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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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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30 days of love: hot curlers, love, and doing for others

helping hand2As a reptile lover, this picture seems the perfect example of giving a hand. Or a foot, or a sucker. Whatever.

Sometimes help isn’t this noticeable. You don’t have to save a friend from a life-threatening situation to be helpful. It can be hot curlers, for instance. Honest. (Folks who can’t see the connection between hot curlers & love & beginner’s heart, I promise there is one.)

I have stick-straight hair. And I’m waaay past the age where I should be okay w/ that. Suffice to say, I want FAT HAIR. Fat hair that has CURL. Not stick-straight, FLAT hair.

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Enter my bff, who lent me her hot curlers on a conference weekend. BINGO! Who knew?? You can put hot curlers in hair like mine and look like you have hair like hers! Whoohoo!

That is NOT what most folks probably think of when they hear ‘helping hand.’ But it’s love, isn’t it? And it DID help.

This week, what would happen if you redefined how you can ‘lend a hand’? What if it was just brainstorming something simple? It doesn’t have to be a huge deal. It can be a joke at an awkward moment, a penny for the person in line who doesn’t have one. Even hot curlers. As long as there is good intention? It can be whatever is needed. And that’s enough.

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30 Days of Love: family, race, and what we can do

communityAs part of the 30 Days of Love project, I’m using many of the prompts offered on the  blog site for the posts here. This week focuses on family, among other things. Family and race and community, in general.

I have the privilege of being a white American. I mean that quite literally: in America, there are so many privileges to being white.I see myself wherever I go, and as someone who grew up NOT seeing myself, I understand how important that is. I can assume that my life is recognised by my culture as ‘normal.’ That is not the case for my friends who are single black mothers, for example. Stereotypes engulf them.

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I’ve tried — hard — to be sure my two sons don’t take that privilege for granted. I don’t believe they do. Early on, both commented on inequities they saw in their own lives, and how different things were for them compared to non-white friends.

I also examine my own privileges as often as I can, and try — also hard — to undo those advantages where possible, and to never assume my non-white friends access the same advantages.

My beloved daughter-in-law is not white, and this has underlined my previous recognition of how unequal so many of our cultural systems are. A close cousin’s son-in-law and daughter-in-law also aren’t white, and she & I have had conversations on our worries for these dear family members. Because despite what many (white) Americans think, race is still a HUGE issue in America.

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So what to do? I wish I knew. I believe, as a Buddhist, that our own actions — our own hearts — are the best starting places. But I wonder, sometimes, if that’s a cop-out, as well. If I should be more active in city politics, in a church, in other organisations. Perhaps trying to change education is too long a project, and maybe we lose too many hearts and LIVES while trying. How do each of us — in our own lives — build more inclusive, more equitable communities?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I wish I did. Any ideas?

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30 Days of Love: or, why would we want to be multicultural?

multiculturalAs a little girl growing up in Việt Nam, I was the odd one out. Blonde in a sea of glossy black hair, dead white dot in a warm brown tapestry. But even before, living in Tulsa & then San Antonio, how could you not notice difference? People who say children don’t notice race are nuts. The difference between very young children and adults on race is that children don’t (usually) judge. They notice, but they don’t attach negative value.

Earlier, in Oklahoma, I’d noticed that Aunt Juanita was dark brown, asked about it, and found out she was Indian. Cool. By 2nd grade, I was making the moves towards ‘special friends’ that many kids make. Mine happened to be handsomest boy in the base school’s 2nd grade: Tony. But Tony was Mexican American, my teacher told me, and I should NOT talk to him. Much less pass little kid notes to him.

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Didn’t get it then. Don’t get it now.

So it started early for me, this wondering. And living most of my childhood and young adult life outside the US only deepened my ‘not getting it.’ What’s the deal? If you have prejudices — and everyone does — why not face them, figure out why, and go on from there? TALK about them, for cryin’ out loud.standing on the side of love

My senior year in  HS, I had the opportunity to choose a 3rd grader to tutor in my senior psychology class. We were to keep a journal. Remember: I went to HS at an international school. Because I knew nothing about Indians (except for Aunt Juanita, the Oklahoma kind :) ), I chose Meera, from New Dehli. I spent Saturdays and at least one night a week at her house, finding out that the different smell was the fragrance of curry spices, and the ever-present gheeCarnivores & omnivores smell horrible to vegetarians — like rotting meat. Who knew, until I asked?

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This is a long lead-in to what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks: Thirty Days of Love. Thirty Days of Love is a Unitarian Universalist-sponsored offshoot of the Standing on the Side of Love movement, seeking to harness love against social injustice.  The Thirty Days of Love blog offers a journal prompt each day — which will become many of my upcoming blog posts — and conversation from those of us who’ve ‘taken the challenge’ to think consciously about how love, race, and social justice work in this country. The first one is today’s title: why would we want to be multicultural?

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30 days of loveWhite Americans like to believe that America is a ‘post-racial’ society because we elected a black president. They ignore the horrific realities of much minority life in the country, focusing instead on our ersatz non-racial culture via Barack Obama. Hmmm… I even heard a dear friend (who should know better) say that Obama & family were ‘proof’ that black people from ‘the hoods’ could become anything. She seems to have forgotten that Barack & Michelle Obama both have Harvard law degrees –not exactly kids from the rougher edges of north Tulsa.

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My point is that 30 Days of Love asks us to TALK. To discuss that difficult topic — social justice — through the lenses of race AND love. To engage deeply. Because (and here’s my answer to why care would we want to be multicultural?) EVERYONE is needed. We can’t AFFORD to discard people: send them on the school-to-prison shuttle, or relegate them to inadequate schools. The future needs EVERY one — and each of us has our own contribution to make. Whether you believe in social justice & multiculturalism completely or not, how can anyone believe we don’t NEED all of us?

Think of an orchestra — what would it sound like w/out each instrument, playing its heart out? For me? That’s one of the best arguments I know for multiculturalism: the incredible music we can make. The swelling of millions of voices, each singing his or her own song. Together.

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