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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

freedom of (and from) religion

1st amendment

As I’ve mentioned recently, freedom of religion is a big deal to me. And that freedom doesn’t mean you get to worship your mainstream religion in public and I don’t. Or that you can discriminate against me — even harass me — because my beliefs differ from yours.

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And yet, despite the very clear dictates of the US Constitution’s First Amendment on this, a school district in Louisiana is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union after a sixth grade student’s parents complained that the boy was being told he needed to change his religion, and accept that ‘this is the Bible belt.’ The boy’s family sued when the parish superintendent told them to transfer the boy, a life-long Buddhist of Thai descent,  where there were ‘more Asians.’

It’s also alleged that the boy’s science teacher — who teaches that evolution is impossible, and that the Bible is 100% true — called those who believe in evolution ‘stupid.’religions all

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How is this in any way reflective of the Christianity of Jesus? Where would this show up in the New Testament? As someone raised throughout childhood in a Christian tradition, I can’t imagine if I had been this disrespectful of my Indian, Việtnamese, Chinese, Japanese, or ‘other’ friends. Or my parents’ friends, who were Buddhist, Taoist, Catholic, Jewish, and Christian. Later, my own friends were Muslim, Hindu, atheist, pagan, and Wiccan. How on EARTH is being rude and hateful to a sixth-grader emblematic of ANY faith?

I don’t understand meanness. Never have. But I really have no truck w/ being mean to children. And even less patience with people who try to impose their religious beliefs on ANYONE. It’s not your business what my children believe, and having a principal, or teacher, or superintendent of the district ask if a child can’t change his religion to ‘fit in’ is beyond insulting. It’s flat wrong. And it’s also unconstitutional.

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30 Days of Love: ‘love’s austere and lonely offices’

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Today’s post is short but sweet, and courtesy of one of the best poets I’ve ever loved: Robert Hayden.  At times in my life I have been without words: desperately lonely, or bitterly angry, or lost in one of those interior labyrinths we all know so well. Hayden has always been there before me, to get me through.

Today, as I thought about love, community, and writing, he was there for me once again. The prompt for 30 Days of Love is to write our stories: of ourselves, of now, of our community. Hayden did all that, far better than I can dream of doing. His work memorialises  both day-to-day life and  great historic tragedies, as well as the injustice rained upon a black man in mid-century America. All of these are fitting, given today’s prompt.

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The poem below is one that reminds — every time I read it — of how little we know about love.

Those Winter Sundays ~ Robert Hayden

Sundays too
my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blue black cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the
cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently
to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

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30 Days of Love: drawing birds, getting it wrong, and compassion vs. love

goldfinch2This is not a great goldfinch sketch. BUT…. it’s measurably better than last year’s birds (see below). Because I’ve spent a YEAR drawing crappy birds. :) And they’ve grown slightly less wretched each month.

Here’s the kicker: you have to be able to look at the early birds ( :) ) to see the progress. You know where this is going…

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As I’ve mentioned many times in this blog (most recently yesterday), my family encompasses a wide spectrum of politics, religion, and personal beliefs. We range from extreme right-wing to pretty extreme left, from evangelical Christian to die-hard atheist. From converted Jew to converted Muslim. And in between? There are folks who never vote (really!), folks who practice paganism, folks who spend time in jail, and folks who do none of the above. It makes for interesting family dynamics. :)

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It can also make for defensiveness, and probably hurt feelings.

Yesterday one of the family whose beliefs are more in line with mine sent my blog post to another family member, whose beliefs are pretty opposed to mine. I probably would have recommended against that. listening and understanding

Suffice to say: the response was to say I don’t love Rush Limbaugh and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Which is true. I have a very hard time loving mean-spirited people. Especially people who use their positions of influence to treat others badly. This makes me very non-loving.

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Digression that I promise has to do w/ drawing birds AND beginner’s heart:

A long time ago — at least 10-12 years — three horrible things happened in my world. None, thankfully, to me. But they were senseless violence that occurred in lives that touched mine, either personally or geographically. One was the murder by the uncle of my son’s best friend: the man murdered his wife, but police told her sister (my son’s friend’s mother) that they couldn’t prove it. The man just wanted to be shed of her. DIVORCE, anyone??

Second, the very dear friend of my sister-in-law — a man I knew, too — was murdered. Shot as he opened the door to a kid in his neighbourhood, for robbery. A man w/ very little material wealth. The kid got little other than prison time.

And third? A young mother of a baby and toddler was robbed of her welfare check as she came out of a building. She was shot (fatally), dropping her infant to the head-breaking pavement.

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30 Days of Love: blending faiths

compassion pictureIn keeping with the 30 Days of Love project, I’m thinking about how it works with my own beliefs, with Buddhism, specifically. As many faith traditions do, they intersect in many productive ways.

Engaged Buddhism fits well with the theme of today’s 30 Days of Love blog post, for instance: voting rights. I have stood on street corners to protest war, cranked out handbills against corrupt politicians, and written countless letters, blog posts, and emails. These days, I do less of that kind of engaged Buddhism and more of this kind. I do what I do best: write. And today, in addition to considering the larger picture of voting rights, I wonder what would happen if we listened to each other.

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The 30 Days of Love effort is about social action on the larger scale, a critically important project. I remain true to the smaller scale, however, as well. As Christina Feldman asks in the picture, what difference would it make…to listen …wholeheartedly and be present?

Imagine if the politicians who are so wrapped in hate and moral superiority — and Sheriff Joe Arpaio comes to mind — were able to listen. Were able to empathise. Because it seems to me, in my confused attempts to understand people like Arpaio, that they lack empathy for people unlike them. My family who pray for the death of Obama, for instance, are able to bring enormous empathy to the plight of animal rescue, but not to the children of undocumented immigrants.30 days of love

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It’s hard to listen. I spend more time than I should on a friend’s FB page, trying to understand why HIS family believes as they do. Have I learned anything? Yes, actually: I’ve learned that science is suspect in many conservative communities. ANY science, not simply the science of, say, evolution.

But I continue the conversation, asking why (for instance) 30,000 degree-holding Americans should trump the 98% of scientists around the world who agree that global climate change is a crisis. 30,000 Americans is a very small drop compared to 98% of the world’s scientists. And yet, in my friend’s cousin’s mind, the 30,000 stand for HIM. Which I have learned only through listening.

He also believes that undocumented immigrants steal jobs. And use social services. Research from anyone other than extreme right-wing media and demagogues (Rush Limbaugh, anyone?) is suspect. And he is convinced of voter fraud, even though the only systemic instances have been Republican (Virginia & Florida).

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Has my conversation with him helped? Either of us? I can’t speak for him, obviously. But I do know it’s made me understand my own family a bit better. Which is something, I suppose — out of understanding may grow more compassion. :)

For now? I’m trying to groun my Unitarian social activism/ engaged Buddhism in my Buddhist  compassion. That’s ‘s my project during these 30 days of love. And it’s harder than I could ever have imagined.

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