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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

listening to incense ~

Sometimes when you’re stressed, what you need to do is two simple (and at least partly practical) things: light a stick of good incense, and clean out a drawer.

Seriously, it’s that simple. I don’t remember where I heard the term ‘listening to incense,’ but it’s stayed with me. Because that’s what I do: my brain goes still, and I canhear the smoke soothing my fractious nerves. It doesn’t matter what started it. The incense’s calming tone sets it to right.

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Couple that with the satisfaction of creating order from chaos, and it’s a powerful combination. Puts me squarely in the moment, and lets me (literally!) pitch clutter.

Just try it ~ you’ll be amazed. :)

 

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of bullies, and victims, and what the rest of us can do ~

Bullying… It affects all of us — the bullies, their victims, and those of us who see it happen. Culture tends to frame it as an axis: bullies on one side, victims on the other. It’s not that simple.

Amanda Todd might still be here if someone had stood up for her. Stood up to her bullies. Put their arms around her and told her it would go away. There is a heart-wrenching still of her, holding up a note that says: I have nobody. I need someone. Instead, she voted with her life.

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There are Christians who would have you believe that the anti-bullying movement has been co-opted by gay recruiters. This makes me sad and angry on so many levels. It’s so not the Jesus I grew up reading. It’s not my mother’s, or my grandmother’s, or my sister’s, or my father-the-deathbed-Christian’s religion… That’s deeply saddening…

And yes, one (possibly gay) anti-bullying activist came unglued at a meeting. And yelled at Christian kids. Not excusable to yell at kids, certainly. But let’s talk about the PTSD my gay friends (particularly the males)  struggle with. Let’s talk about ‘threat of injury or death’ for gay males, in the wake of Matthew Shephard‘s murder. Having done significant research on PTSD, it’s not always ‘controllable.’ That’s part of the definition. And let’s talk about how religion is too often a bludgeon used against gays.

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Then let’s discuss gay ‘recruitment.’ As the aunt of a lovely lesbian, the friend & colleague of MANY gay men & women, I don’t know of ONE who wants to ‘recruit’ anyone to be bullied, hated, condemned, and denied entrance to many Christian faiths. I have a dear friend who can’t attend the church of his childhood because he’s gay. He’s a devout Christian, but struggles to find a church at home w/ both his personal life and his spiritual one. Who on earth, looking objectively at what gays in this culture endure in the way of discrimination and intolerance, can really believe in gay ‘recruitment’…? It defies reason, but then hatred & fear often do…

As I’ve written elsewhere, I find it incredible that Christian ‘family’ organisations are telling followers that the anti-bullying movement is homosexual activism. Amanda Todd wasn’t gay. Nor was the young Pentecostal girl I had to walk to school with in 8th grade to keep from being taunted. Nor were the black cleaning ladies who stood on my corner for the bus, and had to hear the taunts of the white teenage boys driving by in expensive cars.

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These are real stories, and I acknowledge their anecdotal nature. But they happened, and I’m not naïve enough to believe I’m the only one with these experiences.

The young woman in my neighbourhood wore the long hair and traditional long skirts of many Pentecostal women. This made her fair game, apparently, for the bullies (male & female) at our middle school. She wasn’t my close friend, but I couldn’t stand by & do nothing. So we walked to & from school together. For weeks. Until the bullies moved on.

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Same with the women on my street corner, tired from a long day of cleaning South Tulsa houses, waiting for the bus to take them to their own homes, all the way across town. Easy targets for bored white boys. I couldn’t do anything about the ones in cars, but the one who walked by? I could (and did) go after him w/ a broom. And beat the bully out of him. Skinny white girl whacking away with a broom, yelling.

And the same with the dear friend who for no good reason became the Amanda Todd of our middle school: targeted as a ‘slut’ without any support whatsoever. Supposedly the ‘prize’ of an 8th grade football party. No matter that a boy present DID stand up and say she wasn’t there. Rumour is stronger than fact, sometimes. I held her in a big hug, and together we sat apart from the girls who shunned her. The boys who jeered.

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Every day somewhere in America a child contemplates suicide because of people like those in my middle school. Nice Christian kids, who probably go to Sunday School (these all did — mine).

So do not tell me that Christian kids are blameless. Some are, some aren’t.  I teach. And I’ve seen a LOT of Christian kids use their religion as an excuse to be incredibly rude (and that’s being polite) to gay kids, poor kids, black & brown kids. Note: that doesn’t actually address my question, which remains: why is an anti-bullying day seen as a ‘let’s all get gay’ recruitment? Because of a couple of gay anti-bully folks?

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Considering how many churches see bullying as the face of their own homophobia, I am angrier at AFA than I can imagine. Bullying is NOT simply a gay thing. And the AFA is missing an important opportunity to reach out beyond liberal stereotypes of evangelicals. Don’t like gays? Your business. But do NOT use that as a reason to drop the ball on the horrific bullying of girls (‘slut’), blacks (‘nigger’), Latinos (‘wetback’), and others — rural, poor, single parent, etc.

There IS something we can do about bullying. We can stand against it in all its forms. And not (conveniently) forget its diversity.

