe, and why Bodhi Day is important:

I believe in little enlightenments — like the day I realised that all the people and beings and plants and seas and fallen stars still live. In our breaths. That as we breathe out, we breathe our own cells into the air. And as we breathe in, we breathe in dinosaurs and comets and poets and bees and Frederick Douglass and Christopher Marlowe and Rumi and wars and loss and love and all that makes up our amazing world. And this connects us. To each other ~ in a kind of web that extends in all directions. Forever.

I believe in the day I drove into honeyed golden light — it might have been November — and drank in the  air and the blue Oklahoma sky and thought: this is enough. This moment, this light ~ it’s enough. Or the night when I listened to my heart breaking, felt it fall to pieces for my mother’s old age, and realised: we are all this fearful. And in the ragged breathing for all of us, I was comforted. Or the moment I held my aging mother-in-law in a tight hug, and inhaled deeply, grateful for the material presence of her fragile, birdbone body. You’re still here. Dimming mind does not shadow bright heart.

None of these is enlightenment, not by a long shot. They’re each only a  tiny glimpse along a journey full of detours (my anger at injustice, my frustration with my own impatience), a path strewn with obstacles my vanities, my prides. A life lived with a fallible human heart.

And the point to Bodhi Day?It celebrates possibility. Ours. Because a guy named Siddhartha achieved enlightenment, we know it’s possible. Because he laid out some fairly simple suggestions life is transient/ desire is suffering/ compassion is the way we can live better lives. Become better people. Leave this world better for our having breathed into it.

I’m so far from anything other than tiny glimpses of possibility that I’m profoundly grateful for Bodhi Day. For the knowledge that someone else managed to get it together. That he thought some of us might be able to, as well. And Bodhi Day is like a promise to a child (at least for me): when you grow up? Things will be different. You’ll make it. I promise.

Happy Bodhi Day. Happy Rohatsu, if you’re in the Zen tradition. Happy Possibility.

 

 

teaching the teacher: one teacher’s practice ~

You all who read this blog may well be tired of hearing about my wonderful students. So you may want to get up and go get a cup of tea; come back in a few paragraphs. Because this is another awed look at the fact that I am paid to learn from the best teachers in the world: students.

Full disclosure: my students are particularly amazing. Seriously. Any teacher worth the 60+ hours we put in weekly (minimum) will tell you the same thing: you stay in teaching despite the long hours, the low wages, the BS federal mandates, the even worse state programs. And the ‘despite’ is students. Because, as my friend Ben says, every day you learn something.

Sometimes it’s as trivial as a new piece of urban vernacular (slang to you non-English majors). I remember the face-reddening day when I realised that ‘hooked up’ now meant more than what happened when you put the trailer hitch on the boat trailer. Some days it’s slightly more significant: a students sends you her flarf poem, an aesthetic movement you’d forgotten existed (because often it’s pretty bad — hers is not, thankfully).

And every so often, one day is the last day in a silent series of learning, when a seedling thought blossoms into something wonderful, a kind of epiphany. The French have a word for it: éclaircissement. It’s lovely, because it has the context of lightening striking, of enlightenment and the clearing of obscurity all in one word. That’s what happens in my classes.

I spent the weekend grading. Every teacher’s least favourite activity. I tell my students: I’d teach for free. You pay me to grade. I was reading semester portfolios. And in a class of 17 students, I sent out at least 7 (maybe more, a scant 1/2 of the class, note) personal notes. You forgot this. Did you mean to do this? Where is this? Would you like to bring this to class tomorrow? It happens every semester, but never before in such large numbers.

This has been an unusually communal class. Community built quickly, and flows strong. The class had a party the day I was in Chicago, complete w/ food and youtube video. They sent me a copy :). Note: most classes wouldn’t have even showed up!

So it’s already an unusual class, and then comes yesterday…I have to figure out a real assignment — not simply ‘extra-credit points’ — that will allow them to earn grades reflective not of their complicated lives, but of their growth and accomplishment and newly integrated skills. This is not nearly as easy as it sounds. :) And I’m wondering how such a great class — great writing, wonderful community, thoughtful & inclusive conversation — turns in work missing huge chunks of what’s been in the course packet for (literally) months…?

As most teachers do, I was thinking about all this. My beginner’s heart, always in the backdrop of my thoughts, is trying to make a kind of Buddhist sense of this, a kind of teaching poetry, if that makes sense. And here’s what I finally arrive at, in class, as my students talk through me (one on one side, another on the other): Continue Reading This Post »

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