Beliefnet
Beginner's Heart

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Michael Brown, via Jezebel

The tragic shooting of Michael Brown is only the latest in a series of such tragedies. Unlike in some cases of continued horror, I am not inured. This time, in fact, Brown’s horrible death cries out for more than FB postings, more than the usual denials from law enforcement and the white-washing of the officers involved.

I would use the term murder, but I’m trying — hard — to remain open to further information, even though this looks like Trayvon Martin’s murder, like Amadou Diallo’s murder, like John Crawford,  like the down-the-highway murder of unarmed teenager Jeremy Lake.

Like Bruce Springsteen said, you get killed just for living your American life.

There are so many devastating elements to this onslaught of murders. The way the media publishes scary, probably FB-goofy pics of the victims, instead of their graduation pictures. Instead of pictures of them w/ family. Or the total BS of ‘gun rights,’ for instance. Gun rights are for white people, folks. John Crawford was shot dead for holding a TOY GUN. The white gun rightists who stalk Target, decked out in automatic & semi-automatic weapons? Imagine this picture if the men were black, sporting dreads, dressed in colours:

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via google

How many of THOSE men — not these — do you think would leave w/ their purchases? With their lives? John Crawford certainly didn’t. Buying a TOY gun. WalMart ‘defends’ its actions by saying he brandished the gun, and didn’t throw it down when asked. A toy gun, remember.

Whereas, Peter Steinmetz entered an AIRPORT — not to meet a passenger, or fly, just ‘to buy a cup of coffee’ — and scared the daylights out of a woman and her daughter, pointing a gun at them (negligently, he claims, not intentionally — as if the woman & her daughter would know the difference??) and was arrested. Only arrested, courteously, I assume.

Did I mention that Steinmetz is white? And that when questioned, he said he was making a political point? Apparently, that won’t get you killed. But buying a toy gun, or walking home unarmed from the convenience store, or catching the subway, or dating a white girl … will.

Jeremy Lake was unarmed, broad daylight, when his girlfriend’s father shot him. Apparently for … being black? And did I mention that the murderer (yes, I’m calling a man who shoots an unarmed man in broad daylight, w/out provocation, a murderer) is a police officer? And that his wife (also a police officer) helped him get away and hide until he finally turned himself in?

photo by Whitney Curtis—The New York Times

photo by Whitney Curtis—The New York Times

As I write this, news comes of yet another unarmed black man — Ezell Ford — and his fatal shooting by Los Angeles police comes across the wire. Mentally handicapped, 25-year-old Ford was laying on his stomach on the ground, subdued, when he was shot in the back. Murdered by a representative of American law.

I don’t get it, America. What has happened to the police my father was so proud to associate with? The police my beloved nephew is proud to wear the state badge of? Where is the outcry of other officers? Because let me tell you: these are NOT isolated incidents. And if we don’t cry out in rage at this abuse of power, we are complicit.

And it seems to me it’s getting worse, as courts across the country appear to collude w/ white shooters, offering no punishment for the loss of a life, a son, a father.

I have no answers, obviously. Only this howl of a cry: what is wrong with us? What are we so afraid of?? And most of all, to the families of these tragically murdered young men: I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. I’m just so very very sorry…

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via Facebook

Many years ago, when I was a fledgling hippie, I read Ram Dass. I thought he was interesting, a word used for things I knew I should like, but didn’t really understand.

But this? I love it. Either he’s gotten more accessible, or I’m more understanding.

I’m sure it’s partly because I adore trees. (Warning: tree hugger alert.) They have saved my life — rescuing me from despair so dark one autumn that it was all I could do not to walk in front of a car. They have made me laugh, reminded me how insignificant my time is in the grand scheme of eternity. Fed me, housed me, taught me the awe of a place where spirit lives. I have swung from them, climbed them, planted them from seed. Mostly, I just love them. Mimosa, dogwood, cedar, oak. Honey locust, bald cypress, fig and scarlet Japanese maple. The hickory at the lake, the henna in Dhahran. So many trees over the years.

As a child, I realised that the temple within the heart of a banyan tree, where I visited as a child soft with the smoke from incense, alive w/ the tree’s own heartwood was where whatever God there is lived. Church was where Westerners went to talk about the Divine, but I never felt a Presence in any Western church.

But it was absolutely obvious — even to a 9-year-old — that s/he/ it lived inside that banyan tree. Or at least some holy part of it did, something tangible and real, that answered us when we called to it.

That was long long ago, in a city with a name erased, then rewritten with the blood of thousands.

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So when I first read this short meme, I was once again 9 years old , standing in front of that magical, mystical banyan tree. Watching the monk burn the papers that might be prayers, might be wishes, might be incense. There was no difference to me — each turned to ash and then to smoke, climbing on the breeze into the sky. And the tree stood silent and unjudging through it all.

This is my deepest breath — that I can learn to see people as I see trees. Needing me sometimes to help with food, water, even the tough love of pruning. But mostly? Just loving them. Just accepting their various forms and natures with happy awe. And yes, I know I sound like a  tree-hugger. Guilty as charged, and happy to be so. I recommend you try it.

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In Oklahoma (like most red states) we believe taxes are an unnecessary evil. That we can — and should — get rid of them. Especially on corporate interests.

I understand not liking to pay taxes. Too large a portion of my meagre teaching income has gone to the government over the years.

But here’s what I try hard to remember when I file away receipts over the months leading up to April: rural students I’ve taught. My grandmothers and other old ladies. The homeless guy who died one freezing night, just blocks from my house.