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homophobia & the American Family Association: rewriting the teachings of Jesus

As I learn more about myself — middle age will do that to you, if you pay attention — I realise that standing up for the voiceless is one of the strongest reasons I’m such a loudmouth. (And yes — I do realise I’m always on a soapbox!)

I’ve seen too many wonderful people — from small children to grown adults — bullied. Run over roughshod by people who either a) don’t get it, b) don’t care, or (worst of all) c) bully on purpose. With knowledgeable malicious intent. I hope that sounds criminal to your ear; I meant for it to.

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So imagine my horror when I read a recent NY Times story about one of my innocuously named nemeses: the American Family Association. Listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for its militant homophobia, the organisation has out-done itself recently. It has asked parents to keep their children home on ‘Mix It Up at Lunch Day,’ an anti-bullying program organised by the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project.

You read that right: the AFA is boycotting an anti-bullying day. And why? Because the AFA says it introduces children to the homosexual lifestyle…Wow. Sounds like the AFA is the mixed up one…

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I don’t understand when being against bullying — which is not specific to gay kids getting beat up in school; witness the profoundly sad Amanda Todd case in Canada — became a rally point for homophobes. For 10 years, the SPLC has sponsored the attempt to get students of all ages (and even college kids need this, believe me) to sit w/ a different group at lunch. To learn about someone different.

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Note: despite what homophobes think, there is no single gay ‘look.’ I guarantee you there are men & women you know who are in the closet, AFA. And that you have NO idea. What the Teaching Tolerance project is about is undoing (‘unlearning, as I blogged about yesterday) the stereotypes that lead to bullying. Amanda Todd made a couple of very sad choices. But someone far worse than anything Amanda did exploited those choices, and this poor misery-ridden child, to the point of her suicide.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if our children learned, instead of exploitation & bullying, compassion and caring? Doesn’t that fit the general tenor of the New Testament (which I’ve actually read — like the Old Testament before it) better than “stay away from those who are different”? I’m not sure what Christian Bible the AFA are reading, but the one I grew up on — and the parts of it I still revere — had to do with Jesus taking up w/ the underclass, walking with prostitutes, and promising thieves the glory of heaven. Nowhere in his sermons do I recall a ‘shun those who are different’ injunction…

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Imagine a lunch room where the black kids & white kids didn’t all sit apart from each other by race. Where the rural kids and the urban kids shared their sack lunches. Where nerds & jocks laughed about the most recent movie together. And yes, where a child not certain of his/her gender identity needn’t worry about being slammed into a wall…

The saddest fallout to the AFA’s agenda (which has ‘retaliated’ against the SPLC by calling it ‘anti-Christian’) is what children will learn: that ‘difference’ is anti-Christian. That the message of the Bible — love & compassion and tolerance — is, in fact, not what they should practice. And I can’t imagine anything sadder, or more antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.

But then, I’m just a Buddhist and a teacher who loves kids. What would I know…?

 

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un-learning (when Buddhism & Unitarian Universalism conflate) ~

I don’t go to church much. When I do, I go to All Souls Unitarian Universalist, the largest UU church in the world. In Tulsa.  Tulsa.

Today I went to see my nephew officially welcomed in to the congregation.  His significant other is UU from her earliest childhood — grew up at All Souls — and he also has found a home there. It’s one of the most welcoming churches I’ve been to.

The  sermon was a prime example of why I consider myself as much UU as Buddhist. The senior minister’s ‘sermon’ — more a reflection and sharing of thoughts — was about what we need to ‘un-learn.’ And there is much, especially here in the home of the 4th worst race riot in American history.

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Tulsa is a city deeply divided. Has been for generations, and still reaps the stunted harvest of violence & difference. We are an essentially segregated city, divided into de facto quarters: north Tulsa is African American; east Tulsa is Hispanic; south Tulsa is upper middle class white; west Tulsa is blue collar white. The old centre of town is old money, all white. And even within that enclave, there is the Maplewood area — which used to be Jewish — and ‘other’ money.

Newcomers don’t see this immediately. And whites often reject this map, saying that segregation ‘is all behind us.’ Well, no. It’s not. But at All Souls — flagship of a religion/ belief system seen by many as a liberal white country club — the UU congregation is walking the walk it’s also talking. Because All Souls is moving. Not immediately, but soon. North. Out of the old money neighbourhood, out of the beautiful white church w/ the bright light falling in great shafts through the tall windows.  North.

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Did I mention there’s a lot to unlearn in Tulsa? Racial stereotypes, ethnic stereotypes, gender & class & political and every kind of stereotype you can imagine. We’re a kind of confluence of the vectors blowing across America. Right outside of Tulsa we have both a major KKK office and a major neo-Nazi party office. But we also have the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, and the Jewish Federation’s amazing Holocaust Council. We have the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, trying hard to move this fractured city beyond the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (it still haunts us…). And we have All Souls, actively working to promote social justice and access.

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I talk much in this space about learning beginner’s heart. But today, something said in church resonated strongly: to be filled w/ new learning, there needs to be emptiness, too. It seemed the perfect meeting of Buddhism & Unitarian Universalism.  There needs to be stillness, space for the new. Breathe out, in other words. Then you can breathe in…

 

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