Sunday, February 24, 2013

Are you a racist?

Last week a friend connected me to a YouTube video, featuring Ise Lyfe, that provides the impetus for the message I am attempting to sort through for the blog tonight (I suggest watching the video before further reading). I offer it to you in an attempt to raise awareness, surface the topic and promote discussion, or questioning about racism. I struggle with the concept of Black History Month, just as I do with Women's History Month, and it is not because I do not believe in equality. Rather, it is the puzzling fact that we have to put aside days to recognize people who continue to carry the weight of oppressive systems on their back. I have no clue what it means to be an ethnic minority, and I am not looking to experience it. When teaching on the Navajo reservation one of my students asked if I was racist. Of course my first response was to get tongue-tied and embarrassed. How do you answer such a big question? As I hedged on my response tears came to my eyes.  I knew that I could not think my way out of this question, nor could I feign misunderstanding, or worse yet over identify with the young man who asked. So, I simply shared that my desire was to say, "No, I am not racist." Yet, I knew that was not so and gave a more honest response and discussed how racism functions from the lens of white privilege. I wanted to apologize and knew this was not appropriate. The room was silent and he graciously thanked me for being honest. I wanted to disappear. 

The question about racism is alive still alive. When I watch Lyfe's video I get a similar eerie feeling to the one I experienced in the classroom that day. There is a part in the clip when Lyfe talks about his relationship with his white grandma and how he defended her, only to be crushed by one statement she made about his sisters becoming too dark in the sun.  When you watch the video notice how you respond to what she says to him. My instant response is to defend his grandmother from Lyfe's pain. I want to scream out that she does not mean to be racist. What she is doing is attempting to protect her granddaughters from a world of discrimination and many other justifications for her behavior. The defense of his grandmother is what I understand most clearly from my own lived experience. And, it pushes me into a place of questioning about how I see the world. I defend her based on my life. I want to fix it and make it right so she looks good. I am not defending on behalf of Lyfe, the person who daily receives the brunt of being categorically marginalized based on skin color. So, my guess is that today rather than qualify my answer about being a racist I need to simply respond, "Yes, I am." I do not feel the shame of this any longer. This is not self-hatred; rather it is a moment of understanding and compassion. Maybe this is too much for the blog, yet it is real and it is in my heart as I pray this Lenten season. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Desert Days

Window Rock, AZ 2005

Today's Gospel reading has Jesus heading out to the desert for forty days of prayer and fasting. It's the first Sunday in Lent and I am not feeling it as much as I would like...if that makes sense. It isn't like I am approaching these days half-heartedly, just challenged in focusing on the season. Last Sunday I was all about it, and preparing while anticipating my daily commitment to prayer and this season of fasting and almsgiving. By Monday the zeal was wearing off, only to be greeted by Ash Wednesday, sandwiched between Fat Tuesday and Valentine's Day. So, this entrance into the desert has been with reluctance and trepidation. 

While a novice each week offered the opportunity to have a desert day. It was an interesting mix as I lived into the experience of becoming a Sister of St. Agnes, which offered much culture shock and many moments for integration. I both dreaded and cherished those days. After taking vows I kept up the practice monthly for a short period, and then got distracted. When I first read today's Gospel I realized that the devil tempts Jesus at the end of the fast. Then I began to reflect about my own experiences with temptation and recognize that when on retreat there is seldom temptation. It is only after the quieting and prayer, when I enter back into my reality that I face the usual culprits of distraction that distract me from positive habits of the mind. I welcome Lent differently this afternoon after that reflection. This is a time of preparation, not perfection and it will pass regardless if I am engage or not. The difference is how I open up to the conversion that is available, and that opening will happen through discipline and love. The other thing that popped-up was that I truly loved living in the desert, and found both times I was there my life slowed down. This might be the most appropriate season at this time.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Preparation and Planning for Lent

16 "But Ruth said, 'Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! for wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Wherever you die I will die, and there be buried. May the Lord to so and so to me, and more besides, if aught but death separate me from you!' 18 Naomi then ceased to urge her, for she saw she was determined to go with her.     RUTH 3

This week is a time of preparation and planning for the Lenten journey that lies ahead. Last week I began reading the story of Ruth as an accompaniment to my own journey. This time around the story speaks about courage and fidelity as I reflect on the strength of Ruth's conviction. Ruth knows she needs to keep on with Naomi and is not going to back down. She leaves her people and her god in order to offer support to her mother-in-law. How many people have left their homes to journey into foreign lands, risking their lives and dignity for freedom and hope? This is a difficult space politically in our country as we continue to live in the debate and concern about immigration. (An aside:  I was so surprised when visiting Ellis Island a few years ago to find that the issue of immigration is similar to what it was for the Western Europeans who came over to the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th Century. To know that my ancestors were not welcome here caused me sadness and opened my eyes a little more to the suffering of people attempting to find a home in our country today.) Ruth was a foreigner moving into a new culture and religion. She was willing to risk everything through her commitment to Naomi. I don't want to trivialize the plight of migrants today, and ask that we be more aware of who in our midst is foreigner to us, or stranger, and what makes them so? There are areas in my own life I feel like a foreigner and this causes so much discomfort, even when I am received with hospitality. Ash Wednesday is a couple of days a way and it is time to prepare for lent with the same fervor and strength that is needed to cross dangerous territory and enter into unknown lands for the sake of hope and new life. The threats are not the same of those faced by Ruth, or people migrating today, yet the terrain will have cautionary areas that invite me to choose avoidance or follow-through.

On to other news, the caffeine-abstinence program is not going as smoothly as planned. seems that this was a breeze last time. My guess is that is an illusion. So, now I am thinking it might be great fodder for the weeks to come. The good thing is there have been no withdrawal symptoms, because there has been no withdrawal. Have a great week!!!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Not Becoming Intoxicated

What does it mean to be intoxicated? This question has been on my mind since last weekend. Today, I am spending my late Sunday morning at the usual Starbucks, sharing a table with a woman named Donna (she needed a seat b/c the place was full). I see her every week, so in a funny way she seems an acquaintance. It is good to have a name to go with the person now. As I was driving here this morning I recalled it is time to be weaning off of caffeine again. Since beginning the Ph.D. my connection to caffeine has re-ignited, and last week, after reflecting on why I went off in the first place I am committed to reducing my intake, eventually to go off completely again.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of discussing intoxication with members from my meditation sangha as part of a presentation and dialogue. It is so easy to think of addiction and intoxication in concrete terms when we see the data about alcohol, nicotine, controlled substances, etc. In the reading and conversation the concept was turned up a notch as we focused on other ways we become intoxicated in life. Ways that may not be visible, although we become drunk, nonetheless. The reading we did spoke about people becoming intoxicated with religious practices. Oh my goodness, when first being introduced to spirituality and later Catholicism I recall believing that there was a formula for prayer that everyone else seemed to have that I missed (well, this was true for some of the rote prayers, not so accurate though in how I relate to God). When first exploring life with CSA I was convinced there was a right way to pray and somehow the Sisters had it. Whew, fortunately I found out differently or I would have never made it through formation. As I get older it becomes more apparent that the only way is to follow the path before us with a questioning heart that is open to conversion and love (promise not to go on a "love" tangent here). Now, to apply the learning of the past to my caffeine dependence once again will provide for some interesting opportunities this week. Sometimes what seems to be esoteric and what appears concrete can experience a crossover. My belief is that in the instance of intoxication there is not a single way to explain what happens or simple resolution. There is only a way of holding gently that which we look to in inebriation, and that which frees us from altered states. So, the coffee challenge begins today with a half-caf Americano