Because that’s who my taxes are for, America. Yours too. And you know what? I would sooo much rather pay for those real people than for bombs. Rather every child in America be fed free breakfast and lunch at school than pay for a single drone. Rather every homeless man/ woman/ and child (and there are MANY homeless children) have a home, than every again pay for invasion of a sovereign nation for no good reason.

Despite lip service, education of our young is not a priority in Oklahoma. You only have to look at our track record: heaviest cuts to education funding in the country (22.8% since 2008). We weren’t doing very well before that, either: we were fourth-lowest in the country in the 2007-08 school year. (figures from the Rural School & Community Trust)

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As an educator, I KNOW that education changes lives. I’ve seen it every semester. But classes of 45+ in high school, classes of 30 in elementary, don’t provide the time for a teacher to do anything other than keep order and lecture. All the things that make education so important — collaborative learning, individual encouragement, project-based learning — take time. Something that money CAN buy, at least in education.

As for my our elderly… My grandmother would have starved w/out her Social Security. It was little enough. And yet we continue to talk about cutting Medicare, privatising it (that’s worked so well for other projects), cutting Social Security.

My taxes are as high as most middle class Americans. But you know what? So is my commitment to the things that taxes pay for. Well, except for the military industrial complex. Unfortunately, I’m not able choose to pay my taxes only to support veterans’ benefits and not kill power. However, I’m also not going to throw out the entire system, even though I believe devoutly in peace before conflict.

So here’s a thought for you: the next time someone wants to cut taxes, ask what services they’re willing to do without. What the education of our young, support for our elderly, and benefits for those who gave life and limb to our wars is worth. Ask them why corporations are worth more than my students. My elderly. My veterans. People I KNOW. With names, and lives. Who benefit in concrete, life-changing ways from taxes.

Because I want answers. And right now, Oklahoma — along with other anti-taxation states and organisations — doesn’t have any that make sense.

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I love folks who question. To interrogate our beliefs is so very difficult. Believe me, I do it daily.

Where’s the line on this? Do this and this cancel each other out? If I think this, how can I feel this? If this is ‘right,’ is this other thing/ belief/ action ‘wrong’? If I buy this, can I square it w/ this belief?

It’s hard.

So when a friend on my FB recently asked me how I reconcile my position on hospitals refusing to provide fatal drugs for state executions, vs. my position on hospitals refusing to prescribe birth control, I was fascinated.

Not because she asked, but because of how rare it is that we as a culture engage in dialogue — honest dialogue — on issues of belief.

What is it about our differences that so often precludes us talking about them? I still remember how hurt — and terminally angry — I was when I tried to talk w/ a friend’s friend about gay rights. Framing my own conversation with the statement that my niece and MANY dear friends are gay, I asked that we talk w/ respect about whatever topic had come up. Including an understood respect and acceptance of my OWN respect and love for my niece and her wonderful partner. Again, on FB.

A (hopefully relevant) digression: I adore FB. It allows me to reconnect w/ old friends (two in two weeks!). It keeps me up-to-date on my beloved grandson’s life, in pictures! It sends me silly cat pictures and videos to break up my work, and it is a way to stay in touch w/ a far-flung group of dear friends and family.

That said, it sometimes feels like manners go out the window when we engage a keyboard.

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via google

This woman proceeded to say TERRIBLE, HURTFUL things about my niece (referrring to her, specifically, as my niece), and was flat HATEFUL. What’s up w/that?? She obviously didn’t want to talk: she wanted only to hurt, it was quickly apparent. NO conversation was going to happen unless I first agreed w/ her completely. N.B.: that is NOT conversation, folks. It’s capitulation. And all too often that’s what seems to be the unspoken objective of most ‘conversations.’

I understand that for many folks, religion is outside of logic. For me, however, it is not. In fact, the Buddha actually encouraged folks to question — it’s part of our dharma, or the Buddha’s own teachings. One of many reasons that Buddhism is a good wisdom tradition fit for me. 🙂

But no religion says ‘be as angry as possible when you discuss your beliefs with others.” Unless there’s a new one out there, thought up by folks who don’t believe we can EVER work together.

I do. Believe we can work together. However, it requires a hard 1st step: questioning the coherence of our own hearts. Am I against the death penalty? How then, do I square that w/ my pro-choice stance? And if
I’m against a woman’s right to govern her own body, how do I square that w/ an anti-birth control position? And if I won’t allow a woman birth control OR the right to choose to terminate a terrible mistake of a pregnancy, how do I square THAT w/ a refusal to fund programs for single mothers and children?

These are questions that drive contemporary politics, and have (literally) life-changing consequences for me, for my family and dear friends. For ALL of us.

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In other words, it’s not as easy as being for or against this or that. At least not for me. And — thankfully! — not for most of my friends. Which is why I was so happy to have my friend question me on the consistency of my own beliefs. Talk about what’s most important to my spiritual growth? Sure! (And yes — I know that sounds verrry hokey.) As long as you really want conversation — dialogue, not anger. I learn so much more that way. Whereas, I learn zip/ nada/ rien when you yell at me in all caps on FB, or (this really happened) spit while you’re talking to me because I won’t confirm your own opinions.

After all — aren’t we all searching? Each one of us trying — w/ our fragile beginner’s hearts — to figure out what’s up with this weird journey we share? And wouldn’t it be nice to share our individual maps…

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