“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” ― Aeschylus
Break requested! I need a break from the insanity, the arrogance and absolute ignorance, the sociopathology, the most despicable man as Nietzsche would have described him, “he that is no longer able to despise himself.” Did he really make Juneteenth famous? Does he yet know about it? Does he really know and care that for two and a half years freed people remained as slaves? In those two and a half years, how many families were destroyed by the selling of mothers, children, fathers, sister, brothers, aunts, and uncles from each other? How many additional lashes had been whipped across the naked black backs of these freed people still in bondage? How many were raped, maimed, discarded when no longer able to work? These sordid realities sometimes cause me to tremble, tremble, tremble for I was there in the mind, flesh and spirits of my ancestors when they continued to be crucified. Nooses appearing in Southern California, Oakland, and elsewhere bring back to body-consciousness “the peak years of the Nineties (1890’s) when a Negro was lynched somewhere every two days or so.” (Lerone Bennett). These lynching often took “the place of the merry-go- round, the theatre, the symphony orchestra, and other diversions common to larger communities.” (H.L. Mencken) “Newspapers advertised lynchings in advance. Crowds came from afar on chartered trains.” (Bennett)
Rev. Jonathon Thunderword shared with us during our Zoom check-in last Sunday that our nation was conceived in bad soil. Bad soil must not remain bad soil. It requires nutrients to be transformed into good soil. And, throughout American history, nutrients – freedom movements – have fertilized, warmed, and prepared the soil to bring to fruition the high ideals expressed in its founding documents: the abolition movement, suffragist movement, labor movement, the various freedom movements of the twentieth century, and the wonderful present movement often led by the young. The courage and persistence of these freedom advocates restoreth my soul, illumining my walk through the valleys of the shadows of death caused by greed and systemic racism, patriarchy, and capitalistic exploitation, nourishing me at the bountiful welcome table even when those who oppress are present.
I often feel this sense of shepherding, of companionship in our Fellowship Community as well as those in our extended community. Rik Center, Cofounder of the Mindfulness Care Center, facilitates a meditation group that meets at Fellowship Church and focuses on practicing “mindful/insight awareness”. He also hosts a mindfulness grief and loss support group. I was very moved by conversing with him.
Rik, could you share with me insights from a Buddhist perspective regarding what is happening in the nation?
Rik Center: In working with the 5-Lay Precepts as a Buddhist practitioner, the First Precept is to not take the life of any living creature, which can also be viewed as to not cause harm. By seeing harm and death that’s misguided and our knowing it’s not right, shows us the good heart within ourselves. In not running from our inner pain when horrible actions toward others take place, this pain can transform us. It becomes a guide in how to respond wisely going forward.
This may sound odd though from all that is happening here in America at this moment and our world, I’m feeling hope and a sense of pride. A pride that so many Americans and people of all walks of life, faith and colors and around the world are waking up and coming together. Marching and Protesting just as our founders did and has been done throughout American history to make change.
It has been encouraging to see people whom I would deem conservative, or staunch defenders of the status quo speaking out against police brutality, misconduct in the highest levels of our nation’s administration, and expressing the need for conversation about racism. I don’t think this would have happened without people rising and voicing that we can’t continue to ignore the structural well as personal problems facing the nation.
Rik Center: The recognition of unwholesome actions and words are being recognized by so many. Ex-Secretary of Defense General Mattis and Conservative Republican Columnist George Will have now called out the WH and GOP. By recognizing unwholesome states of action, we are able to recollect the wholesome. We are waking up to see the goodness within ourselves. That we seek kindness, respect, non-divisiveness, non-name calling, non-bullying. People are standing up to the abuse of power that only seems to choose harm and hatred and misuses religion.
Yet, so often progressive action, or the implementation of just laws, is followed by backlash. Just think of how as a nation we were stirred by the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of his assassination in 1968, many of us thought that we were at the border of the Promised Land.
Rik Center: We are on a journey that will not be a straight line. It will be filled with moments of joy, sadness, pain and humility. Humility is the key as this is an inner quality of moral and ethical justice and behavior that sits within us. The abuse of power and years of racial injustice toward Black people are being called out to where there is no going backward anymore. I’m feeling hope and proud of all the young people who are leading the way. Perhaps we can get back to creating a path of clean environment practices. Where science once again is utilized positively in support of our planet and our health versus portrayed as a false reality because it does not support someone’s pocketbook. It’s amazing how the whole world is waking up in a richer way than ever before.
I mentioned earlier my aversion to seeing nooses. I have a similar reaction to seeing the confederate flag. I lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from 1972-1977. Traveling through the South, particularly in Mississippi with its confederate flags in so many prominent and ordinary places, was certainly disconcerting, if not a journey of fear.
Rik Center: This week as I reflected on the confederate flag issue and statues. I was able to equate this on being Jewish and having to see symbols of the Nazi-sign. This has a viscerally negative effect within me and seeing photos of Hitler. Taking this into mind and thinking about walking in the shoes of a Black person having to see this everywhere makes me want to cry. I’m recognizing this truth and reality so much deeper now. I am so sorry for what you and others have had to endure daily in your life.
The Buddha’s teaching is to awaken to reality…to see things as they are, so skillful actions can take place. Spiritual practice does not ask of us turn a blind eye, it calls on us to name the wholesome and unwholesomeness of actions that seek to harm and divide.
There is a poem by Denise Levertov, City Psalm, that helps me during times like these:
The killings continue, each second
pain and misfortune extend themselves
in the genetic chain, injustice is done knowingly,
and the air bears the dust of decayed hopes,
yet breathing those fumes, walking the thronged
pavements among crippled lives, jackhammers
raging, a parking lot painfully agleam in the May sun,
I have seen not behind but within,
within the dull grief, blown grit,
hideous concrete façades, another grief,
a gleam as of dew, an abode of mercy,
have heard not behind but within noise
a humming that drifted into a quiet smile.
Nothing was changed, all was revealed otherwise;
not that horror was not, not that the killings did not continue;
not that I thought there was to be no more despair,
but that as if transparent all disclosed
an otherness that was blesséd, that was bliss,
I saw Paradise in the dust of the street.
You attended a gathering on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall of interfaith leaders for social justice. What led you to attend?
Rik Center: Because Black Lives Matter. I hope none of us ever again have to watch a video of a police officer kneel on the neck of a Black man while his life leaves his body and continue for another 3 minutes. Plus, 3 other officers stood and watched.
Our United States Military Leaders must not allow and must stand up to any order or mandate that asks of them to send military troops out into the USA that asks American military citizens to harm or beat any of their fellow American brothers and sisters. The answer all the way down through the ranks must be no!
My final words to share here: “Let all of us be the architects of a new future and stop clinging to a past that has proven not to work.”
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson
Postscript: When you have about twenty minutes, go to an excellent speech by former New Orleans Mayor, Mitch Landrieu, on the removal of confederate statues.